from the "Excruciating Detail" Dept.

2009
May
13

Diary Hard

Most of the places I shop play Oldies of various demographics on their in-store “Muzak”, and I have had several “I haven’t heard this in ages” experiences recently. But the most jarring was hearing the song “Diary” by the group Bread. Now I was as relieved as anyone when Bread was usurped as ‘wimpiest pop group in the rock era’ by Air Supply, whose consecutive hits of “Lost in Love” and “All Out of Love” clinched the title in record time.

In addition to a style that defined the oxymoronic “Soft Rock”, Bread was also infamous for its very erudite lyrics in an era when erudition was not (and frankly still isn’t) a big plus. They made one attempt to counter that image with “Baby I’m-A Want You”, which to me, just sounded like a mistake. But still, hearing the lyrics to “Diary” sung again while in the Frozen Foods department showed me that this one song was not just erudite, it really was totally wimpy. secret diary

I found her diary underneath a tree.
And started reading about me.

Okay, this starts out a little creepy. I mean who goes snooping into another person’s diary? Of course, nowadays when you DON’T want to keep a secret, you write it in a blog, so the dead-tree diaries are rarer and much more obviously meant to be kept secret than they used to be. I was rather young when this song came out but I do NOT honestly recall ‘leaving your diary underneath a tree’ being the pre-internet equivalent of putting it on YouTube.

The words she’s written took me by surprise
You’d never read them in her eyes.

Now this should have been the first warning sign.

They said that she had found the love she waited for.
Wouldn’t you know it, she wouldn’t show it.

At this point, you already know this is not going to wendell end well.

When she, confronted with the writing there,
Simply pretended not to care,
I passed it off as just in keeping with
Her total disconcerting air.

Now that has to be one of the most perfectly grammatically structured quatrains in the history of Pop Music. Note the use of the subordinate clause “confronted with the writing there”, and the complex prepositional “just in keeping with”, not to mention the 25¢ word “disconcerting”; nobody in Rock and Roll does things like that. (And probably for good reason).
150x155dord

And though she tried to hide
The love that she denied,
Wouldn’t you know it, she wouldn’t show it.

That’s one for the Department of Redundancy Department.
In fact, it’s a TRIPLE redundancy (“tried to hide” “denied” “wouldn’t show it”). Sigh.

And as I go through my life, I will give to her, my wife,
All the sweet things that I can find.

After all, if she’s already planning the wedding, then he can start planning the honeymoon. That’s the way they did things in 1972, right?

I found her diary underneath a tree.
And started reading about me.

Repetition? No, a later incident of diary snooping. Still an invasion of privacy, even if she really loves him, but again, it was 1972… But wait…

The words began to stick and tears to flow.
Her meaning now was clear to see.
The love she’d waited for was someone else, not me

In the eloquent words of Ashton Kutcher (or somebody who wrote his character’s dialogue in “That 70’s Show”) BURN!

dramaticgopher.gif

Cue the Dramatic Gopher

Wouldn’t you know it, she wouldn’t show it.

Of course, now, in retrospect, it’s clear that she WAS showing exactly how she felt. But I still love the phrase “disconcerting air”… I wish I’d known a woman with a disconcerting air, rather than some of the personality flaws I have had to dealt with…

And as I go through my life, I will wish for her, his wife,
All the sweet things that she can find
All the sweet things they can find

Give this guy the GOOD SPORT OF THE 70S Award because if this had happened to me, I’d never have the nerve to show my face anywhere near her again. I’d have moved out of state.

What? You don’t remember/never heard this song? Here ya go…

AND NOW A WORD FROM SOMEBODY WHO MAY HAVE NEVER HEARD OF ME...
2009
Feb
19

Wieners and Losers

Just a couple totally trivial (and probably nutritionally awful) observations from the last time I had a hot dog.

