Conquest

I did most of my dating when I was in college. In high school I had a steady girlfriend the whole time, and after college I had already settled on who I was going to marry, so ages 18 thru 20 were my primary dating years. Like most men my age, I found women a fascinating puzzle. I had plenty of sexual experience from high school, but I didn’t have much of any experience learning how to attract women.

However, I have always been exceptionally good at puzzles.


What I did in college was figure out what worked, notice what didn’t, and gradually honed my approach to finding mates. Since this was long, long ago, and I don’t expect to ever be in the dating pool again, I think it’ll be OK if I give up all my secrets.

The college I went to was not exactly a target-rich environment. I don’t know the exact ratio, but it was like a 70/30 male/female split. It was an engineering school, and although things are a lot more balanced now, they were very unbalanced then. There is no way for me to comment on the variety of choices among the 30% without it sounding like a cruel stereotype of women who go to engineering school. So let’s just say it was a very competitive dating situation. I was not a tall frat boy with a square jaw and a six-pack. I was a short, emphatically non-frat boy, with soft features and a cute little round belly. So any success I had in college speaks to the effectiveness of my “game.”

So, without further ado, this is the alfageeek college dating how-to:

1. Set the hook

Once I found a woman I was interested in, I had to get her attention. I did that using a combination of being extremely nice and helpful, and looking her straight in the eye. I found academic stuff very easy, so finding a candidate who needed help with her studies or wanted a lab partner was my ideal. That allowed me to be nice and helpful. And any woman you can get to look in your direction is someone you can look straight in the eye. Once you have their attention, a small knowing smile should capture their interest.

After that, I would use tricks to ensure they don’t just move right on. For example, a woman I met in a Jazz lab was a good candidate for me. She was nervous, and I gave her a “you’re doing fine” look. This little act of kindness made an impression. Along with the straight-in-the-eye thing. After the lab, we chatted and I suggested I could lend her some cassettes to listen to. This was a contrivance designed to ensure a second meeting, since she had to return the cassettes.

2. Impress them

After meeting and talking and charming her as best I could, I would ask the young candidate out to dinner. Assuming she said yes (which they usually did), I would get a reservation at a very fancy restaurant. I had my own software company, so I had some money in my pocket. But I wasn’t really trying to impress her with the money. Rather, I was impressing her with the quality and style.

This usually went well. Although once when I was home for the summer, I tried to impress a local girl by taking her to a jazz club in Ann Arbor. My brother and I had been there many, many times, so it didn’t even occur to me that they might have a 21-and-over policy. Apparently they did, and they decided to exercise it the night I took her to the club. Oy. There was no recovering from that. I didn’t have a plan B. Sigh. That night ended with an awkward cheek kiss, and they didn’t make the sequel.

But most times I was taking candidates to fancy French or Japanese restaurants, and ordering well, and that worked out just fine.

3. The massage

The preferred lubricant of 1986

The preferred lubricant of 1986

Once I get the candidate back to my place, I suggest a massage. These days I know a lot more about massage than I did then. But in those days a massage consisted mostly of pressing baby oil into her back. After a while, when she was relaxed, I’d suggest that she turn over. This was pretty much the point at which she is deciding whether we are going to have sex. Or, that’s what I thought back then. Now that I understand women better, I realize that she already knew how the evening was going to end before we even went to dinner. But to 18-year-old me, this was the moment of truth.

So maybe she would turn over, or maybe she would decline. If she declined, I played it off as no big deal, and I would keep going on her back for a while, and eventually she’d put her shirt back on and I’d take her home. If she turned over, I’ll let you use your imagination about how that would play out.


4. Move in together

Well, not really. But I’ve never had a one night stand. The shortest relationship I’ve ever had was at least 3 months, and most lasted much longer. So while I was a “player” in that I was definitely approaching the whole mating ritual as a non-linear multivariate optimization problem, I was not a “player” in the sense of trying to land as many women as possible. I always preferred exploring and expanding within a single relationship.

When I fell back into the dating pool at the end of the 1990s, I went back to this old formula. Except that since dating would start online, the first step was quite different. And being an actual grown-up, I wasn’t impressing anybody by taking them to a nice restaurant. And by that time I realized the massage was completely unnecessary as an enticement, although it was still a nice thing to do. So, in summary, I was back to not having the slightest idea how to solve the female puzzle. The wiser you get, the less you know.

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My Lifetime Muse

Today is my 13th wedding anniversary. I know this because the woman I married is very smart. She put our wedding date on the inside of my ring. We met the summer before we got married, so we’ve known each other just under 14 years. We found each other on a site called “matchmaker.com” which was a predecessor of dating sites like match.com. You would fill in a questionnaire including some multiple choice questions, and then do a lot of essay questions. I liked this site because of the essay questions. Writing is kind of my thing.

Low tech reminder app

Low tech reminders app

Once we found each other, the romance went quickly. We wrote back and forth, got all the “who am I” stuff out of the way, and I talked about where I was in life. A lot like the kind of writing I do here on the blog, actually. And she told me about herself, and we were clearly well suited for each other.

I am a digital pack-rat. I have every email I’ve sent or received since 1996. So it was relatively easy to refresh my memory of our online courting.

I wooed her. I wrote bad poetry. I told her about my little victories at work. I shared my faults and what I was doing to correct them, or live with them. I did everything I could to get her to fall in love with me. And I did a good job of that. By the time we actually physically met, we were already as good as married.

I’ve never had a physical “type.” Particularly after my first marriage was over, and I was meeting women online. I would make a connection at the cerebral level, free from the distractions of physical appearance. And once you love someone, you love them. So when people look at my wife, and see that she is just a staggering beauty, they probably think that’s why I fell for her. But it really isn’t. I had fallen for her long before I first saw her face. Or any of the rest of her wonderful parts.

