Code, nerd culture and humor from Greg Knauss.

It's hard when it comes time to do something like this, especially in public. You think back on the good times, mostly, and it's easy to start second guessing yourself. Am I doing the right thing? Is it really time to move on?

But more and more, it feels like it is.

It was great while it lasted -- a whole year, longer than anybody had any right to expect, and a lot longer than any other relationship I've had. It was intense -- good intense -- a lot, and intense -- bad intense -- occasionally, but what's finally going to bring it to an end, I think, is a sort of boring sameness. We keep dutifully going back to it, you and I, but it doesn't have the same spark. No, no. Don't deny it. You know what I'm talking about. We've learned each others tricks. You're not providing the rush anymore and, honestly, I think I'm as good as I'm ever going to get. That's embarrassing to admit, but it's probably the truth.

Battlefield 2, I'm breaking up with you.

I still love you, of course, and I always will. But I think it's time for me to start seeing other games. One of your annoying habits -- the fact that you keep track of everything -- shows me that I've put almost a hundred hours into us, into our relationship, and all I have to show for it is a pretend gunnery sergeant's rank, a sore palm (oh, wipe that smirk off your face, Battlefield 2) and a bigger back-log. I've loved the time we've spent together, but I'm not growing as a person. You can only shoot someone in the face so many times before the zazz starts to wear off.

Yes, I know there are all sorts of fancy European frilly things I could buy to gussy you up. But I suspect that another trinket, another bauble, would only prolong what's inevitable. You were supposed to be a cheap date from the get-go, sweetheart, but you swept me off my feet and suddenly I'm upgrading my RAM and buying a headset and... It's better that we end it here.

Good-bye, Battlefield 2. You're great, and you deserve someone better -- a whole lot better -- than me. Take care of yourself.

And, um, if I don't find anyone by next weekend, do you mind if I, y'know, give you a call? For old times sake?

At dinner yesterday, Tom announces that instead of the Algonquin Round Table that we normally hold -- covering art, theatre and the important topics of the day, including which Justice League villain is the coolest and which Transformer rules the Jungle Planet -- it was Poetry Night and he had a piece he was going to share.

As an experienced parent, I, of course, take this to mean he's going to taunt his brothers. And sure enough: "Michael is crazy," he says, "and he is lazy." Then he gets the smug look that means he knows what a poem is, dammit, and that was a poem.

But before Mikey can throw something at him, I say, "My turn!

"I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness,starving, hysterical, naked--" and the boys suddenly crack up. You learn early that Beat poetry is funny.

After a moment, they sort of sputter to a halt and into the quiet, Joanne says, "Naked." And they're off again, laughing their fake-sounding little boy laughs.

And after another moment, the silence settles in and Jo says, "Pants." And they're lost once more.

Beneath the din, she looks over at me and says, "They have your sense of humor."

"You said pants!" Mikey shrieks.

Found in the cereal aisle next to Christ Flakes:

Optimum Zen Cereal.  No, really.

But I wonder if the traditional meaning of "inner harmony" actually translates to "will help you go poop."

My car radio gave out a few years ago, and since then I've been making my commute with nothing but my brain and the scenery to keep me company. It takes about 45 minutes to get from the San Fernando Valley to Santa Monica on a good day, and this time of year, the drive is always a little eerie. The Valley is sunny and clear and even starting to get a little warm at seven in the morning, and as I head up Topanga Canyon Blvd. into the Santa Monica Mountains, I can look behind me and see for miles, to the hills to the north as they rise up from the valley floor.

But ahead, ahead heavy tendrils of ocean fog hang over the ridge like thick fingers grasping a rock, and it takes all of fifteen seconds to be consumed by what waits on the other side. The sun snuffs out and the windshield starts to wick up moisture and everything below and ahead suddenly vanishes into grey murk. Sound damps down to the thrum of the engine and you feel like the whole world has vanished.

And then, above, the fog swirls in some unexpected way and maybe, just maybe, there's something leathery and huge up there, beating at the air to stay aloft. And suddenly, bugs -- huge bugs. The size of a man's fist, with spinning translucent wings and tiny, angry mouths, and they hit the grill like over-ripe melons, with hard, wet thumps. And tentacles, oh Christ, tentacles, lashing at the car, a bleached-bone talon on the end of each gouging deep gashes in the metal of the roof and doors like they were paper. And, ahead, astride the road, a Lovecraftian nightmare, a horror from beyond time, leering horribly, blindly, mindlessly. And I know this world is no longer ours, and the ancient madness has returned, and I scream and scream and scream.

