Mercy rhyme 2

Well this is turning out to be an odd specialty: writing clever poems to cheer up young women as they recover from serious injuries sustained in major disasters. (Previously.)

This time it was a cheerful colleague from YouTube named Sara. She received serious burns in a very narrow escape from a devastating apartment fire last week in San Francisco. Being YouTube, a lot of us recorded a get-well video for her. My message was the following poem.

To show that I care a
Lot about Sara
I’ve placed in my hair a
Silver tiara.

Does she rail and swear a-
Gainst chance so unfair, a
Cause for despair? Uh,
Never our Sara.

With her savoir faire, a
Smile she does wear. “Ah,
C’est la guerre” a-
Nnounces our Sara.

And here’s Sara at the hospital yesterday, reacting to her video greeting:

News haiku

In addition to miscellaneous status updates I also post “news haiku” from time to time, originally on a now-defunct site my sister was involved with, then to Facebook and more recently to Google+. Here are some examples.

News of the future:
Madoff shivved, owing inmates
Fifty billion cigs

Bin Laden kept porn!
Evil though he might have been
He was one of us.

Super committee:
Failure! Suggestion: Super-
duper committee.

Eight trillion in loans
Profits, just thirteen billion
No wonder banks fail

Cain reassessing:
“Am I heading for mere loss?
Or for epic fail?”

Your Senate at work
Yes: tax hike on workers. No:
Habeas corpus

Post office bankrupt
Path to profit: Make snail mail
Even snailier

Newt? Seriously?
Nostalgia and all, sure, but
Seriously: Newt?

Iraq War over
World War Two-type victory
Eludes us again

Miss Michele Bachmann
Bows out of the race. I won’t
Miss Michele Bachmann

SOPA, PIPA shelved
The public’s confused response:
“We won one for once?”

Mo’ bon mots

Here again are some of the Facebook (and Google+) status updates I’ve been writing in lieu of actual blogging. This is what happens when your longest available nugget of creativity time is five minutes.

  • Inexpert phlebotomist. Ouch.
  • Damn him, just as I’m about to write him off, Obama goes and says all the right things!
  • I chose “super saver shipping” for my Portal 2 preorder? Curse my sense of economy!
  • [On the death of bin Laden.] Message to terrorists: do not fuck with us! If you try to bankrupt us or destroy our freedoms, we will BANKRUPT ourselves and DESTROY OUR FREEDOMS in singleminded pursuit of your overdue and meaningless demise!
  • Saw an 800-year-old copy of the Magna Carta at the Legion of Honor. PFC. (Pretty cool.)
  • A key to happiness: park sooner, not closer.
  • I forgot how much fun it is to peel a sunburn! Kinda makes up for all that pain a couple of weeks ago.
  • Archer does a pretty good Marvin the Martian now. “I claim this planet in the name of Mars!”
  • Now I know what NFS stands for. “Not fast. Slow.”
  • Groupon’s attempts at Woot-like clever sales copy cause me actual pain.
  • Just when the day was shaping up to be blah, along comes the headline, “Arkansas weatherman found in hot tub with naked dead man wearing dog collar.”
  • [For my puzzle-loving friend Wes.] I feel a birthday limerick coming on!
    There once was a fellow named — guess!
    The last letter of his name is an S
    The rest of his name
    Is spelled just the same
    As a homophone for the French word for yes.
  • Me, at the wax museum yesterday: “That’s Gandhi, he was an important leader in India. He helped show people how to get what they want through peace instead of fighting.” Archer: “How? With puppy-dog eyes?”
  • Prepping for the CERT class final tomorrow — and watching episodes of Emergency! from 1972 with the family! Life is good.
  • I am a California certified disaster service worker.
  • Another day, another certification: have just completed an American Heart Association First Aid/CPR/AED course.
  • Andrea. Bob. TV food celebrities with the initials A.B. We got it covered.

