Poll Vaulting

Let me start by assuring all of you that this is NOT a political commentary. If that’s what you’re looking for, you will find it everywhere else. And I do mean everywhere else. Even the weather network makes climate change a political issue. Speaking of the weather, I’d like to make a few comments about polls – not North Poles or May poles or telephone poles or strippers’ poles. I’m talking about opinion polls – a somewhat recent practice where companies are paid lots of money to find out how people think and how they feel and what they are likely to do.

It started out as ‘market research’ where companies would try to test the customer’s reaction to a new product or service before investing in it. I guess that’s why we don’t have products like cauliflower gum or fiberglass underwear. And that’s good. But where it went horribly wrong, like it usually does, is when the government got involved. That’s when it changed from market research to opinion polling. A huge leap of logic. A poll vault.

The premise is flawed. I think the problem is the word ‘opinion’. Everyone has things that they know they know, and things that they know they don’t know, but everything inbetween is called their ‘opinion’. For most people it is by far their largest category. When you’re having a conversation, how many times do you say ‘I know for sure’ or ‘I don’t have a clue’ compared to the number of times you say ‘Well if you ask me’ or ‘As far as I’m concerned’. I bet the second category is the big winner. That’s because most of us are idiots so pretty much everything we say is either an opinion or just plain wrong. And ‘wrong’ is much clearer. When you say something wrong, it’s always wrong and everyone knows it’s wrong. When you express an opinion, it’s only your opinion at that moment and nobody really know if it’s right or wrong, they just know it’s different than their opinion.

And you can change your opinion without consequences. You can just say you got more information and are now more informed and there’s no stigma. Whereas when you present something as a fact that’s completely bogus, you’re immediately traded to the moron team. So to avoid that humiliation, most of us skip facts and just focus on giving our opinion. And we get good at it. We have opinions on everything. And they’re all totally flexible. Changing your mind is suddenly much more than a woman’s prerogative.

And now we have these political pollsters being paid millions of dollars to find out our opinions. I don’t think that’s possible. Imagine a guy standing on a street corner with a clipboard, stopping people at random to ask their opinion on an upcoming election. The majority of those passersby are already late for a meeting or are texting somebody or desperately need to use the restroom. They’re not even going to slow down, much less squeeze their legs together and give an answer.

The next problem that pollsters have is based on their assumption that people are stupid – that anyone walking down the street is only too happy to stop what they’re doing and give private information to a complete stranger. Anyone who would do that needs a reason to. They need to see some benefit they would get out of sharing their point of view. And it has to be a strong enough reward to overpower the risk of sharing an opinion that maybe the pollster totally disagrees with and shows it by smacking you over the head with his clipboard.

If I’m feeling confident that the upcoming election is going to have the results that I want, there is no motivation for me to talk to this guy. I have nothing to gain. So now our random sampling is excluding people who are too busy and people who feel that things are going their way. What we’re left with are the malcontents and radicals and egocentrics who can’t wait to share their opinions with the world. The kind of people who have blogs.

The resultant poll shows only the people who answered and is probably nowhere near a representation of how the general population feels. Some people will argue that random sampling is accurate in the same way manufacturers will randomly take a can of corn off the assembly line to enforce quality control. The difference is the can of corn didn’t volunteer to be inspected. For these election polls to be accurate, the pollsters have to be able to talk to the people who won’t talk to them. Which is impossible. So the results aren’t just skewed, they’re screwed.

We all know how weathermen can be way off the mark even though they get to see all the data before making their prediction. How can the pollsters have a chance when most of the information is completely hidden? For the 2016 American Presidential Election, I went online at 4:00 p.m. on Election Day to a website that had summarized poll results from six different polling companies. The average prediction was that Hillary Clinton had an 81% chance of winning. They were a little off. They were a lot off. They were far enough off that they need to wind down their companies and find a legitimate way to make a living. But hey, that’s just my opinion.

The Houseboat Odyssey

This is a pretty long story so unless you’re employed by the government you may not have time to read it at work. Just to be on the safe side, I’ll divide it into parts so you can read it in pieces.

Part One:

I’ve liked boats my whole life and have had a bunch over the last 50 years. My latest is a houseboat I found on the internet. I live in Ontario Canada and the houseboat was in Gallatin, Tennessee. My wife and I flew down to take a look at her and put the deal together. Now I had to figure out a way to get the boat to Canada.

My original plan was to bring it up by truck but a friend of mine who knows nothing about boating said I was missing the opportunity of a lifetime and that he and I and another friend should turn it into an adventure and bring her up by water. I said I’d think about it. Gallatin is on the Cumberland River so the route to Ontario would take us up the Cumberland, across the Ohio, up the Mississippi, up Lake Michigan, down Lake Huron, across Lake Erie, up the Welland Canal and across Lake Ontario.

My friend called back and said we could shorten the trip dramatically if we took the Ohio + Erie Canal from the Ohio River to Lake Erie. I pointed out that the Ohio + Erie Canal had closed permanently in 1913. I also decided to hire a captain. His name was William but he said everyone called him Pete (that should have been a clue). Captain Pete would fly into Nashville on an agreed Sunday in June. My friends and I flew down to Nashville on the Friday night. I rented a car. We drove to Gallatin, moved onto the boat and went out for the evening in Nashville.

On Saturday we bought our provisions and set the boat up for the trip. On Sunday I drove to the Nashville Airport, picked up Captain Pete and brought him to the boat. I then went into the town of Gallatin to return the rental car. I was assuming one of the staff would drive me back to the boat. That didn’t happen. The office was closed on Sundays but there was a drop-off box for the keys. I locked the car, deposited the keys and walked towards the main street. I came to a 7-11 and directly across the street was a Ford dealership.

I got out my cell phone to call a cab but I didn’t know how to get the number. A 30ish couple pulled up to the 7-11. The guy had a wife-beater undershirt on. I excused myself and asked him if he knew the name of a local cab company here in Gallatin. He started rubbing his forehead and said ‘Oh man, I should know this’. Then he called to his wife sitting in the car. ‘Honey! What’s the name of the cab company here? The one your brother works for.’ She was also stumped. After a few awkward moments I asked ‘Well, would it be something like Gallatin Taxi?’ With great relief he said ‘Yeah, that’s it.’ I thanked him but you could see the ‘Wow’ in my eyes.

I called directory assistance and they put me through. A man answered. ‘Gallatin Taxi.’ I said ‘Yeah I need a ride to the marina.’ He said ‘Where are you?’ I said I’m standing in front of a 7-11 right across from a Ford Dealership.’ He said ‘Well that’s in Gallatin!’ I said ‘Yeah.’ He said ‘This is Hendersonville!’ I said ‘Well it’s called Gallatin Taxi.’ He said ‘Yeah but it’s in Hendersonville!’ (with just a hint of ‘You idiot’) I persisted ‘So can you send a taxi?’ He said ‘ Yeah I can but it’s gonna cost you 25 bucks just for me to get there.’ I said ‘Well my other alternative is to walk across the street and buy a car.’ After a $40 two-mile taxi ride we settled in for a night on the boat.

