Aug 14, 2013

The Aging, Retired ADDer

For decades I denied that I had Attention Deficit Deficiency (ADD) even though I had many of the symptoms. I just couldn't connect to the ADD poster-children described in the books that I read. I did procrastinate. And I did get distracted easily. And I wasn't all that organized. But I was functioning, and doing so at a pretty high level.

What may have kept me functioning was the combination of structure and fear that came with working for a living. Structure: I had jobs to do with dates--usually last week--attached. And hanging over me was the threat of disaster for my family--and failure for me--if I didn't get things done, if not last week then at least next week. Or the week after next.

So deadlines and threats kept me moving and focused. During the short interludes when finance was not a problem I'd happily let my mind wander. So many interesting things! Oh! Look! A squirrel.

Then came retirement. Thanks to the money that Bobbi had stashed we were in good shape. I didn't have to worry about compromising our life style. Our financial advisor figured that we'd both drop dead before we ran out of money. He said it in a much more politic way, but that was the message.

Our post-retirement cross-country trip was full of plans for things that I could do in retirement. I could paint, after first learning to draw. I could practice guitar and keyboards and get to be mediocre. I could sculpt. I could write.

Or I could surf the Internet and add to my store of useful, semi-useful, and utterly useless knowledge. Which, of course, I did. To excess. I wasn't exactly wasting time--I was using it to learn. But I wasn't doing what I said I wanted to do.

Most of all, I wanted to write, and I wasn't writing. I'd sit down to write. I'd pick a topic. I might even write a few sentences. But sooner or later--as in sooner--I'd decide that I didn't know enough about some facet of what I was writing about.  Or thinking about writing about. No problem. I was living in the world's biggest research library. So off I went, researching.

All of the world's knowledge is connected. Start anywhere, follow what's interesting, and you'll end up with hours consumed, learning about something that bears almost no relationship to what you first decided to learn. That is, if you were me. Which you're not, unless it's me reading this. But you get the idea.

I could explain how each topic I researched was connected to the one before it, but I couldn't draw a straight line in information space from the starting point through the intermediate points to the end. Or even a curvy one. The walk was random. Brownian motion in a browser.

My behavior had an underlying reason, and since the available choices were ADD and senility, I embraced ADD, and decided to do something about it. Of course there's a problem here. When a person like me with ADD decides to do something about ADD, the something that the person like me is likely to do involves Brownian browsing. ADD is the starting point for each walk. Who-the-fuck-knows-what is the ending point. Frogs? Thirteenth century painting? Quantum physics?

In desperation, I went to see my doctor. He prescribed  some meds that sat in my medicine cabinet for a few months, until finally, in greater desperation, I tried them. They didn't seem to do to much. So I traded him in for a doctor who put me on some meds that did some combination of helping me focus and making me less concerned about ADD.

It's been a few years, now. During that time I have had a few productive writing periods. And I found something useful to do for the company I'd retired from. A little structure, and a little money.

But the ADD hangs there. The only reason I'm writing this, and not out surfing, is the structure provided by my thrice-weekly writing hangout with my big little sister, and my commitment to her that I would spend that time writing, and not doing whatever I'd been working on when we started or whatever struck my fancy as we continued.

So that's the story behind this post.

And I'm sticking to it.

Aug 8, 2013


On the surface my life is pretty simple. Scratch the surface and there's a lot of areas that are in a state of confusion. The canary in the mine is this statement: "I don't know what to do." That's a sign of confusion. And that's different from "I don't have enough time time to work on that; or to figure out what to do." And it's very different from "I don't care about that."

Confusions have the following characteristics: there's a situation; I want to do something about the situation; I have or can make some time; but I don't know what to do. I don't know where to start. I don't know where to start starting. I'm stuck. And those stucknesses weigh me down.

A simple example, one that came to me while I was writing this. I pride myself on my sense of humor. I'm able to look at something that seems serious and find something funny about it. That's a great personal ability. It keeps me from being stuck when there's nothing I can do--or nothing that I want to do. I can just laugh it off. It also helps when I can get someone else to laugh and get unstuck.

Bobbi, for example, has a sense of humor that's different from mine. If she finds something funny there's a high probability (high 90's) that I'll find it funny, too. Or if I don't find it funny, I can at least appreciate why someone might find it funny. The process is not symmetrical. If I find something funny there's maybe a 50% chance that she will not only not find it funny, but completely not understand why it might be funny.

This qualifies as a confusion. It's a situation. I want to do something about it--very much in fact. And I don't know what to do. I don't know where to start. I don't even quite know how to approach the existence of the problem.

But there you have it: a simple issue, one that can be, and has been overlooked many times.  Now it's time to stop overlooking these kinds of problems.

There are more such situations. Some relate to others. A few so purely personal that I don't want to share them public. So I've got a different blog for those and from time to time I will link to the blog. But access to that will be restricted. Some day, when I don't care, I'll make the restrictions less onerous.
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Aug 5, 2013

The quest to improve---nothing

I'm not blogging. Or not blogging regularly, which as far as I am concerned qualifies as not blogging.

When did I post last? I dread checking. It's probably a week ago. Or more. I'm not going to look. Except I've got to look, because this post is a follow-up to what I think is my last post: My Deal With My Sister.

But I won't check the date. Whenever it was, it's too long ago.

Many of my posts, as Zygote 3, my youngest daughter, has observed, are on one or several of the following themes:

  • How I stopped blogging
  • How I'm going to start
  • What I'm going to do to keep going
  • My brilliant discovery of why I stopped last time and what I'm gonna to next time
  • And so on.
And, of course, this one follows that pattern. Which I'm going to change (another theme) by wrapping up this post and writing a different one.

Right. That's the story.

Jul 26, 2013

My deal with my sister

I've made a deal with my sister.

We both like to write, and didn't do it as much as we wanted. So we made a plan: three times a week we'd set up a Google Hangout and write together. That was the theory.

I think the practice has been successful for her and less so for me. The reason is pretty simple. She uses our time together to write. I use my time to do everything but.

Am I wasting time? Depends on what you mean by waste. I do things. I learn things. Sometimes I edit stuff that she's written. I exercise on my recumbent while in the Hangout. All good things.

But I don't write.

