Oops, I Wrote a Novella

Regrets - A NovellaI recently wrote a piece where I explained why we authors need to stop writing novellas, because nobody wants to read them. So naturally, I just wrote a novella. Because even I don’t listen to the stupid advice on this stupid blog.

The story behind the story is that I was at a college reunion of sorts, except I wasn’t with the reunion, I was with the band. I wasn’t in the band. I was just hanging out with the band. It was my brother’s band, so that’s not quite as weird as it sounds. Anyway, at this reunion, there was a woman in a blue dress with the most amazing rack. And she kept trying to get her husband’s attention, and he was completely ignoring her.

So that gave me the gist of the story idea. A woman in her 40s, who is still really fucking hot, but for some reason is invisible to most men. I have no idea what’s up with that. But I know a lot of 40-something women, and they tell me it’s definitely a thing. They just kind of disappear somewhere between 40 and 50 and then nobody can see them any more. Or, rather, they don’t see them as sexual beings. So my idea was to put this lady I saw into a story where some random stranger gives her the attention she isn’t getting from her husband.

I figured I’d write a short story. But then I got this weird idea about doing a tick-tock point-of-view thing, where I’d go back and forth between the POV of the woman, and that of the suitor. Switching at scene boundaries. I was afraid it might be annoying or gimmicky, but I sent the first couple scenes to some test readers and they said it worked. (The reviewers on Amazon agree, it turns out.)

So that device made my short story longer. And then this happened:

That’s 100% true. I just didn’t have enough time in a 2,500 word short story to let my characters do everything they wanted to sexually.

It ended up about 9,000 words. That’s three to four times the proper length for a short story. But only half the length of a standard novella. It’s a deminovella. (I looked that up; it’s not a thing.)

But what are you going to do? There isn’t anything I can cut, and I don’t want to pad it out with a bunch of crap it doesn’t need. So I guess it is what it is.

Once I finished it, I polled my Twitter followers about what I should do with it:

Twitter is so helpful

Twitter is so helpful

So I took their advice and made it into a little book. I launched it on Amazon, and you can get it at mybook.to/regrets for $0.99, £0.99, or whatever the minimum price for a Kindle book is where you live.

I hope you like it!

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A Visit From St. Retweeter

‘Twas the night before Christmas
And all thru the Twitter
Not a tweeter was tweeting
For they were so bitter

The tweets were all hung
On the timelines with care
In hope that St Retweeter
Soon would be there

The spouses were nestled
All snug in their beds
While visions of Facebook crap
Danced in their heads

And mamma on her tablet
And I on my phone
Had just settled our thumbs
To head into the zone

When down on my icons
Arose such big numbers
My notifications
Had ceased their long slumber

Away to my not. tab
I flew like a flash
Scrolled up from the bottom
And refreshed the cache

The stars on the tweets
That were there on screen
Gave a lustre of viral
That I’d never seen

When what to my wondering
Eyes did appear
But a miniature AVI
Of some woman’s rear?

With a retweeting finger
So lively and hearty
I knew in a moment
She must be Saint RT

More rapid than eagles
Her retweets they came
And the favorites among them
Gave taste of great fame

“Oh that one! And that too!
I don’t recall that tweet.
I must have been drunk…
Oh look, that one, too! Sweet!”

“From the top of my timeline,
To the tenth page of FavStar,
Retweet away, retweet away,
Star!”

As subtweets before the
Wild Twitter war fly
When they meet with a troll
And @ something dry

So up her whole timeline
Her retweets they flew
With a trail of re-retweets
And favorites too

And then in a twinkling
I saw the gesture not hollow
Through the prancing and pawing
Of several new follows

As I went to my feed
And was looking around
Down my timeline
Saint Retweeter came with a bound

She was undressed in her selfies
From headshots to legs
And her tweets were all tarnished
With ennui and negs

From the bundle of tweets
She had pinned to the top
She looked like a powder keg
Ready to pop

Her eye selfies twinkled
Her dimples so filtered
And craft pictures signaled
She might be a quilter?

Her droll little @’s
Were scattered about
And the beard on her man-friend
Covered a sad kind of pout

The stump of a MT
She held tight in a tweet
And the @ it encircled
Her response with some heat

She was a broad with a face
And a little round belly
If you looked just behind her
You could see a small tele

She was chubby and plump
Her filters let through
And I smiled when I saw her
As I’m prone to do

A winking nice selfie
And a slight tilted head
Soon gave me to know
She ought to be wed

She @ not a word
But went straight to her work
And retweeted my timeline
Then stopped with her lurk

And tweeting a FF
Along side all of those
With that last mention
Up my timeline she rose

She sprang to DM
To my @ gave a whistle
And away she went
Like the down of a thistle

But I saw one last @
As she vanished from sight
“Happy Christmas to all
And to all a good night.”

