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That’s Bullshit: Made-up Words Edition

Good morning, and happy mid-July. I don’t really know how we got here, but all my calendars say the same thing, so I guess it’s true. Quick personal goals update: Creative output is as low as it has been – been busy enough that my one outlet (this here blog) hasn’t been utilized as much as I’d like. The beard game is holding steady. After my one big trim, I’ve been doing little ones every so often to keep it full but not all crazy scraggly. And as for exercise, I’ve changed things up a little. I mentioned that my knee was starting to hurt, and I knew all the running was the cause. Thankfully, one of my employees is also a personal trainer for a second job. She suggested I do some high-intensity interval training and gave me a schedule:

  • 10 pushups
  • 10 squats
  • 20 jumping jacks
  • 20 crunches

And she said to do as many rounds as possible in 8 minutes, then move up to 10, and eventually get to 12-15. I did 7 rounds in 8 minutes my first time and was surprised that it was only “really tough” and not “I-want-to-die tough.” I got up to 8 in 8 minutes, then did a week of 10 rounds in 10 minutes. This week I moved into 12 in 12 minutes, and it’s a doozy. But the crazy thing is that means I’m doing 120 pushups, 120 squats, 240 jumping jacks, and 240 crunches in just 12 minutes. Doesn’t seem possible, but I’ve checked my math a few times. I feel really accomplished exercise-wise after kicking my own ass for a really small window of time. (I’m still running in place/around the kitchen island for 1 mile to warm up before that.) Maybe next week I’ll try out 15 minutes, but I’m not going any higher than that. I still get to 250 pushups over the course of the day, but it’s a lot easier when I hit 120 before 6am. The moral of the story is that I went from doing 25 pushups a few times throughout the day to a whole bunch of daily exercise in a relatively short time and have seen results, and I wouldn’t have thought it possible. You can too – start small, build, and amaze yourself. You’re home anyway, right? (Wait, did I say “quick personal goals update?” Oops.)

Now onto the reason for the post. As all of you reading this likely know, I enjoy myself some Words With Friends. It’s fun, keeps my brain active, and allows me to interact with some family and friends in a small way. Side note: I started playing against someone who works for me recently and felt bad playing “coq” against her. Just waiting for the message from HR.

My routine is to play against people early in the morning and then maybe not again all day, because I would never stop otherwise. There are also weekly challenges against computer players that I do somewhat mindlessly, and these are fun but have one frustrating aspect: computers know all possible words, including made-the-fuck-up ones.

My homey Rockabye and I have started taking and sharing screenshot of the most egregious “computer words.” Part of me doesn’t want to share them here because my parents can start playing them against me, but honestly the words are such nonsense that I’d still never think to look at my letters and put them in these orders. For example, the computer played “dbx” against one of us. (Ooh, a red squiggly line, you say? I agree – not a fucking word. Merriam Webster’s site agrees. What about “dzo,” you ask? Well, it earns a red squiggly line but was found on ye olde m-w.com. It says that’s “a hybrid between the yak and the domestic cow.” I think I speak for all of us when I say, “Ahem…go fuck yourself.” Why would it be “dzo” and not, oh, anything with any of the letters of “yak” instead. “Yow” or even “cak” I’d be ok with, but dzo is bullshit.

Fear not, I have some ire left for more. “Fiqh” isn’t in the online dictionary, but the computer got 18 points for it. You know the word “zebec,” right? It’s defined as, “The word you’ve entered isn’t in the dictionary” but is worth 32 points. (Oddly enough, no red squiggle on that one. Weird.) I’ve got 4 more recent ones to share, starting with “pht.” Nope, not the sound you make when someone does something ridiculous like playing a word like “pht” against you, and not in the dictionary either. “Jezail” is a real word apparently (despite the squiggle), defined as, “a long heavy Afghan rifle.” Totally something I could’ve made up in a game, but then I would’ve talked myself out of it because it was too specific. Three adjectives? I probably would’ve stuck with, “a type of rifle first used in Afghanistan.”

“Jebel” is a word, with the unsatisfying definition of “variant spelling of ‘djebel.'” Thanks for that. And lastly, the computer got 34 bullshit points against me by playing “slojds.” I’m going to guess it’s Nordic with that J, but let’s see…variant of “sloid” or “sloyd”…which is “a system of manual training developed from a Swedish system and designed for training in the use of tools and materials but emphasizing training in wood carving as a means to this end.” Ok, so 100% gibberish with “training” thrown in there three times for good measure, got it.

