Friday, April 30, 2010

Twitter Through a Humorist's Eyes

Twitter Through a Humorist's Eyes

Erik Deckers
Laughing Stalk syndicate
Copyright 2010

Are you on Twitter? Are you a power tweeter, with severe thumb cramps, because you're constantly tweeting to your friends? Or do you think it's the little yellow bird Sylvester the cat kept trying to eat?

I use Twitter every day as part of my day job, and I'm constantly trying to convince people to try it.

"It's so easy," I tell them. "It's like sending a text message, but it's visible to other people."

This doesn't help much, because the most common response is, "why would people care about what I have to say?"

They don't. You're not very interesting, and actually bring down the happiness level in a room whenever you walk in. Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm dresses all in black and listens to The Cure whenever you show up.

Okay, I don't really say that. I don't even think it, especially about you. You're awesome. I'm surprised complete strangers don't just follow you around just in the hopes that you might say something cool.

So let me tell you about Twitter, and you can decide whether you want to be a part of it.

Twitter is a messaging service that lets you send out messages — tweets — with other people — tweeple (no, seriously.) — in your network. These people are called followers, which is a rather unfortunate term on Twitter's part, because it sounds rather stalkerish.

"I'm following you," someone will say, without a hint of creepiness, but with the theme music to "The Omen" playing in the background. "Are you following me?"

"Oh yeah," says the other person, also not creepy. "I've been following you for months."

This is a rather dark, sinister side of Twitter, compared to the happy, optimistic terminology Facebook has chosen, with "friend."

"Aww, you're my friend. She's my friend too. Hey, I want to be friends with that guy!" And everyone comes together for a group hug, and REM's "Shiny Happy People" blasts out of unseen speakers.

But the poor choice of words is Twitter's only potential problem. Otherwise, Twitter is a fun social networking tool.

With Twitter, you answer the question, "What's happening?" in 140 characters, including spaces and punctuation. You fill people in on parts of your life, sharing only what you want to share, and keeping everything else private.

You'd be surprised at what people can squeeze into 140 characters. In fact, every sentence in this column is 140 characters or less.

"But why would people care what I have to say?" many people say, not realizing they asked that in the fourth paragraph. "Why are people interested in the details of my life."

It's not tweeting what you had for lunch, that you're walking the dog, or my favorite (it's not, I hate it), that you went to the bathroom.

(Special note to people who use this as an example as to why they don't use Twitter: it's not profound. It wasn't the first 5,000 times I heard it. And you're not going to put a special twist on it that makes me realize I've been a fool for the last three years. People do not tweet their bathroom habits. We don't talk about it in public, so we certainly don't tweet it.)

Most of the people I talk to about Twitter are from Indiana. We're rather humble people here in the Hoosier state. But we don't make a big deal out of our humbleness, not like those hoity-toity blowhards from Minnesota.

We're the kind of people who worry that saying we're going out for lunch sounds like we're bragging about how much money we make. So Twitter makes us feel uncomfortable, because we don't want to crow about our own accomplishments.

Don't worry, it's not bragging. Twitter is for asking questions, like "I'm thinking about going to a movie. Any recommendations?" You can share an article you've read: "Just finished reading '9 Ways To Tell If You Have Too Many Cats.' You can read it here..." You can even tweet with other people halfway across the country about the game or TV show you're watching.

Twitter is about ideas and conversation. It helps you find new people you may never meet otherwise. I've talked with some great writers, musicians, and artists. I've met people in my industry and community, promoted my writing, and even gotten some business opportunities, all thanks to Twitter.

So don't look down on Twitter as some passing fad or stupid chat program. It's so much more than that. There are some interesting things happening on Twitter that you really don't want to miss.

Besides, everyone has been talking about you behind your back on it.

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Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Did You Know Men Don't Have a Cervix? British National Health Service Didn't

Did You Know Men Don't Have a Cervix? The English National Health Service Didn't

Erik Deckers
Laughing Stalk Syndicate
Copyright 2003

Every Wednesday, when I can remember it, I reprint old Laughing Stalk columns. I've got about 16 years' worth sitting out in the garage, so I might as well get some use out of them. This one is from April 2003, titled "You Want Me to What Your WHAT?!"

