October 1993 Sketchbook

Copyright 1993 by Robert L. Gidley. All rights reserved.

Mind Your Manners

One thing I've always liked about etiquette is that it is rooted in violence. If I find myself wondering which way the knife points, I just think "Which way makes it harder to stab the person sitting next to me?" and I have the answer.

Similarly, when walking down the street with my wife, I know that I should walk on the left side so that my scabbard doesn't bang into her (for a while, though, I carried a slide rule, and I could remember this because I didn't want my slide rule banging into her).

But times change, and it seems like etiquette needs to change with the times.

Dear Dr. Manners,

Which hand do you use when you give someone a floppy disk?

If you use your left hand, this leaves your right hand free to draw your gun and shoot the person (although why you would want to shoot somebody you are about to hand a floppy disk to isn't exactly clear to me). This can make the other person nervous.

On the other hand (so to speak), if you give the floppy disk to the other person using your right hand, they are free to draw their sword and stab you.

Therefore, drawing on the long and cheerfully violent history of etiquette, Dr. Manners recommends that you place the floppy disk on the table equidistant between the two of you and take a step back. This prepares you for any ensuing violence that may occur.

Dear Dr. Manners,

IYHO, do you think acronyms are overdone? Please RSVP ASAP.

Well IMHO (In My Humble Opinion) ISB (I sincerely believe) that acronyms are NUE (Not Used Enough). Think of the disk space you can save by writing in shorthand! There is far too much redundancy in English, anyway!

FE (For Example), many people still say "Thank You"! This is redundant and a waste of time and energy! Who else are you going to thank? ("Thank the President the next time you see him, will you?")

Even the shorter form of "Thanks" is a needless waste of precious speaking power. Why not "Tha"? Better yet, "TY." If we all work at this, we can eliminate countless hours (and megabytes of disk space) speaking more efficiently and with less redundancy.

Dear Dr. Manners,

A friend of mine recently gave me a disk containing a virus. I'm not sure if modern etiquette calls for a sternly worded note, or if I should just reformat his hard disk. Any suggestions?

In the first place, modern etiquette no longer recognizes the "sternly worded note." In its place, we use the "massive e-mail attack." This is where you (and whoever else you can get to help you) send several thousand e-mail messages to the target (your "friend").

Another fun and costly thing you can do is to e-mail him a large commercial program (CAD programs work nicely for this). As soon as you're sure he's downloaded it, call the SPA (Software Protection Agency) and tell them that your friend is pirating software from bulletin boards. This is sure to lead to many hilarious repercusions.

Dear Dr. Manners,

I like to play games, which I go buy with my own money. My boss knows this, and he is always after me to give him free copies of the games so he can play them. This doesn't seem like proper etiquette to me. Is it?

Sounds to me like it's time for you to invest in a shrink wrap machine. Buy a really cool game that your boss is sure to go nuts over. Open the package. Remove the floppy disks and squeeze the disk slightly. This makes the cover of the disk open up slightly, allowing you to insert anything you want!

Use your imagination! Peanut butter would be a nice surprise, and margarine is an easy to spread condiment. If you were a geek in high school, you probably remember how to make potassium triiodide (a contact explosive), so drop a little bit of that in there for some extra fireworks.

Carefully replace the disks in the original package. Take your new shrink wrapping machine and reseal the original container.

Casually leave it laying around on your desk. When your boss cruises by, say something like "Gosh, I just haven't had any time to even open up this new, cool game I got." When he asks, cheerfully lend it to him and tell him to let you know how awesome it is.

Then enoy the fun as he attempts to explain how peanut butter got inside his floppy disk drive! You, of course, are innocent (thanks to your shrink wrapping machine!).

Surveillance or Art?

People watching while you work. Not people, really, but supervisors and bosses watching while you work. The same bright, shiny, new technology that brought us the ability to video-tape a three-year old's birthday party and preserve it for posterity (or at least until they turn 18 and are on their way to the prom, at which point such videotape becomes a significant bargaining tool), has brought us the boogeyman of the 90's.

This sort of thing makes most people extremely nervous. Who wants some supervisor keeping track of how many times each day you pick your nose? (Although with a bit of cleverness, you could turn this to your advantage. Just bring a note from your doctor saying that you have a potentially serious nose problem. There are only two ways to diagnose it: an extremely expensive NMI [Nose Magnetic Imaging] test, which will cost the insurance company zillions of dollars and probably double health insurance premiums for everybody in the state; or an accurate tracking of how many times per day the patient picks his or her nose. Quicker than you can say "Booger Man," company management will have a staff assigned to monitor your nasal passages.)