If I didn’t somewhat enjoy capturing these bullshit words, I’d stop playing against the computer all together, but alas, I do. I’ll try to share more from time to time when they come up. Please feel free to send me any similar ones you see if you play against the computer too so we can commiserate. In the meantime, I’m going to start studying up on slojd so I can sloid other people in the art of sloyd.

Getting my own verb

Good morning, homepeople. I have a couple of quick updates on my quarantine goals I set out a while ago:

  1. Exercising is going well, but I may need to change things up. The 250 pushups spread throughout the day is great and delivering results. I’ve even switched to doing 50 at a time instead of 25 sometimes and noticed that getting easier, which is something I never expected. I might need to alter the running around the island though because my left knee has started to hurt and it might be too high-impact. I’ll see if our old elliptical machine still works, and if so, I may switch to doing that for 30-45 minutes a morning instead.
  2. Creativity isn’t super high. Aside from not writing here as much as I would like, I still haven’t touched any of the side projects I’d ideally be making progress on. Even worse, I came up with a couple more ideas that I probably won’t get to. I suppose working full-time while being a father and husband (who uses morning free time to exercise) doesn’t allow much room for other activities unless I want to get even less sleep.
  3. The beard: I’ve trimmed it, but it’s still much longer than I used to keep it, and I think it’ll remain at about this length. I did finally get a haircut as well, which was completely necessary since it was quite a mess of curls and waves that was threatening to become a Tom Hanks 80s-style mullet. Not a good look for anyone.

I told some people at work a story earlier this week and thought I could share it here as well. You see, I have a bit of a reputation at work as someone who is a wee bit picky about writing, tone, and word choice. I can’t help it; I care about those things a lot, and when I see it done sub-optimally, I have a hard time leaving it alone. I admit that I’m tough in this regard, and if someone wants me to review something before it goes out, I will have edits – even if it’s something I’ve looked at before and already edited. As it turns out, my team has a term for this: Peterizing. They apparently use the verb “to Peterize” with some regularity. For example, “We need to tell the whole site about this, so let’s write something up, get it Peterized, then send it out tomorrow morning.” I’d like to think that the term means “to enhance in a teachable way,” but it’s probably more like “to scrutinize but we have to let him because he’s the boss.”

It’s used in a good-natured way, but I wanted to let them know that I’ve been in their position before. Two jobs ago, I was the face of the company to many of our clients and in charge of communicating with them. My boss, the company’s owner, was very particular about how things were written and wanted to see drafts of certain types of emails before I sent them out (i.e. big project updates, kickoffs/introductions, etc.). The routine was as follows: I’d write something up, print it out, hand it to him, and brace myself as he grabbed a pen. He’d start going to work and mutter along the way things like, “Don’t need this,” “we don’t think, we know,” “don’t tell them that next step yet,” etc. I always got something back with a bunch of scribbles, but I also felt like he was actually making the writing better.

Then one day, I started writing another email for him to look at and I stopped myself. “How would he write this?” I asked myself. And then I did my best to channel my boss and basically ghost write the email for him. I remember typing something, realizing he’d probably cross it out, and deleting it. When I was done, I printed it out, handed it to him, and braced myself as he grabbed his pen. He held it above the paper as he read, poised to write, but then he didn’t. Instead he looked up after a minute, handed me the unmarked sheet of paper and said, “Here you go. Best thing you’ve ever written.” I didn’t agree with that – that honor still goes to the gloomy poetry I wrote as a 15 year old – but I learned my lesson: write to your audience, and use the feedback you get to improve your process.

So I told my team that story and explained that I would love nothing more to say the same thing to them, and I’ll keep highlighting what I’m changing and why to help them along the way. (For example, one guy is crazy for clauses at the beginning of sentences. I shit you not, he once wrote something that started with, “Unfortunately, at this time, due to unforeseen circumstances, it’s possible that there may have been a slight chance…” I couldn’t take it, crossed all of it out and wrote, “Just say the thing.” I may be a monster.)

That’s it – nothing earth-shattering or even funny today, but I wanted to post something and had a story to tell (about a story I told, incidentally). Have a wonderful 4th of July, and take care.


