Code, nerd culture and humor from Greg Knauss.

The world-wide electronic communications infrastructure, the billions upon billions in New Economy market capitalization, the most advanced technology this species has yet to produce: Man, this crap makes for cool toys.

Joanne and I had our fifth anniversary last Sunday. In the blink of an eye, half a decade is gone. Woosh.

Sometimes I get desperate to bottle the feelings, save them, keep them safe before they slip away forever. But then I realize that they've always been there, and they always will be.

Joanne is trying to take Mike's temperature and he's just not cooperating. He's pushing and fussing and generally being a very difficult little boy.

So I get up off the couch and start doing the Baby-Distracting Dance.

The Baby-Distracting Dance is... complicated. Basically, any sort of rhythmic movement -- with a pretty loose definition of "rhythmic" -- that will keep a wide-eyed infant focused on you instead of whatever your spouse is trying to do to him counts. But babies bore pretty easily, so the dance, by necessity, changes randomly. It's easily mistaken for a grand mal seizure, for instance.

But it works. I'm distracting Mike enough to let Jo keep the thermometer under his arm.

And during a, um, particularly enthusiastic twirl, I look out the sliding glass door and notice the dog in the back yard, watching me as intently as the baby, and wagging her tail.

Spot the Edit: See if you can guess which of the following paragraphs was wisely cut from an article I wrote for the December issue of Linux Magazine.

"You're a small businessman," I said. "You should be overjoyed with Linux. It's free! The return-on-investment is instant."

"It's not free," he countered. "It puts me out of business the first time it goes down and there's nobody to call. The risks are enormous. Now can I trust something that I download off the Internet?"

"For a man who spends an awful lot of time looking at porn..."

You know why I hate the goddamned holidays? Because they've become all about the days themselves. They're about times and places and things, instead of the feelings those times and places and things are supposed to represent. Why can't I have Thanksgiving on Tuesday? Why not Christmas on the 22nd? I can't be with people I love and have it be just as special then?

No, apparently. No, I can't.

We have lost our focus, amid the glitz and the hype. We have forgotten why we gather together.

Finding your glasses would be so much easier if you could do it while you could see.

There's this country radio station here in LA, called KZLA. They've been running a TV ad -- one ad, over and over again -- a lot lately, and whoever put it together is just dumb as a post. Or enormously clever. I can't decide which.

The ad starts by showing quick cuts of generic country singers, with lots of cowboy hats on the men and lots of blonde hair on the women. There's generic clips of generic country music in the background. "Real singers! Real songs!" the announcer booms over it all, "With words you can relate to!"

And right then, at that instant, the ad cuts to a clip of some yahoo walking a stage and singing the lyric, "I've got a bar-b-que stain on my white t-shirt."

Now, while I suspect that KZLA's audience can relate to those particular words (doubley so if the next line is "And it's my good white t-shirt, too"), but it's not the sort of thing you want to advertise.

"Hey, world! We're KZLA! And we've got the slob demographic sewn up!"

Each box is covered with colorful graphics and exciting fonts and a label that announces it to the world as a "Zenith Home Entertainment Machine."

Then, below, in parenthesis, it adds "(Color Television)," for all those people who might mistake a "home entertainment machine" for something that actually provides entertainment.

Mmmm! Man, these are good words. Delicious words! Yum!

And pass me some of that crow, too.

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

"Tom, did you have fun in class today?"

Tom nods his head enthusiastically.

"And were you good to Mommy?"

Tom nods his head enthusiastically.

"And did you eat all your lunch?"

Tom nods his head enthusiastically.

"And did you kill a man just to watch him die?"

Every blessing is a curse: The monkey's foot gets you a dead son, the Shining earns you an axe in the back, and gift of prescience costs you your fashion sense.

As Things Go: First in a Series

Yesterday's worse-case scenario is today's best-possible outcome.

Joanne believes in the Barney Economic Expediency Exception. If some Barney crap is cheap enough, she'll pick it up, no matter how much I'm going to complain. My little moral or spiritual qualms don't hold a candle to cash in pocket.

Which is why we have some Barney disposable diapers in our baby maintenance arsenal. Even people who use cloth, like we do, need some disposables around for emergencies, and when Target started dumping Barney-tainted crap-catchers on the cheap, Jo grabbed some up.

But that still doesn't excuse the dildo.

Across the front of each diaper is -- of course -- a picture of Barney, happily engaged in some activity: he's painting, or he's looking at the stars, or he's waving around an enormous, ribbed sex toy.

Now, I don't care how cheap these damned things were, that's just wrong. Leave it to the fendish minds behind this twisted purple freak to expose children to--

Oh, wait. If you unfold the diaper, it's just the twine spool for the kite he's flying. Barney's not some diaper-bound sexual deviant -- he's a friendly purple dinosaur who likes to fly kites.