I wrote this in real time over the course of a few hours this Christmas eve, and tweeted each stanza as I finished them. If you want to see the original tweets, just start at the end and scroll up.

Staycation

My parents invented the staycation. It was the 1970s, and my father hated to travel (I’m right there with you, Dad), but it was summer and my parents were both in education, so it really seemed like vacation was the thing to do. My mother suggested that perhaps we could do everything we usually do on a vacation, except for the travel part. Dad was down with that. And the staycation was born.

Before I can get into the details, I need to explain the house where I grew up. Because it. was. weird.

Right around 1970, my folks bought a big hunk of land with forests and ponds and cabins on it. Well, not cabins exactly. But really tiny houses. And they set about turning it into this magical oasis, which took years. But they totally did, and it’s now an absolutely amazing place. Anyway, the cabins were much too small for our family of 6, so they built a new house between two of the cabins, and connected everything together. But there was actually a pretty big elevation difference between the two cabins, so my house had three levels and the square footage of a typical 5 bedroom house. Instead of it being three floors stacked on top of each other, they formed a long line. With stairs. And more stairs. And then more stairs.

Each cabin was a complete house to begin with, so we kind of had two of everything. Two kitchens. Two master bedrooms. Two living rooms. This was actually pretty awesome for my parents, because their end of the house was so fucking far away that we never bothered to go bug them. Seriously, the walk from our living room to their bedroom was like half an hour. (Although it was downhill, so that was nice.)

Alright, so back to the staycation. We packed. There was no going to your room during staycation. We slept in the playroom, which was what we called the messy living room that us kids used on the higher-elevation end of the house. Pretty sure we didn’t watch TV, since we were on vacation, and we watched TV pretty much non-stop during regular life.

Wood paneling, because nature.

Wood paneling, because nature.

We piled into the Ford LTD II main battle tank and rode into town for breakfast and dinner. Not sure what we did for lunch. Probably made due on whatever we could scrounge in the woods, like sassafras leaves and poison sumac berries and dirt.

But since we were on vacation, there were activities! My folks asked, “what would people do if they were coming here on vacation?” This was before Yelp. So “just keep on driving, don’t slow down, full steam ahead” wasn’t the obvious answer then that it is now. We did those things that they thought they might find entertaining if we visited our hometown. This included piling onto a train (!) and going to Battle Creek Michigan (!!) to take a tour of the Kellogg’s Cereal Factory (!!!) at the end of which we all got a six-pack of the mini-cereals that you can cut just so and pour milk right into the box(!!!!). So that solved the lunch problem, anyway.

This vehicle would have been so much cooler with wood paneling.

This vehicle would have been so much cooler with wood paneling.

I think we also maybe went to the movies. Probably saw Escape to Witch Mountain, or Return from Witch Mountain, or some other movie about Witch Mountain. True fact: all movies in the 1970s were about Witch Mountain.

I’m not sure what else we did. We might have gone to Boblo Island, which was this half-assed amusement park in the middle of the Detroit River. It was the place you went when your parents just weren’t up for the drive to Cedar Point, which was all the way down in Ohio, and was fucking awesome. The highlight of a trip to Boblo island was driving by the giant tire with a nail in it on I-94. That tire was cool, and unlike everything else from my youth, it has not gotten smaller as I’ve gotten older. It’s still ridiculously, awesomely huge. I think that getting to see that tire now and then is pretty much the only  reason there are still people living in Michigan.

So that’s how one is supposed to do a staycation. Remember the key rules: no going to your room, no eating at home, no TV, find stuff to fill the days like you would have to if you were on a real vacation. A staycation, if done properly, will be just as exhausting and expensive as a real vacation. However, you will not have to drive anywhere new, so that makes it infintely better.

Back Roads

I grew up in a small town in Michigan, near Ann Arbor. We weren’t actually in town. Rather, we lived in a township adjacent to the village. We shared the same zip code and the same schools, but it was actually several miles between us and town. So there was a lot of driving in my life. At first on bikes, and eventually in cars. And most of that driving was on back roads.

