Code, nerd culture and humor from Greg Knauss.

Joanne calls just as I'm stepping off the chair and putting my tools away.

A while back, I came home from work, flipped the light switch in the kitchen and started cursing. The hanging light above our breakfast table had been murdering light bulbs with gleeful regularity, offing them at the rate of one every few months -- when the light didn't come on, I figured we'd lost another one. But when I went to change the damnedable thing, my keen sense of observation noticed about an inch of water in the opaque glass bowl that surrounds the bulb. I have no explanation for how it got there, save that the universe hates me and is happy to violate the laws of physics if it means I have to stand on a chair. I took the bowl down, washed it out and flipped the switch a few more times, on the off chance that that would fix the problem. I also blew on the light bulb. I can't actually say why.

And that was it. I didn't want to fix -- or, rather, attempt to fix -- the problem because most household chores only present me with the opportunity to maim myself; while working with electricity, I could potentially reduce myself to a charred lump of carbon. I changed a light switch a couple of years ago without bothering to turn off the power at the circuit breaker, and managed to bridge the wires with my hand. That's not something I would want to do more than the five or six times I did it then, because it felt kind of cool.

But, finally, this weekend rolled around and I had a free hour or so and only the non-mobile child to tend to. Also, Joanne had mentioned the light and her desire to have it fixed every fifteen minutes since it had broken. So I sat Mike in his high chair and handed him the phone and told him to call 911 if anything went wrong. I climbed up on a wobbly chair with a screwdriver, a pair of pliers and a total disinclination to go outside and shut the power to the kitchen off. To make things even more dramatic, I also spread knives all over the floor.

And then... I fixed the problem. It was the damnedest thing.

The wire at the socket was melted and cracked, probably the result of the water -- however it got there -- closing the circuit in unhappy ways. I cut the wire short of the fried bit, took two links out of the chain that holds the bowl, hooked the socket back up and now we don't have to pretend we're being romantic when we're just sitting in the dark anymore.

So when Joanne called, I said, "Guess what! I fixed the light in the kitchen!"

And she says, "That's it? That's all it took? You let that damn thing go for four months because you were afraid to look at it and it only took you half an hour to fix?"

And there's a pause.

And she says, "That's not the response you were looking for, is it? Let me try again:

"That's great, honey! You're sure good around the house! Thank you!"

"You're welcome," I say. "My pleasure."

There's a high school a block from my house and every morning my street is over-run with sixteen year olds.

They laugh as they walk to school, shout and call to each other. They run between groups, their bodies busting with energy and spirit. They're lithe and young and free, and they radiate an almost blinding vitality -- their whole lives strech before them, crowded with limitless possiblities, and their exuberance can be felt in the air.

One of these days, I'm going to hide in the bushes with a hose.

Because when they reclaim this planet, they're going to, y'know, need stuff.

I'm standing at the urinal -- y'know, contemplating the nature of man -- when the guy who has been busy producing the thick stench that's swirling around the tiles, like ground fog on a moor, emerges from his stall. He walks over to the mirror, flips his collar up and starts putting his tie back on.

He's putting his tie back on.

What the hell? Exactly which part of what he's just done requires the removal of a tie? He couldn't just loosen it? Throw it over his shoulder? Are there choking hazards I'm not aware of? I'm sort of relieved he's not stumbling back into his shoes, too.

He's putting his tie back on.

And when he finishes, he straightens the knot and heads out the door, without washing his hands.

People I Hate: Seven Million, Five Hundred and Thirty-Eight Thousand, Two Hundred and Twelfth in a Series

Morons who are under the impression that an accelerator/horn combination is just as effective as the brake.

You know you're having trouble keeping up when you start getting lapped by the Sunday paper.

A failed McSweeney's submission, and, y'know, with good reason:






"When we let freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles,

Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, 'Free at last! free at last! Thank Bernard Coletrain of Bakersfield, California, we are free at last!'" -- Martin Luther King, Jr.

"Having behind us the producing masses of this nation and the world, supported by the commercial interests, the laboring interests and the toilers everywhere, we will answer their demand for a gold standard by saying to them: You shall not press down upon the brow of labor this crown

of thorns, you shall not crucify Bernard Coletrain of Bakersfield, California upon a cross of gold!" -- William Jennings Bryan

"Gentlemen may cry, Peace, Peace -- but there is no peace. The war is actually begun! The next gale that sweeps from the north will bring to our ears the clash of resounding arms! Our brethren are already in the field! Why stand we here idle? What is it that gentlemen wish? What would they have? Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me Bernard Coletrain of Bakersfield, California or give me death!" -- Patrick Henry

"The world will little note nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living rather to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us -- that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion -- that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain, that this nation under God shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for Bernard Coletrain of Bakersfield, California shall not perish from the earth." -- Abraham Lincoln

Joanne is doing the books and I'm eating some chips -- which should give you a pretty good idea about how the chores are split up around our house -- and she looks up at me and says, "It's a good thing you're a lazy-ass. The money market your 401(k) is in went up five percent. The mutual fund I asked you to transfer it into a year ago is down ten."