Hot Dog Buns are truly the Greatest Thing Since Sliced Bread, and please let’s get past the old mismatched-quantity-hot-dogs-vs-buns conundrum/standup-comedy-bit, since no matter how many wieners are in a package, the optimum for buns will always be a multiple of 4 (most often 8 or 12)*. Because here you have the buns, baked together in a block of four, and as you pull one from the block, you find it partially sliced in the middle so you can fold it open and drop in a wiener without separating the bun into two pieces. Who thought of that minor marvel of convenience? And who made it work (even if it doesn’t always work)? And why can’t I find a picture of one of these wondrous machines on the web? (I have found three patents for such machines, one from the 1950s, one from the 1970s and one from the 1990s, which means that hot dog bun slicing technology continues to move forward!)

On the other hand, one ‘modern convenience’ that simply does not work is the squeeze bottle of Pickle Relish. Dribbling pickle juice and a bottleneck of relish (no matter how large the opening) that always releases with a burst of way more relish than you really wanted (and not always where you wanted). There is no way to make this work, and I have tried them all. The pump dispensers at the hot dog stand outside Costco stores work well, but the smaller ones inside 7-11s, not so much (although I have not attempted to use one of those since before the Millennium, and the last time I did, the chili dispensing pump was also less than optimum). A Costco-sized relish dispenser is out of the question for me, so good pickle relish will always require a wide-mouthed jar and a utensil (Fork or spoon? I’m not partial to one or the other. I am proudly bi-utensilish, a true sporker).

And one more thing about relish. DILL Pickle Relish is always a special treat and a taste surprise, no matter how well you know in advance what you put on the hot dog/sandwich/hamburger in question. UNLESS you ONLY use Dill Relish; then, after a certain amount of time, your picklish appetite inevitably begins yearning for the sweet stuff.

And chunky salsa (fresh in the carton, not in the jar) can be an occasional substitute for fresh tomatoes, but that wears out its welcome rather quickly (less quickly if you use Mild Salsa, but I’ve always admitted to having Gringo Taste Buds).

*I finally came to accept the quantity mismatch as a Way of Life after I started buying Hebrew National Franks that are SEVEN to a package. Seven?!? And yes, I was brainwashed by their ad campaign claiming that their wieners were of a higher quality and purity because they were Kosher. Of course, there are other things blessed by Rabbis (circumcisions, the Israeli military, Woody Allen) that I am far more dubious of… Still, I like the flavor of Hebrew Nationals far more than Ball Park, Oscar Mayer or even Farmer John Dodger Dogs (forgive me Vin Scully, but Sandy Koufax would agree with me), and I feel less guilty with their 97% Fat Free Franks or even their (Kind Of) Reduced Fat Franks and wish they had similar alternatives for their Big Honkin’ Polish Sausages, which do come FOUR to a package.

2008
Dec
9

The Mind of Messy Me

I’m starting to get a little concerned about what I myself consider to be ‘interesting’. See what I mean here…

#1 This article on “how Freddie Mac halted regulatory drive”. I ended up focusing on this paragraph:

In 2005, Freddie Mac hired political consultant Frank Luntz, a Washington fixture whose specialty is choosing the right buzz words to achieve a particular goal. The records AP obtained do not cover 2005 and Freddie Mac refuses to confirm that it brought Luntz on board. But four people familiar with events at Freddie Mac at the time confirmed the Luntz hire. All four spoke on condition of anonymity, saying they fear reprisals if their names were revealed. Luntz did not respond to efforts to contact him through his office.

