Code, nerd culture and humor from Greg Knauss.

Those who can, do. Those who can't, interview them.

Geek. Las Vegas. Not a good combination.

Carl had all the ideas, Tim stitched everything together and me, I wrote the France joke.

Things to Do, in Increasing Order of Boredom and Desperation, for Twelve Hours at the Office on a Sunday with Nobody Else There while Waiting for a Grindingly Slow ARCserve to Restore Gigabytes and Gigabytes of Data that Disappeared Saturday Night for No Good Reason: First in a Series

  • Check e-mail

  • Browse all the sites you keep bookmarked

  • Wish you'd brought a book

  • Watch the progress indicator and try to do extrapolations in your head

  • Work on ulcer

  • Check e-mail

  • Browse every site you've ever visited before

  • Curse VonNeumann and his stupid, stupid machine

  • Check e-mail

  • Try to nap

  • Order Chinese for lunch

  • Browse every site you've ever read about, ever heard about or that exist at domains named for common words

  • Order pizza for dinner, six hours early, so it can be put in the fridge and be nice and cold

  • Climb onto desk and lift out acoustical tile, to see what's up there

  • Run up and down hall

  • Run up and down hall, hooting

  • Perform a summersault, even though you are way too old and way too fat

  • Make lots of long-distance calls to friends

  • Make lots of long-distance calls, dialing randomly

  • Check e-mail and curse your loser friends, who all apparently have better things to do than check their e-mail

  • Eat the ice cream that was left in the freezer from the Christmas party

  • Jiggle the handles on all the other suites on the floor

  • Really explore the bathroom

  • Actually read your company's marketing material

  • Smell the furniture, checking to see if the armrests, because they come in contact with skin, are any different than the rest

  • Smell the furniture, just because it's there

  • Toe maintenance!

  • Actually read your own site

I've just collapsed a lung inflating a punching bag for Tom. It's one of those bobbling ones -- Bugs Bunny on one side and Taz on the other -- with sand in the bottom, so it will bounce back up after it gets a good whack. I plug up the vent, set the bag on the floor, and call for his attention.

Tom looks up from a tangle of surplus cords that he's taken to playing with and sees the bag. He instantly jumps to his feet and barrels over, with what I can only assume is crazed bloodlust in his eyes and a fearsome "Eeeee!" tearing loose from his throat. As he approaches, he swings both arms back, brings them forward... And gives the bag a hug.

"No, no, Tom," I say. "Punching. You punch-- Oh, all right."

Oh, like you didn't see that coming.

Mikey is mobile. He's not crawling so much as dragging himself around by sheer force of will. I will get over there and get that thing and put it in my mouth.

We are doomed.

Rainy Day Fun and Games for Toddler and Total Bastard: Fourth in a Series

"Tom, I've got something very important to tell you, so I want you to listen carefully. Are you listening carefully? Good. OK, Tom: The first rule of Fight Club..."

I originally registered metababy.com for Alexis Massie. Plagued with insomnia and bored out of my skull, I spent the early hours of one morning a few years ago trolling the InterNIC, first for the domains I wanted, then for names that friends might be interested in. As the clock ticked over toward 2am or so, I stumbled across metababy.com -- as in Alex's Metababy mailing list -- and snatched it up, intending to transfer it to her if she was interested.

But she wasn't. We e-mailed back and forth for a bit -- it's a little sad how many jokes you can make out of the concept of "domain squatting" -- and I quickly forgot about the whole thing, leaving the domain to drop back into the pool after my hold expired.

But on the drive into work maybe a month later, I started to think about an article Alex had written, about what a completely editable Web site might look like. If you opened up a server and let anybody deposit anything they wanted on it, what would you end up with?

It's an interesting question, and after a few hours of coding, I had my version of an answer. Metababy 1 accepted e-mails to metababy@metababy.com and posted them to the front page of www.metababy.com.

The site took off, like nothing I've ever been associated with and in ways that I never would have expected. Thousands of people, over the next year, posted tens of thousands of pages to Metababy -- funny things; gross things; interesting, sad, insane things; wonderful things, great things. My back-end wasn't up to the task and it failed occasionally, but MBv1 was a success beyond my wildest dreams.