The original chick magnet

The original chick magnet

Some of the roads were paved, but most were dirt. And when you are a young kid with a small fast car (a white Ford Fiesta, with cool red racing stripes), and you watch the Rockford Files and Dukes of Hazzard on TV, you get to be pretty good at navigating those dirt roads. The Fiesta had front-wheel drive, and an emergency/parking brake you could engage by pulling a lever between the seats. This was a good idea, because the brakes on these cars lasted a few thousand miles, and then you either had to go get new ones (yeah, right), or you needed to use the engine to slow yourself down. In case of emergency, the parking brake would help.

But that parking brake also helped you spin the car around like Jim Rockford. Turn the wheel hard, quick pull and release on the parking brake, and the back end would be set free from the road surface. Then when you had spun sufficiently, let out the clutch and gun the engine to pull yourself into forward motion again. This is how I would take pretty much every turn on those dirt roads. I was turning 90 degrees, but I got there via 135-45=90 (the car turned 135 degrees, then back 45 degrees, and away we go).

In the winter, I often did a similar maneuver, but never on purpose, and it always ended up with my car in a snow bank. The car was light, so this wasn’t really that big a deal. I kept stuff to shove under the tires in case of a particularly difficult snowbank extraction.

I was on the debate team (easy there ladies, settle down) and the meets were all over the state. And Michigan is a big state. The meets always started at like 8am. So that meant I was driving around picking up my teammates at 4am to make it to school, where we’d all get into a van and the coach would drive us several hours to some other school far, far away. On one of these trips, I decided that I wasn’t going to bother stopping at a stop sign. There were fields all around and nothing was growing at the time, so I could see for miles, and I knew quite well there would be no cars at that intersection when I reached it. I did glance in the rearview, but the headlights behind me were round, not square, so I was not terribly concerned.

I blew through the stop sign and flashing blues came on behind me. I pulled over. I was wearing a suit, as was my male teammate.  My two female teammates were in dresses. It was a fish & game officer. He said there had been a report of out-of-season hunting, and thought we looked suspicious. Ever since that episode, when he had occasion to see me in a suit, my buddy Jeff would say, “Going hunting?”

The other guy in the suit was my best buddy Bill. He lived a couple miles from me, and we had been hanging out together for years. When we were younger, I would drive my bike to his house, and we’d have adventures. Once I had a car, I’d drive that to his house, and we’d have adventures. He lived in a subdivision, and the subdivision owned a small beach on a nearby lake. Anybody in the subdivision could use it, but nobody was responsible for maintaining it. So it kind of sucked.

What's your sleep number?

What’s your sleep number?

My friend Bill decided we should do something about that. So we went to an old junk pile in the woods (in Michigan, if you need anything, you can just go find it in an old junk pile in the woods; it’s like a rural Room of Requirement), and we got an old mattress. The fabric was gone, so it was just a queen size mattress-shaped tangle of rusty springs. We carried it out of the woods, laid it on the road behind my Fiesta, and hooked a rope between it and the Fiesta’s trailer hitch.

You read that correctly—the Fiesta had a trailer hitch. I’ve never seen a trailer small enough that it could be pulled by a Fiesta. But there you have it.

We drove down to the “beach” dragging the “mattress” behind us. Sparks flying. It was glorious.

Once we got there, we backed the car down to the shore line, threw the mattress in, and let it settle to the bottom. (This was all Bill’s idea, by the way; he was a fucking genius.) Once it was there, I put the Fiesta into first gear, gunned the engine, popped the clutch, and dragged tons of weeds out of the lake. We did this several times. Turned it into a veritable oasis of weedless water. Brilliant.

The Fiesta served me well. When I went away to college, I drove it to Massachusetts and used it to get around here. It turned into a bank of sorts. Whenever I needed money, I would just park it on the street, wait for someone to smash into it, and then go get insurance money for repairs. The insurance company didn’t seem to care whether I ever had the repairs done, so it was just a way of extracting countless dollars from a worthless car with a relatively low insurance premium. Looking back on that, something doesn’t make sense there, but that’s how I remember it.

When I finally had to get a new car, my landlord offered to buy my Fiesta for a dollar. I think he overpaid.

Hard Tweets Explained: Rectifier

I’m not much of a lunch person. I bring soup pretty much every day. My wife really likes to make soup, and I like to eat soup, so that works out well. But every Thursday, a group of us head out to Thai or Indian. Both restaurants are less than a five minute walk. And the service is quick.

