Category Archives: Social comment

The Social Grenadier’s Helpful Keyboard-Launched Grenade Assembly Guide

The descent of Facebook into its natural level–a place where no one can get the living snot whaled out of him or her for being just plain rude, thus people say things they would not say in person and expect no backlash–has led us to a new means of lowering the dialogue level. I call it the Social Grenade.

A social grenade is a statement that follows fairly close to the model: “If you disagree, you have no value.” I call it a social grenade because it catches everyone who sees it in the blast radius, sparing only those it imagines that it exempts. I thought of calling it the social mortar round, but a mortar (an indirect fire weapon) lacks the personal connotation of a hand-thrown or launcher-fired fragmentation grenade. A modern trip through Facebook feels like a trip through no-man’s-land in which both sides pitch periodic grenades and rarely look to see where they fell.

I suspect it is exhausting. People may be having difficult times coming up with suitably alienating and relationship-impairing social grenades. My initial reaction was to compose a post like “If you throw social grenades, please tie a garbage bag tightly over your head.” I am normally a believer in fighting fire with napalm fire, revenge doubling the wrong done, letting people see how it feels, making sure the lesson takes; however, blind adherence to past practice leads to dumb present practice. The brain is not obsolete, even if it may happen to be in disfavor. Don’t always go with your gut, for it is sometimes queasy.

After giving it about two seconds of thought,  I thought I would light a candle rather than curse the darkness. I would offer something proactive and helpful: a handy social grenade assembly guide to smooth and assist in the complete deterioration of all worthwhile dialogue. If the goal is to wreck the maximum number of relationships, let’s streamline the process. Why make alienation harder than it needs to be?

To use this quick-assembly tool, when you come to bracketed items, choose the option that best fits. Please remember that these are only suggestions; if none of the given choices are sufficiently fanatical, invent and insert your own. (If they are all too fanatical for you, you are not the type to throw social grenades, so this is unhelpful for you. When all the social grenadiers have blown up all their relationships, look around you: the survivors will be those who did not participate. They may be very fun people.)

The social grenade begins with your statement of opinion (or absolute truth, if your view does not allow for any remote possibility of differing views qualifying as opinions). So:


  • [opinion]
  • [belief]
  • [thesis]
  • [truth]
  • [personal hobbyhorse]
  • [monomania]
  • [objective reality]
  • [divine revelation]
  • [horoscope]
  • [meme]
  • [{other} ________]

is that [{expound your viewpoint here}______________________] and that this view is

  • [divinely revealed, that’s why I called it a damn divine revelation]
  • [fundamentally perfect]
  • [way cool]
  • [duh, winning]
  • [too obvious to explain to idiots]
  • [Zen master wisdom]
  • [the best ever]
  • [eternal truth]
  • [bae]
  • [the only valid perspective]
  • [woke with a mighty waking]
  • [obvious to anyone who was not randomly trepanned in infancy]
  • [directly from the {Bible/Qur’an/Talmud/sports section/bathroom graffiti/________}]
  • [{morally/intellectually/genetically/_____ly} superior]


If you disagree, your

  • [perspective]
  • [delusion]
  • [Cthulhu worship]
  • [baffling lapse in reason]
  • [opinion]
  • [conclusion]
  • [tragic mental deficiency]
  • [raving]
  • [idiocy]
  • [psychological incontinence]
  • [cretinism]
  • [ideological perv]
  • [demonic evil]
  • [drug-induced foolishness]
  • [laughable standpoint]
  • [dipshittery]
  • [warped reality]

  • [is wrong]
  • [sucks real hard]
  • [would embarrass a lobotomized tree sloth]
  • [is actively leading us to degeneracy]
  • [makes me puke]
  • [makes me prolapse my stomach, I took selfies as proof]
  • [is cray cray]
  • [makes a strong case for whacking one’s head against a bridge abutment]
  • [admits liking Justin Bieber]
  • [wrote in Kim Jong-Un during the last election for all the offices]
  • [saddens me for humanity]
  • [poaches baby elephants]
  • [would drive a living saint to opium addiction]
  • [is worse than Hitler]
  • [is worse than Hitler and Himmler combined]

Therefore, if you feel this way,

  • [hang yourself]
  • [unfriend me now]
  • [unfriend and block me now]
  • [unfriend, block, and sue me now]
  • [unfriend, block, and ambush me now]
  • [consume a sack of penises]
  • [I will burn your name over a purple flame mounted in a virgin’s skull at midnight]
  • [auto-euthanasia is worth exploring]
  • [you suck]
  • [add some tinfoil to your next pizza]
  • [add some drano to your next pizza]
  • [please get cancer]
  • [I hate you]
  • [your feelings are invalid]
  • [in the garage is a running engine with your name on it]
  • [never speak to me again]
  • [you are such a fuckhead]
  • [you deserve a fatal yeast infection]
  • [I will hunt you down with a nailgun and a bad attitude]
  • [you need mental help]
  • [you need mental health institutionalization]


There. Hope that makes it easier!


My current Firefox no-saying suite

One of my theories about humanity is that, in many areas, people divide into two natural or conditioned inclinations. One of the simplest is the question: what’s your default answer? Do you fundamentally prefer to say “yes” or “no”?

I believe that most people prefer to say “yes.” I believe that more people find it harder to say “no” and easier to say “yes.” People, companies, police, etc. take advantage of this to bully information out of the average person.

As a solid “no,” this does not mean that I cannot cooperate, that I cannot assent, that I cannot sometimes just go along. It means that, without a reason, the answer is a default “no.” For example, nearly anything my wife asks of me is perfectly reasonable. She’s my wife and it’s my job to help her in every way. Thus, her answer is nearly always “yes.” The post office, Amazon, my grocery store, telemarketers, and so forth do not enjoy her privileges. I don’t want to help or cooperate with them unless I have a good reason, such as “I would like my mail delivered correctly,” or “Amazon needs to know this information in order to ship me these cans of duster.” Will I put my grocery cart back in the collection space? Sure, because I think it’s a positive contribution. Can they compile a dossier on everything I eat and drink? Not with any help from me.