The theory, of course, is that because the boss is watching and monitoring, the workers (us) will be more productive. This is, in a word, hog wash (okay, that's two words, but have you ever seen anybody actually wash a hog?).

Every day, we can turn on our television sets and do our own workplace surveillance of people who are (theoretically at least) answerable to us: the US Congress. Every day, cameras beam live images of these stalwarts in their workplaces, and what effect has this had? Well, if anything, it's made our representatives somewhat more bombastic and less efficient. (A fun thing to do: keep track of how often your Representative or Senator picks their nose. Plot some graphs and figure out some statistics like MTBP [Mean Time Between Pickings]. Send it to them along with that note from your doctor that you used earlier. Then watch your rep vote large increases to the Nasal Research Center.)

In fact, the biggest danger of workplace surveillance is that workers will begin to take advantage of it. Imagine some aspiring actor, working (temporarily, of course) as a waiter in a restaurant with surveillance cameras. This guy figures he ought to be able to get an audition tape for free (or low cost) out of his work.

"Good evening, ladies and gentlemen, my name is Frank Olivier Brando. I will be performing short excerpts from the works of Shakespeare, Tennessee Williams, and Henry Miller."

"Um, actually, Frankie, I'd like to order dinner."

"And who risest from a feast, with that keen appetite that he sits down?"

"Uh, Henry the Eighth?"

"The Merchant of Venice"

"Very nice. Now, could I get some salmon?"

"The pleasant'st angling is to see the fish, cut with her golden oars the silver stream, and greedily devour the treacherous bait."

"Who said that? Marlin Perkins?"

"The Comedy of Errors. Now, if you'll just be quiet for a moment, I have work to do. <ahem> Beneath the spreading chestnut tree, the village smithy stands."

Can you imagine the scene when people go off shift? Instead of racing out the door to go home, they'll be racing to the security room, demanding copies of their work tapes.

"Did you see that fabulous juggling act I did with those shish-kabobs? The room loved it!"

"Except for that one guy you dropped them on. Lucky for you they weren't flaming. I thought my Mime Trapped in an Elevator skit went over pretty well."

"You know, I hear that new waiter's a performance artist and he plans to drape the entire dining room in toiler paper next week."

All I can say is, don't be surprised the next time you order a hamburger at your favorite fast food joint.

"When I have ever denied you anything? I give to you and give to you, and I ask only paltry things in return. Let me make you an offer you can't refuse."

Is there Life After Diet?

Dieting. Seems like every time you turn around (and I'm glad it's you that's turning around, because it takes me a while to turn anywhere, much less around), somebody has a new diet that's guaranteed to help you "lose pounds fast!"

And there's just as many people willing to tell you that dieting doesn't work and you should just learn to live with whatever weight Nature (or God) gave us (personally I lean towards blaming Nature, because any power that can bring a hurricane screaming down on my head is the type of power that's going to give me some extra weight to cart around just for laughs).

Pretty soon, we should see a raft of books on how not to diet. Since this is one area I'm an expert at, I thought I'd jump in here before everybody else does, and make a few bucks off the suckers-er, general public-who will, after all, buy a book on "How To" just about anything. (My plan after cashing in on the "How Not To Diet" craze is to issue a series of books on breathing: "How to Breathe Better," "Live Longer Through Proper Breathing," and "Breathe or Die.")

So, here's my patented (or will be, just as soon as I make enough money to make it worth my while to patent) non-diet.

Day One, Breakfast
Eat a big bowl of Cocoa Puffs. The cool thing about Cocoa Puffs is that some of the chocolate and sugar dissolves in the milk, and you get a really neat chocolate flavored milk drink when you're done. Also, Cocoa Puffs are crunchy, so you get to exercise your jaw muscles. For dessert (which is another thing I'd like to change: how come dessert isn't a regular part of breakfast?), have a Twinky. Better yet, have two.

Day One, Lunch
Start out with a ice cream bar. Make that two ice cream bars. With any luck, you'll spoil your appetite and not want anything else. (I find, despite my mother's assurances, that eating something sweet only spoils my appetite for non-sweet things. After a couple of ice cream bars, broccolli sounds positively horrid [not a big change from before I ate the ice cream bars], but a couple of cookies and some candy bars sounds pretty good.) If you do want anything else (we're still eating lunch, remember?), have some pizza.

