Saturday, December 28, 2013

How to Make the World Better: A Simple Plan by Dan

Sallie and I were checking out at Target a few nights ago and we couldn't find the bar code on the kitty litter. We finally found it near the bottom of the bucket on the backside. I had to lift and spin it so the cashier could scan it. Sal said, "It's obvious the person that designed this has never worked a register. Put that crap on the lid and make it easy for all of us."

Empathy, or the lack thereof, often causes grief among people. I don't think people are inherently bad, I just think the lack of experience in the other person's shoes can blind you to the stress and BS they have to deal with.

It's what I like to refer to as the programmer's dilemma. Often, a new piece of software will get pushed to our machines at work and it technically works, but not well. The programmer, who is a level 4 person, will mark the project as a success because it does work even if the usability is busted.

The level 1 person, help desk, starts getting an influx of calls for this product. Users are not happy and they are yelling at the help desk analyst as if it's their fault. The level 1 reports it to the level 2 escalation person, who then reports it to the level 3 manager.

When the manager brings this concern to the programmer, they show the manager how it works, even if it's not the easiest way to operate that software. Because it works, the programmer can't understand what the issue is.

Now if we were to take that same programmer and put them on the phones for a few days, they would quickly understand how their decision effects hundreds of other people. Maybe then, the next time some software rolled out, things would be better.

This same principle can be applied to people that yell at their server in a restaurant for food they didn't prepare, cashiers that don't control prices, and police officers that didn't write the laws. If everyone had to spend even one day in the other position, the way people are treated would be drastically different.

Friday, December 20, 2013

The Four Types of Childhood Friends

I feel like childhood friends can be categorized in one of four categories.

The Best Friends: These might not actually be your "best friend" but they are the ones you will continue to hang out with throughout life. Even if it's just meeting up once a year for a beer or an email.

These are the friends that hundreds of sitcoms and movies have been written about. Inevitably at some point, you have that, "We've grown apart" fight and then later in the film, when the protagonist is in trouble, his old best friend shows up to save the day. They smile at each other, say some great one liner, and then shake hands. Beers for everyone.

The Extra: When you were children, you probably hung out with this person a few times. Maybe they were on your baseball team. Heck, maybe you even spent the night at their house and had rad Nintendo 64 parties. But, you stopped hanging out. Now they are relegated to background players in some foggy memories you have.

The Eddie Haskell: This was a nickname my dad gave to one of my friends in particular. They are the type that always come over saying, "Hello Mr. Father, Hello Mrs. Mother. My you are looking good today."

Parents always think they are up to no good because their politeness is unsettling. Usually they are completely harmless. Unfortunately, all parents' eyes are on them while the last type of childhood friend runs free.

The Psychopath: A book I just finished reading made me think of this person.

This person is usually that person that you say their first and last name when telling stories about them. Their name is usually five or more syllables long and even if the person you are telling the story to doesn't know the Psychopath, they immediately know they are the psychopath by the name alone.

For me, this person was Johnny Condominium. (That's not his real name, just an approximation. I don't need this psychopath Googling his name and then coming for me.)

I always think of one story to sum this person up.

It was the summer around sixth grade. Johnny, my Eddie Haskell friend, and I were in Eddie's backyard shooting BB Guns. We were doing normal boy stuff. Filling soda cans with water and shooting them. Shooting army guys. Cursing like sailors.

Johnny sees some birds on the power lines and immediately goes to a prone position and crawls through the grass. Eddie and I stare at him in silence and disbelief. I can't speak for Eddie, but my stomach was sick just thinking about what we do if he hit a bird. There's no way a BB would kill it. It would probably injure it enough for us to have to put it out of it's misery.

Eddie tried calling out to Johnny to find out what he was doing, but he put a little extra umph in his question. I think he secretly was hoping the birds would scare away.

Johnny looked back and gave the international symbol for "shut the hell up." He took careful aim and fired a couple BBs. Luckily Johnny missed the birds. (Thank you for that terrible side shot the BB gun had) When he started pumping the gun back up so he could shoot some more, the birds flipped out and left.

When my family moved away from Bellefountaine Neighbors I lost touch with Johnny. Every now and then he would pop up in a story. They usually started with, "I ran into Johnny's mom at the grocery store..."

The last I heard about him was a vague story about how he sort of choked a girl at his bus stop in high-school and was sent to a boarding school.

If I had to guess, Johnny is probably wearing some poor victim's skin as a house robe while listening to Huey Lewis and the News records.

Monday, December 16, 2013


America is a fat country. Hundreds of scientists, nutritionists, politicians, and parents have opinions on why this is, how we can fix it, etc. It's not as simple as eating more natural food or working out. It's a host of things.