What seems automatic decisionmaking for most people is not automatic in my world, but it still produces a lot of “yes.” If I don’t make sure my recycling is clean, it’ll cause problems for something worthwhile, so it gets rinsed out. “Yes.” If my trash cans are not in a feasible spot, the trucks will not be able to get to them; “yes.” Lots of life circumstances come with good reasons. The bank wants to see my ID to let me into my account? “Yes.” I should hope they always do. However, the grocery store wants me to create a record of my purchases with a ‘loyalty card’? “No.” But we’ll give you a discount! No. I choose to view it that you impose a surcharge in order not to have this dossier created. I will mostly choose to shop someplace else. Thus, “no.” Every supposed discount can also be viewed as a surcharge for those not qualifying for that discount, which is not how our precious corporations hope you will think.

Because the default answer is no–let’s call me a no-sayer–I do not make it easy for random organizations to get information about me. Why do I care? They aren’t entitled to know why I care, either. That’s how the no-sayer thinks. If I were suddenly exposed to media attention, I would first ask myself whether I were in a position to manipulate them for my benefit. After all, they seek access for their own benefit. If I were in such a position–if I had a reason–I’d consider it. If not, “no.” Why not? No answer. Don’t you want to tell your side of the story? No answer. Do you have cut vocal cords? No answer. Even a negative answer beyond “no” would provide information, crack the door open. Only “no” followed by silence is a complete zero for them. They are not entitled to an answer, nor are they entitled to know why they are not entitled to one and will not receive it. Nothing.

“What do you have to hide?” “None of your business.” “Why?” “Also none of your damn business.”

Car dealers hate no-sayers. The sales rep starts asking questions, and gets very annoyed if one won’t answer them. Most of the people who have no right to information will eventually obtain it because yes-sayers are afraid to be thought rude or uncooperative. I saw it all the time with collection agencies, as I inherited a Boise deadbeat’s phone number (and a lot of people in Boise end up broke, so that probably isn’t rare). A couple of these calls came in per week. The collection agents all felt entitled to answers to their questions about this indebted person. They did not enjoy being told that they weren’t entitled even to ask questions until they answered all of mine. They persisted in trying to ask the questions and acted as though I were very mean by insisting on my basic right. They were used to hammering down resistance through repetition, which suggests that it works. Far as I was concerned, they’d initiated the call; they could either answer me to my satisfaction, or get nothing. And since I had no reason to help them, my questions would never end; they would never get anything. Collection agencies provide a perfect example of where the no-sayer produces an unwanted consequence.

This brings us to the Internet, a place where it seems someone is always asking for our private information–and mining it without telling us. What other websites have you visited today, hmm? Fascinating! Browsing the Web involves expecting salvo after salvo of information requests, many of which one’s browser will answer accurately by default. This, of course, is inimical to the no-sayer. The firm no-sayer will tend, to the limits of his or her free time and technical aptitude, to seek out new ways to say “no.”

NO TREK. No: the final response. These are the voyages of the starship Neverprise. Its continuing mission: to refuse companies permission to explore my data; to seek out new ways to say and enforce “no”; to boldly “no” where no one has said “no” before…

Some of my readers may be interested in better no-saying for fun and privacy. I use a crapload (ten of which compose a crapton) of Firefox add-ins, most intended to assert my right to control the answer and direct it toward “no.” If I’m going to say “yes”, I’ll be needing a good reason. And if the add-on can allow me to give false information, when true information is not my obligation, that’s even better. I consider myself within my moral right to lie at will to any question I consider inappropriate (or where lying is dangerous). My car insurance company is owed an answer about what car I drive, where I park it, etc. Some random agency is not entitled to know that. I’m entitled to tell them I drive a circa 1910s Stanley Steamer that runs on virgin macadamia oil.

If you would like to say a whole lot of “no” to nosey websites, I’m here to help you. Here’s the current “no” lineup, a work in progress:

Adblock Plus, and Adblock Plus Pop-Up Add-On: one of the most basic ways to avoid seeing advertising. I will disable it on certain pages if I feel that is deserved.

Cookie Monster: this enables me to accept or reject a site’s cookies. There are limits to how well this can work, because most sites that require a login will require cookies. Nearly every other site includes a bullshit statement that “by using this site you agree to use of cookies.” I block the cookies anyway. Since they can’t enforce that, it means nothing; I don’t morally recognize any supposed agreement or contract with a stupid basis, such as ‘reading this means you agree.’ If the site won’t work without them, I decide how much I care about it. If I care a lot, I either accept the cookies for session only, or just do it from a browser that has no add-ons installed. That way, at least their cookies are in a jar that gives limited information. If a no-sayer cannot simply say “no,” the next best answer is this electronic noncommittal grunt. Call it numph-saying.

Disconnect: blocks most third-party tracking. No single add-on can be trust to block everything one dislikes, so it’s okay to double up if you don’t mind the performance impact. For me, it’s worth it to say “no.” The no-sayer’s obvious default answer to all tracking is “oh hell no.” One has to enable Disconnect’s content blocking on a site-by-site basis. So far I have not run into a site where blocking the tracking content impaired the site for me.

DuckDuckGo Plus: at this point, I am not sure I need this. DuckDuckGo itself, as a search engine, doesn’t track me. (For this reason, I turn off my ad blocker while using it. They asked politely, so I didn’t mind saying “yes.” It’s amazing how nice and cooperative I get when asked politely with a good reason.) The add-on claims to do a lot of privacy-related stuff. Maybe it does. If so, great. If not, it doesn’t cost me much performance (if any).

FB Purity: rearranges Facebook to one’s liking, enabling various garbage to be blocked and other aspects of it less odious. There is, of course, a limit to how much of FB’s data hydra activity one can prevent while being the product for its marketing (and make no mistake, you aren’t the customer; you are the product for sale). Most people just throw their hands up. As a stolid no-sayer, my response is “then I’ll block what I can; if I’m out of weapons, I’ll claw with my fingernails; if all I have is an eyebrow hair, I’ll slug ’em with that.”