As it happens, a few of the usual crowd were out or tied up with client meetings, so it was going to be just three of us last Thursday. And the other two had decided to go for sushi for a change. At first, I was excited. I texted my wife “Sushi today!” But then I figured out that the place they were going was really far away, and I didn’t want to leave the office that long. So I bailed out and ate a bagel I found in the kitchen instead.

So Friday came along, and my wife texted me after work: “stopping for sushi.” She is on a gluten free diet, and while she loves sushi, that diet limits her options (regular soy sauce has gluten, and it contaminates everything). So I have to conclude she was stopping for my benefit, which is just so incredibly sweet. I’m a very lucky man.

The scary part is you can't even see what's behind what you can see.

The scary part is you can’t even see what’s behind what you can see.

So as I’m anticipating the arrival of my dream girl with the raw fish, I went to the bar to evaluate my cocktail options. The most obvious choice, sake, is not something I stock. It occurred to me that I should rectify that situation. I really like sake. That gave rise to the tweet, which I’ll probably get around to explaining eventually.

But sake wasn’t an option so my focus shifted to plums. Plum wine is another Japanese restaurant staple, and while I don’t stock that either, I do have plum liqueur. So I made my usual Ketel One vodka martini, heavy on the vermouth, and added a splash of plum liqueur. It was a little sweet, so I added a bit of sparkling water to lighten it up.

The sushi was great. And I mean that in both senses of the word great: both delicious and excessive in quantity.

It turns out the place had a pretty good gluten free selection, so there were plenty of rolls for my wife (she’s not a raw-fish-eater). For me, in addition to the usual fish suspects suspects, she got otoro. I was unfamiliar with this; although it’s a staple in Japan, it is fairly rare here in the USA. Otoro (or O-toro, or ootoro, or just toro) is a particular cut of the blue fin tuna which is quite different from the regular dark red “sushi tuna” you have probably had. It’s pink. It looks like spam. To my occidental palate, it takes exactly like the regular tuna sushi. It has no texture at all. It simply disappears when you put it in your mouth. It’s ridiculously expensive. Bottom line: don’t bother.

Diamonds of Diodes are a girl's best friend, because they keep her phone at 100%

Diamonds of Diodes are a girl’s actual best friend, because they keep her phone at 100%

So back to the tweet. I thought, “I need to rectify that.” A rectifier is an electronic gadget that turns AC power into DC power. It’s an important part of the “wall wart” you plug in to charge your phone. There are a bunch of ways to build a rectifier, but my favorite (being a person who has favorites of such things) is to put four diodes into a diamond configuration. You put the AC into the top and bottom, and pull the DC out of the left and right. You may recall that AC current goes plus/minus/plus/minus. I explained this a while ago, so I won’t cover that again. (You can use inductive reasoning to figure out what that coil is on the left side of that circuit diagram.)

A diode is a little silicon doodad that only lets power go through it one way. So when there is + coming in on the top and – on the bottom, the plus goes out the right and the – goes out the left. And when it switches so + is on the bottom and – on the top, then the + still goes out the right and the – still goes out the left. (Technically, the + is going in, not out, since these are electrons moving around.)

Anyway, you aren’t going to build one of these, so I’m sure you don’t care how it works, but it does work, and it’s one way to build a rectifier.

Homework: plumb the depths of your basement in search of diodes so you can rectify your next sushi craving (but skip the Otoro).

Summertime

Last weekend, I was looking after a couple of neighbor kids while their folks went to the city. And by looking after, I mean nothing of the sort. They are the same ages as my older two, who are old enough to play outside without supervision. So I basically kicked everyone out of the house. Yes, I am a role model.

These are not my children

These are not my children

Anyway, I eventually found my way outside, and I noticed that the kids were all playing “Capture the Flag.” And later, they played “Manhunt” (which is a cross between Tag and Hide-and-Seek). And after that, they played “Wax Museum” which I’d never heard of, but looks like T’ai Chi.


I was struck by a couple things. First, not once did they ask me what they should do. I think that may be the result of very consistently answering that question with a chore like “Clean your room.” But regardless of the reason, I’m impressed that kids still know how to play without guidance. Second, everything they did was so organized. They played games with names. They all knew the rules. They agreed in advance if the rules needed to be adjusted for circumstances. They all participated. It was really weird.

When I was growing up on the commune (that’s a story for another post), there were a lot of kids and there was plenty of room to play outside. So that’s mostly what we did all summer. But other than shuffleboard, I don’t think we ever played games with rules. We would play  a chasing game, but it wasn’t really tag. It was more, “Oh shit! Someone is chasing me!” We would climb the mulberry tree to eat our fill. We would wander off into the woods and explore.

