Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Laugh Track

Raising kids is hard. There’s no getting around that fact. And these days, I think it’s safe to say we have a more challenging job raising kids than our parents did, with the added pitfalls of the internet, smartphones, social media, and mind-melting video games lumped on top of all the age-old problems associated with trying to mold quality adults out of little idiots.

At the end of most days, we’re left exhausted on the couch, still dumbfounded by their apparent inability to co-exist even on the same planet with their siblings, let alone two different rooms, and annoyed by the attitude we received regarding the dinner we so graciously provided them.

And especially as they get older, it seems they give us less and less to smile about each day, let alone laugh about. But the silver lining to this change, as they become older and more annoying, is when they do give us that gem to laugh about, it’s all that much sweeter.

Case in point – the other week I got a call from an unfamiliar number. The word is out on the streets of India that I have a website, and as a result, I have been getting mercilessly spammed by phone calls from friendly website hosting and design firms, so I have been a little gun-shy about answering my phone. But this was a local area code, so I picked up and cautiously said hello, ready to demand to be put on the Mumbai telemarketer’s do-not-call list.

But low and behold, it was a familiar voice on the other end of the line. Son Number One was calling from the middle school front office.

“Hi Dad.”

Uh oh, I thought. What happened? Is he sick? Did he get hurt? Did he burn down the science building? (Based on his track record, I was obviously leaning toward arson.)

“What’s up, buddy?” I asked, ready for the bad news.

“I forgot to bring my gym clothes this morning. Can you drive them over here real quick before gym starts?”

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!

“No. Good luck in gym class.”

Oh, man. That was a good one! Thanks for that, buddy. I really needed a good laugh.

See you soon,

-Smidge


Copyright © 2018 Marc Schmatjen


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Also visit Marc’s Amazon.com Author Page  for all his books. Enjoy!

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Don't be Foolish, it's Tax Time

Your taxes were due yesterday. If you didn’t get them filed in time, fear not. Agents will be knocking on your door momentarily to take you to your new home, where you get three meals a day and don’t have to pay for anything. Sweet!

A few years ago, I thought I would try to make those of us not in prison feel a little better about our tax bills by calling attention to some of the wonderful government agencies that our hard-earned dollars go to fund.

So I went to USA.gov (motto: “Please don’t ask a lot of questions”), and looked up the A-Z Index of U.S. Government Departments and Agencies. After reading for a while, I realized there was no way I was going to make anyone feel better about paying taxes, so instead I bet myself that I could click on every letter of the alphabet and come up with a ridiculous agency that should never have been started in the first place.

I failed to find an insane waste of money under each letter of the alphabet, but that was only because there were no agencies that started with the letters Q, X, Y or Z.

I have updated the list of current agencies for you again this year. Here’s the fun places your 2017 tax dollars are headed:


Administrative Conference of the United States (motto: Leave us alone. We’re still conferring. Offsite.)

Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection (motto: Buyer beware. And seller, too. We’re coming for all of you.)

Citizens’ Stamp Advisory Committee (motto: It goes in the upper right corner, dammit!)

Delaware River Basin Commission (motto: Getting paid to stare at water since 1961.)

Economic Adjustment Office (motto: Please be patient. We’re redistributing your money as fast as we can.)

Federal Geographic Date Committee (From the website: An interagency group that promotes and coordinates the production, use, and publication of geospatial data. Well, thank God someone is doing that!)

Government Ethics, Office of (motto: We can’t even fit all the irony into one building.)

House Office of the Clerk (Main functions include running the offices of deceased and retired representatives – I am not making that up.)

Inter-American Foundation (From the website: Provides grant support to Latin American and Caribbean grass-roots groups and non-governmental organizations with creative self-help ideas. Can’t we just send them Tony Robbins?)

Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (motto: We will sue you in as many places as possible.)

Kennedy Center (motto: Please stop asking about Marilyn.)

Legal Services Corporation (motto: That might be legal now. There’s been a lot of changes.)

Marine Mammal Commission (We’re investigating the narwhal. He seems like a troublemaker.)

National Agriculture Statistics Service (motto: Still excited about that 1957 bean crop!)

Overseas Private Investment Corporation (This is not where we hide all the bribes and kickbacks and stuff. We swear.)

Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (Just kidding, we spent it all. Here’s a third of what you were promised. We borrowed it from social security. Shhh!)

Risk Management Agency (motto: We manage our risk with your money. No problemo!)

Surface Transportation Board (We don’t trust those Department of Transportation guys to handle the surface. There’s just too much of it. It covers the whole country, you know?)

Taxpayer Advocacy Panel (We changed our name from “Taxpayer Advocate Service” because too many people thought we would actually help. You’re still screwed.)

U.S. Election Assistance Commission (motto: Helping you get crappy officials for generations to come.)

Veterans Day National Committee (We’re thinking November 11th again this year.)

Washington Headquarters Services (We are here to serve headquarters. In Washington. Don’t ask a lot of questions, OK?)