Good morning, and happy early Father’s Day to all the dads out there (but especially my own). I really wanted to write Fathers’ with the s’ instead of the ‘s, because that makes more sense to me, so I looked it up. Wikipedia (which is always 100% accurate) lists it as “Father’s Day (or Fathers’ Day),” so that wasn’t much help. But it only lists the female counterpart as “Mother’s Day.” I get it, we’re honoring our individual mom or dad, but I think it’s more appropriate to say it’s a day that all moms or dads share. And what if you have two moms? Then it should definitely be Mothers’ Day. I didn’t expect to spend that amount of time on this topic, but now I’m fired up about this great injustice.

Speaking of my dad, I clearly inherited something from him: the ability to quickly fall asleep in virtually any setting. My friend Dusty likes to remind me that I fell asleep when we were in Spain in the middle of the loudest flamenco performance of all time. To defend myself, it was so loud that I think my body was trying to shut down so it didn’t have to deal with it.

In any case, I fall asleep quickly and often. Last night, for example, I wanted to listen to a podcast and play a couple of games on my phone before going up to bed. I woke up on the couch with the podcast over and not even having started a game. When I rewound it, I only remembered the first five minutes, and it was on 2x speed. That’s kind of impressive if you consider the fact that I felt awake enough to start that activity.

Last weekend, something funny happened that I wanted to share. We’d all been doing our own thing for a while, and I took a break to lie down on the couch. (I’m seeing a theme here and might have solved my issue going forward – just no more using the couch!) I knew I was feeling a little sleepy, so when my daughter suggested we do something, I thought that was a good idea before sleep took over. “Let’s play a game,” she said. I asked if she had anything in mind, and she didn’t really. Then she asked if I had any thoughts. What came out of my mouth was this: “Yeah…maybe…Ellen’s haircut.” “What?” she asked me. “It sounded like you said Ellen’s haircut.” “Uh…I did,” I replied, “but what I meant to say was…Pictionary.” We both started laughing, very confused at what transpired. In my head, I’d started to go off to a weird dreamland while still having a conversation, and I vaguely remember picturing Ellen DeGeneres but I have no idea why. And when my brain was ready to answer “Pictionary” (since I was still processing our conversation and had a thought of something we could play), it came out as “Ellen’s haircut.” I wish I could explain it more.

So naturally, my creative daughter made up a game called Ellen’s Haircut that was a fun guessing game where you had to give clues about an object and category that someone’s hair looks like. We laughed about how we got there, and I think I might be hearing about this for the rest of my life, which I totally deserve. We still give my dad shit for his spontaneous sleep sessions, so I’ll continue the family tradition. Have a great weekend, everyone.


Hello, and I hope all 3-5 of you are doing well and staying safe. Quick update on my quarantine goals: first, I’m not being as creative as I’d like. Posting here occasionally is all I’m doing, but I know that’s better than nothing. For exercise, I’m actually exceeding my goals. I’m running twice as much as I expected, and I’m spreading 250 pushups out across each day and noticing a difference. As for the beard, my lovely wife kindly suggested that I trim it a little, so I took a little off under my jawbone where it was getting bushiest (and whitest for some reason). Still got the full and scraggly beard going for a while though, and since you all care so much, I’ll keep you updated.

I was talking to a friend of mine who I’ll call Jon (because that’s his real name) and it reminded me of a story from about a year ago. Let me set the stage a little first. Jon and I have known each other and been very close friends since meeting in 9th grade English class nearly 30 years ago. We know each other very well, having spent 8 years of high school and college together, and then living and working together for a short time after that. We chat weekly, and on one of our normal calls I said, “I’m going to say something that I’ve never said to you in all the years we’ve known each other: I’d like your help with a crossword puzzle clue.”

In case that sounds mean to you, let me further explain. As detailed in this space before, I love crossword puzzles and all manner of word games. It’s one of my things and giving modesty a middle finger, I’m quite good at them. They are not Jon’s thing. Jon is a very talented creative person. He got a BFA in Acting and then an MFA after attending an intensive Shakespearean theater program. He’s written and recorded songs and has many talents that are nowhere near my wheelhouse, so this was more of a “funny for me to ask you about this” than anything mean-spirited.

