Archive for May, 2011

Required reading

My last post reminded me of a story from my past that has some similarities.  Fortunately, I don’t see myself getting as angry while writing this one.

In my former professional life, I worked at a university doing a few different things.  For about two of those years, I served as an academic advisor for the college office.  A big part of that job was knowing where to find all of the information so that I could direct students to those publications and show them the answers to their questions.  Ya know, the whole “teach a man to fish” thing.  There were four main ones I went to on a daily basis. First was the General Catalog, which had information on all courses offered by the university (including descriptions and prerequisites).  Second was the Schedule of Classes, a quarter-specific publication that said what was being offered then, when those classes met, etc.  Third was the General Education booklet, listing what courses fulfilled what requirements.  And fourth was the Guide to Undergraduate Studies, which had some information on specific non-GE requirements.  The problem with that last one was that all of its info was already in the General Catalog and it also duplicated a lot of items listed in the GE booklet.  Finally, someone had the bright idea to combine the last two.  It made a lot of sense and would save money in the process, so I was all for it.

“But what should we call that new resource?” the college wondered.  Without being asked, I threw my hat in the ring and started thinking up names.  Not only do I really enjoy those kinds of exercises, but I was about to leave the university setting after a total of nine years, and it would’ve meant a lot to me to “live on” via something as silly as a publication name.  I only had one important internal criterion: it couldn’t be anything that would open the door for redundancies.  For example, since I hate when people say “ATM machine” or “PIN number,” I had to make sure the name I came up with would make that abomination impossible.  In practice, that meant that if I were making an acronym, it couldn’t end with “guide,” “booklet,” or “brochure.”  Technically, I wouldn’t want a word like that anywhere in the acronym, because if people had called the Guide to Undergraduate Studies “the GUS guide,” I’d still want to punch them in their inaccurate faces.  With that ground rule firmly in place, I started thinking.  First, I wrote down every word that might make sense to fit into an acronym.  This was all for the College of Letters and Science, so I put those three capitalized words down.  (There was an organization on campus already called CLAS, so that was out of the question – in case you were wondering.)  I put down an R for requirements, G and E for General Education, and a few more until my sheet of paper looked like I was trying to find the bonus answer in the Jumble.  (Somewhere my mom is giving an understanding nod.)

When the dust settled, I had a front-runner: “The LASER,” short for “Letters And Science Educational Requirements.”  I wasn’t 100% on board with promoting the “and” to capitalized status, but I was willing to live with it because everything else worked so well; it was cool-sounding and an accurate representation of what one would find in those pages.  I walked into the Dean’s office and made my pitch.  I was confident, presenting it as if it were hands-down the best option he’d see.  I read it to him and handed him a piece of paper with the name and the spelled-out version.  He cocked his head a little, and I didn’t like that.  Clearly something wasn’t sitting quite right to him.  Was it too modern sounding?  Too science fictiony?  Then he spoke: “I’m not sure about the E.”  I explained that since it had all of the GE requirement plus the University Requirements, the umbrella of “Educational” made sense to me.  “It’s not that,” he said, “It’s just that there’s also an Education Department, and I think that could get confusing.”  I saw his point but didn’t fully agree with it.  Maybe I was naive, but I thought students would be able to differentiate the two.  “What else could we put in that spot?” he asked.  That was a good sign because it told me he wasn’t against the name itself, so we brainstormed together.  “Well,” I said, “They’re all ‘undergraduate’ requirements.  I don’t like the way L-A-S-U-R looks as much, but it would still be pronounced the same way.”  He didn’t really like that one either, even though it fit the bill.  I had an idea, debated internally whether to speak it or not, and then went for it: “What about ‘Academic’ instead?  My only hesitation with that is that I’d still want it to be pronounced like ‘laser’ and not have people say ‘lay zar.'”  He thought for a minute and then said, “Letters And Science Academic Requirements…that works.  Let’s do that.

The new and improved academic resource wouldn’t be coming out until the following academic year (once I’d already be gone), so I did my part in telling people about the new name and how it should be pronounced.  When the time came to leave, I mentally crossed my fingers and hoped that people would take the right path.  After all, what’s the point in creating an acronym that spells out a real word if the word isn’t going to be pronounced that way?  Well, a year later, my friend Suzanne told me that people were largely calling it the “lay zar” but that she was doing her part in correcting them and trying to right the ship.  That was the last I’d heard of it until my last post reminded me of this story.  I emailed Suzanne and asked for a status report on “laser” versus “lay zar.”  I wrote that my gut told me people probably fell into saying ‘lay zar’ but that I hoped it wasn’t the case.  She replied with two main points: One, she corrects people and lectures them on the right pronunciation but it has little to no effect.  Two, it’s my old L&S colleagues who are to blame.  “They call it ‘lay zar’ ALL the time,” she wrote.  Well that’s just great.

