Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Kickboxing Lawyers Will Gladly Kick Your Ass, and Bill You For It


My friend Alice recently took up kickboxing, and decided this was a good time to tell people she hates lawyer jokes.

So, I told her about a
Goldilocks and the Three Bears column I wrote a few years ago, and reprinted in March. I did it partly because I like to hassle her, but mostly because I know I can outrun her.

Hope your day goes better, Alice.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Blame it on the Rain

Blame it on the Rain
Erik Deckers
Laughing Stalk Syndicate
Copyright 2008

It's been a hard day, I said to my friend and curmudgeon-for-hire, Karl. It's Monday. I hate Mondays.

"Don't do that," Karl said.

Do what?

"Blame Monday for your woes. It's not Monday's fault you're having a bad day. It's yours." Karl plunked his beer on the bar. We were sitting in our favorite Scottish pub, holding forth with our thoughts on literature, current events, and whose turn it was to buy the next round.

Karl, what are you talking about? It's just an expression.

"Kid," -- I'm 40 years old, and he calls me Kid. I love this guy -- "Kid, it's a lazy way of blaming time for our woes. Things don't go well for us, we blame the day of the week. Make a small mental mistake, we blame it on the time of day."

Karl, I've heard you come up with some pretty weird ideas, but this is right up there with training monkeys to disarm bombs.

"Think about it, Kid, It's a new week, and your barista gives you the wrong change. What does she say? 'Oops, it's Monday,' as if her brain is only in second gear because she shut down over the weekend. Or a co-worker makes 10 photocopies of a blank piece of paper so she has some typing paper, but blames it on Friday, because her brain is overheating and in danger of seizing up." He re-plunked his beer.

We all make silly little mistakes. This is a way to laugh at ourselves.

"But why do we have to blame it on something outside our control? It's like Arthur Dent from 'The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy.' When the Earth has been blown up, he says 'It must be Thursday. I never could get the hang of Thursdays.'"

So?

"So how do you blame a day of the week for an entire planet being blown up? It's not like this is something that happens to lots of people every Thursday."

I think that was the point of the joke. That something so mundane would explain something so. . . well, earth-shattering.

"Nice one, Kid. I'm glad one of us said it," Karl took another swig from his bottle, but it was empty. "And it goes to my point. How arrogant are we to believe even the most minor details of our lives are controlled by the passage of time? That the same force that shapes mountains and topples empires controls whether we can't make change for a buck?"

So? People do it all the time.

"That doesn't make it right," said Karl. "Monday doesn't care one whit whether they ran out of Funyuns in the vending machine. The calendar doesn't care if we don't think to get blank paper out of the paper tray."

But it gives people a way to laugh at their own goofs without saying, 'I'm a complete moron.' It's a way to acknowledge they did something dumb, but they don't have to feel dumb about it.

"So why can't they just acknowledge it some other way? Like saying 'oops,' or 'that was stupid.' Or my personal favorite, 'duh.'"

Because it still makes them feel dumb.

"And making 10 copies of blank paper doesn't?"

Well--

"You have to wonder what people did before we even had calendars? What did they say? 'I meant to give you four beaver pelts, not three. Sorry, it's a waning gibbous?'"

I think you're getting--

"'I just can't my mind on track during the new moon?'"

Karl, I think you're being a little cynical.

"Cynical? Just last week, I had some young lady say to me 'It's been one of those days. It's always one of those days.' And her tone when she said 'those days,' like it's the chronological equivalent of stepping in a dog turd. She couldn't have been more than 23, but she's already old enough to have 'those days' on a regular basis. She's the cynical one."

So you're saying every day is just a bed of roses in Karl's world?

"No, I'm not saying that at all."

Then what are you saying? That the blame should rest on Fate instead?

"No, I place the blame where it should be: completely on me. If I make a bonheaded decision, I put it down to my own boneheadedness. I don't try to pass it off on an unlucky day or that it's still early."

So you don't believe in luck?

"No, we make our own luck. Speaking of which, it's your luck to buy the next round."

No, I bought the last round. It's your turn.