Facebook Tracking & Ad Removal: I would like this just for the sake of its icon, which is a flipped bird. Gets rid of at least some Facebook garbage. Might be overkill combined with FBP. I’m willing to accept that possibility. I operate on the assumption that Zuckbook is forever re-engineering itself to defeat all ad blocking and self-customization, and that any add-on may cease working at any time without notice until it receives an update, so the more, the merrier as long as they don’t overload the browser and cause it to collapse.

Fakespot: this can be used to assess the bot production level of product reviews. If one suspects that a given product has a lot of bogus puff reviews generated by automated means, it’s worth running.

Flashstopper: halts video autoplay. I hate video autoplay. If I want to see or hear the video, I’ll elect to play it myself.

Forecastfox: a good weather add-in. Worth whatever tracking is caused by having to give it a location. (Since it cannot tell you the weather unless you tell it a location, the request is reasonable.)

Ghostery: another tracker blocker. The fact that it usually finds some tells me that the overlap with other add-ins is worthwhile. The interesting here is what it tells you. Wonder how come FB seems to know so much about your online habits? There’s a tracker called Facebook Connect that is found all over the place. This lets you put a stop to that. I just block every single tracker; if something doesn’t work, I’ll consider some selective enabling. So far it never has. When you win a bid on Ebay, for example, instead of the normal Ebay Stats tracker, you get about ten others that can only want to know what you bought. Blocking them all doesn’t impair your purchase, so this is just the corporate world continuing to compile its dossier on your shopping habits.

GoogleSharing: this is just delicious. This add-in mixes up your Google requests with others and sprays them at Google, thus peeing in the data mining pool–and there doesn’t seem to be anything they can do about it. Anyone who read the preamble will understand how little I like the idea of Google forming a neat little profile about me.

Honey: this digs up discount codes for online shopping. Haven’t saved any money so far, but haven’t had it long.

NoMiner: it seems cryptocurrency ‘miners’ (who need a lot of processing power in order to make money) are using our machines to do some of the processing. No. This is my most recent add. I think cryptocurrency is pretty questionable anyway, but even if it’s completely smart and good, my clock cycles are not public property.

NoScript: this one is among the few that can cause pains in the ass. Most websites use many scripts from many sites, a good percentage of which are designed to feed data hydras. One by one, I will enable these for this session only, until the portion of the page I care about begins to work. Some I just have to set it to accept all the time. Using this means that I sometimes have to use a clean alternate browser. I can’t fault the pages in question for not working when I block some of their functionality, but I can at least reserve the right to decide when to allow them to work.

Here’s a key part of the no-sayer’s code: one must understand that this has its consequences, especially with websites. Developers set all that stuff up to work together. They can’t prevent you from taking out pieces, but it’s like a vehicle engine: all the pieces do something, and if you take some out, some things will not work right. If you just want to drive during the day, you can disconnect your headlights, but you then cannot complain if you forget to reconnect them come dusk, and if you cause an accident through your neglect, that’s your own fault. Own your “no.”

PriceBlink: something like Honey, but will dig for alternate and better prices on online shopping. Good referent.

ReminderFox: my personal calendar. It’s how I remember to make that grocery run, or someone’s birthday, etc. Essential.

Remove Cookies for Site: this is what we do when we had to enable cookies in order to proceed, but want them gotten rid of afterward. If it doesn’t find any, then great; someone actually meant it when they said the cookies were session only. I never take their word for that. If it does find some, also great. I don’t use it that often, but on some really cookie-filthy sites it makes me feel better.

Remove Google Tracking: says it removes tracking from Google searches. Now and then I end up using Google to search, though not often. This makes me feel a little less nude about it.

Tab Memory Usage: kind of nifty, tells me how much data the current tab is using. Nice to know which sites are the most porcine.

The Camelizer: this thing rocks. You use it for an Amazon item you consider too spendy, and tell it your email and what you’d like to pay for the item. When you get your price, it notifies you, and you can proceed to purchase it if you wish.

TrackMeNot: something like GS, barfing out a steady stream of spurious search requests. Gives the data hydra something useless to suck on.

View Cookies: want to know what the current page’s cookies are? Good prelude to deleting them.

Web of Trust: this will flag search results with a little circle: green, yellow, or red. One that is red has been reported by enough users as malevolent in some way. Not all ways are relevant to all people; for example, one thing that will get reported is child-inappropriate stuff. You can check the reason and make your own decision.

Yahoo Mail Hide Ad Panel: self-explanatory. Yes, I know that Yahoo funds itself with these ads. No, I do not care. Yahoo has its problems and I have mine.

Does all of this slow Firefox down? Maybe. Is all of it necessary? Maybe not. Does it all make me feel like I am properly noncooperating with nosy people to the greatest extent possible? Yes–and some of you may find one or more of these useful.

Black History Month: Jerry LeVias

Why have a special Black History Month? From this history buff’s perspective, the answer is simple. Because traditional history teaching has tended to downplay black Americans’ achievements and stories, black children have too often grown up thinking there weren’t any. When Nichelle Nichols appeared in the original Star Trek series (1966-69) at her communications station on the bridge of a proud starship, one person later summed up the impact (quote inexact) on his youthful perspective: ‘It was the first time anyone had made me think there would be black people in the future.’

Maybe someday we’ll do a better job of telling all the stories. For now, I’m glad we have a month that emphasizes those less often told. And I like college football, and Jerry LeVias is not well remembered today, so it occurred to me to tell his story.

Born (1946) and raised in Beaumont, Texas, LeVias (leh-VYE-us) starred as a football quarterback in then all-black Hebert High School. As he came of age in the mid/mod-1960s, the nation was in a ferment of change. It may be helpful to understand that full backdrop, which also coincides with my early childhood.

