October 2008


Wendell’s Law #onemorethanlasttime

“Those who are allowed discretion rarely practice discretion.”

Wendell.Me. The Wisdom of the Ages One Day at a Time With Many Days Off.



No, I will not be participating in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) in November, even though among my stash of unused domain names, I keep up the registration of three that would be the titles of novels I have already outlined at least half the story of (but I only have an ending for one). And yes, two of the titles are almost painfully punny, and I would probably blog any novels I write as I am writing them, but I’m not going to reveal anything to anybody until I’m ready to do it and on November 1st, 2008 I will NOT be ready.

Why isn’t there a National Short Story Writing WEEK? (NaShoStoWriWe)

I am considering some alternatives to NaNoWriMo, including:

Writing a Cook Book for National Cook Book Writing Month: NaCoBoWriMo.

Writing a Pamphlet for National Pamphlet Writing Month: NaPaWriMo (unfortunately you have to be living in Napa, California to fully participate. It’s more of a NapaCaPaWriMo.)

Write an Opera for November Opera Writing Month: NoOpWriMo, not to be confused with the planned post-election No OpEd Writing Month, also NoOpWriMo.

Then, of course there’s November Economic Forecast Writing Month (NoEcFoWriMo), leading directly into December Excuses For Not Giving Presents Writing Month (DeExFoNoGiPreWriMo).

And then there’s Blog Mediation Writing Month (BloMeWriMo), which I suspect will be very popular this year.


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.”


By De-Sign

Going out and around today, I noticed that the local claning-up-stuff authority had removed nearly all the political signs from public property. It gave me a happy preview of what life will be like a week from today, when the people who really run our lives return to business as usual without going through the motions of asking our permission.

Wait a minute. Is that a hole in my tinfoil hat? Oh, now I see the problem. I had the Reynolds Wrap Release inside out – the non-stick side should be on the outside.

Also, in my town, we’re expecting rain on Halloween and sunshine on Election Day. Climate Change isn’t about Warming – it’s about weather that keeps you from having fun but doesn’t keep you from going to work.


Don’t Be a Halloweenie

As we approach the only holiday of the year designated as the Devil’s Playground (unless you’re Upper Management and hate Labor Day), it’s important to remember to take extra care and precautions. I’m not talking about staying close to young Trick-Or-Treaters or checking all candy handouts for foreign objects more dangerous than the cookie crunch in a Twix. I’m talking about the choice of costumes, for revelers of all sizes.

There are always certain “hot” costumes that end up overcrowding the social gatherings like MacBooks at a Starbucks, foam fingers at a football game or Rick Astley videos on YouTube. If you’d never want to be caught wearing the same outfit as someone else at a regular party, think twice or more before you start putting together a Sarah Palin-esque ensemble for Halloween, even if you have a $150,000 budget too. In fact, all Presidential campaign-related costumes should be avoided this year, including candidate spouses and celebrities born from campaign rhetoric. At large gatherings of diverse people, it could turn into a fight, or even worse, a rerun of Crossfire. Avoid economic news for inspiration this year too; it isn’t so much scary as sad, and few will notice the difference between your Depressed Banker and your neighbor’s Depressed Stock Broker. The only Wall Street character that would be fun to “be” is Jim Cramer, but a goatee and rolled-up sleeves is TOO easy and he’d only fit in at a very loud party.

There are also a few pop cultural icons that are doomed to overexposure this year. The Heath Ledger-style Joker has been so hot the last few months, it’s burning out faster than Heath did. (Sorry.) Maybe you can counter-program with the look of a César Romero Joker from the ’60s Batman TV show, but even that may not be enough to stand out from the green-haired crowd. And anybody with a cane can (and likely will) be doing Dr. House this year.

Even the character types from the recent Pantheon of Awesomeness: Ninjas, Pirates, Vampires, Spartans and the like, have been jumping around way too close to the shark tank lately. If you want to stand out, you have to think different(ly) and that means don’t be a Mac OR a PC.

So what CAN you costume yourself as to make an original impression this year? Here are a few modest proposals, but be advised they may be rather nostalgia-oriented or geeky or both, so think about what kind of people you’ll be partying with to avoid spending all night explaining your outfit:

The Mad Man
I don’t mean raving lunatic, I mean 1960’s Madison Avenue Advertising Executive. It’s easy if you (or a parent or grandparent) are still holding onto a very outdated business suit, but be sure to accessorize heavily – pocket squares, cufflinks, cigarettes, martini glasses, Brylcreamed hair – or you’ll get lumped in with the Depressed Bankers. For extra points, add white hair and a mustache and be Larry Tate, Darren’s Adman Boss from “Bewitched”. Even better for women, a Peggy Olsen-style secretary will make a strong impression; just don’t be surprised if you get treated like a Girl Friday by some of the other party-goers.

