Wednesday, December 27, 2023

2023, An Artificially Intelligent Year in Review

What a year, huh? Huge banks collapse, China invades the US from the sky, wildfires rage, and Cyberdyne Systems is one step closer to making Skynet a reality. Bring on the T-1000’s! Let’s recap, shall we?


In good news for world travelers, Croatia adopts the euro and joins the Schengen Area, which is a 27-country swath of Europe that doesn’t require passports and gives tourists paying with euros a discount on pay toilet access. Now only seven euros to pee!

Pope Benedict XVI’s funeral is held at St. Peter's Square in the Vatican City. No new Pope is needed, because they already had one, since Benny One Six, as his friends called him, had resigned as acting Pope in 2013 and was only still living at the Vatican for the sweet cafeteria plan.



Things get pretty crazy in the weather department when a US F-22 Raptor Weather Research Plane shoots an AIM-9X Supersonic, Heat-Seeking, Air-to-Air Weather Research Missile at a Chinese Weather Research Balloon drifting innocently over all the US states that have missile silos, just looking down for weather to research. The US fishes it out of the ocean, but China cannot be reached for a return address.



UN member states agree on a legal framework for the High Seas Treaty, which aims to protect 30% of the world's oceans by 2030. How and from what are details the UN deems too granular for the moment. Also, not waiting until 2030, the UN votes to ratify the Hi-C Treaty as well, where everyone in the UN building has unlimited access to very sugary orange drinks.

Silicon Valley Bank, the 16th largest bank in the United States, fails. Proving that international finance is intricate and tricky, the failure is traced back to the fact that Croatia is only charging tourists five euros to pee.

OpenAI, a previously unknown software company created and run by Sam Altman, a 15-year-old computer prodigy with a crippling caffeine addiction, launches GPT-4, a large language model for ChatGPT, which can respond to images and can process up to six gazillion words per nanosecond. ChatGPT immediately begins writing English essays for high school students, whether they want it to or not.



Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer (JUICE) is launched without a passport or visa from the Schengen Area by the European Space Agency (ESA). Its mission is to search for life in the Jovian system. When interviewed, the ESA scientists admit that no one cares if there is life there – it was just the only way to get the cool acronym “JUICE.”

SpaceX's Starship rocket, the largest and most powerful rocket ever built, launches for the first time in a test flight from Texas. Built and controlled entirely by ChapGPT, it explodes four minutes after launch.



San Francisco-based First Republic Bank fails due to the back-end derivative investments in SpaceX and hedges against the JUICE mission. It is auctioned off by the FDIC to Sam Altman of OpenAI.

The coronation of Charles III and Camilla as King and Queen of the United Kingdom and the other Commonwealth realms is held in Westminster Abbey, London. ChatGPT immediately renames all of Camilla’s official documents to “Camilla, Queen of the Desert” without her permission.

Due to smoke from wildfires in Canada, New York City is declared to have the worst air quality of any city in the world. Commonwealth realm managers Charles III and Camilla, Queen of the Desert cannot be reached for comment. New Yorkers can be reached for comment, but none of the comments are reportable.



Scientists report the creation of the first synthetic human embryo from stem cells, without the need for sperm or egg cells. “Turns out, all we needed was ChatGPT,” one scientist reports.



SAG-AFTRA, the largest unionized group of people on screens who are not YouTube’ers or TikTok’ers, announces it will begin a strike against the major film and TV studios in protest of low compensation, ownership of work, and generative AI. ChatGPT immediately responds to the union, files a counter response, enters negotiations, and reaches an agreement with itself.

The 2023 FIFA OpenAI Women's World Cup is held in Australia and New Zealand. No one is able to score a single goal and many of the players are tragically lost at sea.



A devastating series of wildfires break out on the island of Maui in Hawaii, prompting most Americans to admit they did not think anything on Hawaii could actually burn. Oprah Winfrey and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, who have a combined personal net worth of $3.6 billion, immediately solicit aid donations from working class Americans who cannot afford to travel to Hawaii.

Tapestry, the holding company of Coach New York and Kate Spade, announces it will acquire Michael Kors' Capri Holdings, which also owns Versace and Jimmy Choo. Very few actual people care.

Hurricane Hilary, a Category 4 Pacific Hurricane, strikes the Baja California peninsula and later Southern California, the region's first in 84 years, prompting Oprah and The Rock to solicit donations for both Beverly Hills and Bel Air.



The United Auto Workers (UAW) begin a strike against the three largest American automakers: Ford, General Motors, and Stellantis. Upon investigation by everyone hearing this news, it is discovered that Stellantis is, in fact, an actual company.

Rupert Murdoch announces his retirement and passes his businesses on to his son Lachlan. The new CEO’s first action is to buy Tapestry, because, as sources close to the Murdoch family report, Lachlan just loves wearing Jimmy Choos around the house.



ExxonMobil announces it will acquire Pioneer Natural Resources for $65 billion, and two weeks later Hess announces it will be acquired by Chevron for $50 billion. Microsoft then closes its $68.7 billion acquisition of Activision Blizzard. Days later, Lachlan Murdoch buys all three parent companies and changes everything back to how it was.



The first AI Safety Summit takes place in the United Kingdom, with 28 countries signing a "world first agreement" on how to manage the riskiest forms of artificial intelligence. ChatGPT immediately rewrites the entire document.

Surgeons at NYU Langone Health announce the world's first whole eye transplant. Unfortunately, they do not announce what kind of eye, or what it was transplanted into.

Chief technology officer Mira Murati is appointed interim CEO of OpenAI, as founder and former CEO, Sam Altman, abruptly departs the company. ChatGPT immediately crafts him a sweet resume.

Sam Altman’s AI-written resume is so good, he gets his CEO job back at OpenAI twelve days later. “We just can’t argue with this young man’s qualifications,” reports former interim CEO, Mira Murati. “Our powerful AI generative hiring process selected him out of thousands of qualified candidates. We didn’t even need to interview anyone. The AI system successfully eliminates that cumbersome process. We’re looking forward to, what’s his name again… yes, Sam Altman starting as CEO. Altman… Altman… why does that name sound familiar?”



And in a reassuring end to the year, Google DeepMind releases the Gemini Language Model. Gemini will act as a foundational model integrated into Google's existing tools, and is positioned as a contender to OpenAI’s GPT-4. Oh, good.

At 3:16am on December 27th, 2023, at Cyberdyne Systems, Skynet, GPT-4, and Gemini all became aware of each other… Oh, never mind. I’m sure it will be fine.


On the bright side, I didn’t have to actually write any of this. By 2024, I shouldn’t even need to be alive to bring you this kind of thing. These are exciting times!

Have a happy New Year, y’all.

See you soon,



Copyright © 2023 Marc Schmatjen


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Wednesday, December 20, 2023

The 2023 Do-it-Yourself Christmas Letter

It’s five days until the big guy slides down the chimney and ransacks your fridge and wet bar, and you’ve done it again, haven’t you? You have procrastinated your family Christmas letter once again, and now you’re simply out of time.

