Another dot com

It seems like hardly a week goes by without the announcement of another dot com company going out of business. Cleaning up the mess from the latest round of failures seems to be a full time job. It will be tough living in a world where we can’t buy dog food online or pay our parking tickets while sitting at the computer. The world, which includes the Internet, will keep spinning around like it has for the past four billion years (or 2000 and some odd years, depending on which books you read).

As the main guy in charge of newfunny.com, I get a lot of inside information about up-and-coming web sites. And I’m not just talking about unsolicited e-mail I get on my AOL account to help me reduce my credit card debt and see “unofficial” pictures of teen-age pop singers. This week I got the inside scoop on a web site that will change the very fabric of our lives (sorry, cotton– you just didn’t keep up with the changing technology. It’s not like we didn’t warn you). That, or it will be out of business a year from now. Either way, it will be fun to watch.

I was allowed to learn more about this site provided I didn’t reveal certain specific details of the operation. The final decision about the name of the web site has yet to be determined, but since the site is still under construction, the point is moot. I can, however, provide a general overview of the new web site. The purpose of this site is to establish a complete record of everyone’s past personal relationships. This information is stored in a computer database and used to evaluate compatibility with potential future partners.

Suppose you are a young lady who meets a guy at, say, a professional arm wrestling competition. He seems nice enough, but you would like to know more about how things went in his previous relationships. You could just ask him, but he probably won’t give you a truly objective account of his past. With this web site, you can find out more about this young man– from the women (and/or men) that he dated before you were in the picture.

How does this work? To start out, each user fills out an extensive questionnaire to confirm his or her identity. This information is examined for accuracy and the individual is contacted through alternate means (telephone, mail, or singing telegram) to ensure authenticity. Once the background check is completed, the user is allowed to log into the system and enter personal information. Once this initial stage is complete, the user enters information regarding previous relationships in the form of a survey. This information is correlated with the record of the other person in order to create a personal history. The set of questions has not been finalized yet, but they are designed to paint a picture of that relationship. Finally, users are allowed to search the database to reveal information on future prospects.

The survey consists of a list of characteristics that could be used to describe how an individual acts while in a relationship. While some of the characteristics are more often applied to one specific gender, the same questions are asked for either sex. All of the questions in this section are of the true/false variety.

While preparing for an evening out
–>Asks if clothing makes them look fat
–>Asks if clothing is clean enough to wear in public

After having a few drinks, is likely to
–>Flirt with the bartender
–>Be unable to perform certain intimate activities later on in the evening
–>Talk excessively about previous failed relationship

Likes to go out to eat
–>at fancy restaurants
–>at reasonably priced, yet still nice restaurants
–>at Taco Bell
–>free samples at the grocery store

Likes to cuddle
–>in bed
–>on the beach
–>at Taco Bell
–>with your sister

During intimate activities, partner has been known to
–>Refuse to remove dirty socks
–>Talk about random events of the day
–>Talk about attractive coworker’s revealing outfits
–>Talk about, “Where this relationship is going?”
–>Talk about political and economic ramifications of NATO’s involvement in the former Yugoslavia
–>Pass gas

After intimate activities, partner prefers to
–>Cuddle
–>Wander aimlessly to the refrigerator
–>Go home
–>Fall asleep
–>Look at porn on the Internet

When the relationship ended, partner
–>Cried
–>Became overjoyed
–>Didn’t notice anything different
–>Needed a restraining order
–>Revealed his or her true gender
–>Started dating your sister

Will this site stand the test of Internet time? I can’t say for sure, but it does seem like a good way of finding out the truth about someone. I don’t think it will be too long before someone complains that their privacy is being invaded, but that is bound to happen one way or another. I’ll provide more information about the site when it’s made available to me. Until then, you will have to learn about your significant others the old fashioned way-through high tech night vision goggles and carefully concealed telephone wire tapping devices.

How Computers Work: Part 1

A lot of people in the world are curious about how computers work and would like to know more about the evolution of these machines in our modern society. I have no idea if any of these people actually visit my web site, but I’ve never been one to worry about such issues. This is just another example of something I let the marketing department worry about. (Note to self: Check to see if I have created a marketing department yet).

I’ve decided to adopt a more traditional approach to the method of delivery for this information. While most everyone wants to jump right into the “fun” stuff like receiving AOL for free, getting the 250 dollar Neiman Marcus chocolate chip cookie recipe, and finding out how to get paid thousands of dollars a month for surfing the Internet, I am taking the approach of “starting from the beginning”. This will guarantee that any interest in the topic will be exhausted on largely irrelevant background information. This is the exact model used by my high school English department. I don’t really know why beginnings aren’t as exciting as the middle or the end, but I will do what I can to make the beginning as fun as the rest of the story.