The Doctor
No, we already said “no House”, we’re talking about the British Sci-Fi icon, whose last name is NOT “Who”. (And if you didn’t already know that much, go on to the next suggestion.) But don’t bother with a recent edition. Model yourself after one of the more oddly-dressed old-school Time Lords with a white bowler hat, question-marked lapels or a celery boutonniere. But if the crowd at your party is less than geeky, just go for the Tom Baker ensemble of long hair, long coat and very long scarf.

The Fonz
This character who “jumped the shark” long ago (and coined the phrase) has suddenly reappeared, thanks to an ingenious political video. The timing is perfect; if the “Fonz endorsement” had happened a month ago, it would already be getting stale by now. Alternately, a Sheriff Andy or a very large version of Little Opie will get some “Aayyyys” from your party mates, but the previous political warning applies here too.

Josephine the Plumber
For all the talk about Joe the Plumber, we seem to have forgotten the 1960’s TV commercial character, as ubiquitous back then as Madge the Manicurist and Mr. Whipple, and portrayed by Jane Withers in pristine white overalls and a jaunty cap. Carrying a couple cans of Comet cleanser should help defuse any political fireworks.

Iron Man Variations
Don’t go for the obvious superhero copy (besides, the original would be as comfortable as a suit of armor), but put together combinations that will invoke characters like Scrap Iron Man (bits of armor made from old cans, tools or appliances), Iron Chef Man (the metal mask with a chef’s apron), Ironing Man (basically Robert Downey Jr. doing laundry) or Irony Man (I haven’t a clue how to do it, but if you do, you’ll be the hit of any hipster party).

The Women of Clone Wars
It sounds like a bad Playboy feature, but one thing the latest chapter of the Star Wars saga has going for it is a variety of butt-kicking female warriors. Ahsoka Tano, Asajj Ventress and Luminara Unduli are all distinctively designed characters with not a metal bikini in the bunch. Of course, Star Wars characters go cliché in no time, but the ho-hum reaction of much of geekhood to the new stuff will make duplicated costumes unlikely and you can get away without admitting you’re dressed up as a Jedi.

They are in the second-tier of awesome characters and that’s fine. While the Ninjas and Pirates and overpopulating the room, you can take advantage of the growing interest in everything from the Frozen North while it’s still frozen. The buzz is just beginning about the upcoming Mighty Thor superhero movie (Kenneth Branagh?!?) and at this moment, just about anybody can conquer Iceland. Meanwhile, one of the hottest discussions among Simpsons geeks is the meaning of Ralph’s cryptic comment: “Sleep. That’s where I’m a Viking.” Not a Gladiator, not a Samurai, but a Viking. This makes possible a hybrid inside-joke costume of the Sleep Viking, wearing horned helmet and nightshirt, carrying warhammer and teddy bear.

Six and Six
This is a tandem costume for couples and I think it would beat any dream couple out there this season. The British TV classic “The Prisoner” is being remade for airing next year and there is revived interest in Patrick McGoohan’s captive spy, designated Number Six. The distinctive “uniform” of the enigmatic Village is an attention-getter (unfortunately, it may be mistaken by some as another Doctor Who variation). That’s where the woman’s outfit comes in. What more recent cult TV series has a Number Six? Battlestar Galactica, and the sexy Cylon style will be sure to turn heads. Yes, it’s something you’ll have to explain to almost everybody, but you can do it in very few words and then sit back and enjoy the reaction.

Feel free to try any of these costume suggestions, unless you’re going to a party with an editor for certain websites I’ve written for. They saw this before you did and already have gotten their Comet cans and horned helmets.


Dressed for Distress

Mistakes. I’ve made a few. Many of them about my wardrobe. I wore double-knit slacks while my weight fluctuated in the late ’70s and early ’80s. Not a good look for ANYONE. When I had to wear a tie at work, I never let food stains break up my day-of-the-week rotation. And I still insist on having a breast pocket on whatever kind of shirt I wear, even a t-shirt, and filling it to capacity… unless, having been drawn into the world of message-bearing shirts by popular webcomics and woot.com, I find something I consider totally awesome. But I never get much of a chance to promote my favoritest, most awesomest designs for long; they are usually discontinued quickly due to lack of interest from anyone but me.

Designs like this:

and this:

The above from the Goats.com store, which still has some OK stuff.

Or this:

Sold by DieselSweeties.com which has other stuff YOU might like better.