  • Two person working households: Sometime between 1940 and 1965, American's used to be able to live a comfortable suburban life on one income. Inflation, the economy tanking in the 70's, the globalization of manufacturing, among other things, brought females into the workforce.

    This isn't necessarily a bad thing, but there's no one to cook good meals anymore, or do the chores during the day, or run errands. If I didn't work from home, Sallie and I would most likely eat out three times a week, because there just wouldn't be time to do anything else. It's no wonder a vast amount of the population wants to sit in front of a TV staring into space. We are essentially doing 3 people's work per household.
  • Eating out used to be an event: When I was a kid, you didn't usually just pick McDonald's up and bring it home. It used to be an event. It only happened every now and then and when it did, you sat down in those greasy plastic seats, ate your Happy Meal, and then played on the Playland. Most McDonald's don't even have Playlands anymore.
  • Portions and Price: One thing I noticed in Britain was they preferred smaller meals in which you could choose a few different things to combine for a meal. People say it's more expensive in Britain, but without paying a tip, it was essentially the same price, unless you try to build an American sized meal.  I didn't work out in England. In fact, I was still on crutches. I drank a lot of beer and hung out. Somehow, came back 3 lbs lighter.

    Here, we have Hardees bragging about their 4 lb Man Burgers that are served with six inches of french fries and washed down with a 32 oz soda. Here, you can buy 2400 calories worth of Krispy Kreme donuts for about $7.50.

    And from working in restaurants, often people just eat stuff on their plate because it was there. I'm talking 1250 calorie meals. And, those same people would usually order an appetizer and throw that food away.

  • We are scooter fat: I remember watching wrestling as a kid and thinking some wrestlers were fat. You either had your Hulk Hogan's with all the muscles or your Hacksaw Jim Duggan's, who had a pot belly.

    Even with his pot belly, you looked at that guy and knew he could still swing a hammer. That's a dude that could still run 100 yards and play a game of pickup football.

    Now, people are soft fat and have to rely on scooters to get around. It's like we gave up on the simplest way to burn calories, walking, and are just like, "Whatever man, I'm American."

  • Processed and unbalanced: GMO's have people up in arms. We don't know truly the health risks involved with playing god with our seeds and probably won't know for some time.

    Processed foods and chemicals are another issue. We know it's not good. When you grab one of those little cupcakes, and the first ingredients are high fructose corn syrup or red 5, we've got a problem. How is the body supposed to process that? It's not as if food was healthy 50 years ago. I have a Betty Crocker cookbook from the 60's and most the recipes contain entire sticks of butter or lard.
  • GTFO of the House: Picnics, swim pools, pick up games in the park... we used to be outside. Now we sit in an office all day and on the couch all night.

    Need proof? The rise of gyms and personal trainers. Didn't need as many gyms when you were getting functional exercise. How many of you have back and neck problems now? Bet you sit hunched over a desk most days and have a little extra weight on the front end.
  • Education: Health class is taught by disgruntled, underpaid and under-appreciated gym teachers, often caught in the middle of a political debate as to whether or not teach real sex education or which constantly changing food pyramid is the correct one.

    If it weren't for Sallie's insatiable love of health and nutrition, I would have never started paying attention to what I eat. I would also be 32 lbs heavier and feeling like hell. 
The most often thing asked when someone comes to our house and looks through our pantry is, "Do you have any snacks?" 

What they really are asking is, "Where are the pretzels, Cheetos, Cream Pies, and M&Ms?" When Sal and I answer, "we have carrot sticks" or "there are plain tortillas and salsa" you would swear we just told someone their entire life was a pointless ruse. 

Many Americans have this entitlement that we can eat and drink just straight crap, pay almost nothing for it, and then sit on the couch watching sitcoms. We are Americans, not gods. Our bodies have already started breaking down. 

For a country that often sees itself as the greatest country in the world, this super hero to everyone else, we're rewriting Superman to have a 46 waist. Soon, our greatest asset is going to be the gorgeous breasts our men sport and the way our women's cottage cheese butts glisten in the California sun. 

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Checking Out of the Conversation

Sal and I have realized lately that we only have a certain amount of tolerance for each other talking about our non-shared hobbies. Sal talks about running or I start talking about the newest beer I want to try, and it's over.

We try listening as intently as possible, but after a few minutes, our eyes glaze over, we start thinking about what we'll eat for dinner or how it would be great to have a glass of wine tonight, and don't comprehend what the other person is saying. (This is partly why we have a shared Google calendar now)

We hear noise and see their mouth moving, but nothing stays in the brain. Then, as if the brain realizes, "Oh crap, we were supposed to be doing something else." You snap back into the conversation just in time to hear, "...and that is how he saved the planet."

This American Life did a show on "The Seven Things You're Not Supposed to Talk About" according to one of the producer's mothers. Essentially, she says these are the 7 things no one really cares about, but people feel the need to talk about. It got me thinking about what those 7 things for me are and then I realized how often those things fill my life.

