Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Ghostal Spam

The flash drive with the pictures for my next post is at home today, due to an entirely non-made up story involving unicorns, volcanoes, and an escaped Mayan god of the underworld. Enjoy this instead.

I have a coworker who's constantly bewildered by spam. Despite his sharp intellect, he won't abandon his Yahoo account. Consequently, he sees a lot of spam.

He'll read the subject lines from the emails out loud, carefully enunciating each poor spelling. He can't believe anyone falls for spam so many years after its advent. When I explained to him that the elderly are the most common victims, he laughed and derisively shook his head. "Maybe if it came through postal mail," he explained.

Grabbing a pen and a stack of Post-Its, I quickly sketched something. "You mean like this," I said, showing him my drawing:

He nodded. "Definitely. I'd give that ghost my bank account number."

Friday, October 22, 2010

Taco Bell

Google is currently unable to answer my question "Is Taco Bell real?"

There are a lot of people asking if it's real meat (or "meet"), or if it's real Mexican food, or if it's really bad for you, but no one else asking if it actually exists.

Can someone get on this for me?

Monday, October 18, 2010

The Neti Pot: A Review

The Neti Pot was originally a medieval torture implement used to coerce confessions from suspected witches. It's since been repurposed by the modern age as a homeopathic way to clear the sinuses. If you're tired of eating Sudafed by the handful, or you're a meth head with a cold and can't have your name on the government watch list again, a Neti Pot might be for you. At great personal cost ($14.99), I decided to try this product out and review it for your benefit. In addition, it could possibly aid me as I lay dying of Man Pox, or Tremarian Walking Sickness; the tests the doctors ordered aren't conclusive.

they said these were living inside of me?

The instructions told me to read them in their entirety before attempting the operation, which should have clued me in that shit was about to get real. Last time I encountered wording like that was in sixth grade, and the last direction on the page was to disregard all the other instructions, sign my name, and sit quietly. Of course I didn't read all the directions before starting, so I was drawing triangles and shouting the name of my favorite color while everyone else stared.

These instructions were simple by comparison, but contained strongly wording warnings about how much of the seasoning packet - sorry, solution - I should use. Too little was bad, too much was worse, so I had to experiment. With the liquid I was pouring into my head. Through my face.

Why did I not have to show my license before I was allowed to buy this?

So I read the booklet about the tiny plastic kettle, only slightly horrified by the pictures of smiling people jamming them in their nostrils.

I knew that's what I intended to do, but why were those people so cheerful? Nothing about the process seemed enjoyable. All the videos I've seen on the internet of non-pod people using a Neti Pot involved expressions of grim determination that wouldn't look out of place on trapped miners.

Furthermore, the Neti Pot how-to pictures belong to a series I like to call, "You Know Someone Had to Audition for That." Portfolios were examined, interviews were held, and some lucky girl called her parents that night to say she got the modeling job. "We're so proud of you, sweetheart! What's the shoot for? Clothes? Jewelry?" "No! I'm holding a little watering can in my nose. Isn't that great? Mom? Dad? Hello?"

Bracing myself for the worst, I brought the Neti Pot to nose level. I bent over the sink, trying not to look in my own eyes because of the shame.

I poured.

Salt water raped every part of my face, inside and outside, then shot out from wherever was convenient. I choked, gasped, and heaved, water spewing from places I thought were sacred. Tears streamed down my face continuously, and for a moment I thought the Neti Pot had irrigated my eyes. If I had to describe the experience using as few words as possible, I'd call it a nose enema, or self-waterboarding.

the Abominable Neti strikes again

In support of the Neti Pot, my sinuses were pretty clear when I could draw more than a single ragged breath without coughing up solution. My roommate - who has also been laid low by Mummy Rot - told me his instruction book had better pictures; in his booklet, the model's elbows weren't held high like she was having tea with the damned Queen. This distinction almost killed me.

It'd be a shame to drown in my bathroom, given all the trouble I went through learning to swim.

How Minecraft Saved My Life

This was originally titled "How Minecraft Almost Ruined My Life." By the time I was done writing it, I felt differently. The title was accordingly changed.