I’ve loved 7 women deeply in my life. But I’ve never loved another woman the way I love my wife.


It’s a strange and amazing thing to have a love like this. I feel incomplete when she is not with me. That little poem ends with my reaction to her touch, and that is one of the things that is unique about my love of her. I have always been a cuddler. My poor mother had to tolerate “lap time” with me far longer than it was a reasonable request. But my reaction to her touch is more transcendent than a cuddle or a hug. I am instantly transported to a place of calm. Like meditation.

This has actually been a bit of a problem:


That little poem was written after a difficult discussion. I need her. Desperately. But like a star running from the paparazzi, too much adulation can be suffocating. I understand. I try to empathize. But really, I don’t want to change. I like being an incomplete puzzle. I like having that hole. In a strange way, it’s become part of my identity.

Most of my thoughts, outside of work or mundane tasks, revolve around her. What can I do to make her happy? What does she want? What does she need? How will she react if I write this? And if she is in the room, everything else stops.

I think the single word that she has said to me, more than any other word, is “What?” As in, “What are you looking at?” The poor thing, I stare at her incessantly. I drink her in. I watch her move and I see every little detail. And I love every little detail. I am incapable of rational thought when she stands in certain positions.

This past winter, we went to a work party. All the women were made up and dressed beautifully. And all of them were beautiful, as all women are prone to be. But she was different. To me, she was completely unique:


I cannot believe that she is mine. I know that I bring a lot to the table. But it doesn’t seem that I could ever bring enough to deserve her. I long for her attention. She is mine, but yet I want more of her. I have all of her, but I want more. It’s a conundrum.

But I try to find peace. One morning, she and the kids were at church, and I was home alone. And the refrigerator cycled off. And there was complete silence. And it was like music. And I realized that this contrast was similar to my love. I long for her. And my longing makes me contented.


There is just one problem. She hates it when I write about her. But I have no choice. I have to write about her. I have to write, and she’s all I think about, and so I have to write about her. I just hope she can forgive me.

Dance with Me

My junior high was grades six through eight, and every now and then there would be a dance during the last period of the day. The seventh and eighth graders would go to the cafeteria and stand in a huge circle around the edge of the room, and they would listen to music, and nobody would dance. For some reason, the sixth graders were not invited.

Sixth graders would go to their home rooms and have individual room parties. My home room teacher thought there was no reason we should be missing out on the fun, so he arranged for there to be music, and we moved all the desks out of the way, and everyone stood around in a circle around the edge of the room, and we listened to music, and nobody danced.

This was 1979. We all knew what dancing looked like. American Bandstand and Soul Train were on TV every weekend. Saturday Night Fever and Grease were in the theaters. The bar was set high. And these 12-14 year olds knew darn well that they didn’t know how to do what those people on TV and in the movies were doing.

Except me. I knew.

My eldest sister was born just a little too late to be a real child of the ’60s, but she did her best. She dressed the part. Spoke the part. Listened to the Beatles (and notably, George Harrison’s horrible electronic solo stuff, because she was that cool). And she knew how to dance. ’60s style. She knew how to close her eyes and feel the music and move with it, and use her whole body. Like in the movie “Hair.” And she taught me how to do that. I have a clear recollection of me standing in the living room, and my sister on the couch coaching me. Close your eyes. Listen. Move your feet. Move your hips. Move your arms. Feel the music.

So, on that fateful day in sixth grade, I did something a little bit crazy. I left the circle, and I went to the middle of the room, and I danced.

I was an extremely ordinary 12-year-old. My only claims to fame were that I was the shortest boy in class, and I was the best saxophone player because my parents thought I should start taking lessons a year before everyone else started. But I wasn’t the “smart kid” yet. And I wasn’t the teacher’s favorite. And I wasn’t athletic. Like most everyone else, I was nothing.

But that day, I became “the kid who knows how to dance.” My classmates were awed. Boys and girls, without exception, told me I was a great dancer, and not a single one of them made fun of me. They wanted to know how I learned to do that. They wanted me to teach them. It was a good day. A very good day.

Those basic skills served me well through my junior high and high school years. I was the boy at the summer camp mixer who would dance with the girls. I was the boyfriend who did not make a fuss about going to the high school dance, and who would actually stay with my girlfriend during the whole thing.

Ah, high school dances. They were like orgies, except without the sex and nudity. My hands on her hips when there was a chaperone around, my hands on her ass when there wasn’t. Not so much dancing, as swaying and moving in little circles. Touching and grinding when the music sped up.

This may come as a surprise, but I like girls.

Girls are soft and they smell good.

And if you are willing to dance with them, you get to be really close, and you can feel their softness and smell their goodness. I cannot fathom why any man would resist learning to dance. Women don’t even care if you are any good. They just want you out there with them. Apparently men are, for the most part, stupid.

Judging from the shoes, dance instructions for two men, apparently

Dance instructions for two men, apparently

After college, my live-in girlfriend decided we should take ballroom dancing classes. She was 5’10” and 110 lbs. Graceful. Elegant. When we would walk into a dress store, the owners would give her a standing ovation, because she was the exact person all their clothes were actually designed to fit. Ballroom dancing suited us. We learned the basics: box step, swing, waltz. We learned how to hold each other, how to lead and follow.

We both enjoyed it so much, we continued practicing outside class. We got a book and taught ourselves Merengue and Tango and Samba and Polka. We eventually got married, and danced at our own wedding, and then at all the weddings of all her relatives as they got married. She was Lithuanian, so I got very good at the Polka.

Combining the innate, visceral dancing my sister had evoked back in sixth grade with the formal ballroom styles I learned has made me a very good dancer. It also helps that I’m a jazz musician, so I am practiced at working with complicated rhythms.