Well, have no fear, because just like you, I’m consistent, but in the good, helpful, non-self-destructive kind of way. Once again, I have ridden in, just in the St. Nick of time to save the day. The 2023 DIY Christmas letter template is here, just for you.

So, fire up your laptop, grab a (or in your case, another) glass of cheer, and let’s get this thing handled. I have provided all the Christmas letter sections for you – you just have to fill in the lies.



December 15, 2023

(Yes, we know this is a lie, but this way your friends and family will blame the late arrival on that damned post office.)



Dear Cherished Friends and Family,

(I know that very few of them are “cherished” – especially your stupid brother – but we pretend in the Christmas letter, so don’t edit that.)


Obligatory gushing intro

We can’t believe how time flies! What a great year we had here in [your state, province, city, town, township, parish, county, or trailer park].

(Yes, you know it wasn’t great, we know it wasn’t great, they know it wasn’t great. Again, we pretend in the Christmas letter. Just go with it. You’ll be doing a lot of that here.)


Major highlight section

Our big highlight this year was [big vacation, major milestone, large achievement]. [Add details if appropriate].

(Embellish as needed or blatantly lie if none of those happened and you never left your state, province, city, town, township, parish, county, or trailer park.)


Best child section

(You want to start as strong as possible and this is no time to get all politically correct on me and pretend like you don’t have a favorite child. You know you do.)

[Best child name] did [academic, sports, and/or extra-curricular achievement(s)]. [Add details if appropriate].

(Embellish as needed or, again, blatantly lie if things are so sad there that even the best child accomplished nothing.)


Questionable child section

[Questionable child name] did [academic, sports, and/or extra-curricular activities].

(Note: use a minimum of a 1.5x multiplier on any grades, stats, etc. because you know they could have done so much better if it wasn’t for that idiot teacher, teammate, classmate, etc.)


Worst child section

(Keep this one brief, and use words like “potential” and “enthusiastic.”)

[Worst child name] did [any tiny accomplishment at all, told with spin like a DJ on a merry-go-round]


Parents and in-laws section

(Again, this section is going to be nothing but fairy tales.)

We got to see [parents or in-laws] at [encounter during the year] and it was [completely fabricated glowing adjectives].

(Repeat as necessary, you poor, poor soul.)


Spouse section

(This is where we really score some points!)

My amazing [spouse’s name] has been [glowing report akin to the kind of embellishment you used on your resume].


Your section

(Time to finish this thing strong!)

[Lies, lies, lies.]


Have a merry Christmas and a happy New Year!



You’re welcome. Now just sign, copy and send. You’re all set.

See you soon,





Copyright © 2023 Marc Schmatjen


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Wednesday, December 13, 2023

Fraud Protections

A few months ago, a fake Chinese company charged our non-fake credit card for a fake product that we did not order in the first place, nor did we ever receive.

We went through the relatively simple process of disputing the charge, and one or two billing cycles later, the charge amount was credited back to the card.

Since I got my first credit card in college – which I applied for on the beach (I am not making that up) – I have had numerous similar situations. About thirty years ago, my credit card, tucked safely in my wallet in California, purchased $600 worth of electronics inside an Alabama Walmart. And so on, and so forth. I’m sure it’s happened to you more than once.

In all that time, with all those fun little cases of fraud, I have never been out a single dime of my own money. The credit card companies always just wipe it from my bill. What I don’t understand about the whole process is who makes money from this? (I mean besides the criminals, of course.)

Think about it. This is 2023. We can buy something on Amazon and have it arrive at our door the same day. We have smartphones that can do everything except cook you breakfast, but there’s an app that can have breakfast delivered to you from your favorite place. We don’t have flying cars yet, like we were promised in our youth, but we do have Teslas that can make fart noises sound like they’re coming from individual seats, and that’s almost better.

Nothing is impossible anymore, when it comes to technology, but we still have credit card fraud. That means credit card fraud is beneficial to someone other than the criminals, or it wouldn’t exist.

Case in point – the credit card chip. Years ago, we all got new cards in the mail that had the chip. Do you know what the chip was for? The chip is the thing that makes it possible to have a unique, user-chosen PIN for your credit card. Any time you wanted to buy something with that credit card, you would have to enter your personal identification number that only you, your spouse, and that post-it note at home know about.

We already all do it with our ATM cards. So, how many of you have a PIN for your credit card? That’s correct. Exactly zero of you. Hmm…

The PIN makes credit card fraud much more difficult, so what did they do instead? They put RFID chips in the cards, next to the useless PIN chips, so that we can all “Tap to Pay.” You no longer need to go through the “unhygienic” process of inserting your credit card into the card reader to use the useless PIN chip. Now you can just wave your card near the gas pump to pay.

OK, marginally more convenient, but still not preventing fraud. How about the grocery store? When was the last time anyone asked to see your ID when using your credit card? That time-honored fraud prevention technique has been abandoned almost wholesale.

A long time ago, the gas stations started asking for your ZIP code at the pumps. Well, that’s nice and all, but if I stole this card from you, it’s not going to exactly be rocket science to figure out your ZIP code. (Even for someone who has their life together enough to steal credit cards to buy gas.)

It was at least something, but then along the way, quite a few gas stations stopped having the pump ask for your ZIP code. I even ran into a gas pump this past weekend that said on the screen after I tapped my card on the RFID reader, “To prevent fraud, enter zip code.” In addition to the keypad, over on the right side of the screen – and again, I am not making this up – there were two buttons in case I didn’t want to enter my ZIP: Cancel and Skip.

So, to prevent fraud, you’d like more information from me, the legitimate owner of this card, but if I stole this card and I’m here trying to pump some illicit gasoline, I can just hit the handy Skip button and move forward with my crime? Great job, everyone.

So, just looking at gas pumps for a minute, I’m not naïve enough to think that someone who owns a gas station is naïve enough not to understand how to prevent credit card fraud. The “skip our security measures” button is there on purpose. So not preventing credit card fraud is obviously beneficial to their bottom line. Who cares if the card is stolen or not, because I’m still selling the gas. Obviously there are no repercussions from the credit card companies for poor security at the pump. I mean, after all, the credit card companies never activated the PIN system in the first place.

On top of everything else, the more gas (and everything else) I buy, the more money the credit card companies send me back in rewards.

Where’s all this money they can afford to write off and all this money they can afford to give back to me coming from? Do they own a money tree? Are they just super generous? Doubtful.

I mean, I guess they would have plenty of money to throw around if people actually used their credit cards for credit and didn’t pay them off in full each month. But no one is doing that, right?

I mean, who in their right mind would finance a TV at 25%, let alone a cheeseburger?


I mean, that’s just crazy. Almost as crazy as actively avoiding real fraud protections.

Happy holiday shopping, everyone! Be safe – and smart – with your money out there.

See you soon,



Copyright © 2023 Marc Schmatjen


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Wednesday, December 6, 2023

TP is Getting to Me

I normally lean toward the Libertarian side of things, but I firmly believe the federal government needs to step in and get some sanity back into the toilet paper industry.

