Friday, November 29, 2013

The Ballad of Black Friday

Thanksgiving feast was over
And our belts were all uncinched.
We tried to watch the football game
Squeezed down to 60 inch.

“This screen’s too small,” the crowd complained.
“It's not even 3D.
How can you live so primitively
With this small TV.”

My wife threw down the trash bag
As I shoved her out the door.
“Come on!” I cried. “We’ve got to go
And hurry to the store.”

The parking lot was crazy.
You could barely see the store.
But the crowd kept surging forward
Chanting “More! More! More!”

The crush of people at the doors
Exceeded expectation.
Yet somehow we avoided turkey
Dinner regurgitation.

Inside, the crowd had filled the aisles
With boxes everywhere.
The smell of greed was thick indeed
And wafted through the air.

I found the set I wanted,
80 inches and 3D,
Ultra high-def and surround sound
And a 3 month warranty!

I tried to lift the box. It was
The last one of its kind.
But another pair of hands pulled back
And a voice said “Do you mind?”

My nostrils flared, my eyes narrowed.
I was almost blind with rage.
I’d come too far, endured too much
To lose out at this stage.

I tugged the box. The stranger tugged
It back with equal force.
So silently we pulled it back
And forth for hours, of course.

Exhausted, out of breath and faint,
I held on for dear life.
But the stranger was so tough I knew
She had to be my wife.

We hauled the set up to the front.
The check-out lines were long.
At last we paid and then we made
Our way out through the throng.

We got the set all loaded up
And raced home in our Prius,
Then parked out front and made some noise
So neighbors all would see us.

And once inside, I drew a breath
Relieved to be alive.
The sun was nowhere to be seen
At just 3:45.

But just as I was satisfied
We’d fulfilled all our wishes,
She turned to me, seductively
And said, “I saw some dishes …”

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Ten Time-Saving Tips

In this holiday season, many people are stressed due to the myriad of things they have to do. The ever-helpful Tech Curmudgeon offers these time-saving tips.

10.Buy already shelled pistachio nuts.
9.Read spoilers on the Internet instead of watching TV and movies.
8.Choose foods that can be enjoyed cold. (Preferably right from containers in the fridge!)
6.Wrap your cats in plastic wrap.
5.Throw away your mouse and learn a command language.
4.Drink iced coffee.
3.Get a nano- or picowave oven.
2.Eat dessert first.
1.Subscribe to this blog at

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Give your friends subscriptions to
The Tech Curmudgeon!
It costs nothing, and it will really mess with their heads.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Autumn in New England

Note the harmonious color scheme of black,
brown, blue, yellow, gray and whatever

It’s Autumn in New England. We’re enjoying the kind of weather that separates the people who bike in this kind of weather from the sane ones, and I’m proud to say I’m neither. That is to say, I bike, but I do it ironically.

It was a brisk 23 degrees when I left my house this morning. That’s Fahrenheit. Of course, 23 degrees Centigrade is quite warm, which is why biking is so much more popular in Europe.

I was wearing long underwear, corduroy pants, a flannel shirt, a down parka, one of those ridiculous head condoms that I’m convinced were designed only so that others could take pictures of you, a knit neck warmer, a knit hat, a bike helmet, and ski gloves. I had to take most of it off to get on the bike.

All down the bike path, this sleek, high-tech winter gear allowed me to pedal fast enough to keep up with the people walking.

Arriving at the subway station, I began the ritual of peeling off the layers. The trick here is knowing when to stop. On one hand, I tend to get overheated from the bike ride, regardless of the weather. On the other hand, there are surveillance cameras and security guards.

At least my commute home will be in the dark.

Friday, November 22, 2013

The Age of Aquarius

You've probably heard by now that President Kennedy has been shot. The official verdict is that Lee Harvey Oswald, acting alone, did the deed. But we now know that a secret cabal of newspapers and television networks arranged it, knowing they could milk the story for at least the next 50 years. (What they didn't count on, of course, was that newspapers and TV would be obsolete in 50 years.)

So by now you’re sick of hearing about how today is the 50th anniversary of Kennedy’s assassination, and about how his term in office was Camelot, especially when compared with politics today. It was a kind of coming of age for that population bulge affectionately known as the baby boom.

It was the start of an inflection point for the anti-war movement, the civil rights movement, the rock movement, the sexual revolution, the space program, the environmental movement and, most importantly, the comedy movement that brought us the Smothers Brothers and Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In. (Remember how funny it was to say “Sock it to me” or “Here come da judge?”)

The decade known as The Sixties started on that fateful November day in 1963, and ended with Nixon’s resignation on August 9, 1974. In his inauguration speech, Kennedy noted that “the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans.” Man, did he get that right. This was the generation that was going to change the world, bring universal peace and love, and still get stoned out of its mind. All the great innovations … tie-dyed shirts, smiley faces, dogs in bandanas, Ultimate Frisbee, blacklight posters and nipples … are part of the legacy of this era.

(Ok, technically nipples predate the sixties, but that’s when they really came into their own.)

So here we are, fifty years later. No more wars. The earth is pristine. Lady Ga-Ga and Miley Cyrus are cultural icons. The Voting Rights Act has become unnecessary because freedom and equality reign everywhere in America. Sexting and selfies have replaced that antiquated notion of intimacy. And the Internet has ended divisiveness and brought us all together in harmony. This is truly the Age of Aquarius.

What’s not to like?

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Monday, November 18, 2013

Social Networking

As the bus jostles me along, a loudspeaker overhead declares “Lake Street. Stop requested.”

