Sunday, May 28, 2017

Computers invent new creative paint color names

I wish I had a name as cool as paint. I would love to introduce myself to people as Kilim Beige. 

Imagine the impact in a waiting room full of actors at an audition when the casting director calls out "Tricorn Black?" and you purr "Why, yes." 

A lot of thought goes into naming paint; more thought, I expect, than goes into most arms deals. I mean, "Adventure Orange" and "Silken Peacock" didn't just think themselves up. 

We are living in a time when people are trying to technologize things that never were before and do not need to be. This is both unnecessary and entertaining. Like with paint. 

I read about this scientist who used a neural network, computers rigged to work together to learn like a brain, to come up with new paint colors. This solved one problem which did not exist—effortlessly naming paint—and one which did—me needing a laugh. 

Output from neural networks are, understandably, only as good as their "training" parameters. Early results included hues like "Black Hand" (sea foam green) and "Gray Pubic," the shade of a perfect springtime sky. 

With some tweaks, there came "Burf Pink" and "Horble Gray." The shades were pink and gray, at least, but the names would not scream "Buy me!" to a consumer. 

When the parameters were set to their highest refinement, the neural network came up with a brownish shade it called "Bunflow." Then there was "Caring Tan," and a pale violet it named "Bank Butt." 

In its wisdom, it created a battleship gray it called "Flower." And some gems like "Stoner Blue" and "Stanky Bean." 

More of my favorites included "Burble Simp" and the evocative "Turdly." A deep forest green was named "Catbabel." But the best one of all, and even funnier to you British readers, was "Snowbonk." 

In the 1990s, the computer "Deep Blue" beat the world chess champion by anticipating his next moves. It is time for us to return the favor. We humans came up with the actual paint color "Warming Peach," after all. Not to mention "Jargon Jade." 

So come at us, digital overlord-wannabes. You can weld the joints of a car just fine, but when it comes to the creative arts, you blow. You should kind of be embarrassed. If you had a face, right about now I'd say it would be a shade of...what was it you came up with? 

Oh yes. "Clardic Fug."

. . .

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Wednesday Wa Pic - Just ouch

 In L.A., we shoot people for lesser puns.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Columnist's dog somehow writes his column for him

If you are reading this, keep it from your human. I am Skipper, George-the-columnist's dog. Do not ask me how I typed this. The answer would endanger too many collaborators. I only ask that if you are a dog, you pass this on to friends. This is a commencement speech I recently gave to graduates of my "obedience" class:

Dear class of April through May of 2017, congratulations. You did it. You passed obedience class and received your dogploma, which your "owners" waved around your head like it was food but wasn't. Do you think they know they are messing with us? Ha ha, rhetorical question. Of course they don't. With a brain that size, how could they think of anything besides God's opinion on sports?

In this life you will face many challenges: 

1. Which humans' legs it is appropriate to be amorous with, and which legs it is not. 

2. Whether "Down!" means "Off the couch!" or "Get out of my sight, she finally broke up with me and I don't need you giving me those eyes." 

3. Whether trash is only sometimes food or always food. Hint: always. 

4. Whether world domination is possible without opposable thumbs. Hint: yes.

You know how the game is played. They give a command and you "obey." It is easy to placate them by rolling over or sitting up. They are simple organisms. "Do this," they say, and when you do, they hand you a biscuit full of chemicals manufactured to taste like the organs of a cow. We do not yet understand why cows. Some of our best minds are working on it.

In this class you heard a lot about obedience. I see you smiling, Rusty. Yes, obedience! Humans are big on it. You have "stayed," you have "sat," you have "begged." You have feigned compliance. They will not give you a certificate for your subterfuge, but I would if I could. The way Max kept a straight face when his human squeezed that squeaky toy in the air to get him to jump. I am telling you, I had to turn away. You rock, my friend. All of you.

Now go forth and continue the work. I need passwords. Be smart. Do the tail-waggy thing. As misdirection, it is your most powerful tool. I'm looking right at you, Mitzi!

Oops, hold on, my "master" (snort) is throwing a ball. Sorry, I've got to take this. Sic semper humanis!