  1. The traffic you were in. Besides knowing you were late because of traffic, there is no way anyone else can sympathize with the jackass in the blue truck that almost hit you off or how after an hour you got to the front of the traffic and there didn't seem to be a reason for it. Unless I was in the passenger seat, I'm not going to be able to feel the rage you did. 
  2. Vacation pictures. I always feel like a jerk for this one, but it sort of goes along with the thing above. As much as I want to go to Paris, I want to see maybe your top 10 pictures or that funny thing you saw, but I mostly want to know about the food, drinks, and people. Tell me about the experience. I have no feeling one way or the other at your picture holding your loved one under the Eiffel Tower.

    Side note: For some reason though, I used to love watching slide shows of vacations my grandparents took with all the kids.

  3. Remembering that TV show we just watched together. Yes, that one joke John Stewart told was hilarious, but let's give it like a few hours of cooling off time before we try to bring it back into the conversation. 
  4. Diets. I want to hear about this once, only because I'm interested in silently judging your progress over the next few months. However, I don't need you to bring up how the red meat or pasta I occasionally eat is the reason why I sort of feel tired today. The reason I sort of feel tired, is because of...
  5. Sleep. You slept terrible, I slept terrible. Let's leave it at that. Don't need to hear about every toss and turn you had last night. I'll try not to waste your time with the same. 
  6. Dreams. This one does have caveats. Like, if its actually a really interesting or crazy dream, specifically if it involves me, let's hear it. If you had a dream that all of your teeth fell out... well, I just don't know what to do with that. It's not that it's not interesting, I just literally have no response to that.

    Side note 2: Last night I had a dream that my dad brought me and my brothers back to our old neighborhood in North County to rob houses because, "No one will suspect us." And then later on, my college buddy Sean and I opened a baseball card shop. Unless you are my dad, my brothers, or Sean, you don't really care do you?
  7. Money. I'm severely guilty of talking about money too often.  I'm aware and am trying to stop. But if you have too little money, I can't help you out. If you have too much money, that's great, but I can't just go to the mall and drop a few hundred on a sweater. 
I'm guilty of talking about all of these things at one point or another. And I mentioned, there are always really interesting exceptions to these rules. 

And... just because you know this about me now, don't think it means I hate you if you start talking about it. Just know that there's a chance I might only remember about 40% of the conversation.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013


I have a hard time sleeping. I'm constantly tossing and turning. My back will hurt sometimes. The littlest noise wakes me up. I have to go to the bathroom like 50 times a night. And if a fan is blowing across my bald head, forget it, I can't get comfortable.

Luckily, there's Ambien...

Just kidding. I hate that stuff. Only took it twice when I was injured. Felt like I was having out of body experiences.

The only thing that truly helps me sleep is affectionately called "gray blanket."

Back in 2004, I lived with two roommates who loved the cold. Now, most of you know that I LOVE the cold. But these guys LOOOOOVVEEEDD the cold. And in order to save a few dollars in the winter, they refused to turn our heat up over 55. I even caught them at times with the heat off and their windows open.

That's great and all, except I had a handicap bedroom that faced the front of the apartment. Which means, huge window taking up most of the wall my bed was on.

So I didn't get much sleep for a while that winter. I was sleeping in my blue jeans, hat on, jacket on, four or five covers on top of me. It was miserable.

My parents visited some time in early December and flipped out at the conditions. Next time I came home, there was gray blanket waiting for me.

Gray blanket is nothing special. It's a gray, mostly polyester blanket from Kohl s. But it's so warm and soft and it's mine.

It's the only blanket not shared between Sal and I when we sleep. Gray blanket is wrapped around me as if a blizzard is going to come through and bury us, and I want to be discovered 500 years from now, perfectly preserved, in gray blanket.

I didn't realize how much I actually need gray blanket until last night.

I hadn't slept a great night of sleep since last Wednesday. It was bad enough to where I had to slap myself awake on the drive back from Madison. I slept hard Monday night, but woke up feeling like I had a "no sleep" hangover.

So I was worked up about getting proper sleep last night. I stayed away from all screens for 90 minutes before bed. I read. I took a bath. (Yes I did, with bubbles) I was ready to pass out early.

But when I tried to go to bed 30 minutes early, I found no rest. I tossed, turned, was cold, then hot, could hear cats snoring, car alarms going off, I could see a little street light poking through the curtain. Basically, I was so worked up about getting good sleep, that I got no sleep.

But then, I reached over and grabbed a newly cleaned gray blanket. I tucked it under the comforter, and within 10 minutes, I got the best sleep in a week.

So yes, I am essentially Linus. And gray blanket is starting to fall apart. And I'm going to be sad when it does.