Why? I have no idea. Maybe it's nothing more than a bad habit. Maybe there's some evil creature that stops me. Maybe I like whining about not writing, which I do periodically in my Daily Pages or elsewhere. Like I say, I have no idea.

Which is a demonstrably false statement. Proof: I just wrote a paragraph full of ideas. And I can make more of them. I just don't know which, if any of them is correct.

So here's the deal that I've made.

I'm going to quit screwing around during our writing time, and I'm going to actually write something, at least one thing, every time we meet.

It's not going to be perfect. That's not the goal. It's just gotta get written.

Now it's written.

And now, if you see this, it's been published.
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May 22, 2013


I do a crappy job of finishing posts to  my blogs. Here's one reason: I want to be omnipotent. Really.

God is omnipotent, but I don't want to be God. I'd like the power, but don't want the responsibility. And I'm not crazy about the people who would want to hang out with me. But I do want omniscience. I want to know everything. Always have. Always will. Until I die, of course.

Here's the pathology in action.

Yesterday I started writing a post on "pot odds." Pot odds is a rational poker betting strategy. Most poker players are poor, and they bet on whether they feel lucky, or on how much they're already put in the pot. Pot odds tells you to bet based on the expected return (the pot) on the investment (your next bet).

The post, which I started, and intend to finish after this meditation, will explain it in more detail. Assuming that writing this helps me get it done. If it does, I'll update this post with a link to it, that will go here.


There's a lot to betting on a poker hand. First there's the cards. Based on what you know, you  can estimate the probability, of your winning the hand. So can your opponent. You can also estimate what they might estimate, for all the good that might do you.

Then there's bluffing. You can estimate the probability of a bluff based on your opponent's past behavior. So can your opponent. There are optimal strategies for bluffing, assuming that the other player is also following such a strategics. There are more complex strategies where you play one way, hoping to bias your opponent's perception of how you play. So can they. If you're playing face-to-face, there's body language, and spotting a 'tell'--an unconscious reaction that lets you know how good their hand is, and whether or not they are bluffing. Things can get even more complex. How should the number of chips you hold affect your strategy? What if a your goal is not making money, but maximizing your enjoyment, based on some combination of the value you put on money, and the value you put on the emotions that you experience when you play.

And how does all of this relate to non-poker pay-to-play decisions.

I start researching and thinking about these deeper and deeper levels of strategy. Eventually I think that anything can expand to include at least the entire subject of human behavior, and often a great deal more.

That's a bad habit.

It happens a lot.

So having identified the problem I have a solution: when a post starts to get complex, or I start feeling that a reasonably good post could be improved by editing it, again, and again, I will identify what I am not going to do in a section at the bottom of the post.

I'll call the section SIDHTFN, which stands for Shit I Don't Have Time For Now.

Editing this any more.
Grammar checking (Google has spell checked)

May 21, 2013

Pot Odds

People make two kinds mistakes when faced with decisions under uncertainty. Sometimes they stay the course when they really should quit, because they'll lose their investment if they drop out: "In for a penny, in for a pound" as they say. The other is to quit, because the odds say they won't succeed. Don't throw good money after bad."

Both are wrong, as I was reminded while I wrote an email to a poker-playing friend, John Piacente, today.

Ben Affleck playing poker at the annual Ante U...
Ben Affleck playing poker at the annual Ante Up For Africa event in Las Vegas during the World Series of Poker. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
The starting point for a rational investment strategy is what hey call, in poker, and on Wikipedia,  pot odds.

Pot odds means that you make decisions not on how much you've already wagered, or strictly on how likely it is that you win. Instead, it's a return on investment analysis: what does it cost you to continue (the investment), how much are you going to gain (the pot, not just your money, but all of it) and the odds: how likely are you to win.

Calculating the odds gets tougher the more rounds left to play, and even if all the cards have been dealt, it's still pretty hard. You must first calculate your probability of winning given what you know: your cards, your opponent's face-up cards, and any other cards dealt face up.

Once you make that calculation, you multiply the probability by the size of the pot, and that gives you the expected value of continuing. Compare that with the amount you have to bet or call to stay in the game and you've got what you need for a return on investment decision. But it's not that easy because you're not playing against a deck
, but against another player. And that player has choices to make.

They're going to make the same calculation as you did based on what they know and don't know.  That will tell your opponent whether to stay in or fold. But Your opponent might decide to bluff. In order to deal with that you  have to combine your calculation with your estimate of the probability that your opponent will  bluff.

I remember a night in Hawaii, when I was around twenty, watching a game played by a friend of mine, several other students, and a sailor, whose ship was had come in to Honolulu. The sailor started out losing, and kept losing, a little bit at a time.  He'd ante up, then drop out early, playing very conservatively. That went on until around midnight. Then  he started to win, and the game ended early in the morning, after he'd won everyone else's money.

I found out later that he'd been making his living for years playing poker, and he'd do it the same way: lose small amounts by folding early for two reasons. First, because he wasn't focused on winning he could focus on watching the other players at the table and analyzing their play, looking for ways that they telegraphed a good hand or a bluff, and getting a sense of how often they were likely to bluff. Second, by appearing to be a guy who folded early and never bluffed, he was able to run some big luffs later. Once he knew how the other players played, and once he'd created an illusion about the way that he played, it was easy for him to win.

There's a lot more to poker strategy than that, and there's a lot more to life than poker strategy. But there's got to be an end to this  post, and this is it.

Should your strategy change depending on how many chips you have?
If your goal is to make money, then you should probably not play unless you know for sure that you are the best player at the table. If you are not the best, then eventually you will lose everything. But you might have other goals. You might enjoy the thrill. Or you might be playing a "training game" with better players to hone your skills.
How do the lessons of poker apply to life?

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May 20, 2013

Not an optimist. Not a pessimist. A hopeful scientist.

In a world that's filled with bad news, a constant barrage of current outrages, and coming disasters, I am generally unworried.

People who listen to these reports and believe them are pessimistic, and it's easy to see why. When I tell them that I am not pessimistic also, they accuse me of optimism, as though this was some sort of character defect. But, I explain, the fact that I'm not pessimistic does not mean I'm optimistic.  
Is the glass half empty or half full? The pess...
Is the glass half empty or half full? A pessimist would pick half empty, while an optimist would choose half full. An engineer, the story goes, would say that the glass was twice as large as it needed to be. A scientist would report only what was testable: that the 300 ml glass contained 150+/-3 ml of water with 99% confidence.(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Unless I see the predicted doom as inevitable--and there is very little that is inevitable--then I am hopeful, which is often taken for optimism. But it's not. I can be pessimistic and hopeful or  optimistic and hopeful.

