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Writing a good screed, U.S. edition

2012-07-04 , , , Comment

In honor of Independence Day, I’d like to offer some suggestions for writing a good political screed:

  • Reference one or more of the founding fathers
  • Describe a false dilemma, register everything in black or white.
  • Invoke the Constitution without being specific
  • Refer to the Articles of Confederation, Federalist Papers, or the private writings of the founders.
  • Misrepresent 18th & 19th C. thinking. Opportunities exist in misunderstanding Natural Rights, Exceptionalism, Manifest Destiny, the Enlightenment, Objective Idealism, Romanticism. Get creative here.
  • Make a inappropriate reference to the Separation of Powers.
  • Make an appeal to Anti-Federalism, ex. States Rights
  • Claim an immediate threat to a politically powerful but diffuse group: small business, seniors, the wealthy, etc.
  • Warn of an existential threat to the nation:
    • external threats might include Europeans, China, brown-skinned people, trade imbalances, or Communism
    • popular internal threats are debt, minorities, Socialism, Liberalism, and moral hazard
  • Engage in one or both of Naturalistic and Moralistic fallacies.
  • Include numbers without scale, history, or comparison taken from unnamed sources.
  • Reach a false conclusion (or none at all).

Following these hints will all but guarantee that your posts to your favorite social media sites will grab attention. Have a good time!


Where do we keep the flamethrower?

2012-05-01 , , , Comment

I have a six-year old son. Sometimes it’s like being in a Calvin and Hobbes cartoon.

While we were making dinner, Nate noticed the red steel case for my sawzall sitting by the top of the basement steps and asked what was in it.
“An electric saw,” I told him over my shoulder as I peeled a sweet potato.
“Where do we keep the flamethrower?”
“What? We don’t have a flamethrower.”
“Oh. ‘cuz that would be cool…”

I think we need to thumb through the books he takes out from the library a little more closely.


You know you're a geek when...

2011-09-06 , , , Comment

You look at the postcard labeled “Expansion Celebration” and your first thought is, “What an odd pin layout for an expansion board” before realizing it shows an overhead diagram of the newly refurbished local gym.

Quick snapshot it:


Secret decoder ring

2011-03-19 , , , Comment

It’s always fun when marketing and branding turns an otherwise matter-of-fact email into a chance to apply my secret decoder ring. Here’s an example from a software vendor:

Thank you for your request for a product enhancement or modification. Enterprise Technologies for Enterprises is continually working to improve its software and services to best meet the needs of its customers. Your input is vital to that effort, and we appreciate your taking the time to provide it.

TRANSLATION: We can’t ignore you, but we’ll make it as difficult as possible to reach someone who knows anything about the product. Our automated system sent you a reply email so you’ll feel satisfied and go away.

Your enhancement request has been reviewed by our Product Management Team. We believe it is worthy of further consideration for potential inclusion in future roadmap planning for Enterprise Technologies for Enterprises Sapience Server (ETE Smart System Galactic Enlightenment Edition).

TRANSLATION: The software is perfect as it is, which is why you gave us money for it. We have added your suggestion to the pile. Sometimes the pile slips off the desk into the trash bin. If it doesn’t go into the trash, we might or might not think about maybe including it at some indefinite future time in one of our products, not necessarily the one you asked about. Or not.

We will forward it on to the broader user community for review. Please join the Pan-Galactic User Community to help prioritize future requirements by visiting

TRANSLATION: We appreciate your money and hope to direct you to our moderated forum where we can keep other customers from seeing your complaints. Please don’t vent your spleen on blogs and independent forums because that might get picked up by search engines and get in the way of other customers giving us their money. Don’t ask about your feature, it’s in the pile, we said we’d get back to you.

We look forward to continuing our successful partnership with you. Your success is very important to us.

TRANSLATION: Thanks for the cash. We appreciate it. It lets us buy smaller companies with good ideas and a customer base. Keep using our software because, just because.


Random bit of conversation overheard on the train

2011-03-10 , , , Comment

Exact quote from someone absorbed in their cell phone conversation who passed my seat on the train. Three words barked with pauses for emphasis, disjointed both from context and from the appearance of the earbud wearing talker:

High. Energy. Money.