To some, half of that paragraph would be considered Journalistic Ass-coverage, but to me it’s explaining clearly how much the reporter knows, how much he thinks he knows and why he’s not sure. Four sources fearing reprisals if their names were revealed? Interesting…

The reporter, Pete Yost, has written a lot on political scandals over the last few years and been accused by both Republicans and Democrats of bias, which I consider a good sign, especially since he’s working for the AssPress, which, among its many sins, surgically removes all nuance from most of its content. Not a good sign is that the #1 result of a Google Search for his name is one of the accusations, at least not a good sign for Google.

mimosa#2 The “color company” Pantone (what else can you call it?) has declared Mimosa, a bright, slightly-orangish shade of yellow to be its Color of the Year for 2009. No fighting it, you are going to be Yellow next year. blueirisJust like you’ve been Blue Iris for 2008, right? Between the economic Blues, the Red States turning Blue in the election (or at least Purple) and this song that’s been earworming me all year…

If you’ve never seen this trippy video, it’s almost worth listening to the song even if you hate it. But I digress…

Of course, I had to check out just how close this Mimosa was to the Yellows and Oranges in this site’s color scheme (yes, I really did put some thought into these colors, don’t act so surprised) and found that, based on the color swath on Pantone’s own page, it averaged out very close to a 3-digit RGB of #1BF, although the same swath on other sites was closer to a #2BE. Or not #2BE. That’s a question.

#3 The Web and the Entertainment Biz have a “top hits chart” for everything, and when the two come together, you get something like “The Hitwise Top Visited US Cable Network TV Show Sites – Excluding Children’s Programming (Week ending Nov.29, 2008)” (via Cynopsis.com – warning: auto-starting video news report). “South Park” is number one in this category for the double-umpteenth week in a row, but a close #2 is “Paula’s Home Cooking” from Food Network. The Ingestibles Channel actually has 6 of the top 10 show-based sites, including “Good Eats with Alton Brown” at #8 just edging out Rachael Ray’s “30 Minute Meals”. Yay Alton!

In other news from Cynopsis.com, J.K. Rowling has legally forced Hogwarts trivia collecter Steven Vander Ark to change the title of his upcoming book from “The Harry Potter Lexicon” to “The Lexicon: An Unauthorized Guide to Harry Potter Fiction and Related Materials”. According to the report “the new title was created using the guidelines set out by the judge in his opinion that would avoid any copyright infringements”, meaning that adding an additional 8 words to the original 4-word title makes it OK.

I could probably do a blog just commenting on stories from that site, one of the few places where “Entertainment News” doesn’t just mean gossip about a dozen pre-chosen celebrities (which is why I’m not writing for MSNBC.com these days). But then, I just received my copy of the re-published “Intimate Sex Lives of Famous People” in which, 27 years ago, I wrote two gossipy articles about long-dead celebrities, so who am I to complain?

2008
Dec
5

Man, Merlin, What the Hey?

The Alleged Internet Role Model Merlin Mann has a bee in his bonnet about something I don’t understand, because he’s set up an Amazon ‘store’ and related blog just to tell somebody to “buy the thefword1ing* camera”.

*Now, I don’t have a prudish attitude about thefword1, but I do feel that people who overuse it or use it trivially strip the word of its truly impressive potential. Even George Carlin, whose analysis of it in his “Dirty Words” monologues was near genius, got into the bad habit of using it as a placeholder, a mere modifier of other words. But when I saw him live last year as he was putting together his last show, he did convince me of the status of being called “An Old thefword1“, or in my case, “A Fat thefword1“. But I really really don’t want to overuse the word, and creative bowdlerization often actually enhances the word’s effect. So fuck off.

What is the problem for him if somebody obsesses over the purchase of a camera? If it were a Kodak Digital Camera that Woot.com was selling for $69.95 (which was my most recent camera purchase), I’d say that person was indeed getting things seriously out of proportion. But the camera you’re linking to has a price tag of $1619, marked down from $2099, so obsessing over it and involving other people in the purchasing decision process is not unreasonable.

You see, Merlin, for eons, people had things called ‘hobbies’ and photography has been one for at least one of those eons, and these ‘hobbyists’ have gotten ‘social’ with other people (not just other hobbyists) over the stuff they own or want to own for their hobbies and this was happening long before there was a thefword1ing Internet, which is a ‘social’ medium that encourages everybody to do everything more ‘socially’. Sure, it’s annoying when you don’t share the same hobby as the person getting ‘social’ with you, but the Internet also has rather simple ways of avoiding that kind of ‘social’ contact and maybe you should have never friended at Facebook or followed at Twitter that person in the first place. And if the person annoying you isn’t even addressing you directly, then you just need to step away, click on a different window, turn up your iPod or just start thinking of the theme from “Gilligan’s Island” to drown them out with an earworm.

