Monthly Archives: December 2005

The Soul of Wit

Apparently I’m just too wordy. My wife’s comment after reading ‘All that Glitters’ was simply to state, “Yeah, that was too long. People don’t want to read that much.” This makes me wonder what exactly the limit is. How long is the attention span of the average person that they can’t traipse through a page of text for free stuff? I’d imagine that’s less than a minute’s worth of reading, is a minute not worth $12,000? Have we become so overwhelmed by the deluge of information from television and radio that a minute is just too long to spend reading? So is everything I write for an audience of none unless it’s less than 5 words long? Perhaps if I’d written simply: “@@ Free 25,000 basketball cards 4 you!!” they’d be out of my trunk now? Does Joe Average ignore every piece of textual information that can’t fit into the title of an eBay auction listing? Everything after 55 characters is just needless fluff it seems.

Perhaps brevity is the soul of wit but some things just can’t be condensed and still retain their vigor. When everything around us written in the minimalist style of the New York Times, boiled down to its bones, what art will be left in the written word? In Orwell’s 1984, ‘The Party’ is on a continual campaign to reduce the number of words in the dictionary. The theory went that nobody can utter a thought that they can’t express in words so to end sedition we merely eliminate all the words required to verbalize those thoughts. Luckily, in the real world, we won’t need to resort to such means. We’ll just quietly ignore anything that falls outside the boundaries of our newfound norms and build our own Orwellian Newspeak around consensus. Well, consensus of everyone that really matters at least. The Ministry of Truth will take care of everyone else.

We will then enter upon the golden age of literature! Oh! I can barely await those halcyon days when we can plumb the very depths of every book, news article and scholarly journal by a mere perusal of the title. But please, 55 characters or less. Anyway, can’t write any more, I’m off the read “Oliver Twist was orphan Met Fagan But Was OK In the End” again for the 465th time!

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Missin’ the Christmas Party

Yes indeed, it’s that time of year again. It’s time to miss the company Christmas party. I’m pretty sure that conventional wisdom says that missing the company Christmas party is a BAD idea. Luckily, I’m unfettered by any such niggling annoyance as wisdom of any kind so I always miss the Christmas party. In fact, I miss pretty much EVERY party related to my workplace. What’s more, I’ve been in the working world for ten years and I’ve gone to a company function outside normal working hours exactly once that I can recall.

Now that’s not to say I never go to any parties. I am regularly obliged to attend my wife’s Christmas parties and other wife or child-related events now and again but when it comes to people in my own work environment I’m a perpetual no-show. So much so in fact that people have begun to actually take notice. I’d really be interested to know what the exact impact of that is, if any.

What change would be wrought in my life, I sometimes wonder, if instead of missing the 37 social events that have taken place since I started working here, I’d shown up to every single one. The uninformed voters out there might well say something along the lines of, “Well, silly, you’d know your co-workers better and have lots more friends.” To this person, and with all due respect and good intentions, I respond with a hearty raspberry, “Pffttt.”

This is where the previous ‘party’ experience comes into play. Having been to a few of these events, I know the script pretty well.

Stage 1: Tattered arrives at the party early. Alright, I’ll admit it, I’m annoyingly punctual. If someone sets a time of 1, I’ll be there on the spot ready to go at 12:50 just in case your clock is wrong. I’d hate for anyone to have to wait just because their clock did not coincide identically with my own.

While we’re on the subject of punctuality, this is a good point at which to interject an amusing anecdote on the subject of being on time to parties. Many moons ago, a work associate invited me and my wife to a party at his home. The invitation clearly and distinctly said: 3:00pm. For the numerically impaired, that’s THREE in the afternoon. So my wife and I made arrangements, we find the domicile in question, we synchronize our chronometers and we arrive spot on 3pm ready to partake of the festivities. Annoyingly, the first words out of our hosts mouth were, “Heh, Tattered, should have known you’d be on time.” Yes, you may have guessed it, apparently the 3pm time was some sort of bizarre temporal decoy. It seems that some people engineer their invitations in such a way that the event actually begins 90 minutes after the announced time. I believe this has something to do with the concept of being ‘fashionably late.’ Whatever the cause, the result was that my wife and I suddenly found ourselves with an hour and a half to kill while our host took care of minor details such as showering and preparing the food. Even more annoying was the fact that most people did not actually start to arrive until 6:00 despite the fact that the party was to actually start at 4:30 (at least according to our host).