And then I hit Pacific Coast Highway and the fog clears a little and I head on into work, because, yikes, I'm already late.

I really need to get a radio.

Dear Punks, Emo Kids, Goths (and the Like),

As of now, you are no longer allow to claim your particular brand of rebelliousness, misery, dark brooding (and the like) if it takes you two hours to get it ready for public display. I don't care how precise you think your statement needs to be -- a couple of hours in the bathroom primping is not the prelude to an effective display of societal alienation.

Love,
Adulthood

Every couple of weeks, after their baths, I sit the boys down and de-claw them. They get planted on the vanity's bench, facing out, and I sit on the floor in front of them, turned around and with each leg in turn clamped under my arm. You have to do this or when you go at their toe nails -- attached to their inevitably ticklish feet -- you'll get kicked in the face. Trust me.

This position leaves them looking down at the back of my head.

"Daddy?" Mikey said the other night. "Why can I see skin under your hair?"

"What?" I said.

"He's going blonde," Tom said.

"Blonde?"

"Like Lex Luthor," Tom said.

He ate his sandwiches upside-down.

Every day, I'd make him something for lunch -- grill cheese, turkey on wheat, peanut butter and jelly -- and lay it on a plate in front of him, with a few chips, maybe, or a pickle. He'd lift the sandwich, regard it for a moment, then spin it around and start in on the butt-end.

At first I thought he'd seen some blob of mustard hanging out the back, and wanted to get it before it could get him. So I started being intentionally careful with the condiments, applying a smooth, even coat across the bread. Nothing dripping, nothing oozing. He still turned it over.

I experimented, which is where the trouble started. I put too much mayonnaise at the top of the sandwich and he still flipped it, took a bite and then wiped the splooch off his shirt. I bought rolls, without the mushroom top of pan-cooked bread, and he turned them over, too, leaving the rough underside facing up. I fed him a pocket sandwich, half a pita stuffed with chicken and lettuce, and he up-ended it anyway, tying to hold the contents in with his palms as he set to work on the underside.

I made a wonderful BLT, with thick bacon and heavy slices of tomato, and put one piece of toasted white bread facing one direction and the other facing the other. He turned the sandwich one-hundred and eighty degrees between bites.

Finally, I commissioned a local baker to create a round piece of bread, something light, a good French maybe. He ended up suspending the dough in the oven, hanging from a hook like sausage. After slicing, each piece was a perfect circular coin.

I laid a couple out ont he counter and spread some spicy deli mustard on both sides. I added thick slices of premium roast beef, brown and red, in two low piles and made sure to bring them together while he was watching -- the perfectly symmetrical sandwich, no up, no down.

I half-expected him to try to start from the center, digging his teeth into the middle of the sandwich. But that's not upside-down, is it? Or to open it up and go at it from the inside-out. But that would be more of a meat salad on toast.

Instead, he just stared at it. He turned the plate a few times and flipped the sandwich over once, but mostly he just stared at it, his brow slightly furrowed and his eyes making slow circles around the crust.

After an hour, I left the kitchen to take care of some other things.

He was still there at dinner, and still there the next day and the day after. The roast beef first turned a darker brown, and then sort of gray. The bread stiffened and curled up at little, shrinking. I never saw him sleep, and I never saw him move and when he died a few days later, they said it was from dehydration.

Now, of course, when I'm making a sandwich, I mark an explicit direction on it. Grilled cheese gets a burnt-butter arrow, pointing up. Peanut butter and jelly gets the side crusts cut off, and the top sharpened into a point. And no pita. Definitely no pita.

It's safer that way.

I'm in Robinson's or May Company or some damned department store, shopping for the sort of useless trinkets that pass for Mother's Day gifts after you've had kids for the better part of a decade and the intersection of Want and Afford has been pretty much exhausted. Joanne said she'd like a charm bracelet this year. Case in point.

So I'm in the jewelry department, pawing through the ironically named charm rack: tiny little cell phones and Visa cards and martini glasses and I wish to God I was kidding. But a few are nice and so I pick those up and one last one catches my eye.

It's a book, a pinky-tip-size book, with a working hinge. On the cover it says, "I love you!" and when you lever it open with a thumbnail, the inside says:

YOU'RE
THE BEST
OX

And while, sure, you could interpret that as "You're the best [hug] [kiss]", I'd much rather believe that there is a monumental, barely tapped market out there: Mongolian plainsmen, buying delicate silver charms for their favorite plow animals.

At least they're easy to shop for.

Sometimes, my emotional life feels like nothing so much as an over-long game of Jenga: I know the only way to make progress is to move stuff around, but one of these days a single shift is going to bring the whole goddamned pile down.