Day One, Dinner
Start your meal right! Eat some strawberries covered with brown sugar and whipped cream (if you feel this is a bit much, use Half and Half instead of whipped cream). Then a big baked potato(e) with lots of sour cream and butter (don't mess around with margarine or other imitations-Nature gave us butter so we could reach our ideal weight quicker). Then chow down on a couple of pizzas. For dessert (ah! the highlight of the meal): some Baked Alaska! The neat thing about Baked Alaska is that it is practically impossible to make in small amounts, so you more or less have to eat the entire thing at one setting or else throw away a lot of really good food.

Days Two through Seven (Hey, this stuff isn't easy you know!)
Pizza! For variety eat some Twinkies and candy bars (not at the same time, though). You might also want to go buy a can of frosting and eat that (Snickers bars are really good for dipping in the frosting).

The More-or-less Scientific Principles This Diet Is Based On
Lots of studies (and I've studied food a lot, mostly while it's on a fork on its way to my mouth) have shown that everybody has an "ideal" weight. For some folks, it's really skinny. For the rest of us, it's non-skinny.

Therefore, just like skinny people can't gain weight, no matter what they eat, once you reach your ideal weight, you won't be able to gain any more, no matter what you eat. So you might as well start now, get to your ideal weight in a hurry and then really start to chow down.

Besides, worrying about stuff (like food) is bad for your mental health. If you worry about it long enough, you're likely to grab a bunch of carrots and start shoving them down people's throats ("Eight People Injured In Carrot Melee At Mall" is a sad example of someone who worried about food a lot).

A Byte By Any Other Name

Lots of people come up to me and ask about computers. "Robert," they say, "what the hell is wrong with my computer?" Ha ha. No, only people who already have computers ask that. The ones that don't have computers usually ask, "What can I, an average Joe Six-Pack kind of person, do to become part of the fast-paced exciting world of data processing?"

Well, for starters, you need to understand the "jargon" of computers. Jargon has a long tradition among the sciences as a way to a) communicate quickly and accurately, while b) leaving everybody else in the dark. If a scientist wants to know whether it's lunch time, she looks at her personal analog temporal displacement monitor. You or I would just look at our watch.

So the key to really "geeking out" (which, once you know how to do it, is a lot less exciting than it sounds) is to understand the jargon of computers.

A "bit" is a little tiny eensy weensy light switch. When you turn a bit on, however, no lights come on, which is probably why you're still in the dark. Because these teeny tiny light switches don't turn on any lights, computer manufacturers get them very cheaply, so they can include lots and lots of bits in each computer they make.

Keeping track of all those bits, however, got kinda tedious, so computer folks decided to make little bit communes, where the bits would frolick around with no clothes on and be able to freely turn on. Because the hippies had already pretty much appropriated the word "commune" (and because everybody knows what a commune is), it was decided to call these little communes "bytes."

(By now, you should be getting the message that computer people are obsessed with food. There's bits and bytes and even nibbles, which I won't talk about because it'll make me too hungry. And we haven't even mentioned "menus" and "Apple" computers. In ten years, the hot new computer will be the "Twinkie" running the "Fig Newton" operating system.)

If you gather up all these bytes and group them together, they fall apart! That's because you need something to glue them together. This something is called a "disk," and a disk is like a Woodstock festival for bytes. They all get together (in grooves) and turn on and off together. The ones that get too turned on, "crash" for a while and then leave the commune to take up productive lives wearing ties and working in cash registers.

So you slap together a disk, add some expensive fans (which make noise, and make you feel like you spent your money well), attach a TV set (only without the dial, and 2 to 3 times more expensive than a regular TV set and you can't even watch Gilligan's Island on it), and presto - you have a computer!

Now all you need is some "software." Software is the product of many hours of careful planning on the part of "programmers" who spent years (and sometimes weeks!) eating Twinkies and drinking Jolt cola. In between times, they very carefully write "programs," which are elaborate ways of making you think that you are doing something worthwhile, all the time they are lulling you into a false sense of security so that the moment you turn your back on them, they can throw away all your information, and innocently respond "File Not Found."