On the train, the softer, more nuanced speaker exclaims “Entering Kendall/MIT,” as we pull into Davis Square. Underway again, I hear “Next stop, Kendall/MIT.” A few minutes later, the train again proudly pronounces “Entering Kendall/MIT,” as we approach Porter Square. Likewise at Harvard Square and at Central. Finally, the announcement changes to “Entering Charles/MGH,” as we pull into Kendall.

After a short walk to my building, I enter through the garage. The parking machine greets me warmly: “Please pay here before returning to your vehicle.”

The elevator also has a few choice words. “Second floor … third floor … fourth floor.”

After a few phone calls (“Your call is important. Please wait for the next available operator.”) … I finally reach the goal. “We’re sorry. No one is available to take your call right now. Please leave your name and number and we’ll get back to you as soon as possible.”

Time for coffee. The espresso machine mutely demands decalcifying, so I resort to the single cup brewer which, after a series of snorting and burping noises, produces a hot black liquid.

I return to my station to attend to the 47 new emails, 23 chat messages and 5 appeals for me to download and install software updates and restart my system.

A co-worker stops by and mutters something about my weekend.


Friday, November 15, 2013

Why Ride?

I've biked on and off all my life. Sometimes I biked daily for a few months, other times I neglected the poor beast for long stretches of time. I started seriously bike commuting and doing frequent recreational rides after a bout with intense back pain (sciatica) about 7 years ago.

At about the same time, I also became interested in other forms of human-powered vehicles. Perhaps it was some unfulfilled desire to stand out from the crowd ... to be weird. Perhaps it was is fascination with the various mechanical solutions to the problem of turning human movement into forward motion. More likely it was just mental "doodling" ... keeping my mind from more useful activities.

Anyway, there are certain rewards common to all the human-powered vehicles I've tried or looked at. Chief among these are:

1) Health

Pretty much any kind of human-powered vehicle is powered by a human ... you. And that means exercise. Depending on the type of vehicle, you may be using different muscle groups, but you're pretty much guaranteed to be doing some work to get around, especially climbing hills, etc.

You may be using other muscles just to maintain balance, may be fighting wind resistance, and may be using more or less agility, coordination, etc. to keep going safely. It's all good. In addition, you're getting fresh (presumably) air, sunshine, and all that other good stuff.

Finally, this kind of exercise is a great way to reduce stress, and that may have the biggest health benefit of all.

2) Environment

As a rider, you're part of the "green" revolution. You're not burning fossil fuels. You're not adding noise to the environment, and you're reducing the demand for automobile facilities like roads, parking garages, etc.

3) Cost

It's possible to spend $10,000 on a bike, but you're going to get a really outstanding bike for that price. More common among cyclists are bikes in the $500 to $1500 range. That still gets you an excellent piece of equipment, and one that requires no gasoline.

Repairs and maintenance are also substantially cheaper than for cars. In fact, you can easily learn to do much of the routine work yourself, which both saves you money and gives you the satisfaction of knowing you can keep yourself mobile.

There are other, more expensive options. You can get a fully enclosed velomobile for $5,000 or more. But these are luxuries.

4) Speed

It's not true for everyone, but for me at least, I can bike to my office about as quickly as I can drive there. If I bike to the subway station and take the train, it's much faster than driving or taking the bus to that same station and taking that same train.

If your commute is largely urban, there's a good chance you can save yourself time by going under your own steam.

5) Serenity

It's hard to describe the feeling you get moving along on your own power, enjoying the scenery, hailing other cyclists, and controlling the situation. Of course, it's not all candy. You may have to contend with traffic, tight schedules, hills, bad roadways, reckless joggers and just plain terrible weather. It takes a while to find the right route, the right equipment and accessories and, above all, the right state of mind.

But once you do, you can overcome all these difficulties, and still feel a harmonious sense of well being. There's nothing like it.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Time Travel Safety Tips

  1. Be careful to ensure that your wormhole is geo-stationary. Otherwise, you may find yourself embedded in other objects, or in deep space.
  2. If traveling back in time, you may encounter yourself or others you know at an earlier time. Do not reveal anything about events subsequent to/prior to this meeting.
  3. Do not injure or impair your earlier self, or any ancestors. This is particularly true of grandfathers.
  4. You may encounter causal reflexivity, also known as causal circularity. (A causes B, which in turn causes A.) Deal.
  5. Bring plenty of spare batteries.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Research Results


Once again, Halloween has given us the opportunity to pursue our research into the best sugar and fat loaded candy/cookie/confection (SFLC3). In order to maintain objectivity, our research staff carefully disregarded any and all nutrition information accompanying these products.

We exposed our subject to an assortment of brands and varieties of SFLC3s with all identification removed except the taste and the wrappers. Subject was then asked to complete Likert scale surveys on preferences.

Similar studies (Reese, 1984; Mars et al., 1993; Henry, 2005) have not found sufficient differentiation among varieties. We overcame this by performing statistical analysis and filtering out the most common preference. (“All of them.”)

The results were inconclusive but, as sometimes happens, our analysis yielded new questions requiring further study.

One of the new directions to pursue is the question of whether or not Nutty Bars are actually the best SFLC3 ever and, if so, if it is possible to improve on them. Note that due to budget constraints, we are not considering deep fried bacon-wrapped Nutty Bars at this time. However, this will not skew our results, as deep frying and adding bacon have been shown to improve all foods linearly. (Heide et al., 1997)

Sadly, funding for this important research has become scarce, and once philanthropic neighbors now close their doors. Look for us on Kickstarter.

Monday, November 4, 2013