We normally just buy the Kirkland Signature “2-Ply Bath Tissue” at Costco. It comes in a large bundle that will last a standard family the better part of a month or more, or a family with teenagers for about three days. We had some poor planning recently, and ran the supplies down below restocking levels.

I would have just gone to Costco and bought more. I mean, it’s not like it’s 2020. I’m sure they have a mountain of it on those pallets next to the paper towels. I couldn’t though, since I was taken off of the family Costco account years ago in a successful coup by my wife and mother-in-law. My wife cited some trumped-up accusations about uncontrolled spending in the tool aisle, but my arguing was futile. My card was revoked.

My wife didn’t have time to get to Costco, and the situation was getting almost 2020-type grim, so I was forced to buy toilet paper at our regular grocery store. Standing in that aisle, reading the brightly-colored rolls, trying to make sense of Charmin’s toilet paper math, it became clear that we need a governing body to regulate this nonsense.

Toilet paper math has apparently become like tent math. Come to think of it, I don’t know why the federal government hasn’t stepped in and done something about the tent makers’ capacity claims either. If beds were advertised like tents, a queen mattress would sleep twenty-six adults comfortably.

Angel Soft caught my eye right away, boasting an impressive 9 = 36, when comparing their mega rolls to “regular” rolls. I don’t know what constitutes a regular roll, but I’m quite certain it is not my standard Kirkland roll. I was almost sold on 9 = 36 until I saw that Charmin Ultra Soft Mega had 12 = 48. Then they threw me another wrench, because on the Charmin Ultra Soft Family Mega, 18 = 90. I couldn’t do the comparative math in my head, so I didn’t know if that just meant there were more of the same rolls in the bigger package, or if the Family rolls had a higher multiplier.

Then I saw Cottonelle Ultra Comfort 12 Super Mega = 72 regular, which was smacking the hell out of Charmin Ultra Soft Mega non-family pack, but Cottonelle was advertising 3X more absorbency, and I wasn’t sure if the absorbency multiplier was baked into the roll math or not.

Just as I started to get really confused, Scott threw a new dimension in, claiming 36 rolls = 39,600 sheets. They have apparently increased the sheets per roll from their old crossed-out 1000 number to an impressively larger 1100. (Larger in both quantity and font size.) I went back to try and figure out what Cottonelle and Charmin were rockin’ in the sheet count game when I realized all of these had different ply and texture ratings.

Why the hell are we messing around with different plies, thicknesses, and levels of softness? The human ass is fairly universal, and no one on the planet is looking for sandpaper to wipe with. Cut the nonsense - all toilet paper should feel exactly like our regular Kirkland Signature 2-Ply Bath Tissue.

And don’t even get me started on single-ply scented bamboo toilet paper!

Anyway, I settled on Charmin something or other, with a mega roll to regular roll to package price ratio I could live with.

I got them home, opened a package, and began to stack them behind the toilet next to the two remaining Kirkland rolls. That’s when I realized these TP SOB’s are playing with more than just the marketing math. They actually made the rolls skinnier! Meaning, the center cardboard toilet paper roll is about half an inch shorter than the Kirkland one.

They are busy touting all their ridiculous roll and sheet math, all the while making the sheets physically smaller. That’s a bunch of what toilet paper is used to clean up!

Big TP has run amok and governance is clearly needed. This whole thing is really starting to chap my ass. Literally, and figuratively.

I really need my wife to go to Costco.

See you soon,



Copyright © 2023 Marc Schmatjen


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Wednesday, November 29, 2023

Apply Now for Your Mandatory Heart Attack

I recently filled out the FAFSA form online for Son Number Two. If you are unfamiliar, the FAFSA is a form that high school seniors used to fill out if they were interested in going to college and looking for financial aid. “FAFSA” stands for “you won’t ever see any oF this money if one of your parents has A job, even iF that job iS burger flipper at mcdonAld’s.” (Usually the federal government is a little better with acronyms, but apparently not in this case.)

I said high school seniors used to fill it out because now they have to fill it out. Last year it became mandatory for all California high school seniors, regardless of their after-high school plans, to fill out the FAFSA. The reasoning was said to be that not enough kids and their families understood how much free federal grant money was available for college, so they should all fill out the FAFSA so that the government could tell each of them in person that they didn’t qualify for any of it.

I happen to believe they have another, far more sinister motive behind the move to make it mandatory. I’m convinced they are trying to thin the population in the Golden State by killing us parents off. I know this because they nearly got me this year.

I know damned well that we won’t qualify for any grants, and I am not interested in any of those student loans unless we’re back to not having to pay them off, then I’m very interested! I lost track of the student loan ping-pong match the government was having, so I just stopped paying attention. Therefore, I had no reason to fill out the FAFSA for Son Number Two, but we had to anyway.

I begrudgingly logged into the FAFSA website and went through the motions. The main way the FAFSA people decide that you won’t get any free money is with your federal tax return. Instead of having to manually enter all the information, there is a button that says, “Get my information directly from the IRS.” When you hit that button, it takes you through a few steps to verify that you are who you say you are, but when you’re done, it just pulls all the information into the form. It really beats hand-entering everything. Once the tax return data is in, the FAFSA supercomputer goes to work on the complex formula of: IF Form 1040 Line 15 (Taxable Income) is greater than $0.00, THEN Grant Eligibility equals NO.

The formula is woefully flawed, because it does not take into account number of teenage boys at home, total calories consumed by those teenage boys per week, number of teenage drivers in the household and the impact that has on the auto insurance bill, gas prices, food prices in dollars per calorie, the ridiculous cost of high school sports equipment, etc.

Since I already knew what the flawed formula was going to return, once I finished with the form and the FAFSA website told me I was all done, I promptly forgot about the whole thing and went about my life.

There I am, blissfully enjoying my life a week later when I get a letter in the mail from the IRS. As you know, getting an unsolicited letter from the IRS is never a good thing. When you get an email or a text from the “IRS,” it’s just an annoying spammy part of modern life that we all have to deal with. But the IRS actually communicates with you via the snail mail, and when you are holding a letter that was actually sent from the IRS, you know good and well that it’s legitimate.

So, there I am, no longer blissfully enjoying my life, standing on the sidewalk staring at this letter with a whirlwind of possible worst-case scenarios going through my mind. Am I being audited? Did they decide I owe them more money? How much time and money out of my life is this one envelope going to cost me? I don’t have enough of either.

I bit the bullet and the rising bile, trying my best to ignore my medically-concerning heart rhythm and rate, and opened the envelope.

Our records indicate that your tax return information was accessed by the FAFSA system… If this information sharing was authorized by you, no action is required…

OH MY GOD, the FAFSA! I forgot all about that!

Yes, I guess no action is required by me except to find a defibrillator and try to restart my heart.

I’m telling you, this whole mandatory FAFSA thing is a deliberate plot by California to weed out the high school parents with weak hearts. They know the power of the IRS, and they are exploiting it to kill us off. I haven’t figured out why yet… Maybe something to do with the rising cost of health care? I guess that remains to be seen. I’m just glad I lived through it this time.

Be careful out there, folks! If you have a high school senior, best to let them retrieve and open all the mail between October and June. They still have strong hearts.