There's a great scene in "Monty Python's Life of Brian" where Stan (a man) announces to his fellow members of the People's Front of Judea that he wants to be a woman, ". . . because I want to have babies."

"But you can't have babies," declares Reg, the PFJ's leader.

"Don't you oppress me!" shouts Stan, who also wants to be called Loretta.

"I'm not oppressing you, Stan -- you haven't got a womb. Where's the fetus going to gestate? You going to keep it in a box?"

It's one of the funniest moments in the entire movie, and I laugh every time I think about it. Can you imagine a man who wants to be a woman just so he can have babies? Everyone knows that men don't have the plumbing to become pregnant.

Uhh, everyone DOES know that, right?

You'd think so, but apparently everyone DOESN'T know that.

According to a story in the London Daily Telegraph, this important piece of information has completely escaped an unnamed 34-year-old British man. He asked a doctor for a cervical cancer screening (also known as a "pap smear"), but the doctor refused on the grounds that men don't have a cervix. The patient lodged his complaint two years ago, after the doctor refused to put him on a recall list for cervical screening.

Apparently, the Exeter Primary Care Trust, which is part of England's National Health Service, didn't know men don't have a cervix either.

Once again proving that HMOs are a really bad idea, and that bureaucrats should not make medical decisions, the PCT has summoned the doctor to a formal hearing over his refusal to perform the exam. However, in an attempt to be more patient friendly, the PCT did agree to the patient's request to be re-registered with a female name.

British National Health Service officials will not reveal either of the patient's names, although they categorically deny that it's Michael Jackson.

Regardless of who it is, I'll die a happy man if his new name turns out to be "Loretta."

The PCT also issued a statement saying "Loretta" has asked for a number of "complex issues" to be reviewed concerning his care and treatment by "Doctor Reg."

"In this instance a range of issues are being considered, and the hearing is not solely about the availability of cervical screening."

A spokesman for the PCT also told the Telegraph, "We have received a complaint as you described and as required, under the NHS complaints procedure, we are investigating along with other complaints from the individual."

Other complaints?! You mean "Loretta" had other problems the doctors refused to address? Like what, painful cramping and menopause?

Although "Loretta" has fathered a child, he believes he is a hermaphrodite (people who have both male and female genitalia). However, doctors have examined him and can find no evidence of "spare parts."

"Loretta" has also requested full DNA testing and a blood toxicology screening, although he will not say what, if any, symptoms he has to justify the tests.

One of "Doctor Reg's" colleagues said he was "worried that the PCT is so falling over backwards to be patient friendly, that it has gone too far the other way. Silly things are starting to happen."

According to the BBC's website, "Loretta's" claims will be heard at a closed hearing, and will have an independent chairman who will sit with "lay members" in deciding the doctor's fate. (I'll let you make your own jokes about the committee membership.)

Although no one mentioned what possible decisions the committee will reach, one can only hope they will agree that performing a cervical examination on a man is not only unnecessary, but quite impossible.

The wife of one of the other doctors told The Telegraph that her husband would be "pleased to hear from anyone, medical or otherwise, who could teach him the correct way to carry out a cervical smear on a 34-year-old male.

She also offered a compromise that could put this entire situation behind them. She suggested that "Doctor Reg" perform the requested procedure, assuming a PCT representative could "indicate the necessary part of this gentleman's anatomy, and (is) able to give the learned medics a clue as how they could access it."

I'm no doctor, but I think they could probably access it through the same general area where the PCT keeps their brains.

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Monday, April 26, 2010

Dances with Walruses

I took my family to the Indianapolis Zoo on a rainy Sunday. I've decided I like going on rainy days, because we had the entire place to ourselves.

While we were there, we visited the walrus exhibit, and my wife, Toni, had a great time playing with one of the walruses there. She would run from one end of the tank to the other, and he would follow her. Then she would run back, and he'd go with her. They did that for at least 20 minutes, and he would get cranky when she stopped.