Part Two:

We got up early the next morning, filled the gas tanks and headed up the Cumberland River. Everything seemed okay as we went through a series of lock and dams. The biggest one had a drop of 65 feet. Captain Pete told me to string one of the stern lines loosely around a cleat on top of the lock and release it slowly as the boat descends with the water. The he handed me a sharp knife and told me that if the rope jammed in the cleat on the way down, I should cut the rope immediately or it will rip the fitting right out of the deck and the boat will sink and we will all die. That was relaxing.

There were a few fishermen blocking our route along the way but the main threat was the river barges carrying coal and gravel and whatever. The components are 10 feet wide and 30 feet long and they tie a bunch of ‘em together and then push ‘em with a tugboat.

They need to go at a pretty good clip or they can’t steer so you get this huge thing 30 feet wide and 90 feet long coming at you at around 10 knots and he’s not interested in getting out of the way. That’s your job,

The river took us passed the Tennessee State Prison and I was relieved to see that none of the guards or prisoners recognized Captain Pete. Our first setback came at about 6 hours into the trip. Our generator went down so we had no 120 volt power. More importantly, the generator has a power take-off that runs a hydraulic pump that drives the bow and stern thrusters. So without the generator, we had no thrusters and without thrusters, houseboats are hard to manoeuver.

We decided to stop at the next marina and get the generator fixed. Captain Pete surprised us all by doing a great job of docking the boat without any thrusters. There was a marina worker to catch us. She was an attractive woman in a bikini but none us were offended. While we waited for the marina mechanic, we decided to gas up. By this point Captain Pete had been running full throttle for about 7 hours. When they handed me the $1100 gas bill, I decided we would drive a little slower tomorrow.

The mechanic arrived and started working on the generator. After about a half hour, he took me aside and said that the generator is not getting gas. He thought it was a vapour lock in the fuel line. He blamed it on the ethanol in the gasoline that causes gas to evaporate too quickly when it gets hot. He told me that I needed to wrap a bag of ice around the fuel line to keep it cool and everything should be fine. I responded that I didn’t know what we were going to do but for sure it wasn’t going to be that. I asked him if the fuel pump was electrical or mechanical. ‘Electrical’ he said. I asked him to check the connections to the fuel pump. Guess what? The vibration caused when you run at full throttle for a few hours had loosened one of the terminals and the wire had fallen right off. A couple of turns from a 3/8” wrench and we were back in business.

There was a restaurant at the marina so we decided to stay for dinner and head out in the morning. Some of us like to have a glass of wine with dinner but we were in a dry county. The restaurant told us we could bring our own wine, which I’ve seen before, but we also had to bring our wine glasses, which was a new one. One of us left our glass behind by mistake and to this day I have 3 matching wine glasses instead of 4.

The next morning we headed out early and cruised at a comfortable speed up the Cumberland towards the Ohio. The day passed without incident. We took turns behind the wheel and generally just enjoyed the ride and the scenery. All systems worked fine and we were getting used to the boat. By early evening we arrived at Green Turtle Bay Marina in Grand Rivers, KY. Captain Pete was at the wheel as we pulled into the marina and began swinging the boat around to approach the dock. Many people were on their boats watching us arrive. Captain Pete was his usual confident self, especially knowing he had operational thrusters. Any of you have ever driven a twin-screw boat know that you can turn it around faster using the engines, rather than the wheel. You just put one engine in forward ant the other in reverse and she’ll spin around on a dime. Well unfortunately the same type of vibrations that had unscrewed the fuel pump connection, also caused one of the throttle relays to fall out. The result was that Captain Pete had our 79 foot houseboat spinning out of control with one engine at full throttle in the middle of the marina. I could see the people in the boats we were almost hitting and I was unaware the human eye could open that wide.

From the upper pilot station, Captain Pete yelled at us that he had lost control and that we needed to shut the post engine down. I was on the lower deck at the stern so I raced through the boat to the lower pilot station and shut the engine down. I was a little curious as to why Captain Pete hadn’t shut the engine off himself with the kill switch that was right in front of him but I decided not to mention it. We managed to land at the marina and they gave us a slip well away from all of the other boats for some reason.

Green Turtle Bay is located where the Cumberland River meets the Ohio. From there you head west on the Ohio and in no time you reach the Mississippi, head north and you’re on your way to St. Louis, Chicago and Lake Michigan. We were excited but it didn’t last long. The marina folks warned us that the Mississippi was having a 500 year flood. The water was 37 feet above flood stage and the current was heading south at 11 knots. Our boat only goes 10 knots so if we got on the Mississippi, even at full throttle we would end up backing into New Orleans. And the marinas were all under water so even if you had the power to overcome the current, you wouldn’t be able to dock anywhere or refuel. It was a problem.

Part Three

By the next day our plan was rapidly unravelling. Captain Pete had another job to get to and my friends couldn’t afford to just wait around and see what happened. So we said our goodbyes and promised to keep in touch. I decided to give it a week or so and see if conditions improved. It would take me that long to put together a Plan B anyway.

The only really good thing that happened was that my wife drove down from Ontario to spend a few days. That was nice. The other advantage I had was that I was in Kentucky which is the world headquarters for houseboats. They build most of ‘em there and they know how to service ‘em and even better, they know how to move ‘em. By truck. So I started the search for a trucking company that could get me from Green Turtle Bay to Ontario Canada.

During that time a boat pulled into the marina. He had come down the Mississippi from Chicago. His face was ashen. He said it was the worst experience of his life. Going with the current was no safer than going against it. He said there were power cables and telephone lines below the surface and the water was roaring and full of debris – trees and bushes and parts of houses and appliances. That convinced me to hire a trucker. I found a guy willing and available and we started the process.

Another thing they have in Kentucky is really long and wide boat ramps. But not at Green Turtle Bay Marina so I had to get the boat across the ba to the boat ramp. I hadn’t driven the boat enough to be comfortable with it so I hired a young guy from the marina to take her over to the ramp. There was a cross wind and the slip we were heading for was barely wider than the boat. When we got close I asked the driver what he’d like me to do to help him get the boat into the slip. He said that as long as I didn’t stand directly in front of him, he should be okay. Sarcasm is alive and well in Kentucky. He brought her in without incident.

I was now in launch mode. The first step was for a couple of guys to come and measure the boat. Not the whole boat but most of it. First they measured the beam – 18 feet. Then they measured from the point of the bow to the last bulkhead. This houseboat is 79 feet long but the last bulkhead is about 63 feet from the bow. I found out later why they only measured to there.