One night, what I thought was a a double date ended up as a free for all for the only single girl in attendance. If you've seen the Discovery Channel in one of the rare moments when they're showing nature footage instead of Dirty Crab Boat Myths, it was like watching moose bang their stupid heads together during mating season. I finally gave up and went home, nothing to show for my troubles but a headache.

Faced with crushing disappointment, I retreated to a more comfortable emotional place. In this case I returned to my constant love, the one woman who had never betrayed me, Madame Video Games. I'd played all the video games I owned ad nauseam, and my netbook limits my selection. Thankfully, Penny Arcade recently did a two part comic about Minecraft.

"I don't have any of my own ideas," I thought. "I'll do what they tell me!"

Minecraft, which I got for free because all the Penny Arcade fans crashed the server, is like Dwarf Fortress, Legend of Zelda, and a Lego set made sloppy love and birthed a child. It's a sandbox game, which means you set your own goals and it's only over when you're bored.

You play a three block high avatar with ten heart containers and an inventory. You start off naked and penniless, a punch your only way to interact with the world; in other words, like Mike Tyson waking up on a Saturday night.

I decided I'd give Mincecraft a chance, see what there was to see. If I died - I laugh now at my naivete - I would start over as a new incarnation of the same person. What follows is my journey through sleeplessness, addiction, obsession, delusion, and the neverending quest to find some iron ore.

(Seriously, where the hell is all the iron ore?)

I woke up on the beach. The sun was bright above me, and the waves in no way lapped the shore. Right off I could tell there was something seriously wrong with the way water worked in this universe.

I punched the beach, the earth, a tree, even a pig that dared come near me. This was the first and simplest amusement, like running over pedestrians in GTA.

Growing tired of my endless punchery, I decided to get down to business with a great big fuck-all-Middle-Earth-a-wizard-lives-here tower. Night fell, however, and I couldn't work in the dark. While I was figuring out what to do next, I noticed a spider approaching me. Although the graphics are charmingly blocky, I could see the menace in the thing's glowing red eyes.

In real life, I catch spiders, identify them, and release them outside. But in Minecraft?

It was on like Donkey Kong.

I should note that, at the start of most games, you stand a decent chance of killing a monster. Ever barehanded, it's not a steep difficulty curve. Game developers ease you into replaying the same level twelve times, cursing and banging your head on the keyboard as you go. Minecraft bucks this trend.

Punching the spider with my cubed fist of fury only made it angry. It leapt at my face, and my heart containers rapidly emptied. I panicked and tried to run, but it was much faster. So much faster. In the space of a few seconds, the spider had done a murder on me.

My first incarnation taught me a hard lesson, and that lesson was that everything could kill me.

the last thing I ever saw

The mainland was clearly not for me, so I set out for a remote island at the start of my second incarnation. I spent some time building up sand walls, and added cacti on top for je ne sais quoi. I should have made my walls out of stone, but I was shaky on the stone gathering process - every stone block I punched to death yielded naught but frustration.

Nevertheless, these sand walls were a mighty bulwark against the spider invasion fleet which I feared would come for me in the night.

Speaking of, night in Minecraft is dark; it's not movie dark, lit by a strange blue glow, but real life dark.

like this

I knew I needed coal for torches, but couldn't find a seam. As a result, I fell into holes in the sand I dug in the light, simply because I couldn't see them. You can suffocate if you're buried by enough sand, and I'm amazed that I didn't.

I kept working, though - Cacti Castle needed to be ready for the arachnid advent. Each morning I'd swim to the mainland, punching trees and animals till I had lumber and leather a-plenty; each sunset I'd frantically swim back, terrified the spiders were already on their way.

One day I found a cave under my island. Previous games had taught me caves were full of treasure and wonders without cease. Could there be coal inside, such that my endless nights of hiding in sand holes would be over? Without another thought I leapt into the darkness.

I landed, taking damage. I saw something move out of the corner of my eye, then my other hearts were drained four at a time. I don't know what killed me, but it was good at it. In the end, I wasn't surprised that I built Cacti Catle atop the Cave of Nasty Death.

looks fine to me, let's start building!

As neither the mainland or the islands proved a suitable habitation, my remaining options were to live in the air or the water. Gameplay mechanics prevented me from doing either, so in my third incarnation I went back to the dream of a tower.