My brother had a crush on Nikki, who looks a hell of a lot like the woman he ended up marrying

My brother had a crush on Nikki, who looks a hell of a lot like the woman he ended up marrying

We also watched a lot of television. Game shows mostly. My brother went through a phase where he watched “The Young and the Restless,” I think mostly because there were some curvy women on there he liked. At 4pm, just after Match Game was over, we would find an adult to supervise, and we’d go swimming in the pond (which we called the “Little Lake,” not to be confused with the “Big Lake” which was also a pond, but which we did not swim in for some reason).

I recall one summer (actually I recall that this happened every summer, but I doubt that’s true), my mother would deal with the “I’m bored! What can I do?” by having an activity every day. She would write this activity on a piece of paper late at night, put it in a small envelope, and stick it to the refrigerator with a magnet. The next day after breakfast, there would be a big reveal. My mother was a fucking genius. No matter what she wrote on there, it was exciting because of the reveal. “Pick up trash beside the road” is one that is seared into my memory for some reason. And we were thrilled! We all went out together, with trash bags, and walked up and down the road and picked up trash. Fucking evil genius.

We made silent movies. We had a Super-8 camera, so one of the older kids would write a script. We would each make signs with our lines on them. We would make costumes and wear makeup as needed, and shoot our feature. And later, when the film came back developed, the director would edit it, and put together the movie.

We would ride our bikes to the store (a couple miles away), into town (many miles away), or to a friend’s house. My parents never needed to drive us anywhere. If we had someplace we needed to be, we would bike there.

We were, in a nutshell, independent. Our parents were not responsible for our entertainment. We entertained ourselves. It’s a good way for kids to be, and judging from the independent play I watched last weekend, I think my kids are on their way to that same place.

Hard Tweets Explained: Induction

Growing up in the 1970s, fondue was a thing. Not a frequent thing. But a thing. For example, I’m quite sure that we had it on New Year’s Eve at least once. (Although my memory says we had it every New Year’s Eve, I’ve learned from my kids that anything we do once is remembered as something we do every, so I don’t trust my memory on this one.) I’ve always loved the smell of wine boiling, and I’m a huge fan of cheese, so putting those two things together really triggers the sense memory for me.

All your cheese are belong to us

All your cheese are belong to us

So when my wife suggested that we should take the kids to The Melting Pot, which is a fondue restaurant chain, I thought, “that sounds like a great idea!” I live in the middle of nowhere and this was more than an hour drive, but the way things worked out, I was going to be driving the kids and meeting her there. And I kind of like driving with the kids, because we can be silly and we can crank the music really loud. So the travel wasn’t so bad. But I don’t think we’ll be going back.

There is a term in electrical engineering called an impedance mismatch. Suppose you have modern 8 ohm speakers, but your stereo amplifier was designed to drive old-fashioned 4 ohm speakers. Ohms (Ω) are a measure of resistance. And another name for resistance is impedance. So your 8Ω speakers and your stereo designed for 4Ω speakers have an impedance mismatch. Connecting them results in bad things happening, like your speakers getting overdriven to the point of destruction, or your amp turning into a bonfire. There is nothing wrong with the speakers, and there is nothing wrong with the amp—they just don’t go well together.

There is an impedance mismatch between youngish kids and fondue restaurants. Fondue restaurants are expensive. Kids don’t enjoy them enough to justify that expense. Fondue restaurants are slow. Really slow. No—slower than that. Kids are impatient. Fondue restaurants serve huge portions. My kids barely eat. Fondue restaurants have a panoply of wonderful rich smells. My kids are downright obnoxious when it comes to wonderful rich smells.

So as we are waiting in our booth, and waiting, and waiting, I decided to teach the kids about induction. Unlike the fondue pots of my youth that were heated by flaming cans of Sterno, these pots on our table were heated by an induction cooktop. I understand these are quite common in other parts of the world, but my kids had never seen one, and they are pretty magical. I could see them wince when I smacked my hand down onto the surface right next to the pot of boiling water. And then they each had to try it. Tentatively at first. Then with gusto.