Version 2 brought the ability to edit existing posts, as well as a much more robust back-end. It also brought a dramatic change in the dynamic of the site, changed how people interacted and participated. With Version 1, every you posted was static. It would age off the front page into the archive, but once you sent the mail, it was cast in stone. Version 2 allowed anybody to edit any page on the site with their Web browser. Suddenly, nothing was permanent. It was closer to what Alex originally had in mind, but it frustrated a lot of people, I think -- they'd spend hours working on a page, only to see it destroyed in a few seconds by some chowderhead with too much time on his hands. A few times, the entire site was wiped clean, in what was either performance art or vandalism. The two are hard to tell apart sometimes.

With Version 3, I was going to try to hit a spot between the two, allowing the chaos of arbitrary editing while letting people preserve, for a short time at least, what they thought deserved it. But I've been trying to squeeze out the few hours that it will take me to implement those features for four months now, and I still haven't managed.

So rather than let the guilt continue gnaw at me -- and in the tradition of all late software projects everywhere -- I'm just going to push the old crap out the door and hope nobody notices. Metababy is back, as Version 2 II.

Heh.

Do you ever get the feeling that your ancestors -- the brave men and women who sacrificed and toiled and died, who crossed barren desserts and frozen mountains, who pushed on and on and on no matter what, so that you could enjoy the life you have -- so that you could give a better life to your children -- do you ever get the feeling that your ancestors would like to strangle you?

What this tired world needs is more simple words that begin with "X." Tom has a set of 26 books, one per letter, that have four pages each, and on each page is a word that begins with that letter. The "X" book reads like this:

  • X-Ray

  • Xylophone

  • Xenosaur

  • Xenops

A "Xenops" is a type of bird, if you were wondering.

You can chart the evolution of a generation by what information its members swap when they get together.

In my twenties, my friends and I would discuss restaurants, sharing new places we had found. Our thirties have seen a dramatic shift in the discussion to reliable contractors and mechanics. The forties will undoubtedly bring a sudden surge of proctology recommendations. And our fifties: estate planners.

When we all hit sixty, I hope to God we to back to restaurants. Because I don't think I can spend ten years talking about Winnebago dealerships.

How to Pick a BBQ Restaurant: First in a Series

  • None of the chairs should match.

Tom -- on a good day and all by himself -- can almost exactly duplicating the audio track of the campfire scene in Blazing Saddles.

That trick ought to come in handy at his prom.

It's amazing how many people there are in the card aisle in Rite-Aid at 7pm on Valentine's Day.

Or, um, it would be amazing if I had been there. But I wasn't. Noooo.

Neither am I posting to the Web at 9.

Handy Parenting Tips: Second in a Series

When establishing a framework of discipline for your children, it's important to set reasonable initial goals. For instance:

"Tom, ignore me completely and continue doing whatever it is that you're doing, as if I don't exist...

"Good boy!"

My afternoon, translated:

"Well, don't you look like a puffy geek. You've got no clue about how a car actually works, do you?"

"I understand the internal combustion engine. There was this book, with cut-away drawing--"

"So if I tell you the alternator (or distributor or one of those bits -- you're not even paying attention, are you?) is having trouble, you'll have a clue how much something like that would cost to fix."

"Um. No."

"And if I were to wildly overcharge you, you wouldn't be able to tell?"

"No."

"Except for the vague feeling in your gut that I'm taking advantage of you because I know what I'm doing and you need your car?"

"Right."

"OK, then. So after I add in the 30 0ummy Fee and the 15% Totally Arbitrary Fee and the 5% Additional Fee Levy Fee, that comes to... Oh, let's call it $500 even."

"OK."

"On second thought, let's make it $550."

Every year, I swear I'm going to contribute to my local public radio station and every year they manage to make me not do it, by being unrepentant West Side yuppie scum. Rather than say, "Hey, you! Weenie boy! You listen, why not send us a few bucks?" they ladle on the smirking LA stereotypes, apparently thinking they're striking a chord instead of a nerve.

