Code, nerd culture and humor from Greg Knauss.

So I'm heading to lunch and waiting on the street corner for the light to change and next to me is a city worker, up on a ladder, fixing the "Walk/Don't Walk" sign. He's mumbling to himself -- very, very quietly -- and I lean closer to hear what he's saying.

"Mmm! Why you...! Woo woo woo!" He reaches down a pulls a screwdriver out of his work belt, then dives back in. "Oh, a wise guy, aye? Nyuck, nyuck!"

Three Stooges. He's muttering Three Stooges catch-phrases to himself while he works.

I thought I was the only one who did that.

I may be coming up on my fifth wedding anniversary, but I know I'm still a bachelor deep down. Even though there's a box of Kleenex sitting right there in the bathroom, I automatically take a wad of toilet paper from the roll to blow my nose.

Hell, it took me two years to graduate from my sleeve.

Geek Media Saturation Moment #1: Any time anyone in a movie says, "I mean it!" I can't stop myself from thinking -- in a deep, slightly slurred voice -- "Anybody want a peanut?"

A few years ago -- under circumstances that would be described as bizarre if this weren't the age of miracle and wonder -- I got to meet Jeff Goodell. Jeff is a writer, for Rolling Stone and the New York Times among others, and we've occasionally kept in touch via e-mail. Out of the blue, he sent me a preview copy of his new book, "Sunnyvale," due in July.

And it's just... amazing. The story of Goodell's family and how it fell apart in the happy unreality of the land where they built the future, "Sunnyvale" is an immensely personal book, something that not many people could have written. The diametric opposite of everything that offers easy answers or comforting platitudes, the story is not an ounce less dramatic or heart-breaking for being true. I don't think it's possible to read this book and not find touchstones to your own life: sadness at the inevitability of conflict, joy in the tiny moments of connection, comfort that it is possible to find just a little peace sometimes. Goodell is an astonishingly good writer -- the words just fall off the page, directly into your head -- and "Sunnyvale" is an astonishingly good book.

A postscript of sorts to "Sunnyvale" ran in Sunday's New York Times Magazine.

Naps: good. Five-hour naps in the middle of the day that throw off your sleep cycle so you're left browsing the Web and goofing with code at three in the morning when you should be upstairs asleep: still good. I mean, c'mon, they're naps.

So there's this over-weight 45-year-old woman standing in line at Rite-Aid. She's wearing leopard-skin tights, and waiting to buy a twelve-pack of beer and one of those backyard Tiki torches.

And people say Americans aren't subtle.

FNORD 1.1. This is actually much older than the date on it, the basic idea going back to when I started my first professional programming job, well-nigh eight years ago. It arose out of my frustration with reading other people's code. I'm not smart enough to keep track of the difference between i and x three hundred lines after they've been declared, so I let them do the remembering for me: list_Index probably walks through list_Array[], and I'll bet bitmap_X is the X coordinate for bitmap_Info, which is a bitmap_t.

I also keep "knife" and "fork" written on the appropriate utensils, so I can remember what they're for, too.

Rather than spend $45,000 on an SUV, why not just get a bumper sticker for your current car that says, "I'm an Asshole!"?

Maybe ten years ago, I was in a speech class. I have trouble remembering anything about it save the final, which was to be a ten minute instructional presentation on any topic of our choosing.

The last thing you want to do is tell a bored geek that he gets to do whatever he wants. After a couple of weeks self-interested, early-twenties blather -- "How to Play a Guitar," "How to Score with the Ladies" -- I got up to give my speech: "The Construction and Detonation of an Atomic Bomb."

It was simplified, of course, and I glossed over where you'd get the uranium, but it was scientifically accurate and fairly complete, down to the best detonation altitudes for maximum impact.

Lord knows the trouble I'd get in today, post-Columbine, for doing something like that, but at the time all I got was a pat on the back, a B+ and the helpful audience comment, "Seemed a little nervous. Should relax when talking about the destruction of mankind."

This whole external male genitalia thing is really badly designed. I mean, do I have to carry a VCR around with me all the time just because I watch a movie every once in a while?


I break promises to my dog. What kind of bastard does that make me?

Lies, Damned Lies and What They Tell You at Radio Shack:

A couple of months ago, I went and got a cell phone for work. It's a tiny little thing and in general I've been very happy with it. It vibrates. It's my friend.

