Thursday, September 27, 2007


Am I the last person on the planet to have ordered pizza over the Internet?

I've been in a pizza mood lately, something to do with the phase of the moon. I woke up this morning and my first thought was

"Boy, I'd sure like a hot cup of coffee and a slice of pizza."

(Memo to Special K people. Two words: pizza flavor.)

So, this evening as the moon peaked over the horizon looking like a large pepperoni with anchovies and extra cheese, I fell prey to primitive urges and started looking around the kitchen for the phone number to Papa John's. I'm sure many of you out there have that number memorized, but I don't. It's on a yellow Post It note.


After a few minutes of fruitless searching I thought, "D'oh! I can get the number off the Internet. Mmmmmmm, Internet..."

Off I scurried upstairs and after a few chops on the keyboard Google served me up Papa John's website complete with phone number and order button.

Order button?

What is this "order button?"

Well, nothing kills my appetite faster than a new button on a website so I pushed it and was launched into the Land of Customer Information which I expertly navigated with a few clicks and like an apparition appearing before my eyes was a screen full of pizza thumbnails.

"Mmmmmmm, thumbnails....."

"Order me! Order me!" they all screamed.

I clicked on "The Works," hit Confirm and seconds later my email dinged with a confirmation note. Delivery in 30 minutes.

That's it? Yep, that's it. I went downstairs and sat by the window like a lonely hound dog waiting for its master to return. Sure enough, right at 30 minutes a pizza delivery car pulled up to the curb and Dinner was Served.

"Sign here," Pizza Delivery Guy said.

"No prob," I enthused, "I ordered this pizza over the Internet. All by myself."

"All by yourself, sir?" Pizza Delivery Guy said uncertainly.

"All by myself," I said proudly, "on the Internet. I've got an Internet upstairs." And I pointed up the stairs.

Pizza Delivery Guy slowly backed down the sidewalk saying, "That's freaking awesome, sir, freaking awesome." He got in his car, locked the doors and drove off.

Kink the Kat was sniffing around the pizza box anticipating a handout.

“Whaddya think about that, Kink? Pizza over the Internet.”

Kink gave me The Look, then said, “I can has pizza?”

And we did.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Peas Call

I try to be on top of the latest trends in technology but nothing could have prepared me for the cell phone vending machine at the grocery store.

You can buy a cell phone at Kroger’s?

Yep, there it was big as life between the ice machine and the bar-b-que display, a bright, shiny cell phone vending machine with brightly shined cell phones behind glass like candy bars, which is pretty much what it was: ear candy.

Insert a credit card, key in some information on the little touch screen display and clank-bang a cell phone drops down a chute and you’re on your way.

I thought, oh, great, now we’ve given little kids something else to whine about at the store.

“Mommmeeeeee! I wanna cell phone. I wanna cell phone! CELL PHONEEEEE!”

“No, honey, you already have a cell phone. You don’t need another cell phone.”

“Mommmmeeeeee! I wanna BLUE cell phone! BLUUUUE CELLLL PHONEEEE!”

As if we need something else to spoil kids with. Why, when I was a kid I was lucky to get a gumball that cost a penny. And, I’d have to walk to the store to buy it. Uphill. Both ways. In the snow.

“Another gumball, boy? What happened to the one we bought you two years ago, huh? Spoiled brat, I tell you. When I was your age we chewed tar from the road.”

It won’t get any better, either. Years from now we’ll be hearing the same conversations.

“Grammaaa! I wannnnnnt one! PLEEEESSSSSEEEEEEE!”

“I told you no. You haven’t used the anti-gravity belt you got last week. You’re not getting another one.”

“But, Grammaaa! I wanna BLUUUUE one!”

Is there no safe haven even at a grocery store? It’s not like a grocery store had its own line of cell phone, you know, like Apple or Blackberry.

But, isn’t that a great idea! What if grocery stores could market their own line of distinctive cell phone that would allow you, the customer, to distinguish yourself from all those pink, black and blue cell phone owners.

Fruit and vegetable phones could give grocery stores the competitive advantage they need in the fierce cell phone vending market.
I can see the marketing campaign now...

Who’s that cool person with the cucumber phone?

Got cauliflower ear?

Corn is so obvious a choice it doesn’t bear mentioning.

Lettuce talk!

So much phone, so little cabbage.

His and hers: a pear.

I’ve bean meaning to call you!

Is that a banana in your ear or are you happy to call me?

Orange you glad you bought this cool fruit phone?

