Saturday, June 27, 2015

The Other Side Of The Armrest

Every now and again there's a story in the media about some fat guy on some airplane and people lose their collective minds. When it happens, there's a lot of very nasty, judgmental talk about the nature of obesity and the meaning of a shared armrest. It was Kevin Smith a while ago. There's probably been another one since then-- I've stopped paying attention. The story is usually the same: skinny person feels put upon by having to be next to a fat person, comment threads rage with abuse and cries of pain, and it's all a bore. But recently the issue was forced upon me by my Facebook feed when a guy I thought of as a friend posted an internet tirade entitled "Fuck the Fatties" about his recent experience flying next to someone large. He finished his post with this priceless bit of prose:

"I hope he gets stuck in a doorway someday and the fire department has to ease him out with butter.  No wait, he’d probably eat that butter.  Let him stay there until he withers away enough to get himself unstuck.  I hate you, fatty." (from David Rosenberg -

I felt that kind of unfeeling, dehumanizing contempt deserved an educational response, and I gave it one.

Dear Rosie,

As someone who's been on the other side of that armrest, fuck you. First, that guy didn't have any interest in making your life difficult, and he was probably mortified that it was an issue. Second, airplane seats are now generally 17" across -- 2" smaller than they used to be, in an age when most people are larger than they used to be. When required by the airline, I buy two seats, but you know what, there's fat people and thin people, and we've all played Tetris, so when the need arises we can all just get along. Third, if you were that uncomfortable, you should have asked the flight attendant to move seats.

Most airlines have a policy regarding what they euphemistically name "Passengers of Size," and I follow that policy to the letter to avoid issues at the gate or on the airplane. Southwest actually has the best policy - I buy two seats, and if there's even one other empty seat on the plane I can call and get a cash refund on the second seat, even on non-refundable fares. Virgin gives it back as a credit, and everybody else just keeps the money as far as I know. If your neighbor managed to board without issue, and he was encroaching into your seat as much as you say, neither the gate staff nor the flight crew did their jobs.

But the real issue for me here is your tone. Fuck you and your skinny high horse, bub. If he was the kind of fat where he was genuinely on your side of the armrest, he's made bad choices and I'm not going to apologize for those. But once you've made it north of a certain point on the scale, there really are a lot of things that come into play beyond simple "don't eat that." The American way of eating affects the brain and metabolism in ways that can be incredibly hard to change. If it were that easy, do you think he or I or anyone who's that obese would really want to be this way? This is a complicated health issue, and it's unfortunate that the nature of it is that it gets played out in public for everyone else to see and judge.

If being next to a fat guy on an airplane is the worst thing that happened to you today, count yourself lucky and give a dollar to someone worse off than you. It might even germinate the seed of whatever humanity is left in you. All of this is said with affection, and I mean that, but again, fuck you.

Monday, July 11, 2011

OS X Lion and older software can be trouble...

The soon to be released Mac OS X Lion drops support for Rosetta. If you use Adobe CS3 or before, Quicken 2007, Office 2004 and some advanced features of Office 2008, or any other PowerPC software that runs under Rosetta, don't upgrade to Lion without understanding the ramifications. You can see if you have PowerPC apps by going to System Profiler -> Applications. The kind of application is listed on the right.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

PCs, Macs, and Data Loss: Be Religious About Your Backups, Not Your Platform

I've been getting some push-back from Mac users feeling superior about my last post regarding Java and malware on Windows. I see no reason to ignite another dogmatic conflict at a time when the President is asking the nation to keep our discourse civil.

I will say that in my practice I've found that the vast majority of actual data loss comes not from malware attacks, but the simple and preventable lack of backups. Macs and PCs are both heir to the same silicon ills - dead hard disks, user error, and plain bad luck. You can save yourself from 99% of computer problems by being religious about your backups, not your platform.

Every version of Windows since NT and Mac OS since 10.5 has included an excellent and free backup utility, NTBackup for Windows up to and including XP, Windows Backup and Restore Center for Vista and Windows 7, and Time Machine for Mac OS. Older versions of Mac OS can use a free version of Shirt Pocket Software's wonderful SuperDuper, although the full version is well worth the $30 to be able to automate it. With USB hard drives under $80 for a terabyte, you simply have no excuse to be unprotected.