My current wife is also a very good dancer, but she denies it. I see her dancing in the kitchen now and then, and she has excellent rhythm and grace and beauty. Of course, I melt if she just walks across the room, so she doesn’t believe me. If we are at an event with dancing, like a wedding reception or a company party, she will grudgingly join me on the dance floor for a song or two. She follows beautifully, and moves so well, but a few songs are enough for her.

However, she knows I like to dance, and I think maybe she even likes to watch me dance. So I get to dance with all the single women, and with the unfortunate women who coupled with non-dancing men. There was a period, early in our marriage, when all her college friends were getting married, and I got to dance with all the single girls. Soft, good smelling, single girls. Sigh. My dance card was always full.

You know what else are soft and smell wonderful? Babies. And babies love to dance. So I’ve also done my fair share of dancing with babies over the years. It’s a different sort of dance, but the fundamentals of rhythm and movement are the same. There’s some indication in my children that the dancing as infants has led to a proclivity for dancing as they grow. Let’s hope so.

Earlier this year, I was at a small party with some of my wife’s relatives. One of my kids was sick, so my wife stayed home with her, and I went on my own with the other two. And there was wonderful jazz playing, and a lot of alcohol, and open space, so I swept up my sister-in-law (my wife’s sister) and danced with her. She is a very good dancer, but untrained. She was not inclined to follow, but I am a very strong lead on the dance floor. There is a magic point, where the resistance to my leading melts away, and she starts to follow, and we become one. And then I have the freedom to dance however I want, and she follows, and we look like we’ve danced together forever.

Plum Liqueur

I have very few friends. I have a very large number of acquaintances, but not many people I would consider friends the way most people use that word. There is almost nobody whom I would help move, or whom I might expect to want to help me move, for example. But I do have one close friend like that in the little town where I live, and that friend happens to own a plum tree.

You know plums: those big squishy delicious purple fruits they sell with peaches and nectarines. Well forget that, because the fruit on this tree bears no resemblance whatever to those. The “plums” in my friend’s tree are about the size and hardness of a golf ball, and are so tart as to be completely inedible. They are not soft unless they are rotten. They are the kind of fruit that, as kids, we would pick in order to throw at each other.

The process of picking these plums is entertaining to watch. My friend and I climb ladders and the tree itself. While I am generally not good with heights, there is something about climbing trees that has stuck with me from youth, and I am generally quite fearless. With a ladder, I’ll easily stand on the “do not step here” part if I’m simultaneously up to my neck in branches. My friend’s son has been an expert tractor operator since he was old enough to reach the pedals, so he drives up and raises the bucket and people can stand in there to help as well.

Eventually we end up with buckets and buckets of plum ammunition. One year we tried to make wine with it. The best part of that was dropping my eldest daughter, barefoot, into a tub of plums so she could stomp them. The wine was, presumably, toxic. I’ve never had the courage to open those bottles, so we may never know.

My friend’s wife has also used the plums to make jelly, which turns out just fine. But these days they simply let us take all the plums, because over the past few years, my wife and I have discovered and perfected the ideal treatment for inedibly tart fruit.

The story goes back several years. I’m not sure exactly how many (years aren’t really my thing) but let’s say 7. My favorite restaurant hired a brilliant bartender. The food at this restaurant is insanely good: carefully thought out, precisely matched, top quality everything. And the bartender brought that same aesthetic to his craft. He would invent cocktails using fine spirits, quality liqueurs, and flavored simple syrups. At the time, infusions were becoming trendy, and so he did a lot of that.

An infusion is where you take a spirit like vodka or gin or tequila, and dump some stuff in it for a while. Over time, the stuff’s flavor and color infuses into the alcohol. It takes time and care, and is something you have to do yourself. Flavored vodkas are an attempt at recreating the magic of an infusion, and are — almost without exception — disgusting.

Being somewhat regulars at the bar, the bartender gradually explained his process to my wife and me, and we started creating infusions at home.

Not a plum infusion

Not a plum infusion

Over the years, we have made cucumber gin, vanilla vodka, orange vodka, cranberry vodka, pear vodka, quince vodka, pineapple rum, red currant vodka, and on and on and on. You’ll notice that most of the infusions we make are with vodka, and there is a simple reason for that: infusing works best when the spirit doesn’t have its own flavors to bring to the table. The vodka should be decent, but it doesn’t have to be anything fancy. Skyy, Boru, and Sobieski are typical choices.

While an infused vodka can make a great cocktail, for example, using a red currant vodka in a Cosmo, we have found that our guests most appreciate liqueurs. Transforming an infusion into liqueur is trivial: you just add simple syrup.

Since simple syrup is basically just sugar, it works best if you start with a vodka infusion that is sour. Sweet plus sweet equals too sweet. Sweet plus sour equals delightful. And that brings us back to those impossibly tart plums.

We wash the plums, and then score them with a sharp knife. Exposing the flesh, but leaving the skins on, for color. (At this point, I thought I might make this piece more entertaining by making a joke about scoring the flesh of the plums. But it got real gruesome, real fast.) Dump them into vodka so they are well covered, and stick the jar on a shelf for about three weeks. Stir or just agitate the jar now and then. We typically make several liters of this stuff at a time.

When enough time has passed, strain the fruit out. I have a metal coffee filter I use for this purpose. A fine strainer’s holes are too big, and cheesecloth or paper coffee filters or whatever just take too damn long.

You make the simple syrup with 2 parts sugar to 1 part water. Just heat that on the stove until the sugar is dissolved, and remove it from the heat.

Finally, you combine the infusion with the syrup. The best proportions depend on how tart the fruit is, so I recommend trying some different ratios and taste-testing them. We usually end up at about 2 parts vodka to 1 part syrup.