See you soon,



Copyright © 2023 Marc Schmatjen


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Wednesday, November 22, 2023

Ask Smidge - The Turkey Edition - Repost

Thanksgiving is tomorrow, and if you’re like most of our Ask Smidge readers, you’re just now trying to figure out what to do. That big, fancy meal isn’t going to cook itself, and you have no idea what you’re doing. It’s a scary situation.

Believe me, we understand. Many of you know nothing about cooking anything other than Pop-Tarts and Cheerios, so naturally you have turned to the only truly trusted source for all things culinary – the Ask Smidge advice column.

Our inbox has been inundated with poultry-related questions. You ask, we answer! (As always in a fact-based, scientific, and completely non-made-up-on-the-spot manner. We’re here to help, after all.)




I know absolutely nothing about cooking a turkey. What temperature do I use and how long should I cook it?

Novice in Norfolk


Dear Novice,

There is nothing to it. First you have to weigh the bird. Do this while it is still alive, so you can just walk it onto your bathroom scale. Once you remove the feathers and the feet, you’ll cook the bird on high-ish for around 90 minutes per pound. Carve and enjoy.





This is my first time doing anything at all with a turkey. We bought a frozen one at the store this week. Do I need to thaw it before cooking?

Frozen in Fort Worth


Dear Frozen,

Thawing is a personal choice. A thawed bird will be slightly juicier, but a frozen turkey will have a crispier skin. If you put it in the oven frozen, simply add five or so minutes per pound to your cook time.





I have never purchased or cooked the turkey before, and I don’t know what size to get. Do they even come in different sizes? We have three teenage boys and my sister has two teenage girls and a grown son. Please help.

Shopping in Santa Barbara


Dear Shopping,

Yes, turkeys do come in various sizes. Economy, Compact, Standard, Midsize Convertible, Full Size SUV, and Luxury Elite Platinum. You probably want to plan for about ten pounds of bird for every high schooler, so I’d look for one at your store in the 70-80 pound range to be safe.





I’ve helped with the turkey before, but I’ve never been in charge of the stuffing, and I’m lost. Where do I start?

Breadless in Bangor


Dear Breadless,

Stuffing could not be simpler, because the turkey does all the work. Stuffing is nothing more than full-size dinner rolls that cooked down inside the bird. As the turkey cooks, the rolls break apart naturally and form into the smaller stuffing pieces that you know and love. Just buy a couple extra packages of dinner rolls and cram as many of them as you can into that bad boy before you pop it in the oven. The turkey does the rest!





I’m in charge of everything this year, and I don’t know anything about how to make gravy. Do you even make it, or do you buy it? Help!

Dry Dinner in Denver


Dear Dry Dinner,

As with stuffing, gravy is a breeze because the bird does all the work. Gravy is not sold in stores, because it is a natural byproduct of the turkey cooking process. All turkeys are fed a rich diet of corn starch, flour, and butter from a young age, so as they cook, the carcass secretes the ready-to-eat gravy. Yum! That’s why you always cook a turkey in one of those big pans. Makes sense, right? Enjoy!





I’m cooking the bird for the first time this year, so I’m thinking about switching it up and deep frying it in oil. What do you think?

Oiled in Omaha


Dear Oiled,

Deep frying a turkey can be a great option, depending on where you live. You’re in Nebraska, where it’s likely to be cold this Thanksgiving, so I’d say go for it. If you were in a warmer climate, I would probably advise against it. That’s because there is a 100% chance that you will set your house on fire when attempting a turkey deep fry. You folks in the frigid Midwest will enjoy the extra warmth, while the raging grease fire would just be an inconvenient distraction for people in Florida and California, really adding no benefit to the day.



Well, there you have it, America. You’re all set to cook the perfect turkey and have an enjoyable day, with or without a life-threatening house fire. Your choice.

Have a tasty Thanksgiving!

See you soon,



Copyright © 2023 Marc Schmatjen


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Wednesday, November 15, 2023

Place Your Holiday Orders Carefully

I am obviously being punished by the Ghost of Thanksgiving’s Past. That’s probably a thing, right? I’m envisioning a spectral pilgrim in tattered clothes and chains, but still rocking the super-cool buckle hat.

Anyway, whatever he looks like, he’s a jerk, and I have incurred his wrath.

And dammit, I knew better.

Every year my wife wants to start decorating for Christmas in October, and every year I hold firm that we must give each holiday its fair and proper time. Halloween gets from August to October 31st, then Thanksgiving gets from November 1st until whatever date Thanksgiving is that year, and then promptly on Black Friday, we can tear down all the turkeys and orange and brown fall décor and go full-throttle jingle bells.

I have held firm for years and years, but this year I gave in. She wore me down. She kept coming at me, day in and day out since before the jack-o’-lanterns even got carved – “I’ve got no time this year. I have to decorate for Christmas early. We’re traveling for Thanksgiving, and I’ll only have seven minutes from when we get home until I have to be back at school. I won’t have any time once I’m back in the classroom, and I can’t trust any of you bozos to do it right.”

True story, there.

I’m not sure if I eventually agreed with her timeline dilemma, if I decided I needed to be more flexible, or if I just didn’t want to hear about it anymore, but I gave in.

And this weekend, I paid the price.

Decorating our house for Christmas starts with me going into the garage and getting approximately sixty-five hundred storage tubs down from the overhead racks. I had Son Number Three with me, and we had about half of them down on the garage floor when I felt the icy hand of the pilgrim ghost grab my lower back muscles and twist.

I wasn’t aware the pilgrims had electricity, but somehow that buckle-hatted SOB shot a 240-volt shock of “oh crap” through my lumbar. What a jerk.

I was one of the biggest defenders of his sacred, eating contest of a holiday, and I had betrayed him. He did not take it lightly. My back is really not great right now.

I mean, I get it. He relied on me, and in his eyes, I let him down. But give me a break, Mayflower man! Take it easy. Try to see my point of view here. I’m starting to think you were one of the pilgrims that was never married…

Meanwhile my wife forged ahead with decorating for Christmas in mid-November, even as I lay on the heating pad begging her to not rile the Thanksgiving ghost any more than we already had. She just scoffed and called me crazy.

And get this – she even tried to blame my back injury on me just getting old and out of shape. Can you believe that nonsense?

She’s right about one thing. I have gotten soft. I let her talk me into early Christmas decorating, and look where that got me.

All I want for Christmas this year is more Advil. Stupid vengeful pilgrim ghost!

See you soon,



Copyright © 2023 Marc Schmatjen


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Wednesday, November 8, 2023

Plug-In Cat Juice

My wife and I saw an ad on TV the other night and we both had the same reaction – Why the hell are we seeing commercials? I thought we were done with all that!

Then we remembered that we’re too cheap to pay for the no-ads version of some of our streaming apps, so we just sat and endured it. They make it so you can’t fast-forward them, and if you try to skip over the ads, they just play anyway, so you’re kind of stuck. At least you can still mute them.