Stage 2: Guests arrive and periodically attempt to engage me in conversation. Admittedly, of all the steps, this is probably the most pleasant but sadly things never progress past the random small-talk phase. I’ll admit that in general people at work are very friendly and talkative. There are some that doggedly attempt to converse with me again and again. I respect them for their dedication to gregariousness. Sadly, I simply don’t appear to have the social skills necessary to reciprocate properly and sustain a conversation. My only real defense in these situations is to respond with wit and enigmatic comments. Unfortunately, it’s the type of wit that leaves half the hearers laughing and the other half wondering what in the hell I’m talking about. Comedy does not a sustainable conversation make; conversation requires something to which a person can actually respond and exchange ideas about. Sadly, most of the time my comments don’t lead people down any of the well-trodden conversational paths that most indulge in. Call me small-minded but I don’t have anything to say about the big game, I didn’t see that movie you’re talking about and know nothing about cars. That pretty much kills 95% of the available male-to-male conversations. Don’t even get me started on the other gender.

Stage 3: I call this the ‘kill me now’ phase. This is the point after which all the small-talk kamikazes have broken off their attack and found other harbors to raid and I’m trying desperately to look interested in something, ANYTHING in the room. Typically, the party-goers have broken into groups of 3-5 people and are actively discussing some topic or other. I don’t typically feel it appropriate to go and glom on to someone else’s conversation and since everyone else is engaged, I can hardly start my own. I have found though that talking at length to a candlestick about the unique cell wall proteins found in sub-tropical species of Spirea inspires conversation elsewhere in the room.

The real root of the problem, I think, is just plain social ignorance. My parents raised me for one thing and one thing only, to sit in my room and shut the hell up. We didn’t actually do ‘stuff’ when I was growing up so I never learned those key social skills like, “converse with people” and “don’t just blab the absolute truth as you see it on your blog.” At this stage in my life though, I’m not sure exactly how to learn these skills without some obnoxiously painful moments.

Obviously, avoiding social functions, like the Christmas party, is not helping. To do a thing you must first attempt a thing. I’m not honestly sure what my life would be like if human interaction came to me as easily as I see it happen for others. I’m frankly mystified at times at the easy exchanges that people have with each other. I’ve never gotten it and I probably never will completely but it’s apparent that hiding from it is not the solution.

Before any of that though, I have to decide if it’s really a problem. If I do build relationships with these people, what have I really gained? Will I do my job any better? No. Will I like my job any better? No, well maybe, but I don’t consider the social interactions these people represent as part of the job. Will the company be any better off? Possibly. Most upsettingly though, it does seem that the way to really rise in a company has little do with your actual work. As long as I retain my current enigmatic persona, I have no doubt that I will forever remain a 2nd Class Turd in the deepest bowels of the company as I am now.

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All that Glitters

All that Glitters

Well, I tried to give away $12,000 today. Sadly, there were no takers. I’ll admit that my methods were not the most straightforward but still I expected at least one person to be willing to help me take the $12,000 from my car and place it in their own.

The attempt to give away the big bucks started with a simple missive:


Before I tell you about the free stuff, I’ll avail myself of the opportunity to bore you with pointless explanatory background.

Some of you may be aware that I’ve been wasting my free time for the last 15 years or so selling trading cards on the internet. That tiny fraction of you who regularly read my blog are also aware that due to a felicitous convergence of serendipity and human reason I’ve recently stopped that insanity and now enjoy my free time as god intended, watching reruns of the Muppet Show and the Smurfs on DVD. That Gargamel, how unsmurfular can you get?

What, you may well be asking yourself, does this mean to me and is he really watching the Smurfs? Well, I’ll tell you. Not quickly, but I’ll eventually get to it. As a result of these last 15 years I have accumulated thousands of these blasted cards. I’m not talking, “Pile these all into your car at once and drive to a nearby lake and dump them right in” thousands either. I’m talking, “Isn’t this amount of weight going to do something bad to the floor of your house?” thousands and frankly I’m sick of them.