By this point the trucker arrived with a fancy, totally adjustable trailer. They could set the length and width to whatever they wanted and it had a whole lot of small wheels rather than the usual number of normal-sized truck tires. They adjusted the width of the trailer to 9 feet which was half the width of the boat, and the length to 63 feet which was the length to the last bulkhead. This meant that once the boat was on the trailer, there would be a 4 ½ foot overhang on each side and a 16 foot overhang on the back. The back overhang is especially troubling because the engines and the generator are all inside that overhang. That’s a lot of weight to not have a trailer under it but I never questioned Captain Pete so I just carried that tradition on.

The trucker backed his adjusted trailer way down the ramp while the crew brought the boat up onto it. The trucker had asked me how much the boat weighed. I really had no idea and boats don’t get picked up in that area of the world so I had no way of finding out. She has an aluminum hull so I estimated the weight at somewhere around 20 tons. I soon suspected that was not exactly correct as smoke poured from the truck clutch as he tried to pull her out of the water. (I found out later that the boat weighs 34 tons. I’m glad I didn’t know)

After they got her out, I realized that although they had dealt with the width and length of the boat, they had not yet adjusted the height. Bridges in America tend to have a minimum height of around 13 feet. My boat’s height of 20 feet meant that the entire upper deck had to be removed and loaded onto other vehicles. Aside from the structural disassembly, every wire had to be cut and numbered so we had some chance of reconnecting them later.

Then they went inside and secured everything they could. They filled the dishwasher and locked it, put everything they could inside cabinets and used zip ties to prevent the doors from everything. It looked rough but it was road ready. When they were set to go, they had four vehicles. The first was a pole car. It has a big pole attached to the bumper with the length set at just slightly higher than the load. If the driver goes under a bridge and the pole hits, he radios the truck driver to warn him. Next comes the truck itself pulling the boat on the trailer. Behind that another truck carrying the parts from the upper deck. The final vehicle was an RV for the crew to sleep in. It also had a ‘Wide Load’ sign across the back.

My original plan was to follow the parade for a while just to see how things went. I changed my mind in a hurry. Although the trailer was set for 9 feet of width, the boat itself is 18 feet wide. That’s fine but I didn’t realize a highway lane is only 12 feet wide. So the procedure is for the trucker to drive up the road with the right hand wheels of the trailer riding the white line at the edge of the highway. That limits the overhang in the next lane to 1/1/2 feet, even though the over hang on the shoulder side will still be 4 ½ feet. But things can go wrong. What if the right side wheels slip on to the shoulder? What if there’s a parked car or a disabled vehicle on the shoulder? Or a hitchhiker? What if a large vehicle tries to pass? Like say, another trucker with another houseboat? This was hard to watch at any speed but when the parade hit 70 miles an hour, I decided to head home and wait to hear how it went later rather than see for myself.

When I got to my home in Ontario, I was in for another surprise. Before this adventure even began, I had arranged to get a new plan for my cellphone so I could send and receive calls and emails without going broke. I was also doing an article for the local paper so I needed to send hi-res pictures. And I had told Captain Pete and my guys to feel free to use my laptop because I had set up a plan.

While I was home, the phone rang. I thought it was the trucker with good news. It was neither the trucker nor good news. It was the cellphone service provider. He said ‘Mr. Smith, I have your first invoice for your new service here and before we send it out, I thought I should call you.’ I said ‘What’s the problem? Is it too low?’ He said, ‘Did you completely understand the package you were purchasing?’ Sensing a loophole I said ‘Absolutely not. The clerk was 11 years old, she was on the phone with her boyfriend, she told me to sign and I did. Why?’ He said, ‘Well you signed up for unlimited calls and data but it was for Canada only. Once you entered the US you triggered roaming charges and data limits.’ I said ‘Oh boy…How much is the bill?’ He said ‘Well it’s around sixteen thousand dollars.’ I laughed. Crying has never worked for me. He went on to say ‘But since you didn’t understand the package I’m able, on a one time basis only, to waive half of the charges.’ I said ‘That’s great. And I don’t want to look like a piker so I’ll waive the other half.’ And he did. Not a word of a lie.

Part Four:

Don’t exactly remember when I got the call from the trucker but it was at least three days before I expected. He had brought the boat to Erie, PA and was in the process of putting her back together. I asked him how he was able to get all the trucking permits done that fast. He said, ‘What do you mean, permits?’ I let it go.

He figured in a day or two he’d have her back together and I could sail her across the border into Ontario. I contacted Captain Pete. He was halfway across the Atlantic on his way to France in a 34 foot sailboat that had just lost her steering so he was unavailable but would send another captain. I told him I would also need at least one crew guy. My wife drove me to Erie and dropped me off at the boat which was still on the trailer beside a small canal in the parking lot of an industrial marine machine shop. They were just finishing the reassembly and I was checking for damages. Some parts of the metal fins on the bottom of the keel were missing. It looked like they had been ground off. I asked the RV driver how that happened. He said there were some concrete partitions on a tight cloverleaf and the overhang caught the top of them. He said the sparks flew out about 30 feet behind the boat. These fins are right below the gas tanks so we dodged a bullet there.

There were also some green scrapes on the top of the upper deck. I asked the trucker about them. He said ‘One of the bridges was green.’ Another guy in the crew told me how lucky I was to have chosen this particular trucker. He told me that one morning they came to a bridge under construction and the lane that was open was too low for the boat to go under so the trucker hauled the whole load across the median and went the wrong way under the bridge then crossed the median again to get back where he belonged. Apparently the construction crew was pretty impressed. But on the other hand, it wasn’t their boat.

They finished putting her back together and used a couple of cranes to lift her into the water. We left her there for the night. No power. Just tied up to the side of the canal. I stayed in a nearby motel. All night I lay there thinking about the boat. She had just had a rough ride. Were there any cracks in the welded hull? What if the batteries were dead? With no power, they wouldn’t recharge and the bilge pumps would fail. Would the boat still be there in the morning? The next day I got my answers – no, they weren’t, and yes. We moved her over to the marina and waited for the arrival of Captain Fred and his crew.

The next day the marina manager called me into his office to discuss the weather. He told me that in addition to running the marina he also had a marine towing business and that he had seen more than his share of boats underestimate the severity of Lake Erie weather. He said there was a big storm coming in the next day, which was our departure date, and his advice was for us to stay an extra day or two for the storm to pass through. He wouldn’t want to be out there in any boat but houseboats in particular are not built for the conditions of the great lakes.