My degree of optimism or pessimism is based on my assessment of the probability of either outcome, my degree of certainty about the probability statement, and whether I believe the likely outcome will ultimately be bad or good. In most cases the probabilities are uncertain. In the minority of cases where the probabilities run strongly for a bad outcome, then I will be pessimistic (though hopeful). If they run strongly for a good one, then I will be optimistic (though guardedly so; things can always go wrong.)

But in most cases I can't make a prediction primarily because there's no good basis for making a prediction, and secondarily because while first-order effects can sometimes be predicted, there are often second-order effects that may offset them. For example, one might consider a reliable prediction in the price of oil prices to be a bad thing, but one consequence of such an increase might be more investment in sustainable energy, a good thing.

For me to take any prediction seriously, it has to be scientifically credible. That means the there must be a well defined method for making such a prediction, and the method must have been tested many times, very thoroughly and have been found accurate. Note that what must be predicted is the future, and not the past: there is a vast difference between successfully predicting a future outcome, and successfully demonstrating that had the method in question could have successfully the predicted the past, from a still earlier past time that viewed that past as its future.

The "ask the expert" prediction technique is testable: see what that has expert predicted in the past, and measure how accurate have those predictions have been. Sadly, the answer, found by Philip Tetlock, is that most experts are not very good.

His Expert Political Judgment: How Good Is It? How Can We Know? (2005) describes a twenty-year study in which 284 experts in many fields, including government officials, professors, journalists, and other, and with many opinions, from Marxists to free-marketeers, were asked to make 28,000 predictions[1][2] about the future, finding that they were only slightly more accurate than chance, and worse than basic computer algorithms.
The world is uncertain, and there's not a lot in the future that I am certain about. But as long as it's possible, even if improble, that things will work out I will remain hopeful.
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Feb 11, 2013

Another day, another fresh start

Salvador Dalí, The Persistence of Memory (1931...
Salvador Dalí, The Persistence of Memory (1931), Museum of Modern Art (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Consistency has never been my strongest suit. "You can say that again." says anyone who knows me, reads this, and is into cliches. "There's an accent over the e, in cliché" says anyone who reads this and is into nitpicking. "Will you please get on with it," says anyone who reads this, and wonders, out loud, when, if ever, I will get to the point.

"Alright," I say, deftly switching from narrative to dialog. "The point is that I've developed persistence to compensate for my consistent inconsistency. If you can't be consistent, be persistent, I always say." Or I will always say, now that I've thought of it.

I wasn't born persistent. As a kid I was wishy-washy. But one day, in my mid-thirties, I read this: "As long as you haven't quit, you haven't failed." I had high standards (and sometimes low ones) which I often failed to meet. When I fell short of any of my many standards I felt the sting, and sometimes the agony of my failure. What I read gave me a way out. It told me how I could deliver myself from at least some of that pain. All I had to do was to quit quitting.

So I made a decision. Anyone who has read my as yet unpublished book Self-Referential Metanovel Writing for Dumies, knows that decision is one of the most powerful forces in the universe. And decision didn't let me down. I decided that I wasn't going to give up. Ever.  And I haven't.

From the outside, I am sure it's seemed like I've given up occasionally. It's even seemed that way from the inside, a time or two. But don't let appearances fool you. Or me. I don't give up. I may get distracted; I may temporarily suspend my efforts; I may even retreat, tactically, of course. But I don't give up. I persist. And sometimes, I start over.

January 28th is the data of my last post. Today it's February 11th. My plan was to write a post a day. Yesterday it might have seen that I'd failed to do that. But I haven't. Because I haven't given up.

Today's post is a fresh start. The post is a fact, the result of writing it. That it is a fresh start is a meaning, the result of a decision. It's a fresh start because I've decided it is. And that's enough.

I haven't yet decided whether that my fresh start means that I am going to post every day, starting today, or whether it means I am going to fill in the gaps so that I will have, on the average, posted every day, starting the day when I decided to post every day. And I don't have to decide, right now, or ever.

It's one or the other.

In the meantime. Welcome to my fresh start.

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Feb 9, 2013

Kinds of people in the world...

There are only 10 kinds of people in the world: Those who read binary, and those who don't.

There are only two kinds of people in this world: Those who require closure

There are only two kinds of people in this world: Those who think there are only two kinds of people in the world, and those who don't.

There are only two kinds of people in this world: Those who finish what they start

This is another post from my catch-up series, explained here. It's May 24th, despite the date on the post.

The first is from from page 33 in Inside Jokes. The second from 301. The next is a recollection. The last is one I invented while writing this post.

Feb 8, 2013

Winnie the Pooh

What do Alexander the Great and Winnie the Pooh have in common?

They both have the same middle name..*

This, from page 31 in Inside Jokes

This is another post from my catch-up series explained here.

It's may 24th, despite the date on the post.

*And by the way, so does Jack the Ripper.

Married to a 70 year old? WTF!


I know that I'm seventy, too. I've been married for forty years to the same woman--who I sometimes introduce as "my first wife." To her displeasure.

It feels weird that I'm seventy. It's strange knowing that I have become an old man. And it's equally to realize that I'm married to an old lady.


People tell us that we're "young for our age," whatever that means. But young or not, we're starting to act more and more like the stereotypical old couple. "What? What? What did you just say?" To bed at 10:30, or so. Cognitively declining together.

And we're getting more serious. Too serious.

Not that we were ever frivolous, mind you. Or particularly playful. We're both native introverts. She extroverts when social conditions require it. I have trouble extroverting, unless it's part of my job. Then I can do it reliably. Apparently I can extrovert for money, but not for appearances.

When we're together we drop whatever social facade, or veneer we've layers on ourselves, and we settle into what's most comfortable. That's changing as we grow older, probably because we're trying to conserve energy. For introverts, being extroverted takes energy. And old people don't have lots to spare.

I'm a happy person inside, despite not smiling much. This is nothing new. I remember my uncle Abe telling me to smile when I was a kid: "It takes more muscles to smile than to frown," he said. I remember my smart-ass answer: "I'm not afraid of work." I remember a teacher's comment on the second grade report card that I found: "Michael is doing better. He smiled once today." Smiling does not come naturally to me, unless there's something specific to smile about.

