May 18

My accent

I wrote a couple of years ago about my bland, generic American accent. It seems to defy all attempts at classification; people who listen to me talk and then guess where I grew up virtually never get it right. So I couldn’t pass up an online quiz titled “What American accent do you have?” Here is the result I got:

What American accent do you have?

Your Result: The Northeast

Judging by how you talk you are probably from north Jersey, New York City, Connecticut or Rhode Island. Chances are, if you are from New York City (and not those other places) people would probably be able to tell if they actually heard you speak.

The Inland North
The Midland
The South
The West
North Central
What American accent do you have?
Quiz Created on GoToQuiz

The Northeast? That’s just bizarre. I never lived there or even visited that region for more than a few days, and neither have my parents. Notice also that the quiz gives me only a middling grade for being Southern, even though I have lived my entire life in the South. Either this quiz is highly inaccurate, or I am just weird.

Sep 29


I took the Nerd Test, and here is the result:

I am nerdier than 81% of all people. Are you nerdier? Click here to find out!

That’s actually a higher score than I was expecting. I was particularly amused at the follow-up question about how I knew the chemical symbol for a particular element. The possible answers included “I found a Periodic Table and looked it up” and “I looked at the Periodic Table next to me”. They did not include “I looked at the Periodic Table in the most recent post to my blog,” which was certainly an option in my case. (I didn’t, though. I am the son of a chemist. I don’t need a Periodic Table to know the symbol for manganese.)

Sep 04

The way I talk

How Southern are you? This 20-question quiz analyzes your word choices (for example, is it a bag, a sack, or a poke?) and determines how strongly your vocabulary is influenced by the culture of the southeastern U.S. My result was “50% (Yankee). Barely in the Yankee category.” That came as no surprise to me, because I’ve been baffling people for a long time with my un-Southern speech patterns and accent. Despite having lived my entire life in the South (Louisiana and the Carolinas, with a brief stopover in Texas when I was a toddler), I don’t sound like a Southerner.
I used to think that this was due to the influence of television, but that can’t be the whole answer. The kids I grew up with in South Carolina watched as much TV as I did, but most of them sound more Southern than I do. I think that parental influence has to be a factor as well. My father was born and raised in Texas, which has its own way of talking that doesn’t much resemble that of the Deep South. And while my mother was raised in New Orleans, she was born in Kansas City.
I sometimes challenge people who don’t know my background to guess what part of the country I come from, based on the way I talk. Almost no one gets it right. The most popular guess is that I’m from somewhere in the Midwest (my mother’s influence at work, no doubt). Folks are astonished when I tell them I’ve never even been there.
Recently, several Raleigh Little Theatre volunteers were chatting about our backgrounds, and one of them mentioned that she was from Missouri. This seemed like an interesting opportunity — would a person who grew up in the same area as my mother think that I came from there? I asked her if she could place me based on my accent, and she gave me an answer I’d never gotten before: New England! I told her I’ve never been there either, except for the 1989 Worldcon in Boston.
I can only conclude that the influences of my parents and television have left me with a bland, generic American accent that people find impossible to pin down. They know that I didn’t grow up where they did, but that’s about all they can be sure of.
UPDATE: According to this quiz, I’m part Australian! At least, I think that’s what my score means — I got 14 right answers out of 20. But my actual evaluation was this: “You’re a battler. Not much of a one, mind… but getting there. You will have no trouble getting around, and understanding most things that are said to you. However avoid RSL clubs and old peoples homes, the nuances are lost on you.” Huh? I guess I should admit at this point that a fair number of my right answers were just lucky guesses.
ANOTHER UPDATE: I understand now. “RSL clubs” refers to the Returned Services League, a military veterans’ organization that seems to be the Australian equivalent of the American Legion or the VFW.

Posted in Me
Sep 15

No surprise there

I know I’ve said that I don’t usually do quizzes, but I couldn’t resist this one: What High School Stereotype Are You? And it’s been so long since I posted anything here that I suppose even a lame post is better than none at all.

Take the What High School Stereotype Are You? quiz.