Vietnam had not yet heated up, but the civil rights and women’s rights struggles were well under way. It was not a time, like ours today when civil rights marchers might just get tear-gassed if things got a little rough. It was a time when peaceful marchers could expect to face water cannon, attack dogs, look-the-other-way Klan assaults, baton charges, and lynchings. In most of the places where civil rights demonstrations occurred, hospitals were segregated, so those who were injured might have limited and lesser options. Recourse to the law was rarely even minimal, considering that the law had turned a blind eye toward the violence–if it was not itself the perp. These marchers were warriors, young and old, male and female, and they were getting the hell beaten out of them for what they believed in.

American sports had followed different integration paths, but the college football world might have had the unwieldiest. For decades its governing bodies were weak, regional conference leadership held all the cards, and things were different in East Lansing, Pullman, and Tuscaloosa. In football, most of the northern and western schools practiced a form of segregation called “stacking.” This meant putting all the black players at a couple of positions (wide receiver, defensive back), to avoid a general takeover on the basis of raw talent. My own alma mater, the University of Washington, stood accused of this–and justly, I believe, to our lasting embarrassment. The amount of talent on the table can be estimated if one imagines a modern major college team without black players and with maybe only a couple of Polynesian players.

Think they’d be nationally ranked? Maybe in the ESPN Bottom 10, which in my view is one of the few really good things that emanates from the Eternal SEC Promotional Network.

Many southern universities remained segregated–these were the Wallace days–and many that were not segregated did not recruit African Americans to play football, nor take the field against them. Quite a few northern and western schools enabled this discrimination by benching their own black players (usually just one or two) out of ‘respect’ for the southern schools when matched up against them. By the 1960s, at least, some northern schools began to face student unrest at this enablement of racism.

The Union had won the Civil War, but lost the civil peace.

In 1965, Jerry LeVias was a senior star at Hebert, and had appeared on the national stage when he traveled to Ohio to play with an integrated all-star team of Texas footballers. This was a first, and it helped crack open doors in one of the nation’s biggest football markets–not least when LeVias caught two touchdown passes from roommate and fast friend Bill Bradley, a white.

Over two decades before the NCAA “death penalty” would inflict lasting damage on its program, Southern Methodist University’s football success was a point of pride in Dallas. With a natural crosstown rival in Texas Christian University, Dallas/Fort Worth was a football center in a football-crazy state. The Southwest Conference (now defunct) was in essence the Texas Conference. SMU Mustang football spared no effort or expense to recruit and compensate the best athletes it could find. As of 1965, the majority of black college football players played at historically black colleges/universities such as Grambling, Howard, Alcorn A&M, and many others. More than ever were moving on to play professionally in the AFL, which was just beginning to appear competitive with the old guard NFL, and where black athletes were more welcome and prevalent.

By the spring of 1965, the racial door was letting in a ray of daylight. SMU coach Hayden Fry was ready. Jerry LeVias accepted Fry’s offer of an athletic scholarship, becoming the first African American scholarship player in the Southwest Conference. (He was not the first black football player to appear in an SWC game, it seems. John Westbrook, who debuted as a walk-on for Baylor in 1966, saw the field one week before LeVias’s first appearance. In those days, freshmen simply did not play, so LeVias would not appear in a 1965 game. Westbrook almost surely deserves his own article.)

American life has never been easy for black pioneers, and LeVias took a great deal of abuse on and off the field. Imagine being eighteen or nineteen, and putting up with that while trying to get good grades and improve in sport. Some blacks on campus called him an Uncle Tom. You can guess what many whites called him, though he had Coach Fry’s unbending support. Did the abuse from some of his teammates (those are supposed to have one’s back, as a rule) hurt him more than the blatant personal fouls, spitting in his face, and stunts like when the Texas A&M cadet corps released a black cat onto the field? I’d think so.

How many times have you seen an athlete claim to use an insult as motivation? Believe it. In one infamous 1968 incident, a TCU player spat in LeVias’s face. He threw down his helmet and said he quit. Coach Fry came over to talk with him, convincing him to keep playing. When the conversation was done, and TCU’s punt team took the field, LeVias took his customary station to return it. He carried the punt return for an 89-yard touchdown with eleven tackles broken or dodged, giving SMU the margin of victory over its arch-rival.

As he went through hell, LeVias excelled. In his case, long before AA meant African American, it meant All-American. An electrifying runner, LeVias rewrote the Mustang record books while leading SMU to a conference championship in 1966 and a Bluebonnet Bowl victory in 1968. As Coach Fry told him–meaning it in the best possible way with reference to the public reaction–the more touchdowns he scored, the whiter he got. LeVias went on to a six-year pro career in the AFL and NFL, earning all-AFL honors in 1969.

A gentle-hearted, religious man who always resisted anger, Jerry LeVias would pay for those early days of endured cruelty with years of internalized pain. The price of leading the way for southern sports integration was high. He has succeeded well in life, and nowadays gets some of the recognition he deserves, but I don’t think that many younger fans have heard of Jerry LeVias. All of us who love college football might justly take a moment to give a brave man some respect.


Why I don’t have or want a so-called “smartphone”

It may come to pass that I am the last holdout in this area. This bewilders all but a handful of those I know. How could I possibly not want one of these devices? They act as though this were a Luddite decision, a sort of insanity, Old Grumpness lived out.

Not so.

I use technology (such as now) when I see the benefit from it. What I never do is adopt technology for the sake of technology. If the corporate world holds up an object and says, “This is what you get now,” most people just say “okay” and buy it. I do not. Instead of assuming that the corporation is presenting me A Good Thing, I assume the corporation is my adversary and never has my interests at heart. And that’s fair; if it were up to me, the corporation would probably see some dark days (and worse ones when it actually sinned), so I can’t expect it to mean me honest fairness when I mean it anything but.