Stay tuned for the EXCITING BEGINNING of the story!!!

The first computer ever used by mankind was small enough to fit inside a human nose. Surprisingly enough, this computer’s exterior dimensions are remarkably similar to the interior of the aforementioned orifice. I’m referring to, of course, one of the most common human appendages to be inserted in the nasal cavity-the finger. The twenty or so digits found on the hands and feet of an average person can be used for counting and keeping track of relatively small positive integers. Some notable exceptions include James Doohan (“Scotty” from the original Star Trek series) who can only go up to nineteen after losing a finger in World War II, and Marilyn Monroe who could, according to some sources, count up to twenty-one with the help of an extra toe on her left foot.

While not the most powerful of computers, fingers are still the most widely used computational machine in the world today. In addition to being quite user friendly and durable, fingers are located very conveniently at the ends of our hands and, if maintained properly, are pleasing to the eye and include a soft tactile sensation. Sure, you can’t very well set up a Linux e-mail server or load Microsoft office on your fingers, but fingers can’t be beat for elegance and simplicity.

It didn’t take long before people found a need to keep track of numbers bigger than twenty. The next logical step was to use small rocks to account for possessions. For example, if you were one of the first humans to domesticate livestock, you could have a pile of stones that represented how many live chickens you owned at the moment. When a new chick was born, you would add a stone to the pile. When a chicken was taken away, you would pick up a stone and throw it at your lousy neighbor who most likely stole it when you walked back to the cave for an afternoon nap.

One of the oldest examples of this technique can be found in the Middle East. After learning of this new system for counting things, an ancient Egyptian commanded a high ranking official to use this procedure to keep track of how many people lived in the Nile Valley. In an attempt to please the Pharaoh, the largest possible stones were cut into precise shapes and carefully piled on top of each other. After seeing the massive scale of the pyramid, the Pharaoh called the officer into a meeting at the royal chamber. The bulk of the meeting consisted of the Pharaoh pulling out his gold and blue striped question mark shaped stick and using it to attack the officer in a series of short but solid smacks to the head. The meeting ended with the Pharaoh deciding to use it as his final resting place to avoid ridicule from the rest of the known world.

While this information may not seem terribly useful, at this stage it is best to take a holistic view of the world. Everything in the universe has its place and is related to everything else is some way. While I like to ask questions such as “What do they put in Chicken McNuggets?” and “What happened to Marilyn Monroe’s extra toe?”, I am quite confident that eventually I’ll find the answers. The trick is realizing that all of the questions and answers aren’t all lined up all the time. Having said that, I hope everyone joins in next time when the revolutionary concept of the abacus explored in excessive and possibly historically inaccurate detail.

The Real Santa Claus

Even with the help of my overactive imagination, I could not have even remotely predicted what was going to happen to me one Saturday night last December. Sitting on Santa’s lap, even as at the age of twenty-seven, is not a totally uncommon activity when attending the neighbor’s Christmas party. Things got weird for me, however, when “Santa” turned out to be my high school math teacher.

Before I go any further here, I need to rewind my life thirteen years to provide background information about some of the people involved in the story. With varying degrees of success, I had four different teachers attempt to fill my brain with the theorems, concepts, and procedures of a standard high school mathematics curriculum. To the best of my knowledge, I have only seen one of them dressed up as Santa Claus.

After sprinkling references about Mr. Eggert (my ninth grade algebra teacher) throughout recent stories, it was really just a matter of time before I devoted an entire story to the man who derived enormous amounts of joy and happiness to making my life as a high school freshman a living hell. I sometimes feel guilty just mentioning his name. It’s not because he was a mean, smelly, cigar smoking, bitter man who went out of his way to telephone my parents during the middle of dinner to discuss my attitude problem. In reality, he is just too easy of a target. Not everyone who sponsors their school’s chess team has a room full of emotional baggage upstairs, but Mr. Eggert is not someone to disprove this popular notion. I somehow managed to survive my entire freshman year with Mr. Eggert. I learned a lot in his class, and most of it was only tangentially related to mathematics.

My situation started to look better during my sophomore year of high school. My previous mathematics teacher was replaced with a much less evil model. Looking back on the situation, I suspect Mr. Ridgely, my tenth grade geometry teacher, conspired to play “good cop” to Mr. Eggert’s “bad smelling cop”. He was a very enthusiastic and helpful teacher. To top it off, he never called my parents during dinner time. Despite the fact that a large percentage of the entire world was plotting against me during my years as a teenager, I can honestly say that he probably wasn’t conspiring to destroy my life. Or, if he was, he did a very nice job of concealing his intentions.