Despite years of experience living with me, my old wife sees me not smiling and assumes that I'm unhappy.  And she says that makes her feel bad. Part of the problem is my battle with gravity, which I am still losing. Old people tend to be "down in the mouth" because of gravity, no matter what they may feel inside. The mirror tells me that I'm not an exception.

Well, says I, it does not have to be that way. Being more playful might be more work than settling into seriousness, but it's work that I'm gong to try to do.

It may be harder for her. She's seven months older than me.

But who's counting?

Feb 7, 2013

Two legs and bleeds?

Here's another post from my catch-up series, explained here. It's May 22nd, despite the date on the post.

Q: What has two legs and bleeds?
A: Half a dog.

From page 31 in Inside Jokes (slightly altered from the original).

Which reminds me of a series of jokes I heard from Kiry Child.

What has four legs and can't see?
No eye dear.

What has four legs and can't see and can't move?
Still no eye dear.

What ha four legs, can't see, can't move but can have sex.
Still no fucking eye dear.

Feb 6, 2013

High School Reunion

Another joke remembered from the past, today, May 21, despite the back-date on the post.

A guy shows up his tenth high school reunion in a limo, accompanied by two beautiful women. He's become fantastically successful, and no one can believe it, because he wasn't the brightest guy in their class, or the most personable, or anything. In fact, he barely graduated. He was as far from "most likely to succeed" as you could get.

After hearing about his mansions, his cars, his lifestyle, his vast wealth, not to mention the beautiful women hanging on his arm, one of his classmates asks: "So how did you do it? What's the secret of your success?" 

"It's surprisingly simple," he says. "I discovered that I could buy things for, say, a dollar, and sell them for, say, two dollars."

"And you'd be amazed at how fast those 10 percents can add up!"

Feb 5, 2013

Nearly Past Its Wear Date

This joke is from the early '60s, a time when there still were words that you wouldn't use, even with friends, if women were present. But women were being liberated, and using such words was edgy, and increasingly allowable. To appreciate the joke you'll have to imagine yourself back in that time.

The joke is delivered in the first person.

"I heard a really great joke the other day, but, uhh, it's got some strong language in it. But it's too good not to tell. So when when I come to the four letter word that means excrement, I'm going to say 'Shoo shoo' Okay?"

Teller checks with everyone (especially the women if tell is a man) to make sure it's okay.

"Now for the four letter word that means sexual intercourse,"  I'm going to say 'Foney foney' OK? (Checks)

"And for the four letter word that means a man's member, I'll say 'Papa' OK?"

"And for the four letter word that means a woman's genitals, I'll say 'Tweet Tweet'. Got that?"

"Everybody got it?"

Now the teller checks to make sure everyone has the code:
"Excrement?" Wait for or prompts the answer.  'Shoo shoo'"
"Intercourse?" "Foney foney"
"Male member?" "Papa"
"Female genitals?" "Tweet tweet."

"Okay, ready?"
Everyone waits for the joke that's "too good not to tell."
"So one day these two cocksuckers are walking down the street...."

The first couple of times I told the joke it went over really well. The next time I told it, when I got to "For the four letter word that means sexual intercourse..." one of the women said "You mean fuck?" That was the last time I was able to  tell that joke. Today I can't imagine getting through the checking phase without someone saying "the real word."

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Feb 4, 2013

The Boy And The Branch

Here's another post from my catch-up series, explained here. It's May 19th, despite the date on the post. And this story is not from Inside Jokes but a variant that the earlier story reminded me of--probably dated to the early 1960's. It's way, way beyond politically incorrect, but it's the way that I heard it, and that's the way I'll tell it. People who find their sensibilities offended by racist, sexist or other -ist forms of humor, but for some reason the two categories don't meet in my head, and a good joke is good--and sometimes better--when it's something you would not want to tell in public.

A little colored kid (as we would call them in them days) is walking along the edge of a cliff, when it gives way. Suddenly he finds himself hanging on to a branch growing from the sheer rock face, two hundred feet above a jumble of sharp rocks.
"Help! Help!" He cries. But there's no one around.
"Help me Lord! Please help me!" He calls out.
Suddenly there's a burst of thunder, the sound of trumpets and he's bathed in light. And he hears a Voice say: "Little nigger boy, let go of the branch."
"Lord, I can't do that! If I let go, I'll be killed!"
"Little nigger boy," the Voice repeats, "let go of the branch."
"Lord, I can't. I can't"
"Little nigger boy," says the Voice. "Do you believe in me?"
"Yes, Lord," the boy says. "Of course I do."
"Then let go of the branch," says the Voice.
"OK," the boy says, hesitantly. He lets go of the branch, falls two hundred feet and splatters on the rock below.
There's a long pause. Then the Voice speaks.
"I hate niggers," says the Voice.

Feb 3, 2013

The Voice of God

Here's another post from my catch-up series, explained here. It's May 19th, despite the date on the post.

This, from page 53 in Inside Jokes (altered from the original).

An atheist explorer in the deepest Amazon suddenly finds himself surrounded by an angry-looking group of natives.
"Oh God," he says to himself, "I'm completely screwed."
Suddenly he hears a voice. "Even though you do not believe in me," says the voice, "even though you have used my name in vain, you have called on me, and I tell you that you are not completely screwed."
"Tell me what to do," the explorer says. "Whatever you say, I'll do it."
"Pick up that stone and bash in the head of the chief in front of you," says the voice.
He picks up the stone, and before the natives realize what he's doing, he attacks the chief.
The natives, madder than before, grab him and start to carry him off.
"Okay," says the voice, "now you are completely screwed."

Feb 2, 2013

Twenty Questions Joke

Here's another post from my catch-up series, explained here. It's May 19th, despite the date on the post.

This, from page 57 in Inside Jokes (slightly altered from the original).

Two rednecks are standing around.
Bobby Joe: Hey, you wanna play twenty questions?
Billy Bob: Sure.
Bobby Joe: OK, think of something and I'll try to guess it. Ready?
Billy Bob: Yeah.

Bobby Joe: Is it a thing?
Billy Bob: Yeah.

