Code, nerd culture and humor from Greg Knauss.

You know how cowboys will jump off their horses and grab errant calves by the horns and bring them down and turn them over and tie their legs up? That’s how I cut my kids’ toenails.

They sit on the divan in my bathroom and I sit on the floor in front of them facing away, and I wedge a leg under my arm and hang on for dear life as they kick and buck and just generally claim that I’m tickling them while I wave what amounts to a knife around. Ha ha! Fun! And if you end up maimed, well maybe next time you’ll sit still.

But recently, instead of leaving heel-shaped dents in my back with their free foot, they’ve found a new way to try to keep me from providing basic hygiene. Looking up and over my shoulder, I had this conversation with Tom:

“Dad?”

“Yeah?”

“Why are you going blonde?”

“Blonde?”

“On the top of your head, in back. Like Lex Luthor.”

“Ah. You mean ‘bald.’”

“Bald!” he says, and laughs.

So I tightened my grip on his leg and tickle away.

“OK, dude, I’m sorry. But you seriously need to get over it.”

“I know! I’ve tried. I… can’t.”

“Yes, you can. Look at you! What the hell are you doing mooning over some chick? It’s embarrassing.”

“You don’t understand.”

“I do. Everybody does. Get over it.”

“But she’s… so hot.”

“Yeah. I know. Which is exactly why you’re never going to get anywhere. She’s taken.”

“Maybe if I—”

“No. Seriously. Stop it.”

“She gave me a bit of her hair…”

“Yeah. About that. Creepy.”

“And I nearly had to kick that guy’s ass—”

“Stop. Not a good thing. You’ve spent the whole trip acting like a love-struck idiot.”

“Idiot? Idiot? I am Gimli, son of Gloin, and the Lady Galadriel of Lothlorien—”

“Dude. Let it go.”

I’m standing in line at the gas station, with my half-gallon of caffeine and bubbles, and the guy in front of me gets his turn and shuffles up to the counter. He’s sort of gaunt and weathered and a wind-breaker hangs loosely on his shoulders. He puts something that looks like a small electric razor to his throat and turns it on. A sharp buzzing starts.

Do you have cell phone minutes?” he whispers, the sound barely rising above the machine.

“No,” says the cashier, totally unshaken. “But you can get them at the 7-Eleven across the street.”

Thanks,” buzzes the guy and switches off the razor. He turns and shuffles out, headed for the cross-walk. I buy my soda and as I turn to leave, the woman behind me comes up to the counter.

“Marlboro Lights,” she says. “Two packs.”

I have this little speech that I like to give to business types anytime they need convincing that building (expensive) software to do what (cheap) humans are currently doing is a good idea. They’re usually older, the business types, and wary of computers either out of unfamiliarity or because they were burned on previous projects. They know that you can call a temp agency and get people trucked in to do various jobs, and that seems both simpler and more comfortable than buying all that hardware and paying mole-people to make it work. Given an infinite number of monkeys with Excel, you can produce the client reporting.

(And for those of you who live in 2007 where the idea of having human beings actually touching data is out of the misty past, I bring news from the rest of the world: It’s cold out here, cold as death. The vast majority of business in this country is done in the exact same way your forward-thinking uncle did his taxes in 1986. “That machine? Oh, that machine has the client billing Access database. Don’t touch it.”)

The speech goes like this:

“The primary benefit of computers in most business situations is two-fold: mechanization and standardization. The computer can automatically produce regular results. They not only scale, producing more, but don’t fumble-finger, producing more consistently.

“Here’s an example: Eli Whitney.

“He invented the cotton gin, a tool for mechanization. Human labor — literally, slaves — used to have to pick seeds from out of the cotton by hand, a painfully slow process. The cotton gin was an automatic apparatus to do the same thing — it could be run faster, longer and more reliably than human labor, producing exactly the same result. Mechanization is about speed and scalability.

“He also promoted the idea of interchangeable musket parts, essentially pushing for standardization. Rather than requiring a craftsmen to build an entire musket from scratch — with potential variations in quality — standardized parts let anybody pull pieces out of a bag and snap them together into a gun that was just as good as the next. Standardization is about consistency and repeatability.

“Together, mechanization and standardization set the stage for the Civil War, the bloodiest conflict in American history!

“And we can do the same for the company!”

I didn’t say it was a good speech.

I can’t tell if domainsquatter.com has content or not.

And then that Indian-giver God took it back, before we were finished playing with it.