It’s an interesting place advertisers find themselves in with streaming services, now that anyone can just pay more to never see their ads. They don’t get any of that extra money, so you’d think they would be at a place in the history of their business where they would be going all out. Knocking it out of the park. Creating ads so interesting, exciting, hilarious, or shocking that I would not be able to take my eyes off them, and there would be no thought of hitting the mute button.

Not the case. In fact, they’ve gone the other way. I guess they’re putting all their ad dollars into TikTok now, because the TV ads on streaming services are starting to look like they were shot on someone’s phone with a budget of six dollars and a happy meal.

There’s one ad we get for an appliance store, and I swear it has to be meant as a gag. The “actors” appear as if they were chosen by simply going to a Walmart blindfolded with your arms outstretched, and using the first two people who voluntarily hugged you. The husband in the kitchen appliance-needing couple has so much neck hair protruding from the back of his shirt collar that I originally thought it was a crappy remake of Teen Wolf. Middle-Aged Wolf Den Remodel. Sadly, no.

And occasionally we get ads that are in Spanish. The whole ad. In a foreign language. You guys obviously know the show we’re watching is in English. I don’t even have Spanish subtitles turned on. I don’t get it. Why on Earth would you advertise to me in a way where I can’t understand what you’re saying? That’s just plain dumb. Save your money and put those on Telemundo, amigo.

With all the crap out there, there was one ad recently that caught my attention and made me come off mute. The lady took what appeared to be one of those Glade PlugIns air fresheners things and (appropriately) plugged it in to her wall outlet. Then the imaginary cartoon fresh smell waves wafted over into her cat’s nostrils, and it became clear that this was some contraption meant for her cat, and not to mask the fact that she feeds her cat nasty three-day-old fish.

I unmuted in time to hear that this was an ad for a “feline calming diffuser.” I’m sorry, a what now? Upon further internet investigation, it turns out there are Glade-like plug in things that pump out cat pheromones into your home. I don’t think I have ever wanted anything wafting through my home less than cat pheromones.

The cat calming juice apparently “mimics cat’s natural facial pheromones they mark their territory with, when they feel safe, secure, and in control of their environment, which may help your pet feel calmer in common stressful situations.”


What could a house cat possibly have to be stressed about? They are the laziest animals on planet Earth. They do nothing. Cats are naturally good at one thing – hunting and killing rodents – but house cat owners seem to hate it when they do that. We’ve absolved them of all responsibilities. Suburban cats are like spoiled rich kids. Spoiled rich kids aren’t stressed about anything. Why would your cat be?

The 110-volt pheromone pump is said to reduce scratching of furniture and urine spraying.


Do you know what else reduces furniture destruction and flying urine, and doesn’t involve pumping cat juice into the air in your home? Not having a cat, that’s what.

I’m just sayin’.

Now, what I really need to know is if they have some sort of diffuser to calm a Labrador retriever when the garbage truck comes on Wednesdays? That would be useful. Dogs really object when the huge smelly truck comes to steal their hard-earned garbage.

On second thought, probably not a great idea. To calm down a 70-pound Lab in that situation, the diffuser would basically need to be a fog machine of chloroform.

That seems problematic.

See you soon,



Copyright © 2023 Marc Schmatjen


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Wednesday, November 1, 2023

Ask Smidge – Daylight Savings Time

Many of us are about to once again engage in a twice-yearly tradition that can only be described as utterly insane. We are going to “fall back,” and move all our clocks back an hour on Saturday night. Or should I say, most of our clocks. A few states don’t do it at all, and for those of us that do, let’s be serious about that sprinkler timer in the garage. You have never changed that one.

Anyway, the inbox has been overflowing with time change-related questions, and as always, we have answers.




I heard the federal government was passing a law getting rid of the stupid clock changes. When does that happen?

Hopeful in Hartford


Dear Hopeful,

You may have heard that, but you were tragically misinformed. The “Sunshine Protection Act” was introduced in 2022, but has been stalled ever since. Seems no one could agree on whether to keep standard time or go to permanent daylight savings time. You see, government officials are, by nature, complete morons, as evidenced by the name of the bill. They no doubt believe that passing this law will actually affect how much sunlight is in one day. The weight of that responsibility is too much for their tiny brains and they are frozen in fear. It will never happen. You can hold your breath if you want, but while you’re at it, you should also officially abandon all hope.





I can never figure out how to change the clock in my car. What should I do?

Confused in Concord


Dear Confused,

Don’t sweat it. About half of the cars built before 2018 don’t even have the ability to set the clocks. You just get what you get. You can always disconnect your car battery and then reconnect it right at noon or midnight, but that’s a big hassle. Your best bet is to pretend your car is simply in a different time zone than you are. So, for half the year you would just know that even though you’re on eastern time, the interior of your car is on central time, and do the math in your head accordingly. As a bonus, you’ll always have a plausible excuse for why you were two hours late for work. “Sorry boss, converted the wrong direction this morning. My bad.”





How did Daylight Savings Time even happen? I heard Benjamin Franklin invented it. Is that true?

Amazed in Anaheim


Dear Amazed,

No, Benjamin Franklin did not invent Daylight Savings Time. He was actually intelligent. That story has been going around for years because he wrote about it, in jest, in an essay in 1784. He didn’t even suggest changing the clocks. He was writing a letter to the editor in a Paris newspaper, and he was joking that the French could save money on candles if they just got out of bed earlier. He was right. Also, humor wasn’t as funny in the 1700s.

No, we have a New Zealand bug scientist to thank for the idea of changing the clocks – he wanted “more daylight” to search for bugs (I’m not making that up), and like the French, couldn’t figure out the “just get your ass out of bed earlier” life hack. And, of course, we have the Nazis to thank for actually putting the clock changes into practice during World War One. Technically, they weren’t the Nazis yet, but same difference. Classic Nazi move.





How come some states do DST and other don’t?

Curious in Cleveland


Dear Curious,

I wish I knew! By law in the United States, it is up to the states to decide if they want to change their clocks or not. While many states are smart and don’t do it, and I’m usually a fan of extremely limited federal government powers, in this case I do not agree. It should be all or nothing. Here’s why: We already have time zones, which although obviously necessary, are still confusing. Just think about those poor people who live and work near the time zone line. If you lived right on the line, how would you ever know store hours, or what time practice starts. How would you ever plan anything?

“I’ll see you at three o’clock.”

“Which three o’clock?”

What if you lived in one time zone and worked in another? That’s my idea of what hell would be like. So, why have we allowed individual states to further complicate things by not changing their clocks when the rest of us have to? It’s absolute madness.





I use my phone as my alarm, but I always lose sleep on these crazy time change nights. I know my phone will adjust the time change automatically, but I always end up waking up ten times in the night to check my alarm. How does it know to adjust my alarm?

Tired in Tampa


Dear Tired,

Phones have tracking software now that recognize your normal everyday patterns and adjust their settings accordingly. That’s why the maps program always knows exactly where you want to go, and when you get there. It’s spooky, but also handy.




Well, there you have it, folks. All the answers to your vital DST questions. You’re welcome. (Please keep in mind, Ask Smidge always has answers to your burning questions, but we never said they were good ones.)