I thanked him and asked him to come to the boat and give that same advice to my captain and crew once they arrived. Later that afternoon he did just that, laying out all the potential dangers to Captain Fred and his crew. After he left I asked Captain Fred if we should cancel tomorrow’s departure. He answered ‘Absolutely… We need to leave right now.’ Once I regained control of my vocal chords, I asked him to explain that logic. He said he agreed that the storm was coming tomorrow but he wasn’t sure the conditions would improve in just a day or two and he had somewhere else he needed to be. He said that if I was okay with traveling at night, he would get the boat safely across before daybreak and beat the storm. I decided that he knew more than me so at 7 p.m. we untied and pulled away from the dock.

The first couple of hours went without incident. Once in a while the engines would rev up but would then settle down. Captain Fred thought that maybe the outdrives weren’t all the way down. I adjusted them a couple of times and then laid down on the stern and looked under the boat to confirm they were in the correct position. Usually at sunset, the wind subsides. Not this time. It was still a clear night but the wind was whipping up the waves. Although Lake Erie is huge, it’s shallow. It doesn’t take long for the wind to create some substantial waves. The first really big one came crashing over the bow. It slammed up against the sliding doors and knocked them off their track. That water then drained down into the bow, which had no bilge pump and was separated from the rest of the hull by a bulkhead. So now we had 1,000 pounds of water trapped in the bow, causing the boat to nosedive as the waves got bigger and the night got darker.

Captain Fred assured me that everything was under control but then his laptop crashed so he had no electronic navigation. He was old school so he could steer by the stars so as long as the clouds stayed away we’d be able to keep more or less on course. At first I was sitting in a chair but started to get motion sick so I laid down on the couch. When the waves got bigger I kept falling to the floor so I eventually decided to stay there. At this point everything was rockin’ and rollin’. The blinds on the windows would swing out wildly until they were up against the cabin ceiling and then would clatter back down against the window.

The engines were coming out of the water regularly now. They’d rev up to about 4500 rpm and have no propulsion until they got back into the water. Made her awful tough to steer. After one particularly big wave hit us broadside, there was a tremendous crash from the upper deck. One of the crew went up top to investigate. When he came back down he was wearing a lifejacket which I took as a bad sign. He said the entire roof had collapsed and was lying at an odd angle on the upper deck. He couldn’t find any way of tying it down so he just left it. In the morning we’d find out if we still had a roof. I was now lying on the floor thinking about the lifeboat on the rear deck and the fact that the water was a reasonable 72 degrees.

I was wondering what could possibly be next. I got my answer. My cell phone rang. It was the security monitoring company from my home in Ontario. They said ‘Something has just triggered the alarm at your house and should we send the police?’ I said ‘Yeah go ahead. I’m busy dying on Lake Erie right now.’ Both events turned out to be false alarms.

The next couple of hours are blurry. I must have fallen asleep on the floor. The wind had died down and Captain Fred was circling offshore near the mouth of the Welland Canal. He was waiting for the sun to come up so he could see well enough to get to a safe docking area.

Part Five:

Once we got her tied up, we could go out and assess the damage. The heavy waves had broken 19 welds on the roof supports, causing the roof to fall down onto the deck. The only reason that roof is not at the bottom of Lake Erie is because one of the ceiling fans caught on the sink. The bar countertop was cracked and broken everywhere. We were considering not doing anything. If the roof survived Lake Erie, it could survive the Welland Canal and even the short, sheltered section of Lake Ontario we had to cross. But then the Canal Inspector dropped by and helped us with that decision. He told us there was no way that he’d allow us to use the canal until we got that roof taken care of. The canal is like a parade. If one of the boats breaks down, all the boats have to stop and most of them are commercial vessels.

That was another issue. The Inspector was trying to tell me that my houseboat was a commercial vessel not a personal pleasure craft. I disagreed. The boat has a pretty large bar area on the upper deck. The Inspector said ‘Why would you need a bar like that on a pleasure craft?’ I said ‘Well you’ve never met my friends.’ That did it.

We hired a truck with a crane and spent most of the day removing the roof, taking it apart, stacking it on a flatbed and sending it off to our final destination. Captain Fred and the crew were suggesting if we leave now, we could make it home by sunset. This time I refused. I said ‘We have power, we have water, we have steaks and we have a bbq. We’re all gonna have showers and a steak dinner, enjoy the sunset, get a good night’s sleep and finish the trip tomorrow.’ Nobody put up a fight.

We spent the next day going through the Welland Canal, crossing the southwestern edge of Lake Ontario and arrived at our home dock. I said goodbye to Captain Fred and crew and settled into our new waterfront home. I got some local guys to re-attach the roof and fix the wiring. When we lifted the boat out for the winter, we discovered the reason for the engines revving so high. It’s called ‘cavitation’ and it happens when air is drawn down from the surface and into the props. To prevent that, most I/O’s have cavitation plates. My boat had them when we left Gallatin but somewhere on the truck ride from Grand River to Erie, they fell off or were smashed off or ground off. In any case, they were off. I found a company in New Zealand that makes them and got myself a pair. Problem solved. We’ve spent every summer since then enjoying our houseboat and deciding it was well worth what it took to get her here.

Your Lucky Day

I just read a report about what happens to Lottery winners within a few years of the windfall. Lotteries are kind of a modern thing. A hundred years ago your only way to make money legally was to either work hard or play bingo. But now they have these lotteries where you can win millions and millions of dollars just for buying a $10 ticket. The first section of this essay I read, was to explain why anybody who had even a passing grasp of high school math would not be suckered into playing a lottery. They say that there is more chance of being hit by lighting three times than there is of winning a lottery once. But in my opinion, they’re missing a key fact – no matter how bad the odds are, they are never zero. When they advertise with the slogan ‘You can’t win if you don’t buy a ticket’ that makes sense to me. Whereas saying ‘You have almost no chance of winning’ strikes me as irrelevant, except for the ‘almost’. And who would buy a ticket to be hit by lightning three times, even if the odds are better.

The next point is that when you win, you are winning other people’s money, other people who bought tickets and lost. It’s not a lost treasure tht you’re recovering. It’s losers’ money. So what? They knew what they were getting into. Unless they don’t have high school math but who’s fault is that? When the winner bought a ticket, it was based on hope, not expectation. Same thing with the losers. Nobody who wins ever feels bad for the losers. Every winner has been a loser at some point. And probably will be again.

This brings me to the key focus of the story which was that almost every time a poor person on the verge of bankruptcy wins the lottery, within a few years they’ve blown it all. Sometimes they end up in actually worse financial shape than they were before the win. And the conclusion the author came to was that people in economic distress should not be buying lottery tickets because they can’t afford to lose and even when they win, they will eventually lose. Huh? What kind of logic is that? How can winning a lottery be bad luck?