And now the part you’ve been waiting for: the Free Stuff. Obviously enough, the free stuff is the cards themselves. Right now, I’ve got about 25,000 mostly Basketball (a small number of Golf and Hockey included as well) that I’m ready to just be rid of. The price for the items is that you need to help me carry them from My vehicle and place them into Your vehicle. After that, godspeed to you and your new friends. If more than one person is interested, it’s worth noting that the 25,000 cards will come in 5 boxes of about (get out your pocket calculators) 5,000 cards each. That works out to about 25lbs per box. Simple math reveals that I can accommodate up to 5 interested parties or possibly more if they bring their ability to negotiate and storage containers of some sort.

That’s it. Anyone who’s interested drop me a line and I can have them in the parking lot before the quarterly meeting today. Also feel free to pass this along to anyone I’ve missed who you think might be interested; I didn’t want to blast the whole office.

PS: Sadly, only the original French version of the Smurfs is out on DVD. So no, I don’t watch the Smurfs but I am considering learning French.

I sent this rather murky correspondence to eight people within my immediate work environment. One I knew to be an automatic ‘no, thanks’ but among the other seven I expected at least one to either want or know of someone who wanted at least a box. Sadly, I received for my trouble one vague but ultimately unsuccessful lead, one person who was too sick to respond, four who provided only the unequivocal ‘no, thanks’ and two who apparently didn’t actually make it far enough into the notice to know what it was that was being offered for free. Obviously, the uninterested can’t be faulted, especially since they have the good sense to not want the stupid things any more than I do. Bravo for the uninterested. Those who didn’t make it through leave me wondering if perhaps my use of the vernacular is simply insufficient to transmit the premise in question. Praps I need me one of dem dar rightin classes at the universe-T.

Aside from the annoying fact that I’ve got 125 pounds of cards in the back of my vehicle now, it’s also interesting to note that someone writing a price guide has really gotten their cipherin’ turned the wrong direction. The foremost authority on trading cards and their market values is a publishing company by the name of ‘Beckett’s.’ They publish pricing on every kind of trading card imaginable from 1909 Cy Young baseball cards to Pokemon. According to their price guides, the lot I just tried to give away has a total market value of just over $12,000. Sadly, this is a bunch of crap.

Even the local purveyors of such tripe won’t touch such a lot. It’s not worth their time to attempt to sell such stuff so the real collectable value of the lot is therefore $0. The sample at work proves the other half of the equation. There’s also no perceived capitalized value so the real worth of this lot is exactly nothing. Now I realize that Beckett’s prices are intended to reflect ‘retail’ values but there always has to be some non-zero conversion factor between ‘retail’ and ‘wholesale.’ Companies cannot buy inventory at $0 and turn it around at a profit. Everything has some cost.

Summarily, this is a sad reality of the collectables market. All these items from antiques to sports cards that have some ‘theoretical’ value are in reality worthless. They exist in a sort of pricing limbo; they’re worth only what one person considers their worth at the exact moment they’re for sale. Could be $1000, could be nothing. This insanity of uncertainty is exactly the reason I’ve finally managed to talk myself out of this greed in my soul to obtain, acquire and accumulate. Everything is worthless garbage. Unless you can write on it, read it, use it to cut the grass or cook your dinner with it, everything you own is completely without value. Everything. Those beanie babies. Garbage. Those books you never read. Garbage. No utility, no value. All garbage. Every sad little scrap of it. Is it too late in the year to have a really big gar(b)age sale?

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Survey of the Blogsphere

In the past year or so I’ve basically used this blog as a convenient way to keep a registry of my opinions and various states of mind. My interactions with the rest of the blog world have been relatively minimal and I’ve made no attempt to really see what other people were doing on their own blogs. Well today I broke the pattern and surfed around to at least 200 different blogs. Here’s what I’ve found in my completely unscientific survey…

About 25% are in some language I don’t read fluently enough to understand. Unfortunately, these all look DAMN interesting and it’s annoying that I can’t access those wells of infinite knowledge. No doubt the answers to all my most pressing questions are contained there in indecipherable Estonian.

Yet another 30% are either incomprehensible or inane. The majority of these are comprised of entries like this:

so then I went over to Jessica’s house and we played playstation for a while and then we called up Joe and Jack was there with him and he said hi so we said hi too and Jessica and I talked about how totally geeky Jack was so then we went to get some nachos at taco bell but they were out of cheese and that sucked because I just love cheese…

These basically amount to online diaries. Clearly, these are of great interest to the author but for the rest of us it’s a complete loss. No harm no foul in my book, at least they’re taking the time to write out their thoughts which is never a bad thing.