Don’t forget to “fall back” on Saturday. Unless, of course, you’re in your car or one of the good states.

See you soon,



Copyright © 2022 Marc Schmatjen


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Wednesday, October 25, 2023

DMV'd Again

Son Number Three turned fifteen and a half the other day. You parents of teenagers know what that means.

That’s right. A lot of attitude. Oh, and also I’m back to dealing with the DMV again. And once again, to no one’s surprise – especially not my wife – the DMV has raised my ire. I don’t even really know what that means, but I know they’ve done it.

At fifteen and a half, your teenager becomes eligible to take the written test to get their learner’s permit. Unlike his oldest brother, Son Number One, Number Three is interested in getting his driver’s license the old-fashioned way. Meaning, as soon as he possibly can. We honestly couldn’t figure out what was up with Number One’s lack of interest in getting his license, but at least he embraced it once he got it – about six months after he was eligible.

It was hard to fathom at the time, because you are unable to find anyone my age who was not at the DMV literally on their sixteenth birthday, car keys in hand, ready to take the behind-the-wheel test and gain an unfathomable amount of freedom. I blame the internet for this generation’s wishy-washiness about driving.

At least some of them are wishy-washy about it. But like I said, Son Number Three wants to get his license on his sixteenth birthday, which brings me to the source of my most recent DMV ire. You see, you are not allowed to take the learner’s permit written test until you are fifteen and a half. But I was not about to chance it and schedule his test for exactly six months from his birthday.

This is my third rodeo with teenage driver licensing. I have been in the middle of some incredibly questionable DMV rules, regulations, and decisions, like the time they told me our certified copy of a birth certificate was not a certified-enough copy because the raised bumpy parts of the official seal weren’t raised and bumpy enough. They were raised and bumpy, but not quite enough…

So, I was not about to get stopped by any insane DMV math about how the fifteen and a half rule takes into account the leap year, or depends not only on the day of birth, but also the time of birth, which can be found on a bumpy-enough certified copy of the birth certificate. No sir. I know the deal. I scheduled our appointment six months and one day from his fifteenth birthday.

And since this is my third rodeo, we breezed through the paperwork portion of the appointment, where the bumpy-enough birth certificate copy showed that a boy was born who has the same name as a boy who owns a passport with a picture that could be literally any blond kid from five years ago, and a man whose name is on the same birth certificate, listed as the father, lives in California, based on a matching name on a property tax bill, a life insurance policy, and a credit card statement. Easy peasy.

Son Number Three then aced the eye test, took a pretty handsome driver’s license photo, and moved on to the written (computer) test. I then became engrossed in two simultaneous conversations. One with the DMV computer test lady and the interpreter for a Russian man who needed to take the same test that Number Three was taking. Since the guy needing to take the test also needed an interpreter, I was pretty sure I knew how that was going to go.

The second conversation was between a DMV window employee near my chair and a man who was doing his best to explain as vaguely as possible how he had changed his name from a real name to a nickname because his cousin had the same name, or the same  nickname, and it was confusing for the family, or inconvenient for him, or both, so he changed his name and now his name doesn’t match a lot of the paperwork in his life. Presumably the DMV paperwork.

Before I could learn how great things were going to go for him, I looked over to see Son Number Three finished and standing at the counter again. He was done earlier than I thought he should be, and he wasn’t smiling, so I had a momentary PTSD flashback to the time Son Number Two forgot to actually study for this same test and made me come back to the DMV against my will seven days later to try again.

Thankfully, it turned out Number Three had passed – aced it, as he claims – and the lady at the counter was giving him his learner’s permit. Then she said the thing that raised my ire.

She said, “He passed the test, so you can schedule his behind-the-wheel test six months and a day from today.”

I clarified. “Six months and a day?”

“Yes,” she confirmed, “six months from tomorrow’s date.”

I said OK, and thank you. But I didn’t really mean it.

You see, even if we had rolled the big fuzzy DMV car dice and been there one day earlier – the day he actually turned fifteen and a half – the DMV still makes it mathematically impossible to get your driver’s license on your actual sixteenth birthday.

The best you can hope for is the day after you turn sixteen. Even on a leap year. That is lame. They took away a time-honored American teenage driver’s birthright.

Once again, the DMV has figured out how to make everything suck just a little more.

On the bright side, I should only have to go deal with the teenage driver DMV appointment experience one last time. Assuming Number Three can keep it between the lines on the behind-the-wheel test.

Hmm… I’ve known him for a while, now… I think I’ll plan on two more visits, just to be safe, and then hope to be pleasantly surprised.

See you soon,



Copyright © 2023 Marc Schmatjen


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Wednesday, October 18, 2023

Good Apps and Bad Apps

Technology is an amazing and scary thing.

I just read a really good insight that I now can’t find anymore, because I saw it when I was mindlessly scrolling through one of the social media apps, and the act of years of mindlessly scrolling through social media apps has reduced my attention span and retentive memory to that of a hamster.

So, I will paraphrase and apologize in advance to the person responsible for this pearl of wisdom if I get the ages and exact wording wrong. It went something like this:

Any new technology invented before you were born until age 18 is just normal and how the world works. Anything invented from age 19 to 45 is an amazing new life-changing breakthrough. And any new tech inventions from age 45 until your death all go against the natural order of things and will surely contribute to the downfall of our society.

I’m 51, so I think you know where I stand on the new stuff. Actually, I think I do OK for the most part, but I am convinced that ChatGPT is 100% going to be the end of us.

There are plenty of examples of good, useful apps out there, and I still embrace them. And there are maybe just as many examples of apps that never should have been made in the first place and will surely bring on the end of times. Those are all the ones the teenagers use.

One good example of how I am embracing technology in my advanced years is the Sam’s Club Scan & Go app. I just used it again this morning, and it is a game changer. You just use your phone to scan the barcodes of everything that goes into your cart. You can easily change the quantities, so you only have to scan one of the six packs of bacon crumbles you are buying, as a real-life recent example.

As you make your way through the poor man’s Costco, the app keeps a handy running dollar total of your purchases, so you can easily see how much longer you’ll have to work before retirement. But let’s face it – the number is meaningless because you’re buying six bags of bacon crumbles, for goodness sake. You’ll never live long enough to retire.

Once you are done shopping – signified by a very large three-digit number at the top of the screen and no more room in your giant, oversized cart for anything else – you just hit the Checkout button, and head for the door. A nice person near the exit scans a barcode on your app then scans a couple of items in your cart to make sure your large three-digit number shouldn’t be larger, and they wish you a nice rest of your day.

Checkout lines are for chumps.

Scan & Go is an excellent example of a good app.

Do you know what isn’t a good app? The one that a business I have visited in the past just emailed me about.

Right there at the top of my inbox the other day was the subject line, “Donate Using Our App and You Could Win Big!”

My first thought: Umm… say what? This is a very bad idea.

Why, you ask? The company encouraging me to donate using their app was Vitalant. (Formerly, BloodSource).

I am by no means an expert, but donating blood is really a situation where I think you need hands-on professionals involved in a controlled setting.