Fortunately I had done some reading up on Minecraft in the bleary day that followed lives one and two. I yielded no workable stone because I wasn't using a pickaxe, and trees weren't supposed to take so long to be felled. Turns out there were specialty tools for all the jobs. In short, I was trying to make breakfast by punching a waffle maker and some eggs.

"Armed with this new knowledge, I will win!" I declared. "You might have endless monsters and treacherous physics, Minecraft, but I'm a man! I walk on my own two feet! Wait, do I have feet?" 


they're just little stub things
With my new implements I dug earth, worked stone, chopped trees, and made wondrous items. Soon I had a respectable house with a crafting bench, a furnace, and a chest to store my sundries.

I built level after level on the house till it was an impressive tower stretching to the sky. Rich seams of coal had given me fuel for torches, and my nights were no longer a bleak nightscape. I saw the enemy mobs in the distance - skeletons, zombies, the hated spiders - but knew they couldn't harm me.

I was invincible!

...and that's when my computer crashed.

When I do anything graphically intensive (like watching movies, or saying "Photoshop" in a loud voice) with my netbook, there's a chance it will shit itself and completely lock up. The only way to get it to restart is to pull the power cable and the battery. I know it's my own fault for treating it like a desktop replacement, but it's never been a problem before.
One battery removal later, the true horror of my situation hit me.

If a PC shuts down due to power loss - say, from an outage, or a system crash - the game world disappears. There are some devil tricks on the interwebs for bringing it back, but they're iffy at best.

I'd really like to show you my tower, but I can't; all the hours I spent planning, crafting, building, and mining are gone.

Something happened after the crash.

Maybe a transfer took place when I slipped the battery from its housing; maybe the electric current that passed through me resulted in a metaphysical exchange, and Minecraft became aware of me as I was aware of it.

Then again, maybe it was the sleep deprivation. I was playing Minecraft until the single digits of the AM, working my first shift job, and subsisting mainly on E.L. Fudge striped cookies and junk food from the gas station. Notes I took in a meeting were peppered with obscure references to Minecraft, like "5x5, 2 deep no sand" and "moat/bridge - possible?"

Regardless of the why, the subsequent incarnations of my blockmen seemed alive all on their own. I watched their lives as an observer, rather than a director, and what I saw disturbed me.

Four was a wild eyed thing, alternating between bursts of energy and a sullen torpor.

It was understandable, considering how his previous life ended; I imagine it was like the sky opening up, issuing forth strange music and new colors, and then it all going black with a rent like a demon's scream.

Brooding and cheerless, Four decided he would enact revenge on the world that had scourged him with dissolution. He set to work with a crazed gleam in his eye, frantically tearing into the landscape with his fists; all our hard earned knowledge of tools was discarded in favor of rapid progress.

Four placed a block of dirt and jumped on top of it. Jumping again, he placed another on top of that. He did this with block after block. At last, he could go no further up; he stood atop a tower of dirt, erected like a middle finger pointed at all creation.

Four rested briefly at the ceiling of his world. He had never tasted this before, the air above the clouds. Below, the ground was a hazy dimness.

The view was breathtaking, but he hadn't built his tower for sight seeing. With one last glare at the horizon, he jumped. He fell like a meteor of solid fury, three blocks high, fist furiously punching the ever nearing ground like it was the face of the God who despised him.

The fall resonated in Five's mind. He immediately began a determined descent with a crude wooden pickaxe, his face as stony as the blocks he hewed from the earth.

Because of the way physics works (or doesn't) in Minecraft, each block removed was a gamble; it was entirely possible he would tunnel through a magic, floating block and fall once more to his death. Undaunted by this prospect, Five dug. He paused only to set torches in the walls and replace the tools he shattered in his quest.

When the light of day was no more than a distant gleam above, and eclipsed by that of far nearer torches, he hit a vein of strange rocks.

It was black and white and grey, like veined marble, and would yield to none of his tools, even those of iron. He had heard of this rock referred to in legends as "adminium." He knew it marked the furthest depths of the world as sure as the invisible wall of force marked the apex.

"No!" he cried. Five's one goal, his impetus, his single passion, was rudely checked. This was unacceptable. His roar of frustrated rage echoed in the small cavern. Like an animal rooting in the ground, he dug around the adminium this way and that, crossways and contrariwise. He ignored diamonds and gold, discarding them like dross.