This author concludes that lotteries should be played for fun by people who are financially solvent and are not looking to the lottery to solve their cashflow problems. I beg to differ. I have a whole different take. I think if you’re financially solvent you shouldn’t be ALLOWED to buy a lottery ticket. Who wants to hear that Warren Buffet won the lottery? Not me. I’m rootin’ for the guy living under the bridge in a cardboard box. And so what if he blows it all in a couple of years? The rich guy would probably hide it in a Swiss bank account. The poor guy will just spend it. On toys and cigarettes and booze and who knows what. He’ll be helping his own community because anybody who lives under a bridge tends to shop locally. So all these businesses and stores and street vendors benefit. In a way, they’re all lottery winners. I say let the poor folks play and let’s all hope they win. And I’m fine with it, if they blow it all. My only hope is that they’ll put enough aside to be able to buy another lottery ticket.

Flying Your Flag

According to the Bible, Adam and Eve were naked in the Garden of Eden. To me this means two things – (1) they were attractive and (2) they lived somewhere warmer than Canada. But after they ate the apple, suddenly the fig leaf trend hit and everybody was wearing one. The Bible says Adam and Eve felt ashamed and that’s why they needed to cover themselves. So the original purpose of clothing was to hide our shame. Some of us need to remember that as fashion trends come and go, A velour leisure suit is every bit as shameful as a naked body.

But clothing has gone way beyond that original purpose. It’s been used to identify groups of people like cowboys and Indians or armies or the Amish. If armies were naked, the two sides would only be differentiated by the size of their weapons. Many people are more comfortable in a group so dressing the same is a comforting way to blend in and not have to defend any individual choices. But as confidence and ego came into fashion, clothing became an extension of ourselves. ‘Clothes make the man’ my relatives used to say. Except for my uncle who said ‘Man makes the clothes’. He was a tailor. But I know what they were getting at. They were saying people judge you by looking at your clothes. Are they the latest fashion? Do they look good on you? Are they clean? Do they have holes in them? Are they supposed to have holes in them?

I think it’s all a trap. The fashion industry wants you to rely on your clothes to make up for any of your other inadequacies. And they try to get you when you’re most vulnerable – while you’re a teenager. Teenagers are the easiest customers in the marketplace. Strange things are happening to their bodies and their voices and other things. They’re inbetween childhood and adulthood for six or seven years and that’s a lotta time to be in the ondeck circle. They wanna be up to bat. They want to be making their own choices and running their own lives. But they can’t. At least not in most things. They have to live at home and go to school and pretend to listen to Dad.

So whenever they can express their own identity, they do. Through their music. Or their haircuts. But the most dramatic way is through their clothing. They can look tough or slutty or both or neither. Mom has dressed them for 12 years, those days are over. Teenagers want to fit in and stand out all at the same time. They want to be seen as innovative as long as their friends are innovative too. Wearing the latest fashion trends is a way to do that. And once they do that, the fashion folks have them for life. The kinds of clothes they buy will change but the need to buy them will last forever.

Not me. I have a few reasonably nice clothes that I can wear on social occasions. They’re not new but they’re ambiguously semi-classic and most of the time I can get away with them. And if somebody calls me out for wearing a shirt I’ve had for five years, I’m not embarrassed, I’m proud. They call it being out of style. I call it being in charge. Open your closet and take inventory. Chances are you’ve got $5,000 worth of clothes in there, most of which you never wear. My closet is around the $750 mark – $700 for social clothes and the other $50 for the clothes I wear day to day.

I don’t want to wear even somewhat expensive clothes day to day and I’ll tell you why: BECAUSE I DO THINGS. I change tires or replace spark plugs or rebuild carburetors or install toilets. I don’t hang out at the mall all day sipping lattes and looking at what everyone’s wearing. At the end of the day, I want to feel like I’ve accomplished something. I don’t care if nobody complimented me on my jeans. If I got the lawnmower running, that’s a good day.

And good clothes are wasted on me. If I’m dressed up and the furnace goes dead, I’ll be down in the basement with my tools ruining a really nice shirt. I know my wife would prefer it if I dressed better but she also likes the fact that I’m not afraid to get my hands dirty. As long as I eventually wash ‘em.

So if you really like clothes and fashion and want to always look your best, that’s fine. I have no problem with that. But don’t criticize those of us who go another way. Remember clothes were created to hide shame not to spread it.

Your Royal Obeseness

There are 350 million people in the U.S. and about 340 million of ‘em are either on a diet or should be. The only reason I’m not in that category is because I’m Canadian. I know there’s a big push on these days to end ‘body shaming’. It’s seen as a form of bullying to demean people based on their physical imperfections. I’ve seen where lingerie companies are starting to use plus-sized models to advertise their frillies. These are larger, full-figured women who are confident and comfortable with their bodies. I still haven’t seen an ad featuring a really fat guy in a Speedo yet but I’ve been to a couple of Club Meds and believe me, it isn’t pretty. No matter how confident Fat Boy is.

All in all I think this new approach is a good thing but it only goes so far. It’s a lot easier to change what people say and even what they do but it’s almost impossible to change what they think. When they compliment you on your beach cover-up, it’s their way of begging you not to take it off. This latest wave of implied acceptance is part of a pattern that’s been evolving over a long period of time. Many years ago when you met a grossly overweight person you would say ‘Man, you’re a fat bastard.’ That era ended abruptly when it was discovered that a lot of fat guys can really throw a punch. In the next phase, when you met that same person you would say ‘Hello. How nice to meet you.’ and then you would turn to your friend and whisper ‘Man, he’s a fat bastard,’ That didn’t last long either due to one of the mysteries of Nature which is that most fat people are sensitive. And have excellent hearing. And now we’re in the final phase where we meet the person and say ‘It’s an honour to meet you. You’re looking well,’ And then whisper nothing to your friend. Or anyone else. Ever. But in your mind you’re still thinking . ‘Man, that is one fat bastard.’

I’m okay with almost all of this. I think it’s wrong to be mean to fat people. I don’t think their weight is any of my business. And I’m happy for them that they feel good about their largeness. Where it falls apart for me is when I’m supposed to revere them for having the courage to be fat. I can accept but I can’t revere. I save revere for heroes and moral leaders and good people who work hard to make the world a better place. Not for fat guys who have no shame. I don’t believe that anybody who had the choice between being a fat guy and being a normal guy would choose to be a fat guy. They would never consciously choose that route. Yet subconsciously they choose it all the time.

That’s because of one of the sad truths about human existence – most of the enjoyable things in life aren’t good for you. skydiving, eating a four pound cheeseburger, having sex with your secretary, having sex with your secretary while skydiving. Our challenge is to deny ourselves those kinds of pleasures. Many of us do not rise to that challenge. Especially when it comes to eating. The original concept is to ‘eat whenever you’re hungry’ but that has expanded to ‘eat whenever you’re awake’.

