Category Archives: Dumb

iCan’t even

For a period of a few months until a recent update, iOS sorta kinda implemented a version of one of these amazing ‘bad volume interfaces‘. It ‘guessed’ what your volume should be based less on preference than on concern it had for your hearing. “You listen to music too loudly”, it would scold in so many words, “I have turned your volume down to…. 58% of maximum. You’re welcome.” There was also no way to disable this function and it would happen daily, sometimes more often, and the inability to turn it off came with an unspoken but louder ‘YOU’RE WELCOME’ from the iOS.

“This sounds a little annoying, maybe, but… I guess I can see the benefit. It wants to save your hearing, why do you listen to music so loudly? Let the robot lady do her thing.”

WELL, that’s the thing… it did it to all audio regardless of whether you had headphones OR, in my case, a Bluetooth stereo you were listening through. If you turn the volume down on the phone, it quiets the audio signal going to the stereo too and now you have to turn UP the volume on it even more and eventually you end up with mismatched audio levels, hissing and crackling from overboosting quiet signals, and general feelings of iRage against the machine that *you own* that’s acting like you have no authority over it.


There must have been a sufficient up-swelling among users who matter (I’m thinking Apple Execs with Airpods, maybe) because as of a recent update, there is now an option to tell it what KIND of Bluetooth audio device is connected and if you tell it something other than headphones, it now grudgingly leaves you in control of your volume and doesn’t mess with it while you’re out walking or dance fighting or all the other things people do while listening to headphones.

You know what, though, if I want to go deaf, I don’t need my phone telling me iCan’t. That’s for my parents to yell at me, and I was able to fix THAT by moving out.

Hey, I said I’d get around to it

I just finished a project! It only took roughly 10 years, but in my defense, it was a faucet.
A decade ago, I decided to replace the two 1970s-style chrome-plated faucets with the plastic ‘crystal’ knobs in our bathroom (which had always puzzled me because our house was built in the late 90s) with more modern, brushed nickel ones as one does. I was replacing everything with brushed nickel. Lighting fixtures, door knobs, actual nickels… just going bonkers with 2010-era design sensible brushed nickel everything. So for our bathroom, I bought a pair of faucets at the home improvement store and swapped out the one for our main sink easy-peasy, Josh-Lyman-squeezy. Turned it on, hardly any water blasted out from the insufficiently tightened hoses and then none at all after some panicked tightening.
It was done.
Oh yeaaaah.
Having spent upwards of a half hour on the job, I was le tired and the second sink was our auxiliary sink anyways (translation: the sink that was being used as storage) so I put the box up on the counter to take care of the next day. The next day, obviously, other stuff came up. Same the day after, and eventually it just became part of the landscape. After all, the sink we actually USED was upgraded and fine.
Somewhere along the line, the box with the new faucet disappeared. I noticed a few months later when I went in to industriously finish this project, but it was gone. The Case of the Missing Faucet occupied me for a couple days but then it too passed.
…until one day about five years ago when an archeological expedition into the garage revealed an unexpected find. Well, it was unexpected to me, you the reader would only be surprised if what I found WASN’T the box with the new faucet, and that was indeed what it was. Somewhere along the line, it must have been picked up and migrated into cold storage (the kind nickname I give the giant, unordered mass of Stuff that makes up a dry artificial reef in my car hole) but now it was right there in my hands so I marched it back up to our bathroom.
…where it sat. In my further defense, I didn’t have a wrench upstairs. When I was downstairs, all memory of needing a wrench disappeared like Mandy at the end of the first season of The West Wing. When I was upstairs, I’d see the box and nod my head sagely, remembering that I’d meant to get the wrench. More than once, I literally went downstairs specifically for tools and forgot by the time I reached ground level. This probably ate another couple years.
Eventually, I ended up under the bathroom sink with a couple of different wrenches and pliers, trying (and failing) to get the big plastic sink nuts that held the old faucet in place off. I didn’t have enough leverage to get them off by hand and I couldn’t get any tools around them either.
For the next year or so, I’d occasionally pull everything out from under the sink and try again and after efforting for upwards of an entire minute or so I’d give up and go do something more immediately rewarding like watch some quality White House fictional drama or 3D model and print stuff or write some code. Or basically just about anything because climbing around under this sink for no positive outcome just wasn’t doing it for me.
Yesterday, a figurative light went on. Pulling open the new faucet box, I verified that it had the same type of plastic sink nuts as the inaccessible ones. So I took some measurements then modeled a tool to fit over it that would give me more leverage. I 3D printed one out of PETG plastic and crawled under the cabinet and was able to immediately remove the intransigent fasteners that had obviously been tightened 23 years ago by some kind of sadist.
The extra leverage was perfect, and I sat there with those nuts in my hand and a feeling of victory in my heart.
The blessed nut twister
Minutes later, the ‘new’ (an asterisk may be appropriate too, I’m not sure what the right way to describe the age of an uninstalled but decade-old unopened water fixture is) faucet was installed and working. I’d shut the water off to the second sink 10 years ago in preparation but the plumbing seemed no worse for wear and everything worked perfectly on the first shot. At some point in the next couple days, I’ll no doubt towel it dry again and carefully place the temporarily relocated soaps and makeup kits and whatever other bathroom cabinet nonsense is appropriate back into our auxiliary sink so it can resume its service to the clutter gods, but by Jove, I finished that project I started all those years ago. I finished it GOOD.
Alright, what’s next?