So I told him that I wanted his help, and he laughed and said, “Let’s hear it.” “Ok,” I said, “what is the name of Prospero’s brother?” Another aside: I loved learning and studying Shakespeare in high school and college, and even had a time where I wanted to be a professor who taught Shakespeare as my profession. I’d somehow missed “The Tempest” along the way, but I knew that Jon was in a scene of “The Tempest” in high school and then spent years studying Shakespeare in his Master’s program, so he was the perfect person to ask. He laughed and said, “That’s hilarious. My dad called me yesterday asking me the same exact question.” “That’s really funny,” I said, “and what was the answer.” “I have no idea,” he responded.

“WHAT?!” I exclaimed. “Yeah, he asked me but I didn’t know.” “And you didn’t look it up?” I asked. “No.” I was dumbfounded. I went over his credentials again with him and explained not only why I asked him, but also why he should know that. And if he didn’t, why he should’ve gone and found the answer right away. Then I told him it would be another 30 years before I asked him about another crossword clue.

I ended up getting enough letters of nearby clues to deduce that the answer was “Antonio.” I texted that to Jon, and he told me that that’s what he would’ve guessed, which was super helpful. I encouraged him to reach out to his dad to make sure he eventually got the answer, but I’m not sure if he ever did.

I don’t think he gave our interaction a second thought, which highlights another difference between us. On the rare occasion that someone specifically seeks me out for a grammar question, I want to be the expert they think I am. When I have to tell them, “Honestly, I don’t know when to use ‘lay’ or ‘lie’ despite looking it up a hundred times,” I feel like I let them down and mentally kick myself a little. But hey, that’s part of what makes our friendship so strong – core values right in line with each other, but very complementary strengths and weaknesses on the fringe. I cherish that and would love for everyone to have many longtime friends who fit that bill since it’s truly enriched my life. But he should’ve known that answer. That’s bullshit.

By any other name

This just in: the world is still batshit crazy. Back to you, Colleen.

And now let’s talk about me. Probably close to a year ago now, I had an experience that I knew in the moment would be a classic story to tell my friends and family. Many have already heard it, and they’re the only ones who read this, so I’m pretty much getting this down for posterity I suppose.

I was overseeing a team in another state, and a new second-in-command was hired named…Peter. I joked to his boss that “new Peter” would have a lot to live up to sharing a name with me, and he said that the new hire actually went by Pete, so that should minimize the confusion.

The following weekend, there was some issue and we had a bunch of emails going back and forth. One person asked IT if they could share a document “with Peter” so we were all looking at the same thing. Minutes later, I got an email giving me access to something I already had. I wrote back, “Thanks. I think they might’ve been talking about Pete(r) Lastname and not me.” He wrote back apologizing for the error, and I said, “No problem at all – maybe we can get him to go exclusively by Pete.” That was it.

Monday morning came, and someone higher up in IT walked up to my desk. “I heard we had Petergate over the weekend,” he said. “What?” I asked, with genuine surprise. “Yeah, apparently you were upset that they messed up and confused you and the other Peter.” “No!” I said, “I wasn’t upset at all!” He started scrolling through messages and then read aloud, “Peter K. is concerned that confidential information might get sent to the wrong person-” I cut him off: “I’m not concerned about that! I didn’t say anything about that at all. I just said that I thought they had the wrong person!” I couldn’t believe how quickly my note had been twisted and misinterpreted, and that made me much more exasperated than normal. But wait, there’s more (and this requires a new paragraph).

“Well, we’re fixing it,” the IT guy said. “Ok,” I said, taking a breath. “Yeah, he’s just going to go by his middle name Joseph now.” And that’s when I became the monster they already thought I was. “WHAT?! No – absolutely not. We can’t make this guy change his name just because we sent one email to the wrong person. I’m not concerned about this at all! Please stop that happening right away.” “Well, they already created a new email address for him this morning, and he was totally ok with it,” he said. “Of course he said he’s ok with it, but I’m not. Please change this back. We can handle this. Call me ‘Los Angeles Peter’ or ‘Peter K.’ or whatever, but this is absurd. We have two (insert common name)s in IT and manage to function still. We can’t change this poor guy’s name.” “Ok, I’ll tell them to change his name and email back.” “Thank you,” I said, “I can see the negative review online now – ‘The boss in Los Angeles couldn’t handle someone having the same name as him so he made me go by my middle name’ – I’d sound like such a tyrant, and I’m not actually worried about his name at all!” When the dust settled, his name was changed back to his real first name, and I wrote him apologizing for the overreaction and subsequent correction to the overreaction. All was well.