We save nice liqueur bottles like Domaine de Canton, and St. Germain to use to store these liqueurs, but really you could just use anything you can seal well. Clean the glassware well, and douse it with boiling water just to be safe. Then pour the syrup and vodka in at your chosen ratio. Seal it up, flip it over a few times, and you’ve got your liqueur. It’ll last on the shelf for about a year.

It’s a bit counterintuitive, but we’ve found the best way to serve these liqueurs is ice cold. If you remember to plan ahead, just stick the bottle in the freezer in the morning, and by the time your evening guests are ready for the after-dinner cocktail, it’ll be perfect. If you forget to do that, or your guests are unexpected, then shaking with ice in a cocktail shaker is a decent substitute. It will water the stuff down a bit, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

So you know how at the end of liquor commercials after they showed you lots of people drinking irresponsibly and having just a little too much fun, they then tell you to drink responsibly and have not nearly as much fun? Well that goes for this stuff. If you actually go to the trouble of making liqueur, you are going to find that it is basically alcohol candy. It is very easy to drink very much of this concoction, and then you will be very, very, very sorry you did. The high sugar content will make your hangover so much worse than it would ordinarily be. And remember that your guests need to get home somehow, and your kids aren’t old enough to drive them yet. So limit them to 1 or 2 shots. Your guests, that is. How many shots you give your kids is entirely your call.

My Code

It is one of those interesting philosophy problems that young people tend to get all wrapped up in when they first discover it: What does it mean to be me? How can I understand my character when I am an actor on the stage, not a member of the audience? Do I actually exist, or is this all just a very vivid dream? How could I possibly know the difference?

Those kinds of questions all boil down to a fundamental problem with human consciousness. In order to understand a system, you need to be just a little bit smarter than that system. So you cannot ever quite understand yourself, because you will never be quite smart enough.

This is where it comes in handy to have very smart friends. They can help you see things that are so fundamental to your architecture that you take them for granted. One such friend helped me to realize that I live by a code. It’s a very complicated code, so I cannot just coin a pithy fundamental rule and derive everything else from that. But I can enumerate a set of rules.

Just to be clear, I don’t think about the rule and decide what to do. I always know what to do. I’m simply reverse-engineering the rules that would give rise to my behavior. (And, to be even clearer, I could not possibly have done this one my own because of the “you’re not smart enough” problem, so I relied on my very smart friend to help me.)

Because it’s easier to write them this way, these rules I’m going to enumerate are expressed as things you should or should not do. However, I want to be perfectly clear that this is my code. I do not expect anyone else to live by it. And I will not judge you for living by a code that is completely different, and completely at odds with my code. That should become clear when I let you in on my first rule.


Do not judge.
 This principle came with age. Like all young people, I used to judge quite a lot. I thought there were good people and bad people. Good behavior and bad behavior. But as I gained wisdom, I realized that good people do bad things. They do them because they are doing their best in a complicated situation that I do not fully understand. Or they do them because of a compulsion beyond their control, like addiction or mental illness. And maybe bad people do good things, by accident. Who knows? I certainly don’t. And so it would be presumptuous and wrong for me to judge. My friends can tell me things they’ve done that they think are awful and horrid, and I simply go, “Hmm. Well that happened.” Shrug.

Except: There are some things that are so fundamentally wrong that I will judge them. Hitting a child. Hitting your wife or lover. Murder. Plagiarism. Rape. Cruelty to animals. I have no tolerance for that kind of behavior, or for people who engage in it. If you do that kind of shit, I will judge you. I will judge you so hard.


Do not pity.
 Nobody wants you to feel sorry for them. Nobody. So if you feel sorry for someone, you are actually being cruel. And being cruel is unforgivable. Nobody wants your pity, so you should never pity.

Except: You should be compassionate and helpful. Sometimes terrible things happen to people, and your instinct to help those people is always right.


Do not be concerned with “normal.”
 This rule had to be pointed out to me, because it never even occurred to me that people might choose to do things because “it’s what people do.” For example, I put on my pajamas at the end of the day, the very moment I am sure I don’t have to go out or see someone that would be uncomfortable seeing me in my pajamas. I really couldn’t care less what other people might think about my choice of clothes, or car, or lunch, or anything. And I’d never let the judgement of others dictate my behavior.

Except: When being “normal” is important to the people you love. The most recurring example of this is participating in rituals like a prayer before the Thanksgiving meal. It is important to my wife that I act “normal” for her family, so I do.


Don’t do things you don’t want to do.
If I don’t want to do something, chances are really good that I’m simply not going to do it. Why would I? For example, I hate grocery shopping. I loathe it. So when I was between wives, and there was nobody else to do the shopping, I hired a teenager to do my shopping for me. If there is any way I can avoid doing something I don’t want to do, then I’m going to find that way.

Except: When doing something you don’t want to do will make someone you love happy. In particular, if I see an opportunity to do something that will make my wife’s life easier, I’ll jump on that. Because acts of service are the key thing that she looks for as a sign that I love her, and I want very, very much for her to know that I love her. That is pretty much the only reason I do the dishes, for example. I hate doing the dishes. But if I didn’t do them, then she would need to. So I do the dishes.


Do not trust authority; rather, despise authority.
The government, the police, the schools, every organization that has ever had the ability to tell me what to do is an organization that I — at a deep, fundamental level — hate with all my being. I flash my headlights at oncoming traffic to let them know about speed traps. When I was in school, I was constantly finding loopholes to get me out of doing whatever it was they thought I should be doing. I don’t care for a second whether my kids do well in school, because I know they are smart, eager, wonderful kids. How they do on a standardized test, or how they are judged by a teacher I don’t particularly think is all that smart, is just not at all important to me. Our government has proven time and time and time again that they are scoundrels. Scoundrels do not deserve my respect or admiration.

Except: I participate in local government, and I help the schools. I loathe these organizations, but at the same time, I know they serve a valuable purpose. So I contribute my time. My money. My knowledge.