I took a few photos and a couple videos, which you can see here.

One thing I missed, which I wish I would have recorded, was the walrus getting excited or agitated when Toni started to leave. He would bob his head up and down in the water, splashing it, asking her to come back. She had a great time, and I'm sure we'll be back the next time it rains.

Walrus Video #1

Walrus Video #2

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Aussie Restaurant Bars Blind Man and His "Gay Dog"

A restaurant in Australia was ordered by the Equal Opportunity Tribunal to pay a blind man $1,500 AUD ($1,390 USD) because they barred his guide dog from entering the restaurant.

Because they thought the man had a "gay dog."

According to a story in the Adelaide (Australia) Sunday Mail, when Ian Jolly told restaurant staff he wanted to bring a guide dog into the restaurant, they thought he said a gay dog.

Thai Spice owners, Hong Hoa Thi To and Anh Hoang Le, told the EOT that one of their waiters thought that Jolly's girlfriend, Chris Lawrence, said "she wanted to bring a gay dog into the restaurant."

"The staff genuinely believed that Nudge was an ordinary pet dog which had been desexed to become a gay dog," said a statement from the Equal Opportunity Tribunal.

(By the way, that's a photo of my dog, Sophie, not Ian Jolly's dog.)

I know the Australian accent can be a little tricky, especially if the waiter is not a lifelong Aussie, but whoever heard of a gay dog? Gay penguins, yes. Gay dogs, no.

In addition to paying the $1,500 fine, the EOT required the restaurant owners to issue a written apology to Jolly, and to attend an education course that will teach them important issues, like the fact that there are no gay dogs.

Or that if he is gay, it doesn't mean he likes you. You're not his type.

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Sunday, April 25, 2010

Phone It In Sunday: Good Cop, Baby Cop

Another brilliant video from, starring Adam McKay, Will Ferrell, and Will's daughter, Pearl.

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Friday, April 23, 2010

Money Advice for the Easily Tricked

Money Advice for the Easily Tricked

Erik Deckers
Laughing Stalk syndicate
Copyright 2010

Erik is out of the office this week, so we are reprinting a column from 2003.

When we began our new year, I made several resolutions, including becoming a millionaire. I realize it was largely unachievable, but I feel better if I fail at something other than the "eat right, exercise more" resolution everyone else blows.

However, I may finally have a fast path to reaching my goal. I learned an amazing financial secret from a motivational speaker several years ago. I won't name any names, but let's just say this person is the president, owner, and founder of Peter Lowe Seminars.

This person, who we'll call "Pete" to protect his identity, shared an incredible secret to becoming a millionaire. And he spent half of his hour-long presentation telling us about it:

Take one US dollar and — are you ready for this? — double it 20 times!

This wasn't just an interesting bit of trivia he mentioned in his first 30 minutes. It was the entire 30 minutes, and he spent it covering the different ways he could say, "take a dollar and double it, not 10 times, not 15 times, but 20 times, and you'll have a million dollars."

Actually, you'll have $1,048,576, but I won't split hairs.

Maybe the real money is in motivational speaking: take a painfully obvious piece of information, tell a stadium full of people, and charge them $50 each to hear it.

Motivational speaker: You should buy stocks at a low price and sell them at a high price!

He didn't actually tell us how to do it, or he would have charged us more. He just reminded us over and over that if we doubled a dollar 20 times, we would have a million dollars.

But don't think "Pete" spent all his time explaining this amazing process. He also cautioned us about the dangerous pitfalls along the "doubling your money" path.

(Did I mention that if you double a dollar 20 times, you'll have a million dollars?)

"Don't just double your dollar 10 times — reaching $1,024 — and blow it on a refrigerator," he warned us. "Then you'll have to start all over. Just double it 10 more times, and you'll have your million dollars."

Wow, thanks "Pete." You've somehow managed to stretch a simple idea into a 30 minute lecture. What's next, "Beating a dead horse: What to do when your arms get tired?"