  • Less tolerant of misspellings today than usual. And that’s saying something.
  • A weekend that ends with the family driving home, singing along with side 2 of Abbey Road, is a pretty good weekend.
  • What am I doing up so early on my birthday, rather than sleeping in? I started my day standing in my driveway in the darkness, a hot cup of coffee in my hands, neck craned way way back, enjoying the Orionids: a birthday light show put on for me by debris from Halley’s comet. Now that’s how you start a birthday. Orionids Meteor Shower 2011
  • Today I’m 45. But every morning in the shower, by force of habit rather than necessity, I still use the amount of shampoo of a man half my age.
  • S! is for super
    U! is for unique
    Z! is for Zamfir, master of the pan flute
    A! is for awesome
    N! is for no way is my baby sister 42
    N! is for no way is my baby sister 42, weren’t you listening?
    E! is for even if my baby sister were 142 she’d still kick all our asses, including Zamfir’s, in super unique awesomeness
    What’s that spell? SUZANNE! What’s that spell? SUZANNE! What’s that spell? SUZANNE! Yaaaaaay!
  • Viruses invade my cells. They hijack my cellular machinery to copy themselves. They subvert my immune response to cause me to sneeze and cough them everywhere. Then they invade someone else’s cells. Ah the circle of life!
  • “OH WOW. OH WOW. OH WOW.” is the new “My God, it’s full of stars.”
  • The promise of grilled cheese is never quite matched by the reality.
  • The rainy season arrived yesterday. So the kids started asking, “When can we watch Singin’ In the Rain?” Raised ’em right.
  • “Locking nuts” my ass.
  • I get it now. It’s not that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, per se; it’s that the old dog’s attention is divided into slices so thin that no one of them is suitable for learning new tricks.
  • Yes, its stated goals (save taxpayer money, solve more crimes, and protect the innocent) are all excellent. But my favorite argument in opposition to the death penalty is that there are things worse than death, and there are some criminals who deserve them. SAFE California
  • Lord of the Rings + A Midsummer Night’s Dream + The Wizard of Oz – any sense of things mattering or making sense = Willow
  • Things change, and here’s the proof: the teenaged me thought “48 Hrs” (the Nick Nolte/Eddie Murphy film) was a rollicking good time, but the middle-aged me is appalled by it.
  • Two full weeks to do nothing but exercise and practice guitar. Is that too much to ask?
  • Each morning I arrive at work and park my car in YouTube’s garage. There are hundreds of spaces on multiple levels, and on any given day I’m as likely to park on one level as on any other. I’m somewhat absent-minded — in the shower I often cannot remember whether I’ve shampooed yet — so you’d think I’d constantly be forgetting where my car is. But almost without fail, at the end of the day, I ask myself, “Now where did I park?” and can recall the spot I pulled into that morning — not the morning before or the morning last week. Why am I able to do this?
  • Reamde: finished! It’s as if someone complained to Neal Stephenson that too little happens in Anathem and it takes too long to get going, so Stephenson, taking this as a challenge, said, “Oh, yeah?” and rolled up his sleeves and wrote this.
  • How do you complain about a great employee perk like a fancy new smartphone every year? Like this: I lost all my Angry Birds levels!
  • When your kid makes a series of unreasonable requests, and you have to say no again and again, and then he makes a perfectly reasonable one but you say no anyway, without thinking, that’s “nomentum.”
  • Archer, watching football: “What does NFL stand for?” (and then, before I can answer) “I think the N stands for National. The F stands for… the F word. And the L stands for linguine.”
  • I do hereby pronounce 2012 to be a year of love, happiness, and prosperity for all.
  • If I lived in Manhattan I’d eat at Grey’s Papaya for lunch every goddamned day.
  • Is it my imagination, or did bananas used to be easier to begin peeling?
  • Who is the mad genius who first came up with chicken-fried bacon?
  • Tonight I had the opportunity to say, “I remember Husker Du.” But no one got the joke.
  • I love Paul McCartney as much as the next guy — for his talent, of course, but also for his famous down-to-earth genuineness. But there’s no way that’s still his natural hair color.

Poetry schmoetry

One Internet craze from the early days of the World Wide Web was to compose haiku about Spam (the lunchmeat, not the unwanted e-mail). My friend Eric Pivnik wrote the best possible one of all time:

Old man seeks doctor
“I eat Spam daily,” he says.