Finally, he found something new: a hole in the world.

He gazed into the absence in the floor; beyond was nothing he could comprehend, an out of context problem. "Here be dragons," he thought. Selecting a worn pick axe, he walked to the edge of the abyss.

He jumped.

Whatever waited beyond the hole in the world must have been horrifying. This incarnation awoke, turned his face towards the endless blue of the ocean, and walked without hesitation into the waves.

Water wasn't enough to wash away the nightmares, however, and Seven was clearly still affected by it all. More than anything else, he loved the animals. He especially loved the sheeps, and petted them over and over again.

The coming of the night spooked Seven. When his screams couldn't bring the sun back, he dug a hidey hole in the ground. In the course of digging he fell into a natural cave, landing painfully on the cavern's floor. After he had finished crying over his empty heart containers, he began to explore.

Seven paused to listen every few steps, eyes wide. When he noticed the cave was mysteriously lighter ahead, he gave a happy hoot of surprise - he had found where the Sun was hiding!

He cautiously turned a corner and found a wall of light, falling from a crack in the ceiling.

Seven clapped his hands and jumped up and down; he had never seen solid light before, not even in the fuzzy memories he sometimes had of falling and dark water.

He crept closer to the light, feeling the immense heat on his face, the cave pulsing red and bright orange. He thought he saw something under the surface, if only he could grab it...

Having climbed the highest heights, plumbed the deepest depths, and fallen like Gandalf through fire and water, there was little for Eight to do but walk the world. When darkness fell he wandered still, empty handed yet unafraid.

It wasn't until the first spider appeared that he snapped.

Recalling some dim memory, a scream poured from his mouth. He charged the black bulk of the thing, punching three blocks of sand from the beach on his way. He jumped, erecting a crude tower two blocks high, and began to swing with the third block. Within a minute the confrontation was finished, a flawless victory over the spider.

A grim smile on his face, he threw the sand down and jumped from his murder tower to claim a trophy of string. No sooner had he done so, than he saw a green thing coming for him, crawling around on four stubby legs. He tore the ground up in his fury, roaring defiance at it. Up went the tower and down came the blows.

The creeper began to flash white, and he heard the tell tale hiss of a rapidly burning fuse. He knew what was coming but didn't flinch. "Do it! I want you to do it!" he screamed. The creeper's next jump brought it to eye level, and it exploded with the force of TNT right in his face.

The detonation left a crater, a crater he observed with three and a half remaining hearts. "I'm...I'm still here," he said in quavering voice. "I'm still here!" he shouted, laughing.

"I'm still here!" I said, with a mouth ringed by cookie crumbs in the silence one expects at 3AM.

Something about surviving that explosion had brought me back to myself; I realized I was playing a game, not the other way around. That week I'd spent more time in the world of Minecraft than I had sleeping, and even in my scarce dreams I'd seen a world of cubes.

Even so, for the first time since that awful, awful not-date, I felt like a person.

I had learned that life, like Minecraft, wasn't about winning, but about resilency in the face of repeat failure; about being comfortable that you could never shape the world to look like how you imagined it; it was about getting up and doing the next thing when all you wanted was to lay in the dirt until the monsters came to put you out of your misery.

Taking my cue from the square sun, I rose. I headed into the nearby forest, stared solemnly at a tree, and felt a smile on my face. I punched it for all I was worth.

Life never stops; we shouldn't either.

Sunday, October 10, 2010


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also this guy!

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Saturday, October 9, 2010

Noah's Ark

I'm sure everyone has heard the story of Noah's Ark at least once.

Once upon a time, there was a man named Noah. Noah only did good things, never bad things, and God liked him quite a bit. Everyone else on Earth at the time was a bit of a tosser, so God decided some water would sort them out. He told Noah to build a bloody great big ark, and Noah did. In fact, it was the best ark ever (Ever hear anyone talking about an Ark other than Noah's? Steve's Ark? Johnson's Ark?) All the animals came aboard with Noah and his family for forty days and forty nights. When it was all over, Noah and his family exited the ark with all the animals under a shiny promise rainbow and began the messy work of cleaning up a few million waterlogged bodies.