When humans are doing something destructive, like slowly killing themselves with a knife and a fork, they often come up with excuses as to why it’s not their fault. We’ve all heard about slow metabolism and water retention and genetic predisposition but in my opinion, there’s a simple scientific explanation. As our old pal Al Einstein proved, energy can neither be created nor destroyed. It can only be transformed. Think of a potato as energy.

When you eat it, you take that energy in. Your job now is to transform that energy into something else. You could use it to do some activity. Breathing and yawning don’t count. Take a walk. Ride a bike. Climb some stairs. Do anything other than eat another potato. If you don’t use that energy. It will go somewhere. But not here:

The only way to get all the unused energy to go down the toilet is to throw the potato directly in there. Instead your body will store the energy. As fat. That’s because your body is hoping that you will come to your senses one day. That you will do something that requires energy. Your body is ready for that day, hoping and praying that it comes. If all that comes is more potato energy, your body will continue to store it as fat because your body still believes in you. No matter how cruel you are to it.

One final troubling spin-off from this new idea that fat is beautiful, is the attitude that the world feels obligated to the new reality. Restaurant portions need to be larger, we need alternatives to stairs and even walking itself. People don’t need to be smaller, airplane seats need to be bigger. Well okay but all of these changes raise the cost of living for everybody. A normal-sized guy is now paying more for a dinner that’s way too big for him to finish. Escalators and elevators are expensive. Do we need them everywhere? I lived in a community where the residents complained because there was no elevator to the fitness room. And sure the airlines could make airplane seats big enough to accommodate Mr. Jumbo but there’d only be 20 seats on the plane instead of 300 and the airfare would be $10,000 one way instead of $199 return.

I know I’m coming across as a hard-ass here but I can’t seem to find a way around it. I’ve been overweight most of my life. Not to the point of a health risk and I can buy clothes at normal stores but I’m not proud of how I look and it’s got nothing to do with body shaming. The ideal is to be fit – mentally and physically. When you see the Greek and Roman statues from thousands of years ago, you don’t see a guy with a massive beer gut and 200 pounds of back fat. Nobody wants to see a statue of a fat guy. No offence, Buddha.

Here Comes Da Judge

The other day my wife told me that I tend to be too judgmental which I’m pretty sure wasn’t a compliment. But if she’s right, that’s not for me to say. So of course it got me thinking, as most things my wife says, do. I started with a detailed examination of her comment. She didn’t say I was judgmental, she said I was TOO judgmental. It’s always a tough one when an activity is acceptable in certain doses. Like it’s okay to drink – as long as you don’t drink too much. And who makes that decision? The drinker? That happens a lot. I’ve often said only a guy who’s had 9 beers would think a 10th beer was a good idea. So the outside world, or as it’s more commonly known, your wife, makes the call when what you think is enough, is actually too much. Now I agree completely with the concept that a certain amount of judgmental behaviour is a good thing. When you come face to face with a rattlesnake or a biker gang or a women’s activist group, you need to be judgmental. You need to react. You need to be somewhere else. The ability to avoid life threatening situations is why we have ancestors. If your great-great-great-great-great grandfather had just gone willy-nilly out into the wilderness without making judgments between good and bad ideas, he would have lost both his willy and his nilly. I’m not saying being judgmental is good or bad – at least not yet – what I am saying is that being judgmental is natural. Maybe even essential. That’s based on the theory that survival is a priority. So when you meet someone for the first time, it’s natural that you will be judging them at least to the point of identifying whether or not they’re a threat. Do they look angry? Do they seem tense? Are they packing heat? Do they smell bad? If they pass those tests, they move on to Round 2. Now you’re trying to find out if they’re smart and/or amusing and do you want to continue your conversation or never speak to them again for the rest of your life. If they pass that test, they get into the semi-finals, which is you finding out if they have common areas of interest or common social or employment experiences or political viewpoints. If you get a match in those areas, you are on your way to becoming friends. That’s because, although they say opposites attract, we much prefer to be with people who are just like us. It’s less work, you don’t have to watch what you say and do and, most importantly, when their life choices match yours, it’s a subtle re-affirmation of you and everything you stand for. That’s a feel-good moment. It’s called ‘group-think’ these days and it’s natural and not even a bad thing, unless the group is wrong. When that happens, it starts an evolution where the more independent thinkers drop out of the group, causing the group to re-think their position and, if they’re presented with overwhelming relentless evidence, they will all agree to change their minds, which will eventually bring the dissidents back into the fold and re-establish that ‘all for one and one for all’ warm, fuzzy feeling. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. Or at least NOT ENOUGH wrong with it. Besides it’s human nature and both humans and nature change very very slowly. All of that aspect of being judgmental is fine in my book. Where we run into problems is when we start judging things on either the wrong information or no information at all. We make up our minds before we find out about the person or the product or the service or the accident or the timeshare. But that’s not being judgmental, that’s being PRE-judgmental. That’s where the word ‘prejudice’ comes from. That’s a bad thing for everybody but it’s especially bad for the victim of the prejudice. So I’m now ready to translate the true meaning of my wife’s complaint. What she was actually saying was ‘It’s okay to be judgmental but don’t get ahead of yourself.’

The Trial Separation

Recently a friend told me that he and his wife are having problems and are now having a trial separation. Whenever someone who’s been married for a while hears about somebody else calling it quits, it makes them pause and daydream and even get a little giddy. Not me but other people. I tend to take a more analytical approach.

Let’s start by looking at the phrase ‘trial separation’. The first word is ‘trial’. I know that can be interpreted as ‘attempt’ as in ‘trial and error’ but from my experience a ‘trial’ involves a judge and a prosecutor who know what they’re doing and have done it many times before. So in this case I would say ‘trial’ means ‘formality’. We already know the verdict.

The second word is ‘separation’ which was first made popular by the WonderBra corporation. It means to divide into two different and independent parts. When it refers to people, it means that these people are no longer together, geographically or otherwise, and the ‘otherwise’ is the big part. Because if you think about it, most couples are separated geographically most of the time. They go to work or play different sports or go shopping or take business trips or even holidays apart. Sometimes when they’re together geographically, they’re not really together. Like when they’re watching television or eating dinner without talking or just staring blankly off into space.

Every time any of those things happens, the couple is having a mini trial separation. Is that a bad thing? I say no. Most of us love our wives or husbands but once in a while when we come home we’re hoping they’re not there. Not forever but just for an hour or two so we can relax and kick back and come up with a credible explanation as to why the lid of the barbecue is in the neighbour’s tree. With these kinds of separations, we’re planning to get back together in the long run. In a trial separation, there is no long run and at least one of you is never planning to get back together.