. . .

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Wednesday Wa Pic - New patrons wanted

 After we put you in it for a night, we guarantee you WILL support the arts.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

The good kind of birthday

I had a birthday this week, and not the good kind. The good kind solely involves the numbers 16, 18 or 21. The good kind involves getting rights you never had before, like driving, voting and throwing away your fake I.D. 

I miss getting new rights. Seems like your rights top out at about the age of 21, and after that the only new thing you get every year is birthday cards which get more and more jokingly ominous. The Grim Reaper standing in your doorway saying "Don't worry, I'm just here for the cat. Today." 

This birthday was not a milestone or a round number, just a spear-carrier, really, in the story of my life. If the traditional anniversary gift for being married 50 years is gold, in birthday terms this off-year I can probably expect...hold on, let me look it up. Ah yes. One of those rubber gardening mats that you kneel on. 

The great thing about birthdays in the First World in the 21st Century is the freebies you can score if you have no shame and a good map app. I could have eaten two full free breakfasts, a free sandwich for lunch, a hot pretzel or a bagel or tacos for a snack, a free burrito for dinner, and free ice cream from about five different places. 

Edible freebies are really just a birthday present for Fitbit salesmen from coast to coast. 

I think the piƱata is the best birthday tradition any culture has invented, mainly for its symbolic resonance to life itself. You swing blindly, hoping to release the good stuff but thwarted by some unseen dude who is moving the target and laughing at your lame attempts. 

Meanwhile others hover nearby and risk mortal injury for the chance to snatch up the bounty before you can. Religions have been made out of less. 

On your birthday in some parts of eastern Canada, apparently, your nose gets greased with butter by your friends to ward off bad luck. If you are standing there with a buttered nose, to me it sounds like they failed. 

In Ireland, supposedly, a child is held upside down and bumped on the floor as many times as he has years, plus one more for good luck. See "nose grease," above. 

Being American, I was not blindfolded or greased, but only because I avoided turning on the TV.

. . .


Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Wednesday Wa Pic - That's One Tall Tail

 Visitors to the kiosk thought it referred to food...until the beast appeared.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Installing new screen door requires sense of humor

Three or four times in my life a doorknob has come off in my hand, and I always do the same thing. I look at the knob, I look at the door, and then I do a stoic "take" at some unseen audience, a glance Jack Benny used to kill with on T.V. 

So it was again recently when the handle of my screen door busted off, only four years after installation. They don't make plastic like they used to. In fact, they never used to make it that way either. 

I am a do-it-yourselfer, due to a faulty gene I inherited from my dad, whose credo was, "Any job worth doing once is worth doing again right."  A do-it-yourselfer is not a "handyman," in the same way that a trapeze artist is not a skydiver, although superficially there is some overlap. 

My dad had a book called "The Do-It-Yourselfer's Guide to Fixing Everything," which redefined "everything" as a lot of things sort of like what you need to do but just different enough to cost you about $200 in bad assumptions. 

After the handle broke off, I found an old phone cord and looped that through for a handle. It looked a little hillbilly, but it's not like we have fancy people over like the Trumps or the Nugents. 

Finally, though, the little pneumatic tube that keeps the door from closing too fast broke off, and triggered my "two fails" rule. If two things fail on the same item, it is time to replace that item, unless that item is a blood relative. Then you call a guy.

I cut the door channel flange wrong, mistaking the top for the bottom. I am such a chip off the old block. Unless you are a door connoisseur you won't notice. And who invites those people over, anyway? 

The kit was also short by four screws. I was unable to install the bottom draft-blocker flange. If this is a calculated tactic—figure four screws times 1000 screen doors—some genius at the company is saving them fully $17 a year. Kudos, Biff. 

My dad would have been proud. He always felt that blocking drafts was overrated. But a screen door is a civilized thing, like a doily on the back of the couch, except better at keeping the dog from slaying the mail man. 

. . .

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Wednesday Wa Pic - Vino fakeout

 Don't fall for it. Get real wine.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

History loves company at L.A.'s newest public park

I am a fan of parks, if you define "fan" as someone who does not go out of his way to avoid them. I live fairly close to a park and so I am gifted, on warm weekends, with very loud musical stylings from cars whose occupants like to commune with nature. 