Actually, with that price tag, it’s likely to be more than a hobby; the intended buyer may be planning to sell pictures to the AP and has to figure out how long to depreciate the capital cost before the last newspaper goes belly up. Or it might just be someone with way too much money and way too much time on their hands and so I must ask again: why is this person anywhere near you?

I’m sorry, Merlin, if somebody bothered you by getting you involved with their relationship with a camera that’s worth more than my car, but was it really worth making up two web pages containing 27 uses of the thefword1? And now here I am wasting my own not-all-that-valuable time to tell you to stop wasting your much more valuable time.

So please back off, Merlin, and let the camera-obsessed have their fun or I will have to make use of the most potent weapons at my personal disposal. Ridicule and derisive laughter. The Nelson Muntz “ha ha”. The Reagan-seque “there you go again”. And the assignment of the demeaning middle name – you do not want to become widely known as Merlin “Buy the thefword1ing Camera” Mann. You really, really don’t.

2008
Dec
1

Say Cheese? How do I pronounce that?

kraft-neufchatelEarlier today, as I was opening a package of Kraft Philadelphia don’t-call-it-Cream-Cheese 1/3 Less Fat (marginally more healthy and softer straight out of the fridge) Neufchâtel Cheese (the pre-Thanksgiving sale at the super was 4 blocks for $5… how could I NOT buy 4 blocks?!?), I suddenly realized that in all the years I’ve been consuming it, I’d never said the product name out loud, didn’t recall hearing anyone ever say it and had no idea how to pronounce Neufchâtel!

I’ve never had the need to say it out loud, having always taken it off the shelf when it was on sale, and on the rare occasion I talked to someone about a foodstuff where I’d used it, I always just called it Philly. At that point I realized I was dealing with the only food product available in the U.S. that sounded less special when you used the French name. But I never said the French name and I didn’t know how to say the French name.

Not a spiritual or existential crisis, but still a quandary of sorts. So, when I left the kitchen and returned to my Sino-American laptop*, the first thing I did was a websearch** for “Neufchatel”. Of course, Wikipedia came up first, but its article, while confirming something I’d long suspected, that American Neufchâtel wasn’t the same as the Original French Neufchâtel, it offered no pronunciation guidance. A link to Cheese.com was also disappointing (it didn’t mention the American version at all), the next search result, “Wisegeek”, was no help and the next link after that showed how to make Neufchâtel, but not how to say it out loud.

Finally, Epicurious.com had the too-long awaited answer: noo-shuh-tell, with the accent on either the first or third syllable (but if you talk like I do, emphasizing either will result in a semi-emphasis on the other). As I had suspected and hoped, that awkwardly positioned “f” was silent (it seems like half the consonants in French are silent, doesn’t it?), because ft it weren’t, some American regional accents would make it sound like NERF-CHATTLE. Which is another reason for the bad blood between France and some American regions.

But what this extremely trivial adventure in Web-based research showed me was that, after umpteen years of massive growth in the disorganized database called the Internet, we are NOWHERE NEAR having “everything at our fingertips”. Maybe if Neufchâtel were also a slang term for a sexual practice 99% of us consider disgusting, it would be different. And if it were, it certainly would’ve been in the first five results (I live dangerously by searching in un-filtered mode). Come to think of it, this blog post has probably set Internet Rule 34 into motion. I’m sure Neufchâtel Cheese porn would also feature Smuckers Jams & Jellies (because with a name like Smuckers, it has to be dirty), and bagels… bagels with tight little [THIS STREAM-OF-CONSCIOUSNESS HAS BEEN STOPPED BY WENDELL’S BETTER JUDGMENT]

*it’s a ThinkPad, manufactured far enough back to have an “IBM” label on it.
**after all my documented problems with Google, I don’t even verbify their corporate name anymore.