Pink tender morsel
Glistening with salty gel.
What the hell is it?

His efforts inspired some of our coworkers in the mid 1990’s to write their own. Here’s mine:

Pink ingot of meat
Bit by bit it goes in me
Now I am Spam too.

Not long after that I challenged everyone to write double dactyls, a very specific comic-rhyme form with several rules:

  • There are two stanzas of four lines each;
  • Lines 1, 2, 3 and 5, 6, 7 are double-dactylic: they have the rhythm “DA-da-da DA-da-da”;
  • Lines 4 and 8 have the same rhythm but with the last two syllables chopped off;
  • Lines 4 and 8 rhyme;
  • Line 1 is a repeated nonsense phrase, like “Higgledy piggledy”;
  • Line 2 is a person’s name;
  • Line 6 or line 7 is a single, six-syllable, double-dactylic word.

I started it off with this one.

Clickety clickety
Andrea Dougherty
Always takes pictures at
Every event.

Her secret fantasy:
Selling her photographs
Paying the rent.

David Hartmann came back with this terrific one:

Higgledy piggledy
Robert S. Glickstein our
Poetry overlord
Starts a new thread

“Picture yourself in a
Boat on a river” gets
Stuck in my head.

Christine Martinez-Begle wrote this about her husband:

Piggly Wiggly
Doug is in Charleston
Prowling at night for an
Innocent hick

Diving in dumpsters for
Cannibal comfort food
Chicken-fried free-swingin’
Steak on a stick

which, apart from being macabre, has a few problems in its structure, so I wrote this to poke fun at her:

Poetry, schmoetry
Christine Martinez-B
Thinks Piggly’s syllables
Add up to three

Probably she’s just like
Those who say “fire” is
(That includes me.)

Finally, for’s “dot-com haiku” challenge in 2000, in addition to a few forgettable haiku (the best of which was: Start a company / Get funding. Show promise. Fail. / Start a company) I offered this double dactyl:

Hump-i-ty Dump-i-ty
Jeffrey P. Bezos’s
Company made him Time’s
Man of the Year

Loyal investors say
“He’ll turn a profit soon,
Never you fear.”


This is the first sentence of the five hundredth post on gee bobg. This sentence was quick, but not quick enough to be the first sentence. This sentence is content merely to be in the first paragraph.

This is the first sentence of the five hundredth post on gee bobg. This sentence was quick, but not quick enough to be the first sentence. This sentence is content merely to be in the first paragraph.

This sentence starts out wondering why the title of this post is “D,” but ends by remembering that D is the Roman numeral for 500. This sentence asks why the Roman numeral for 500 is D. This sentence doesn’t know but guesses it has something to do with the Latin root “demi,” which means half, as in half a thousand.

There was a sentence before this one, but it went off to Wikipedia to check out the “demi” hypothesis.

This is what the Bob-o-matic has to say on the occasion of the five hundredth post on gee bobg:

It’s weird when you organize government from another family that has the Bush west wing. Leia’s not Luke’s sister, but a few times to use? You bet! What’s to insult the girls again, finally? The only time in 1979. Hey, I know that slapstick is dead. Now an annual nationwide two-week sale. The star-spangled banner: not a multiple of one adventure. And eventually made my way to go ahead. And production values! But to have some green figs, yogurt, and more experienced for her, and why? To make your selection, Sir Topham Hatt, or you’re caught. Reindeer that fly? Or would I have been Matty? Who would even find such a film that I never saw? Even one drop was too easy to be confused with Dr. No Kidding. Clicking the hang of it. There it is: the first several days. I was the first. Votes, in the meantime…

This sentence points out that the occasion of the five hundredth post on gee bobg comes within just a couple of weeks of the fifth anniversary of the first post. This sentence asserts it is the last sentence of the five hundredth post on gee bobg and reminds you not to regard the following parenthetical remark as part of the five hundredth post’s main content. (Tip of the hat to David Moser’s “This Is the Title of This Story, Which Is Also Found Several Times in the Story Itself.”)