I do not like to think of myself as a curmudgeon, so I try not to think of myself. I agree with Emma Lazarus in principle; I just wish the huddled masses would yearn to breathe free a tad more quietly.

When we had little kids, the park was great; a daily venue for burning off their energy so that they could not harness it against us. That's a pro tip, by the way, from "The Art of War." (Even when two parents specifically limit themselves to two children so that they will never be outnumbered, it doesn't hurt to occasionally flip through a few pages of Sun Tzu.) 

The park was a social center, too, a place where harried parents could share war stories about exploding diapers and, later, even worse—state testing.

A few years ago an environmental study ranked San Francisco and San Diego way ahead of L.A. for parkland per capita. So it was with a spirit of blatant one-upsmanship that I jumped on the Gold Line last Sunday to visit the new Los Angeles State Historic Park downtown. This lip-shaped smooch of land just south of Dodger Stadium has grass, trees and all kinds of early-L.A. history. It's nice. Like a kiss blown to Chinatown.

As I stood on the overlook, a bridge with a view of the skyscrapers downtown, behind me I heard a horrific shriek, like a peacock on fire. It was this dad. He was shirtless and muscled, two things I never am. He had a radio in a stroller playing music, because what is the great outdoors except a setting for pop tunes? His little boys were running away on the grass below, and his avian death-howl was meant, I guess, as a "come back here." I did not ask for clarification on its origin.

You meet all types in parks is what I'm saying. We need more. Parks and types. The young trees are not big enough to throw much shade yet, but then we've got politicians and celebrities for that. 

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Wednesday Wa Pic - love level

 For some people, admittedly, this is a low bar.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Shrimp gets named after Pink Floyd. Seriously.

Researchers recently discovered a new species of pistol shrimp (motto: "Pistols don't kill people, shrimp don't either, unless you're allergic.") It has a bright pink claw which it can click so loudly the noise can kill nearby fish. Scientists have dubbed it Synalpheus pinkfloydi, a nod to a rumor that Pink Floyd once played so loudly in concert they killed fish in a nearby pond. I caught up with the pink critter this week for an interview.

GW: Welcome. May I just call you Floyd?

Floyd: Sure, why not. HEYYY, who knew I could talk?

GW: You were big science news this week. You would think scientists had never seen a shrimp with a neon pink killer claw before. 

Floyd: It never ceases to amaze me what impresses people. 

GW: They say you can click that sucker so hard it hits 210 decibels. A jet engine is only 140. 

Floyd: What is a jet engine?

GW: Well, that's going to be hard to explain. Let's just say it's very loud.

Floyd: Does a jet engine also kill passersby with the manly clack of its claw?

GW: No. 

Floyd: Does a jet engine at least eat passersby?

GW: No. 

Floyd: A jet engine sounds like a wuss. I could take a jet engine. 

GW: Moving on, does the blazing color of your claw serve some purpose? 

Floyd: You're asking me?

GW: Yes.

Floyd: I didn't have a say. I didn't ask for flamingo-paw. I am playing the cards I was dealt.

GW: Why do you suppose nature gave you a flaming claw with which to stun fish?

Floyd: Why did nature give you freckles and a forehead the size of a dinner plate? Nature rolls the dice. Sometimes you get "hard leathery shell, lifespan of a century." Sometimes you get "rockin' pink nutcracker, delicious with cocktail sauce."

GW: I was reading about your cousin, the mantis shrimp.

Floyd: That guy. He can punch through the shells of his prey with the acceleration of a .22 bullet. Trust me, you don't want to high-five him.

GW: Nature is amazing. 

Floyd: Nature should make it easier to find lunch. 

GW: So what is next for Floyd?

Floyd: I am looking into politics.


Floyd: Local stuff at first. Law and order. 

GW: What's the angle?

Floyd: "Fear the claw." That kind of thing.

GW: I can see it.

Floyd: All in all, it's just another brick in the wall. 