After these programs are perfected to the point that the "title screen" appears (the title screen is the part that tells you which program it is that's about to eat your data), they are carefully tested ("Yup! The title screen appears! It's ready to go!"), put in a great big box to make you feel like you're actually getting something for your money, and sold for hundreds (and sometimes thousands!) of dollars.

When the "user" (this is what people in the computer world call you - a "user," which strangely enough, rhymes with "loser," an amazing coincidence!) opens this package, they find two things: a disk containing a hideously expensive program (or alternatively, a hideously expensive disk containing a really cheap program), and a doorstop, or "manual."

The manual is frequently written by people who haven't even seen the title screen of the program. In fact, your really good manual writers only need to know the name of the program to write a manual. ("You need a manual for TeleSysComm Organizer? Should have it for you by next week Friday.") This helps avoid a lot of confusion if the programmers change the title screen. Since the manual has virtually nothing to do with the program (just like "Virtual Reality" has virtually nothing to do with reality, and is not affected by changes in reality), it doesn't have to be rewritten all the time.

Then you drink a fifth (or two) of whiskey before you do anything else. This is called "getting the user loaded" so that when you "load the program" you won't notice that you just purchased a very nice looking title screen and not much else. Then you can practice "booting" the computer (the current indoor record is 25 feet, and is held by Sam Doskowitch of North Bend, Idaho).

You are now well on your way to mastering the intricate, complex, high-paying, insane world of computers. All you have to do now is practice drinking Jolt cola and eating twinkies and you'll be an "experienced user" in no time!


Team mascots have been a big item in the news lately. For those of you from another planet, a "mascot" is an emblem for a sports team that usually has little or nothing to do with either the sport or the team.

For example, a soccer team from Terra Haute, Indiana might be the "Fighting Irishmen," and not only contain no people of Irish descent, but also not be very good at the fighting part and lose a lot. But it makes the team feel better, and gives the cheerleaders something to shout instead of "Go beat 'em, really good soccer team from Terra Haute, Indiana!"

Well, it seems that a number of schools, professional teams, and other folks who use mascots (which does not include major department stores or gas stations), have gotten into trouble over the appropriateness of their mascots.

For example, about 400 zillion high schools are either the "Warriors" or the "Braves," or some derivative (such as the "Fighting Brave Warriors"). This has upset Native Americans who feel now that Kevin Costner has shown how sensitive and environmentally aware they are, that perhaps emphasizing the fighting aspects of their lives is not a smart move. Also, they would like royalties on some of this action.

Similarly, various other groups of people who are discovering that they are not just "Joe" but "Joe descended from a long and proud line of Joes, originally from another country, but Great Grandfather Joe left because he despised it and never wanted to talk of it again," (pause for breath) are understandably upset over such mascots as the "Killer Joes" and "Rampaging Joes" (which, in all fairness, are also inaccurate, as the team name should probably be "Average Bowler Joe" or "Pretty Good Poker Player Joe").

This has gone so far that recently I read where some team (or high school or Elks Lodge or something) that has been calling itself "The Minutemen" for as long as any of them could remember (which is at least three years) came under criticism for its name. Seems that their mascot was a) white; b) male; and c) carrying a musket. The fact that it took a while for folks to notice this ("Gee, I thought Minutemen were culturally diverse") is beside the point.

The issue was finally decided in favor of the club (or team or school or lodge or eagles nest) when local historians pointed out that historically, there were a group of white males with muskets who called themselves "The Minutemen" and who mostly shot at English people. They were called "Minutemen" because they liked their eggs especially soft-boiled (there is some dispute about whatever happened to the "Three-Minutemen").

This has given me an idea (bet you thought I was never going to get to the point, huh?). Historical figures are fair game for use as mascots. Plus, they are loads more fun. For example:

The Joan of Arcs
Motto: God is on our side. The cheerleaders could all dress in suits of armor (or Kevlar for a lighter weight look) and swing swords around. At games, they could tie effigies of their opponents to stakes and burn them.

The Richard Nixons
Motto: We'll do anything to win. Nickname: The Tricky Dicks. This team has a lot of possiblities for team cheers ("You can't stop our tricky Dicks!"). Cheerleaders could all wear Nixon masks and walk around taping conversations in the stands.

The Gengis Khans
Motto: Our goal is mongol. This would be a great mascot for a polo team, as they could ride onto the field with swords instead of polo mallets and add some excitement to a pretty dull game. ("And here at the invitational polo tournament, the Gengis Khans have discovered they made a goal with an opponent's head, rather than the ball. Officials have decided to give them credit for it.")