So we begin with me thinking the corporation considers me too mindless to do anything but Just Buy Now, and me looking at the corporation like a suspicious car lurking in front of my house or Jehovah’s Witnesses standing on my front steps. It means I will think most critically about whether I want the thing. The corporation does not enjoy the presumption of honest intentions; the default assumption is that it wants me to spend money I should not. It spent a lot of money creating marketing in order to do this.

Must admit: naming it the “smartphone” was a stroke of marketing genius because it hoodwinked the world. This thing isn’t smart! This is just a miniature laptop with Internet and phone capability. I grant that some of them are gaining ability to interpret simple commands and engage in something resembling conversation, but this thing is not a fraction as smart as an average human being with a search engine. Most people just accepted the term “smartphone,” which made it sound as though all other phones (and by extension, other phone users) were dumb. It is my way in life to analyze clever marketing. If it offends me, I feel free hold that against the marketer. So, for starters, I don’t want one because the name is misleadingly stupid and insults my intelligence. For that alone I would resist owning one. I keep retraining myself to say ‘mobile phone,’ but that also includes my flip phone that doesn’t have Internet access.

Even so, I might have ended up with one of these phones had I not come to hate them 98% of the time. Not just a garden variety casual hate, but a long, slow, muriatic loathing that is to be savored. I hate them because people behave in shocking fashion with them. Look at a breakfast table, and you’ll see five people who got together for breakfast. All are silent and appear to be contemplating and/or manipulating their genitals. They are all texting. Some probably felt the world needed to see a picture of their food. Many will take calls at a restaurant table, or just about anywhere, having an outside-voice conversation in absolute disregard for everyone else. They have come to worship these things, to give them priority over the people they love the most, certainly over any consideration to complete strangers. For that alone I would hate them. Remember payphones? Eating in a restaurant these days is like in the old days if your table was next to a bank of payphones.

Then there’s usability. I am a man. While I have a man’s hands, I admit to a great vanity over them. They are big without bulkiness, almost ridiculous-looking on me, except that they border on feminine. They might be the hands of a WNBA center. And I’m good with my hands. I’m the guy who fixes the little screw on someone’s glasses, or achieves some other tiny, fussy, precise little repair. I type about 80 wpm, which by male standards is not bad at all. All this bragging is to explain that my hands are not clumsy bunches of sausage-shaped paw-tips. And yet I find it difficult enough to hit the right depressable buttons on my flip phone. To type on tiny chiclet-sized images on a glass screen, I would need a little stylus. My fingertip is big enough to hit four of those images at one time. Anyone who writes will tell you that s/he expects and requires keys to make, when struck with fair accuracy, the impressions s/he intends. Any other situation is intolerable. And while I muddle with the thing trying to figure out what to do, as when my wife asks me to look something up, it goes dark on me, and I have to wake it up again.

Then there is the screen. At 19″ my monitor isn’t large by modern standards, but it’s large enough to meet my needs. The modern mobile phone screen looks to me about 4″ diagonal, max. This is unusable for any sustained period. So my rejoinder is: “When you violate all the laws of physical space and time, and invent a telephone that fits in my pocket but has at least a 17″ screen and a full-sized 102-key keyboard, definitely get in touch with me, and let’s do business. Until then, I don’t want one of these.”

Also, I can mooch. Everyone else has one. If we as a group are going somewhere, and cannot find it, I don’t need to have one of these because someone else will. Probably everyone else will–and they will enjoy using them to solve our problem. I acknowledge the benefit of access to the data; I just don’t like the medium most of the time. So why not just mooch off those who love the medium? All I have to do is refrain from saying something hateful about the device while it is benefiting me. I’ll go that far. Since it’s a device, I owe it no consistency of opinion. I am welcome to like it in someone else’s hands, at his or her expense, while it’s making my life easier. I can hate it the minute someone pops it out to text in the middle of a once-civil conversation. Next time it does me some good, I’ll remember to be quiet for the duration of the benefit, and we all get along fine.

So I don’t need one. I don’t need to check my email when I’m out. I don’t need to be on Facepalm 24/7. I can do them when I get home.

And given the costs of these things, mooching is no small benefit. These are hideously expensive, with constant ‘new’ models that become faddish and create enormous buzz. “Do you have the new Hamhock FY2?” “No. I’m waiting for the Hemroid 5bs. It has a home colonoscopy app.” Monthly costs are outlandish, especially with data plans. I know because I pay our bills, and I see what we pay for my wife’s phone activity. This amount is far more than the device is worth to me–especially when I can mooch.

And even if I wanted one, there are some companies I won’t deal with on any terms. If Arrogant Turds & Trash buys out our current cell provider, we’ll hit the road. There is nothing I would wish to mail to that company that the law allows, except for perhaps a bag of small gummi penes. There are no telecom companies I want to deal with, only those I dislike least. When my wife’s former employer required her to accept a company-provided Ipad and pay a monthly (reimbursable) bill to Abhorrent Tongues & Tushies, requiring me to send money monthly to that company, I was not a happy person. Had she not been in a somewhat delicate position, I’d have tried to get her to refuse–what’s with this idea of making it obligatory for employees to lend money to the employer? So even if I did want one, I’d be choosing among the least hated, not the most liked.

Now you see what a stony resistance lies along this path.

It’s like with debit cards. Same thing happened. Corporations mailed them out and said, “This is what you get now.” Most people accepted the clever marketing implication that if credit cards got you in debt, and ran up your bill, debit cards did otherwise and were better. Debit cards simply give your money away sooner. If you do not realize why this is bad, read up on a concept called the Time Value of Money. You may not care, but your bank definitely does. I see two uses for debit cards: for people too lazy or innumerate to manage a checking account, or for people who want the free ATM feature (so they can pay cash for more things, again proving they haven’t read about the time value of money). I guess they might be okay for people whose credit or self-discipline precludes using a real credit card.

I took one look at debit cards and said: “This makes no sense. This benefits only the bank, at my expense. Forget it.” One credit union blithely mailed me one anyway. They did not do this a second time. To this day, I have had a debit card only for as long as it took me to drive the mailed item to a credit union branch and have the discussion. I have never used one.