Onions bring a tear to my eye, but your call brings a smile to my lips.

The possibilities are endless. I’ll expect to see fruit and veg phones on the stands within a week. You just can’t hold back great ideas like this.

Thursday, September 20, 2007


I have no idea who Alicia Silverstone is.


No. Idea. What. So. Ever.

Never heard of her, never saw a film she was in, never read about her in Science or Natural History Magazine, and basically never heard of her.

Who is Alicia Silverstone?

I am clueless.

But, that didn't stop me from watching her pull her wet, naked body out of a swimming pool and deliver some kind of message, which during the massive testosterone rush I forgot.

The conversation went something like this.

"What are you looking at on YouTube?"

"Uh, it's an advertisement for P.E.T.A. The animal people. People for animals. Animal people. You know." I was hastily trying to shut down YouTube but I was so too slow and Alicia was so too naked and I was so too busted.

"How come she isn't wearing any clothes?"

"She's a vegetarian. A virgin. I mean, a vegan. Not from Vega, ha ha, you know, but a plant person. Plant eater. Herbivore. Cow sort of person." I babbled the incoherent language of the so busted. I tried a weak smile as a diversion.

"So, how come she's naked?"

"Well," I stammered, "because she's a vegan. True vegans, I mean, really true vegans don't even wear animal hides." This was a weak defense and I knew I was going down for hard time.

"She could be wearing Spandex, don't you think?"

My brain, saturated by the testosterone rush was sluggish, but instinctively I picked up on the key element, animal hides, and attempted to minimize the damage I had already inflicted on myself.

“Well, that’s true. You don’t get Spandex from squirrels.” Immediately I knew that I wouldn’t have to analyze that statement in retrospect. It sounded totally lame in real-time.

As the Cold Stare bore down upon me I realized that my only option at this point was to take a flying leap off the cliff and hope the net was there.

“We eat too much red meat,” I blurted, “and we’d be healthier if we ate more vegetables and that’s what they’re trying to show with the swimming girl that if you don’t eat so much red meat you won’t look like a manatee coming off a six-month binge at Ben an Jerry’s.” At which point my brain ran out of fuel and sputtered to a halt.

Guilty as charged, Your Honor, with my remaining dignity I awaited execution.

There was a pause and I looked up hopefully.

“Yeah, I can see that. It’s good. Really good. We should do a vegetarian meal two or three times a week. Yeah, I’m on board with that. You can start tonight.”

I couldn’t believe it. I had survived! Caught in the act watching Alicia Silverstone, about whom I have not the foggiest idea, slowly pull her wet, taut, bronze, slippery, lustful body out of a pool of water and say blah blah, so, blah blah, and so blah blah, so amazing, or something like that and live to tell the tale was like Game, Set and Match plus Bonus!

I basked in my euphoria as visions of Alicia slipped below the surface.


Ah, the brain started up again. (Darn you, brain!) I had to come up with a vegan dinner. What to do? What to do? I thought of the great chefs from the Food Network.

I thought, What Would Emeril Do?

Deep fried pork in pork fat with pork fat fritters and deep fried pork fat. Hmmmm, no.

I thought, What Would Bobby Do?

Bar-B-Que whole hog stuffed with chickens stuffed with prairie dogs stuffed with lizards... Hmmmm, no.

What Would Rachael Do?

Pour in the EVOO and throw in your onions (yum-mie!), zucchini (yum!), lots of garlic (double yum!), tomatoes (yum-a-rum-tum-yum) and this is going to be so yummy that my yummer is in overdrive! Yum!...

And that was it: Ratatouille!

There was even a vegan movie about a rat by the same name. I was saved!

Ratatouille: zucchini, egg plant, onions, mushrooms, tomatoes, garlic, tomato paste, spices and I was a Vegan Hero.

I got busy and in no time had my vegan creation simmering and giving off good smells. Well, mostly good smells. I lifted the lid and wafted the aroma into my nostrils. Yeah, garlicky and onioney and tomatoey but something was missing. Something was missing. What could it be?


(Later that night.)

“Ummmmm, this is great! So flavorful. So hearty. So healthy.”

“It’s all in the spices,” I waffled, “you layer them in. First onion, then garlic, then basil...”

“Whatever.” I was cut off. “Yummmmmy, this is good. I had no idea vegan could be so tasty. Maybe we should do this all the time, you know, go all veggie.”

I pretended to focus on a piece of corn bread.

“This is soooo good,” the compliments kept coming. Then a pause.