Never mind that their contributor levels are the new-agey and vomitously sanctimonious "Angel" and "Arch-Angel." Never mind that they burn off hours of public radio air time by running what in effect are ads for the companies that have contributed prizes. Never mind that the station manager -- who sees fit to be on-air twenty-four freaking hours a day during a pledge drive -- has a lisping New York voice that could drive Fran Dresher to beat her head against a wall until she slips comfortably into a coma.

Oh, no. What really galls me is the plea that starts, "For less than the cost of your daily latteā€¦" My daily latte. Not coffee -- which I don't drink, but at least it doesn't sound snotty -- but "latte." And this is for the thousand dollar contribution, meaning my "daily latte" is supposed to run me three bucks a pop. If I'm dumb enough to be plunking down three bucks a day for some trendy puke-warm swill, what in the name of God would I be doing listening to NPR? There's funny-funny sex talk just a half-twist down the dial, you idiots, and I'd be listening to that.

So, screw you, public radio. I'll keep listening, because "Morning Edition" and "All Things Considered" and "This American Life" and "CarTalk" and, God help me, "A Prairie Home Companion" are the only things I can find on the radio anymore that don't make me want to plow my car into the back of the cement mixer in front of me. But, God, if you're going to make the assumption that your entire audience is made up of pony-tailed, latte-sucking industry weasels, then I'm going to make the assumption that you're plenty connected enough to get by without my hundred bucks.

Joanne and I have a long running and passionately debated argument: will Tom end up a programmer (my profession and choice) or a lawyer (hers and hers)? And, no, he's not allowed to choose anything else.

"Programmer," I'll say. "He's smart."

"Lawyer," she'll say. "He's-- Hey!"

But this morning, Jo and I were sitting on the couch when Tom wandered in, his brow knit in concentration. Joanne instantly recognized the look. "Thomas," she said, "Did you go to the bathroom?"

And Tom shakes his head "no."

Then, with the sort of practice that comes from deposing cagey and recalcitrant witnesses, she follows up with: "Are you going to the bathroom?"

And Tom nods his head "yes."

"OK," I say to Jo, "you win. Lawyer."

I hope to be a powerful player in the music industry someday. I want to manufacture a boy band. They'll be wholesome and lovable and sing in syrupy harmonies and hold every fourteen year old girl in the country under their vaguely sexual but entirely non-threatening spell. Then, once I can guarantee that an entire demographic segment will sing the words to their next hit -- at home, at school, everywhere -- they'll release a destined-for-number-one ballad, an ode to lost love called "If You See Kay."

How long, do you think, before anybody notices?

Handy Parenting Tips: First in a Series

If your wife comes home from running errands and asks you how long it's been since you've changed the kids and the only answer you have to offer is a blank stare, claiming that you've "been letting them marinate, y'know, to tenderize" is not a good fallback line.

Right before you get on the freeway, coming back from the physical rehab facility where Joanne's dad is staying, is one hell of a Texaco station.

It's got sixteen pumps, spread across four islands on a huge tramac. Further back, there's a smog check facility and a tire alignment business and a place where you can get your brakes fixed. There's a store, too, next to the garages, where you can buy chips and soda and lottery tickets and, oddly, matte black lamps in the shape of naked women and mermaids. Also in the store is a Subway outlet, complete with its own counter. Next to it is a Mama Iladro's Pizza concession. And next to that is a TCBY Frozen Yogurt. And each of them share a drive-through window around the back of the building. I couldn't find a saltwater port or a red light district, but I'll bet they were there somewhere.

As Americans migrate deeper and deeper into their cars, I imagine that there can only be more stations like this, with everything you and your little automotive buddy could ever want, all in one place. It was fascinating and terrifying and only the tip of the iceberg -- a tiny, self-sufficient country dedicated to fulfilling every traveller's needs, with as little variance or local flavor as possible. Welcome, the sign will say, to Gas Station Nation.

I was glad I didn't need my passport to get out.

I'm at Rite-Aid, to pick up Joanne's prescription and I've got Tom on one hip -- and I'm trying to keep him from pulling over a rack filled with Chap Stick -- and I've got Mikey nestled in his car-seat on the other hip -- and he's starting to squirm and whinge -- and the counter guy turns back from digging through the piles of filled orders behind him and says, "Knauss, Joanne," he says, "Ortho Tri-Cyclen?"

"Yes," I say. "Oh, God, yes. Please."