Do something now, before your data disappears and your hard disk's magnets join the Elephant's Graveyard on my refrigerator.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Change in my best practices re PCs and Java

I've made a change in what I feel are best practices regarding Java on Windows-based computers.

For those of you who don’t know – Java Runtime is installed on many PCs as delivered from the manufacturer, and installed by me sometimes if not. It’s used by some websites and applications to add rich interactive functionality. In the past, I’ve felt it was an important part of being ready for the web, like Adobe Flash and Reader.

Now we’re facing a new wave of malware that takes advantage of security problems with Java. I removed it from two computers yesterday, and my sources tell me that problems with Java are the most common pathway for bad programs (fake antivirus, etc.) to get on machines. As this is happening, Java itself has become much less necessary for the vast majority of users as other ways to get that functionality are baked into HTML5 or Flash/Silverlight.

So I am recommending that users uninstall the Java Runtime from their PCs unless they have specific requirements for it – i.e. a website that needs it, or a local program that uses it. The benefit of having it is now outweighed by the attack surface it creates. Removing it is simple.

Close all open programs, go to the control panel, select Add/Remove Programs (Windows XP) or Programs and Features (Vista/7).
Java may be listed as Java 6 , J2SE Runtime, Java Runtime Environment, etc. with various version numbers, and there may be multiple versions installed. Remove all of them.
The uninstaller may ask for a reboot at the end of uninstallation. If you are uninstalling multiple versions, it’s safe to say no to the reboot until the last one is done, then reboot.

If you use a specific website or application that uses Java (you will see Java load with its coffee cup symbol when you do), then it’s alright to leave the most current version (as of this writing, Java 6 Update 23) installed. If you don’t have that version, uninstall all Java Runtimes as above, reboot, and go to to get it.

I hope this is helpful, and that you will be able to disseminate this information as needed. Please let me know if you need further clarification on any of this.

Friday, June 11, 2010

1W Blue Laser for less than $200! This is madness!

I'm really torn about this.

It's an incredibly powerful laser, twice as powerful as anything available for even 10 times as much money.

On the one hand, I think that in the proper hands, this could be a valuable tool for someone doing holography or other serious research.

On the other, it's being marketed as a "gee-whiz" nerd toy, and it is most definitely not a toy. This is an incredibly dangerous device if not handled EXTREMELY carefully. It can blind you in an instant, long before you can blink, and maybe even through your eyelids. Even exposure to diffuse blue laser light may be enough to permanently damage the ability to see some colors. There was a warning that it may be strong enough to cause melanoma if unprotected skin is exposed or even set skin on fire.

The barrier to entry is so low ($200!) and the difference between the perceived danger and the real danger so great that some jackass is going to buy one of these and show off somewhere and blind a lot of people. People know guns are dangerous, and they still manage to shoot themselves and others accidentally all the time. But with this, people are used to laser pointers and such, and they may not realize how incredibly fast something bad can happen with a laser of this power. It's like if you could buy an AK-47 for a couple of hundred dollars when all anybody had ever seen was a paintball gun. It really scares me.

But even more importantly, it's the harbinger of a trend - as tech gets cheaper, faster and more powerful, the kinds of technologies for which we have counted on cost and knowledge to create barriers to wide availability will instead become universally available. When any fool with access to Google and a few hundred bucks can build himself a microwave pain ray, or worse, what then? When somebody bent on terror buys three or four of these lasers, builds them into a housing that looks like a flashlight and blinds a few thousand people at a football game, what then? It's not hard to conjure a what-if scenario that's really plausible and genuinely frightening.

I don't have a good answer here. I'm someone who's always believed strongly in the free flow of information and the maker culture. But what do we do when somebody builds a gun that shoots blindness at the speed of light for $200?

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

iPhone 4G design and reactions...