No one who knows me at all can be even mildly surprised by this result. But I found the quiz a bit more challenging that I expected, because I had to figure out how to respond to quiz items that would have been utterly meaningless back when I actually was a high school student (1974-77):
It’s finally Sunday. I’m . . . One of the listed responses is “role-playing.” Well, Dungeons & Dragons did exist back then, but it was brand new and only a few thousand hardcore wargamers knew about it.
The school requires everyone to take a computer course. I . . . Another quiz item refers to “computer games.” In 1977, there wasn’t a single computer or computer terminal anywhere in my high school. Computers were for universities, big corporations, and the military. And outside of those places, the only computer game you were likely to see was Pong.
Make a saving throw versus poison. That’s another D&D reference, and would been completely incomprehensible to me in my high school days. Since then, I’ve racked up 25 years of experience playing D&D, and could make saving throws in my sleep. I mean that literally — if you whispered “Make a saving throw versus poison!” in my ear at 3:00 a.m., I would probably sit up in bed and lunge for my dice without a moment’s hesitation. (Yes, I keep gaming dice in my bedroom. Doesn’t everyone?)
I considered taking the quiz as if it were still 1977, but most of my responses would have been “huh?” So in the end, I pretended that I was attending high school now, and picked the responses accordingly. I suspect that my actual high-school persona was probably closer to Outsider, but only because it wasn’t possible to be a Geek by today’s standards (the closest you could get was to be a Nerd). But if I were thirty years younger, I’m sure I’d be a Geek now.

Jun 03

Falling down

A couple of weeks ago, I promised to explain how the Nazis caused my almost total lack of blogging in late April and early May. Here’s the first part of that explanation.
In the spring of 1942, the Third Reich began implementing the “Final Solution” to exterminate European Jews. As a result, Anne Frank and her family went into hiding in a secret annex in Amsterdam. Anne chronicled the experience in her diary, which was saved by one of the family’s helpers after the Franks were discovered and sent to concentration camps. Although Anne didn’t survive the war, her diary was published and became one of the most widely read books in the world.
A play based on The Diary of Anne Frank opened on Broadway in 1955. The “Definitive Edition” of the diary was published in 1995, and a new stage adaptation premiered on Broadway two years later. This play came to Raleigh Little Theatre in the spring of 2004, running from April 9 to April 25. I wasn’t a part of the cast or crew of Anne Frank, but Ben and I helped build the set, which was rather large and elaborate. Striking this set would not be easy, and as the end of the run approached, Roger (the RLT technical director) sent an e-mail message to the volunteers’ mailing list, asking for as many people as possible to help on Sunday, April 25.
I went, of course; my whole family did. While Ruth and Marie helped to strike costumes and props, Ben and I joined the swarm of volunteers attacking the set. An hour or so later, he and I were working to together to remove some windows from the rear wall of the set so that they could be stored and reused in future plays. Ben was inside the set, removing the screws that held the windows in place; I was behind the set’s back wall, waiting to take hold of each window and lower it to the deck (the floor of the stage). The set’s floor was raised several feet above the deck, so I was standing on a bench placed against the rear wall in order to reach the windows.
As the second window popped out of its frame, I took hold of its sides and began to lower it. At that moment, the bench I was standing on tipped over backwards, and I fell to the deck, landing awkwardly on my right foot — which buckled, twisting inwards. As my full weight came down on that foot, my ankle bent sideways. I screamed in pain and collapsed in a heap on the deck.
Several other volunteers rushed to my aid, setting the bench upright and helping me sit on it. “Are you okay?” Roger asked. “Don’t know yet,” I gasped through clenched teeth. As fellow volunteer Asher went to fetch a cold pack from the first aid kit, I removed my right shoe and sock. The initial overwhelming agony was fading, so I gingerly took my foot in both hands and tried flexing the ankle to see if it was broken. The ankle moved normally without any of the sharp pain or sickening twisting sensation of a broken bone. (I do know what a broken bone feels like.) I found that my foot could move on its own, too, so there didn’t seem to be any major damage. The initial agony had subsided, leaving me with a throbbing ache. Asher returned with the cold pack, which I applied to the ankle. The pain continued to fade.
Looking around me, I saw that the window I had been holding when I fell was lying on the deck nearby. I called Ben over and asked him to pick it up and put it with the first one we had removed earlier. It was at about this point that I realized I had scrapes on both of my forearms, one of which was actually oozing blood. The window had evidently done that by falling on me as I went down.
After about twenty minutes, the cold pack wasn’t really cold any more, and the pain in my ankle was down to a dull ache. It was time to find out whether I could walk. I stood up slowly on my left foot, gripping a nearby cart for support, and gradually put weight on my right foot. It didn’t buckle, and there was no increase in pain. Carefully, I took a step, then another. Then I walked across the stage. The ankle was sore and stiff, but it worked.
I concluded that I had dodged a bullet, put my sock and shoe back on, and rejoined the rest of the strike crew. But I knew it wasn’t a good idea for me to do any climbing, so I didn’t try to work on dismantling the set any more. Instead, I spent the next two hours collecting, sorting, and coiling light cables — a task that I could carry out while standing on the deck.
By the time I ran out of cables, the set demolition was complete and it was time for the strike dinner. Ben used antiseptic wipes to clean my scrapes, and I thanked Asher for getting the cold pack. After dinner, we went home. My ankle was now rather swollen, but otherwise still functional. I’d managed to avoid any significant injury, I thought. But I was wrong.