Do not break oaths, or be disloyal, or cheat on your lover.
There are some things that are simply right, and some things that are simply wrong. My first marriage ended when my first wife ended it. As miserable as we were, it was beyond comprehension for me to end my marriage. I had made an oath. My word is my bond. Fast forward to my current marriage: I will defend my wife’s choices and actions without question. I am loyal to her, and whatever she does is right. Period. And physical infidelity is, frankly, incomprehensible to me.

Except: It seems there is always an except, but I don’t have one here. So instead, I’ll simply fall back to my first rule about judging. People break oaths, they are disloyal, they cheat. And I don’t judge them for that. Because they obviously have reasons that I simply do not understand.


Assume the best about people.
 My feeling about individual people is pretty much the exact opposite of my feeling about institutions. If I see the church doing something good, I’ll think, “what’s their angle?” If I see a person doing something bad, I’ll think, “I must not understand the situation,” or “they must be confused, and once they reach clarity, they’ll undo that mistake.” I believe that people are all fundamentally good.

Except: Don’t be a sucker. In particular, sometimes people are working on behalf of institutions. A salesperson doesn’t want to lie to you, but often it is their job to lie to you because of the big greedy corporation they work for. So keep that in mind. Full disclosure: I’m an easy mark. I am so fundamentally convinced that people are good, that even with overwhelming evidence that they are not, I’ll still love them and give them the benefit of the doubt.

My Liebster Piece

A very good friend, whom I discovered on twitter, got to know through her blog4, and subsequently now chat with on a pretty regular basis did a horrible thing. She “tagged” me in one of those insipid chain letter things that infect social media like a flesh-eating virus. The conceit is that I am supposed to answer some questions she posed, and then I’m supposed to pose more questions to other bloggers. Well, I’m not playing.

OK, I am.

But only partly.

I refuse to carry on the chain letter, so fear not, I will not be tagging you. But I will, through the course of this piece, answer all of her silly questions. They are down at the end, and when I happen to answer one of them, I will footnote it, as I did in the first sentence.

As I have mentioned before, I have been blogging for a very long time, but only recently started again in this new world of anonymous(ish) blogs and twitter, and whatnot. It ties into my first year on twitter2, which I have chronicled already, and in fact, answers one of the questions asked here1. So I won’t rehash that.

That post about my first year on twitter got me into some trouble with my wife3. In it, I waxed poetic about women sending me pictures of their bare bosoms, which she found both disturbing and distasteful. I’ve edited that bit out, so you won’t see it there any more. It really wasn’t particularly relevant to the story, and was mostly intended to bring some levity. It was an easy cut.

Since then, she and I have reached an uneasy truce on this blog. I consider her feelings about what I write, and do what I can to detour around things that will really bother her. And she mostly doesn’t acknowledge that I’m doing this writing. And I get to keep wearing my wedding ring5, of which I am quite fond, particularly considering what it represents.

We have a similar truce about twitter. And it seems to be holding.

Recently I’ve been thinking about whether I might tell my mother about this blog. My mother has always loved my writing. Back when I was in college, she had a subscription to the college paper so she could read my columns. Last summer I wrote a series of status updates on Facebook that I thought were hilarious, and my wife found so annoying she unfriended me so she wouldn’t have to see them anymore. Anyway, my mother loved them, and actually used them as samples in one of her classes (she is retired, but still teaches, because apparently, she doesn’t understand what the word retired means).

I had cross-posted those to twitter, and my wife suggested that perhaps since my mother liked them so much, perhaps she would like my twitter as well. At the time, my wife had never seen my twitter, so she had no idea what an absurd suggestion that was. I demurred. Said, “I say fuck a lot,” and left it at that.

There is certainly some content here on the blog that mom might find disturbing, like the stuff about what I was doing in high school, but since she loves my writing, I feel a tad bit guilty that there is all this stuff that she would love so much and cannot see. She is a writer herself, as was my father6. They wrote academic works about classroom management, child management, and human behavior. I have read some of it, but not all, and certainly not lately. I should probably go read it all again sometime.

The trick with my mother is that I’d have to get her to not share my blog. Because I’m not really in this to gain new readers. And I certainly don’t want my extended family reading this, as they are for the most part, pretty judgmental folks. What I really am trying to do here is scratch the itch of certain friends who very much enjoy my writing on twitter, and whom I think I make happy7 by writing in a longer form here.

This is entirely accurate

This is entirely accurate

One of those friends in particular, seems to understand me a whole lot better than any other. She wrote a completely ridiculous list, which also happens to be completely accurate10. If you get into my inner circle, and find yourself chatting with me on a regular basis, you would do well to heed her advice. (I redacted #5 because it is an inside joke.)

Point 2 in particular is me in a nutshell. I’ve already written about my propensity for accuracy, so I won’t dwell on that. But I recently learned that something I had thought was true for a very long time, actually wasn’t exactly. It was after I read the blog post on Gunmetal Geisha in which I had been tagged for this silly exercise. I was mulling over the questions, most of which I knew the answers to, but I got stuck on one of them.

I really love math and numbers and logic and stuff. They fit my brain nicely. And while I’ve never considered any number my favorite, I certainly have favorite conceptual frameworks, and certainly some favorite math trivial facts.

For example, I could say my favorite number is e+1. That would be a joke that I can guarantee that none of my readers will understand. Much less find funny.

But after careful consideration, I recalled that there is a number for which I actually have an affinity. That is φ, the golden ratio9. About 1.618.

If you aren’t familiar with this ratio, it’s the number where you can invert it (1 divided by it) and you end up with another number that’s exactly one away. That is 1/1.618 = 0.618. So if you have a box with sides, say 1618 x 1000, and you cut off a square 1000×1000 box, you are left with a box that is 1000×618, which is the same proportion as your original box.