Another 25% of these seem to be dedicated to commenting on and archiving the news. Some of these are of course a total waste of time; you can only reread the same news article so many times. It might be amusing to look back on in a dozen years, but in the here and now it’s just so much more repetition. On the flip side, some of these are genuinely interesting. I especially enjoy the viewpoint of the blogger at For some reason, the opinions of people outside the U.S. always interest me, especially when the involve the various ways in which the U.S. is screwing up abroad. The award for best artwork goes to this blogger: I half expect to see President Bush conducting the construction of Bruegel’s ‘Tower of Babel’ the next time I view the page. The owner of falls into this category as well and has one of the best looking blogs I’ve seen so far. All that said, there are a LOT of people in this category so I’ll officially leave it to them and keep all such content out of my blog entirely. I dare say they are much more interested in it and better informed than I am. Keep up the good work!

The remaining 20% is a mishmash…

A significant subset of them seem to be selling some specific product or advertising a business. I’ll admit that I don’t understand how blogger really serves that purpose adequately. I guess if all you want is a free website then it does what you need it to.

Some just like to provide information. For example this blog is full of somewhat random facts about Ancient Rome: I categorize my own ‘Rob Reads’ blogs in this category. Clearly, it’s not the best vehicle for transmitting this sort of data but it does have the advantages of being easy to do, cheap and easy to share. Not exactly the first place you’d want to cite in your PhD thesis but good for a casual read or two.

Saddest of all is the ‘dead’ blog, an idea that just never quite managed to make it past the first post. Examples abound: and you have to feel somewhat sorry for them. Who knows what this person would have written if they’d just managed to keep going.

Anyway, in summary, I find that my cynicism about the content of the Blogsphere was only partially justified. There’s some really good content out there but sadly it’s buried in reams and reams of worthless blabbering. Not surprisingly, the contents of blogger reflect humanity at large. Luckily it’s much easier to detach yourself from a stupid blog than it is to extract yourself from a stupid conversation.

More importantly, this excursion into all these other blogs has taught me a few cardinal rules of creating new entries:

1. Never talk about the news. There are already plenty of people doing that both on the internet and on television. People don’t need MORE news commentary.
2. If you find yourself using the name of someone you know, stop. Nobody will care about whatever you’re about to type except you.
3. Just after you finish your first blog entry containing a piece of your original poetry, immediately delete your blog and burn your computer.
4. Nobody ever reads more than the two most recent entries of your blog. Everything after that 2nd posting might as well be deleted because nobody has the patience to go any further.
5. Don’t worry about what other people might think of what you write in your blog. There’s no way they’ll ever be able to find you in real life. At least not without knowing how to use the internet… or a phone book… or directory assistance…


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Little White Lies with Black Black Hearts

At some point it was decided in this country that it’s cruel to tell someone the truth. Rather than deal with each other in a straightforward manner, we’ve decided it’s better to hide all our true feelings in the vagaries of euphemism and omission. Rather than have serious conversations and say things like, ‘Sir, you may not realize this but you have some serious body odor and the boss is going to fire you because he can’t stand to have you around the office,’ the response is to gossip endlessly amongst ourselves and let the person’s career decline while the victim wonders what happened to cause their sudden termination of employment. If it were you with the body odor, would you rather lose your job or would you rather have one really uncomfortable conversation?

If someone in your vicinity is doing themselves a disservice, then it’s your duty as a human to tell them about it. This doesn’t mean you have to critique the style of dress of everyone you see on the street but if they’re doing something to their own physical or material detriment then the least considerate thing you can do it to keep mum about it. It’s not a hard thing to do and it’s very rewarding. In this spirit, I’ll start by telling a few groups on this planet how wrong they are…

Republican War Mongers, got yourselves into kind of a mess didn’t ya? Think next time we might want to think things through to the end a little more? Hmm? Yeah, the next time you decide to take over a country, you might want to have a little better plan for getting OUT of the country afterwards. You realize don’t you that Iraq was actually pretty progressive for an Arab state, right? Sure they had their problems but so does the U.S. You don’t see Iraqis over here with machine guns trying to protect the Native Americans or free all the low-income people working in Republican sweatshops do you?