One thing about this whole iPhone 4G thing that I have found HILARIOUS is this: When the thing was shown on Engadget all the Apple cognoscenti were like, "no way this is anything but a cheap knockoff, it's not Apple-y enough, look at the gross buttons and the cheap seams!" Now that the thing has proven real, they're falling all over themselves to find the Dieter Rams lineage of the design vocabulary. They couldn't have snapped back to the Apple-Can-Do-No-Wrong line faster if they were on leashes.

I say ptui.

And also if that thing really does have a 960x640 screen, I want one. A lot.

Saturday, January 02, 2010

Hello VM Zoo

So I wax a little nostalgic below, but the reason for all of that is the new machine now in residence here at Bitboy Command Center. I have built a new server of servers, actually. I'm calling it the "VM Zoo." It's a Supermicro X8SIL-F motherboard, Xeon 3450 CPU, and 16GB of ECC DDR3 RAM running Windows Server 2008 R2 with Hyper-V. I'm currently running 3 VMs on it - an SBS 2008 server, a Win 2003/BES server, and an Ubuntu 9.10 server. This one machine I built for about $1300 has replaced 2 physical servers and allowed me to add a few more if I want, and taught me an awful lot about Hyper-V, P2V conversions, and virtualization. I recommend it highly - it's simplified my living room a lot already.

Goodbye Bitbox...

This is what 10 years of faithful service looks like. Supermicro P6SBS motherboard, Pentium II 300MHz SL2W8 stepping, 512MB SDRAM, a 4GB and a 9GB Wide SCSI Hard Disk, all in an Inwin A500 midtower ATX case and hand assembled at the Bitboy Command Center. Booted Red Hat Linux 7.2 in 2001, rebooted maybe twice a year since then, mostly for moves or long power outages. If you sent me e-mail in the last 10 years, it ended up on this machine, humming quietly in my living room. Remote mail access via ssh and pine, the way God intended. Apache serving web pages you edited in vi, like men did when the web was young.

I learned much at your shell prompt, old friend. Your lessons made me strong in the ways of Unix, and kept me humble in the face of misplaced semicolons. No e-wasting for you, no recycler will tease the gold from your traces. A frame on the wall for your motherboard, a place of honor for your drives. Bitbox, you leave a fine legacy, and you will be remembered when nerds gather to tell tales of the servers they have known.

Friday, July 17, 2009

So this happened...

On the morning of February 26, 2006, Heather McGowan, a young lady of my acquaintance, had breakfast with me at Patrick's Roadhouse on the Pacific Coast Highway. Later that night, a chain of events would occur that would lead to us being where we are now, together and delightfully in love, but as we sat there in the morning sunshine, this was all in the future. So we sat there and passed the time before our meals arrived with talk of this and that and as I am wont to do, I was fooling with my Treo and I took a few pictures.

This was one:

Later, it would become a favorite of both of ours. And then one day this April, I read on the internet that famed director and all-around French guy Michel Gondry, whose artistic vision is undeniable, and whose film "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" still resonates quite firmly with me, and whose work is equally significant to Heather, I read that he was going to have people send him photos and from these photos draw sketches and then send them back to the people from whom he received the photos. I did not need to think too hard on this, and sent off a photo (the very photo you see above), and told him that this picture was of one Miss Heather McGowan, and that she is my love. And some time passed, and then today, lo and behold, a small envelope arrives in the post, and contained within is the result:

which he made with his own French hands and signed and sent to us, which has made both of us very happy indeed.

Edit (July 2011): I suppose this deserves a postscript. A year after posting this, Heather left. It's now a year after that. It seems that I have learned to appreciate Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind on an entirely new level. Good art grows with you, I suppose. I still have the painting, in the envelope it came in. The rest is gone.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Server Monitoring Tool - Cool!

I found this tool for monitoring Windows event logs - they have a free version that's keeping me abreast of a few key details on my home machine right now. Neat!

Network Monitoring by Power Admin

Thursday, February 15, 2007

More Screeds, Please!

I've been writing some stuff for about computers, and it seems like it should be here too. Let me know if you like it, if the tone's too breezy or not breezy enough - I'd love to hear from you...

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Duck Blind

This was written for a show at the UCB Theater LA called PIMP'D - I had a week to write on the topic of "Duck Blind" - I liked it enough to put it here.