I'm washing dishes in the kitchen and Joanne comes in and I say, "Hello," and she says, "Hello," and I say, "Do you like my hat?" And she laughs because she gets the reference.

I was talking with Ethan Kaplan the other day and his pants kept vibrating. I have that effect on people.

No, no, sorry. I mean, his Blackberry is set to ping him every time an e-mail arrives, and the man gets five hundred messages a day. It was like he had a small, coin-operated hotel mattress strapped to his belt. He's got the palm-in, wrist-up Blackberry unholster motion down.

But does anybody really need to be that connected? Are those messages so important that they can't wait for him to finish being bored by me and get back to his desk? No, of course not. That's not the point. It's not the importance of the messages that demands they be checked immediately, it's the volume.

With the amount of crap being vomited up by his Ethernet connection -- all day, every day -- it's tough to walk away from the spigot for fear that he'll return to waist-deep water. Ethan reads his mail in real-time to avoid being greeted by a hundred-message pile-up when he gets back from lunch. Bringing the computer with you is the only way to keep up.

My entire life has devolved into an endless, grinding slog through my back-log. Everything I do is about catching up, doing the stuff I didn't get done the day before, plowing through some other goddamned thing that needs my attention. Ending the day without actually adding to the total aggregate is a victory. There are times when it piles up faster than I can shovel it away.

And the computers are at fault, of course. Always the computers.

The tools I use to manage information have evolved to the point where I can abdicate the tedious process of gathering it all together to them, and they now do a very diligent job of making sure that it's all brought to my attention. Endlessly. Maddeningly.

Years ago, someone phoned you and you weren't home, you missed the call and they had to try back -- now, the messages queue up in voice-mail. TV shows used to slip unwatched by unless you were there to suck them up them in real-time -- today, my TiVo has hours of mindless crap that it's faithfully holding for me. The Web originally required me to actually go out and do something as quaint as visit sites to read them -- these days, my feed reader pulls down megabytes of data -- a large portion of it, of course, cat pictures -- and piles it up, forever. Each of these swollen reservoirs of data silently mocks me with my inadequacy.

The statistics are terrifying. All this is currently pending:

  • Voice-mail messages at work: 3
  • Voice-mail messages at home: 2
  • Voice-mail messages on my cell: 1
  • SMS messages on my cell: 4
  • Hours of television on the TiVo: 13
  • E-mail messages at home: 15
  • E-mail messages at work: 28
  • Items in my feed reader: 313
  • Books on my nightstand: 8

This doesn't even count various to-do lists scattered on my desk, next to my bed, in the car and -- you think I'm kidding here -- in the bathroom. And compared to some people I know, I run a pretty tight ship get-to-it-wise.

I mean, holy crap.

It's all hard stuff, too, the sedimentary layers at the bottom of my various in-boxes. One e-mail message can imply a month of work. One feed item can be hours of reading. A single voice-mail can be days of back-and-forth. It's all stuff that I will realistically be able to do right after I get all the rest they promise when I die.

The proper solution, of course, is to further improve the tools. There are plenty of rants out there about how to fix feed readers and e-mail clients and DVRs, or to allow community filtering and sort-by-affinity and Bayesian ranking. And that's all great, and I'll heartily welcome the day when Outlook is smart enough to simply trash the messages that I'm going to trash anyway, before I even see them. (Rule: "From: Boss" to "Deleted Items".)

But I'm not waiting until then. As of now, my fancy-pants, community-generated, emergent-behavior data-sorting heuristic is: a calendar. If I haven't gotten to something in a week, it dies. Stick that in your attention economy and smoke it. I'm re-booting. Feed list: empty. In-box: empty. TiVo: OK, OK, I still need to watch "24." But other than that: empty.

So screw you, info-glut! I'm not going to be the responsible info-citizen I'm expected to info-be anymore. If I get to it, I get to it. If I don't, well, then it couldn't have been very important in the first place. I suspect that burning children and drowning buildings will still get the attention they need. But the year-old e-mails that are stinking up the bottom of my in-box? The month-old "Daily Shows"? The three dozen Waxy Links that I've flagged and sorted and pinned to a corkboard for further study some day? Gone. And good riddance.

You're on notice, Entirety of Human Knowledge. You get a week. If you can't get my attention in that time -- and it's plenty of time -- then you're tossed, junked, thrown away and forgotten.

Call me back if it's important.

There's a building, visible when you're driving east on the 101, that has a sign tacked to its top story. "Count your blessings," it says, "not your cares."

And every time I drive by it, I think, "It goes so much faster that way."

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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