Sometimes a couple will live together for a while before they get married. Like a rehearsal for being married. Whereas a trial separation is a rehearsal for being divorced. I’ve heard that odd things can happen in a trial separation. Like both people change their minds. The person who wanted it discovers they hate it while the person who didn’t want it has moved on. That’s because of a common mistake people make in relationships and in life – it’s called bluffing. In my opinion, bluffing does not work. It’s like good luck – it’s great when it happens but it shouldn’t be a big part of your plan. People who bluff almost always lose. Even in that song The Gambler, the poker expert who knew when to hold ‘em and when to fold ‘em, ended up bumming cigarettes on a train.

The advice I would give any married couple if I was ever asked which I haven’t been so far, is that you need to find that sweet spot for yourself that puts you between being a martyr and being a self-centred AH. (see an earlier blog). If you’re a martyr who stays in a one-sided relationship because you think it makes you saintly or God will reward you or you don’t deserve any better, you will hate yourself and never laugh or even smile at things that are really really funny. On the other hand if all you think about is yourself, that will eventually be your only friend and you will be denying your basic need to have social interaction and will end up very lonely and with an STD.

The trick is to be somewhere in the middle. Where the relationship works for your partner but also works for you. If you’ve got that, keep finding ways to make it work. If you don’t, get out and save yourself while they’re still enough of you to save.

I feel I should end with a joke so here’s one. Three Irishmen walked out of a bar. It could happen.

The Dangers Of Golf

There are several good things about the game of golf. It’s a great way to meet people and make friends. It’s good for old guys because it fools them into thinking they’re not useless. It’s also good for old women because it gets old guys out of the house for most of the day. It’s good for fat guys because they’re nowhere near the fridge. It’s good for drunks because you can only get so much beer into a golf bag. At most golf clubs there is a dress code so guys have to wear nicer clothes than the ones they sleep in. It lets you drive a golf cart even when your license is suspended. It cuts into your disposable income to the point where you can’t afford to buy firearms.

But all in all, the game of golf is evil.

Hardly anybody is any good at it. And the ones who are need to be born that way. Despite what the golf pros tell you about taking lessons and practicing, they can’t make you good, they can only make you less embarrassing. True natural golfers are like albinos. They’re rare and they’re obvious. So unless you’re one of the chosen few, golf will only be a source of frustration for you. Not all the time. Just most of the time. They don’t tell you that so I felt I should.

Golf will make you angry. Some of you will throw your clubs or break them over your knee or strip naked and run down the middle of the fairway screaming at the top of your lungs. (That’s gonna take a lot of sunblock) In time, you will eventually learn to control your anger. Your golfing buddies will commiserate with you because they know what you’re going through. That’s all nice and everything but it doesn’t change the fact that you’re angry. Why would you continue to do something that makes you angry?

Golf will make you feel bad about yourself. You’re a reasonably athletic person. You have a functioning mind, capable of understanding the physics and logic behind the golf swing. Why can’t you do it on a consistent basis? The pro says you need to practice more but you know down deep inside that you will never be any good at this. And it diminishes your self-image. Especially when that big fat idiot at your club beats you every time you play him.

Most human bodies, and especially yours, is physically incapable of executing a successful golf swing on a regular basis. To hit a baseball, you have to swing the bat on a horizontal plane. To hit a croquet, ball you have to swing the mallet on a vertical plane. To hit a golf ball, you have to swing the club on a horizontal AND a vertical plane, simultaneously. That’s like doing a quadruple saukau, every five minutes. Only an albino can do that. Golf is asking you to do something for which you are totally unsuited.

Golf is a huge waste of time. You get there a half hour early so you have time to warm up. The game itself takes at least four hours. Then you have a couple of drinks to ease the pain. That’s six hours out of your day. When you’re a young man with a family, you don’t have that kind of time. And when you’re an old guy who’s running out of time, is this how you want to spend it? The point of our lives here in Earth is to make something better for somebody – even if it’s just ourselves. Whose life got better from you playing golf? Just the guy you lost to but that won’t last. He’ll lose to somebody else tomorrow.

Golf is a con. The golf industry knows that you would welcome any opportunity to blame your poor play on some outside element. You don’t have the best clubs or golf balls or shoes or golf glove or bag or tees or hats or shorts or underwear. They’re happy to sell you all of those. And they’re not cheap. They don’t have to be. The golf equipment companies don’t think of you as a customer – to them, you are an addict. And that brand new driver with the melon-sized head and kryptonite shaft is the only thing between you and your potential. And what about all the golf training gear? The swing analyzer, the big hoopy thing, the practice club with the universal joints, the shaft with the ten pound weight on the end. They want you to think that if you train hard enough with their miracle tool, one day you will be an albino. Not gonna happen.

Golf is expensive. The annual cost for each member of a private golf club is around $10,000. If you join a club at the age of 30 and play until you’re 80, you’ll have spent a half million dollars on golf. Wouldn’t it have been better to pay off your mortgage or put your kids through college or bought your wife more shoes?

Golf takes up a lot of space. Augusta National Golf Course is on 345 acres. That’s over 300 football fields. An NFL football game seats 100,000 fans. The Masters gets only 30,000 and they don’t even get to sit down. The stadium is so big, they have to walk all over the course to see the game.

Golf is tough on the environment. Think of the tons of chemicals they put on a golf course that the rain then washes into the rivers and streams. And the golfers are no better. Doing random excavation work, one divot at a time. They hit so many golf balls into our lakes and ponds, they look like fish hatcheries.

Golf is an insult. We all have our faults and our shortcomings. We’re not proud of them. We try to correct them but at the very least, we work hard to keep them private. Golf doesn’t allow that. Instead they have what’s called the ‘handicap’. On the surface, it looks like an attempt by the golf directors to level the playing field so that all members can compete with each other and have an equal chance of winning. But in reality, it’s a horrible message that promotes profiling, discrimination and, in many cases, fraud. It’s a multi-step process. You start with a bad golfer. Let’s say he has a 24 handicap. The last thing he wants is to tell anybody that but sadly, it’s the first thing other golfers ask. In many golf clubs it’s available on the computer for all to see. Oh sure for a while he tries to get the number down. He tries playing more and if he has a really bad score, he won’t even turn it in. So maybe his handicap creeps down to 18. He’s proud of himself but he loses every golf tournament he’s in because his handicap has been artificially lowered. Eventually he gets tired of being a loser and goes to the dark side. He starts playing really badly in his daily games and only enters the worst scores into the computer. Soon his handicap is 36. The other golfers point and laugh until he starts winning everything. Then the ‘sandbagger’ accusations start. So most of us have two choices in golf – be an honest loser or a cheating winner. Too close to call.

Instead, find something you’re good at, that brings you joy, and do that. I’m going to start right after my next round.

Working Man vs. Lazy Boy

Throughout history a lot of great things have been accomplished through hard work and determination. There’s a dignity to work. Successful work brings a feeling of accomplishment. The work ethic is revered. The old saying is ‘The Devil finds work for idle hands.’ Actually the Devil finds work for everybody but the people who are already working are too busy to do it. I agree with all of that. Work is a good thing. But from what I can see, it’s unnatural. It is not the default position in nature. Left alone in the wild, animals do not work and would never work unless forced to.