“Hey, what’s this?” holding a spoon towards me.

“Uh, I think that’s a piece of mushroom.”

“It doesn’t look like mushroom. It doesn’t smell like mushroom. What is this?”

“Well,” I stammered, feeling my brain about to shut down for the second time today, “it could be a piece of sausage. But, a very small piece. Tiny. No account. Not worth bothering about. I mean, not like a whole squirrel or something...” I was starting to blather.

“So, what do you call this,” pointing to her bowl, “this is supposed to be vegan. What do you call this?”

The missing ingredient was provided by a pound of Andouille sausage, chopped small. I cursed my luck at getting busted twice in one day. In my mind I heard the clanks and bangs of gears shifting, rods pushing, hydraulic lines tensing and out of all that noise forged in desperation came this:

“I call this the Spirit of Vega. It is the essence of Alicia, slim and savory with just a hint of meat.”

After a few moments I cautiously opened one eye.

“Well, it’s very good, and I think it’s a step in the right direction.”

What? I passed? I made it? I thought, Yessssssss! Who da man? Who da man? And as I was about to do my end zone victory dance I heard,

“I’ll expect more meals like this but if I catch you watching any more P.E.T.A. ads on the Internet I’ll break all your fingers.”

Fair trade, I thought, as I Googled “recipes squirrel Spandex.”

Monday, September 10, 2007

9-11 Remembered

Where were you when...

President Kennedy was assassinated.

I was sitting at my desk in the 7th grade home room. It was just after lunch. Our teacher, Polly Alford, came in and she looked particularly grim. She normally looked grim but at this moment she looked Particularly Grim.

Mrs. Alford brought us to order and then rambled on about government and democracy and how great America was, and we were trying to figure out if we should be taking notes or hiding under our desks.

Then, she paused, looked out the window and when she turned around she looked less grim but very, very sad. She said quietly, almost in a whisper, “The President has been shot.”

There was a momentary pause and the kind of silence during which you could hear a pin drop. Suddenly, one of our goofier classmates started laughing and blurted out, “Good! My mom and dad voted for Nixon!” Many of us laughed, but Mrs. Alford didn’t laugh. No, Mrs. Alford drew herself to her entire six-foot height and hissed like the python I always knew she was, “Sssssssssilenssssse!”

The babbling stopped at once and before Mrs. Alford could unleash the tirade about Respect that we knew was coming the Librarian appeared in the doorway.

The Librarian was a nice, old lady with grey hair and librarian glasses. She stood in the doorway quietly like you’d expect a librarian to do, and then she took off her glasses and dabbed the corner of her left eye with a tiny handkerchief. My desk was nearest the doorway and I could see that the handkerchief was embroidered along the edge.

Mrs. Alford turned and faced the librarian who simply said, “He’s dead. The President is dead.”

I thought that Mrs. Alford was going to faint. She blanched, turned to her desk and sat down in her chair, heavily. After a few minutes of silence she looked up and said,

“The President has been shot dead. Can anybody tell me who will now become President? Let’s write on the board the order of succession. Who can name the Vice President?”

And, so, we discussed government in real-time and life went on.

Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed on the moon

I was in Titusville, Pennsylvania during a summer road trip around America. My high school buddy and I had set off from Phoenix in June, travelled and camped around the edge of the country and into Canada and ended up at his aunt’s house in Titusville for a week or so of decent food and a solid roof over our heads. We decided to spend a few extra days in Titusville because his aunt had a TV and the moon landing was coming up.

The moon landing was to be two events. The actual landing did not have a live video feed but the networks would broadcast the radio traffic as it happened. The next evening the networks would broadcast live video from the moon of the actual descent to the surface by Neil Armstrong.

For some reason I was the only person in the house when the landing occurred. The aunt was not too interested in the whole affair and my traveling companion was lukewarm also. I, however, always the geek, couldn’t get enough and was riveted to the TV even though it was a radio transmission.

I grew up with the space program and knew by heart all the terminology. So, as Neil and Buzz transmitted to Houston flight data I was right there with them. As copied from the flight transcript I heard the following:

Aldrin: 40 feet , down 2 and a half. 2 forward. 2 forward. That’s good.

Aldrin: 40 feet, down two and a half. Picking up some dust.

Aldrin: 30 feet, two and a half down. Shadow.

Aldrin: 4 forward. 4 forward. Drifting to the right a little. 20 feet, down a half.

Aldrin: Contact light.

Armstrong: Shutdown.