When I picked it up, I was sure to ask the salesman if it had a browser. "Oh, yes," he assured me. "It's Web capable." When I called Airtouch to activate the service, the guy told me that the service wasn't currently available, but things would be up and running by the end of April at the latest. Everything's just fine. Sleep now. Sleep.

When I phoned again, last night, another guy said that there were no plans to activate the service any time soon. He didn't think that you would be able to browse from an Airtouch phone in LA before the end of the year. He said that's been the schedule all along and whoever told me otherwise was either clueless or lying. "Web capable" apparently means something very different from "Web actually provided and able to be used."


Salesmen suck. All of them. Even the good ones. If you're a salesman, then I hate you. You're joined forever, fairly or unfairly, with the weaselly bastard who stuck me with this phone. If you can't do what I want, just tell you can't do what I want. Maybe I'll buy anyway. But, dammit, it should be an informed decision. Don't con me with slippery language and stick me with something that's basically useless for my purposes, you gape-mouthed little monkey.

I am going to Radio Shack to return this phone and get my money back, even if it takes a trip into the alley, rubber gloves and forceps.

Oh, man, do Reduced Fat Triscuits suck.

The Case for Complete Data Accessibility:

We've got a TiVo -- a neat little box, the unholy union of a VCR and a computer. It lets you do all sorts of keen things, many of which involve the information it downloads every night: record shows by name instead of time (it automatically picked up the fact that the "Law & Order" season finale is two hours, for instance), get a text description of what you're watching, even rate what you like, thumbs-up or thumbs-down. This last bit is interesting, because after you've used it enough, the machine will take the information about what you enjoy and start grabbing similar shows that match your profile.

But, again, toddlers like to push buttons and Tom has seen fit to find great amusement in randomly pounding on the TiVo's remote, scoring Japanese-language newscasts and country music videos very highly. This wouldn't be a problem if you could get a summery of everything the machine thinks you've rated, but TiVo's engineers apparently don't have children, so you can't. And so while the box is able to pick "Life is Beautiful" as something we might enjoy, it also grabs "Sabado Gigante."

Which isn't half-bad, really.

Thank God for Philip Morris, because without them who would protect America's children?

The company is currently running a TV ad where a burly, 240-pound convenience store clerk is nearly intimidated into selling cigarettes to an apple-cheeked fifteen-year-old girl in a prom dress. Cowering behind the counter, he only pulls back and decides to obey the law at the last second because of a small cardboard sign -- "We Card" -- helpfully provided by the international death merchant. "I just point at the sign," says the clerk as the girl huffs out of the store to get her nic fix somewhere else, "because, geez, did you see the size of that girl? She could have taken me in a second!"

"But I'll be happy to sell you booze," he probably calls after her once the cameras are off. "The liquor industry doesn't give a crap."

Observation #1: Toddlers like to push buttons.

Observation #2: Most electronic equipment is not designed with random button pusing in mind.

If you double-punch the little power nub on the front of a newish HP computer, it shuts down. I didn't know this until Tom -- one and a half years old, and as uninterested in reading manuals as I am -- discovered it while playing at my feet one day.

This infuriates me:

    Because Windows was not shut down properly, one or more of your disk drives may have errors on it.

    To avoid seeing this message, always shut down your computer by using Shut Down from the Start Menu.

This little missive sums up a whole lot of what's wrong with the computer industry. It smugly assumes that the reason the computer wasn't shut down correctly was because the user is an drooling idiot who can't follow directions -- when it's much more likely that the problem was caused by yet another random Windows crash. And it's not just Microsoft stuff -- it's everybody. Users have been conditioned to expect things to go wrong, and to accept the blame when they do. That's a shameful legacy for the industry that's supposed to be building the future.

God, Web design is so frustrating. I know what I want to do, I know how it's supposed to work... But I can never seem to pull it off. It's like basketball -- I've got all the fundamentals down, I've read the books, studied the techniques, but they never mesh the way they're supposed to. The distance between an intellectual understanding and a physical reality really pisses me off. Dammit, dammit, dammit.

So yesterday I'm walking over to 7-Eleven to get my late-afternoon suger rush when a truck passing me on the street hits a bump -- and a small girl comes flying out the back. She lands on the street, and the cars following the truck slow down and stop and wait for her to get out of their way. I run over and gingerly move her over to the side of the road right as one of the guys riding in the front of the truck she fell out of comes trotting back to retrieve her. He smiles and thanks me.

The moral? Stories are a lot more dramatic when you use the words "small girl" in place of "lawn mower."

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

Some of those things are software (like Romantimatic), 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 I'd love to hear from you!

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