"Oops, you're right. I must be getting forgetful in my old age."


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Thursday, April 17, 2008

There Should Be a Cowbell Hero

There Should Be a Cowbell Hero
Erik Deckers
Laughing Stalk Syndicate
Copyright 2008

I'm becoming a guitar hero. A veritable rock god. With only three fingers.

Thanks to a recent purchase for our Nintendo Wii, my wife and I have been enjoying the game Guitar Hero III with an enthusiasm usually seen when our kids get a new toy, or when I find a forgotten beer in the back of the fridge.

Admittedly, I'm on the easy level, where I only need to use three fingers -- the same level that my 11-year-old daughter is quickly mastering. But as my abilities improve, I can move up to the four and five finger levels of medium and hard difficulty. Plus I can ground her from the game when she gets too good.

But while she's still learning the opening song, Slow Ride, by Foghat, I have already mastered 38 of the 42 songs with three-fingered ease. I have beaten Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine and Slash of Guns N' Roses in guitar showdowns, and sent both of them crying off the stage like wimpy bass players.

(Thankfully, there is no Bass Hero, but if they ever came out with French Horn Hero, I could relive my high school band glory days.)

Although I haven't played a real guitar since I was 12, I now have a small understanding of what real guitarists go through as they pick and pluck their way to the top. As a soon-to-be three-fingered guitar hero, I have some advice for all you would-be rockers, based on my own meteoric rise to success.

Rule #1 – Watch out for screaming groupies who storm the stage. Having three little kids scramble around my feet like hyperactive cats, doing handstands in front of the TV, or singing along with the music can be almost as distracting as screaming women who grab you around the neck for a kiss. Or so I'm led to believe. You have to concentrate and play through the distractions, although hearing your five-year-old sing "swo wide, take it easy" is pretty cool.

One difference is that groupies who storm the stage are carted off by roadies and event security, while my groupies only stop when it's bedtime. Also, real groupies don't ask over and over if they can have a turn and then pout when you say they're not old enough.

Rule #2 – Make time for wives and/or girlfriends. You're probably getting into music for the women. Of course, I met my wife well before I became a three-fingered guitar god, so I don't have any experience there. (Although my checkered past as a French Horn-playing bad boy did pique her interest when we first met.)

If you haven't seen your wife or girlfriend all day, don't spend your free time playing your guitar. Spend time with her. Every good relationship needs communication and attention. After all, it's the dream of every male rock-and-roller to find that one special woman to spend the rest of their life with. Isn't it?

Addendum to Rule #2: "Spending time with someone" does not mean they get to watch you play for three hours while you tell them not to talk because it ruins your concentration.

When you do find your soulmate, make sure she's not a rocker, or she'll expect you to follow. . .

Rule #3 – Share the stage. There are other members of the band: a drummer, a singer, and a guy who holds a bass guitar. (Why can't bass players use a door correctly? They don't know when to come in.) You need to work as a team, and share the spotlight.

In my case, I also have to share the instrument. Both my wife and my daughter are budding Guitar Heroes , and we only have the one guitar. I feel like the football team from The Waterboy, which had to share football helmets and protective cups.

Rule #4 – Don't trash talk your bandmates. Sure there are lots of great bass player jokes (What do you call someone who hangs out with musicians? A bass player), but don't joke about their playing, or you'll sleep on the couch. At least you will if said bandmate is your wife or girlfriend. Giving advice, pointing out problems, or offering to beat Tom Morello in a guitar duel for them will not make them happy either.

Guitar Hero has created a wide-open market for other musical games, and I plan on diving in with both feet. In fact, I've got an idea for my own music video game called "Cowbell Hero: I've Got a Fever."

I'll be a cowbell god.

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Monday, April 14, 2008

BlogMOB on Indianapolis' Monument Circle

For those of you who don't live in Indiana, my apologies for such an Indiana-centric post this afternoon. But here's what went down at today's BlogMOB, the publicity event for BlogIN 2008, the Indiana Blogger's event being held on Saturday, April 26, 2008. Find out more here.


12:00 p.m.

