Sunday, July 31, 2011

A funny thing happened while I was eating nachos...

Many of the funniest or most interesting stories you may have to tell may take place while doing the most mundane things. But remove the story and you're left with the fact that you were doing something you do all the time and of no discernible interest.

If you're reading this blog, no doubt you are a member of one social networking site or another and are sure to have come across insightful one liners tweets or status updates informing you that someone is shopping, watching TV or dicking around on the internet. With the advent of sites such as FourSquare, Gowalla and GetGlue, we are now faced with automatic posts generated by our friends informing us "I am at Albertson's" (a supermarket) accompanied by a link with the their exact location pinned on a map. While the whole surrender of privacy bothers me, that's the choice of that person. What bothers me now is how dull the information supplied is. "I am at Machos Tacos". Great.

After a Twitter exchange with a friend, I've finally come to realise why these posts bother me so much. It's not the over sharing of information, but rather the half-assed share. Okay, so you're at a taco stand. What about it? My friend jokingly tweeted complaining that GetGlue which she uses has no means of posting what you're eating. Apparently she wanted to post that she was eating nachos. Me being me, I couldn't help but reply "Maybe because 'I am eating nachos' should never be tweeted" She replied asking why not and stating that she likes to know what people are doing. I thought about it and realised that I do too as long as there is something interesting to go with it. Tell me about your nachos. Are they the best nachos you ever had? The worst nachos you ever had? Do they contain an usual ingredient? Are they incredibly spicy? Tell me more about your nachos. But if they are every day nachos, then sorry, but I don't need to know about them and nor should you know about my run of the mill nachos. If I caught up with someone after a long time with no other contact, if they asked me what I was up to, I wouldn't say "I've been eating nachos." Admittedly, whatever story the nachos had to tell no matter how interesting, it wouldn't be fodder for a catch up session. But should my friend and I choose to catch up over a Tex-Mex meal, the subject of my nachos may come up at this point, but again, only if I had something notable about nachos to share. "God, I hope these are good. Last week I had the WORST nachos I've ever eaten. I didn't think nachos could be that bad outside of a roller rink." or "I'm hesitant to try these nachos. The ones I had the other day were the best I've had in my life and now I think I'm ruined for nachos!" or "No, I can't split nachos with you. I had nachos for lunch." Here are some circumstances where one's consumption of nachos is relevant and worth mentioning.

(left) Bad nachos made with Velveeta. Interesting for their grossness. (right) Gregorio's Famous Nachos, interesting to Birdsworth, at least.

Indeed, I do care about what my friends are doing, but I don't need to know everything. You're at the Apple store? You're at Walgreens? You're eating breakfast? You're at the dentist? Who gives a fuck?  Where will it end? Here was my day in tweets, should it have been cross posted to Twitter through a check-in service that expresses my movements without commentary:

I've woken up.

I'm on the computer.

Turned the A/C on.

Lunch is in the oven.

Brushing my teeth.

On the computer.

Playing CityVille.

Playing with cats.

At Radio Shack.

Installing antenna.

At Radio Shack.

Installing antenna.

Watching The Simpsons.

On the computer.

Making dinner.


Watching Larry Sanders.

Writing blog.

Your response to all this would no doubt be:


Comment link is wee, but it's here! See below.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Name tag enlightenment

If you've ever worked a menial job, no doubt you have worn a name tag. And for the duration of wearing that name tag you can probably count the number of times by which you were addressed by your name and almost certainly most of those times your name was said with a smart alec tone "So, er..SimONE.. could you tell me where the jam is?" A name tag user seems compelled to put some unnecessary emphasis on your name, almost mocking you for having your name on display in such a fashion. There was only one occasion during which my name was used casually and it only served to startle me and distract from what the woman was saying as I wondered "How does she know my name?!"

How does everyone know I use to be fat? Oh...

