To tell the truth

People who read the stories on my web site often times ask if I tell the truth when I write. What seems like a simple and fair question on the surface can easily turn into a nebulous concept where the notions of right and wrong become more intertwined than the drunken bodies at the local Fraternities Saturday night “Beer and Twister” celebration. Questions such as “Is one the atomic weight of Hydrogen?”, “Does a box of Hamburger Helper come with one of those cartoon gloves with the face on the palm?” and “Honey, did you go out drinking last night only to wake up naked in the back seat of a Mexican crossdresser’s car AGAIN?” can quite easily answered with the responses of “Yes,” “No,” or “HELLO! Isn’t it perfectly obvious that I’m still wearing my left sock?”

Unfortunately, the very nature of the Cosmos doesn’t always provide clear cut answers. Take for example the value of Pi. Defined to be the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter, this simple mathematical concept has puzzled mankind since the beginning of time. Even with all of the world’s fancy computers and glamorous mathematicians working on the case, we will never know its exact value. No matter how accurately the value of Pi is calculated, there will always more digits at the end that have not been taken into consideration. It’s one of the most simple and elegant concepts of Euclidean Geometry, and yet we are forced to spend the rest of our lives agonizing over the beauty of their round supple perfection that teases us– forever out of reach.

Which brings me to my next topic: Britney Spears. As I write this I’m watching her televised concert on HBO. At the moment she is performing “I Love Rock and Roll” (originally recorded by Joan Jett and the Black Hearts) while seductively dancing around with a half dozen young dancers wearing revealing shiny spandex outfits on a small platform suspended thirty feet in the air off the main stage. There are so many ways to end this paragraph that I’ll let you, the reader, make up your own punch line or pick one of the following.

A) Of course that whole setup was stolen from Cher’s act in the mid 1980’s.
B) I heard they had to edit out the post show interview when Joan Jett drove to the arena and kicked Britney’s ass.
C) If her boobs really are fake, they sure stood up to the intense heat generated by the stage lights quite nicely.

So while a lot of people categorize Miss Spears as a fake, the truth is that she has some musical talent, a moderate amount of skill in moving her body in synch with the music, and an amazing ability to draw attention away from her deficiencies and focus the spotlight on her assets. Writing stories is remarkably similar– except in all honesty I generally forgo the silver sequin covered sports bra in favor of a baggy drab colored T-shirt. I’m not going to deny it brings out the curves of my upper body, but when I’m sitting at my desk for hours at a time it chafes me like there is no tomorrow.

To explain this concept using a different analogy, people realize that working in a cubical in an office isn’t a whole lot of fun most of the time. At my last job I worked in a cubical and gave customers highly specialized technical advice. Which, by any objective measurement is less interesting than watching paint dry. Given this information, I tend to stay away from the mundane aspects of what I did and focus on the relatively sparse but unusual events that I experienced. I’ve included two “real” things that happened at work to illustrate this point.

Example 1:

I was talking to a customer on the phone today at work. He seems like a nice enough fellow, but after conversing with him for a few minutes I realized that he was trying to pass an uninitialized character pointer object to a function. And he wonders why the compilier was producing a memory stack overflow error. I mean, really—he might as well have been trying to create a multithreading process without any shared memory mutex mechanisms.

Example 2:

I’m not sure how, but one of the customers I was helping had this uncanny ability to call me exactly one minute after I left my desk to go to the bathroom or stop by the kitchen to get another beverage. To make matters worse, he didn’t have the ability to receive incoming phone calls. Finally, the situation got to the point where my manager came into my cubical with a solution. She grabbed a roll of duct tape and quickly wrapped it around my chest and the back of the chair three or four times to ensure I would not leave the vicinity of my telephone until the customer called back. While her plan did work, I think she went a little too far with the idea when she came back to my desk an hour later with a catheter tube.

The first example isn’t funny at all because memory management in C++ programming IS NO LAUGHING MATTER! The second example is funny because it actually happened. Of course so did the first one—which is the whole point. It’s pretty easy to take ordinary events and make them look more exciting than they actually are. Just ask Britney.

Me– Being productive?

As I was randomly looking through some of my previous stories on this web site the other day, I noticed a disturbing trend about how my life gets represented. To someone who doesn’t know me any better I might come across as a lazy bum who stays up all night long laying on my couch flipping television channels between mindless infomercials and fifteenth century battle recreations on the History Channel. Which is absolutely true, but besides the point. In addition to my odd nocturnal habits, I also engage in a vast array of interesting—if somewhat more mainstream—activities. Just the other day, for example, I ran my dishwasher.