2008
Oct
30

Devices and Devirtues

I’m looking at the labels on the pieces of tape that make it impossible to open DVD packages. One always has actual information about the contents of the DVD, sometimes terrifying information (I recall the one that said – I kid you not – “Disney’s Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”). But the ones on the other two edges nowadays always say “SECURITY DEVICE ENCLOSED“. A Security DEVICE. Not just a Security Chip (which recently malfunctioned on my newest laptop, turning it into a doorstop that occasionally emits a 16-beep warning and which I must find an Authorized Warranty Service Undisclosed Location for), but a Security DEVICE.

The word device has a very dangerous connotation, due to its frequent use as a military euphemism. “Yes, it was a 14 megaton nuclear device that we accidentally dropped onto the home of that blogger in Central California. No Mister President, it wasn’t nucular, it was nuclear. No, it didn’t detonate and our surveillance cameras show he is now using it to hold up one end of his kitchen table. Well, we can always hope, sir.”

But for me, after a single college course in scriptwriting in the mid-70s which included a one-and-a-half classroom hour lecture on “Plot Devices“, I can’t quite take the word seriously. So at that moment when the hard-working patriotic language guerrillas in the U.S. Army redefined the “home-made bomb” as an “improvised explosive device”, I suddenly had visions of the people who did their improvising at Second City.

Of course, this word is also severely overused in the computer field. I thought for a while that it was falling out of favor when more and more geeks shortened “peripheral device” into simply “peripheral” (an early example of the nounification of an adjective that was quitepopular before the verbification of nouns took over). But then Microsoft (which itself is the nounification of TWO adjectives) started referring to “Plug and Play Devices” which I always thought should have been called “Plug and Work Devices“, but that would’ve given the false impression that they actually work.

A common affectation among physical laborers wishing to give the impression that they are more skilled laborers is to substitute the word Device for Tool. Norm Abrams has done this at least once in every episode of The New Yankee Workshop. And many actually licensed plumbing contractors in Ohio specifically refer to “Joe the Plumber” as a total device.

There are also Rhetorical Devices, which are featured in every Wendell.Me blog post of more than one paragraph, and the military also uses the word Device to refer to “an attachment to a medal’s ribbon denoting special service, participation in a battle, or additional awards”, which can become disturbingly ironic when issued to a soldier who has been injured by an improvised explosive device. Fortunately, the latest Defense technology has succeeded in making military medals virtually impervious to irony.

Of course, there is an easily Googlable website that provides a special perspective to all this: The Museum of Unworkable Devices, which is primarily devoted to failed Perpetual Motion machines and NOT the storylines of “Heroes”.

For anything else on this subject, I’ll have to quote a former boss of mine who’d end each staff meeting with “I’ll leave you all to your own devices. Please don’t use them.”

2008
Jun
23

Bleep…

Bleep Bleep Bleep Bleepbleeper MotherBleeper and Bleeps.

George Carlin has passed away, expired (like a magazine subscription). It happened in the hospital so they called it a terminal episode. The insurance company will refer to it as negative patient care outcome. FUCK, he’s dead.

I admire(d) George Carlin so much, although I do not share his style, particularly his enthusiastic use of shocking language (even as it became more banal than shocking), but if there’s any time to say OH SHIT, this is it. I’ve written about him before.

The thing that was most notable to me when I saw him perform live last September (‘perform live’ – he’d point out both the redundancy and irony in that) was how he had backed away from the Angry Old Man personna in recent years to a more philosophical – the world is screwed but I’m getting through my own life pretty good so fuck ’em – attitude. Note the evolution in this set of pictures.