Bobby Joe: Can you fuck it?
Billy Bob: Yeah.

Bobby Joe: Is it a goat?
Billy Bob: Yeah.

There's always room for variation. How about:

Two philosopher are at a conference.
Philosopher 1: Would you like to play twenty questions?
Philosopher 2: Alright.
Philosopher 1: I'm thinking of something. Guess what it is.
Philosopher 2: Is it a material object, as opposed to a mental construct?
Philosopher 1: Yes.
Philosopher 2: Could someone fuck it?
Philosopher 1: Yes.

Philosopher 1: Is it Immanuel Kant?
Philosopher 2: Yes.

Feb 1, 2013

More humor

Notifies people of a joke. (SVG version)
Notifies people of a joke. (SVG version) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
"If you tell a joke in a forest, and nobody laughs, was it a joke? --Steven Wright.  (p16)

That's it. The whole joke,  created in accordance with this plan.

It seems like cheating to just copy a joke, write a few lame sentences. And maybe is is cheating.

So, OK. I'm cheating. But I'm getting it done.

Steven Wright is deep, and makes me think deep, too.

Here's what I'm thinking right now:

If you publish a post on your blog and nobody laughs, thinks, gives a shit, or even reads it, was it a blog post?

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Jan 30, 2013

Yet another try: daily blogging and humor

The last time that I restarted was here. And now I'm doing it again. Restarting. Trying to teach this old dog a new trick: writing regularly. Again. So here's my latest exercise in self-manipulation.

This is another one of those back-dated fill-it-in posts, a renewed attempt to rewrite history and post every day. But for the record, it's Friday May 17th.

Daniel Dennett, at the Second World Conference...
Daniel Dennett, at the Second World Conference on the Future of Science, in Venice, 2006 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I finished reading Dan Dennet's book, "Inside Jokes" (web site here, Amazon reference here) a week ago.

Dennet has popularized ideas in cognitive science and evolutionary theory and philosopy. Most of his work is readable by people with a moderate science background. This one is a bit more challenging: it's both very academic, and very funny.

The book explains  a theory of humor developed initially by his co-author and former student Matthew Hurley as part of his doctoral thesis, for which Dennett was advisor. The third co-author is Reginald Adams, who teaches at the University of Pennsylvania and has cultivated a major interest in humor.

To help illustrate some of the features of the theory the authors retell (and then analyzes) some pretty good jokes.

My make-up project (let's see how long it lasts) is going to be a joke a day.

I'll start with this one from "Inside Jokes": (p.15)
"He who laughs last...thinks slowest."

Jan 28, 2013

My love affair with software: Part 1

Happy to Use Computer Software
Software using software.
(Photo credit: Old Shoe Woman)
I believe in the power of software.

Not just software the way most people think about it--software programs for computers. There are many other kinds of software and I believe in their power as well.

Software is invisible, weightless, and timeless. We can't perceive it directly; we can only perceive its representations and its effects.

Software is all around us. Software is in us. What I call software is what makes us unique as humans.

I define software as everything in this universe that isn't hardware. When people think of hardware they think of hammers, nails, and sometimes of computers, but there are lots of other things that qualify as hardware, and many of them have software inside them. A book is a kind of hardware and what's in the book is a representation of a kind of software. Your brain is a kind of hardware and what's in your brain is a kind of software. Computers are a kind of hardware and computers are full of different kinds of software.

Software is the force that has made, is making, and will continue to make our world what it is. This isn't something new. Software has been at its job for billions of years. Software started slow, started to accelerate, and now is boosting its own acceleration.

In the beginning, all software was created by accident. Then living things began to use both intentional  and experimental processes to create software. Eventually humans appeared, thanks to some of those experiments, and humans started getting very good at creating new kinds of software--ideas, poetry, music, literature, culture. All invisible except for their effects and its representations. All software.

Then humans developed computers and computer software, and that blew the doors off. One way or another software amplifies human ability, including the ability to create software. Computers and computer software help people create old kinds of software, faster and with less effort. Now computers and software are helping people create even better computers that run even better software, including software that could help create even better software and even better computers. The process feeds on itself and accelerates.

Creating software is one of the coolest things that anyone can do. I've spent most of my life creating lots of different kinds of software, including this post and this blog. I've created a lot of software for computers, too. But the kind of software I like best is software that helps me and other people create more and better software. That's one purpose of this blog.

Software that helps you understand software helps you create better software. That's what I'm doing in this post, for myself at least, and maybe for others.

I'm writing it to help me, as part of Project 70, modify some of my own software.

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Jan 27, 2013


An earworm is a piece of music that sticks in your head. You hear it over and over, even though no one is playing anything. Researchers say that nearly everyone experiences them at one time or another. I've certainly had my share. Maybe it's an attribute of aging, or a quirk of my construction, but I seem to be more worm-infested than before.

Or at least I was. For some time any music I listened to became an earworm. Rock. Classical. It didn't matter. Hear it once  and it replays endlessly.

Earworms are usually music, but not always. Two days ago a new earworm appeared. "Tenser said the tensor," it said. "Tenser said the tensor." What on earth was that?

Google to the rescue. It's one segment of a larger, and deliberately engineered earworm, from a story called The Demolished Man, written by Albert Bester. Wikipedia tells me that it won the first Hugo Award in 1953. For those who don't know, and because my head is full of stupid little facts, The Hugo is an award that is to science fiction what the Oscar is to movie making. If memory serves (and Google will tell me in a minute if it does) The Hugo was named after Hugo Gernsbach, an early publisher of sci-fi.

And speaking of random associations in the aging brain, the Oscar, if memory serves me, got its name because it reminded someone of his or her Uncle Oscar.

Let's Google! And the answer is: Hugo Gernsbach is spelled Hugo Gernsback. So two points off for spelling.

And the name Oscar, officially the Academy Award of Merit has an origin that conforms to my memory (though the story is disputed), as described in the 'Naming' section here.
Another claimed origin is that the Academy's Executive Secretary, Margaret Herrick, first saw the award in 1931 and made reference to the statuette's reminding her of her "Uncle Oscar" (a nickname for her cousin Oscar Pierce).
Ten points off for not knowing whose Uncle Oscar it was.