A couple of months later, it was time to prepare bonuses for everyone. I had a spreadsheet from HR with all of my team’s names, salaries, bonuses from the previous year, and placeholder amounts for that year. It was the end of the day, and I wanted to email the spreadsheet to myself so I had it handy. Just before hitting send, I noticed that I’d accidentally put the other Peter’s email address in (after typing “p-e-t” and accepting the first thing that popped up). I quickly changed that up and thought, “Well shit, that would’ve been a big problem. Maybe I should start going by Todd.”

Marketing for 200, Alex

Hello again, the 3-5 people who read this. I hope you’re all doing well, though texting you to really find out would probably be easier. I should try that.

Two things for you today. First, I was washing my face in the shower and noting how big my beard has gotten. I wondered, “Should I use my normal face soap or switch to shampoo since it’s actually a sizable amount of hair now?” I was making cases for both in my head, but thought shampooing my beard just seemed too weird. Later, I searched on ye olde Google and saw listing after listing for…beard wash. Of course. Why would either soap or shampoo be good enough when you can create a new category and sell us additional products? A quick search of “beard wash” on Amazon brought up 868 results. To be fair, some are other beard-related products, but there’s plenty of beard wash and, of course, beard conditioner to follow up with. I’ll stick to my face soap for now, though I have tried some beard oil post-shower to soften it a little and it might actually work, so who the fuck knows? Seems like a marketing gimmick, but I suppose that doesn’t automatically mean that it doesn’t also work.

Speaking of marketing, I’ve been working in that industry for 15 years now. So I’ve seen a lot when it comes to ways to highlight benefits, and I keep an eye out for those things as a consumer too. I’ll never forget when companies started plastering “Fat Free!” on things that never would’ve had it in the first place, like fruit snacks. But one caught my eye and got my goat this past week. We have a box of Honey Nut Cheerios at our house. I’ve tried several times to insert the picture I took of it, but apparently that’s a step too difficult for me to manage. So I’ll describe it instead: just more than halfway down the front of the box is a big red ribbon-style banner that reads in all-caps, “Can help LOWER CHOLESTEROL* as part of a heart healthy diet.” The “lower cholesterol” font is larger and nearly as big as the words “Honey Nut” in the product name, so between that and the way the red banner stands out, it’s very visible (and intentionally so).

And then beneath that, in a much smaller font and harder to read on a yellow background, is the part that the asterisk after CHOLESTEROL was referring to. Ahem: “Three grams of soluble fiber daily from whole grain oat foods, like Honey Nut Cheerios cereal, in a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol, may reduce the risk of heart disease. Honey Nut Cheerios cereal provides .75 grams per serving.”

So let me get this straight. Their big and bold claim about how their food can potentially help lower cholesterol has some pretty fucking big caveats. First, it needs to already be a part of a healthy diet with low fat and cholesterol. That’s like saying something will help you lose weight if you’re already dieting and exercising. Second, those “maybe benefits” (maybenefits?) only come into play if you have 4 servings a day. I do like that they decreased attention to that by having them at the opposite ends of the text. And writing “three” instead of “3” and “.75” instead of “0.75” are nice touches too. You know what else you get from 4 servings of the cereal? 96% of your recommended daily amount of sugar and 36% of the sodium to boot. That’s quite a trade-off for some some maybenefits.

Two quick stories came to mind when writing about this. The first is a little X-rated, but you’ll be fine. An old co-worker once told me about a female pleasure cream that his former company sold back in the very early days of the internet where nothing was regulated. He said it was just a normal cream with no special properties, but in the instructions it said to “apply by rubbing the cream into the desired area 50 times in a circular motion,” so he felt like they legally covered themselves enough. Classy.

The other story involves the last company I worked for. We were about to start selling a new and improved formula of a popular product. I was in a meeting and looking at the new marketing materials, and I said, “Is it really 5 times more effective than the last version?” The head of the product development team turned to me and said, “No. It’s actually 23 times more effective, but that number is too unbelievable to consumers so we’re lowering it. We thought about just saying ‘twice as effective’ since ‘twice’ is a powerful word.” That blew my mind, but I also understood it at the same time. You don’t want to cross into “too good to be true” territory, and though I can’t really explain it, “twice as effective” might make me more likely to buy than “5 times.” Weird stuff, but I can’t help but love it.