For those of you who don't know, and some of the people I've spoken to about this in the last week haven't, a duck blind is a bench or hut camoflauged into its surroundings where hunters can lie in wait to shoot ducks as they fly or swim by. As far as I can tell, the need for a duck blind is predicated on the belief that human intelligence, opposable thumbs, and a pump-action shotgun do not present enough of an advantage over the ducks.

Modern hunting can no longer even charitably be called a sport. As exemplified by the strange cavalcade Dick Cheney was on when he unfortunately shot his colleague in the face, modern hunting has become the real-life equivalent of playing a video game in god mode. IDDQD, anyone? For those of you who never played DOOM, IDDQD was the magic string of characters that when typed into the keyboard made you invulnerable to damage.

I played DOOM. I played a lot of DOOM. I had to stop playing DOOM when I found myself walking through a dog-leg in the corridor of an office building, very much in the real world, cradling an imaginary weapon in my arms and trying to remember if it was the super-shotgun or the chaingun. That was a cusp moment for me, that was the moment I realized that the imaginary world of the game had changed the way I parsed real-world stimuli, that I had by playing six hours of DOOM a night for several weeks, started a process of conditioning myself into a well-trained, effective, and ruthless killing machine.

So I stopped. I quit the DOOM. I had to, or face a life in which my morals and ethics were so compromised by my self-imposed Pavlovian training that my only career option would have been hired assassin or possibly political operative for the Florida Republican Party. And unfortunately, it seems to me that this is a lesson the modern hunter seems to have yet to learn.

Modern hunting is no longer about Robert De Niro exorcising his Vietnam demons on a mountaintop, working carefully for that one clean shot. Modern hunting is all about overkill, Dick Cheney shooting 75 birds that have been raised, trained, stunned, and finally set aloft all for that meaningless coup de grace. People were shocked when Cheney accidentally shot his friend, but the real obscenity here was not that accident, as horrific as it was. The real tragedy is that we have walking among us men who are so desensitized to the pointless pain that they cause that they might as well be in god mode, invulnerable, unfeeling, and ultimately as dead inside as the things they shoot.

Perhaps we would all be better served by laws that force those who hunt to do it naked, pink and smooth. Send Cheney and his pals into the swamps in nothing but loincloths, smeared with duckfat, and crazed with hunger. Give them only small sharp flints, the tools of our ancestors, and perhaps that might teach them some respect for the lives they now take with such glib abandon. I don't think that the caveman had any sympathy for his game, life was too short and hard back then for such niceties, but I do think that he had respect for the sacrifice. I never thought I would agree with Ted Nugent on much, but the Motor City Madman and I are of one mind on this, that turning hunting from a communion with our forebearers and a meditation on the circle of life into a giant video game where players roam free and armed in the real world, where pheasants are pimped out and hove directly into their view for the killing, where the clay pigeons are made real and bloodlust is to strong a word for the pale, anemic prancings these tired old men call sport, that this change is nothing but a shame on being a man.

As for me, I'll have a Porterhouse, medium rare, and a side of duck sausage.

Thank you very much.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Leaders like this shame the current administration

Go here.

Give her money. Do what you can.

We've seen what happens when our leaders are craven fools. Let's see what happens when they're not.

Monday, November 28, 2005

There are three comedy things happening in the very near future in which I will participate and to which you should consider paying attention for various reasons.

First - Tuesday, November 29th, at 10:30pm at the UCB Theater (5919 Franklin Ave, Hollywood), I will be joining one of the really outstanding shows in the L.A. area - "See You Next Tuesday." Produced by Matt "in search of Sasquatch" Belknap of fame, it is rapidly becoming the place for rising talent in L.A. to see and be seen. It follows the redoubtable Comedy Death-Ray, so come early and see two fantastic shows, or come late and see only one - the choice is yours. Much more detail at is available at and I whole-heartedly desire and endorse your presence.