It really bothers me that we don’t have Q, X, Y, or Z agencies yet. We’re only four more ridiculous money-wasting agencies away from having the whole alphabet covered. Just off the top of my head last year, I suggested the Quicksand and other Swamp Dangers Mitigation Exploratory Committee, the Xylophone Standardization Council, the Yo-Yo Injury Prevention Task Force, and the Zeppelin and Lighter-than-Aircraft (Unmanned) Aviation Standards Advisory Board, and not one of them has been added this year. It’s as if Washington isn’t listening to me at all.

As far as the current agencies go, keep in mind, folks, I limited myself to only one department per letter of the alphabet. This list of agencies whose only concern is to justify their funding for next year could go on for days.

Even more disturbing than the fact that the lists grow each year, is the fact that not all the agencies are listed under the “Complete A-Z Listing” of government agencies. In years past, if you dug a little deeper on USA.gov you could find the rest of the disheartening lists – a list of Independent Agencies and Government Corporations, a list of Boards, Commissions, and Committees, a list of Federal Advisory Committees, and my personal favorite, a list of Quasi-Official Agencies. I can’t seem to find any of those lists this year. Hmm… I’m sure that means they all got shut down because they were unnecessary or borderline illegal, right?

Sure.

If that isn’t scary enough for you, then I invite you to forget all the agencies, boards, commissions, committees, and departments, quasi-official or not, that we may or may not be allowed to know about and simply ponder this:

According to Congress, it takes around $5.3 billion per year just for them to turn the lights on and run the show. Not all of Washington, D.C., mind you. Just Congress. Not the White House, plus the Supreme Court, plus the Pentagon, plus the army and stuff. Just Congress. Five and a third billion dollars. Billion with a “B.” Five thousand millions.

They “work” about one hundred seventy-five days per year. That means we’re talking $30 million a day.
Even if we generously assume they work twelve hours per day, that’s $2.5 million an hour.
That’s $42,000 per minute.
That’s $700 per second. For Congress to keep the doors open.

(And, let’s keep in mind that it was Congress themselves who told us how much they are spending. So, in reality, it’s probably a much higher number, since they have a tendency toward keeping some of their agencies and stuff off the main list.)

In the time it will take you to read this sentence, the U.S. Congress will spend $8,500 of your money (or probably more) on nothing more than working hard to dream up even more hidden quasi-official agencies to help spend the rest of it.

Holy crap.

The real April Fools’ Day is not April 1st. It’s April 15th.

See you soon,

-Smidge


Copyright © 2018 Marc Schmatjen


Check out The Smidge Page on Facebook. We like you, now like us back!

Also visit Marc’s Amazon.com Author Page  for all his books. Enjoy!

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Different Waze to Die

During Easter break, now popularly known as the-completely-coincidental-break-in-the-spring-that-has-absolutely-nothing-to-do-with-a-major-Christian-holiday (see also, Winter Break), we traveled by car down to the LA area.

For those of you unfamiliar with the LA area, that’s sort of like saying we traveled by plane down to the place where all the planes just sit there and can’t fly.

For most of our travels we knew where we were going and didn’t require any electronic navigational aids, except for one destination. We took the boys to Universal Studios one day and needed some guidance to get there.

Earlier in the trip my wife had been experimenting with Waze and Google Maps, comparing which app gave us the most accurate arrival times. But we were driving in the LA area, and consequently hearing all the arrival times became so depressing we kept shutting the apps off before we arrived.

When it came time to use one of them, she chose Waze, and we were off. We left early in the morning, knowing we had at least an hour and a half of driving, and wanting to get to the park when it opened. The early hour may have been the only thing that saved our lives.

Unlike Google Maps, which sticks to freeway routes and just relays the depressing news to you about how late you’re going to be, Waze actively attempts to avoid the red sections of the freeway by using neighborhood streets as shortcuts. That’s just dandy, except for the fact that the people over at Waze are not taking everything into consideration.

In their corporate headquarters, somewhere in the shiny Silicon Valley no doubt, they are simply seeing available streets for use on a nice, cartoony map of the USA. “Hey, look, it will save this nice LA commuter two minutes if we jog them over on I-710 and down Hermosa Avenue to I-10 instead of staying on I-5. Hermosa Avenue – that sounds lovely, doesn’t it?”

Well, let me tell you, Waze employees, Hermosa Avenue may look like a wonderful shortcut on your screen, but in real life, it will scare the hell out of you. In the first four blocks we saw two chop shops, a crack house, a drug deal in progress, three good places to get murdered, two places to pay to have someone else murdered, three liquor stores, four hookers, and an entrepreneur named Skinny T offering crazy-good deals on ammunition and gently used car audio components from a table on the sidewalk.

Not really what we had in mind for our family drive to the amusement park.

I’m sure the early hour of the day was our saving grace, since it appeared to be a shift change. All the really bad guys had no doubt just retired to their comfy beds after another hard night of felonious skullduggery, and the daytime thugs weren’t up yet.