Crossing the tragedy streams: Local and Global

A few months before our first son was born, we owned a couple cats. One of them, Forest, my wife had had for years. She’d raised him from a kitten. He was a pretty wild cat, the kind who liked to jump from the ground up onto your shoulder even though he weighed 5+ pounds. He’d stabilize himself with claws, and whether you were wearing a shirt didn’t really make a difference to him because that’s apparently not a thing cats worry about. Some days we’d find him sitting on the top of a door because it was the highest place around from which he could lord over his domain. Somewhere along the way, he got an infection in his gums and needed to have his teeth pulled. Once he figured out he couldn’t bite things anymore, he learned to box. Hard. He could really, really whack something with this big murder mittens of his, it was impressive.

We didn’t have kids so we were really, really emotionally invested in our pets. We loved them, they put up with us, it was the perfect relationship you could have with a cat.

Living in Los Angeles, we had to keep them indoors, and this was a challenge. Just outside was this magical, mystical land of smells and sounds and the cats WANTED OUT. Lizzy made a couple half-hearted attempts but eventually settled for the inside life. She’d sit in the window sometimes, but she seemed to accept her lot in life. Forest, however… Forest was not a quitter.

Being a big, dynamic cat, he had a lot of energy and muscle and inertia. Being a little crazy, he also eventually worked out A System.

I remember one day watching him tear around the apartment in circles, faster and faster like some kind of superconducting kitty supercollider. “What the hell are you doi-” I began when he straightened out his path and beelined for the standard-issue armored metal screen door so many LA apartments have.

BAM! He slammed into the door at just the right angle and… it opened.

He’d figured out a way to pop it open by hitting a lower corner and, faster than you can swear, he was gone. A couple hours later, he swaggered back, covered in dirt and so happy with himself. He’d braved the outdoors and was ready to eat. We pulled him in, brushed him off, and thought that was that.

That was not, of course, that.

Once in a while, we’d hear a big BAM! and sure enough, he’d have let himself out. Without AC, the door was our primary ventillation so we pretty much HAD to use the screen like this, but it was unnerving. He kept coming back, though, so it eventually just became a part of life.

Until the day he got him by a car.

We were devestated. Absolutely shattered. Our emotions were so tied up in our pets, we were destroyed by this and we cried. We turned inwards, held each other, and grieved and it was so rough.

After a couple days, it still hurt almost as much and I was surprised when my sister called me one morning.

“Hey, you guys doing ok?” she asked. She sounded sad and I was really moved. We’d tried to play it cool about the cat, but family knows these things.

“We’re hanging in there”, I told her, but she could hear in the roughness of my voice that I wasn’t really that ok. It had been three days since he died, and I still couldn’t quite believe it.

“This is really tough”, she assured me. I agreed, and for the next couple minutes we had a nice conversation where she was asking after our moods and how we were ‘handling things’. I agreed it was hard, she talked about how little experience we had with situations like this, I was impressed at how much sympathy she had for us and our departed cat.

But the wheel of time turns, conversation progresses and passes and eventually… things start to break down.

After a few minutes of about 99% heart-felt platitudes and recognition of shared grief (I was moved at how strongly she felt about Forest dying, she’d maybe met the cat once), I could tell something was wrong. A conversation is… kinda like a machine. There are gears and springs. The movement in one area causes action in another, and a good conversation will have people bouncing these forces of ideas and thoughts back and forth smoothly so that at the end, both feel fulfilled and something productive has happened. The machine turns smoothly.

Today, there was sand in the gears. Also, some of the gears… were the wrong size.

The conversation machine was starting to tear itself apart from the inside out, and both of us were obviously confused. The responses we were giving each other weren’t landing quite right and both of us were getting a little upset because we didn’t understand why this was happening. Finally, one response was just a little too wrong, and my sister was the one to exclaim:

“Ben, what are you talking about?”

This is a question that’s about as welcome in the middle of a an emotional talk like this as a sheriff showing up in the middle of a wedding ceremony with a stack of warrants. It’s proof that something has gone horribly wrong, that somewhere along the way something terrible has happened and two people are very much not on the same page.

“I’m talking about our cat Forest… what are YOU talking about?” I’m absolutely gobsmacked, we’ve been on the phone for almost 5 minutes. What’s going on?

There’s a moment of shocked silence on the other end of the phone, then I hear: “Oh Jesus Christ, Ben, turn on the TV.”

Super puzzled, I hunt for the remote. As I’m picking it up, I ask “what channel?”. This time, she responds immediately.