Second - Tuesday December 27th at 8pm at the Hollywood Improv, I will be on the bill for one of Lesley Wolff's "All-Ivy League" comedy extravangzas. I am not an Ivy League grad, merely a comedy legacy, but I hope to bring honor to the hallowed halls of University of Maryland, College Park. Lesley throws a hell of a show and packs the house and the stage with smart and funny people - it's a good time all around.

Third - Tuesday Jan 3 through Sunday Jan 8, Las Vegas plays host to the giant Consumer Electronics Show, the jaw-dropping Adult Video News Awards, and me! I'll be at the Improv at Harrah's Las Vegas, and headlining will be Don McMillan, the king of nerd funny! Don's the real deal - a former electrical engineer for Bell Labs and VLSI and now the master of all that is "Technically Funny!" Check him out at, check out CES at, and check out the AVN awards on your own time!

See you at the shows!

The First Comedian I Ever Saw...

I grew up in Washington D.C., and when I was about 17, I went to a place I remember being called "This Is It!" at 14th and H or so. This was the red light district and this particular place was noted for the occasional sighting of Mayor Marion Barry. It was an honest-to-God burlesque house, although at the time I wouldn't have known what that meant. It was a bubble suspended in time, like Douglas Adam's Restaurant at the End of the Universe, except instead of temporally rocking back and forth over Armageddon, the End, the Last Bit, it instead gently swayed in and out of Sept. 27th, 1948.

I was drawn forth by the very idea of boobies, something that had recently grabbed my attention away from AppleSoft BASIC programming. Due to our Mayor's indiscretions, I had read in the Washington Post that boobies could be seen for reals, no kidding, at the "This Is It!" and off I went as fast as my 50cc Vespa moped could take me. The drinking age in DC at the time was 18, and honored more in the breach, so entry was straightforward. I took a seat at a table, placed my white Bell bike helmet under my chair, and waited for magic to happen.

The first woman I saw in the place was the point of this ramble, the first comedian I ever saw live. She was a hard 50, peroxide blonde and thick through the middle, wearing a beaded and sequined white floor-length gown, a white feather boa, and a look of exhaustion and disdain that even in my pink and virgin state frightened me more than words can describe. I guess she was the MC, she was telling jokes, setup-punch jokes, and at the end of each one a tuxedo-clad drummer behind her would flail his limbs and hit a rim shot that landed like a balloon full of oatmeal. To call the drummer tuxedo-clad ennobles him in an unwarranted manner; he was moth-eaten in a way that did not end at his clothes. He had the thinness of arm and paunch of belly that suggested his main source of nutrition was juniper berries, and he too wore an expression that betrayed a lifetime of Chesterfields, SRO hotels, and regret.

But back to our star. She would tell a joke, the drummer would drum, and the crowd would respond with equal parts indifference and impatience. This sequence repeated several times, and the crowd tipped harder and harder to genuine antipathy. And then she did the thing that would forever resonate in my understanding of comedy--she turned on us. She snarled a little, and then through a grimace like a nailgun spat out "Aw, you fuckers wouldn't know funny if it bit you!", and turned on her heel and left. Here's what I take from that now, twenty years later and six years into my own stand-up career.

She still cared.

I can make up a story here, she was a showgirl, a real looker, who after ten or fifteen years of late nights and men who never quite came through maybe wasn't so much the looker anymore. She'd been around enough that she could tell a joke, so rather than settle down waitressing at a diner somewhere, she fell into comedy, MC'ing the shows, snapping off a one-liner or two and den-mothering the new girls. And after thirty years of cheap drunks and smoke in her eyes, she still cared whether she got a laugh. I had the need tattooed on my brain at the tender age of 17 with that lady's ink, homemade of whatever bitter salt it is that's left behind when your dreams evaporate into heartache.

And then after that, I saw boobs.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Will fix computers for sexual favors

Will fix computers for sexual favors
Reply to:
Date: 2005-11-16, 11:01AM PST

Email with computer problem and favor.

* this is in or around Los Angeles Area

This is not me. I don't care what you think, it's not me.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Microfinance on a Macro Scale

Just read about this on BoingBoing, and I think it is brilliant. Decentralize, distribute and engage on a one-to-one level to connect people in the developing world with people in the developed world. This will create a web of shared vision that unifies us, binds us together. I'm signed up and ready to go, you should be too.