But enough Googling. Back to my latest earworm.
In The Demolished Man, the story's hero, Ben Reich has a songwriter named Duffy Wyg& write him an earworm that keeps telepaths (espers) from reading Ben's mind and finding out what he's up to. The part that I remember was:

Tenser, said the Tensor.
Tenser, said the Tensor

Then I found this, when I googled for that phrase:
, said the Tensor.Tenser, said the TensorTension, apprehension,And dissension have begun
And finally I got the whole story from Wikipedia:

Eight, sir; seven, sir;
Six, sir; five, sir;
Four, sir; three, sir;
Two, sir; one!
Tenser, said the Tensor.
Tenser, said the Tensor.
Tension, apprehension,
And dissension have begun.

My descent into earwormery seems to have been halted, for which I am grateful to the earworm gods. I listened to PSY while writing this post, and the song, which has been stuck in my head every time I've heard it, isn't there now.

But, sadly, I have a new one. Sting. Walking on the Moon. In my head.


Project70 identity crisis: going social

There's so much interesting stuff on the web that hardly a day passes without me finding something so cool that I want share with someone else. Sadly, generally, I don't. Rarely, I find something so compelling that I'm driven to send a "Hey look at this" email to a few folks. But just a few. And I don't do it too much; no one likes their inbox stuffed with crap that they didn't ask for because some friend thought they might find it interesting. They might even find it interesting. But Jesus Christ, now is not the time! Delete! Delete!

So I don't sent out those kinds of emails, much. Other people who did it have stopped doing it because social networks are a better tool. Social networks let people see what someone they like or find interesting thought was cool when they are in the mood to see what someone they like or find interesting thinks is cool. Sadly, generally, I don't use social networks much, either.

Not that I'm not plugged in. I'm a connected guy. I have accounts with Google+, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter. YouTube has also become a social network, and I have two accounts there. I read G+ daily, seeing what people who I like and find interesting thought was so cool that they decided to share it; and I also use G+ to read what the wise individuals in my family who post there have to say.  Occasionally I share something or comment on G+, but not much. I'm a Facebook lurker, meaning that I read Facebook to keep up on a subset of my friends and on the people in my family who have not discovered the joys of G+. But I just about never comment. And I never post. I check LinkedIn when I have a reason to, which is rare these days. I have a Twitter account (probably a few) but don't follow anyone, and I'm a tweeting virgin. I've used my YouTube account to upload and to share a few videos. That's my social networking life.

I blog, which is a way to share ideas, and that's what's leading to my social renaissance. As part of my Project 70 I've decided to become socially active. I plan to start posting regularly on G+. And then I'll decide what to do next.

After I see if I do what I plan to do.

But first I have to handle my identity crisis. On the Internet we prove that we are who we say we are by being able to click on a link sent to an email address that we say is ours. As far as the Internet is concerned, I am my email address. I click, therefore I am.

Many people have work and home emails, which gives them two Internet identities--a work identity and a home identity. That's that's just an extension of reality: who we are at work is often not who we are at home. Certainly that was true for me. At work I was an extrovert and at home I was an introvert. I was an extrovert at home because it was my job to be extroverted. I got paid for having that personality. At home I was an introvert because--well, that's what I do when no one is paying me.

Right now I have no fewer than eight email identities. Perhaps I have ten or twelve. Who's counting. One is an old, retired yahoo account, my first personal Internet identity. Three accounts are special purpose business identities, easy to keep separate from the rest. I use another account (goooglefanboy at when raving about something Googley. A couple of them are artifacts of early messing around with email. Once you have one, you keep it. One is the main account I use in my own domain. (Everyone should have his/her own domain). And one was the gmail account I started to use after giving up my yahoo account and before setting up my domain.

My identity crisis is the result of Google's account authentication policy. Facebook and LinkedIn let you associate several email addresses with an account. I can be two email identities with a single social account. But Google 's social network associates all its services with a single email address. Which means that if you have two addresses you are two people.

This isn't a problem for most of my email addresses, or for my work address. I'm not social when I'm not being personal. But right now I have two identities for my two personal email accounts and that means I've got two social identities.

And now I discover that I don't have a crisis, just a long post explaining the crisis that I don't have and the lead-up to the crisis. Well good! Google has done something about the problem. Here's the story I found that led to this support page, which led to Google Takeout ( will ask you to authenticate yourself if you're running a Google account) and Google's Data Liberation Front.

That problem solved, I'm going to go social. Really soon now. Look for me on G+.

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Jan 26, 2013

Clear the backlog? Or write new stuff, Gangnam style?

So I'm back writing. And I have two choices: I can clear the backlog, the drafts that I started, some already pre-dated, or I can write new stuff--stuff about what I'm interested in right now, and about things I'm going to work on in the near future--rather than what I thought was interesting two weeks ago.

Put that way, the decision is easy. Write what's interesting now. Look forward. Then, I believe, the writing's going to flow.

And it's flowing. My first draft of my first post today was just few paragraphs long. Each time I edited it ideas flowed into it. It became more of a story, more interesting to me, and I hope more interesting to others.

But the truth is: I don't care if you like it. My writing is for me.

So, you might ask, if you're still here: "How does one 'write new stuff Gangnam style?'"

Easy, I answer. You go to YouTube. You stick earphones in your ears. You go to this page, the official version of PSY's Gangnam Style video. And you play it. Over and over as you write. Every once in a while you look up and wish your knees weren't so fucked up and you could dance that way. It looks like fun.

Or you make it easy for readers and embed the video here:

But those days are gone, probably forever.

Then you remember the great mashup of Gangnam Style by a team at MIT, your alma mata. So you Google it, find it and play it. The video is here on YouTube, and allegedly you can play on your mobile device if you go to this link. And to make it easy, embedded below.

MIT's version starts with PSY's performance with MIT students lip syncing, and doing the posturing and the dancing. The second part has a cover by the MIT singing group the Logarhythms with more MIT video including a guest appearance by Noam Chomsky. (Oppan Chomsky Style)

 The audio for the Logarhythms entire, very col, a capela cover is here, in soundcloud format. Or in the widget below.

And no post about music is complete without a link to the lyrics . This page has both an English translation and a romanized version of the Korean to that you--or I--can sing along.