I’m torn in three directions with this whole thing.  On one hand, I’m really pleased that I made a little mark in the world of academic advising after spending so much time and energy engrossed in its minutia.  On the other hand, it bugs me that people are walking around calling it essentially by the wrong name.  And on the magical third hand, I can’t blame them.  It looks like ‘lay zar,’ so if they don’t hear it pronounced the right way from the very beginning, it’s really not their fault.  Should I have pushed for “LASUR” instead of half-heartedly offering it as a suggestion?  I still don’t like the way that looks, but is that more or less important than how it’s said?  I really don’t know.  I guess I should just be glad that people aren’t also being redundant and talking about their “lay zar requirements.”

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That’s bullshit: Contest edition

Ok, there’s some serious bullshit going on here, so prepare yourselves to get as angry as I am.  I’ll build to that though, so get comfy.

One thing I love about my core group of friends is how well we know each other.  Dave is my “newest” friend of the group, and I met him in ’96 or ’97, so we all have a ton of history together.  None of them would call me up for tips on changing their oil or the fastest side streets to take if the freeway is worse than normal, because they all know far too well that those things aren’t my bag…baby.  However, if Dusty doesn’t remember his ex-girlfriend’s birthday or needs an idea for his company’s radio commercial, I expect my cell phone to buzz (and take great pleasure in helping).

I’ve known my friend Lisa for over 15 years, and somehow I haven’t scared her off yet.  She forwarded me an email at the end of last month and wrote, “Go for it.  Please buy me one if you win.  Or two.  Or a hot dog, a beer, and one.  Thanks.”  I scrolled down and saw a contest that a local restaurant chain called “The Stand” was starting: “Name our new dessert, WIN $100 GIFT CARD!”  Was I intrigued?  Fuck yeah I was intrigued!  Not only is that sort of thing right in my wheelhouse (as my dear friend instinctively knew), but their burgers and hot dogs are mighty tasty.  Here was the description of the dessert: “A deep fried hot dog bun we sprinkle with cinnamon and sugar turning it into a churro.  Then we add a fresh banana and top it with vanilla ice cream, hot fudge, whipped cream and nuts.  This dessert is amazing.  It’s the ultimate ‘dog’ dessert.”  They also said they were launching it under the name “The Stand Split” as a placeholder until after the contest.

I wrote her back with my first stab: “I’m thinking ‘El Perro Frio’ would work, but I might write it without the ‘el.’ (I’d do ‘The Perro Frio,’ except I hate that.)  They call it a ‘dog dessert’ but since it’s got a churro-type bun, I think the Spanish works.  You like?”  I wasn’t in love with it, but I thought juxtaposing a “cold dog” with all of the hot ones on their menu was a nice touch.  She replied: “Wasn’t getting the Spanish till you said churro.  I like.  But anything else?”  And you see, folks, that comfort level is the mark of a solid friendship right there.  She wanted to be wowed, and now I didn’t want to let her down.  I made a joke about calling it “This Shit is Bananas” in my reply before adding this: “‘Ice Cream Bundae’ would work too, right?”  Her reply told me everything I needed to know: “Bundae!! Totally.  Absolutely.”  I went to the site, submitted the name, and wrote her back saying that her hot dog, beer, and bundae awaited her.  She said she really felt like it was going to happen, and we spent the next few weeks joking about when we’d get “our” gift card.

Monday, May 23rd, 2011: A day that shall live in bullshitfamy.  I got an email from Lisa entitled, “THAT’S BULLSHIT!”  Her accompanying message prepared me for the worst: “No freakin’ way, dude.”  I scrolled down and saw this steaming pile of crap: “We finally named our new baby…’The Banana Bundae.  Congratulations to loyal customers Rhonda W. and Shirley F. for naming our new dessert!”  I picked up the phone and called Lisa.  “You’re fucking kidding me,” I said.  “I know, right?”  (She might not have actually said that right then, but she says that a lot so it’s entirely possible.)  I was focusing on the fact that they gave it to two people with a similar but inferior name while Lisa added a very salient point: “Nobody calls it a ‘banana sundae.”  It’s an ‘ice cream sundae’ or ‘hot fudge sundae.’  ‘Banana bundae’ doesn’t even make sense.”  I had forwarded her email to my lovely wife, who right then sent me an online chat: “That’s total bullshit! Whoever heard of a Banana Sundae?”  I wrote back saying that Lisa and I were having the same conversation.  She replied, “Rhonda W. and Shirley F. suck.”  Thanks, baby.