Monday, October 24, 2005

I may have found the girl of my dreams...

From Craigslist...

Will trade erotic services for Sprint cell phone.
Reply to:
Date: 2005-10-22, 9:46AM PDT

I will trade one complete erotic session for either a Sprint Sanyo 8200 or a Treo 600, 650. Must have clean ESN and be in good condition.

Here is my description:

I am 5 foot 2
A trim 109 lbs
long reddish brown hair
Bright Blue eyes

Fair skin
39 years old

Sorry but I do not have any pics.
Serious inquires only please.

I love the specificity of model, make, and carrier. I'm also curious if she'll go a little further in her "erotic session" for the Bluetooth and 320x320 screen-equipped Treo 650 then for the older and less technically interesting 600. If she got a look at all the extra computer stuff I have around the house, what then? I've got a box of old Pentium II's and III's that might be good for a little something, right?

I love L.A., seriously.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Bomb 'em and feed 'em, said the soldier...

So I'm watching the TV tonight and along comes an ad for a new Pontiac Torrent. I've never heard of the car, and they (meaning Pontiac) obviously don't mind, because their ad is really a music video. No mention of the car's name until the end, just moody dark shots of the car going down city streets as the building lights bounce like an equalizer. The song is what it's all about, it's a brooding noir piece that a little bit of internet research tells me is called "Struggle" off the eponymous debut by Ringside. So I hop on the Gnutella net via Gnucleus and break me off a piece o'that. And here's where it gets weird. There's no way the record company or somebody is not purposefully seeding this song. There are about 9 or 10 listings for the song, and all but 1 listing is 1 or 2 hosts. The biggie is 98 hosts, and the thing is all of them, every last listing, is the same exact size. That just don't make sense. People use different rippers, different encoders, different bitrates, it's all a zoo out there, and yet every one of approximately 120 machines serving the song is serving it at exactly 3658Kb. That's just fishy.

RIAA, you don't get to have it both ways. You don't get to revile filesharers as thieves stealing the bread out of starving artists' mouths, and then turn around and get them to do your marketing gruntwork. You've figured out we're tastemakers and that we are your best advertising. So stop suing us.

Monday, October 10, 2005

I just paid a dollar...

I just paid a dollar to get slapped by beautiful twin girls. Which is cheap if you think about it, because I usually have to buy 'em a drink first. Then I paid another dollar to get kissed by a six-foot blonde. Not a bad night, all in all.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

UNICEF shows Smurfs being bombed...

UNICEF Uses Smurfs in Anti-war Message

Well, it's nice to see that the anti-war movement is finally communicating with George Bush in a language he understands.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Would you buy a router from this man?

With fall in the air and the Santa Anas blowing I was reminded of a wonderful experience I had a couple of Halloweens ago at the Best Buy at Pico and Sawtelle. I normally hold my allegiance to Fry's Electronics quite dear, but sometimes time and need force me to take a walk under the big yellow tag.

On this particular day, I wanted nothing more than a Linksys router, a fairly common piece of networking equipment. I picked it off the shelf and went to check out, where I was confronted by a mob scene, thirty-odd people milling about waiting for the three open registers. To my left, I saw a bunch of Best Buy guys standing around and chatting, so I approached them. I said "I see a lot of blue shirts, and I see three open registers, can we do something about this?" One of them said "That's not my department," to which I replied a little testily, "Let's find the guy whose department it is and get him over here." I was still waiting on line a few minutes later when a man approached me wearing a Best Buy name tag and a full clown suit--red wig, white makeup, bulbous nose, polka-dot suit, the works. He stood in front of me, and with a surprising amount of attitude for a man in a clown suit, asked, "Is there an issue?"

That's when it happened. It came out of me, I had no control of it, and I'm still a little surprised I said it. But I couldn't stop it, it was like a fever. I looked that man in the square in the eye and said with a completely straight face, "Are you the clown in charge?"