"Don't think of my ass as lazy," I say. "Think of it as a prudent financial analyst."

I've reached a point in my life where I don't covet my neighbors' wives or their cattle or their audio visual equipment -- I covet their lawns. The guy across the street has this perfect lawn -- flat, deep green -- and, damn, do I want my lawn to look like that.

This also happens to be the point in my life when, at sixteen, I was sure I would be dead.

It's Mac OS! It's UNIX! It's Mac OS! It's UNIX!

It's both!

Joanne had some late errands to run tonight, so it was Tom and Mike and me, home alone, to manage dinner and bed-time by ourselves.

Which meant drive-thru hamburgers and cold pizza and lunch meat for dinner, of course, and then watching TV in our underwear until we fell asleep, stewing in our own filth.

Somebody has to get these boys ready for college.

I come out of the house to head off to work, and Ed and Diane from next door are outside, too, with Addison and Ruby. Ed's hustling Ruby towards the car and Addision is perched happily in his mother's arms, drooling.

"Hi!" Ruby says to me.

"Hi!" I say. "How are you?"

"Good!" she says. Ruby talks in excited exclamations a lot.

"You are looking at one very late little girl," Ed says and opens the car door for her.

"'Repent, Harlequin!' said the Tick-Tock Man!" I say, in one of those moments when my Free-Association Filter fails and lets an actual thought out of my mouth.

And all four of them stop for a moment and turn to stare at me.

I need to rememeber that "I have no mouth and I must scream" makes a lousy cheer for the high school's football games, too.

Common Things I Have Been Too Tired to Recall the Names Of, Who I Was Talking to at the Time, and What I Called Them Instead: First in a Series

Pepperoni Pizza Order Guy "Y'know. Flat, round. Damn."
Step stool Tom, my son "Stip-- Stap--"
Microsoft Visual C++ Jim, a co-worker [Long sigh.]

The World is Fundamentally Unfair: First in a Series

When strangers pinch my kids' cheeks uninvited, it's considered "cute." When I pinch strangers' cheeks uninvited, it's considered "assault."

Through a series of comical misunderstandings, the aftermath of a recent birthday party left four half-gallons of ice cream in our freezer.

I don't think of it as making a pig of myself so much as culling the herd.

Graham and I are at Internet World, standing in the South Hall of the LA Convention Center while the industry's largest trade show surges and ebbs around us. We're watching two guys listlessly tap dance. They're hoofing away in front of a long, curved screen, between it and long, curved bleachers, onto which maybe a hudred people are packed. Above them, two drummers -- drumming drummers, banging out a beat -- stand in black pods as they are slowly lifted and lowered by a crane. Supporting struts tower over the whole thing, displaying banners and video screens and all sorts of references to buzz words and trademarked names.

"I've been here all week," Graham says, "and I still have no idea what they sell."

There is nothing scarier than having an election roll around and finding out which of your neighbors actually care about local politics.

Sometimes you just have to laugh.

And then, of course, you have to let the laugh climb into a cackle; a screeching, fitful howl; a broken sound -- sorrow and rage pouring out of you like muddy, bilious floodwater. You have to break, crack open, and loose the pain -- the endless, endless pain -- just to vent it from your bruised and damaged soul.

Because, y'know, life sure can be funny sometimes.

When I lived in Manhattan Beach, as the token tubby pale guy among the beautiful people, there was a Fatburger a five minute drive from my apartment. I'd order up a burger and wander out while they were cooking it, over to the 7-Eleven just down the road. By the time I got back, my burger was ready and I'd get to make a monsterous pig out of myself. That was the perfect meal: a Fatburger and 32 ounces of Slurpee. That was the way to spend an evening.

It's what I did instead of having a girlfriend.

When I'm in charge -- and, oh yes, that day will come -- it will be legal to run over anybody walking slowly down the dead center of a lane in a parking lot.

Jo and Mike and Tom and I are at the park, running in circles and falling down, because that's what you do when you're at the park. Tom has been coyly eyeing the ice cream truck since it drove up and we finally stagger over to get something.

"What do you want, Tom?"

"Ba!" he says.



"Does that mean 'Fudgecicle'?"


"Fudgecicle it is."

I take the bar from the vendor while Tom placidly passes the time by hopping from foot to foot and reaching up, grunting. I unwrap the ice cream, hand it down to him and he instantly clamps it into his mouth, fusing his lips to it.

"Mmmf," he says.

It turns out that you're two when you learn that ice cream does that.

The guy in line in front of me at Costco has two things in his cart: a case of beer and a pre-cooked chicken.

I remember bachelorhood.

The shower has been a little sluggish about its evacuation duties lately, so when I step out and start to dry off, Joanne pokes her head into the enclosure, makes a face and says, "I think I'll just wait for that to drain."

"What?" I say. "Because of a little water?"

"It's not just water. It's your--"


"Skin goo," she says. "It's not brown enough to be gravy."

She slips out the door, off to check on the kids, and I start to brush my teeth. I look down -- tooth-brushing can be an enormously contemplative business -- and when I raise my head, she's back, peeking through the doorway.