I’m sitting here on IndianapolisMonument Circle, facing south down Meridian Street, looking at my old employer. I’m sitting between Erin Monahan and Dave Stauffer, a husband and wife team from Carmel. Dave is a transportation safety inspector, and is learning how to blog so he can promote his new business. Erin is a budding freelance writer, and fellow chocolate lover. (That's Dave on my right, Erin on my left. Photo by Paul D'Andrea.) I'm sitting here with 29 other blog writers and enthusiasts because we believe in the power of the blog, the power of the individual collective, and the power of people who love our state.

"Blogging is a great way to set yourself up and establish your credibility in an industry," I tell Dave. "If you write about issues in your industry, you're seen as someone who knows what you're talking about. People will read your blog and assume, 'hey, if this guy is smart enough to write about these issues week after week, he's smart enough to do our consulting.'"

Erin asked what do you say to businesspeople who don't believe blogging is a viable method of communication. There are millions and millions of bloggers who would disagree with those people. Blogging today is what the Interweb was 10 - 12 years ago -- mostly vanity sites with a few companies who embraced the Web in its infancy (I was happy to be one of those people.) Nowadays, you can't have a company without a website. I think blogging is going to mean the same thing to business in a few more years.

12:20 p.m.

It's a Smaller Indiana reunion here today (at least as much of reunion as a 4-month-old organization can have).

Doug Karr just walked up and is talking with Joe Dager, who drove here all the way from Fort Wayne just to come to this. Matthew Flett -- Fletty, as I call him (he's British, and he loves his nicknames) -- is here, as is Scott Abel, Lorraine Ball, and Bob Hettel.

Stephen James and I are talking about this very entry, these very words that I'm typing right now -- sort of a weird, Jack Kerouac/Hunter S. Thompson article about a conversation about an article. All we need is a yellow submarine and we're a Beatles movie.

Stephen just pointed out that 30 writers, despite the fact that writing is such a solitary activity, have all gathered together in a public place to do it.

12:30 p.m.

Lorraine Ball and her daughter Michele are here. I stop Michele to chat with her for a few minutes, and the subject has turned to the South Bend Chocolate Company, which is about 100 feet from us. She has just admitted to going to Starbucks occasionally, although very rarely. (She doesn't drink enough coffee to have a favorite place though. We'll work on finding her one.)

12:45 p.m.

Nicki Laycoax is sitting on my right -- Dave and Erin have left for lunch -- and things are winding down. She and John Uhri are talking about Twitter and how to use it. I'm on it, and I use it occasionally, but I don't pay a lot of attention to it. I've tried to listen to their conversation -- hearing terms like Twit, Tweet, Tweetup, etc. It sounds like they're talking about the little yellow bird on Looney Tunes -- but I still don't have any clue how to use Twitter effectively, other than to tell people I've posted a new column. And even then, I'm not that consistent.

12:55

A friend from old work just walked by and we chatted a bit. The nice thing about being downtown is I'm seeing a lot of people I have known from a previous life. Lorraine is also telling Nicki and me about her new hip. She doesn't know what company its from, but chances are it's an Indiana hip, built and polished by one of the big four.

1:00

We're out. We had 30 people, Lorraine mugged at least 50 passers-by to hand out BlogIN 2008 cards, and we had at least 3 different photographers and 4 videographers. I was even interviewed by the legend himself, Zack Legend. (I don't think that's his real name though. Zack? I mean, come on! Who's named "Zack" anymore? The Legend thing I'm totally buying though.)

If you're interested in learning more about Smaller Indiana or the BlogIN 2008 conference, click one of the links in this sentence.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

I Still Don't Have a Topic

I Still Don't Have a Topic
Erik Deckers
Laughing Stalk Syndicate
Copyright 2008

"Hi Buddy, what do you want?"

"I can't play right now, I'm kind of busy."

"Writing my column."

"My humor column."

"The same thing I've done every Thursday for the last 14 years."

"Thursday. It's the 5th day of the week."

"Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday."

"No, not Fries Day. Friday."