WARNING: Descriptions of electrical engineering topics may induce drowsiness

WARNING: Descriptions of electrical engineering topics may induce drowsiness

The way an induction cooktop works is really neat. Below the surface there is a coil of wire. In that coil there is an alternating current. When electricity runs through a coil, it makes a magnetic field. So you can think of an electric coil as being just like a straight magnet. If you reverse the flow of electricity, the direction of the magnetic field reverses. So if + is going in on the left and – on the right, you might have north going up; and then if you put – on the left and + on the right, you would have south going up. Alternating current means the + and – are flipping constantly. Typically 60 times a second here in the USA. So that magnetic field is going north-south-north-south really fast.

Now put a ferrous metal (the kind of metal a magnet would stick to) near that alternating magnetic field. The atoms in ferrous metals like to line up with magnetic fields. So when you put them next to an alternating magnetic field, all the atoms in that metal are going to start flipping back and forth really fast. Another word for “atoms moving fast” is “heat.” So whatever is made of that metal is going to start getting really hot. And if that whatever happens to be a pot full of cheese and wine, you get fondue!

The magnetic field is inducing motion in those atoms. So the process is called induction. As so often happens with technology, it was discovered pretty much simultaneously by two different people, back in 1831: Joseph Henry in the USA, and Michael Faraday in Britain. Your rechargeable electric toothbrush uses induction. There is a coil in the stand, and there is a coil in the toothbrush. A current in the stand coil induces a current in the toothbrush coil, which then charges the battery.

Remember when MP3 players were new, and you had to stick this contraption into the cassette player in your car so you could get music from the MP3 player’s headphone jack into your car stereo? That was induction, too.

And those giant metal things on the poles outside your house that step current down from power line level to house levels? Induction.

This picture links to the site I stole it from

The circuit that matches fondue restaurants with young kids is a bit more complex

And now I’m going to blow your mind: an inductor is also a great way to solve an impedance mismatch between two circuits! See what I did there? Fine. Be that way.

With that, I think we’ve got enough background to explain the tweet. A good friend told me that she was going to be tied up with an Honor Society induction ceremony. And having just had this fondue experience, I immediately thought of a bunch of kids in caps and gowns standing around a big coil of wire. I’m weird that way. And that got us to the tweet.

When the illuminati (or whoever it is who decides what words we use for units of measurement) were deciding what to call the units of measure for inductance, they had Henry and Faraday to choose from, since they both discovered the effect at about the same time. They went with henry (in lowercase, because the illuminati are a bunch of elitist jerks or something). Faraday’s consolation prize was to be the units for capacitance (the farad).

Go read the tweet again. Henry. Check. Recoiled (like the coil in an inductor). Check. Induction. Check. Faraday. Check.

Homework: Go to a fondue restaurant chain and put your phone onto the cooktop surface and find out how much of your phone is ferrous metal.

Clean Your Room

My youngest has a very messy room. Part of the problem is classic hoarding. Whenever either of her siblings is ready to dispose of something, she volunteers to take it. And of course she gets her own toys at birthdays and holidays and whatnot, and never tires of any of them. So it all piles up. And she never puts anything away. She gets all this from her father.

The bedroom of my youth was a sight. It wasn’t a bedroom, so much as a laboratory. An electrical engineer, a chemical engineer, and a mechanical engineer walk into a bar, envious of the stuff I had in my room as a kid. My closet was huge. On one side, all my clothes. On the other side, my workbench. And shelves and shelves and shelves of raw materials. Switches and lights and wires and batteries. Transistors, capacitors, resistors and integrated circuits. Acid and other supplies for etching printed circuit boards. Erector sets and motors and wax and oil and springs.

No child's bedroom is complete without deadly voltage sources

No child’s bedroom is complete without deadly voltage sources

A retired electric can opener (which became a push-button automatic door opener, like the bad guy always had in Bond movies). A retired oil furnace transformer (which generated those “Jacob’s Ladder” lightning zaps like in Abbot and Costello meet Frankenstein). And all the tools of the trade: soldering irons, 30,000 RPM drill, clamps, screwdrivers, lots of books on do-it-yourself projects and TTL integrated circuits, and one Playboy magazine I bought at a convenience store when I was six.

My mother gave up. She just asked me to keep my door closed. When I started going away to summer camp in middle school, she and my aunt would descend upon my room for an annual cleaning. They probably got rid of stuff, but I never really missed anything. I had plenty.

So as a result of this background, I’m very tolerant of my youngest’s room. Her mother, on the other hand, not so much. The toys and clothes and filth drive my wife crazy. So periodically, I will “help” my child clean. My technique is one that I learned from my sister when I was a kid.