I first learned about the golden ratio back in high school, when I was tasked with writing a term paper for a math class. This was a downright peculiar assignment, since math classes never require writing. I enjoyed it very much. I settled on a topic and dove in. My topic was the Fibonacci sequence and the Golden Ratio, and all of that related stuff. In my research, I kept finding more and more connections, many of which seemed quite magical at the time.

For example, I learned that the number of petals on most flowers tend to be Fibonacci numbers (1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, …). And I learned that if you take any two large adjacent Fibonacci numbers, they will have a ratio darn close to the golden ratio. (This latter fact, I recently learned isn’t really so magical at all, but closely related to the definition of the Golden Ratio. But it seemed magic at the time.)

I also learned that if you take that box I described a minute ago, and keep chopping it up like that, you can trace a logarithmic spiral in the various boxes, which looks just like a nautilus shell. However, what I recently learned when checking the facts of this piece, is that an actual nautilus shell isn’t shaped anything like that8. If you take a real shell and measure it carefully, it turns out that you won’t get anything like a “Golden Spiral.” Oh well. If I’m going to be wrong, best that it’s about something trivial.

The other stuff is still true, and I thought it was all pretty cool, and so I guess if I was going to pick one number that was my favorite, it would have to be φ.

And so, without further ado, here are the questions:

1. What inspired you to start your blog?
2. What do you consider the best post you ever wrote (link)?
3. What do you love most in this world?
4. What was the first blog you found and fell in love with?
5. What is your favorite item of clothing (that you personally own)?
6. Which author or artist has influenced you the most?
7. How do you define blogging success?
8. What have you learned recently that you might share?
9. What’s your favorite number and why?
10. Describe a happy memory to us.

Geekpolitik

I live in a small New England town. There is a beautiful town common, which, like many in New England, has been utterly wrecked by bad planning. What used to be a huge town green is now chopped into several smaller parts by various roads and parking areas. In addition, the road surface is a nightmare.

People drive into town and are struck by the beauty, right before they are struck by a car that didn’t see them because the sight lines are terrible.

Part of the common has sidewalks that are crumbling, the rest doesn’t have sidewalks at all.

There is a free-for-all parking lot / state highway / fiasco thing in front of the main group of businesses. In the winter, this is enhanced with a 50 foot high pile of filthy snow. Because making it harder to see is clearly a good idea.

Every weekday morning there is a never-ending parade of school busses going every which way, and yielding to no man.

There are signs on the side streets explaining what state routes they are not.

The town has been trying to fix this situation for years. I served on a committee that managed to get a state grant to do a design for how to fix the common. But that design was never implemented. Back in 2010, another committee decided to take the battle on again, and this time they finally managed to get the ball to move down the field.

Although a state highway runs right through the middle of town, the state could not pay for the whole project because there are serious drainage issues. And drainage means environmental study. And environmental study means nothing ever gets done.

So what the clever committee members figured out was a loophole that allows a town to fix its own drainage issues without all the red tape. If the town could pay to fix everything underground, then the state would be able to put in a new road surface. The town would also need to kick in some money to deal with side streets, so everybody has skin in the game through the whole project.

So, basically, the state was saying “you build the foundation and buy the furnishings, and we’ll build the house.” It was quite a deal.

The way things like this get financed in Massachusetts is a little complicated. First, there is a town meeting where you have to get 2/3 of the people in attendance to agree to borrow money. Then at the next election, there is a ballot measure where the town confirms or rejects that decision. This only requires a simple majority.

These borrowing measures almost never succeed. It’s one thing to get a group of involved citizens who come to town meeting to agree to something after debate and consideration. It’s quite another to get the masses at the ballot box to agree to pay more taxes. For anything. Ever.

But I was feeling feisty, and my house is just off the town common, so I was motivated to help.

Common Sense

Common Sense

The company I founded started in the video game business, but over the years we’ve “pivoted” several times, and these days we are a leader in developing “Interactive B-to-B Sales and Marketing” materials. In other words, we make cool apps that the largest companies in the world use to enable their sales people to sell better. So I know a thing or two about using technology to help sell. And I thought it would be an interesting experiment to try to use this technology to sell the townspeople on this project.

I borrowed a touchscreen computer from work, and borrowed the graphic design from one of our client projects, and threw together an interactive presentation. I turned the engineering plans for the project into a picture and laid that as texture over a 3D immersive topo-map I made using Google Earth and Sketchup. I got lots of quotes from business owners who would be impacted by the construction, saying they supported the project. I developed a calculator that people could use to figure out the tax impact on them, given the price of their house.

I put all this together in a weekend, and plopped an interactive Kiosk in the bank lobby the day before Santa came to town. I figured the parents waiting in line for pictures might like something to do. After that day, I left the system there for a few weeks, and eventually moved it to the other bank lobby in town, and finally it sat in the town library for a while. I would periodically stop by the bank parking lot and connect wirelessly to the system to download usage analytics, to makes sure it was being used. It was. A lot. For a long, long time.

Next came the town meeting, where I offered to speak on behalf of the committee. I wasn’t a member of the committee, but it’s pretty common for citizens to speak on behalf of a topic they support. I used that same application I described, but I used some presentation capabilities of our technology platform to make it come to life for the crowd:


That went really well. The vote was almost unanimous in favor of the project. If you watch the video, you’ll notice that I said we needed a two-thirds majority at the ballot box. I believed that. I had been told that by a lot of different people. Turns out that wasn’t the case. We only needed a simple majority, but we all thought that we needed a supermajority, so we campaigned like we did.

A friend who helps local politicians campaign had a mailing list of all the people who actually vote at the ballot. So I wrote a letter encouraging people to vote in favor, and we got a bunch of donated stamps, and sent that letter.