"Yeah, I wish every day was Fries Day too. But we can't eat them all the time"

"Because French fries are a treat, not an everyday food."

"I know that's what Mommy says. Where do you think I learned it?"

"I know they're not good for my cholesterol. Mommy says that too."

"No, I don't know what I'm going to write about. I don't have a topic yet."

"A topic is like an idea."

"I don't have an idea yet either."

"No, I'm not going to write about Mommy and cholesterol."

"Because I want to sleep in my own bed tonight."

"Never mind. Wait, why don't you stand over there and do something funny?"

"So I can write about it."

"I don't know what you should do. If I knew that, I'd have my topic."

"Now is not the time to get shy on me, dude."

"Fine, go find your big sister."

"Don't shout for her. I could have shouted. Go up and get her."

"Hi, Sweetie. I need a topic for my column. Do you have any ideas?"

"No, I don't know what Zack and Cody did on Suite Life of Zack and Cody."

"I don't think my readers care about what Zack and Cody did."

"The people who read my column."

"Lots of people."

"I don't know their names. There are just lots of people."

"Sweetie, I just need an idea for my column. Can you help me?"

"Besides Zack and Cody."

"No, not SpongeBob Squarepants."

"Not your stuffed gorilla either."

"No, I don't know what Raven did on That's So Raven."

"Do you have any other ideas besides what's on TV?"

"Can you just stand over there and do something funny?"

"Funnier than that."

"How about -- eww, don't stick your finger in your nose!"

"Because that's disgusting."

"No, I will not write about boogers."

"Because they're disgusting and gross. Besides, I wrote about boogers when I first started, and people accused me of copying Dave Barry."

"He's an old humor columnist."

"Yes, he's still alive."

"Yes, he's funnier than me."

"Thanks, you got any more little ego boosters for me? In case you're wondering, he has more hair than me."

"Yes, and more money too."

"Isn't it bedtime yet?"

"Then why don't you go find your big sister?"

"Hi, Honey. I need an topic for my column. Do you have any ideas?"

"Okay, what did Tori tell you?"

"Uh-huh, and then what happened?"

"Sorry, that doesn't help me a bit."

"Because people don't want to read about what a couple of 11-year-olds talk about."

"No, I don't have any 11-year-old readers. Any other ideas?

"No, not Hannah Montana."

"Yes, I know you think she's cool."

"Actually no, I'm not a fan."

"I am not an old fuddy-duddy!"

"Because the music in my day was cool, that's why. The musicians were cutting edge and daring and they spoke to the emotions of my generation. They rebeled against authority and created their own standards."

"For one thing, they put safety pins in their cheeks. I'll bet Hannah Montana doesn't do that."

"Well, no, I didn't do it either."

"My mom wouldn't let me. But I rebeled mentally.

"No, you're not allowed to rebel."

"When you graduate from college. Then you can rebel all you want."

"Look could you just stand over there and do something funny?"

"What do you mean, you're not my humor monkey?"

"I am not part of the bourgeoisie, I'm your freakin' father!"

"No, you may not rise up against the establishment. Where did you hear that crap?"

"Well, I'll be sure to have a talk with Uncle Andrew then."

"Fine, go ask Mommy to come downstairs."

"What do you mean, she said she's not my humor monkey either?"

"Go up and tell her that if she doesn't help me, I'm going to write about her edict against French fries and cholesterol."

"Oh, hi. Did I say edict? I meant deep concern."

"No, I don't want to sleep on the couch."

"Fine, I won't write about that."

"But I still don't have a topic."


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Wednesday, April 09, 2008

I SAID, 'KEEP YOUR @#%! VOICE DOWN!!!'

From the Do as I Say, Not as I Do files:

Retired police sergeant-turned-attorney John Clifford was acquitted of misdemeanor charges of attempted assault, disorderly conduct, harassment, and attempted petit larceny. That's because he yelled and cursed at Nicholas Bender, a 19-year-old kid, for talking on his cell phone, and for slapping the hand of another woman, Lydia Klein, after she slapped his (Clifford's) hand when he tried to take a business card she was handing Nicholas (that's the petit larceny charge.)