My defining “Carlin Moment” was when I was in college and Saturday Night Live debuted with him as it’s first Guest Host. He did a few separate monologue bits, including his comparison of Football and Baseball, a bit that included Airport Security, Weird Bacon and Are They Dead Yet?, another that went from Blue Food to Jumbo Shrimp and one of his earliest zings on Religion.

Oddly, the one thing that inspired me the most was his few words on Oxymorons: “The term Jumbo Shrimp has always amazed me. JUMBO shrimp. What is a Jumbo Shrimp? I mean, it’s like Military Intelligence – the words don’t go together, man.” It inspired me to start collecting Oxymorons – I didn’t even know the word, Carlin didn’t use it yet, I just called them Paradoxes – by 1983 I had a list of nearly 500 that I kept tacked to my cublicle wall. In 1999, I fleshed out the list to over 2,000 so I could publish on the Web “2000 Oxymorons for the Year 2000: The OXY2K”. I REALLY apologize for the self-link, the eye-bleeding design of the list and misspelling Millennium. In George’s honor, I should fix that.

But then, it just proved to me that there was more to his skillful use of language than just Seven Words… In retrospect, the Religion bit was also food for thought that took hold much more subtly, hung around my self-conscious and made it really easy to accept that one of my future in-laws, a librarian, had founded an organization for “Evangelical Agnostics”.

I wasn’t all that upset when Bill Hicks died, because Carlin, IMO, did it better and was still around. Now that he’s gone, Lewis Black and Patton Oswalt and all the other comics I can’t remember off the top of my head who are following in George’s footsteps have so much more work to do.

2008
May
29

Wendell Watch

I have resisted googling myself since I changed the blog’s domain name from WendellWit.com to WendellWittler.com (which you may not have noticed if you were re-directed here). After all, my WordPress Dashboard tells me NOBODY is linking to me anymore (all the links pass through the WendellWit redirect), but the PageRank widget in Firefox tells me I’ve restored my 5 rating. So, I google “wendell” and OMG! I am UP to #6! The only more Google-relevent Wendells are towns in North Carolina and Massachusetts, Mr. Berry (twice) and Wendell August “unique American-made giftware”. That’s the highest I have EVER placed. My peak position as WendellWit was #8!!! Take THAT Wendell Castle Furniture! In your FACE, 1946 Nobel Prize in Chemistry winner Wendell M. Stanley!
Is that all? Of course that’s not all! Click Here.

2008
Apr
20

Slartibartfast, NPR News

I stumbled over a 3+ year old list of the Top 10 NPR Names, based on the phenomena of NPR News reporters being less concerned that their names are difficult to spell or pronounce than those employed by more commercial American news outlets (or maybe their names kept them from being employed elsewhere) resulting in a wide assortment of long, colorful, often quite ethnic monikers (it really is surprising they didn’t kick out the blandly named Bob Edwards years earlier). The list predates the hiring of Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, who a new consensus says is the best NPR name ever. So, let’s do an up-to-date, totally subjective alphabetical list, including contributors to NPR, PRI and any other Public Radio entity I’ve ever heard of, with my re-interpretations of the names that may border on (or cross the border to) ethnic offensiveness. But, having grown up Wittler – or as most commonly mispronounced, Hitler – making fun of names is a way of life. Is that all? Of course that’s not all! Click Here.

2008
Mar
24

Ten Reasons WHY Barry Became Barack

Barack in his Barry yearsNewsweek has this long article titled “When Barry Became Barack” which featured a bunch of anecdotal items about the Presidential Candidate’s “formative years”, starting with his decision in college to drop using the “Americanized” nickname Barry in favor of having himself addressed as Barack. It’s a generally positive piece but is not without its doubt-inducing moments, particularly suggesting inconsistencies within his autobiography. But it never addresses the real motivation behind the “name change”, which may have a lot to do with who he shared the name “Barry” with. I have assembled ten good examples of why “Barry” was and is not a good name for Obama. First, five who were prominent when he made the change:
Is that all? Of course that’s not all! Click Here.