Friday, July 14, 2006

And Now You Know!

I'm not sure what kids these days watch. What with the electronically whiz-bang games of the video, pogs, phones with ether powered telephony, it's a topsy turvy mixed up world I say. But back when I was just knee high to a grasshopper, I'd regale/waste/vegetate/expose myself to the Hasbro-Mattel-PlayDoh marketing conglomerate during my Saturdays.

What Gen-Xer doesn't have fond memories of indoctrinating themselves with the characters and mythos of feature length cell animated commercials for toy products made in the Taiwan? Our parents comforted themselves in knowing that at the end of almost every single show, there'd be some sort of Life Lesson. Perhaps a "Stop drop and roll", "Don't talk to strangers", "Crack cocaine and crank don't mix, usually", or the always ubiquitous "Don't give into peer pressure" (in a cartoon that features all the robots emblazoned with the same symbol).

Ah, those were the heady days, the days of yesteryear, when a sasparilla and moonpies could be had for naught but a sixpence and a penny. Back when ideals were taught and ignored. Well, mostly ignored. The last example I gave was driven into my skull so many times I try to at least vaguely follow it. It's much easier now, since there really is no peer pressure in the nerd riddled world of programming and adulthood. Except perhaps the "Wouldn't it be better to come to work WITH clothes on, without drool coming down your chin, and not totally wasted?", the jury is still out on that.

So imagine my delight when I had the opportunity to show Optimus Prime and perhaps Bumblebee that indeed, I would not give into peer pressure. I would not let the Decepticon of character destruction impinge upon my right to 'be myself' (what if my true self was nothing but a sniveling sheeple of a person, happy to follow the path of least resistence? OH RIDDLE THOU ART GI JOE).

You see, for some odd reason, my work encourages non-work related activities to promote teamwork and bonding such and such. As if hacking through arcane PL_SQL and 10 layered enterprise code isn't enough. Imagine! In this case, it was that game of games, soccer, or football, or THE ONLY GAME THAT MATTERS to anyone who doesn't live in North America.

Now I had been signed up for this by a coworker of dubious moral standing. I have no doubt he has a top hat and waxes his moustache in to curls when not plotting the demise of damsels inf distress on railroad ties. Well, paragon of virtue that I am, I quickly emailed the organizer to inform him that I was not, my evil coworkers insistence notwithstanding, going to participate. Seeing my utter lack of coordination on the field of sport was not something I relished nor something I wanted to subject my fellow geeks to.

The organizer came over my cubicle and the exchange went something like this.

"So, you're not going?"
*everyone bursting from various cubicles and ceilings and the ground a la a Fraggle Rock number, or possibly a West Side Story song and dance ("When yer a nerd you're a nerd for your life, little geek roll that dice, better hope it's a 10")* "YOU"RE NOT GOING?"
This is more than stereophonic sound. This is multiphonic sound hooked up to a 8 speaker relay of questioning quizzical coworkers.
"OH COME ON, COME ON OUT!" Then numerous temptations regarding gin and such.

But the ghosts of so many Mattel inspired cartoons came to my aid. Aye, I may not have much, but I do have my own sense of anti-social tendencies. I can at least hold onto that. My ancestors didn't kill the mastodons and struggle from the cradle of Africa for me to tormented and subjected to normal human social interaction. Perhaps even some sort of cardio-vascular exercise! THE HORROR.

"No, you can just cross me off"
(See previous comment about fraggle rock).

This continued for a while until the masses got bored of my usual social aversion-ness and let me be. Oh, joy of joys. I have at last followed the wise words of that now long since forgotten writer of children's cartoons in the 80's. His life was not in vain. I shall not breathe fresh air, nor shall my neuroses be mitigated by balanced and healthy human discourse.

Optimus would be proud.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Some Assembly Required

In the Deep Pits of Anguish, somewhere outside the 7th Circle of Hell, there is a tiny workshop that creates all the instruments and devices that have enough devious crippling cruelty and torture to bear the trademark 'Made In Hell'. Oh, you know these products, even shell out your hard earned cash to wallow in suffering: Military Grade High CD Polymer Wrap, things sold on TV by D-List actors for $19.95, cellphones, all magazine covers that require more computer manipulation than all of Pixar's lovable and quirky animated features, and anything with the tiny footnote of "Some Assembly Required".

Back when Man strode the earth, toolbelt donned, perhaps a brewski in one ham fist, 'Assembly' meant going out into the forest, killing any large, well toothed and enclawed beast that might be in his way, then using his backhair to create a makeshift saw to hew down trees with trunks the size of.. tree.. trunks... Then he'd use his well callused hands to sand and finish said lumber into repectable furniture. Perhaps he played a pickup game of some really rough and semi-lethal contact sport on the way to the forest, there may or may not involve some sort of congratulatory butt touching.

Nowadays, in our Jerry Springer, Internets, eBay, eCommerce, eStrategy, New Age Super Sensitive, post Fight Club, pro Oprah days, the mere look of a tool, let alone a tool belt, is more than enough to send the average male into a flurry of blog posts and a feverish reading Chicken Soup For the Office Worker's Soul. Sure, we watch HGTV, and nod knowingly as the too hunk by far 'carpenter' (read actor who displays the work of the carpenter Ted, who's about 30 lbs too heavy and 15 years too old) shows how he dovetailed the joists with a simple rubber mallet. But the average guy only nods at these things the way he nods at the Stock Market, knowingly, and not with a large amount of fear as all the guys around him nod in seemingly complete mastery of the subject.

So when we got our nifty Staples File Cabinet. All resplendent in it's lightly hued Maple Finish (oh, luxury, thy name is High Density Particle Board (the reincarnation that all sawdust aspires to (better than being vomit cover(but then you get to see the fair, always a good time))), it looked to a simple matter. For I have delved into the darker caverns of horror that is Ikea, I've tussled with the Alan Wrench, the D-lock mechanism, even the wood peg thingy that has a name that totally does not evoke it's shape or size or usage.

But the lower denizens of aforementioned Workshop would not be cowed by my assembly prowess. True, I've honed them to such an edge that "Insert Tab B into Slot C" holds NO fear for me; nay dear Reader, not even "Tools you might need are:" holds sway to my stalwartedness. But the brevity of instructions was where the devil was. Not in the details. There was so much gluing here, insertion there, turning screws here here and here but for GODS sake not there, that at the end I felt like a very over the hill porn star in the land of paper puppets.

It was a 3.5 hour slog, of reading carefully laid out instructions that covered all of 4 pages. I hadn't felt this manly since I made an actual astute comment about some car's performance and it's power to weight ratios. Just looking at that shining example of fine craftsmanship designed by Jr. Engineer 2nd class Hammerskold and built by ESD-3919 Precision Lumber Cutting Machine Model D in Denmark was enought to put some hair on my chest. It only took me , my bare hands (along with aforementioned engineer and machine and a multinational corporation of consumer particle board furniture and cooking utensils), and a few simple tools to wrend this creation to fruition. This is what Hemingway must have felt like when he asked that solider what it was like to be in the war. Vaguely manly, a thin veneer of machoismo on a solid cardboard base of 21st Century Man.

Somewhere, Deep Pits of Anguish, in a Workshop of pure Evil, someone is twisting some Military Grade Polymer Wrap in devilish frustration.