"Yes," he replied, with a stony expression. And while the people around us where dying laughing, neither of us dared. I think we both realized the second one of us cracked a smile, we'd have to fight. And you know what no one wants to see, it turns out, is a fat guy and a clown rolling around on the floor of Best Buy.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

See me tonight!

This Wednesday I will be a panelist in J. Keith van Straaten's revival of the classic game show "What's My Line?" Fellow panelists include Jimmy Pardo, smashing stand-up comedian and host of "National Lampoon's Funny Money," Kitty Felde, host of KPCC's "Talk of the City," and Mink Stole, noted actress and regular in John Waters films. Keith also manages to get amazing mystery guests from entertainment, sports, and journalism - previous shows have featured Larry King, Noah Wyle, Ed Asner, and even Monty Hall himself. I don't know how he does it, but it's something to behold. The show itself has been brilliantly reviewed in the L.A. Times and Weekly, and I'm pleased and honored to be a part of it. There's plenty more info at but the essentials are thus:

"What's My Line? - Live on Stage"
8PM Wednesday 10/5 at the Acme Theater
135 N. La Brea Ave, Los Angeles CA 90036
Reservations: (323) 525-0202 - $15

I'd be delighted if you would join us.

No more nickels, please...

This is a letter I wrote after receiving a fundraising mailer from the American Kidney Fund that contained an actual nickel. It bothered me, so I wrote this to explain to them why. Maybe I'm turning into an old crank, but now I get to take you along with me!

Subject: No More Nickels, Please.

American Kidney Fund
ATTN: Director of Fundraising
6110 Executive Blvd., Suite 1010
Rockville, MD 20852

To whom it may concern:

I have just received your latest fundraising mailing, complete with enclosed nickel. I thank you for this, as it has given me quite the moral puzzle to work through. I rarely have the chance to sit down and look into my core values the way you have given me the opportunity to do, and I am grateful.

Let's set a table for the discussion by beginning here. I have no qualms about sharing some of the largesse that providence has granted me with those less fortunate than myself. I feel a responsibility to the common good, and I express that in donations of my money and time to those in need of these things. For example, I recently donated $200 to "Doctors Without Borders" for relief of those affected by the terrible tsunami of last year. That donation was not solicited, it came sui generis from my desire to help those in need.

I am less willing to send my money or offer my time to those who attempt to manipulate me to do so, and I look at such efforts as unworthy of the greater good they aspire to bring about. Telephone solicitation, for example, I refuse to reward with a donation, no matter how worthy the cause, because I believe that your right to solicit me does not override my right to be free of such nuisances in the privacy of my own home, and to seek information about opportunities to help others on my terms, not yours. I believe you do not have the right to use a utility that I maintain, my telephone, to disturb me for purposes that you and you alone deem of such urgency.

Similarly, some collecting for otherwise good causes attempt to create in their targets a sense of obligation by giving them an unsolicited gift of small value. In my case, that frequently occurs as a mailed request for a donation accompanied by sheets of preprinted adhesive return address labels. Thus arrives a dilemma: Do I allow a charity, ostensibly working to provide a greater good for those in more need than myself, to provide me with a good of some cost without reimbursing them for that cost? I have decided that the answer to that question is yes.

I cannot give money to everyone, because my resources are limited.

I cannot give money to everyone who asks, because my resources are limited, and because I must have some meaningful criteria for deciding where to place my resources that has to do with the actual need rather than whether those with a stake in that need have the ability to contact me.

I cannot give money to everyone who sends me an unsolicited gift, because I must have some meaningful criteria for deciding where to place my limited resources that has to do with the actual need rather than whether those with a stake in that need can give me something in return. Otherwise, charity devolves to an auction.

So I may choose not to give money to someone who has sent me labels. But what next? Should I simply throw the labels away? They have value to me. They are useful, and by not having to purchase labels, my resources are freed, possibly for me to do some good elsewhere. They have no value to anyone else; my name and address are unique, and sending them back to whence they came does not allow the charity to use them to solicit someone else or help the cause they espouse. So my solution is to use the labels, after first removing the part of the label that contains the logo of the charitable organization. I have no right to pretend to a good I have not performed by using the labels with the logo - if someone receives a letter from me, I have no right to create in them the false impression that I have donated to a charity by using the name of that charity. So I cut off the logo and use just the plain address part. Perhaps my reasoning is circuitous but I believe it to be sound, and I am willing to live with the moral consequences.