Aldrin: OK. Engine stop.

Aldrin: ACA out of Detent.

Armstrong: Out of Detent. Auto.

Aldrin: Mode Contro, both Auto. Descent Engine Command Override, Off. Engine Arm, Off. 413 is in.

Houston: We copy you down, Eagle.

Armstrong: Engine arm is off. (pause) Tranquility Base here, the Eagle has landed.

Houston: (pause) Roger, Twan (pause) Tranquility. We copy you on the ground. You’e got a bunch of guys here about to turn blue. We’re breathing again. Thanks a lot.

We were all turning blue. I was turning blue. I could imagine the entire descent sequence because I had studied the procedures for years. Looking back, I had no concerns that there would be a problem. Of course they would land. Of course they would return home. What could go wrong?

To me the subsequent descent to the surface the following evening was anticlimactic. The hard part was landing. After that, what could go wrong?

Apollo 11 came and went and life went on.


On the morning of September 11th, 2001 I was sitting at my desk doing the usual: reading email, getting ready for staff meeting and going through some papers.

The phone rang. It was my colleague, Mike, in Odessa, Texas.

“Hey, Bill, are you scanning CNN,” Mike asked?

“Well, I was about 10 minutes ago but not now. What’s up?”

“Check it out,” Mike continued, “a plane has crashed into the World Trade Center in New York.”

“No shit,” I said, “like a Piper Cub or something? Did air traffic control send it there?”

I had no idea of what had really happened but as I surfed to CNN and brought up the live video feed I could see thick black smoke billowing out of one of the towers. I still thought it was a light aircraft that had been misdirected, somehow, to fly on course into the building.

“Mike, wouldn’t the pilot see the building and go around it or over it?”

Mike said, “I dunno. Maybe there was an engine problem or something.”

As we discussed what could have caused a small aircraft to fly into a building I surfed other news feeds for information and lost the live CNN video. Finally, I got a live video from the BBC News website.

I told Mike. “Hey, I can’t get back to CNN but I’ve got a live feed from the BBC. Man, that building is smoking. Do you think there are people on the roof?”

Mike replied that he didn’t know but there were helicopters circling and maybe they were trying to rescue people from the roof.

Moments later there was a flash and a huge fireball erupted.

“Oh, man,” I exclaimed to Mike, “did you see that? The fire just exploded.” I thought the eruption came from the building on fire. Seconds later it became obvious that the other building had exploded. Mike and I both thought that the fire had “leapt” to the other building.

Moments later the BBC reporters said that a second aircraft had impacted the other World Trade Center tower.

This was all very confusing.

“You mean air traffic control sent a second airplane through the middle of the city? What’s going on?” I asked Mike.

Then the reporters on the scene started to piece the story together. These weren’t light aircraft, they were commercial airliners and they were flown into the buildings intentionally. Within a few minutes there was video of the second plane circling over the city and heading directly into the World Trade Center.

Soon, the hallways were filled with people talking about the “attack” on New York City. We moved up to the conference room on the 8th floor where CNN was being broadcast over two large projectors onto two floor-to-ceiling screens.

We watched black smoke billow out of the twin towers, we watched helicopters and aircraft circle the stricken buildings and we watched people jump.

That was quite disturbing. Because of the telephoto camera shots of the buildings we could see figures plummeting from the open windows. We watched in horrified silence.

Then the first tower wavered, quivered a little, swayed ever so gently, and collapsed in a heap. There were screams on CNN. There were screams in the room on the 8th floor. Nobody expected to see that. However, in a room full of engineers soon the discussion went from horror to an analysis of what had happened and how the floors of a high rise would “pancake” down once the support structure was weakened enough.

All eyes turned to the second tower. It was burning fiercely and there was no hope of stopping the fire. It was only a matter of time and that’s all it took; a matter of time. The second tower swayed back and forth then collapsed into itself in a cloud of smoke, dust, fire and screams. Even though we had seen one tower go down, the sight of the second tower collapsing was just as horrific.

How many people were in the building? What about the people on the streets below?

We had lots of questions, no answers, and thought of work on that day in 2001 went out the window. I remember following the news during the day about the Pentagon attack and the flight that went down in Pennsylvania. The news finally pieced together enough of the story to announce that we were under attack by “terrorists” and my thought at that time was of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and how it galvanized this country to go to war. Awakened the Sleeping Giant came to mind.

And I thought, this is going to be bad. Very, very bad because you don’t tug on Superman’s cape and you don’t mess around with Jim.