So, no. I don’t want one of these phones. No, I’m not going to chew you out for having one. I may even mooch off what you can do with it. (Not “off of” what you can do with it. Anyone who uses that combination, please desist. It is acceptable until about seventh grade.) But I don’t want or need one.

When you find one that has a full-sized keyboard and monitor, yet fits in my pocket, made by and with serviced provided by companies that don’t roil my stomach too much, let’s deal.


What your keys used to do, long ago

What did they do? Why did they have weird names? Why on earth are some of our current computer keys called as they are?

This is an IBM Selectric typewriter. If you think electric typewriters sound painful to write with, you need to try a manual. For one thing, on a manual, light strokes would produce light or no impressions. You had to try for a consistent level of physical force when hitting keys; if you didn’t produce enough power, the type character might not make it to the ribbon at all.

I included this picture so that you didn’t have to guess what my 1980s writing implement looked like.





Starting along the top, the Mar Rel stood for Margin Release. Once you set your margins, the carriage (the typing ball and its mechanism) would not move past them. If you wanted to finish a word that went one character past the margin, you hit Mar Rel so that it would let you past just this once.

I’m serious.

The Tab worked much as it does today, except that it relied upon ‘tab stops’ which one set wherever one wanted to indent. Typical was five spaces in from the left margin, for para indents, but one could set more tab stops. As the web came along, this morphed into a way to cycle through links and fields, as one does now on a fillable PDF or online form.

I don’t even remember how we got [brackets] on the 1. On the number keys, of course, we got the symbols instead by holding down the Shift key–not different from now. For the alphabet, of course, that’s how we did upper case on a letter-by-letter basis. To get italics, we had to change out the ball, which was easy enough but tedious to do very often–if, of course, one had a ball with italic type of the same style. I never did, but I assume they existed. The Selectric was way ahead of other typewriters because you could change out the ball. Different fonts! Miraculous!

Notice that the shifted 6 is the ¢ sign, which one now has to hunt up in the ASCII character set. Nowadays you get the ^ (caret) for a shifted 6. The caret was unknown on the electric typewriter.

See the with the _ above it? Since we didn’t have italics or bold, by and large, we did emphasis using the underbar. We typed the text, backspaced to where we wanted to start underlining, and held down Shift and the hyphen. In both its forms, that key was one of the machinegun keys–if you held it down, it kept striking until you let up (as all modern computer keys seem to do). Very good when you wanted to underline a whole sentence. I do not remember the full inventory of machinegun keys from that era, but my hands would remember them. If you held down a key that was not a machinegun key, it typed its symbol once and did nothing further.

Backspace backed you up one space without deleting anything. In effect, it was the left arrow key. To delete something, you either painted it with white-out, or put tape over it or slipped in a sort of white carbon paper, and re-struck the key. Since photocopies cost $0.10 each in 1978 dollars (minimum wage was about $2.20 or so per hour; imagine if copies cost about $0.40 now), we used carbon paper, or ditto machines. Some forms still use carbons, mostly in government. Of course, if you made a mistake, you’d have to fix it on all the carbons. Sensibly, Backspace was a machinegun key.

Index has vanished as a concept. What did that thing do? It turned the carriage roller–advancing the paper one line–without returning the carriage to the left margin. It was more precise than turning the roller by hand, since the roller could be turned less than a full line. It clicked as one turned it, unless one released the catch that kept it in synch–then it rolled smoothly with nothing keeping it in horizontal alignment. Do that, and you would have a hell of a time getting it back into perfect alignment.

On the second row, notice that the ! has its own key, which shifted to °. For years, typewriter manufacturers varied on what symbol belonged with the number 1. (We obviously did not have a separate number pad, arrows, num lock, or accompanying mathematical operators. Had the number pad not come along early in the computer world, I’m not sure what accountants would have done. Seppuku, perhaps.) In any case, this is where IBM was putting the exclamation point on this model of the Selectric.

Return has become the Enter key, but you still hear people call it by the old name; early in the PC days, it retained that label. That was an important key because it advanced the roller one line and ran the carriage back to the left margin; one did it at the end of each line. On manual typewriters, this was truly manual. They had a bar one grabbed and ran the carriage back with physical effort. As word processors came along, we got the soft return and the hard return as concepts. Soft returns change positions with margin, font, etc. changes. A hard return says: “Start a new para no matter what.” Novice authors usually clutter their mss with loose hard returns. You’d be amazed how many create these awesome title pages (which should have been their very last act, not their first) and use a bunch of hard returns to center the title rather than use the software’s functions correctly.

Some writers don’t know how to tab or indent. They instead just hit the space bar five times. Dirty secret of editing: when I first begin to edit a ms, I clean up all the incontinent extra hard returns littering the place. I then do a global search and replace for two spaces with one, which fixes all the archaic and novice misuses of two spaces. Except that sometimes it’s ten spaces. I re-run the S&R until it makes no corrections. Even dirtier editing secret: I judge my client’s word processing software usage competence by the quantity of loose spaces and hard returns. If there are a lot of these, I know that my client doesn’t really understand much about document creation’s technical details. She may be a superb writer, but that’s not coupled to her user level on software. I’ve had clients come out and call themselves techno-doofuses, even those whose uses of English were at high levels.

This affects me because clients generally expect me to provide them with free Word tech support, especially with regard to tracking changes. I dread this; since this feature is central to my work, I don’t really have a choice. If they can’t use it, they can’t process my efforts efficiently, but it’s also hard to make people understand that I am not necessarily seeing what they see and can’t always just walk them through changes. The only place where I flat decline is typesetting; i.e. finishing the document. I don’t know the software well enough to help with that, it is beyond my scope, and I may punt.

The Clr/Set rocker was how we set our tab stops. The On/Off rocker is self-explanatory. When typing, things were clackety-clack noisy; when not typing, there was a quiet whirring hum.