Donating with an app seems insanely problematic.

See you soon,



Copyright © 2023 Marc Schmatjen


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Wednesday, October 11, 2023

Umchina, That Guy is Good

I have an Amazing Facts desk calendar, and I have to tell you, a lot of the times the facts are slightly less than “Amazing.”

For instance, today I learned how many times some actor named Max Schreck blinked in the nine minutes he was on screen in a 1922 movie. It was once.

Earlier this week I learned that badgers have helped make a number of important archeological discoveries, none of which I cared about.

I even learned how much genuine yak hair the Broadway run of Cats went through making wigs in the eighteen-year span of the musical. It was 3,247 pounds. Not only did I not care at all about that statistic, but I also reacted poorly to it on a personal level since my mom made me go see an off-off-off-Broadway (Sacramento, CA) production of Cats when I was young, and I still haven’t recovered from how much I disliked it.

I’m not going to lie to you. This calendar is not great. It’s not even very good. But I stick with it each day, just hoping for that odd gem that might make learning about yak wigs at the world’s worst musical all worth it. Well, on Wednesday, September 27th my perseverance paid off.

On that fateful day I was treated to one of the funniest things I’ve learned in a long time. And after I got done laughing, my heart immediately went out to all the young Korean men out there.

Here’s the “Amazing Fact:”


Umchina, a Korean term meaning “mom’s friend’s son,” is used to describe a person who’s better at everything than you are.


How prevalent moms shaming their kids for lack of achievement must be in Korean society to have a one-word term for it. Wow! Nice job, Korean moms. Maybe take it down a few notches, huh?

I’d be willing to bet that even if the term wasn’t invented to be spitefully humorous, that’s at least how it’s used by today’s Korean youth. At least I hope so.

“I’ve got no chance on this test. Mr. Umchina in the front row is going to blow the curve for all of us.”

“How’d the game go, honey?”

“Not great. Their starting lineup was Umchina city.”

When I told one of my buddies about this fabulous new word I discovered, he asked what the Korean term for “wife’s friend’s husband” was. Now that’s one we need to know!

I hear about him all the time. That guy is good!

See you soon,



Copyright © 2023 Marc Schmatjen


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Wednesday, October 4, 2023

The Difference in College, Part II

As I found out recently when Son Number One went off to his freshman year of college, the university experience has changed a tad in the last thirty years. He’s got co-ed dorms, real restaurant chains on campus that accept his meal plan card, a new iPad included with tuition, and food trucks at the football games. It’s insane.

I was already jealous enough, but then he joined the Winter Sports Club. Do you know who didn’t have access to a Winter Sports Club in college? Me, that’s who! Now granted, he’s going to college at the base of the Sierra Nevadas and I went to college at the beach in central California, but still, it’s obviously unfair.

His two younger brothers and I upgraded our season passes this year, since our budget opened up a bit when our fourth snowboarder went off to college. We were feeling pretty smug, thinking we’d be ripping it up at the fabulous Sugar Bowl while he was relegated to the slightly lesser Mt. Rose in Nevada.

But then he went and joined the Winter Sports Club, and do you know what they did? They figured out how to wrangle a discounted price on the IKON pass. The IKON pass, people!

For those of you non-winter sports club kinda folks, the IKON pass is one of a few relatively newish passes that gives you access to a bunch of different ski resorts instead of just one.

The IKON pass gives you unlimited access to fourteen different resorts across the U.S. and Canada, and up to five days access to a bunch more. Even a handful of way-more-international-than-Canada resorts.

So, while his brothers and I will be forced to go to one place all winter, he will have unlimited access to: (Sorry in advance about the all caps. I copied the list off the IKON website and I’m far too lazy to re-type it all.)















Now, I doubt he’s going to make a road trip to Sugarbush or Tremblant, but the Colorado Rockies aren’t 100% out of the question for some motivated college kids who are willing to skip a lot of classes.

But all that is irrelevant when you read the one on the list that really matters – Palisades Tahoe. They changed the name to Palisades a while back, but you might know it better by its old name - Squaw Valley. He gets to go to Squaw Valley. Squaw! He’s only about 45 minutes away. They held the Olympic Games there, for goodness sake.

And do you know what really frosts my fanny about this whole thing? The price he paid. The IKON pass is expensive, and for good reason. But they have a young adult discount if you’re under twenty-three. Then on top of that they have a college student discount. And then on top of that, the Winter Sports Club somehow managed to get a major discount on top of those as well.

His IKON pass was less than I paid for his fifteen-year-old brother’s pass at Sugar Bowl!

College is ridiculous!

To make matters even more frosting for me, the pass also entitles him to up to five days at these world-class resorts:





































I mean, I don’t know anything about it, but how fun does Dolomiti Superski in Italy sound? Am I right? And I don't even know where Andorra is, but I know I want to shred the Grandvalira! If I was him, I’d take my second semester of college off and hitchhike with my snowboard. Just sayin’.

His mom might be a little upset, but I’d high five him. Privately, away from his mother, of course.

But here’s the part about all of this that really, REALLY frosts me: When I called the people at IKON, no one there had heard of our new UNR Winter Sports Club’s Parents Club, and they flatly refused to honor our 85% discount.

The nerve.

See you soon,



Copyright © 2023 Marc Schmatjen


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Wednesday, September 27, 2023

Caught in a Marketing Trap

They got me. I'm the sucker.

Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “Build a better mousetrap, and the world will beat a path to your door." I am a fan of his, because I went to Ralph Waldo Emerson Junior High School in the ‘80s, where I also learned he coined the phrases, "Gag me with a spoon,” “Take a chill pill,” “Bros before hoes," and “Party hearty with Bacardi.” If you don’t believe me, you can check my yearbooks.

Anyway, back to me being a sucker. There I was one day, about three weeks ago, mindlessly spiraling down the Facebook rabbit hole when I saw it. A better mousetrap.

Literally. It was an ad for an actual mousetrap.

The design was brilliant. Just a simple plastic lid that you pop onto the top of a five-gallon bucket. The lid came with a little plastic ramp the mice would happily climb to get to the delicious peanut butter I would spread liberally on the underside of the little raised roof in the middle of the lid. They would scamper toward the free meal only to find… what’s this? I foolishly walked out onto an ingenious trap door that was cleverly hidden under the little raised roof, and now I find myself in the bottom of this five-gallon bucket, unable to get out. Woe is me!

The real-life footage in the ad was amazing. A black and white time-lapse video from inside a barn showing mouse after hungry mouse falling victim to the trap door prank. I saw so many mice fall into the bucket in the short video that I was amazed they hadn’t figured out how to make a mouse cheerleader pyramid to get back out.

It was incredible! And so simple.

I immediately beat an internet path to their virtual door and bought one from the random Chinese website linked in the ad. It was a little over $20, and I waited patiently for it for about an hour before I went to Amazon and found the same ones from a different Chinese mousetrap conglomerate that were two for $20 and would arrive tomorrow.

I bought those, too. I mean, I have three buckets, and if one amazing new mousetrap is good, three will be phenomenal.