Clip show

The month of March passed without any posts here at gee bobg, the first such month in nearly five years of writing this blog.

There are two main reasons for this. One is being very busy, of course, especially now that it’s April. The other is that what little energy I have for online self-expression these days goes mostly to Facebook status updates. Those are much pithier than the kinds of things I like to post here (I’ll leave it to you to decide which is better), and some of them are meant only for my Facebook friends. But some are suitable for public broadcast and so here is a clip show of some recent Facebook status updates that would otherwise have appeared here in some form.

  • I don’t normally like to boast about the famous free food at Google, but: Risotto-Crabmeat Croquettes with Roasted Red Pepper Aioli, damn!
  • If I ever start a fertilizer company, I’m calling it Stately Wayne Manure.
  • Current media narrative: the Tea Party cost the GOP the Senate. You know what really cost the GOP the Senate? Ruinous policymaking.
  • At my kids’ martial arts belt test. There is no question my kids could kick my ass.
  • When I was a kid, it blew my mind to discover that most recipes involving chocolate require vanilla.
  • Count that day lost whose low-setting sun can see from thy hand no worthy act done.
  • If John Lennon were alive today, what would he say about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan? Trick question. If John Lennon were alive today there wouldn’t be wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
  • TMTD – Too Much To Do. Let’s see if this catches on as a new Internet acronym.
  • Tangled: First movie in a long time to make me feel like I could have sat straight through a second showing.
  • While I’m paralyzed trying to engineer the best solution to the problem, Andrea Glickstein is rolling up her sleeves and getting started on it, best solution or not. Which, it turns out, is a much better solution than being paralyzed trying to engineer the best solution. This is why I married her.
  • Seen during our trip to Thailand 10 years ago: “The having of wonderful tourism time is our lucky pleasure. Splashing-water-face is one but not only attraction of amazing country Thailand, Land of Smiles.”
  • Viral load: increasing. Matzo ball soup: consumed. Wife: awesome.
  • Can’t stand how many supposed actual journalists are writing about Larry Page taking the “reigns” at Google.
  • Made a hotel reservation online for a surprise romantic getaway. But because we’ve stayed at this chain before and their computer knows us, they sent the confirmation e-mail TO MY WIFE. So much for the surprise… and lucky for me it was her I was planning to take!
  • Me: “Do you want rice, or rice-and-chicken?” Archer: “How about both?” Me: “OK, rice-and-chicken it is.” Archer: “No: rice, rice, and chicken.”
  • Singer Dale Bozzio’s drunken, incoherent ramblings. Guitarist Brad Miller collapsing mid-show and being whisked to the hospital. The band soldiering on to play their biggest hits, saved for the end of the set, without a guitarist. Good times at last night’s Missing Persons concert.
  • Nothing says creeping despotism like this vaguely apprehensive slogan, seen on a Jell-O Pudding cup lid: “Happy is still legal in all 50 states.”
  • I have heat in my home, and electricity. I have clean hot and cold running water, and my toilets flush. The air is OK to breathe. A wide assortment of nutritious food is immediately at hand, and if it weren’t I could easily get some more. My family members are safe and comfortable and I know just where they are. May these things be true again soon for the people of Japan and anyplace there’s disaster or strife.
  • Every year, the same thing. “Aww, I have nothing green to wear! I’ll be sure to buy something before next St. Patrick’s Day.” Every goddamn year…
  • It’s raining outside. I have a roof over my head to keep me dry. Then I step into a little booth where I can make it rain artificially. Seems… inefficient.
  • Saw at Target yesterday: a DVD of the movie Benji. I already own it. But I have such affection for it from childhood that it took a real effort not to impulse-buy another copy.

Dad writes too

To help overcome my sons’ reluctance to do the ever-increasing writing portions of their nightly homework, and hopefully to cultivate a love of writing in them, last night I let them give me a writing assignment of my own which I worked on while they did theirs. My assignment, from Jonah, was to write about our Lego Millennium Falcon project. Here’s what I wrote and showed to the boys, who were excited about it, so I plan to do it again.