Since "Pete" didn't actually tell us how to double our money 20 times, I've devised another method to become wealthy: I'm going to become a financial advisor. After all, financial advisors on TV seem to have all the answers. They must be fabulously wealthy, and only do their job because otherwise they would get bored with living in the same mansions and driving the same luxury automobiles day after day.

My goal is to have people pay me to give them money-saving advice, such as "stop giving money to people who tell you stuff you can find in personal finance books."

Unfortunately, I know absolutely nothing about this field. But that doesn't seem to stop a lot of people, including TV preachers who say that if you send them money, God will make you successful in your personal finances (step one: "stop wasting money on TV preachers").

So what does it take to become a financial advisor on the radio? You have to know all the Wall Street tricks like buying stocks and bonds, insider trading, defrauding investors, and embezzlement. And apparently, you also have to give painfully obvious advice to your radio audience.

Caller: I'm having problems controlling my credit card debt. I've tried using different cards, applying for new cards, and even swiping the cards with my other hand. What should I do?

Financial advisor: Stop buying things with your credit cards. But first, buy my book, "1,001 Ways to Stop Buying Things With Your Credit Cards." It's only $49.95.

But this seems too hard. Maybe I can improve "Pete's" doubling trick instead.

Take one US dollar and TRIPLE it just 13 times. Then you'll have $1.5 million. Forget all this "doubling" business. That's for the timid and weak. The real go-getters triple their money. But don't stop there. If you triple that dollar just 19 times, you'll actually have $1 BILLION! You'd have to double a dollar 30 times to hit that.

Instead of charging you $50 for this bit of information, like most motivational speakers, I'm only charging $10. Now if I can just find 100,000 people to fall for this, I'll have my first million.

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Friday, April 16, 2010

Coaching Youth Soccer is Like Herding Yellow Jackets

Coaching Youth Soccer is Like Herding Yellow Jackets

Erik Deckers
Laughing Stalk syndicate
Copyright 2010

I just made what may be one of my craziest decisions since, well, three days ago when I ordered serrano chil├ęs on a hamburger: I became the coach of my son's soccer team.

My son's kindergarten and first grade soccer team.

It's not that I don't like soccer. I love soccer. I played soccer for years, and still watch it on occasion. And I love my son dearly. I want to introduce him to the sport I loved for years. I just think I'm going to go crazy trying to teach a bunch of 6- and 7-year-olds about a sport you play with your feet, when we live in basketball country.

"No, Jacob, don't dribble with your hands, dribble with your feet."

"Because that's what they call it. Now put the ball down."

"Tyler, the ball is not an egg. Please don't sit on it."

"I'm not worried about the ladybug, Josh. She'll move if we ever make it that far down the field."

I don't know how much of this I'll be able to take.

If you've never watched young children play soccer, try this. Go outside on a warm summer day, and start eating a sucker, until it gets good and sticky. Then, hold the sucker in your hand until a bunch of yellow jackets start swarming around it. Now, run around trying to get the yellow jackets away from you. Tell them to pass the sucker, or at least kick it out of the swarm.

You know in your heart that if you were to sit the yellow jackets down and explain what they needed to do to win the sucker, they would all nod their heads and say they understood. But when you held the sucker up again, they would just all swarm around it, and your cries of "Pass it! Pass it!" would go unheeded, until one of the yellow jackets kicked the sucker, and it hit another yellow jacket in the face, and you had to deal with wailing and sobbing and hoping the yellow jacket's parents understood that getting hit in the face with a sucker is all just part of life.

Such is the life of the youth soccer coach. You try to teach a bunch of young kids about the skills needed in soccer without them kicking each other in the face.

I think the coaches of this age group are better off teaching them how to pass and dribble, and letting the rest of the season just sort of play itself out.

That's been my plan for the past few weeks. Show them the basics, explain how the game is played, and then unleash them on the field to face down another group of boys with exactly the same level of skill, swarming instinct, and face kicking.

I was a decent soccer player when I was younger. I played for nearly 14 years, from elementary school all the way through college and grad school. I understand strategy, I know the drills, and everything I need to do to make these boys a top-notch, tournament grade soccer team, if they were 10 years older.