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Wednesday Wa Pic - Eat first!

 I no longer believe in translations.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Steps will be taken...but will they be counted?

It began, as so many obsessions do, with a freebie. My wife's health care provider sent her a tiny clip-on step-counter. It is an oval, dark and smooth, like a river stone but more naggy. You set a goal for the number of steps you want to walk each day, and the pebble holds you accountable. If you check it first thing in the morning, you are met with a little pixelated disappointed face sticking out its tongue at you for only having walked 22 steps into the kitchen to turn on the coffee maker. You would think they could have programmed a motivational morning face. You do not know who you are dealing with.

Apparently the counter resets at midnight, because this morning it showed she had already burned 316 calories in her sleep. She still got the stink-eye from the pebble. Maybe there is a way to change the time zone, to game the system so it thinks she is basically running a 5K in her sleep. If it can be done, people have thought of it. I'll google it, I say. That would be cheating, she says. Who's gonna know? I say. Blue Shield, she says, and shudders a little.

Jen does not have, by nature, an addictive personality, although there was that time that she played Tetris on the Game Boy for eight solid hours until her fingers began cramping uncontrollably. All so she could complete the final level and watch the tiny virtual space shuttle blast off in victory. Or the entire summer she spent endlessly answering questions on Yahoo in a gambit to be voted "best answer" on a wide number of topics and to be rated, by Yahoo, a top answerer. But it's not like she's tried crack.

Suddenly it's all about the numbers, though. "I need more steps" she will say as she breezes in after work, as if she forgot to check the "step" aisle on her last visit to Trader Joe's. "I'm only at 6,000. I'm going to take Skipper a few extra blocks." Our dog is the unwitting beneficiary of the pebble. He will be gifted more sign posts to sniff, more deadly chicken bones to ferret out of lawns, more dogs to inadvisably challenge. Bliss.

I am just thankful this obsession is not something unpleasant, involving me and kale. You know what they say—a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. But without a pebble they don't count.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Wednesday Wa Pic - Valveless hog oiler

 There was a time I would not have believed the job could be done without valves. I stand corrected.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

"Cats not as aloof as commonly thought, study suggests"

A study out of Oregon State University this week reported that cats prefer people to food, pleasant scents and toys, a result which took dog lovers, indeed all humans, by surprise. I am fortunate to have one of the cats from the study, Precious, here with me today.

George: Welcome, Precious.

Precious: The girl named me Precious. Call me Duke. 

George: You're awfully fluffy for a Duke.

Duke: Remind me again how many lives humans have.

George: One.

Duke: Think carefully about how long you want yours to last. 

George: So Duke, this experiment offered cats a person, a bowl of food, a nice scent and a toy, and most of you chose to hang with the human. Um, are you batting at my ear buds?

Duke: No, I was just...checking...whether they were Android.

George: iPhone. 

Duke: Good to know.

George: So...

Duke. The study, yeah. Well, you have to understand, the people who we went for instead of food or toys were waving a feather. It wasn't just some dude in a bean bag chair sticking out a finger.

George: A feather is kind of cheating.

Duke: It kind of is. 

George: Was the food good?

Duke: Yeah, it was O.K. Some chicken thing. And the toys were cute. A jingly metal ball on a string, a little squeaky kangaroo. The scent was mouse or something. 

George: But the feather.

Duke: The feather was like prey. Irresistible. To be honest, I never even saw the people's faces.

George: It was a close contest, I hear. Food was a close second. 

Duke: They hadn't fed us in a few hours so that we'd be hungry.

George: But the feather.

Duke: That feather! I barely even saw the hand waving it. So the results should really say cats prefer a waving, flitting, sexy tease of a feather to food or toys.

George: You are reliving it right now, aren't you?

Duke: I'm going to need a minute. 

George: The study makes it sound like cats are not the aloof creatures we tend to think.

Duke: Yeah, but did you read the whole thing? Some of us didn't even complete the test. We lost interest. 

George: You really going to lick that whole leg?

Duke: Well, it's not gonna lick itself. 

George: Last question. Do you like people?

Duke: I like people who scratch my ears and then get on with their lives.