Lisa and I came up with a theory: They really wanted the word “banana” in the title, but liked my entry of “Bundae.”  Rather than giving it to me, they combined the two and pretended that other people came up with it.  They said “Rhonda” and “Shirley” because that’s their grandmothers’ names, but those people didn’t really submit anything.  That way they get the name they like the most and save $100.  I don’t fully buy our theory, but we’re throwing it out there.  As if I weren’t pissed off enough about this, they listed a few other names that didn’t make the cut.  I’ll list them below with my parenthetical thoughts following:

1. The Al-Bun-D.  (This could be ANYTHING on their menu.  Why would this make sense for a dessert any more than a hot dog or hamburger?  The answer: it wouldn’t.  I appreciate puns, but “Bun in the Oven” or “The Easter Bun-ny” have the word “bun” in them too and wouldn’t be good dessert names.)

2. Arctic Jungle Puppy. (“Arctic” because it’s cold, fine.  “Jungle” because it’s…wait, why is that word there?  Lisa said it’s because bananas grow in the jungle.  If that’s the case, I think I just pulled a muscle stretching for that pun to make sense.)

3. Churrana-Saurus-Rex. (Go fuck yourself, whoever sent that in. Seriously.)

4. Winning! (Because they thought permanently naming a dessert after an already-dated Charlie Sheen quote that has NOTHING to do with it was a solid idea.)

5. The Dawg House.  (How this is any different/better/more relevant than “The Underdawg,” “Dawg Gone It,” or “Let Sleeping Dawgs Lie” is beyond me.  Just because the word “dog” is in a phrase, that doesn’t make it a good name for a dessert.  Yes, even if you change the spelling to look cooler.)

I honestly don’t know if I’d be more upset if one of those won instead of “Banana Bundae.”  Probably not, because I’d be able to tell myself, “Clearly they were looking for something different than what I provided.”  Instead, they chose a crappier version of what I submitted and will proudly display it while people pat Rhonda and Shirley on their (possibly fictitious) backs.  That, my friends, is some utter and complete bullshit.

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A big difference

A couple of years ago, I was walking through the parking lot at work with my co-worker Rob when I stopped and pointed at a car.  “I hate that,” I said.  “What?” he asked.  I read the offending license plate frame aloud: ” “There’s a difference between cutsie and artistic.” I read it as it looked to me, pronouncing the word as “cut see” instead of what I assumed meant to be “cutesy.”  What bothered me the most about it was attitude I heard behind those words.  Essentially, I read it as, “You might think you’re being artistic, but I’m a true artist and I know that your stuff is a big step down from what I consider art.  And go fuck yourself.”  The fact that there was a typo in it frustrated me to no end.  “If you’re going to be an asshole and put people down, at least spell all seven words correctly,” I told Rob.

A month or so ago, we interviewed someone for a position in our office.  When she left, I said that it was nice to meet her (which I meant).  Once the door closed, Rob told me that I actually knew of her before that interview.  She used to work at a different office in our same lot, he said, and she had a license plate frame that bothered me.  “Not the cutsie one!” “Yep,” he said.  “Well shit…I kinda liked her,” I replied.

Fast forward a little more, and she’s now hired and a part of our team.  Four of us were walking to pick up some food, and I remembered about her and her car.  I couldn’t hold it in (or to cite myself, I “spit my tongue“) and told her out of the blue, “I have a problem with your license plate frame.”  “Oh yeah?  Why’s that?” she asked.  She had a weird tone to her question that made it sound like she’d heard that several times before.  “Well, I believe there’s a typo on it,” I said.  “I agree,” she said.  “Huh?”  Then she told me her story.  Apparently, she took a photography class in college, and the final project was to have a picture that signified a song.  She chose “People Are Strange” by The Doors, and had cut-out faces in and around a picture of raindrops.  Some faces were partially obscured, and others were not, and it sounded to me like it really embodied the “faces come out of the rain” line.  Her professor disagreed.  When she got the project back, it was marked with a C and adorned with a note that said, “There’s a difference between cutsie and artistic.”  She and her friends thought it was hilarious that the professor had misspelled a word in her condescending note, so she immortalized it by getting it as a license plate frame.

“Well now I like it a whole bunch more,” I told her.  “All this time I thought you were the bitchy one with poor spelling.”  She laughed and said that she has to explain it to a lot of people.  At least I’m not the only one who’s been fulish.

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