The Lock you see at left, third row, is the caps lock. Num lock and scroll lock came along with computers.

Shift, of course, got us the upper case or other shifted character outcome. We needed one on each side because we were coached to station our fingers on the home row: asdf jkl; . Thus, if you wanted an A, your right hand did the shifting. If you wanted a P, your left pinky held down shift (if you were doing it exactly as taught). My high school had a yearbook advisor who had lost an arm in some accident, and having two Shifts must have been pivotal for him.

They called it the Space Bar because that’s what we used it for, much as now: advance the carriage one space without any image. Except there’s a big difference that I don’t think a majority of computer users grasp. While the space looks to people like an absence of something, to a computer jock or sophisticated user, it’s a character. It has more in common with an ñ or F or ^ than with nothingness. When you hit the space bar now, you type a character; it just happens to be a blank character.

We did not have: Esc, Ctrl, Alt, any of the F keys, `/~, \ / | (the backslash and vertical bar, in case that looks weird), Ins, Home, PgUp, PgDn, Del, End, Pause, or the stupid Windows keys I always pop off my keyboards. A typist circa 1975 would have wondered what in hell all those weird keys did.

“Pause? It pauses any time I do nothing. I don’t need a key for that!”

“PgDn? Page down, you mean? That’ll just spit the current sheet out. Pointless.”

“Esc? I’d like to escape, all right; I’d like to escape back into what I know, which isn’t this.”

Thing is, the transition happened by degrees and with variations before the advent of the 84-key keyboard (had only ten function keys, arrayed at left; combined directional keys with number pad). Only portables, then laptops had the number pad mushed into the main keyboard (which sucked then and sucks now). Each time there has been change, it has taken time to absorb. Some have made sense, but some have made none.

In any case, if you’re looking at a fiftysomething, now you see where he or she learned to type. And that fiftysomething probably learned on an electric typewriter; imagine the heckling he or she took from the die-hard manual typewriter oldsters as to how easy it was now.

I assure you of this: I completed a degree in history, resulting in a stack of term and other papers an inch and a half thick. And I typed every one of them three times (at least) on an electric typewriter. There actually was college before an Internet, and you’d be surprised how much we managed to learn without the ability to google anything.


I know that’s what they taught you in school; I don’t care

We still use language for the same purposes we did when I was a child. For that reason, I’m generally averse to changing a term’s definition, especially when we need that word (like ‘literally’; without it, we have no way to separate metaphor and exaggeration from accurate recitation), or when the word has been redefined not because it needed redefinition, but due to basic sociopolitical cowardice.

What we don’t do the same is commit language to record. We do not type on manual typewriters, where it took physical effort to begin a new line. We do not type on electric typewriters, where one used to hit a button for that purpose. If we wanted center justification, we did elementary mathematics. Younger people who never used typewriters would be astonished at how much of Word’s superficial presentation originates in the typewriter, such as tab stops. The earliest word processing was meant to imitate what people understood best, and that was the typewriter.

We also don’t write with a pencil or pen in our dominant hand. Many of us can no longer write a word of cursive English beyond our own signatures, and schools are discontinuing its instruction. One day the ability to read cursive English will be a specialized skill for wonks only.

Nowadays, we either type on a computer keyboard, a laptop keyboard (I only consider laptops as half a computer), or some tiny chiclet-sized key images on a glass surface. We do have to hit the space bar after a word or punctuation–the space itself is a character–and we have had some more years to debate the way punctuation inflects meaning.

We also don’t so often print the words on paper. We often send them electronically. No one–at least, no one whose hands are not too arthritic to type in the first place–is going to type several hundred pages of text, revise it with multiple rewrites, and send this ream-sized manuscript to one publisher at a time, awaiting its return and enduring its entire loss if it is not returned. We can wave the mouse and make the whole document double-spaced. We can enforce a paragraph-opening indent. We don’t need underlines or caps for emphasis. We have proportional fonts with automatic kerning. We don’t even need font cartridges, as we used to use in the earlier days of inkjet printers.

What we learned as kids, and in typing class, was what teachers of the day were conditioned to teach us. Some of it made sense. Some really didn’t. We got marked down if we did it differently, conditioning us to consider it ‘correct.’ Then: the way we committed language to record transformed. Those of us in ‘the industry’ transformed with it. Those not, mostly did not, obstinately insisting that what they learned in 1963 must still be right, and if you don’t like it, get off my lawn and stay off my Social Security.

It is time they–you, if you are reading this, and you are over fifty–awaken to what you are doing wrong. This is especially true if you start a blog, or start shopping your manuscript. If your editor tells you we don’t do it that way any more, believe him or her and cooperate. I would not lie to you about the industry standards, and if I tried, I could not get away with it.

Most people over fifty are doing some things wrong.

The Comma Formerly Known As Oxford. I have often vented about my refusal to recognize Oxford’s moral authority over the English language, but this comma phenomenon exists by any name. When presenting a listing with commas, our grade school teachers taught us to omit the comma before the conjunction (typically ‘and’ or ‘or’). Thus, “Seattle, Pullman, Eugene and Corvallis have I-A football teams.” They and we were doing it wrong most of the time, and here is why: failure to use this comma creates an association between the last two items in the list. If we want that association, we should omit it. If we do not, we should use the comma. There is no mindless rule yea or nay. So no, TCFKAO is not always required, but is usually appropriate; intended meaning must govern.  We were taught wrong, and rather than continue to do it wrong, we must improve. I don’t care what Miss Unruh taught you back in school. Start doing it right.