It turns out, she was not calling about our dead cat. This was, of course, 15 years ago today.

Our grief took a very unexpected turn that morning. I can’t add anything that a million better writers haven’t already captured about the events then or the years of worldwide change that followed, so I won’t try. From a personal perspective I will say… that in the following months, we had our first child, then shortly after, our second son was born. As happens, our own priorities changed and while we still really like our pets, our kids are obviously the vessels into which we put the hopes and optimism for the future that felt so distant that September morning. We still like our cats (A LOT, don’t get me wrong), but when one dies or disappears, it’s just a fact of life. It’s a brief interruption and then… things goes on. The people and animals pass in and out of our lives and we continue and I couldn’t tell you even what YEAR some of our beloved pets have died now or how old our cats are or any of the other little things that used to seem so personally important.

In one of those strange ways our brains work and associate global things to the personal, when it comes to remembering that our cat Forest died on September 8th, 2001, I’ll never forget.

Let your fingers do the plotting

A few weeks ago, a “Yellow Pages” suddenly appeared in front of my house. I know within 10 minutes of when it showed up because it wasn’t there when I went into the house, but when I came out… Boom, ancient relic.

Kanye West tweeted: “I hate when I’m on a flight and I wake up with a water bottle next to me like oh great now I gotta be responsible for this water bottle”. Deep down inside, I guess I’m like Kanye West, except with a phone book instead of a water bottle. Also, maybe not as talented or publicly ‘wacky’. Anyways, I didn’t sign up for this. I didn’t ask the world to be responsible for an outdated reference book that I’ll never use because it’s the year 2016 and I have the Internet. Deciding fast, I grab it and jump into my car. I know these books are distributed by someone driving through the neighborhood and throwing them. Like the Cylons, I have a plan.

I will give it back.

I will choose NOT to be saddled with this… burden. Driving, it’s easy to tell which houses have been hit by the phantom thrower. I glide quietly, my hybrid in “panther mode”, scanning back-and-forth. I’m trying to find a pattern. Am I heading towards them or just retracing the path that led them to my house? An old phonebook looks like a fresh one, there’s no way to tell.

I give up and decide to brute force the neighborhood.

I drive up and down every road, my head on a swivel. Every time I go through intersection, I do that thing we all do at supermarket when we’re looking for the person we came to the store with. A few times, I see something promising and look. Each time, it’s a false alarm and if there’s anyone in the car I’m checking out, they stare at me as I creep slowly past. What’s this LOOK like to them? Well, that’s a question that doesn’t occur to me until afterwards so I continue my mission, leaving a trail of freaked out helicopter parents and neighborhood watch enthusiasts in my wake.

About 15 minutes in, I finally realize this isn’t going to work. Either these people are way faster than I imagined, or we were the last house in the neighborhood. Maybe they’re halfway to Reno to blow their phonebook blood money on doing a gamblings or whatever it is physical spammers do with profits, I don’t know.

I give up. I tuck the phonebook in front of my seat and head back to the office.

A day or two later, my wife notices it on the floor of my car and asks what it’s doing there. I tell her, and she’s immediately practical. “Throw it away or put it in the recycling”, she tells me. “If your plan was to give it back and they’re gone, just get rid of it”.

This doesn’t sit well with me because I feel like then that means the world gets another victory over human decency. The kind of people who throw phonebooks at houses get a pass, and the rest of us need to deal with their anti-social behavior. It doesn’t seem quite right, like I’d would be giving up.

“Well, I was thinking”- I lie, having been doing no such thing, everything I’m about to tell her is occurring to me as I speak so nobody is more surprised than me when that sentence continues: “that maybe I’ll just wait until I see someone who’s parked terribly and maybe put the phonebook under their windshield wiper as some kind of silly, petty protest.”

Hearing it out loud, that actually doesn’t sound half bad. Out of the thousands of ways people have objected to antisocial parking over the centuries, this is a pretty inoffensive one. Yeah, I think maybe I could actually do this. It’ll be great!

Then I remember I’ve just been talking to someone, the level-headed practical bedrock in my life who keeps me together. I can sit here patting myself on the back all I want, but the woman whose opinion is important to me and whose judgment I trust would probably have some input on this grand scheme. I brace myself, this idea may not survive the cold light of logic and sense. These thoughts happen in a flash, she responds instantly.

“Then go get some more of those phonebooks from our neighbors”, she suggests reasonably, “there’s lots of bad parkers. If we’re going to do this, let’s do it right”.

Damnit, I love this woman so much.

Wisdom in the larceny of youth

Many Earth years ago, one of my sons was 5 years old and made a color copy of a $1 bill (both sides), cut them out, and taped them together. As an added bonus, he wrote “20” on each corner with a green marker then tried to present it to me.

After telling him about counterfeiting and the various problems, I added that it wouldn’t even work because most people would look at it and know instantly it was counterfeit.

“But I don’t have to fool all the people,” he responded, “I just have to fool one person”.

That left me thinking for a while.