Or these (from woot.com which does that ‘selling one item a day’ thing, but still makes available previously offered shirts at an anti-reduced price until they lose in an online poll which both of the following did rather quickly):

(I cannot believe Mr. Spork was not a hit!)

Now I can still wear any of those shirts in public with only moderate ridicule, but my absolute worst shirt design choice was what I considered a good political statement about a compromise between the GOP Elephant and the Demo Donkey back when I ordered it in July.

But after a certain VP candidate was selected who hunts moose from helicopters, that shirt’s message has been totally munged.

It must be noted that I have been a Bullwinkle the Moose fan since he first appeared on a black-and-white TV when I was 3. But I do NOT want this “Grab Some Tail” tee with Bullwinkle grabbing Rocky the Flying Squirrel’s tail, which falls into the “just plain wrong” department for me. However, I did previously note (in a blogpost lost in the transition to my new home) that I am totally in love with this design, mashing up secondary Bullwinkle Show characters with “Back to the Future”.
Time Travel t-shirt @ SplitReason.com
Time Travel t-shirt design @ © SplitReason.com
In all the recent confusion, I have not yet bought it. Which is probably why it hasn’t been discontinued yet. Get it while you can.



Killer Tofu!

This 1850 kg (4100 lb) slab of soybean curd is brought to you by the Nanxi Dried Tofu Food Festival in Southwest China.

In a not-really-related development, while enjoying some “California Roll”, I wondered about a possible analogy:
Current candidates include the Taco, the Burrito, the Quesadilla, the Taquito and the Taco Bell Chalupa, depending on your own junkulinary judgement. Any others?


Addicted to Twitter

I have just reached my 5000th “update” on Twitter. Until about two months ago, I didn’t care much for the place, but then I got into the @ function, the Twitter Reply, which allowed me to make smart-ass responses to other Twitterers, including People I Follow On Twitter Who Are More Famous Than I Am (in the future to be referred to as the PIFOTWAMFTIA). And occasionally I get direct responses (140 characters is more than most of the email responses I’ve received from celebrities). I believe I have interacted more with ‘Professional Journalists’ (dubious as a profession, but a significant class of celebrity) via Twitter in the last few weeks than in my entire life (part of which has been as a Freelance Writer). Still waiting to see a pithy tweet-quote of mine in a genuine Dead Tree (or as Opus called them “Krispy Kleenex”) publication, but it will happen. And when it does, I will fail miserably at capitalizing on it. And life goes on. Oh blah dee.


Lawn Odor

Another blogger was trying to come up with inspirations for spin-offs to keep the “Law and Order” franchise alive. Now, whether or not you consider that a worthy endeavor, he was doing it wrong, going mostly with geographic-location-based concepts (Scranton, Hooterville, Battle Creek, Pleasantville), and while the next L&O will be set in London and titled “Law and Order: UK”, it’s really “CSI” that has cornered the market on locales.

What the L&O needs is ideas like one I proposed some time ago, about a crime team stationed in a Ford Explorer: “Law & Order: SUV”. Sadly, they mangled the idea (or at least the order of the initials) and I asked to have my name taken off the project.

Considering how important Jerry Orbach was to the original series, what they need now is “Law & Order: The Broadway Musical”. Just keep Steven Bochco away from it, he already screwed up the idea with “Cop Rock”. Unfortunately, half of Broadway is now owned by Disney, which also owns ABC, not NBC.

With so much blood flowing from Wall Street, “Law and Order: CNBC” should be a natural. Or even better, “Law & Order: NASDAQ” with the weekly “who killed the high tech startup?” They’ll never run out of stories. But considering what NBC needs most to save the network: “Law & Order: Cosby” (but again, keep the producers of “The Cosby Mysteries” far far away).

Based on the “broken windows” crime prevention policies in NYC today, there should be “Law & Order: Extremely Petty Crimes Unit”. Which, come to think of it, might double as “Law & Order: Seinfeld”, the crime procedural about nothing.

If they insist on continuing to emphasize ‘stories ripped from the headlines’, then they need two spin-offs: “Law & Order: NY Times” & “Law & Order: NY Post” (each targeting a different demographic, obviously).

If that hasn’t alienated everybody, there is one more L&O variation they could do without leaving New York: “Law & Order: WTC”, the serialized story of investigators who are STILL trying to figure out what the f*** happened on 9/11. Transfer Detective Munch to that show and it’ll run forever.


Destroying a Poor Analogy in Less Than a Minute

“A rising tide raises all boats”???

Except the ones that are securely anchored. Those it sinks. It also floods the lobbies of beach-side hotels, washes lifeguard stands out to sea and gives the grunion a chance to escape.