Two spaces vs. one space. This did not exist for me until I began to type. Our typing teachers taught us: two spaces after a period, exclamation point, or colon. One after everything else. For some reason, my age group and those older cling to this obsolete usage as though it were heavenly gospel. It existed because, on the typewriter, all fonts were fixed-pitch. A font consists of a typeface (Arial, Times Roman, Courier) and a pitch (size; typical number of characters per inch of printed text). Courier 12 is a font, as is Arial 8 or Times Roman 24. A typeface is proportional or fixed-pitch as one of its basic properties; most are proportional, because proportional was what we always wanted but could not do on a typewriter. Professional typesetting used proportional fonts because it could, and because it was more readable. To see what every one of my college history papers looked like, pull up a document in your word processor and change a paragraph to Courier 12, which is a fixed-pitch font. Our typewriters could not handle proportional fonts, like this blog’s. Because they could not, Courier was harder to read, and we learned to use two spaces after certain punctuation marks. This is no longer Mrs. Overley’s freshman typing class. In modern documents, an extra space is just pointless air. Let it go. Even Mrs. Overley probably has.

Underlines and caps. Gather round, children, for a tale of the days when we were one step above writing with flint knives, burins, mastodon grease, harvested ochre, and dried stretched deerskin. We could not make text bold on a typewriter. We could not italicize it. Only on later typewriters could we change fonts at all. Even then, we could not change their size as issued. If we wanted emphasis, and we were too lazy or illiterate to make our word choices convey the emphasis–or, in fairness, we were writing dialogue and needed the occasional emphasis–we had underlines, and we had all caps. This led a generation of kids, mine as it happens, to use these methods even into their middle age–when italics were available and didn’t cost a nickel. Stop it. There are very few reasons to use underlines. Debate goes on about book titles, but I think the underline is a holdover from when we would backspace and hold down the underbar key. There are even fewer reasons to use all caps, unless one wants to scream in text. When I see underlines and caps, I don’t see a good writer. I don’t give a damn what your IBM Selectric let you do; start doing it right, won’t you?



The dumbness of single-bit binary logic: everything that is not this, is not necessarily that

My bro JT, one of the most unconventional thinkers I know, has long commented upon the problems with single-bit binary logic. I understood this, but I’m embarrassed at my failure to process it until very recently.

In binary notation, everything is a 0 or a 1. They is a this or a that, as the old umpire used to say. This is a base two system, and it is the basis for digital electronics. If you don’t know what base two means, that means there are two numbers before you have to start a new column. We count in base ten, logically since we have ten fingers.

Binary notation works fine as the basis for our electronics. In the world of humanity and issues, where things are rarely so clear and exclusive, it is an indicator of feeble-mindedness. Consider: “If you aren’t for us, you are against us.” “If you aren’t part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.” Stop and think, as I believe in doing any time someone trots out a glib saying repeated so many times that people assume it wise. This is dumb. Just because I am not for you does not mean I am against you. If you’re dumb enough to construe me as your enemy because you can’t bully me into signing onto your cause, that’s your problem and mistake. And just because I am not participating in a solution does not automatically signify that I am part of the problem. I may be neither. I might be a little of both. I might be in the process of using my brain to make up my own mind without consulting you. And this attitude isn’t adding luster to your side, I might add.

The fundamental problem with single-bit binary reasoning: it allows only two categories, choices, alignments, what have you. When applied to a human issue, that’s feeble-minded. It oversimplifies the human condition down to a moronic level. It works only for those who yearn to be spared all nuance. Is Bill Gates an evil man or a good man? He made a fortune by monopolizing our computing environment with increasing mediocrity. Then he decided to retire and use his wealth for such good causes Warren Buffett said “here, take mine, too.” He left behind his company still doing all the same things, growing more mediocre by the year, but no less monopolistic. Hate or love? Respect or disrespect? It is not so easy. It confounds feeble thinking. It makes modern America’s brain hurt, so its members just apply selective amnesia. They derided him back when his software company was strangling every possible competitor, and he was an evil guy, but now that’s old hat and he is a good guy. Nuance is hard. Absolutes provide comfort of the shallowest kind.

Look at the United States’ political system, which embeds and defends single-bit binary logic. If you aren’t one of these, you are one of those. This is idiotic. There are lots of things to be other than those two. Single-bit binary logic works fairly well on life and death (it’s very rare to be neither dead nor alive, I’ll concede), sports events on the field (can’t really play for both teams at once, I’ll go along with that), and other such clear-cut situations. Most matters of opinion are not so.

Thus it is with public demonstrations. Not every failure to join in a public demonstration of homage amounts to disrespect. Only single-bit binary logic can conclude that it does. Suppose that my national anthem is on television before a hockey game. I could choose to stand, interrupt my activities, pay attention, even sing the song: that would be respectful. I could choose not to pay attention, but to avoid doing anything overtly self-indulgent or gross. I could talk with someone about the imminent game, look at a magazine article, or simply sit in silent passivity; that would be somewhere in between. Or I could choose to scratch my groin, flip off the TV, use bad language, drink cheap beer, chomp tortilla chips, and/or make a snide remark; that would be disrespectful. It’s feeble-minded to think that all non-respect is disrespect, just as it is feeble-minded to think that all the different forms of respect can be conflated into one term.

(One of these days I will go into depth on that. There is the respect born of fear (s/he can and might hurt me), that born of affectionate regard (s/he has done great deeds I admire), and that stemming from positive regard without affection (s/he may be a bastard, but in some ways I respect him or her). In some situations, more than one may apply in some proportion. Our error occurs when we fail to qualify what we mean by respect.)

Single-bit binary logic works fine for dogs. If you are a dog, I recommend it without reservation. In most cases, a dog not mistreated either likes you (you are best pal for life) or hates you (you are intruder, competitor for scarce affection, etc.). My friend Jim had a rather ratty little dog named Willie. Willie liked everyone. I mostly don’t like dogs, and I didn’t like Willie. Willie didn’t care; he liked me.

(And lest you think Willie had no importance, let me tell you, Willie was an impact player in one of the funniest pizza-related instances in the history of the faux-Italian menu. I think I’ve told that story on here. If I have not, I must. If I haven’t, you are permitted to rag on me until I do.)

Why are so many issues presented to us in single-bit binary logic? Because it’s easy–and because it makes us easier to manipulate.

Who’s a good boy? Good boy!