Animals are naturally lazy. They don’t set the alarm, they get up when they feel like it. Some of them sleep for the whole winter. They don’t get dressed, they don’t brush their teeth, they don’t comb their fur. The only grooming they do is licking themselves which is generally discouraged for humans. They don’t make their beds, they don’t even get dressed. They laugh at the concept of casual Fridays. Now I know some people are going to disagree with my position. They will say that animals hunt which is not a lazy activity. But hunting is not work, it’s survival. They hunt so they can eat so they can stay alive. They’re not hunting so they can afford a nicer car or a bigger house or a timeshare in Maui.

The only animals that work are the ones that man has gotten his hands on. Elephants moving logs or horses carrying cowboys or pigeons delivering mail. Man has such a distaste for anything that doesn’t work that he forces animals to get up off their duff and start making a living. Bird dogs and hunting dogs and guard dogs and drug dogs and service dogs and cow dogs at one time were just dogs. We changed all that. We gave them jobs and made them work. We think we’re doing them a favour but we’re really just making them more like us.

If animals ever figure out how to talk, we could be in for some serious criticism. And it’s not just the captivity that makes animals work. When I go to the zoo, they’re all either asleep or just sitting there. Once in a while one of them will move and the crowd goes nuts. I know they often put on zoo shows with birds or monkeys or dolphins or whatever but they’re just restricting access to the food supply to get the animals to do what they want. If somebody ever leaves the food pantry open, those animals won’t be coming to work any time soon. Go out into the wild and see if you can get a falcon to land on your head. Not a chance. Instead he’ll scarf down a mouse and go for a nap.

Most of us put pets in a different category from working animals. We don’t expect them to do much. Oh sure maybe a trick or two but generally we just like them to be there when we get home and to be glad to see us. They say one year of a dog’s life is equal to seven human years. It’s certainly true for hours of sleep. Dogs sleep about 18 hours a day. Even with their abbreviated lifespan, they don’t seem to be pressured into an ambitious work schedule.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting that we should all be lazy. I just think it’s healthy to accept that in nature, laziness is not an embarrassment, it’s a sign of extreme accomplishment. If you can lay around for most of the day and most of the year and most of your life and still be able to feed yourself and your family, you are da man. Maybe one day, humans will adopt that attitude. But according to my wife, it will not be in my lifetime.

Mission Control

I’ve been getting a lot of headaches lately and I finally realized it’s from watching television. Not from the content, just from the process. Please take a look at the picture above. These are my remotes. These are the essential tools that allow me to watch tv and DVD’s. Bear with me as I walk you through it.

The remote on the left is for the tv itself. It turns the tv on and off, selects the input and adjusts the volume of the tv. It can also change the channel but that only works if you have a tv antenna or rabbit ears and is mainly for people off the grid. It also does a bunch of stuff that I don’t understand. You can see it has 39 buttons. I use 2 of ‘em – the ‘on/off’ button and the ‘input’ button when I want to watch a DVD. The other buttons I ignore until the tv is not working right and it’s during the Stanley Cup final. That’s when I start pressing any button I can get my hands on.

If I could now direct your attention to the remote to the right of the tv controller. This one works my cable receiver. It turns the cable box on and off, selects the channel and adjusts the volume of the tv. It also has a tv guide and allows you to record shows you’re not watching so you can also not watch them at a later date. It has 47 buttons. I know some of you are going to tell me that you can program the cable remote to also work the tv. I tried that and found that if both units are turned on and then somebody who shall remain nameless (actually Mrs. Nameless) turns off the tv using the tv remote, they are now out of sync because the tv is off but the cable box is still on. So when you press the cable remote on/off button, the tv comes on but the cable box goes off. You then use the tv remote to turn the tv on and they’re back in sync until you-know-who once again weaves her magic.

Before moving on I should also mention that some channels are Standard Def while others are Hi Def. Not only are the Standard Def pictures crappier, they’re also smaller. Why have a 42” screen if you‘re only getting a 28” picture? But if you look at the cable remote, one of the buttons says ‘Aspect’. You press on it a few times and it might solve the problem. If it doesn’t, you go back to the tv remote and there’s a button marked ‘P-size’ which is a particularly sensitive issue for a man of my age. Why can’t they call it ‘Aspect’ like the cable remote does? It does the same thing. Anyway you keep pressing one or both of those and you will eventually get the right sized picture until you go back to Hi Def and then it’ll be way too big. I’m starting to get another headache.

Please join me in moving one more remote to the right. This one controls the audio receiver. In today’s society, the speakers inside a television are only good enough for the people at the absolute bottom level of the socio-economic spectrum. To truly enjoy the television experience you must have 1,000 watts of amplification driving 8 external speakers and a sub-woofer. My wife and I insist on watching Wheel of Fortune in surround sound. So this remote turns on the audio receiver and controls its volume. It obviously does a lot of other stuff because it has a total of 48 buttons making it the most complex and least used remote in the herd.

And just to make things even more fun, the sound from the external speakers is slightly delayed from the sound of the tv so you can’t have them all on at the same time or it’s like somebody yelling in a cave. The solution is to turn the volume all the way down on the tv. You can do that with either the tv remote or the cable remote so that’s a huge break.

And finally we come to the DVD remote. It opens and closes the DVD player and makes the DVD play, pause, fast forward and reverse. That sounds reasonable but why does it have 45 buttons? Excuse me while I pop a couple of Tylenol.

When I was a kid we had a 17” black and white tv and my Dad was in charge. He must have been in pretty good shape because he never needed a remote. He would just walk from the lazy boy all the way to the tv. Like it was nothing. He would then bend over and pull out one knob and that would turn the tv on. Then he would adjust the volume using, you’re not gonna believe this, THE SAME KNOB. Then he would click a dial around to the channel he wanted. There was a plastic ring around that dial that was supposed to adjust the reception. It never really did anything but Dad would turn it anyway just to look important.

My Dad accomplished a lot in his life and now I know why. When he watched tv, he only had one switch and one dial to deal with. When I watch tv, I’m faced with 179 buttons. It’s less complicated for a pilot to fly a 747 than it is for me to watch Say Yes to the Dress.

And the worst part is that somewhere deep down inside of me, I get this feeling that I’m falling behind. That I’m not capable of working with modern technology. I don’t need the tv to tell me I’m stupid. That’s not a new message. They even call them “Smart tv’s” now. That’s not lost on me. It’s a warning. If you’re stupid, don’t buy one of these. So tonight my wife and I have decided not to watch tv at all. Instead we’re gonna have a conversation. Not sure how we’ll kill the rest of the half hour.