Having said that, while on the receiving end of the name tag, a few notable incidents have arisen. For some time, my friend Dan and I had bickered over the surname of one of the members of the British comedy trio, The Goodies. No dispute over Tim Brooke-Taylor and Bill Oddie, but while I asserted the third name was Graeme Garden, Dan insisted it was Gardener and no-one had the last name of "Garden". We remained at a stalemate for some time, back in the days where trivial matters couldn't be solved by the internet and subsequently, many more friendships were at risk. Eventually we found ourselves stopping in at Dan's then place of employment, McDonald's where Dan spoke with his manager as I stood beside him. Imagine my delight when her name tag bore the name "Gail Garden". I couldn't wait to burst out of there to humiliate Dan in the parking lot. The name proved Dan wrong and also Dan's obliviousness to name staring him in the face upon her ample bosom, shift after shift.

Name tags are serious business and not to be taken lightly.

One of the more exhilarating name tag moments occurred while at an Officeworks store in Melbourne. I frequented the copy centre there as I needed to make colour copies of my friends' Faith No More posters. Color copies weren't cheap however the sting was taken out of the ordeal when I was helped by an employee named, as indicated by his tag, Barnaby. Until that point, Barnaby was a name I thought reserved only for TV characters and pirates. But here in the copy centre was a Barnaby, clearly far removed from either lifestyle. It would be disappointing for someone with a name such as that to look ordinary which was why his name was enhanced by his apparent relation to a werewolf. Did I project something unusual on him because of his name? Possibly. Regardless, sixteen years later, the memory of that name tag and the joy in brought me remain strong in my memory.

This is George Hull.

Since next to no-one actually addresses people by the names on their tag, the notion that your place of employ is trying to create a friendly atmosphere is, I believe, quite bogus. A name tag merely serves as a means of identification for a customer to inform on an employee they are unhappy with. The name tag is for accountability, not friendliness. But even with them, the disgruntled still rarely observe them. I was once reported for "not being friendly enough" and identified as "the girl with purple nail polish". Not only was I in trouble for not dancing a jig while handling this woman's bloody (literally) rump roast, but I was also in trouble for wearing bright nail polish. I might as well have not worn my name tag and clung to what little dignity I could possibly have while working as a cashier.

I haven't had to wear a name tag for quite some time however I do work at trade shows six times a year which require me to wear identification to distinguish the exhibitors from the customers. Every year we see the same customers and exhibitors and never remember their names. We are forced to maintain conversations like old friends catching up while using stealth to inconspicuously cast our eyes down to catch a glimpse of their name. Terror strikes when you go to the trouble of making the glance only to find the name tag is turned around. From time to time you'll catch someone else working the glance down at the badge hanging about your own waist and it's okay. It's almost a relief to see someone else is as disinterested in this relationship as you are.

There is one name tag though, that will no doubt stay with me for the rest of my life for it humiliated and educated me at the same time. While purchasing Mexican food at the Sacramento airport food court, I stifled a gasp as I saw the cashier's name. I whispered to Gregg the moment the cashier walked away "THAT MAN'S NAME IS JESUS!!!" I was quickly corrected, "Uh, it's 'hey-zeus'". Being Australian with no knowledge of Spanish didn't help ease the embarrassment, however that little name tag set me on the path of understanding Spanish pronunciation. I wish I could say that little name tag unlocked the whole language for me, but it really didn't do all that much. They never do.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Y r u writing like this? i h8 it. do u no u look stupid?

While I may not always do the English language justice, I think it knows that I try my very best.  When I learn of a mistake, after overcoming the initial effrontery followed by grief, time is taken researching, clarifying and then adapting this new information into daily use.

While understanding language is ever evolving, I am frustrated when, in matters of spelling, the lazy decide it's up to them to actively partake in this process. It's one thing to just be poor at spelling. I'm poor at maths so I well understand we can't all be good at basic tasks. But when people excuse it by saying "language is evolving" as if they actually care and are thoughtfully and consciously assisting in the future of our language, it's utterly obnoxious.  As is commonly seen these days, evolution seems not so much "survival of the fittest" as we once thought as the most likely to survive appears to be the most loud and brutal. Those who will trample the well devised thoughts of the soft spoken. With strength in numbers, they are working to make their shortcomings acceptable. In doing so, the misspellings will eventually become the accepted norm.