It’s been bad and life has gone on.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Tag! I’m IT!

In a former life I worked in Information Technology, aka “IT.” IT started as “computer stuff” then became more refined as Data Processing, then Computer Applications, then Management Information Services, then just Information Services and finally Information Technology.

I guess the names meant something to someone but to those of us on the front line of the business it was still “computer stuff.” We programmed computers, we loved them and hated them in the same day. We lovingly unpacked them, fed them clean power and dusted their little blinking displays, and, years later, hurled them into a dumpster without so much as a good-bye, more a good riddance.

Yes, we in Information Technology were tough taskmasters; always distracted by the next shiny object.

And we were a fickle bunch. I remember the lunchroom discussions when Hewlett-Packard decided to switch from light olive to pewter as a color for their computer enclosures.

We were deadly serious.

“I hope they cornered the market on that pewter Pantone color or they could find themselves shades different, SHADES DIFFERENT, in a few years,” I recall hearing a co-worker foam.

Shades different! Heavens to Betsy that could sink the stock price!

Good old Hewlett-Packard or HP as we in the know refer to it. HP is still hanging in there in spite of not cornering the pewter Pantone color market twenty years ago. HP developed one of the first and arguably the best handheld calculator back in 1972. They followed with a line of mini-computers that brought computing power into colleges and small businesses for a few thousand dollars at a time when mainframe computers cost millions.

And during my years of servitude in IT I programmed on those HP minicomputers in an era before the Internet, before cell phones…

It was way cool.

Now, here I am at home. Home. Not a business. Not a corporation. A place inhabited by cats. And I’ve got more computers than you can shake a stick at. Upstairs, downstairs, wireless network, wireless printers, scanners, stereo hook-ups. You name it and I’m running it. It’s a full time job just keeping the printers supplied with paper!

I’ve got drawers of spare print cartridges, drawers full of wires and old power supplies, connector cables, antennas, tools and all sorts of stuff. Need a framastat? No problem, I’ve got two!

Every day I go around the house doing IT maintenance; checking print levels and paper supplies, checking bandwidth, doing backup, cleaning up spam. I tell you, it’s a job.

And, so, it’s with some poignancy that my venerable home computer, faithfully running Windows 98 for nearly ten years, finally cratered, kicked the bit bucket, shrugged its mortal modem coil and displayed one last Black Screen of Death. It’s death rattle was a rakkity-rack, rakkity-rack of a crashed disc drive and, in the end, I pulled out the power cord and heard that final Doppler whine down of it’s fans and motors until there was only silence.

It was dead. Not kipping on its back, it was. This pavilion was dead. A goner. Deceased. Met its maker. Passed beyond. Departed.

In short, toast.

Realizing that we were now One Computer Down in the house I switched into IT mode and determined immediately what had to be done.

“Hey, I’m going up to the mall. Do you need anything?” I offered innocently.

“It’s raining. Why are you going to the mall in the rain? You’re not going to buy a computer, are you?”

Dang those managers! Think fast, think fast.

“Uh, no, er, don’t be silly. Why would I do that? I, uh, need to get a, uh, um, er, power cord. Yeah, that’s it, a power cord. I, I mean WE, need a power cord. New one. Pewter.” I was rambling.

“OK, that sounds good. Just make sure you get a 20-inch power cord with 320 Gb of disc space and at least 2 Gb of memory. Oh, and don’t forget Apple Care. Hurry home!”

Stunned momentarily I let the commands sink in before running to the garage lest I wake up. That sounds like one of these:

In a trice I was returned with the “power cord” and proceeded to set it up. Fortunately, Setup Assistant was there to help me through the process and soon we were synchronizing files, loading this and that and having a wonderful time.

About half way through the setup procedure, now that I was in full IT mode, I started thinking about the network. It’s old our network is. Very old. Ancient. 802.11.b sort of old. I’m surprised we can download any videos from Girls Gone Wild, I mean, CNN at that speed. We definitely need an upgrade. I might have to wait a week or so before going out for another “power cord” although if I’m careful I can hide the cost in our Tater Tots budget.

Hey, I didn’t spend all that time in IT and learn nothing!

While I’m at it we could use a laser printer and a big screen TV, and surround sound and, well, as Chief Information Officer of the house I’ll need a Corvette to drive around in. And a condo. Definitely need a condo for off-site planning meetings. And if I go over budget I can blame the kids! Perfect, just like the old days.

I can’t wait!