According to an Associated Press story, Clifford acknowledged "
that he was aggressive and overbearing when he approached Long Island Rail Road commuters he considered rude for talking too loudly on cell phones and for other behavior."

Also, Clifford told the AP he had ". . . been arrested eight times after being accused of throwing coffee, spewing expletives and getting in the faces of people whom he considered loud and rude on the commuter line."

While I hate loud cell phone talkers, how is throwing coffee, cursing and yelling, or getting in someone's face not rude? Who gets to slap this bozo around and throw hot coffee on him?

My favorite quote from the AP story:

"It took a lawyer and an old ex-police sergeant to stand up to it (public rudeness)," Clifford, of Long Beach, said as he left court. He said that unless lawmakers and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority do something, the lack of public civility will persist.

Lawmakers and the MTA can start by buying Clifford a car.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Indianapolis Blogging Conference - BlogMOB and BlogIN 2008

Attention all Indianapolis bloggers (or Indiana bloggers who happen to be in town):

Smaller Indiana is sponsoring two blog-related events in April for anyone who writes a blog, wants to write a blog, or just wants to meet people who write blogs.

BlogMOB F2F – Monday, April 14, Noon to 1 pm on IndianapolisMonument Circle. Smaller Indiana bloggers will write about the BlogIN conference (it’s actually an unConference – see below).

As fellow Indy blogger Bruce Allen put it, we want to create a “visual happening, to demonstrate the power of the Internet to put feet on the ground.”

The Circle has free WiFi, so if you want to blog in real time, you can. If you want to email friends, surf the web, or read other blogs of note, you can. If you just want to add to the general atmosphere and satisfy your inner geek, you can. We just want warm bodies in blue or yellow shirts. If we get enough people, we might even make the evening news.

So, if you live and/or work in Indianapolis and you write a blog or want to learn how, show up in a yellow or blue shirt, and bring a laptop and umbrella (‘cause we’re doing this rain or shine!). I’m especially interested in seeing my friends who work within spitting distance of the Circle. You know who you are.

BlogIN 2008 – Saturday, April 26, 1:00 pm – 5:00 pm at IUPUI’s School of Informatics.

Indiana bloggers will share best practices, tips, tools, case studies, and strategies for successful blogging. Whether you are an experienced blogger or a newbie, join us for the conference as we explore blogging as a tool to build community, culture and commerce in Indiana. It’s like a ’60 style be-in, but without all the mass arrests and riot police.

We will have streaming video and multiple blog posts throughout the day.

BlogIN is an unConference, which means we don’t have a set agenda. Attendees will suggest topics and lead discussions. And if enough people ask for it, I will be doing a presentation on how to write for blogs. (It’s like writing for newspapers, but with a few twists.)

Hopefully my Smoosier friends (a Smoosier is a Hoosier on Smaller Indiana) in Bloomington, West Lafayette, Ft. Wayne, South Bend and other parts can arrange local BlogINs in their communities, or even make the trip to downtown Indianapolis for either of these events.

Register for BlogIN 2008 here.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

I'll Take Fries With That

I'll Take Fries With That
Erik Deckers
Laughing Stalk Syndicate
Copyright 2008

We are food obsessed in this country. How it's made, where it comes from, whether it's organic, and how much we eat. Or more importantly, what we don't eat.

Barry Glassner, author of the book "The Gospel of Food," says that we Americans have got it plain wrong when it comes to our food.

Glassner says we think food is good or evil, saintly or demonic. We even describe it in religious terms. Vegetables are "good" for you, while triple chocolate cake is "sinful," especially "devil's food" But there are so many new fad diets, we jump from cult to cult as each new season brings a new food finding, each of them weirder and more far out than the last. It's like the Kabbalah of food.

As a result, we fear our food. We fear fat, salt, sugar, preservatives, red meat, and genetically modified broccoli. We pride ourselves on what we eat and don't eat. We define our meals, and ultimately ourselves, not by what we have in them, but what we leave out. And we brag about it.

"I'm on the Atkins diet. No carbs for me!" we tell our friends.