That’s it for today. I hope everyone enjoys their long weekend, and make sure you mix in some NO FAT! NO CHOLESTEROL! foods like carrots and bottled water.

Lost in (a lack of) translation

Hello, and welcome back to things I thought and chose to wrote about. For example, oatmeal is really more of an oatsnack, ya know? Thank you, you’ve been great.

Quick story for today: with everything going on in the world and our lives, I haven’t really felt like watching any serious dramas on tv. My lovely wife and I don’t have too many shows we watch without our kids, but enough that episodes are usually there when we want them. We might still have a couple “Grace and Frankie” episodes left when the mood strikes, but we completed all of “Schitt’s Creek” and are waiting for the next absurdly-inappropriate “Big Mouth” season to begin.

So the time was right to look around Netflix and Amazon Prime to see if anything caught my fancy or tickled my eye. Lo and behold, my eye was tickled. I saw that Phoebe Wallers-Bridge (of “Fleabag” fame, which we thoroughly enjoyed) had a previous show that she wrote and co-starred in called “Crashing.” (Note: there’s a different U.S. show of the same name, so this is often referred to as “Crashing U.K.” online.) It had only one season with six episodes, and all of them were under half an hour. Totally worth giving it a shot for an episode or two because of what we’d seen from her before.

So we watched the first episode and it was…good. I added ellipses because it was a slightly complicated “good.” I could tell that in that brief episode, the characters were well-written, I wanted to learn more about them and their world, there was humor, and there was some really solid storytelling. But I didn’t love it off the bat and was able to pretty quickly put my finger on why. “I think we should watch the next one with subtitles,” I told my lovely wife. She immediately and enthusiastically agreed.

Here’s the thing: not to brag, but I speak English pretty good. I even understand British English most of the time (except for when my British co-worker either ordered a box of S’mores or Samoas from my daughter and I had to ask her to point to which one because they sounded exactly the same – try it!). But this particular British was fast, witty, and with some Aaron Sorkin-esque banter at times that we just weren’t picking up. Add to that a French character who had some French sentences thrown in there that we couldn’t tell if we were supposed to understand or not.

So we watched the rest of the episodes with English subtitles on, and the show is great. We were sad when it ended because we would watch several seasons of it and follow those storylines wherever Ms. Waller-Bridge’s very capable mind took us, but she moved on. And now that I’ve accepted the fact that I might need English subtitles for a show in English, I added a handful of other shows to my queue to check out in the same way. I’m excited by this, because I could see it leading to me eventually transitioning to non-English-language shows with subtitles and open up all sorts of possibilities, ya know, in all my free time.

That’s it for now. Just wanted to share a show you may be interested in along with the warning/suggestion that you might need help understanding your native tongue. There’s probably a deep lesson in there somewhere and a parallel I could draw to listening vs. understanding and how we can be speaking the same language but missing the real connection because we need to work on finding the right tools to allow the message to really hit home, but I think I’ll have another cup of coffee instead.

A puzzling decision

Good morning, and Happy Mother’s Day to all the moms out there. I hope your day manages to stand out as special despite all the sameness we keep experiencing on a daily basis.

So last week, I got on a video conference as I now do multiple times a day. When the other party joined, the first thing he said was, “Hey, nice quarantine beard!” Normally I’d say that I have further proof that my beard is making me look noticeably different, but here’s the thing: I’d never met this guy before. He has no idea what I looked like a month or two ago but my face still screamed “quarantine beard” enough that led with it. Maybe it’s more like, “There’s no way he’d normally go around looking like that.” Either way, a risk on his part since he had literally no data to go off, but he was right.

That’s not why I’m here today though. I feel like I’ve definitely shared this story in writing somewhere but can’t find it on this blog, so I guess I haven’t since I only write things here. As probably everyone reading this knows, I’m a big fan of crossword puzzles. It’s in my blood from my mother, and I get a lot of joy from correctly filing in those boxes. I have the New York Times puzzle app on my phone and do them all the time and love it. Back when things were normal, I would travel every two months or so to visit another site for work. As soon as I’d sit on the plane, I’d pull out the in-flight magazine and try to complete the puzzle before the wheels were off the ground, and I always succeeded. (In truth, most of that is because I’m on there the moment I’m allowed and everything takes so long with the announcements that I have a good amount of time). My coworkers have made fun of me for getting excited when our trip out there is at the end of one month and the trip back is in another since that means we’ll have a new magazine and puzzle, but they can go fuck themselves.