I find that many otherwise ordinary activities, such as operating kitchen appliances, become less monotonous when made into some sort of a game. To spice up the extensive amount of time I spend cleaning my kitchen, I have created a game called “dishwasher safe or not dishwasher safe?” The rules are quite simple: one person picks an ordinary household object, and the other person has to predict how well it will survive in the dishwasher. (Side note: For readers over the age of twenty-one, this can also be played as a drinking game.) My experience playing the game has taught me quite a bit about high temperature hydrodynamics. Things that fall into the general “dishwasher safe” category include music CDs, dirty socks, and lava lamps. “Not dishwasher safe” items include wax candles, the Sunday newspaper, and unopened boxes of “Hamburger Helper.”

While I’m no Richard Simmons, I do make an attempt to get to the health club a few times a week. For reasons I don’t completely understand, sitting in front of a computer for long periods of time does not seem to burn very many calories. Despite the feverish pace of my brain during these episodes, I need to supplement this time with activities that require more physical demands on my body.

One thing I have noticed is that people generally don’t look very approachable when working out on fitness equipment. I’m not sure what everyone else is thinking when working out, but I know that while exercising on the stair master every one of my brain cells is preoccupied with keeping my body from falling off. If I did attempt to communicate with the person next to me I believe the conversation would start of with me saying something to the effect of “hi there—so, do you like living in Boulder? I hope the fact that I’ve somehow managed to tip over the stair master doesn’t make you think less of me.”

One day, while riding on the stationary bicycle something hit me. And, no, it wasn’t someone else falling off the stair master. I realized that I spend a fair amount of time surfing the Internet and talking to friends on Instant Messenger. The only thing that gets any exercise are the muscles in my fingers. This led me to realize something totally different than my original realization (which I haven’t gotten to yet—please bear with me). Fingers don’t actually have any muscles in them. The muscles that move fingers are located in the forearm area. Or at least that’s where I think they are.

So, getting back to my great idea—I think someone should build exercise equipment that is connected to the Internet. Since most of the equipment requires the person sit or stand in a stationary position, adding a touch screen would not be too difficult. Everyone seems to stare blankly ahead anyway. I’ve extensively researched many, many web sites on the Internet about people who are addicted to the Internet. Not that this plan would help them out at all with their addiction, but it wouldn’t hurt the situation if they had to pedal a bicycle while they jumped from web site to web site. Sure, they would still be pasty white computer geeks, but at least they would have well defined leg muscles.

Well, I hope this helps shed some light on the subject of “What does Omar do all day long?” I’m sure that if I really put my mind to it I could have come up with a dozen more productive activities in my life. Unfortunately (for you, the reader), I was glancing through the TV Guide and just realized that a three hour special about starting land wars in Asia is about to begin. So until next week, try to think of me as a productive member of society.

Weirdos in Town

I truly believe that people, organizations, and entire nations expose the true content of their character when cruelty and misfortune test the limits of human endurance. When the fringe elements of a culture force their views on the rest of society through radical and unlawful acts, we must strive as a country to respond with swift justice. I’m referring to, of course, the recent theft of the ceramic penis art display from the Boulder Public Library.

Just to make sure everyone is on the same page, here is some background information on how this whole thing started. Robert Rowen, age 49, recently stole 21 ceramic penises on display at the Boulder Public Library to honor Domestic Violence Awareness month. Robert then placed an American flag in the area to replace the art. The next day Robert confessed what he did and the police recovered the stolen property.

I would like to spend some time analyzing the actions of this Robert guy. I often get criticized for oversimplifying situations, but my first reaction was something along the lines of “if something visually offends you, THEN DON’T LOOK AT IT!” I must admit I don’t know exactly what state Robert was in the first time he viewed the ceramic dildos. But unless the library staff physically restrained the man in a chair with his head strapped down and his eyes forced open like the government did in the movie “A Clockwork Orange,” he would have been able to leave the vicinity of the display of his own free will.

Perhaps most simple minded folks would have just walked away and have forgotten the whole ordeal by the time they got to the book check out area. But not Robert. He was so offended by the display that he came back to the library, walked over to the display area, put his hand around each of the 20 ceramic penises as he placed them in a box, and took the offensive material back to his house. The irony here is that the person supposedly most offended by the artwork is the one who is sure going out of his way to spend a lot of time with them.