I washed my wallet this morning, accidentally left it in my pants when I dumped them into the machine downstairs. I found it when I went to put the clothes in the dryer, the leather sticky and wet, the contents soaked through. Since I was late, I dropped the ugly mess on the kitchen table, gathered up the essentials -- driver's license, credit card, cash -- and headed off to work.

Three hours later, I had completely forgotten about it when I reached into my pants and pulled out a slightly damp five dollar bill to hand to the woman behind the counter where I was buying my lunch. You could follow the conversation she was having with herself by the expressions that ran across her face.

"Wha--? Something's wrong with this money. It's-- It's wet! How in the world does money get we-- Oh, my God!"

I've decided it would probably be a good idea if I waited a while before going back there.

The guy has short, well-trimed hair and he's wearing a light blue Oxford shirt and he's got glasses and is driving a Concorde LX and you couldn't imagine a more perfect example of bland, middle class suburbia.

Except his license plate reads "XXR8TED."

The guy has parked his van along the side of the road and set up his merchandise on the sidewalk and the cinderblock wall next to it. He's got rugs and banners and statuary and these adorable little dolls, each about two feet high. They're dressed in overalls and have backwards baseball caps and lean against the wall, hiding their eyes against folded arms, like they're counting for a game of Hide and Seek.

Except he's got about a dozen of them lined up, and it looks like nothing so much as a mass arrest down at the playground.

Tom got a photosensitive Big Bird for Christmas. You put your hands over its eyes -- or eye, the photo-cell is on the left -- and take them away, and it says, in Big Bird's happy sing-song, "Peek-a-boo!"

Only the damned thing can't tell the difference between toddler hands disappearing and a switch being thrown. So I keep coming downstairs in the middle of the night, turning on the light and freezing with stark terror as the crazed psycho who was hiding in the dark polishing his axe says, in Big Bird's happy sing-song, "Peek-a-boo!"

Years and years ago -- Fourteen? Fifteen? God, so long -- I worked in a little software shop, in the back of a bookstore. I was awkward and fumbling, fat, a geek -- unsure of myself and where I was going. I had dropped out of college to be with a girlfriend who had then dropped out of the relationship to be with a boyfriend. Y'know.

There was a woman who worked in the book part of the bookstore who liked me. I could tell. It was a vibe I wasn't used to getting, and it left me more than a little startled. I kept glancing behind me to see who see who she was sending it to. But, no, nobody there. It was me.

Her name was Rachel, and she was smart and funny and very, very pretty. She had shoulder-length brown hair and pale, clear skin and she was adventurous and exciting and, good Lord, she liked me.

So, of course, I did nothing. We talked and we ran chairs around the store after closing and we traded nametags some days and I did nothing. She was sending signals like mad -- touches, hellos, laughs -- and I responded by being as receptive as a concrete wall. I was petrified. She liked me! God! Imagine everything that could go wrong with that! We might... Go out! And get along! There might be kissing!

The thought of asking out this smart, funny woman left me nauseous. With every reason in the world to be giddy, I turned tail and ran, a coward and a failure. The possibilities -- the endless possibilities -- left me panic-stricken, paralyzed, huddled in the dark corners with my arms wrapped around my knees. Instead of being thrilled, I was terrified. Faced with an open door, I refused to step through.

I am a jackass.

I think about Rachel sometimes, whenever my first reaction is to run. Fear -- of failure, of success, of something other than this, here, now -- has played too large a role in my life, has kept me from doing too many things. I think about Rachel when I need a reminder that regret is worse than risk -- that, no matter what, there is something to be learned from failure, that there is something to be gained from success. I think about Rachel, and the fact that I still think about Rachel, all this time later. I think about what might have been, and what I was too afraid to discover.

I'm still working on having it make a difference.

Hi there! My name's GREG KNAUSS and I like to make things.

Some of those things are software (like Romantimatic and Buzz Clock), Web sites (like the Webby-nominated Metababy and The American People) and stories (for Web sites like Suck and Fray, print magazines like Worth and Macworld, and books like "Things I Learned About My Dad" and "Rainy Day Fun and Games for Toddler and Total Bastard").

My e-mail address is greg@eod.com. I'd love to hear from you!

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