When I was in college, we played European style soccer, which meant you beat the bejeezus out of the other guy. None of this namby-pamby passing the ball around to stay out of trouble. European-style soccer meant you crushed your enemies, saw them driven before you, and heard the lamentations of the women.

Needless to say, this is NOT how I'm teaching my team to play. They're learning basic skills, like passing and dribbling, because the last thing I need is for some kid to be carried off the field, sobbing, because his coach has delusions of Conan the Barbarian.

At this age, the boys just need to be left alone, to buzz around the field, swarming around the ball like yellow jackets on a sucker. They just want to play and have fun and goof around and not listen to some grownup tell them not to pick a ball up with their hands.

So I'm not going to worry about whether the other team scores a goal. I'm not going to be one of those coaches who screams "Pass it! Pass it!" at the swarming mass of skinny legs and kicking feet. I'm just going to let them buzz around the field for the duration of the game.

And I'll wait until they're in second grade before I teach them the sliding tackle.

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Friday, April 09, 2010

Diary of a Day Off

Diary of a Day Off

Erik Deckers
Laughing Stalk syndicate
Copyright 2010

I took my first vacation in a couple years. I've been working like crazy on my new business, and an 8 hour day feels like a day off. This was one of the first times I wasn't going to work at all, and my wife was determined that I wouldn't do any work. So I decided to keep track of what happened instead.

2:00 am - Just because I'm taking tomorrow off doesn't mean I need to keep working. Time for bed.

7:00 am - Wake up out of habit. Smile because I don't have to get up, roll over and go back to sleep.

7:10 - Can't go back to sleep. Keep thinking about the projects I have to do next week. Keep worrying about details that I should take care of this week. Finally drift off to sleep.

8:30 - Wake up again. Smile again because I've already spent 90 minutes doing nothing. I love having a day off. Try to go back to sleep again.

8:40 - Projects and worries keep poking and prodding my brain. Finally drift off to sleep.

9:15 - Dammit!

9:30 - Finally get out of bed. If I'm going to waste the day away, I'd rather do it in front of the television, so I can take my mind off work.

9:35 - Sit down to a nice, leisurely breakfast. Don't have to rush out the door today, so I can take my time and enjoy it.

9:42 - Finished breakfast quickly, out of habit. I really need to start allowing myself more time in the mornings.

9:55 - It won't hurt to look at my email just a little bit. We're going out of town for the day, so I should just make sure nothing important is sitting in my inbox.

9:56 - My wife told me to stay off the computer. Told her there could be something important that needed my attention. She wasn't buying it. Luckily, I had already seen there was nothing important.

10:00 - The shower was ice cold this morning. That's what I get for being the last out of five people. Maybe getting up earlier isn't so bad.

10:15 - Another quick email check. My friend Dick wants to have lunch next week. Fired back a quick response. That's not work, that's making plans to relax.

10:25 - Prove to my wife that I'm not doing any work. I'm just emailing with Dick.

10:35 - Man, daytime TV sucks.

10:36 - Nothing important in my inbox. What's going on?

10:37 - Quickly switch over to the online comics pages when my wife demands to know why I'm on my computer again. Show her that I'm just saving some trees by reading the funnies online.

10:38 - Try to answer a few emails.

10:39 - Comics page.

10:40 - Try to ans—

10:40:01 - Comics page.

10:45 - Finally give up trying to answer emails, since my wife won't leave my office. She says she's "cleaning," but she's dusted that spot on my desk for five minutes now.

11:00 - Leave for Nashville, Indiana. It's only about an hour away. Good thing I charged my Droid before we left. However I have to drive, so I can't check anything. This inactivity is excruciating.

12:15 pm - Arrive in Nashville, walk around and look at the shops. Try to sneak a look at the Droid, but my youngest daughter keeps telling on me.

12:30 - Stop at the bathroom. Luckily, my Droid gets a signal in there. Nothing but unimportant emails, invitations to seminars, and notes from friends. Either everything is running fine without me, or my family has somehow threatened my clients.