Democrats, you can’t honestly think we can just leave after the mess we’ve made do ya? If we owe the Iraqis anything then it’s to at least leave them with a country as good as the one they had before. Yes, I know the country can’t be perfect and yes this whole thing was one big political maneuver by the President to clean up what his daddy left behind but the fact is that we’re there now and we’re stuck. Don’t demoralize our troops with talk of how much of a mistake this is because truth be told they don’t need to hear that. Is it true? Sure. Should we support them anyway because it wasn’t THEIR mistake? Doubly sure. So just sit down and shut up for a minute. The Republicans got us into this war and they’ll eventually get us out. If there’s one thing the religious right knows how to do, it’s wage a war in the middle east. Just look at the Crusades.

Intelligent Design Crackpots, ID is NOT science. You don’t do science by looking in a book for the answer you want and then going out to find ‘evidence’ to support your wacko theory. Real science works in the reverse; take the evidence and from that generate a reasonable theory to explain your observations. Then you TEST your theory over and over again.

Scientific Dogmatists, they’re not doing science but even so, we cannot dismiss their premise out of hand. Was the entire world created in 7 days from nothing? Exceptionally doubtful. There’s no evidence and even if there was it’s unprovable speculation. They do bring up an interesting question though. Did life evolve independently on this planet? I’d say there’s at least a 40% chance that panspermia is in fact the real answer to the origin of life for us. Life’s damn complicated to build from scratch but boy once it happens in one place it sure is good at getting from A to B. There’s even logic in the argument that perhaps life was placed here on purpose. In all probability it wasn’t by some fictitious all-powerful being but from the perspective of primitives, any entity more advanced than an ape would have been looked upon as a god. Heck, maybe we should be combing Norway looking for Slartibartfast’s signature on a glacier. All these theories are within the realm of possibility and I think if we’re going to start teaching Intelligent Design in our classroom that these other theories deserve equal time. In my book, the Christian view of genesis makes the least sense of all. I mean come on, seven days for an entire planet by a god who made us in his own image? I’m not believing in any God who’s as unattractive as the average human.

To the Exceptionally Rich, you did NOT get rich because you’re smarter, better or work harder than everybody else around you. You got rich because you’re a bit smarter than the average person, a bit harder working and REALLY lucky. Just because you have vast millions does not make you better than everyone else. In fact, chances are that since you’ve become rich you’ve completely lost touch with reality. If you were suddenly transported into the position of someone who’s really poor you’d probably starve and would NOT work your way up to being rich again. Nobody gets that lucky twice. So get off your high horses and be thankful for what you’ve got. Realize that no matter how hard you worked to get where you are, there are a million people who worked harder but still ended up dead in the gutter because the right opportunity never came along.

To the Exceptionally Poor, it’s probably your fault that you’re poor. Unless you have some congenital physical problem that keeps you from doing much of anything, you’re probably poor because you screwed up somewhere and not just because you were ‘unlucky.’ Can’t pay the rent? I’m not surprised, I saw you at the gas station the other day buying $50 in lottery tickets and cigarettes. Didn’t bother to pay attention in school? Well you’d better pay attention to those fries. When the buzzer goes off, take them out. Can’t buy your child a coat? Well, maybe that big screen TV at the Rent-to-Own place wasn’t such a great idea. Luckily for you, there’s hope. Don’t buy those lottery tickets for a month and you’ll have enough to take a class. Then you’ll just need a bus pass and you can actually go downtown to the community college and educate yourself. The government is all about handing out checks to people but what they really need is life management skills. Throwing money at the problem just makes it worse. If you feed a feral animal long enough, it forgets how to hunt on its own. The same applies to people. Why should they bother to improve themselves if the government will subsidize their continued inactivity and waste?

To the Readers of this Blog, congratulations on having waded through 1,186 words! If you made it this far, you must be having a problem with insomnia. I’ve found that it’s all about routine. Think up some relatively unexciting scenario and each night before you go to bed go through this scenario in your head. If the scenario ends before you fall asleep, repeat it until you do. Be warned, the first night will suck big time, especially if the scenario is too interesting. Each night, you’ll go to sleep in less and less time. Oh, also, don’t read or watch TV in bed. Train your brain that bed equals sleep and only sleep. (exceptions given for intimate relations) The more different things you do in bed the harder it’ll be to actually sleep.

To the Non-Readers of this Blog, so what HAVE you been reading then? Clearly, my reading list is at an end if I’m writing rather than reading. I could really use some good suggestions. PLEASE! This blog is sapping my will to live…


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