"Oh yeah? I've been doing Dean Ornish's no-fat diet for three years," they tell us. "I won't even look at a pat of butter." They grimace and spit emphatically to show how much they hate fat. Unfortunately, the sudden facial movements make their hair fall out and the skin flake off their gaunt, bony cheeks, because we need some fat in our diets just to survive.

(For the record, several years ago, I did the Atkins diet for about 15 months, and lost 45 pounds. I gained 25 of it back when I quit. I also tried the Ornish diet for a week, and gained five. In retrospect, eating an entire box of diet cookies every day probably didn't help.)

Eating should be a source of joy. In only four countries around the world -- Australia, Britain, South Korea, and Thailand -- does the word "enjoy" appear in the government's dietary guidelines, but not us. Norway actually says it outright: "food and joy = health." But we Americans have no joy in our food, unless it's the joy of denial.

There are people who take great pride in what they deny themselves, what Glassner calls the "gospel of naught." They figure if they deny themselves food that tastes good, they're being healthier. And by being healthier, they're better than those of us who choose steak over half a skinless chicken breast -- because dark meat is too delicious -- lovingly sprinkled with organic lemon grass. They have a Puritan approach to their food.

If we deny ourselves pleasure, they think, we are holy. Or at least holier than those fat slobs munching on a Big Mac in the car next to us. Those people don't know the joys of rice cakes and bottled water, sniff the Puritans. They'll never experience the joys of baked soy bean snacks and skim milk. They'll never enjoy or the internal screams of anguish and despair we get from watching someone else eat a piece of chocolate cake.

I'd rather be wrong. I've resigned myself to eating that cake with a glass of 2% milk, and never feel the same joy of food Puritans feel. And by joy, I mean doubling over from hunger pangs.

Part of the problem is we get all sorts of information about what is good for us and bad for us, but no one can agree.

The Atkins Diet people think we should avoid carbs, and eat more protein. The Ornish Diet people gnash their teeth and shriek that the Atkins people should be imprisoned.

Chinese food is bad for us. Movie popcorn is bad for us. Even eggs were supposed to be bad for us. However, this myth was debunked harder than the clumsy kid falling out of bed at summer camp.

It turns out the Framingham heart study -- the one that nearly put American egg farmers out of business -- never actually found a connection between eating eggs and heart health. In fact, a study in the March 2005 issue of the International Journal of Cardiology found that eating two eggs a day for six weeks had no effect on total cholesterol or low density (bad) cholesterol. Which means the egg nay-sayers can just, well, go suck eggs. They're good for you again!

So, eat all the tofu and whey you want. Chow down on your kohlrabi and cabbage. Gorge yourself on legumes and lentils. You're welcome to them.

But as for me and my house, we will eat steak. Unless my wife says we're having fish.


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Tuesday, April 01, 2008

I've trademarked "the"

Apparently you can trademark a color. Who knew?

According to a blog post at The Consumerist, Telecom giant T-mobile (no link love for you! Come back one year!) is demanding that technology blog Engadget stop using the color magenta in its logo.

Never mind that magenta is one of the four color building blocks of the print industry -- cyan, magenta, yellow, and black. Never mind that this is about as stupid as McDonald's trying to trademark the "Mc." You can't just go trademarking things that are more or less in the public domain, can you?

But then I began to think about how smart this is. Apparently T-Mobile thinks they have a leg to stand on. And in true entrepreneurial spirit, I wondered if I could use this little loophole to my advantage So I went online to the U.S. Patents and Trademark Office and was able to trademark the word "the" for just $499 using my credit card.

This means I can now receive payment from any and all publications that use my new word. Since this may be a somewhat popular word, my rates are as follows:
  • For publications and websites with daily circulation/visits over 100,000: $1 for every hundred uses, or $.01 per usage.
  • For publications and websites with daily circulation/visits under 100,000: $.50 for every hundred uses, or $.005 per usage.
  • Nonprofits, small businesses (employees fewer than 50), and personal usage are free.
Since the paperwork will take some time to process, these rates will not go into effect until June 1 of this year.

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