We kids were supposed to clean our rooms every weekend. And before my mother had completely given up on my room, I was supposed to do this too. I found the whole exercise completely overwhelming. So my sister, who was just a year older than me, would come and sit on my bed and read a book while telling me what to pick up. Cleaning a room is incredibly hard, but executing simple instructions is not. After just a little while, my floor would be clear, and all my stuff would be back in the closet, and my room was good enough.

So that’s what I do with my youngest. I settle into a chair and I twitter, and I give her simple instructions. After a couple hours, her room is clean enough. Neither of us are wired properly to make a room actually clean. But we can both get to clean enough.

Last weekend was Mother’s day, and so 8 and I sneaked off to her room on Saturday and spent hours and hours and hours cleaning. We listened to awful pop music, and she picked up and sorted and even threw a few things away. And she didn’t complain even once. Significant progress was made. And by the end of it, she couldn’t wait until Mother’s day for the big reveal. So she got her mother to come to her room at bedtime (something my wife generally refuses to do, because of the mess), and showed off all her hard work. And there was happiness and joy and all was right with the world.

By Monday her room was back to its natural state: a complete disaster.

That’s my girl.

My Favorite Quote

My brother is a professional jazz musician. How cool is that? He decided that was his thing back in high school, maybe junior high even, and that is all he’s ever done. He went to North Texas State, which is one of two schools you can go to if you want to be a serious jazz player. He studied trumpet with the guy who taught Maynard Ferguson and Doc Severinsen. When he got out of school, he went to work on cruise ships. Imagine that. Good looking guy, fit, young, playing jazz on a cruise ship filled with lonely women. Lucky bastard.

Anyway, while he was on the cruise ships, they just played standards. “Standards” is jazz lingo for all the songs that everyone knows. “The Great American Songbook.” I introduced you to The Real Book back in my piece about the song Inchworm. It’s basically the songs in that book. And he told me that memorizing and playing every song, in every key, is the thing that taught him to be a great improviser. He is one of the best soloists you’ll ever hear. Amazing horn player.

One of the things that this encyclopedic knowledge of songs imparts is the ability to “quote” while soloing. I mentioned this before in my piece about Listen Here. The soloist plays a bit of a different song during his solo. If you listen to a lot of jazz, you hear this all the time. And if you listen obsessively, you not only recognize the quote, but know exactly what song it is quoting.

Here’s a simple example. First, the original:


Softly as in a Morning Sunrise
is a song from a pretty obscure 1928 operetta, but it’s a popular jazz tune. This clip is from Daniel Sadownick’s album There Will Be a Day.

Now listen to this bit of a solo by Brian Bromberg on from The Eclipse on his album Compared to That (which, by the way, is a really kick-ass album).


I hope you can tell that’s the same tune. Obviously, the tempo is different, and he’s playing around the melody a little, but that’s what a quote typically sounds like.

This practice goes way back in jazz. Here is a fun one. First the original:


This is Blue Monk by Thelonious Monk from the live Carnegie Hall recording he did with John Coltrane.

Now check out this solo from Straight No Chaser on Miles Davis’ ’58 Sessions album:


That’s Bill Evans on piano. The song Straight No Chaser was written, of course, by Thelonious Monk. Bill is quoting one Monk song in his solo during another Monk song. So this is kind of a little joke that Bill is making, to amuse the other band members.

That’s an important point to make about quoting. We don’t do it for the audience members, whom we assume probably aren’t going to get it. We do it for the other guys in the band, whom we assume totally are going to get it.

My brother has taken this to a high art, even going so far as to compose songs packing quotes from more than a dozen other songs in them. He has a brass quintet version of Jolly Old Saint Nicholas that quotes Puff the Magic Dragon, Pachelbel’s Canon, and the “hold the pickles” song from that Burger King ad in the ‘7os. Have I mentioned that he’s a fucking genius?

Anyway, that brings me to my favorite quote. First, some context. The best selling jazz album of all time is Miles’ Kind of Blue. The first track on that album is So What. Here’s the start of Miles’ solo on that:


That’s probably the most recognizable solo ever. Remember, that’s not part of the written music (“the head”), it’s just something Miles came up with on the spot during the recording session.

Now check out this bit of Branford Marsalis’ solo in The Ballad of Chet Kincaid, from his album Crazy People Music:


See what he did there? He quoted the second phrase of the solo in So What. And if you listen carefully, you’ll hear that somebody in the band actually laughed out loud when he heard it! Quoting another song’s head is one thing, quoting a solo is quite another, but quoting the middle of a solo — that’s some serious next-level shit right there. And you know that he didn’t plan that. It just occurred to him while he was playing. Damn.