Later there were some things about Noah making wine and his sons seeing his nakedness. It was a complicated time for everyone.

What few people know is that the story of Noah's Ark is about as new to Christian children as the fact that Spongebob is yellow. However, the challenge of teachers everywhere is to make the world of facts come alive, to make each student personally experience the subject. As a fledgling Sunday school teacher, I keep these lofty ideals close to my heart, like armor.

When my group of four little girls learned we were doing Noah's Ark - which they did by lifting up some blue felt, revealing a boat, and groaning - one little girl loudly complained, "But we've heard this one a hundred times!" Acting on pure instinct, I replied, "Well, now you're going to hear it a hundred and one times."

So began our adventure into the wonder of the Old Testament, and the dissolution of my teacher's creed.

We made it ten minutes into the lesson before a little girl asked if there were dinosaurs on the Ark. "I don't know," I said, unprepared for such a question. "I don't think so," I further conjectured, basing my statement on years of coursework in evolutionary biology and geology, as well as numerous experiences in the field. 

(That's all lies. My answer was based on the deeply held belief that any vessel that contains at least one [1] raptor will be full of murder.)

school picture day is bad for raptors too

"What about sea monsters?" the sister of the first girl asked.

"What about sea monsters?" I replied, hoping my clever repurposing of her own phrase would stun her into silence.

"What if sea monsters attacked the Ark?" she clarified.

"Noah didn't have enough to deal with with all the rain and the animals, you think he had sea monsters chasing him too?"

She giggled. For not the first time I wondered if the kids were secretly keeping score of how often they could get me off subject.

The rest of the story went well enough, and I think my wavy "rain" fingers had them ensorcelled. Once we were finished with the story, I read from the Bible and we went into Christian arts and crafts, also known as creative reflection time. Out came the paper and the crayons, and all heads were down and focused in artistic endeavors. With my limited drawing ability, I tried to depict an Ark on rough waves. When I was done, I asked everyone to see their pictures.

The little girl that was so concerned about the sea monster had drawn said sea monster chasing the Ark.

"See my sea monster?" she asked.

"Yes," I said, "it's very nice. I like his teeth."

"His name is Toot Toot."

Knowing what came next, but unable to help myself, I asked, "Why is his name Toot Toot?"

"Because he ate all the beans in the world and he farts at the Ark while he chases it. Toot toot!"

This started a round of them  singing the "beans beans / the magical fruit" song, which I listened to in disbelief and a bit of fear. This was not "Father I Adore You"; what if another adult happened by? Would I be removed from the Sunday school rotation? Would I be excommunicated?

I soldiered on in fear, and back to the drawing table I went. Literally.

While I was contemplating Ark.2,one of the students looked up from her drawing and said, apropos of nothing, "Did you know we're not really little girls, but robots? We just wear little girl skin. Every night we charge up instead of sleeping. We're powered by bugs, and we have a beetle instead of a brain."

Horrified, I asked, " bugs run in little treadmills?"

"No," she explained, as if I was the off task child and she the teacher, "the worms stretch from my fingers down to my foot, and from my other hand down to my other foot." Sensing my uncomprehension, she said, "Here, I'll draw it for you."

Take a look:

I think Lovecraft called it a Shoggoth. When I showed a version of it to a friend he said, "Wasn't that in Doom? I've definitely seen that in a first person shooter."

The rest of children's church passed by very quickly, and soon we were reunited with the rest of the congregation. I took the opportunity to pray for myself, for the children, and for the giant worms that powered their tiny little bodies.

Monday, October 4, 2010

It's the Little Things

Sometimes I like to pretend that lunch is the opening sequence for a 1950's TV show:
It's Lunchtime!

Starring leftovers! Carrots you forgot in the back of the fridge! Office banana! And special appearance by half a cinnamon bagel!

Lunchtime is filmed in front of your computer, and supported by the Work Corporation.

Work: It's What You Do

On this episode of Lunchtime, food is masticated until it's a sufficient granularity to be swallowed. When a food is dropped, will it be on the pants or on the floor? Stay tuned!
The entire program would be me chewing and swallowing food while staring dead eyed at the camera, with an uproarious laugh track playing in the background. Also, a slide whistle.