Oppan gang-namseutayil
Naje-neun ttasaroun inkanjeo-gin yeoja
Keopi hanjanye yeoyureuraneun pumkyeok i-nneun yeoja
Bami omyeon shimjangi tteugeowojineun yeoja
Keureon banjeon i-nneun yeoja
Naneun sana-i
Naje-neun neomankeum ttasaroun geureon sana-i
Keopi shikgido jeone wonsyas ttaerineun sana-i
Bami omyeon shimjangi teojyeobeorineun sana-i
Keureon sana-i
Areumdawo sarangseureowo
Keurae neo hey keurae baro neo hey
Areumdawo sarangseureowo
Keurae neo hey keurae baro neo hey
Chigeumbu-teo kal dekkaji kabol-kka
Oppan gang-namseutayil
Oppan gang-namseutayil
Oppan gang-namseutayil
Eh- sexy lady
Oppan gang-namseutayil
Eh- sexy lady
Jeongsu-khae boijiman nol ttaen noneun yeoja
Ittaeda shipeumyeon mukkeot-deon meori puneun yeoja
Karyeot-jiman wen-manhan nochulboda yahan yeoja
Keureon gamkakjeo-gin yeoja
Naneun sana-i
Jeomjanha boijiman nol ttaen noneun sana-i
Ttae-ga dwehmyeon wahnjeon michyeobeorineun sana-i
Keunyukboda sasangi ul-tungbul-tung-han sana-i
Keureon sana-i
Areumdawo sarangseureowo
Keurae neo hey keurae baro neo hey
Areumdawo sarangseureowo
Keurae neo hey keurae baro neo hey
Chigeumbu-teo kal dekkaji kabol-kka
Oppan gang-namseutayil
Oppan gang-namseutayil
Oppan gang-namseutayil
Eh- sexy lady
Oppan gang-namseutayil
Eh- sexy lady
Ttwiineun nom keu wiie naneun nom
Baby baby
Naneun mwol jom aneun nom
Ttwiineun nom keu wiie naneun nom
Baby baby
Naneun mwol jom aneun nom
You know what i’m saying
Oppan gang-namseutayil
Eh- sexy lady
Oppan gang-namseutayil
Eh- sexy lady
Oppan gang-namseutayil

Translation Credits: pop!gasa
Romanizations by:

 And that is how you get your posting back in the groove.
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I give up! Now I can start.

It's January 26th, and my last post was dated January 11th. My plan for 70 Years Old WTF had been to write one post a day. But here I am two weeks behind. So I've decided to give up. Completely. Which means I can let go of my losses, and make a new start.

When I was a kid, whenever things got too hard, I'd tell myself I didn't care, press the "I give up" button in my brain, and walk away. It was easy. It came naturally. Then, some time in my 30s, I decided to be stubborn and I got stubborn about being stubborn. I stubbornly refused to change.

It was a life-changing decision.  When my business got in trouble I stubbornly refused to give up, kept the business going, and eventually sold it. When the relationship between Bobbi and me got in trouble, as it did from time to time, and as I think is almost inevitable in a relationship between strong-willed people, I stubbornly refused to give up, and I stubbornly refused to compromise on a less-than-ideal relationship. I fought to make it her and me against the problem rather than her against me because of a problem. And once we'd done that we fought against the problem together until we'd defeated it. When she proposed giving up, I used my stubbornness skills. I refused.

I'm still married to my first wife and still in love with her because I'm stubborn. I've consistently refused to settle for less

Back to the blog.

When I first started falling behind I preserved my post-a-day fiction by predating my posts. Blogger lets you do that. I tolerated being a day behind, then two, then three. I preserved the fiction that I was still writing a post a day weeks after I wasn't.

Then everything went completely to hell. We drove down to Boston, spent a few days there, got on a train to California. The chaos of Boston and the family, the newness of the cross-country train trip, the change in my 'routine' as we arrived in California and settled into our digs, energy fluctuations as I got into my new coding project and started getting serious about work, a head full of details from doing the same, and my ever-present lack of discipline all ganged up on me. Day after day I found ways to avoid writing. And then, today, I found myself two weeks behind.

I could have refused to give up, and could have tried to catch up. I might even have done it. If I had  written three posts a day I would have been caught up in about a week. Or I could have given up, which (the title of this post is a clue) is what I decided to do.

Stubbornness is a skill I developed after being a natural giver-upper. I practiced that skill for decades.

But giving up can be a skill. There are times when skilled giving up is better than skilled stubbornness. There's a subtle, but important difference between stubbornly refusing to give up and skillfully giving up, then starting anew. From the outside it looks the same. And for some people there's no detectable difference. For me, there is a difference. And the difference matters.

So I've given up.

And I've started anew.

My goal isn't to catch up. It's to do a shitload of writing. I'll publish my posts on the date and at the time that I finish them.

Then,  as a treat, when I've written enough, I might decide to undo my giving up, and go back and change the dates.

Or I might not.

Either way, right now's not the time to decide that.

Right now's the time to read this draft, edit it, publish it, and start the next one.

Jan 11, 2013

Plumbing Failures, Part II

In my last post on this topic, I started whining about the annoyances the accompany the deterioration of my 70-year old plumbing. I described the most common, and least embarrassing of my attendant problems, the ones caused by my aging prostate and by a plumbing system so badly designed, that if some smart law firm could figure out who was responsible, they could file a class action suit on behalf of all the country's old men and win with the largest settlement in history.

The problem I'll next whine about appears when my deteriorating mental abilities meet my deteriorating urethral sphincter, which is probably a contributing cause for the urinary hesitancy and increased frequency I complained about in my last post, in which I now believe that I may have unfairly placed the entire blame on my poor, aging prostate.

What can you do when you wonder whether a belief that you hold is well-founded? In the old days I would have had to suck it up and live with ignorance and ambiguity. But now, cogito ergu google, I have discovered that peeing is a a complicated process with many moving parts. The fact that anyone can pee now seems a minor (though necessary) miracle.

We all know that it's our kidneys' job to fill our bladders with pee and our bladder's job to hold the pee until it's time to shoot the pee out of whichever pee hole we happen to have. (By the way, Wikipedia links the term "pee hole" directly to this page.Some of us know that there's a muscle called a sphincter that normally keeps our pee from leaking out. From personal experience we know that our brains tell us when it's time to pee and that  once we've listened to our brain and removed ourselves to an appropriate venue and placed ourselves in an appropriate position, lo, the pee pours forth. Unless you're old, in which case, sometimes, lo, the pee dribbles forth. 