The obnoxious of this kind have little hope for redemption, but when the educated see fit to abbreviate "are" to "r", "you" to "u" and so forth, are they at all concerned that even though I know they are capable of completing these words that they read like some sort of wannabe gangsta* moron? I understand that this kind of text speak was born in harder times. Sending a text message ten years ago was like driving the earliest incarnation of the car. You had to get out, crank it to get it started and no matter what you did, you could only go so fast. The early texts being composed on numbered keys with three letters to a key, typing as little as possible was much desired. But with the Nokia phone came predictive text. You could type each key once and it could usually figure out the word you wanted and if it didn't, it could be taught. As a result, I never had to resort to these hideous abbreviations. The good people at Nokia were on the side of literacy. The same cannot be said for the folks at Motorola who equipped their predictive text with abbreviations like "l8r" which would burn my eyes as it was suggested while I tried to type a legitimate word.

With the advent of the smart phone where full keyboards are ubiquitous, the excuses for this kind of abbreviation are running out. In compositions clearly devised on a full keyboard (especially on actual computers), there is simply no justification for this kind of insidious offence at all. There is the issue of trying to contain one's thoughts within a 140-160 character limit imposed by Twitter and text messages, but even when faced with this dilemma, I always opt to rework my text to avoid appearing illiterate. I experienced a traumatic incident when I found someone had retweeted one of my posts which occupied all of the allotted characters. This usually flattering event was tarnished as in his effort to add a remark, he edited down my two uses of "you" and one of "are" to "u" and "r" leaving me looking like a dope to those who didn't know better.

The big question, possibly unasked by the offenders, is how do those abbreviations read? When words contain an accented letter to create a certain sound, such as fiancé, protégé and café, with the accent comes a splash of class to our otherwise un-accented language. Use of "u" in place of "you" carries a personality all its own and one I believe most communicators did not intend to convey. Where an umlaut or tilde brings class, "u" for "you" says entirely the opposite. "U" conjures a bleary eyed, dopey delivery with barely parted lips. Depending on the frequency of other abominable abbreviations surrounding it, this image may or may not be accompanied by drool pouring down the chin of the author.

The expression that accompanies use of "u r"

Having said all that, the abbreviations do have a purpose for us all: to impersonate or depict idiots in writing. Where a collection of adjectives may be needed to describe the intonation of any other character, to quote someone saying "how r u? Wat u doin? Wanna go 2 mcd l8r? im at walmart atm" paints a perfect picture. What did you see when you read that? I saw this:

To be clear, if you are an offender of this type of thing, I am not calling you stupid.  I have seen it from people whom I know to be fully equipped mentally and able to write perfectly well, including someone who has written a book. I'm simply taking this opportunity to point out that not only are you contributing to the demise of the English language, but no matter what I know about you, writing like that contaminates the whole sentence as though you were impersonating some sort of dopey "dude" while you spoke. If that's what you want, carry on.

*It may seem hypocritical to use the word "gangsta" in a piece about saving English, but alas, it has become its own word with an individual meaning and will no doubt eventually be admitted into the OED as "LOL" was this past week. "Gangster" implies more of a mobster style personage which was not what I was trying to evoke at all.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Who needs a hug?

I think this hug means more to her than it does to Jesus

Growing up in a Sri Lankan family, kisses on the cheek of every friend and family member who came in the door were mandatory. For most of my childhood I had no problem with it, but once I became a shitty teenager, I'd had enough. It's probably for this reason that I was more than happy to find in adulthood among the rest of Australian and American culture to have this notched down to a hug. While I'm now quite fine with kisses from people I know, I'm more than happy to hug just about anyone (body odour permitting).