You folks at Waze may not believe this, but this was not my first near-death experience with computer route-mapping software. In the early days of the internet, MapQuest actually tried to route me down a boat launch ramp in Stockton once. Fortunately, I realized the error before finding out how floaty my car was or wasn’t. All their software engineers are probably retired from their careers in the fast food industry by now, but I assume you learned some valuable lessons from their ground work, as it were.

And of course, I realize that your Waze navigation system operates on continually-updating algorithms that are simply trying to get me from A to B in the shortest time possible, and the area of map software as a whole has vastly improved, but I’ll make a few minor suggestions if I may.

For starters, you might try getting some crime statistics uploaded to your databases. Your app did a nice job of alerting us every time there was a police officer up ahead of us on the side of the highway, but I’m guessing that feature was designed to warn speeders. You probably don’t want your users thinking, “Oh, thank God!” when they hear the police alert.

If you were to gather crime data and start overlaying the street names in the police reports onto your maps, you could form a risk model for each route.

I, as the driver, could then input my acceptable level of risk for my trip, and you could route me accordingly. If I was unsure of my personal risk profile, you might even be able to give me options, like showing me two or three different routes and telling me important information about each, such as, “This route will get you to your destination 7 minutes faster, but you have a 57% higher likelihood of being caught in the middle of a gang war than with Route A.”

You might even be able to give me a Murder-Free Routes Only button, for when I’m with the family. A No Hookers button could also be a nice option.

I realize you meant me and my family no harm, and to your credit, we never saw any boat launch ramps. Nevertheless, I sure found myself wishing there was a Stop Trying to Get Us Killed button that morning.

Food for thought.

See you soon,

-Smidge


Copyright © 2018 Marc Schmatjen


Check out The Smidge Page on Facebook. We like you, now like us back!

Also visit Marc’s Amazon.com Author Page  for all his books. Enjoy!

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

House Cougar

It happened last Friday. The moment I lost all remaining faith in our general public and our education system. If you want to document the date and time for historical purposes, it occurred on Friday, March 23, 2018 at approximately 12:15 P.M.

That’s when the call came into the Rocklin Police Department’s main board. “There’s a mountain lion roaming around near Rocklin High School.”

“Holy crap,” said school officials, probably. “We can’t have a cougar on campus. That could be dangerous. We have no idea where it might go. I mean, we know it will steer clear of the cafeteria, because, seriously, have you tried the food? But it may eat one of the students. They’re sitting ducks. They never look up from their phones.”

The school went on temporary lockdown, enacting the standard wild animal intrusion protocol. First, all the students were moved to the gymnasium, the teachers and staff forming a human corridor to guide them so they wouldn’t bump into walls and doorjambs while concentrating on their phones. Once the kids were secured inside, the teachers and staff went to work emptying the cafeteria kitchen, stacking the school lunches to form protective wildlife-repellant barriers around all the entrances.

With everyone safely behind the impenetrable walls of rubbery chicken strips and rock-hard gluten-free corn muffins, the administrators monitored the situation as Rocklin PD and animal control arrived on the scene.

After a thorough search of the campus came up empty, including inside the cafeteria, just to be safe, the police cleared the lockdown. While all the officers on scene said they were not particularly frightened about the possibility of running across a mountain lion, many of them reported negative phycological effects from their search of the cafeteria, apparently having flashbacks to their own high school histories with the Friday chef’s surprise.

As the students got back to class and the cafeteria officers sought counseling back at the station, animal control officers stayed behind to review the surveillance footage of the campus and the surrounding area.

The video search results were made known to the media, and later in the day the following was released by a local news outlet:

Officers and animal control couldn’t find any trace of a lion.

Video later revealed that the animal was just a large house cat.

Police say they encourage residents to continue to report sightings so that officers can properly determine any potential risk to the community.

A large house cat.

I am not making that up.

Someone in Rocklin, CA, which is located in America, saw a house cat and thought it was a mountain lion. The caller had to be an adult, because if it was one of the high school students there would have been thirty-seven selfies with the cat in the background prior to reporting the sighting, and the lockdown would have been avoided. Plus, most high school students are unaware that their phones have a phone feature. They would have tweeted the selfie to the Rocklin PD’s Twitter page. “omg r u kidding? cutest mountain lion photobomb!”

So an American adult saw a house cat and decided it was a cougar.

I really wish I was making that up.

“Police say they encourage residents to continue to report sightings…” Yes, I guess that’s what the police have to say to the public. I guarantee what police say in the privacy of their own patrol cars is, “A %*^$# house cat!? What the $%##& has happened to #@%&% common sense?”

I am hereby proposing a new rule that should make the police happier: Anyone who looks at a house cat (large, extra-large, or even jumbo), and calls the police thinking it’s a mountain lion gets tazed.

Or they have to eat lunch at the school cafeteria. Either way.

See you soon,

-Smidge


Copyright © 2018 Marc Schmatjen


Check out The Smidge Page on Facebook. We like you, now like us back!

Also visit Marc’s Amazon.com Author Page  for all his books. Enjoy!