1:30 - My partner calls. I'm about to answer, but the stony glares I get from the rest of the family, plus a few passers-by, stops me. I let it go to voice mail.

2:10 - Hooray, a real email from my partner. Something I can work on, despite my family's protests. This truly is important, I say. It'll only take a couple minutes. I send a couple emails to fix the problem, and I can finally begin to relax.

8:55 - Arrive home. We put the kids to bed, and I tell my wife I have to write my column.

9:15 - Time to start writing. But first to check my emails.

12:30 am - Just because I'm taking tomorrow off doesn't mean I need to keep working. I'd better write my column and go to bed.

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Friday, April 02, 2010

A First Timer's Guide to Star Wars

A First Timer's Guide to Star Wars

Erik Deckers
Laughing Stalk syndicate
Copyright 2010

"Shh, it's starting."

"Star Wars."

"It came out when I was nine years old."

"No, Sweetie, that was 33 years ago."

"Of course, we had movies back then! How else would you be watching it if we didn't have movies back then?"

"Doesn't it look like it's in color, Honey?"

"Jeez, you guys, I wasn't born in a cave. We had TV back then too."

"Well, I'm older than Mommy, so they had those same things when she was a little girl."

"This is episode 4. It's the first one of the series."

"Well, it goes episode 4, 5, and 6, and then 1, 2, and 3."

"I know that's out of order, Buddy."

"Because that's the way they made the movies."

"The first ones were called prequels."

"It's what happens before the main story. Just like a sequel is the second movie, the prequel is — well, it's a second movie, but they show what happened before the first movie."

"Because they didn't make it first. They want everyone to get interested in the main movie, and then they want to see what started it all."

"That's Princess Leia."

"Not Lee-ya, Lay-ya."

"What? I'm not being anal retentive about it. That's how her name is pronounced."

"Actually, no, I never had a crush on her."

"Farrah Fawcett and Kristy McNichol."

"Oh, knock it off. You liked Tom Selleck."

"Yeah, he was kind of hunky."

"No, Honey, I don't actually know what she's a princess of. I don't think they ever said."

"That's Darth Vader. He's the bad guy."

"No, Sweetie, I'm not telling you if he dies."

"Yes, Buddy, I know he's like your Star Wars figure. That's who they made the figure from."

"No seriously, you guys, the movie came out first, so they made the action figures as a way to make the movie more popular. Plus kids buy the action figures, which made George Lucas a kajillon dollars."

"More than I'll ever see."

"Yes, I had some action figures when I was a kid."

"Darth Vader, Luke Skywalker, and R2-D2."

"No, not R2-B2. R2-D2"

"Well, R2 is the type of droid it is. I guess D2 is the model, maybe?"

"Like a car. Like Toyota Corolla or Scion XB or Dodge Neon."

"No, he's not a car."

"Well, there is a little guy sitting inside him, but they do that for the movie, not as a mode of transportation."

"Because you couldn't see. There's no window."

"No. They don't even sell R2-D2 cars."

"Can you guys just watch the movie? Save the questions for when Mommy's watching her favorite show."

"Yes, Buddy, they shut the garbage chute off in time."

"No, they're not dying."

"Okay, watch, this scene coming up was really creepy once you realized how they're related. They're — never mind, we'll find out in the third movie."

"Episode 6."

"I know, just don't worry about it. You'll understand it when you've seen them all."

"Woah, they changed it. They must have edited it for the new version."

"In the original version, she planted a big wet one on him before they swung to the other side of that chasm. Yeah, everyone freaked when we found out she was his — no, I can't say. I want the kids to watch it and figure out what's going on."

"I don't know what a womprat is, Honey. It's something two meters long that space punks shoot with blasters in their little space ships."

"Six feet."

"No, he doesn't really take his reward and leave. Look, I'm not telling you what happens. Just watch it, and you'll see."

"Wasn't that great? Awesomest movie ever. At least until the next one."

"No, it's bed time. We'll watch it tomorrow."

"Good night. May the Farts be with you too, Buddy.

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