In any case, a few years back I flew up to the Bay Area for my cousin’s bar mitzvah. It’s a quick flight, and I decided I would go there and back on the same day. I’ve done that with one-day conferences to Las Vegas before and it’s not bad at all when the flights are so short. I wore a suit and brought a pen in my inside jacket pocket so I could do the puzzle, which I did before we took off. (And it felt great as always to fill in that last box. Ahhh.)

That afternoon, I got on the plane again and saw the same magazine issue as before. I had a funny (to me) thought: “What if I nonchalantly do this puzzle again in record time and make people around me think I’m some sort of genius?” I saw no downside. I took it out, flipped to the page, pretended to consider it for a few seconds, then took out my pen and went to work. I paused and looked up a couple of times (a la Doogie Howser – my brother knows what I’m talking about at least), but went pretty much non-stop through it all. Then when I was done, I looked it over and nodded as if to say, “Yep, I just did that without really trying and I guess my work is done here,” then put it back in the seat pocket in front of me. I had no idea if anyone was watching – and why would they? – but I chuckled to myself over my ridiculous behavior.

We took off, and I sat back and listened to a podcast or music for a few minutes before something very unexpected happened: a tap. Not just any tap – a tap with a newspaper. I was in the aisle seat on the left side of the plane, and I turned back to see the woman in the right aisle seat one row back offering me a newspaper section opened to the crossword puzzle. “Oh, thank you!” I said aloud as I took it from her. But inside I was thinking some combination of shits and fucks. She’d seen my stupid act, bought it, and was now asking the puzzle genius to perform on command. Shits and fucks, my friends.

I quickly sized up my options. I could make a show of putting it in my bag, saying thank you again, and then closing my eyes and pretending to sleep for the rest of the short flight. I could try doing the puzzle but know that it would be slower than the first and I might disappoint my only fan. Or I could double down and do it super quickly…with random letters in the boxes and a satisfied nod at the end. That last one seemed too risky…and possibly a tad insane. So I went with option two and started doing the puzzle.

I was making progress, but I also purposely checked my phone a few times and changed what I was listening to as a way of showing that I wasn’t 100% focused on the puzzle. I have no idea if she was watching any of this of course since she was behind me, but she watched me complete the puzzle before, so it was possible. Thankfully I was able to complete the puzzle and it wasn’t one of those super hard ones with all 9-letter clues with proper noun answers I’ve never heard of. It wasn’t lightning quick and may have let my fan down, but I lifted it a little when I was done, nodded at it, and then went back to my music while my heart rate went back to normal. At the end of the flight, I thanked her again and prayed she wasn’t going to ask me any questions or hand me another puzzle. She didn’t, so prayer obviously works.

That’s my story. I did something kinda stupid for no reason, got caught, and had to try replicating it on the spot. I lived through it and did such a poor job learning my lesson that I’ve done the same thing coming back from work trips when I return in the same month. I don’t know why, but I haven’t been handed any other puzzles from strangers. Oh I know why – because something’s wrong with me. But there may also be a dozen people out there who have left a plane, called a friend or family member while walking to the baggage claim, and said something like, “Yeah, flight was good. And I sat near a crossword puzzle genius.” Shut up, it could happen.


Good morning, everyone. I’m going to have a very busy work week, so I can easily see many more days going by without posting anything. Therefore I’m forcing myself to do it now. Quarantine goals!

I’ve noticed a change in something recently, and I’d like to know if it’s just me or not. It’s about apps, and more specifically, the ads for apps. I was playing a game on my phone called Nonogram, which is Sudoku-like in some ways and I’ve found fairly addicting. I’d made one too many mistakes and needed an extra “life,” so the program showed me a 30-second ad for another app. It’s a stupid one I’ve seen many times and have never had any desire to try out. You need to get a fish or human (depending on the ad they’re serving up at the moment) to safety by doing all sorts of silly things. Sometimes it’s choosing a wrench instead of a steak, for instance. Thrilling stuff.

For this ad, it was a little more logic-based, and you had to pull metal rods in the right order to get the fish to safety instead of burned to death by lava. Nice and light-hearted, right? So I was watching the sample gameplay as a fake user pulled one metal rod to the side and then moved to the next logical one. At the last second, it moved to another rod and the fish burned to death. Then it asked if I wanted to give it a shot. This was interesting for me, because I’d never had the desire to play that game, but seeing someone inept at it made me think, “Moron, I could do that better.” And I swear this didn’t use to be the case.