Fast forward twelve and a half years to last December. My mother and I were invited to a Christmas party hosted by some of our old neighbors. Well, they aren’t really all that old– they just aren’t our neighbors anymore. In addition to visiting with a lot of friends I haven’t seen in a while, someone brought a plate of frozen miniature chocolate eclairs I found to be quite tasty. I started seeing everything in a different perspective. I spent my entire life up to that moment in time thinking that eclairs could only be one size and temperature. Why not make the pastries smaller? Why not serve them below room temperature? Then I applied the same thinking to humanity in general. I unearthed some universal truths about humanity. However, this story is about Santa Claus. The truths about chocolate eclairs will be written at a later date.

Guess who comes knocking on the door after everyone finished eating? If you answered “Jehovah’s Witnesses” you would be absolutely wrong, even though that would make for an interesting plot twist. No, Santa Claus himself joined the party with his big sack of presents for everyone at the party. I guess that means nobody fell into the “naughty” category for the year. Either that or the newly implemented NaughtyOrNice.com web site was malfunctioning and reporting a “nice” status for all individuals.

Santa sat down in the middle of the living room and pulled presents out one at a time. Everyone, including myself, sat on Santa’s lap when their name was called. For some reason, my mom seemed especially entertained when it was my turn. He gave me a calendar, so I suppose I wasn’t quite as nice as I could have been. I was really hoping for something that exploded or in some way was designed to catch on fire.

Guess who Santa Claus turned out to be? “A Jehovah’s Witness” is still not the correct answer. You can also rule out Mr. Eggert since it involved being kind and generous to little kids. Also the smell of stale cigar smoke would have scared away many of the smaller children. Santa was my geometry teacher, Mr. Ridgely. Sitting on his lap without realizing it at the time embarrassed me at first. But after a few minutes I decided that it was, like many aspects of my life, too strange to be anything but funny.

No matter where you see him– at the mall with little kids on his lap, next to a Salvation Army donation bucket, or at the liquor store loading up on cigarettes and whisky- I think it is human nature to assume that you don’t personally know the true Santa Claus. So if “Santa” comes around next year and I’ve been nice enough to receive a present, I’ll at least know why his lap seems so familiar.

Thoughts on the Competition

While there are a lot of people in the world I consider to be my role models, I would like to devote some time and effort to recognize my favorite newspaper columnist. As a reward for writing many, many stories about toilets (including, but not limited to, things that bite you when you are sitting on one, how toilets are tested, and reasons to be sitting on one for the cover of a book) Dave Barry received the Pulitzer Prize in 1988. After an extensive search of the Internet and my own personal files, it appears that I have NOT been presented a similar award. I do recall, however, that in 1988 I began my literary career by spending a majority of time in my ninth grade algebra class writing “MATH SUCKS!” as large as I possibly could on my folder while the teacher was lecturing. Back then my writing style was rather terse.

Here is a little background information for everyone not up to date on newspaper humor. Dave Barry writes a weekly syndicated column and is employed by the Miami Herald. Which means Dave and I have a lot in common-especially when you remove the words “syndicated”, “Miami Herald”, and “employed” from the previous sentence.

One thing I know for sure is that Mr. Barry didn’t achieve this level of fame and fortune by just sitting on his ass all day long. Oh, wait, I think he does. Either way, I’ve been interested in learning more about how to become a humor columnist. While I’ve read all his writing, I would like to get a more personalized perspective on how Dave goes about writing a weekly column.

The only logical solution to my dilemma is to become a stalker. I could hide in the bushes near his house and observe him with the aid of several high priced pieces of military grade electronic surveillance equipment. I can just imagine what insights I could achieve:

July 3, 1999 2:05 AM: Selling one of my kidneys for these night vision goggles has really paid off. After hearing some continuous high pitch sound I believe to be either a state of the art security system or an infant who soiled him or her self, the subject went into auxiliary bedroom number one to reset the state of the system, made a short trip to the bathroom, wandered downstairs, and somewhat mindlessly sat down in front of his computer. Finally, I get to see the subject in his natural environment free of outside influences and distractions. The hunter becomes the hunted. Or is it the other way around?

July 3, 1999 2:11 AM: I’ve lost the subject. In addition it appears that I have gone blind due to a genetically engineered strain of glaucoma that has disrupted the normal operations of my optical nerves in a matter of seconds. This may very well jeopardize the entire mission.

July 3, 1999 2:15 AM: After further analysis, the cause of the problem appears to be a dead battery in the night vision goggles. Note to self-make an appointment with family optician for annual glaucoma test.

July 3, 1999 2:16 AM: Stalking operations continue as I am able to observe the subject through the reflected light of the computer monitor. It appears the subject is playing the card game known as solitaire. Subject is either unwilling or unable to move the red seven on to the black eight. Such a move would allow the exposure of an additional card. What is he waiting for? Move the seven, for the love of God, MOVE THE SEVEN!!!