For my birthday in 2009, my sons gave me the Lego Millennium Falcon, which at the time was Lego’s largest set, both in number of pieces and in the size of the assembled model — about three feet long! I was very excited. The Millennium Falcon is the coolest spaceship in all of science fiction, and I’ve been drawing, building, playing with, and otherwise dreaming about the Millennium Falcon since I was eleven.

Working on the model was very challenging. First we needed a space large enough for the growing assembly as well as the boxes and bags of pieces. Second, the pieces were not organized in any meaningful way, so finding what we needed for each step took a lot of patience, squinting, and good lighting. Then of course there was the need to make sure that I and my sons all got chances to do the coolest steps as well as the tedious parts.

There were long stretches where we didn’t work on it at all, especially during the summer months when there were other, better things to do out of doors. Finally, after we returned from our Christmas vacation (2010) we made a big push to finish it. For one thing, we needed to reclaim the space that the boxes were taking up. For another, Jonah had embarrassed me by building the even-larger Lego Taj Mahal in mere weeks, single-handedly, while the Millennium Falcon sat half-finished. Finally, the closer we got to the end, the faster construction went, for two reasons: first, there were fewer and fewer pieces to search through for each step; and second, there were more and more cool surface details to add, helping to motivate us.

In the end, it took fifteen months to finish building the Millennium Falcon. It was worth the wait and the effort — the finished model is awesome. Now if only we could find a good place to display it!


When I was a programming intern at the very start of my career, circa 1987, our tech writer had this sign above her workstation:

Before asking me a question
Read the manual

No one had ever heard “RTFM” before, and this formulation was funny because (at the risk of stating the obvious) it omitted the F from the expansion of the acronym. Here’s what’s funny about that: you effortlessly fill in that blank yourself, and you recognize that everyone else can too, which highlights the frivolity of that bit of prudery; and at the same time you recognize the hostility of someone who’s been asked too many dumb questions, ill concealed in a sign made ostensibly polite by the omission of what the F stands for.

“RTFM” became widespread not long after that, but every single subsequent time I saw it — on t-shirts and coffee mugs, on demotivational office posters and in e-mail signatures — and every time someone wittily quoted it to me, it was always “Read the fucking manual,” which completely misses the point. There’s no frivolous prudery on display, no conspicuously bad attempt to conceal the hostility of the sentiment. RTFM had become just an abbreviation for a crude message and a tiny bit of something important was lost from the world.

Here’s another thing: a few years after that first RTFM sign, in 1990, the movie Goodfellas came out, and there was a brief flurry of discussion on Usenet surrounding the effort made by one dedicated moviegoer to count the number of times the word “fuck” is used in the film: 296, raising Goodfellas head and shoulders above former champ Scarface (from 1983, with 207 occurrences of that word).

“Fuck” still had the ability to shock and surprise, as evidenced by the astonished reactions on Usenet to its profligate use in Goodfellas, but thanks to that film and Casino (1995: 422 “fucks”) and their ilk, that power was waning. Soon a torrent of “fucks” would be used for comic effect in The Big Lebowski (1998: 260) and then we had The Sopranos (1999), every episode of which was 20% “fuck” by weight.

The power of “fuck” is almost all gone, and that’s a shame, because what can take its place as the all-purpose strong taboo epithet? By overuse it’s been demoted to a very mild intensifier, as in “You cannot fucking believe the fucking paella at this fucking place, it’s fucking amazing.” Texters use LMFAO and OMFG without a second thought (and without pretending they stand for “laugh my ass off” and “oh my god”), and a little more of something important is lost from the world.

What brings you here 2009

Geez, post one tiny picture of a naked woman and your whole blog turns permanently into Times Square. (Er, the seedy Times Square of my youth, not the oppressively unobjectionable Times Square of today. [Or the celebratory Times Square of tonight.]) I was going to write my annual “What brings you here” post that tallies the top queries drawing readers to this site, until I discovered that Polly Walker’s nipples, which last year drew 30% of this site’s visitors, now draw nearly twice that: 58%. Almost all of the other queries disappear in the statistical noise.