You however, have upped the stakes. Your unsolicited gift to me is not useful only to me. It is fungible currency, although of perhaps less value to me than preprinted labels, and it probably cost you approximately the same to send me as preprinted labels, but once sent it retains a value to yourself and to those you help that preprinted labels do not. Do I have the right to spend this nickel? That nickel was given to you by someone who believed it would be used to help people with kidney problems, and I have no such difficulties. I have elected to spend my limited resources on a different problem. I also resent your attempts to create in me an obligation that was not requested, and so will not be sending you a donation, but what should I do with that nickel? Do I send it back to you? You go to pains to request it, with a sticky note attachment that probably cost more than the nickel itself to design, print and include in each mailer, but honestly, this seems foolish. At the end of this transaction, the only benefit would be to the United States Postal Service. A contribution of a nickel to your cause would create costs greater than it represents; it would cost much more in the time of your employees to handle such a small amount than any good it could create. But for me to spend that nickel allows me to benefit from the generosity of your contributors, in violation of a kind of implied social contract that that generosity should be reserved for those in need, and I am not.

I have figured out a way to make it work. That mailer and its included nickel probably cost you around two dollars to send to me by the time all is said and done, give or take. So to the next homeless person who solicits me on the street, I will give two dollars, and I will tell him or her that this money comes to him in the name of people who want to help people with kidney problems, but were somehow misguided enough to give the money to you. He will probably not understand, but you and I will know what it means.

I will also ask you to never solicit me again. Should you do so, I will be forced to send you a picture of me about to punch a kitten, with instructions that you should send me two dollars or I will complete the punch. This should create in you the same unsolicited and meaningless sense of guilt that you have attempted to create in me, and to as much effect.

Thanks for your time and attention to this matter.


Andrew Solmssen

The cats outnumber me, 8 legs to 2.

I know as a man with cats, I am subject to certain prejudices. I grew up with dogs, but when I was first on my own in my own place, I decided that a dog would not be happy with my then workaholic lifestyle. I wanted some animals in my life, and cats seemed to strike a balance between neediness and self-sufficiency that I could live with while working 12 to 14 hours a day for weeks on end. So I got two, to keep each other company, and they have been a boundless source of both genuine affection and carpet-staining vomit. I wouldn't have it any other way.

Soon though, I was gradually made aware that as a straight man in my late twenties, having cats may have been a dubious choice. The first inkling came in an episode of "Seinfeld" in which Elaine mentions to Jerry and George that she is going to her new boyfriend's home to meet his cats. At the news, George and Jerry turn to each other and then Elaine and say "men with cats?" and then each make a kind of quizzical grunt that lets us all know what they really think of the idea.

But I persevered, and now some 12 years later, the cats and I enjoy a very comfortable soon-to-be middle age. We watch a little TV, we chase a little laser light, it's not a carnival by any means, but it will suffice. So the other day when I was shopping on and looking for an item to push me the 13 cents I needed to get to free shipping, I happened to notice a nifty little disposable cat litter pan and clicked away to learn more., like Amazon, and other e-commerce sites, likes to let you know what people who have bought the item you are looking at have also bought along with it. You're buying a wireless internet router, well, better consider a USB wireless adapter or possibly a high-gain antenna. It's not a bad idea, I guess, and it's sometimes quite a useful tool. So had lined up some suggestions for me at the bottom of the page, and I scrolled down to take a look.

Carefully selected for me to choose from, in order of quantity and size, were four boxes of high-absorbency tampons.

Thanks for that, Thanks for that, indeed.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

"Why not blog?" the man asked...

So I thought after all is said and done, I might as well use all this gear for something useful. This isn't it. This is yet another blog about nothing in general and my life in particular, and the fact that it's publically available instead of locked in my nightstand is an accident of history and technology. We have become a nation of Pepys', and now I am one, too.

---- Andrew