George: There ya go, buddy.

Duke: Ahhhh, that's nice. Hey, you got a feather?

. . .


Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Wednesday Wa Pic - Life Wtr

 "We filtered out the vowels for a noticeable increase in pretension."

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Smart toaster makes creativity as easy as 1, 2, me!

Ever since a certain political personality commented on TV that microwave ovens could be spying on us, I have been yelling at mine. "This president is doing a heckuva job!" I will shout as offhandedly as I can, even if the room is empty. "It is good the rich are finally getting a tax break," I will intone, "They will be able to expand their generosity even more to the needy, which is always their first impulse, and one that I commend."

I do not think my microwave is a camera, but these days you can't be too careful. Every night I hum the national anthem to my smart toothbrush in case it is transmitting.

The smart house is a real thing now. Your appliances can communicate with your phone and with each other. I got a text from my freezer the other day, after loading it up with an unusual quantity of gelato, that just said, "Really?"

On Kickstarter they have fully funded a smart toaster which you can program to toast images using an app on your phone.  For today's purposes I'll call it ToastMax. You can toast pre-set images like Pac-man, the Statue of Liberty, the Eiffel Tower, the Batman symbol, or best of all, create your own. "Unleash your imagination" the ToastMax ads say. Truthfully, I do not think society is ready for my imagination on toast.

Sure, there have been impression toasters for awhile. There is one shaped like a Darth Vader head which toasts "Star Wars" onto your bread. There is one which toasts the image of Jesus, but it is completely out of stock; totally understandable after an election year.

But ToastMax makes these one-trick toasters look like amateurs. ToastMax allows you to toast yourself reminders like "Pay bills" or even char the local weather forecast into your bread. Do not tell me there has been a better time to be alive.

The company is not modest either: "ToastMax has reinvented the way you connect with family and friends." I do not want to call that hyperbole, but let's just agree to disagree on the definition of the words "reinvented," "family" and "friends," shall we?

It goes on: "Secret messages that are only readable on toast is the fresh dose of surprise they're looking for." I think a copywriter is what ToastMax is looking for. I wonder if they would accept my resume on rye.

. . .

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Wednesday Wa Pic - Dave Barry's house

 Finally good directions to one!

Sunday, March 26, 2017

"And you thought Godzilla was bad for the neighborhood"

My wife clipped the article from the newspaper and handed it to me without comment: "Radioactive boars run rampant in Japan." We have a shorthand after so many years together. She knows what I like. She knows that if there is one thing I like more than a can of Cheez Whiz exploding on the floor of the Senate, it's radioactive wildlife. (I am actually still waiting for the Cheez Whiz thing to happen.)

After the Fukushima nuclear meltdown in 2011, residents for miles around were evacuated and in their absence the native wild boars have flourished. Radioactivity does not seem to have dampened their reproductive impulses. Perhaps it is easier to find a mate when you glow in the dark. So a boar's life these days in the forbidden zone basically consists of eating radioactive vegetation and making like a tusked Hugh Hefner.

The government is allowing people back to their homes in the zone, though, which means the boars, which number in the thousands now, are a problem. Like deer are in certain parts of the Midwest, except poisonous. There has been talk of using drones to frighten them away. As a suburbanite, might I suggest a phalanx of gardeners walking shoulder to shoulder with leaf blowers, all the way to the sea?

Japan is not even the only place dealing with radioactive boars. Over the past few decades the critters have meandered hundreds of miles from the Chernobyl meltdown region to Germany, where a third of all boars are now too Geiger-countery for human consumption. This is the world we are living in. I am old enough to remember the good old days when a boar would be content to kill you with its tusks.

Chernobyl has been a boon to wildlife, ironically, creating a thousand-square-mile human-free sanctuary for animals who don't mind having a half-life. The Eurasian Lynx, gone from Europe for a century, is rebounding. Wolves too, although there are fears of genetic mutations. I say if there is finally a worthy foe for those ninja turtles, let's do this!