I visited the VFW, and made the case to the veterans.

I hosted a number of people one-on-one in my kitchen to explain the project, and get them over to our side.

The Most Positive Campaign Message Ever

The Most Positive Campaign Message Ever

When it got closer to the election day, we learned that our measure was the only thing on the ballot. The common project was ballot measure one, and there was no ballot measure two. So my wife and I decided that we would do something a little fun. We started the “Yes” campaign. We didn’t say what the “Yes” was for. We just put out a whole lot of signs that said “Yes.”

I decided to do a little social media campaign to go along with it, so I created this page:

www.facebook.com/pages/YES

These Memes were funny in 2011. You're just going to have to trust me on that.

These Memes were funny in 2011. You’re just going to have to trust me on that.

I used one of those online meme generators to create lots of silly content. I’m pretty sure this had no impact on the election results, but it was fun.

I also created a public event in Facebook, and invited everyone I knew in town to RSVP that they would be voting. That page turned into a public square, where people debated the issue, and argued for their side. Again, I doubt it had much impact on the result, but it certainly served a public good.

I encouraged people in town to do their own campaigning for the project. Call everyone you know, and encourage them to vote in favor.

I created a web site. Put all the details from the Kiosk application up there, along with lots more detail, pictures, budgets, and so on.

Our town has two parts. The upper part, where the common is located, is a bit more affluent. That means the people in the upper part would be benefiting more and bearing more of the bill for the project. But every vote counts equally, so it was important to get support all over town.

A couple of days before election day, the “No” signs sprouted. They were not so succinct: “No on #1” was their message. And they started popping up all over. So we decided to put out more Yes signs.

A friend of mine, who didn’t know what this was all about, commented that he had been driving through town, seeing all the “Yes” signs, and feeling all happy and bright. And then he started seeing the “No” signs, and those made him sad. And then he’d see a “Yes” and then a “No” and he just didn’t know how to feel.

At one point, I was pulled over on the side of the road near the town dump putting in a sign, and a big pickup pulled over on the opposite side. It was Dr. No. And by Dr., I actually mean the guy who runs a bait shop in the middle of a residential area nowhere near any body of water. I put in my Yes, and he put in his No. I walked over, he eyed me suspiciously. I introduced myself, he nodded. I put out my hand. He reluctantly shook it. And then we went about our business.

Election day finally arrived. I went to the first precinct at closing time, and waited for the count. The motion carried by 58%. But that’s the uptown precinct. These are the people who would most directly benefit from the common improvement. I then travelled over to the second precinct. There, the motion failed, getting only 45% of the vote. But turnout was considerably higher in precinct one. So the net result was 52% in favor. Not the 67% we originally thought we needed, but more than the 50% we actually needed.

YES!

YES!

The whole thing was a fascinating experiment in using new media, social media, and traditional grass-roots organizing to convince a town to do something that, really, had to be done. And, naturally, I’m quite pleased with the result.

The drainage work is finished, and the state part of the project is due to start later this year. I really can’t wait for it to be done.

Tip O’Neill said all politics is local. I don’t know if that’s true, but local politics is undeniably local. The larger political stage holds no interest for me, but next year I’ll look at our revitalized common, with sidewalks where there used to be rubble, and a smooth road where there used to be potholes, and tranquility where there used to be chaos, and I’ll know that I played a big role in making that happen, and I’ll be happy about that.

Hard Tweets Explained: It’s Your Birthday

In response to:


I wrote:


And he replied “LOL. Really?” Indeed.

The chance that one of your followers has a birthday today is just 1 in 365. So the chance that they do not is 364/365.

The chance that two followers do not is the chance that one does not, and the other does not, so 364/365 x 364/365. You can write that (364/365)². The chance of three followers not having a birthday today is (364/365)³ and so on.

Since you have 2000 followers, the chance of them all not having a birthday today is (364/365)²⁰⁰⁰. The chance of that not happening is 1-(364/365)²⁰⁰⁰.

We like to see chances expressed as percentages, so we’ll multiply that by 100:

100x[1-(364/365)²⁰⁰⁰] = 99.58596373215920241300%

Homework: Compute the probability that the follower with the birthday actually read your tweet.

Brown Liquids

My father introduced me to coffee when I was 13. We would go to the high school football games in late autumn and it was cold. Mittens cold. We would get a coffee from the concessions stand to keep warm, and if you could live without the fake creamer and sugar, you could avoid taking your mittens off. So my first coffee was bad, weak, hot and black. I got used to black and hot. Bad and weak didn’t stick.

Much later in life, I discovered espresso, which is pretty much how I like my coffee now. Very strong. Very black. These days I make my coffee using Starbucks Via packets. I get the dark Italian roast, and put in an ounce of very hot water and make a very espresso-like sludge. Years of palate abuse will do that — lead to you prefer extreme flavors. I’m the same way with Scotch.

My favorite restaurant has a great bar and a tradition of wonderful bartenders, and second-from-the-top-shelf liquors. That is, if you go to a bar in a four star hotel in any city, and you look up there on the actual top shelf, you’re going to see a bunch of stuff that no bar actually serves on a regular basis. So “top shelf” is a bit of a misnomer. My place doesn’t have that stuff, but the stuff on the second-from-the-top shelf is what they use in their cocktails. Hendricks gin. Ketel One vodka. Noilly Prat vermouth. But every now and then, their distributor will give them a bottle of something amazing, and that’s how I happened to try Ardbeg 10 Scotch.