The Ronald Reagans
Motto: We can't recall. This team would look really good on the field, but would regularly forget the rules of the game, run the wrong way, and charge up massive bills at the refreshment stands. Cheerleaders would forget to show up.

I'm In the Breakdown Lane of the Electronic Superhighway

Many of you are probably out there wondering: Why am I reading this? Ha ha. No, seriously, every day the newspapers blare new advancements about the "Electronic Superhighway," which is usually defined (by the newspapers) as "like a highway for electrons, only really big."

After many minutes of extensive research, I feel confident that I can consistently spell "superhighway" and can, therefore, discourse on it for at least 750 words.

When people talk about the Electronic Superhighway, they are essentially talking about a new way to get massive amounts of advertising beamed directly into your home. Sure, all the talk is about encyclopedias on-line, and ordering up classic movies, and finally seeing "quality" shows. You figure Madison Avenue is going to roll over and play dead? Ha!

In fact, with all the new digital alteration technology, don't be suprised if, when you order up Casablanca, Bogie is drinking a Budweiser instead of scotch and soda.

There's also a lot of talk about the "Digital Convergence," which is very confusing to some people. It's actually very simple. Remember a couple of years ago, when there was the "Harmonica Convergence" where a lot of people with harmonicas got together in a big field and all played "Home on the Range" at the same time?

The Digital Convergence refers to a bunch of people getting their hands together in a big field and intertwining their fingers. The theory is that this convergence of digits will bring peace and harmony to the world, or at least boost sales of hand lotion.


People in the movies always have better arguments than I do. It's not that they argue about better things than I do (although I have to admit, I don't have many arguments about terminating life support systems, the best way to save the world, or repelling invading hordes of Klingons), they just have better arguments.

For example: "Margaret, you have violated my integrity for the last time! I refuse to play along with your childish antics and your psycopathic manipulations. In the future, you can fulfill your own anxieties and profit thereby!"

"John, I refuse to take part in your infantile attempt to evade responsibility for completing even the simplest of tasks! Your long history of lack of fulfillment leads me to the conclusion that you are incapable of negotiating adulthood."

And this argument is just because John forget to get stamps.

The arguments that I have go more like this:

"Oh yeah, you're a dork head!"

"That's pretty stupid!"

"Stupid yourself!"

"It's not my fault!"

"Is so!"

And this is the more coherent part of the argument. Recently an argument with my wife degenerated to the point where I was shouting "Rutabaga! Rutabaga! Rutabaga!" at the top of my lungs (which is even stranger because the argument had nothing to do with rutabagas or even vegetables).

I can even have an argument about important things, and make it sound stupid.

"Wait! You can't just move out!"

"Oh yeah?"

"We haven't resolved any of the issues in our relationship!"

"Says you!"

"What about the dynamics of interrelating our feelings?"

"I don't know!"

"You haven't anywhere to go, where will you stay?"

"In my car!"

Which, strangely enough, is where I usually end up, since the same forces that cause my mouth to seize up during an argument, also cause my brain to seize up, which makes sleeping in my car sound pretty good until about 3:00 AM, at which point it's a little difficult to either find a hotel room ("I was up late") or talk my way back into the house (having, in a bold and defiant gesture, flushed my keys down the toilet, which is not a good idea, because they don't flush very well, and pulling the handle two or three times in a row sort of ruins the dramatic effect).

Remember that scene in Casablanca, right near the end, where Bogie is telling Ingrid Bergman why she needs to get on the plane with the French Resistance hero? If that had been me delivering the speech, it would have gone more like this:

"You need to be on that plane. No, really! Because, um, because you already have a confirmed reservation and they have a really good in-flight movie! No, wait, you need to be on the plane because, if you're not, you'll feel bad. Really bad. Well, not right away you'll feel bad, but in a couple years. Why? Because, old chuckle-head here needs you. No, really! You're the reason he did something or the other, I forget, but if you don't go with him, he'll get the house, the dog, and the stereo! So go, already!"

[How it really goes: I'm saying it because it's true. Inside of us we both know you belong with Dick. You're part of his work, the thing that keeps him going. If that plane leaves the ground and you're not with him, you'll regret it. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but soon, and for the rest of your life.]

Um, do that thing again, Sam.

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