But most of us don't know how that happens. Or care. But I did and here's what's I've learned goes on behind the scenes. 

Your bladder is a small bag surrounded by several layers of muscle. So is mine, of course. When our bladders get about half full, they send a warning signal to our respective brains. If the higher centers are occupied with more important things, like finishing this blog post, they'll try to ignore the signal. But ultimately the executive functions of the brains listen and must decide. 

To pee, or not to pee. That becomes the question.

If we we decide to pee later, our kidneys will continue to fill our bladders. Our bladders will send increasingly urgent signals to our brains. My bladder has been telling my brain to take a break from blogging and do a little peeing for a while, and it's now telling my brain that if my brain doesn't listen it will escalate. It says it will resort to pain, if necessary, to get my brain to do its bidding. That's not an idle threat. It's done it before. So excuse me for a minute.


Finally, like just then, the brain gives in and makes a conscious decision to start to pee. Then stuff gets interesting. Part of the brain, the pontine micturation center, responds to that conscious decision. The pontine micturation center fires, and that excites of the sacral preganglionic neurons which then cause the wall of the bladder to contract, and that raises the intravesical pressure. At the same time, the pontine micturation center inhibits Onuf's nucleus. That results in the external urinary sphincter relaxing. See, there are two urinary sphincters, not one like I thought. The outer one is under volitional control. The inner works on automatic. Once the outer one relaxes urine will be released from the urinary bladder when the pressure there is great enough to force urine to flow out of the urethra. (Partly translated into English from the Wikipedia Article, "Urination."

So prostate! I'm sorry. It's not your fault. Or not our fault entirely. If I had to point a finger it would be at the pontine micturation center, which I've never liked, or Onuf's nucleus, which I swear has been plotting against me for years.

Back in the day, before my body started going rogue on me, once my bladder was nearly empty I'd contract my abdominal muscles, pressing them on my bladder, to squeeze out the last bit of pee that I could. Then my pontinue micturation center would stop inhibiting Onuf's nucleus which would then clamp down my external sphincter and that would be that. But the some of the neurons in the pontine micturation center, or perhaps the ones in Onuf's nucleus, have reached retirement age, or died, and the new ones that have enrolled haven't been properly trained. In practical terms this means that periodically, after I've finished peeing, and after I've put away my equipment, I drip.

That's my second problem. And once it happens it's solved only by training some new neurons by consciously, deliberately and intensely closing off the lower sphincter, and focusing my attention on keeping it closed until I'm sure that some up-and-coming neurons have taken over the job.

Focus was never a great skill of mine, and it's worse now. So periodically, about once a year for several years, I have to suffer minor indignities until the new crew takes over.

So I dribble from time to time.

But I've never peed on the floor. Before.

See my next post in this series for the full, embarrassing story.
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Jan 10, 2013

Plumbing failures, Part I

At seventy, my plumbing doesn't work like it did at thirty. Or sixty. But then nothing does. Still, plumbing failures are one of the special special joys of aging. And there are so many failure modes!

The most common plumbing problem of aging men is called Benign Prostatic Hyperplasia, or BPH to its friends, which don't include me. Break it down: benign means it's not gonna kill you. Prostatic means it's about your prostate. Hyperplasia means too many cells. In other words, the older you get the bigger your prostate. That's a problem because of faulty plumbing design.
English: Prostate and bladder, sagittal sectio...
English: Prostate and bladder, sagittal section. 中文: 前列腺與膀胱,矢狀切面。 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Check out the picture in the sidebar (courtesy Wikipedia, of course), you can see that the channel from bladder to penis--called the urethra--leads through the prostate. Whoever came up with that design should be fired, because as men age BPH constricts the channel which then results in two problems: we pee more often and it takes longer to start a stream, technically, "increased frequency" and "hesitancy." Frequency goes up because it seems that you can't fully empty your bladder, especially at night. Coupled with hesitancy it's a lot of fun.

During the day frequency's not a problem, but at night it means I'll wake up several times, and stand sleepily over the toilet waiting for my bladder, prostate, and urethra to negotiate a flow agreement. Then I'll dribble out what seems like a quarter of my normal bladder capacity, leaving it nearly full full and ready for my hard-working kidneys to top it off, which they start on as soon as I get back to bed. At that point the whole process will repeat.

Hesitancy means I can no longer zip it down, whip it out, and pee. I've got to wait, and if I'm tense, it's worse, sometimes to the point of dysfunction. As a practical matter this means the probability of successfully completing a mission in a public men's room drops to near zero if someone walks in (creating a kind of performance anxiety) before I've got a good stream going. The longer it takes to get started, the more probable an interruption.

Taking a piss in a public men's room becomes a series of game-theoretic exercises. Is there anyone already in the men's room? If so, proceed directly to an empty stall, close the door and wait for hesitancy to pass. If there's no one there, calculate the probability of pre-stream interruption based on the dynamics of locale and my subjective assessment of stream-latency.

If you're interrupted before you get a good stream going (and by you, I mean me) it's decision time. Depending on the interloper's proximity and strength of stream there's a good chance the Mr. Sphincter will turn the nozzle to off . As a practical matter this means that if someone walks in and chooses the next-door urinal despite there being seventeen other perfectly good places to piss, say good-bye to the stream. Then you've got another problem: to decide whether to wait out the interloper and attempt to restart despite reduced urgency, or to pretend to finish, wash your hands, and leave, only to circle back later; or to publicly admit defeat and head for a no-pressure stall.

Why don't I simplify the algorithm and avoid embarrassment by always heading for a stall? It's a guy thing, I suppose. Sometimes I'll walk into an empty men's room, think "I can do this!" head for a urinal, take my chances and hope for victory. Other times I know it's a lost cause from the start. All the urinals are occupied, I'm third in line, and guys are already lining up behind me. Then I gracefully acknowledge my condition and slink off to wait for a stall with the other gray-haired and balding men who share my problem.

If I've committed myself to a urinal I can speed things up and avoid stress-shutoff by focusing my attention on something besides my equipment--say my smart-phone. So I've gotten into the habit of pulling it out and checking my email or G+ whenever I go to pee. I've carried the habit to the stalls with me, where it keeps me from worrying about the other old guys waiting to get in.

For the next failure mode, read Plumbing failures, Part II.

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