Though, really, I think anybody could have made that mistake.

Through a series of events I don't fully understand, I spent part of a recent afternoon at Skybar, the ultra-trendy watering hole in West Hollywood. This is the place where hot young celebrities come to indulge their addictions and be fawned over by their entourages.

So, y'know, I fit right in.

Just walking into the hotel that houses Skybar pegged my admittedly low-calibrated intimidation meter. Out front are a whole gaggle of either incredibly enormous bellhops or incredibly helpful bouncers. To get to the bar, you've got to make your way though a lobby designed for style rather than navigation. And the question of where the hotel ends and Skybar begins is something that apparently has yet to be decided.

The bar itself is a raised, fifty-by-fifty, roofed-over deck, with the drinks against one wall, an incredible view of Los Angeles against another and beautiful people filling out the other two. The waitresses all wore sarongs and smallish tops and I hope to hell that they get gym memberships as part of their employee package, because abs seem to be a job requirement.

Just below the bar is a pool, cut low into the ground and edged with wooden-grated splash-overs. Surrounding the pool are... beds, I guess. There were these enormous mattresses, with pillows and/or attractive people tossed willy-nilly over them. It had a very last-days-of-Rome feel, with people lounging about, drinking drinks, laying in the sun or each other's laps. Throw in some lead utensils and invading Visigoths and the image would be complete.

I'm not even going to bring up the $3 Coke.

But for everything, for the bouncers, for the poolside beds, for the view, for the beautiful people, both working and not, everybody was really, really nice -- utterly and completely attitude-free. They helped me when I asked for help and made great recommendations when I asked for great recommendations and were engaging and funny and polite and solicitous and everything that people at a trendy, West Hollywood hot-spot are simply not supposed to be.

Which makes me wonder who they mistook me for.

So how come the only time I don't want to sleep is between 10pm and 2am?

My boss and I just got out of a two-hour meeting with our data supplier's salesmen -- the exact same meeting we have with them every year. It's like Kabuki theatre, but without the thrilling unexpectedness: we complain about the service and they raise our prices. Every year, the same thing: we complain about the service and they raise our prices.

But this time, they threw us a curve ball. As we finished up, the head data-supplier guy reached into his bag and pulled out two small boxes. "Here's a present," he said, "for being such good customers." And he handed each of us a three-pack of golf balls, with his company's logo stamped on the side.

Oh... joy.

Leave it to a sales weasel to assume that everybody golfs, that his interests and his stereotypes apply equally to me and my boss and everybody else he runs across. I'll bet if I'd been a woman he would have given me, oh, something to do with skin care.

It's too bad I didn't know what kind of car they were driving, because otherwise I could have used their present. Y'know, from the roof.

At my last job, someone made the mistake of assigning me the most prominent cubicle in the company. It sat directly across from the big conference room window and was the first thing you passed as you left reception to get anywhere else in the building. Dozens of people passed my cube every day. I took the honor -- the opportunity to represent the company -- very, very seriously.

My favorite thing was the pig lights. They were a short string of Christmas lights, but with pink, plastic pigs surrounding each bulb. Plug the thing in and the pigs would light up with a healthy, cheery glow. "Ha ha!" they'd say. "We represent fun and productivity and a non-authoritarian work environment! Ha ha!"

Management hated the pig lights.

They never actually told me to take them down, but I heard rumors of rumors that they were frowned upon by executives who saw them as "unprofessional." Isn't it ironic that the same people who managed to drive the company into the ground could accuse me of being unprofessional because of my taste in decor? Silly me, I thought professionalism had to do with how well you did your job.

I also heard they thought I had a bad attitude. If you can imagine.

When I quit, I left the pig lights in the cube, as a memorial. They would remain eternally lit, reminding my former co-workers that they weren't sheep, weren't cogs, weren't ants, meant to labor in the blue-gray rough-textured darkness at the whim of a bunch of tie-choked incompetents. Burn, pig lights! Burn forever!

The next day they were gone.

I'm getting my hair cut and the barber keeps using the razor to hit that spot, y'know, on the back of your neck that sends chills up and down your spine. Again and again and again and again.

I probably tipped her more than I should have.

You'd never catch me being dumb enough to live in Los Angeles and work in Irvine, spending up to three hours a day in a battered, quarter-million-mile VW Golf on the 405, as my precious youth slowly slips again.

And when I say "never," I mean "again."

There's a Chinese restaurant in my neighborhood called "Ho Toy."

I'm afraid to eat there.

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

"Tom, can you play drums on your knees? Good boy!

"Can you play drums on your tummy! Yea!

"Can you play drums on your chest! All right!

"Tom, can you play drums on your nose?"

It took eleven months, but 2000 has finally provided the world with some amusing large-scale failure.