Within this hug comfort, however, there are some trying moments. Few people have problems with hugs, but hugging still speaks of a certain familiarity, so awkwardness lies in determining when you become "hug-friends" with someone. It's almost like an early "I love you" moment in a friendship.

Voted "hug of the day" of June 25th 2009

One such instance when the first hug can be awkward is a consequence of the times we live in. With so many people creating and sustaining long friendships over the internet without any face to face or even mouth to ear (via phone) contact, when first meeting in person, there is usually a moment of hug hesitation upon that initial greeting. This person has come to be one of your internet best friends but do you now touch them with a hug? I only just thought of this recently when first meeting Aaron Mason, hilarity maker on the podcast The Grapes of Rad. We had become internet friends via Stephanie and had built quite a nice rapport over the time leading up to my Seattle trip where I was destined to meet him and his on air cohort, Ben Parsons. When I met Aaron, I went in for the hug. I like hugs and he seemed huggable. He reciprocated and once that was taken care of, the rest of our interaction was at ease and we could pick up our friendship from our last email exchange. 

A more awkward hug lies in the "hug by association". I knew Ben also from listening to The Grapes of Rad but prior to meeting at the party, I had had little communication with him. Yet because of the bond I'd created with Aaron, I felt an associated bond with Ben, so when I met him, I went in for the hug. There was that awkward moment where hands come out for a shake while the other person's arms are waving up near shoulder height with very different intentions. When you are in that moment where you're either extending a hand or have opened out your arms, to the other person doing the opposite, remember it isn't just you who wants to slip into a crack in the floor. The other person surely feels bad too. The attempted hugger wonders if they have overstepped the mark and the attempted hand shaker fears they appear to be a cold jerk. Then there is that pause. Do we go with the hug or with the shake? The outstretched arms will usually guilt the shaker into a hug. It may not mean they were anti hug, but simply that they didn't know where they stood with you. In this case, I always think it's best to go with the hug. To shake after that is to take steps backward in your budding friendship and screams a loud "cool it" to the would-be hugger. After experiencing this moment with Ben and then going in full force for the hug, I asked if that was okay or if I had made him uncomfortable. He said it was fine and he was glad we got that familiarity straightened out. Success. The hug allowed us to move forward in our new friendship.

Do we have to?

Hug frequency is a little thought about issue but I've recently become aware of it. In our busy lives we don't tend to see the same people all that often so it's very natural to greet each other with a hug when we do. But when you're seeing your friends regularly, when do you hug? I'm very confused by this and its occurrence has been increasing in the last few months where I have ended up seeing the same group of friends several times a week for various events. In one week I saw my friend Marilyn five times and I believe we hugged four out of five times. Was that really necessary? I have no problem with hugging Marilyn and would gladly hold her in an embrace of up to five minutes if she desired it, I just wondered if I was hugging because I thought I should, if she was hugging because she thought she should or if afterwards anyone was left thinking, "Did we really need to do that again?" I don't think there is any clear answer for these types of hugs other than, "If it feels right, do it." One thing is certain though, if you are seeing someone regularly, there is no need to get up for a hug. If someone is comfortably sunk into a couch or tucked away in a booth at a restaurant, if you have seen them within the last three weeks, there is no need to trouble yourself for hugging. These hugs should just work out as a matter of geography. "Hello! You are my friend and I am pleased to see you. You are standing inches away from me. I will drape my arms around you for a moment as a mark of our friendship, just as I did two days ago."

One last hug is similar to the hug by association but it's in the case of someone you just met, but you are friends with their friend or significant other. Upon first meeting, a hug for your friend and a shake for their companion makes complete sense, but by the end of the evening as you hug your friend goodbye, what do you do with the person they are with? Are they now in your hugging circle or do you shake again? If you spent a lot of time bonding with this person over the course of the evening, a farewell hug comes very naturally. But if the conversation was of negligible quality or quantity, that "should I or shouldn't I?" moment glares at you as you heartily hug your friend. A hug for the friend, shake for the companion screams "They are my friend. You are not." The double hug indicates, "You probably don't want me to do this, but I didn't want to hurt your feelings." In such a case, whether a shake or a hug follows, discomfort will accompany it.