And then there is the message Robert is sending to his young child. While it’s possible that my sense of right and wrong may change a bit once I have kids of my own, I just don’t see how bringing twenty stolen sex toys into the same house with a five year old female is a very good idea. While there has been no evidence to suggest the daughter had any contact with the stolen artwork, the general message conveyed to the child is that theft is an acceptable action when settling disagreements.

I’m not sure why Robert seems to think he gets to impose his sense of right and wrong on the entire population of Boulder County. Is it OK for people to steal books from the library if someone deems it offensive? I don’t like the four way stop sign on the road next to the library, but that doesn’t give me the right to go and cut them down with a hack saw. Robert needs to learn a similar lesson.

Kids, Don’t Try This At Home

I happened to be walking through the wonderfully preserved open space on the Boulder path earlier this week. I’m not sure exactly why, but I realized that I was traveling at a slightly slower than usual pace. Perhaps I was preoccupied with the nature of the universe, the purpose of my existence, and the ultimate fate of humanity. In retrospect, the fact that I was hauling around a backpack containing a broken car battery might have contributed to my decreased velocity.

The whole situation started out quite innocently when a friend of mine bet me twenty dollars that I couldn’t juggle 3 batteries at the same time. I found it kind of odd he didn’t explain that he was talking about car batteries until after I accepted the challenge. Being a man of my word, we walked out to my car so I could drive to the bank to pay him the money.

This is where the trouble began. I tried to start my car and nothing happened. That’s not completely true—when I turned the key I could hear a slight clicking noise. I honestly can’t say if the clicking noise was supposed to be there or not. What I did know was that the engine wasn’t running, and you don’t have to be an auto mechanic to recognize this as a problem. Which is a good thing, because there are forms of algae that know more than I do about automobile design and repair.

At this point I wasn’t sure what to do, I didn’t have a lithium jump starter back then. The more I turned the key the more it was clear the car wasn’t going to start. I gave it more gas and nothing changed. I turned off the radio. Still nothing. Adjusting the rear view mirror, opening and closing the trunk, and topping off the windshield wiper fluid also didn’t have any positive effect on the situation. Having completely exhausted my knowledge on the subject of starting my car, I decided to let the car rest for the evening and check back on it later. Maybe it was possessed by some evil spirit and would return to a more normal state sometime in the future.

I went back into my apartment to research ways I could remedy the situation. In retrospect, watching a documentary on the Discovery channel about people digging tunnels under the English channel wasn’t very relevant to my automobile crisis. But I now I am quite well versed in state of the art tunneling techniques (which I hope to use sometime in the future). Being no closer to getting my car running, I decided to go to bed in the hopes the answer would come to me in my sleep. Unfortunately, the only dream I can remember involved a bunch of ten foot tall tangerines running around trying to explain basic concepts of algebra to anyone who would listen. I asked one of them how to fix my car, but it could only suggest that I employ the distributive property of multiplication.

Having found no solution from the Discovery channel or the subconscious part of my brain, I walked out to my car the next morning to see if it was in the mood to start. Nothing seemed to have changed from the previous night. Having decided that the situation wasn’t likely to spontaneously get better, I got a pair of jumper cables and called a friend of mine to try and jump start my car.

When I connected the clamp to my battery, the (prepare for highly specialized automotive terminology) “wire thingy” fell off of the battery. I’ve never designed or conducted failure analysis on automobile batteries, but I could hear this voice telling me that something might be wrong with this piece of equipment. The voice turned out to be coming from Scott, the guy who was helping me get my car started.

After agreeing that the battery was causing the car not to start, Scott went back to work. About two minutes after he left, I starting thinking that having someone to drive me somewhere to get a new battery would probably be a good thing. I went inside and did some research into getting a replacement battery. The Saturn dealership told me the battery was still under warranty, and if I could bring it in they would give me a brand new one.

This is the point in the story where, in retrospect, I didn’t really make the best decision. I have this habit of approaching situations with either total apathy or complete involvement. Moderation is not my strong point. Being completely obsessed with getting my car running, I took the battery out of my car, put it in my backpack, and got ready to walk the one and a half miles to the Saturn dealership. The fact that some form of liquid was leaking out of the side may have stopped a less determined individual, but I just wrapped it up in multiple plastic bags and started walking.

In case you are wondering, car batteries are heavy. I would not suggest carrying one in a backpack for any significant distance. But I did make it to the dealership, and I even managed to get back to my car with the new battery (which had the positive property of not leaking out acid into my backpack). When I installed the new battery in my car the engine started just fine. And the doctor said the large acid burn on my lower back will only take two or three skin grafts to fix. But that’s just the price of fixing my car.