Here’s how I remember ads for apps, and I really want to know if it resonates with others. The first ones I remember seeing showed people being successful at the games. They popped the bubbles, hit the homerun, shot the bad guy, etc. It was aspirational, which is a tried and true form of marketing – you show the person you want to look/feel like and not the one who needs the product/service. You show the professional driver on a closed course illustrating what the car can do at its peak performance. You see the amazing athlete chug the Gatorade after dunking on his opponents. This method let to me still getting apps from time to time when the gameplay looked like fun.

I remember seeing a change a couple of years ago with an ad for a brick-breaking game. It showed a split screen, with “My Mom” on the left and “My Dad” on the right. Since men have to be oafish buffoons in all ads by law, the ad showed the “mom” playing very well while the “dad” character stupidly shot directly at the bricks right above him and got way fewer points. This was still aspirational in the sense that people watching would want to be more like the mom and would want to give it a shot.

But with this fish game and a couple more I’ve recently seen, it’s like they’re going all-in on a new angle: “Look at this idiot. You could totally do better, right? Prove it.” I don’t get it, and I especially don’t get that it worked a little on me. I didn’t download the game and still won’t, but I found myself briefly wanting to show that I was better than the idiot.

Has anyone else noticed ads like this? And if so, does it work on you at all? I can’t tell if it’s aiming at a younger demographic with super high self-esteem or what, but it was a noticeable enough shift over the past few years that I jotted down a note to write about it sometime. And here we are.

Take care, everyone, and I hope you all have a good and healthy week.

Hot mug talk

Another week of our new totally-not-normal is coming to a close. I’m pleased to say that of the three goals I set for myself during the quarantine, I’m going strong with around 2.5 of them.

Since I’ve been writing these posts every so often, I’m going to consider my “more creative output” goal as the .5. It’s something, but not what I was hoping for yet. On the exercise front, I’ve been (doing my version of) running for 2 miles every morning for probably a few weeks now, and I’ve been adding some sets of pushups throughout the day. I can always do more and add additional exercises, but that’s a win. And the beard? It’s still going strong and getting more and more comments on video conferences. A funny thing happened yesterday during a 1-on-1 video chat with an employee. My beard came up in conversation, and she said, “I don’t know why people are giving you shit about your beard, I think it looks good.” I paused for a second and said, “I…didn’t realize people were giving me shit about it.” She backtracked a little, saying, “Oh, I just thought you said people were commenting a lot or something like that…” We laughed, and I said that my wife likes it, and that’s all that matters.

Speaking of my lovely wife, I have a quick story about how she and I interpreted the same thing in different ways. This isn’t at the level of “meat helmets” or “the giant umbrella of Cox” since I think there are only two interpretations, but I wanted to share it. Sometime in the past year or two, I bought some coffee mugs from one of those sites that has thousands to choose from with different sayings, pop culture references, etc. For myself, I got one that says “Harry Otter” and has a picture of an otter with a lightning bolt scar on its forehead and holding a wand. It made me chuckle, so I got it. As a surprise, I got a mug for my lovely wife too. It said, “I read past my bedtime.” I thought it was perfect for her, because I can’t count the number of times over our many years living together that she’s sleepily said to me in the morning, “I read for too long last night.” So I thought nothing could be better than a mug full of coffee stating the reason that she needed said drink.

She liked the mug and starting using it with some frequency. It was soon after that she referenced it and I realized we were reading it differently. She sees, “I REED past my bedtime,” as an admission to those around her that she has this problem. As in, “Hi, my name is Peter’s Lovely Wife, and I read past my bedtime.” I see it as, “I RED past my bedtime,” and therefore need coffee. Both work, but they’re pretty different to me. Not too many verbs would allow for this ambiguity. If it said, “I watched too much Netflix last night” or “I play video games until dawn,” we’d know with certainty. I don’t want to give the mug makers too much credit and assume that they intentionally made the message ambiguous; I’m pretty sure they had one of those two readings (that’s “reedings”) in mind.

So, gentle readers, which pronunciation did you first hear in your heads? And if it’s my wife’s version of the statement, what would yours say? I think mine would be, “I love this stuff and may also be addicted.” Have a good day, and stay healthy.