This piece provides no answers on this issues but merely attempts to bring these issues more to your consciousness and perhaps make you even more socially awkward than you are.

A blog about hugs wouldn't complete without Canned Hamm's wonderful "Who Needs A Hug?" I DO!

Sunday, February 20, 2011

The Conjured Wedgie

The constriction of the safety restraints is one of many reasons why I wasn't a Formula 1 driver

I'd been lying still on the couch reading my Twitter feed and the links it provided for at least 10 minutes when Marnie, my youngest cat child, climbed onto the couch, walked on my legs and up my body to rest on my chest and knead my neck. The moment her paws hit my knees, as I knew she was headed for a long haul of love, I felt it. I was suddenly aware of a wedgie.

It wasn't a complete, turning ones regular, sensible underwear into a stupid thong type wedgie. Just the kind where the elastic on one side is about an inch out of place creating an ever so slight bunching feeling.

Marnie kneads me.

But I had not moved. This wedgie did not just happened. There is something about the moment you find yourself in a position where you can't move for a while that your body throws itself into a state of panic looking for anything out of place. It's like a surprise guest just arrived at the door. There's no time! Is the bathroom clean? Are there blankets strewn all over the couch? Did we scratch that itch on our ankle? Is the elastic of our underwear in its rightful place?

With the cat in its position, purring and giving you, the ever needy cat owner, the assurance that you are in fact loved, you dare not move. It's as though one's brain is trying to win a battle to see who you care about more. Who will you appease? The cat? The seven grocery bags that you managed to hold at once? The roller coaster safety barrier? It's as though your body gives you the itch, wedgie or sudden urge to urinate just to assert its power.

From zero to pant wetting the moment restraint is applied.

Once you become aware of the disturbance it's all you can think about. The harder it is to rectify, the harder it is to ignore. Marnie is a pretty affable cat so I could make an adjustment without a great risk of her taking her love elsewhere. Birdsworth on the other hand, being so fickle, when he decides to climb on me, because I have to be extra still so naturally every possible discomfort hits me at once. If I move he wont stand for it and so the problems start. Ahhhh! The disturbance wont stop! It itches! I suddenly have to piss out a gallon! The wedgie is getting deeper, I'm sure of it! I'll just gently address it....and the cat is gone. Body wins.

Cat's gone, but ahhhhhhhhhh!

The roller coaster may be the absolute worst for this kind of situation. I can always chase after the cat or expect them to come back another time, but in the case of the roller coaster I am pressed down tightly and barely able to touch the side of my calves. Hmmmm, while we're in that region, I notice my sock is suddenly all bunched up in my shoe. God, that's so uncomfortable. How have I been walking around for hours without this bothering me? Well it shouldn't matter now. I'm just sitting here. But God, I can feel it. It's the most uncomfortable position I have ever been in in my life. Oh my God, I can't move. I cannot get to my sock. I cannot undo my shoe. I'm trapped!

For the duration of the roller coaster ride, I am able to ignore it and the fact that I am trapped and unable to make right all the simple wrongs with my body that I'm experiencing. Once the adrenaline wanes, I am able to think about my sock again but since the ride is over, I feel pretty good about the whole thing. I'm moments away from being able to fix that sock. Oh hello, there's a hold up. Ugh, all the cars are backed up. We're just sitting here. Why aren't they unloading us? Don't they know my sock needs urgent attention! It happening in the other foot too! I thought once they picked the cotton it was DEAD! Why is it able to move? GET ME OFF!!!

My heart races as I write this. Makes me think I'll never again be able to ride a roller coaster again with socks, but I know my body will find something else to assert its power.