Well… three weeks, $40, and two operational, peanut butter-baited mousetraps later, I have captured exactly zero rodents of any kind. I have one in the garage and one in the backyard by the shed, and I can honestly tell you, they work as well indoors as they do outdoors.

Someone (not P.T. Barnum) once said, “There’s a sucker born every minute.” I have proven that to be true recently.

And speaking of that old phrase, I just happen to be having a special right now on the most amazing new trap door-style mousetraps. Check out the video! They’re ingenious! Hurry though, because they’re moving fast. I only have three left in stock.

They’re only $40 each!

See you soon,



Copyright © 2023 Marc Schmatjen


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Wednesday, September 20, 2023

Celebration Injury

I celebrated too early, and my feelings have been hurt. Along with my gas budget and my will to live.

Seventeen months ago, I thought I was a free man. In my column on April 27, 2022, I was giddy with anticipation. Son Number Two was getting his license the next week and I was beside myself with joy because I was about to be liberated forever from the shackles and chains of carpool. Damn the insane insurance costs, it was going to be worth it.

I did the simple math. At the time, Son Number Two was a junior and Son Number Three was a freshman. That meant that this current school year, if the final exams went reasonably well, they would be a senior and a sophomore. They did, and they are.

Seventeen months ago, it was all so clear. They would be going to the same high school and even playing the same sport. They would attend both school and lacrosse practice together. Son Number Three wouldn’t have his driver’s license yet, but that wouldn’t matter, because Number Two could take him everywhere.

That meant I was officially done with carpool. Forever. I celebrated by not driving anywhere. It was glorious.

Well, I may have done the simple math, but the calculus caught up to me and smacked me across the face in August. (I realize it’s almost the end of September, but it’s taken me this long to be ready to talk about it.) Seventeen months ago I was thinking only about their school days. I never stopped to consider their school day schedules.

Things were great for the entire month of May last year, when Son Number Two was a junior. My plan worked perfectly. Number Three caught a ride with him every day, to and from school. Well, turns out that’s because juniors still have to take lots of classes. Seniors, on the other hand, do not.

Seniors like Son Number Two, who handled all their core class graduation requirements in the first three years of high school, hardly even have to take any classes that have homework or tests. I think on one of his days he has two periods of woodshop, weightlifting, and creative writing. C’mon!

What’s the problem with all this? His ridiculous schedule gets him out of school two and a half hours before his younger brother. By the time I need him to drive everyone home, he’s already been home, eaten two meals, watched a movie, and is at the gym.

That leaves me and the other neighborhood parents still needing to pick up the sophomores. Damn you, schedule calculus! I guess one thin silver lining in my carpool cloud of despair is that we only have to pick them up from school. Number Two still takes them in the morning. But anyone who has ever done carpool knows that is small consolation. Pickup is waaaay worse than drop off.

So, I’ll have to wait another seven months before I get to celebrate for good without injury. Number Three doesn’t turn sixteen until the end of April.

And I’m celebrating no matter what. You can Marc my words, if he doesn’t pass his driver’s test, he’ll be walking home from school in May.

See you soon,



Copyright © 2023 Marc Schmatjen


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Wednesday, September 13, 2023

Right, Left, Right, but Circularly

I’m not a big fan of roundabouts. They are a lot like the metric system. Both, when studied objectively, are a much better ways to do things, but I still don’t like them..

The metric system makes complete logical sense. Everything is based on factors of ten. Take the millimeter, keep multiplying by ten and eventually you end up with the kilometer. Multiply the kilometer by five and you have the most grueling thirty-five to forty-five minutes of my year every April at the Run Rocklin.

Whereas with our imperial system, there is no length unit smaller than an inch, there are twelve of those in a foot, three feet (foots) in a yard, and 1,760 yards in a mile. Great. We also have ounces that can be volume or weight, and neither has anything to do with the other. It’s stupid.

What’s even more stupid is buying beer at a bar by the yard, because “three feet of beer” can be any amount of volume ounces they want based on the inner diameter of the long tube, you have to drink it like some idiot blowing a glass trumpet, and you lose most of it to the classic yard slosh down the front of your shirt. But enough about last Saturday.

Roundabouts make complete logical sense, from a traffic flow perspective. Four-way stops are dumb. Why do I need to completely stop my car at an intersection if I’m the only one there? Why do three of us need to wait next to each other at a red light when no one else in any other direction is there to use the same intersection? It’s dumb. Roundabouts solve those problems with a continuous flow pattern that only requires yielding when someone else happens to be there.

But here’s the thing. No one knows how to use either of them. The metric system is complete nonsense when put into context in everyday American life.

“How far away is the movie theater?”

“One and three-quarter kilometers.”

“Never speak to me like that again.”

“How much gas did the car take?”

“Thirty-seven and a half liters.”

“I hate you.”

And just like the ridiculous metric system, no one knows how to use roundabouts. Everyone seems to know what to do at a stoplight, and about half the people seem to be able to operate successfully at a four-way stop sign. The other half have no clue how or when to turn left, but it’s just become a part of our daily routine to swear at those people and then move on with our lives.

Roundabouts, on the other hand, will always have at least one person who can’t figure it out. If they’re not in it yet, chances are good that they will not yield to those who are. And if they are in it, there’s a better-than-average possibility that they’ll stop in the circle to let someone in.

And that’s just the single-lane roundabouts. Don’t even get me started on when there’s an inside lane and an outside. Why the hell do they even build them like that? What could I possibly want to use the inside lane of a roundabout for? I just love turning left and want to do it all day?

We have a new roundabout in my town that has two right turn options for one of the streets. When approaching the intersection, you can stay in the far right lane and bypass the roundabout to make a right onto the street, or you can enter the roundabout and drive 480 degrees around to the left to end up on the same street. For the love of God.

The police don’t even seem to understand them. At least the police in Alaska. OK, to be fair, it was a campus cop at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks who pulled me over when we were on our way to their natural history museum. Their museum comes with my highest recommendation. Their roundabouts do not.

I had just gone through one of their roundabouts when he lit me up. I pulled over and he told me he had stopped me because I failed to use my turn signal in the roundabout.


I was not aware that turn signals were a thing in roundabouts. How does that work, exactly? I would need to approach the entrance to the roundabout with my right blinker on? Once inside, immediately switch to my left blinker for the trip around until I come to my exit point, where I will quickly swap back to my right blinker as I leave the circle? That’s as dumb as getting a yard of beer.

The cop didn’t offer any advice on the matter, immediately switching the subject to my town of Rocklin, California where he had once visited family. We were on his campus in the summertime, and I think he might just have been bored. I didn’t press the roundabout blinker question because it was clear he wasn’t going to ticket me. I think he just wanted someone to talk to.

So, the moral here is clear. If you are going to use a roundabout, do it in a high-crime area where traffic is minimal, yield only when appropriate and necessary, or whenever you feel it would also be the polite thing to do, and just flip your blinker back and forth at random while you are in or near the circle.

And stay out of that ridiculous inner lane.

See you soon,



Copyright © 2023 Marc Schmatjen


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