July 3, 1999 2:20 AM: Observations prematurely halted for the night. In all the excitement I lost my balance and fell on top of a very thorny bush. The noise created by said incident distracted the subject, thereby making any further observations for the night useless.

The biggest problem with celebrities becoming popular enough to have deranged stalkers is the reporting by the media is always biased towards the stalkee. The report mentions tangential points such as mental illness, missed medications, and one-sided illusions of matrimony. The stalker never gets to tell his or her side of the story. I plan on eliminating this fundamental form of discrimination. Once my stalking begins, not only will I publish all of my written notes on my web site, but I will also web enable all of my surveillance equipment so I can provide a live Internet broadcast of my activities. I know there are a lot of people out there who would like to become a stalker, but lack the financial resources and ability to get off the couch to realize their dreams.

Is this a plan of action that will advance my writing career? I’m not really sure. Could it land me in jail? Quite possibly. But one way or another, I’m going to find the source of all his toilet stories.

Kinetics

I’ve been spending a lot of time lately documenting some of my strange activities and interests, so I thought I would change perspectives a little bit and shed light on odd habits of other people. And, no, this is not a story about my ex-girlfriend. Or my high school algebra teacher. While they are both unique in their own special ways, today I decided to focus on the entire town of Boulder. Ever since the situation comedy, “Mork and Mindy” became an international success, this city has developed a reputation as being a little less normal than all the neighboring cities. If you visit Boulder on the first Saturday in May you will see why.

No matter how you look at it, witnessing a group of people rowing across Boulder reservoir is just not normal. Especially when the craft is designed to look like an eight-foot tall jar of mayonnaise.

But really, what else would your craft look like when you are on team “Cinqo de Mayo”?

Welcome to the world of Kinetics. For the past twenty-one years, various teams have built human powered vehicles that can navigate over land and water to compete in the race. Being the first team to cross the finish line doesn’t guarantee an overall victory. In addition to completing the course as fast as possible, each team is judged on their theme. This requires a coordinated decoration of the craft and participants. The more entertaining the theme, the higher the overall score.

Just for the sake of comparison, building a craft and competing in the race requires roughly three to four orders of magnitudes more effort than, say, writing a song about Taco Bell.

When I see any of my neighbors leaving his or her apartment wearing little more than fishnet stockings and a football jersey I would usually be concerned. Even in the somewhat liberal town of Boulder, Colorado, this type of dress would be considered to be in bad taste. When it occurs on the day of the Kinetics race, however, the socially acceptable boundaries for behavior and appearance are suspended to accommodate the day’s activities.

Honestly, how else should one dress as part of the team “XXXFL”?

During the week my neighbor Kathleen is a quiet, predictable, twenty-nine year old woman who works a steady 8 to 5 job as a cubical drone. The kinetics race transformed her into something totally different. I’m not saying she grew an extra arm out of her stomach or was suddenly able to use her appendix to digest tree bark. The change was more emotional and psychological than physical. She became part of something bigger than her own accomplishments. Something that allows us to temporarily break the molds of acceptable behavior. Something that really isn’t very productive. And I have to respect that on many different levels.

So how did team XXXFL (motto: “WE will be back next year”) fare against Cinqo De Mayo (motto: “gone bad by lunch”)? I really have no idea. The entire judging process is complex and is largely built around bribing the judges. In a contest so strange, it is quite difficult to say who is the best.

I can’t write a story about Kinetics without a, “What is the world coming to?” tangent. The first time I attended Kinetics four years ago, I saw a large number of women who had constructed bathing suit tops out of small watermelons. The general idea is to find an appropriate sized piece of fruit (the produce manager at your local grocery store will be happy to help you measure the melons), cut it in half, scoop out the insides, and take some scrap cloth and make a bra out of it. This design is biodegradable, has considerable cooling properties (the water in the fruit removes excess body heat), and is generally quite pleasing to the eye.

So why am I complaining? From my causal observations, this tradition has been dying over the years. At this year’s race I didn’t see a single watermelon bra. The race officials have spent considerable time and effort protecting local wild life while doing absolutely nothing about the watermelon bra issue. I suggest that everyone write a strongly worded letter to your congressman (or woman) so we can make sure this piece of local tradition isn’t lost forever.

Maybe I’m an idealist, but I think everyone in the entire world should be at the Kinetics race. Entire cities don’t go crazy all that often, so it is best not to pass up a chance to see it with your own eyes. It’s funny how a couple of adolescent boys role playing fantasy games in their parent’s basement are considered nerds while thousands of people doing pretty much the same thing at the reservoir is the basis for the entire town to celebrate. But who ever said life is fair? While Kinetics is never going to become part of our President’s revised energy program, it’s a great way to spend a Saturday afternoon. And of course don’t forget to bring your watermelon bra– especially if you are a woman.