Me, realising there's a good 90 seconds before I can address my sock.

Thursday, February 03, 2011

FarmVille: A Philosophical Justification

If you're a regular reader of this blog then no doubt an air of snobbery has shone through at one point or another. I scoff at bad taste yet, in what appears the height of hypocrisy, I must confess that I, like many other Facebook friends of yours, am a FarmVille tragic.

Quickly, for the uninitiated, FarmVille is a game where you plant make believe crops, wait for them to "grow", then harvest them and reap the profits. The more crops you grow, the more pretend money you earn and the more pretend decorations and enhancements you can buy for your property. "How do you win?" asked my befuddled husband. It's not a competition, for if it was, I'd do nothing else, given my disturbing competitive streak. Instead, friends play simultaneously but you're all there to help each other out and be rewarded with more crap for your farm.

Like all you haters, I too was one. Why was my Facebook feed littered with post after post about people's stupid crops and eggs and why the fuck did they keep bugging me to join and giving me cows? Because they need more neighbours to get certain things. I found ways to block it and had it that way until Thanksgiving 2009. While celebrating the feast with my sister-in-law and the crew of the boat she captains, I found myself immersed in FarmVille chatter. They begged me to join, but I refused. I finally agreed to be shown how it all worked. As it turned out, I had quite a back log of gifts of fruit trees and animals so I was off to a good start. For the next three days straight, all I did was work on my stupid farm.

My farm. Designed for maximum fun and minimal work. Click here to see larger image.

Once I got the whole thing going, I chose crops that only needed to be harvested once a day to prevent me from spending too much time on it. Once I collected lots of items and money I set about creating a happy little world for me and my animals. Given the current state of my real life finances and with no windfall in sight, it seemed unlikely I was ever going have such a large acreage in real life, so I bought a cottage, plowed and planted, made spacious pens for my animals and nice little nooks around the property to relax and read a book. I'm pleased to say I never actually spent time outside of the game walking around my farm in my mind, but while I was building it, I indeed thought about the livability of it and strove to make it everything I would never be able to afford. And with all those luxuries, I'll never forget the thrill the day I opened a mystery egg and found an elusive outhouse! I'd been busting to pee for months.

Some people spend all their cash on coloured bales of hay so they can do shit like this.

After a while, when I had a large area of plots in the middle of my farm, I realised I was spending way too much time working and had not enough time or room for decorating. After amassing a decent sum of money, I cut my number of crops in half, moved them all the perimeters of my property and worked the bare minimum to sustain my leisure land, much like I aspire to do in real life. My farm now boasts a castle, a second house with a large yard, a picnic area and most importantly, the tiki oasis of my dreams.

My tiki oasis complete with tiki house, tiki hut, tiki bar, tiki stage, vocano and filled with banana, date, pomegranate, lychee and avocado trees. For a larger view, click here.

My drive to play is not the same as everyone else's for many simply seem to enjoy toiling in their fields, raking in the cash and XP (experience) points, and letting it sit in the bank. I can only guess that this is what they are doing as their farms consist of hundreds of plots and missing all the themed homes and buildings and fun to be bought with the earnings. If this is a reflection of people's real lives, I don't know, but I'm always surprised to see FarmVille farmers doing to the equivalent of an 80 hour work week with no time for fun.

All work and no play.

The idea of the American dream is nice, but we don't all start out from the same place to get it. Some are better off that average and others are far worse off, yet people like to pretend that hard work and perseverance can get everybody all that they want. This is entirely untrue, but FarmVille allows for that dream to be realised. No-one has an advantage. The same amount of work (and by work, I mean "clicks") will yield the same results. More clicks, more cash, and eventually you can buy your own ski lodge.  Actually, I guess you do need to have enough money to own a computer.

For the record, I only post FarmVille stuff to other FV players. I remember what it was like to be a hater. Please don't unfriend me unless for this unless you just think I'm a dickhead now.