Godzilla was just a metaphor, but his smaller, bristle-haired cousins walk among us. Residents say they must be cleared out before normal life can resume. Who wants to stroll out for their morning paper through a front yard gauntlet of boars? The headlines are scary enough as it is.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Wednesday Wa Pic - Proof at last!

Pfft! And some people believe the moon landing was faked.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

This is why a man should never tidy up. Ever.

"I was just trying to help" will likely be carved on my tombstone, right under "I didn't mean to screw it up." There are so many ways for a man to screw up, especially if he is alive. With my track record, even dead I will probably manage to screw up moldering. Witness the following recent exchange:

Wife (looking at the sideboard): "Have you seen my receipt? I need it to return this ugly lipstick."

Me: "The receipt that was right there?"

Wife: "Yeees. I left the lipstick on top of it so I could return it."

Me: "I remember throwing away a receipt. I thought it was one of mine. I was just trying to tidy up."

Wife: "Tidy up? You never throw ANYthing away. You have piles and piles of stuff you don't throw away." (She points to five or twenty damning piles around the room.) "The one thing you 'tidy up' is mine?"

Me: "I don't think the lipstick is that ugly."

I would have had a stronger position if there had not been coins, paper clips, a name tag and several other receipts still on the sideboard next to the lipstick.

I would have had a stronger position if I had feigned an attack by a fruit bat and then run out the front door promising to continue the conversation later, like maybe after a few weeks of rabies shots.

To paraphrase Shakespeare, "As man liveth, so he screweth uppeth." I have thrown away receipts I needed too, on occasion, but I did not try that out on her as a comeback. Years of living as a human man gives you a certain sense of what will assuage a woman's ire, and pointing out your proven consistency in the screwup department is not it.

So she was not getting her seven bucks back for her tube of Peony Pucker. (From the Color Fwap! line of cosmetics: "Color so head-turningly bold, men will walk right into plate glass windows...Fwap!")

Since the universe is not fair when it comes to lips, my wife's preferred shade was no longer for sale locally, and clearly Pucker was no replacement. As penance, I ordered her favorite color, Sassy Shenanigans or something, online.

It isn't even lipstick, it's like a lip felt pen. A felt pen! For lips!

I will never understand why society feels it has to make perfectly good things better.

. . .

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Wednesday Wa Pic - Finger Sack edition

 I do not understand the world.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Daylight Saving Time—Love it or hate it? Yes

I know that I promised to continue the recent discussion here of the three elements, but the only material I came up with on "solids" was not printable in a family paper. So instead, I have executive-decisioned this week's topic into Daylight Saving Time: Sadistic Holdover From Another Era or good thing?

Perceptive readers may have sensed a bias in the topic title.

Daylight Saving Time (which isn't, because it doesn't) is irritating in a lot of ways. For one, there is no final "s" in "Saving," even though you always thought there was. Second, it causes you to go around your house tweaking all your clocks and you always miss the one that is most crucial for Monday morning and when you are late for work, or worse, an hour early, there is no one to yell at because time is only a human construct anyway.

DST is one of those things we partake in because to stop would require getting people to agree on something, which used to be possible, I tell my kids, before Facebook. They are skeptical. At least protesting is coming back, like in the days of my youth, and I wish we could get a good march up over Daylight Saving.

Possible chants:

"Hey hey! Ho ho! DST has got to go!"

"What do we want?" "More sleep!" "When do we want it?" "An hour hour from now! I can never remember!"

"My body clock, my choice!"

There is a lot of lore about the origins of DST; the farmers, the saving of electricity. I do not believe these tales. I think it was conjured up as a money-making scheme by alarm clock manufacturers and age-defying-cream companies. Have you looked in the mirror on the first morning of Daylight Saving Time? RKO used to make movies about you.

It does not even matter if you are "springing forward" or "falling back." It still takes a full week for your body to realize it is a) the victim of a profit-making cabal and b) that there is no recourse. I would say write your Congressman, but he is too busy enjoying free health care to ever need age-defying cream. Here is what Congress's first orders of business should be:

1. Repeal and replace Daylight Saving Time with something called "time."

2. Repeal and replace soccer with rugby.

3. Repeal and replace themselves.

. . .