I was at work when the clock ticked over for Y2K and could barely contain my disappointment when things didn't start falling apart. I had really been looking forward to watching intricate, delicate systems come collapsing down on themselves in startling and interesting ways. And... pfft. Barely a hic-up. Even the software I wrote continued to work. I mean, come on. Everything I know about technology says that that's not supposed to happen.

But now, with the election thirty-six hours gone and no winner declared, I'm overjoyed. Just like computers are supposed to stop dead when conditions vary outside of the comfortable norms, the political system of the United States wasn't designed to keep going when the unexpected crops up. The thought of an election decided in the courts, or in the House of Representatives, may make the democrat in me squirm in horror, but the geek -- which, I'm a little embarrassed to say, is deeper seated -- is thrilled.

I mean, how often do you get to see a special case like this? This election has been more fun -- y'know, from a purely technical, process-oriented point-of-view -- than impeachment. We should do this whole collapse-of-the-government thing more often.

I love voting. I mean, I really, really love voting. Politics can be an amusing diversion, but voting, now that's something special. I even wore the little red-white-and-blue sticker for a few hours afterwards.

I am such a geek.

I wish I were young, and rich, and insane. It just sounds like so much damned fun.

Forgot the nonsense hidden in computer programs. It's kid's books that have all the really cool Easter eggs.

In "Goodnight Moon," on the little rabbit's nightstand, is a copy of... "Goodnight Moon." When Tom gets a little older, I'll point that out to him, and tell him that in that book, there has to be another copy of "Goodnight Moon." And in that one, there's another copy of...

If you want to keep the little guys off drugs, you've gotta get 'em started on this stuff early.

How to Tell You Live in Los Angeles: First in a Series

The local hardware store, amind the drills and lumber, dedicates a section of one wall to the headshots of the B-list actors who shop there.

The expertly painted sign in the corner of the empty lot read "Will build to suite..." until someone who was better with the language but far worse with a brush feebly whited-out the "e".

Will build to suite...

It's that kind of attention to detail that the investigators will be looking for when the building they eventually put up collapses.

A failed McSweeney's submission:






By removing every other word: "Oh, gosh! Diana human. Had just the of. My, is, isn't? I it that is once for. I to any these books, they Diana anyone. These may a but won't with dollars." -- C.K. Davidson, Bothell, Wash.

By abbreviating words: "Pr. Will. and his fam. think is mo.'s trust has been bet. by Pat. Jephson. I dis. App., mem. of the roy. fam. are quick to expect loy. but find it diff. to ach. themselves. Mr. Jephson was a paid emp., not a fr." -- Glenn A. Johnson, Balitmore

By removing words over four letters: "If the you are any of the 'dark side' of that the is to, I say this guy does not know! Men, mood and mean to an all like to me. I know I can. For sake, was and a, to PMS like the rest of us." -- Sharon Grabowski, Elk Grove Village, Ill.

By replacing names with mysterious initials: "Excuse CK, but 39 mumbling words is what PM describe[s] as PW's 'firing back' at the ME's exploitation of his late MO? My GD, I've used more words defending my DG to the NE. PM

seem[s] to have the ridiculous idea that if PM gush[es] enough over those measly 39 words, we the RDs will be fooled into thinking PW is actually something PM desperately want[s] PW to be: a shining, caring, charismatic

replica of his MO. Well, PW isn't. PW is a nice, slightly boring, well-intentioned and utterly banal person who is not now or ever will become what his MO was. By the way, 'uhm' is not a word. Correct that 39 to 38." -- Carolyn Ekstedt, San Francisco

I met James Hague maybe -- gad -- eleven or twleve years ago, when he sent me an e-mail out of the blue. "Are you the Greg Knauss who wrote Upward?" he asked. "Yeah," I said. "Are you the James Hague who wrote Bonk?"

We had both been in Atari 8-bit magazines, see, and both posted to comp.sys.atari.8-bit. The world was a smaller place back then.

Since he introduced himself, James and I have e-mailed each other -- but never spoken -- thousands of times, on everything from kids to code to, um, more code. We've invited each other to our weddings and talked about jobs and video games and family. I consider him a good friend, and hope one day to get to shake his hand.

Man, I love the Internet.

The technician is taking a sonogram of my crotch.

When my kidneys start to brew up stones -- as both are doing right at this moment; rah! -- the pain manifests itself first in my groin, as a low throb. The doctor take some sort of malevolent, malpractice-inspired joy in being a completist, so after my lower back is checked to see how many little calcium nuggets are about to tear their way down my ureter, he also check anything else that happens to be exposed.

The process involves cold goo, about ten minutes of prodding and a lot of awkward staring at the ceiling. The tech fiddles with the monitor and prints out screen captures.

"Everything looks good on this end," he says as he finishes up.

Which I take as a diagnosis and a compliment.

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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