It’s true that I updated this blog far fewer times in 2009 than I did in 2008, but I did add 46 new posts, which isn’t nothing, and none of that new content was prurient — in fact there’s been only one new post in the “sex” category since “When on Rome” two years ago. You’d think that the drawing power of Polly Walker would be dwindling, not growing. You’d think that a few fuzzy flesh-colored pixels would count for little next to the attempts at erudition, humor, personal reminiscence, political ranting, and heartwarming family anecdotes that make up the preponderance of the site.

Well, sex sells. Hopefully the thing it’s selling is a little intellectual uplift to the single-minded degenerates who stumble across this site!

Moon type

I saw somewhere that today is the 200th birthday of Louis Braille, inventor of the Braille system of writing for the blind. As his legacy can easily withstand a little friendly competition, I figured it’s a good day to mention Moon Type, the little-known alternative to Braille.

Tell it like it is

In the same sally through the encyclopedia that uncovered Moon Type, Chuck discovered in the entry for “warthog” this caption beneath an illustration: “The warthog is one of the world’s ugliest animals.” This tickled us no end, but a year or two later when the library got an updated edition of the encyclopedia, we were even more amused to see that the same illustration now had a more scholarly and much less colorful caption, along the lines of, “The warthog can be distinguished by its tusks.” We delighted in imagining the outraged protests from some Warthog Appreciation Society that resulted in the politically correct change.

My friend Chuck discovered Moon Type in seventh grade while browsing through a copy of the World Book Encyclopedia in the school library. Developed around the same time as Braille, its alphabet consists not of raised dots but of simplified, recognizable letterforms.

The Moon Type alphabet
(lovingly rendered by yours truly)

Chuck and I decided that Moon Type, as obscure and yet as simple as it was, was ideal for passing coded messages to each other. We committed it to memory and used it thereafter from time to time when we desired an (admittedly light) extra level of security on our written communications — which consisted mostly of jokes, plans for world conquest, and not-fit-for-publication commentary on our female classmates.


On one dismal occasion, that extra security failed memorably. Chuck and I were at the apartment of my girlfriend Andrea (not the Andrea that I married). Andrea’s parents were out of town and I was hoping Chuck would get the hint about giving us some privacy. I wanted to use this perfect opportunity to advance with Andrea to, shall we say, a less consistently frustrating level of physical intimacy. We were having a grand old time, the three of us, but when the hour began to grow late and Chuck was still hanging around, I decided to pass him a coded message — coded once with Moon Type, and coded again by being worded obliquely in case of interception. The message was, “book.” I expected Chuck immediately to apprehend its slang meaning, which we sometimes used, of “leave” — and to be unoffended by the request, and to comply at once while making it look like leaving was his idea, as demanded by the Guy Code.

Unfortunately for me and my hormones, all of those expectations were wrong. I handed him the folded piece of paper behind Andrea’s back. Of course Chuck deciphered the Moon Type immediately — this was in tenth grade, and by now we had been using Moon Type for years. But our usual ability to know just what the other was thinking left him just then, and he said to me in a puzzled voice, “Book?” I tried to shush him and to clarify my intent nonverbally, but this only puzzled him more and he inquired again, within Andrea’s hearing, as to what I could have meant. Now she grew curious too. Ignominiously I tried to change the subject, and then (when that failed) to pretend I’d been trying to remind Chuck about a book he’d borrowed from me, but then why would I have written a coded message about it? Suddenly Chuck got it — “Oh, you want me to leave!” — and he got huffy, and Andrea got pissed off, and that was the end not only of that evening but of all future attempts to, ahem, “advance” with her.

At the time it felt like a disaster for my relationship with Andrea, and indeed it was; but I didn’t realize then that the lasting injury would be my guilt about having offended Chuck, my best friend. In the many years that have passed I doubt I ever apologized to him for it, and though I’m sure in hindsight he considers this incident to be minor and excusable by the ordinary cravenness of teenage boys, I still feel like I owe him this public: “Sorry, man!”