So that’s why I’m giving Branford Marsalis the honor of my favorite quote ever. Pure fucking genius.

The “Fun” Committee

I work for a company that I co-founded back in 1996. It’s not a big company. Between 20 and 30 people. So, with the exception of a couple sales guys who live in the territories they cover, everyone interacts with everyone else in the company every day. So I’ve never quite understood why we need to have company events. But I’m the CTO, not the CEO. And the CEO thinks it’s something we need to do, and I trust his judgement.

I hate these events. I hate them with a passion.

Sometimes they will be in the middle of the work day, in which case I hate that they are keeping me from getting work done. It’s not like there is less work in the day because we are having this event. Just fewer hours in which to do the work that needs to get done.

Sometimes they will be after work, in which case I hate that I’m being kept from my beautiful wife and annoying kids and comfortable couch and a delicious cocktail.

The events are planned by the “fun” committee. I have to put the word fun in quotes for obvious reasons. Off the top of my head, I’ve had to suffer through bowling, company dinners, miniature golf, picnics, wine and cheese tastings, and apple picking. Fucking apple picking. So let’s examine some of these in more depth.

These are not bowling pins and that is not a bowling ball

These are not bowling pins and that is not a bowling ball

Bowling. We are based in Massachusetts. That means we get to suffer through an abomination of bowling called “candle pin.” This was invented back in 1880 in Worcester, MA by a bowling alley owner who wanted to cut back on the number of people he had to employ setting up pins between frames. You throw a small ball, the pins are skinny, they just leave the knocked-down pins in the way between throws, and there are three throws in a frame. No, I’m not making this up. When you talk to someone in MA about bowling, they think this is what you are talking about. Don’t get me wrong: I’m not a fan of real bowling either. But at least that’s a game of skill. Candlepin “Bowling” is basically a carnival midway time-waster.

Company Dinners. Since we’re small, we can afford to go to decent restaurants, so I can’t complain about that. But the social dynamics of a small company are quirky. You basically have the young kids, who hang out together all the time anyway. And you have us old execs who have nothing in common with the young kids, and don’t really care about each other’s families and stuff. So what do we talk about? Work. What else is there? Sometimes I’ll regale them with tales of cocktails and infusions and stuff. But other than that, it’s all just work, work, work. Just what I want at the end of a long work day. More work.

Miniature Golf. I play this with my kids. My kids like it. I used to like it when I was a kid. Now it’s tedious.

Picnics. Basically this is just like the company dinner, except we have to drive someplace inconvenient, eat lower quality food, bake in the sun, and chew up perfectly good working hours so we just have less time to get our shit done.

This cheese is fucking awesome and you can't get it in the US because the FDA is a bunch of idiots

This cheese is fucking awesome and you can’t get it in the US because the FDA is a bunch of idiots

Wine and Cheese Tastings. OK, so this had promise. They went to a fancy cheese store in Boston and got a bunch of interesting hard and soft cheeses. And they bought some cheap-ass wine. I was engaged for like, maybe 15 minutes. Then I had tasted everything there was to taste, and I was stuck talking about — wait for it — work for the next hour as everyone in the room tried to figure out how much longer they needed to stay to meet the minimum social quota.

Why the fuck is this person smiling?

Why the fuck is this person smiling?

Apple Picking. Are you kidding me? Why is this a thing? You get to walk deep into an orchard in the hot sun along a dusty path, climb a ladder into a scratchy tree, and look for decent apples from picked-over trees. Who finds this fun? This tradition completely confounds me. Even my kids hate this, and kids like all sorts of annoying shit (see miniature golf, above). After you’ve filled the plastic bag they gave you, you get to hike back to the store for a cider donut and some cider. The cider donuts are awesome. But really, I could have just gone to the store and bought one and skipped all the rest of this nonsense, couldn’t I? Fucking apple picking.

I don’t know if I’m the only person who hates these events, or just the only person who has an anonymousish blog where they can vent about it. I’m pretty sure the “fun” committee isn’t having any fun coming up with these ideas. And doing everything they can to ensure everyone actually shows up. I’d feel sorry for them, except they really could just say no, and quit the damn committee, and then we wouldn’t have to do this stuff anymore because nobody would be planning it.

A boy can dream, can’t he?