"I just want you to note that I used the qualifier 'enough,'" she says, and disappears again.

I've got my package and I'm leaving and all I want to do is get back to work and I'm set upon, like a ham at the dog pound. Right outside the door, is a gaggle -- their organizational unit is a gaggle, y'know -- of Girl Scouts, and they've set up a table piled high with cookies, and are assaulting everyone who comes within the radius of a shriek.

"Hey, mister," one says to me, "wanna buy some cookies?"

"OK," I say. "I'll take a box of Thin Mints."

"Three dollars, please!"

I pull out my wallet and hand the adorable paramilitary moppet a ten.

"Let's see," she says, fumbling through a wad of bills that could pay a month of my mortgage. "Your change is two dollars."

"No...," gently scolds the adult behind her, there to prevent the Scouts from just beating us up and taking our money. "Why don't you try again?"

"Oh, duh!" says the girl. "It's five dollars!"

"No...," says the woman again. "Ten minus three is...?"

I lean over and say, "Twelve dollars."

"Twelve dollars!" she says, and starts counting out the cash.

"No!" says the woman. "Seven! It's seven! Just give him seven!"

I lower Tom from my arms into his bed, and Joanne pulls a blanket over him.

"Goodnight, Thomas," she says.

I lean over and kiss him on the cheek. "Dream good dreams."

Tom smiles and closes his eyes and sinks into the pillow, and we turn out the light and close the door and stand for a moment outside, listening to the silence that has fallen over the house. Mike breathes quietly from the next room, asleep for an hour now, and the whole world seems finally, blissfully at peace.

Joanne smiles at me and as we walk back down the stairs, she says, "We are just so the freakin' Cleavers."

Tom has started drawing, yanking out markers without warning and scrawling over anything and everything in his path -- the walls, the furniture, his brother.

He's been picturing our family lately, starting with an enormous looping pattern -- three quarters of the page -- that he points to when he finishes and announces as "Da-da!"

He then adds a much smaller group of circles, wedged into the corner by the first. "Ma-ma!" he says.

Finally, he dots the page a few times and claims them as "Foo," which is what he calls Mike, apparently under the impression that he's a temporary variable.

I'd like to think that the size of each doodle is relative to the influence we have on him; a measure of some subtle, unspoken connection that a son has with his father; an innate expression of the secret language of male bonding and blood.

But I suspect he's just going by mass.

The World Has Gone Insane: 38,763rd in a Series

The woman in front of me at the ice cream shop ordered her chocolate sprinkles on the side.

Tom has a dinosaur toothbrush. I want a dinosaur toothbrush, dammit.

When Mark and I were in Vegas for DEFCON 2, I spotted a fed.

This is (or was) a game at DEFCONs, picking out federal employees. Winners get t-shirts -- "I Spotted the Fed" for the spotter and "I Am the Fed" for the spotee. The assumption is (or was) that anybody from the government who would attend a hacker/phreaker convention would be there to, y'know, spy. When I signed in on the first day, the guy working the front table said, "Dude, you're like the only guy here using his real name."

The fed was dressed casually, with a polo shirt and kahakis and too-short hair. He had a belt that matched his loafers and he was sitting quietly listening to the lecture. He, in other words, did not fit in.

After the talk was over -- the best part was when the speaker mentioned that all the Circus Circus phones were wired through the wall right at the jack, so you could pop the plate off, splice in an RJ-45 port and make calls from someone else's room -- after the talk was over, I grabbed Dark Tangent, pointed across the room and said, "I think he's a fed."

He looks, nods and says, "OK. Let's go find out."

We approach -- he was standing up now, just watching people mill around -- and Tangent, without fanfare and without the sort of toe-twisting hesitation that I manage to summon in these sorts of situations, walks right up, throws his thumb back at me, and says, "He thinks you're a fed."

"Ah. Heh," I say.

"Really?" the guy asks. "Why?"

"Well, ah," I say. "Just, y'know, the, ah, way you look. The, um, belt."

"Are you?" Tangent asks.


"Which agency?"

"I'm here on my own time, though."

"Which agency?"

"My bosses don't know. I was just curious."

"C'mon, man. Which agency?"

"The, um, EPA," he says.

I still got my shirt. I was the last one and they figured I was close enough.

Changing an active eight-month-old is like trying to diaper a paint mixer.

I had a hellish commute this morning, an evil commute, the kind of commute so filled with stupidity and selfishness and outright human sin that the only thing you can do is slowly dissolve in a acidic pool of seething, misdirected rage. This figures in a little later.

At work, my office is on the fifth floor, and the window looks out onto a small strip of grass that the building's owners had to install as a policy-mandated "public space." It's a good strip of grass, as strips of grass go, the length of the building and maybe fifteen feet wide. Nobody ever uses it because it's in shadow until two or three in the afternoon. After the rain LA has had recently, the grass has grown long and lush, and holds dew until at least lunchtime.

I had never paid the strip of grass much attention before.

But it turns out that stamping eight-foot-high profanities into a wet lawn is a great way to blow off a little steam.

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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