I’ve been drinking Scotch since college. While my friends were focused on drinking bad beer, I had developed an affinity for bad Scotch, specifically J&B. I liked the way it burned my mouth, mostly. From there, I took a detour through Drambuie, and eventually matured into cheap Cognac, specifically Courvoisier VS. And that’s where I had settled for a long time. Until I was on a business trip, visiting Dell, located just north of Austin Texas. I was on my own, so I went to a restaurant with a nice bar, book in hand, and ate and chatted with the bartender. After having my first after-dinner cognac, he decided he liked me so he comped me something a little better. Remy Martin XO. This is one of those bottles the fancy hotel bars have on the actual top shelf.

The best thing to come out of France since kissing

The best thing to come out of France since kissing

One sip of the Remy XO, and I was hooked. This stuff is silly expensive. But my wife loves me, so she usually gets me a bottle for my birthday, and I try to make it last all year.

So, as these things go, once you are hooked on outstanding cognac, you really don’t find much pleasure in cheap cognac any more. And thus, my favorite bar, which doesn’t have that actually-top-shelf stuff, leaves me wanting when it comes to the after-dinner brown liquid. So, one night, while I was perusing the selections, I noticed the Ardbeg 10 down in the “restock” area of the bar and inquired. She poured me a few drops in a shot glass, and it was fascinating. So she poured me my three fingers, neat, and I had found my new favorite Scotch.

The Ardbeg has the aroma and flavor of licking an ashtray, or perhaps the charred remains of a saddle from the Chicago fire of 1871, with a hint of the horse, too. This is not the “peaty” Scotch you hear connoisseurs prattle on about. Rather it is a “smoky” Scotch.

I was sipping this fine spirit, and the owner and chef of the restaurant came over and was chatting up my wife, which he does every time we go there. He suddenly cut off, lifted his head, and said, “Oh. I think something is burning in the kitchen! I’d better go check.” And my wife, whose sense of smell is on par with the best chefs and bloodhounds, offered, “No. You are just smelling that,” and gestured to my drink. Indeed he was.

These brown liquids that I love all have these same attributes in common: extremely intense flavor, extremely intense aroma, extremely intense revulsion expressed by my lovely bride when she smells them. But she is a wonderful person who knows that very few things bring me pure bliss in this corporeal plane, and so she tolerates them, and even encourages me to indulge.

I am a very lucky man. With a very twisted palate.

Books, Covers, etc.

I was a really small kid. Shortest boy in my grade, and taller than only one girl. I was tiny. I don’t recall this ever really being an issue. I think kids are meaner now than they were then. However, it did play to my advantage.

When I was in middle and high school in Michigan, there was a yearly event called “Solo & Ensemble.” If you wanted to, you could go to a regional competition, where you would play a solo (or play in a small ensemble, like a brass quintet), and a music professor or a band director would judge your performance. If you were really good, they’d give you a “1”. If you were pretty good, they’d give you a “2”. And if you totally sucked, they’d berate you for wasting their time. Because music professors and band directors, for the most part, are horrible human beings.

That was a joke. They really aren’t.

As I’ve mentioned before, I was an OK musician. Very good compared to my peers, but not a prodigy or anything. But I would consistently blow away the judges at solo and ensemble. Like, I’d play the first 8 bars of the song and they’d hand me the “1” card.

I’m not sure who pointed this out — I’m sure it wasn’t something I figured on my own — but eventually I knew that the reason they thought I was so good is because I looked like I was about 5 years younger than I was. I was pretty good for a 7th grader, but I was amazing for a 2nd grader. Of course, they full well knew my age. But those first impressions, those biases, are hard to shake. And in a situation as subjective as Solo and Ensemble, they probably have a strong influence.

Shit I won and kept for 30 years, because why?

Shit I won and kept for 30 years, because why?

The same was probably true of my success in debate in high school. I was sharp, and I had a remarkable ability to talk quickly yet clearly, but I wasn’t Clarence Darrow or anything. But time after time, I’d get the perfect speaking score award at the end of the tournament. Again, probably because I was a tiny little kid who spoke like a grown-up.

I was reminded of all this, because my wife recently bought me some new jeans. Stylish, modern jeans with a button fly. (Who the fuck decided button flies were a good idea, by the way? “Hey, you know the best thing that has happened to men’s clothes in the last 150 years? Let’s get rid of that.”) Anyway, these jeans are thinner fabric than my usual, and they give the impression that I have a rather large, ahem, package. I really don’t:


So that reminded me of something that happened in college. Back in the late 1980s, when I was in school, the trend was for men to wear very tight jeans. Or, at least I must have thought that, because I wore very tight jeans. And, as tight denim is wont to do, parts of my blue jeans would turn white over time where it stretched. These jeans were quite snug, so that meant anywhere there was a bulge: my knees, my wallet, my crotch.

My college girlfriend’s roommate was a total sex kitten. Dressed slutty. Piles of condom boxes and sex toys on her bedside table. Just threw it right out there. And my girlfriend told me that her roommate was jealous. She was jealous of my girlfriend, because of the white marks on my jeans and what those wear marks implied. We both thought this was pretty darn funny.

However, from that point forward, I did make it a point to keep my jeans very tight, and well past their sell-by date so they would remain quite worn. If people are going to make assumptions about me that are completely wrong, but work to my benefit, I’m really OK with that.

And, as I recently described, this trend continues. On twitter, based on my picture, and my handle, I’m seen as desirable to a great many people. Mostly women. Some gay men. I’m sometimes objectified. Which is a completely foreign experience to me. I’m kind of a short, doughy white guy. Objectification isn’t my bread and butter. But on twitter, I’m this highly desirable archetype, and hence I have what can only be described as an absurd number of followers.

A subset of those people actually read what I write, and interact with me, and see beyond the picture and the handle. I’ve counted them. There are 81. That’s less than 4% of my followers. So 96% of the people like the cover, and 4% like the book. But I’m not complaining. Having a big follower count is really fun. Again, I’m all for bias and stereotype when it plays to my advantage.

If you are here reading this, then congratulations. You are the 4%.