When I’m in the car, I mostly listen to KPCC, a public radio station run out of Pasadena City College. I like it more than KCRW, the big NPR station in Santa Monica, because it completely lacks the larger station’s West Side latte-sipping hipster smugness. Or, if it has any West Side latte-sipping hipster smugness, it at least has the courtesy to disappear into nothing when standing next to KCRW, the blinding supernova of West Side latte-sipping hipster smugness. “World-famous music library” and “Become an Angel” fund-raising and special screenings of touching foreign films at the Laemmle, my ass.

In fact, KPCC’s self-produced shows are so relentlessly bland that the promo for one illustrates the show with a brief clip where the host says, “A press conference is scheduled to begin at this hour…” Or, another way, not only are we lazy enough to cover a spoon-feeding press conference as news, but we’re doing it off the schedule we were fax’d. We couldn’t even be bothered to send somebody. And this is the promo.

But at some point in the past year or so, someone at KPCC has been given a marketing budget. They’ve put some billboards up and redesigned their logo and they’ve gained a new on-air tagline: “FM with IQ.”

And, yeah, clever and all, in a West Side latte-sipping hipster smug kind of way. Until you realize that “IQ” is a scale, without any implied value. (“FM” is too, but its value can be presumed.)

The slogan might as well be “FM with Fahrenheit.” Or “FM with Pounds.” Or “FM Without Really Thinking It Through, Because It Sounds Good.”

Which KCRW is already in charge of.

My wife is a wonderful, beautiful, amazing woman, who unfortunately has absolutely abysmal taste in Christmas decorations. I come from a long line of colored-bulbs-along-the-eaves people, but Joanne isn’t satisfied unless we’re regularly blowing fuses. Over the years, we’ve moved from eave-bulbs and shrub-bulbs and little illuminated snowmen to eve-bulbs and shrub-bulbs and little illuminated snowmen and big illuminated snowmen and animated illuminated deer and fake illuminated trees and, God help me, a little illuminated igloo with two little illuminated penguins. One of which is wearing a Santa hat. This, of course, doesn’t say “Merry Christmas” so much as “We shop at Wal-Mart.”

But she’s my wonderful, beautiful, amazing wife and so the front law looks like the only thing it’s missing is a rusted out Chevy on blocks. And there things stood, festive and/or tacky as hell, until last year.

Last year, on the night of New Years Eve, someone took all these various lawn sculptures and wireframe simulacra, and, um, arranged them. In sexual positions. Or as close as you can get given how limber most of them are.

The deer were engaged with the snowmen and the snowmen were engaged right back with the deer. The penguins were engaged with each other. The trees and the igloo, thankfully, sat out.

2007 began with my front lawn covered in illuminated perversion. Which made me indescribably happy.

I’ve become enough of an old man that the teenagers who normally barrel up and down our street in their tricked out Scions, blaring their new-fangled music, inevitably earn a fist-shake and a “Why, in my day…” from me. But, on New Years Day, they and their tiny one-track beer-soaked minds, gave me a gift. A beautiful gift that I have cherished since.

And last night, as I hauled the snowmen out of the garage for another go-round, I could only hope that they heard my thank-you. And that they do it again.

Donald Knuth said, “Premature optimization is the root of all evil.” But now I’m thinking that ten-thirty at night, five days after you ship, is no longer in the “premature” time-frame.

It’s been a bad week.

I once read that if you want to sell someone a piano, you figure out what was on the radio when they were eighteen and play it as part of the pitch. The mark will get all dreamy-eyed and think back to their youth and drop several grand, just out of wistfulness.

This assumes, of course, that they actually enjoyed being eighteen, when they were young and free and having wild, drunken sex on the hoods of moving cars. Instead of, say, sitting inside, writing magazine games on their Atari 400.

And this occurred to me recently, when I was trapped in some department store somewhere and they started piping Cutting Crew through the overheads. Suddenly, I got all dreamy-eyed and started thinking about the vertical-bank period and the free-memory Page 6.

But I also realized, after slightly over twenty years, that the lyrics are:

Ah!
I just died in your arms tonight
I must have been something I said
I should have walked away

Instead of what I’ve always heard in my head:

Ah!
I just died in your arms tonight
I must have been something I ate
I should have walked away

Somehow I think I’m never going to buy a piano.

When I list the people I’ve had sex with, am I allowed to count myself?

The screech of analog handshakes is the sound of machines falling in love.

I accidentally stepped in some local news last night, announced by its ISO-standard mating call:

Authoritative White Guy: “I’m Mike Johnson.”
Usually Asian Woman: “And I’m Trish Yamota.”
Authoritative White Guy: “And this is the Channel Three Eleven O’clock News!”

This introduction is so common, so boilerplate, that they could replace it with pretty much anything — including the truth — and nobody would notice:

“I’m a drooling simpleton.” “I’m the journalistic equivalent of a spastic colon.” “And this is the Channel Three Eleven O’clock News!”

“I’m— Ooo! Pretty!” “I appear to have wet myself.” “And this is the Channel Eleven Three O’clock News!”

“I’m a howler monkey.” “I, also, am a howler monkey.” “And this is the Channel Three Eleven O’clock Poo-Flinging Time!”

And then they show half an hour of on-the-scene-thirteen-hours-too-late crime reports and adorable-animal stories and clips of amusing and/or horrifying video from place that aren’t within a thousand miles of “local.” Or “news.”

And then they say, “Good night,” but they don’t mean it.

As the Bush Administration lurches towards its place on the ash-heap of history, it’s time to start experimenting with candidates for the single idea that will represent the entire eight-year ordeal in the public’s mind. Out of all the thousands of days, and hundreds of thousands of decisions, and millions of mistakes, one single reference point will rise above all the others to become short-hand for George W. Bush’s tenure in the Oval Office. No, it’s not really fair, and yes, it will inevitably omit the vast majority of the disasters that this administration produced, like some big disaster-producing machine. But everybody who has held the office receives it as judgment. For instance, the presidents during my lifetime:

  • Johnson: Viet Nam
  • Nixon: Watergate
  • Ford: Chevy Chase
  • Carter: Inept
  • Reagan: Cold War
  • Bush: [N/A]
  • Clinton: Blow-job

Oh, sure, these labels are all overly-simplistic. That’s why they work. The above ignores Johnson’s civil rights efforts and Nixon’s detente with China and if history were kinder it might call Carter “over-matched” instead of “inept.” Reagan gets “Cold War” instead of “deficits” or “amiable simpleton” because he’s been far-bested the last two by the position’s current occupant.

George H. W. Bush doesn’t get a word because I’m not really convinced that he ever actually had an administration — do you remember anything from that time? Sure, the Gulf War, but that didn’t actually amount to much. Oh, and, “Read my lips.” But having “Lips” associated with a president is reserved for Clinton.

And so we arrive to today, and discover a problem. The George W. Bush administration is so misguided, so befuddled, so awful that there’s simply too much to choose from. The slow-motion car accident that has accompanied the opening of the 21st Century doesn’t lend itself to quick or easy summary. There are literally dozens of accidents, screw-ups and outright disasters — both intentional and not — that define the scope and breadth of the Administration’s accomplishments. How can anybody easily pick from a list that includes:

  • Iraq (inclusive of sub-disasters WMDs, the Quagmire, Abu Graib, Walter Reed)
  • Katrina (inclusive of sub-disaster Cronyism)
  • 9/11 (inclusive of sub-disasters Domestic Spying, Death of Habeus Cropus, Guantanamo Bay, Tora Bora)
  • Corruption (inclusive of sub-disasters Abramoff, Libby, Foggo, DeLay, Cunningham, Ney, Foley, Gannon)
  • The Economy (inclusive of sub-disasters Deficits, Sub-Prime Mortgage Crisis, the Dollar, Recession [pending])
  • Various Intentional Policies (inclusive of sub-disasters Kyoto, ABM Treaty, Energy Meetings, Global Warming, Tax Cuts)
  • The Politicization of Everything (inclusive of sub-disasters Justice Department, Valerie Plame, Various EPA/NIH/etc. Reports, Executive Privilege, Signing Statements, Terri Schiavo, Freedom Fries)
  • The Abandonment of Science (inclusive of sub-disasters Stem Cells, “Faith-Based” Funding)
  • General Clownishness (inclusive of sub-disasters Malapropisms, the Pretzel, Facial Shotgunning)

And many, many more.

Clearly, there’s no easy way to pick which single disaster will epitomize the Bush Administration. There are simply too many candidates.

Therefore, the only reasonable thing to do is to turn the equation around: Instead of picking a single event to define the Bush Administration, the Bush Administration should be used to define the events, and all similar events generally. Instead of any one idea becoming short-hand for Bush, the word “Bush” becomes short-hand for all that he as accomplished, a synonym for an epic, all-encompassing, near-mythical series of screw-up, mistakes and incompetencies.

It can also be used as an expletive.

Mike: Uh-oh.
Me: What? What “uh-oh”?
Mike: Um. Nothing. Never mind.
Me: Mike. Out with it. What “uh-oh”?
Mike: The good kind of “uh-oh.”
Me: There is no good kind of “uh-oh.”
Mike: Yes, there is. Like “tears of joy.”

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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