May 29


I don’t usually waste time on Web quizzes (those things that ask you a bunch of questions and then tell you what Lord of the Rings character you are), because most of them strike me as silly, pointless, or contrived. But today I stumbled across one that I had to take: How Grammatically Sound Are You? As a professional writer, I couldn’t very well refuse that challenge. Fortunately, I did well:

Grammar God!
You are a GRAMMAR GOD!
If your mission in life is not already to
preserve the English tongue, it should be.
Congratulations and thank you!
How grammatically sound are you?
brought to you by Quizilla

Woohoo! So, as a Grammar God, do I now have the power to smite people who use “it’s” as a possessive, or think “that” and “which” are interchangeable?

Posted in Me
Nov 12

Black and blue

Several weeks ago, the band on my wristwatch broke. So I went shopping for a new one. My watch is a no-frills black analog Timex, so there are lots of replacement bands available at places like Wal-Mart and Target. What I really wanted was a plain black band like the original one, but I didn’t see anything quite like that. I finally settled for the closest thing I could find, a band that was black leather on one side of the watch and a sort of dark blue cloth on the other side.
I installed the new band and decided I liked it. The two-tone color scheme was interesting, and so was the decision to use different materials for the two halves of the band. After I’d been wearing it for a while, I noticed that the design was a little more subtle than I had realized. Both halves were actually made of the same materials, but assembled differently. One half of the band was black leather on the outside and dark blue cloth on the inside; the other half was dark blue cloth on the outside and black leather on the inside.
Today it occured to me that this design didn’t make sense. Leather is more expensive than cloth, so why use leather on the inside of the band, where no one can see it? And then it finally dawned on me: I had installed half of the band backwards.
I reversed that half, and now I have the all-black replacement watchband that I had been looking for when I bought it. But I still think it looked kind of cool the other way.

Posted in Me
Oct 26

Tight schedule

Here’s what I did today:
5:30 a.m. – Alarm clock goes off. (Note: today is Sunday.) I get up, eat breakfast, shower, etc. I dress in khaki slacks, a colored polo shirt, and brown belt and shoes. I also pack a bag with an all-black outfit (including black belt and shoes).
7:15 – I leave the house and drive to Cary.
7:45 – Arrival at Christ the King Lutheran Church , where I’m a member of the choir. Today is Reformation Sunday, and the choir of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church is joining us to celebrate. I put on my choir robe.
8:30 – After some last-minute rehearsal, the service begins. We start out singing Luther’s “A Mighty Fortress” (in the original German) up in the balcony and then process down. We sing two other pieces in the course of the service, one of which involves a trumpet and handbells.
9:30 – The service ends. I remove my choir robe and stuff it (along with my hymnal and music folder) into my bag and drive to Holy Trinity in Raleigh. (The rest of the CTK choir is doing likewise.)
10:00 – On arrival at HT, I put my choir robe back on. We rehearse some more with the HT choir.
11:00 – The HT service begins. We sing the same three pieces there, but everything else in the service is different, including the setting (tunes for the liturgy) that they’re using. This service also involves confirmation of five teenagers and communion.
12:30 p.m. – The service ends. I take my robe off again and shove it, the hymal, and my music folder back in the bag. I pick up lunch at a nearby Subway, then drive to Raleigh Little Theatre (which fortunately is only a couple of blocks away).
1:00 – I arrive at the theatre in time to meet Marie there. We are scheduled to usher for the matinee performance of Schoolhouse Rock Live.
1:30 – It’s time to open the house and start admitting audience members, but the house manager scheduled to work this show has not shown up. Marie has house manager experience (she house-managed for the first time the night before), so she fills in.
2:00 – The show begins. I’ve seen it half a dozen times already while operating a spotlight, but as an usher I get to sit with the audience. When you’re running a spot you tend to focus your attention exclusively on whomever the light is following, so you miss other stuff. It’s actually nice to just watch the show for once.
2:45 – Intermission. I spend it working with Marie and another volunteer at the concession counter, selling canned drinks, bottled water, candy bars, Moon Pies, and Mentos to audience members.
3:30 – The show ends. There’s a salad and baked potato supper at 4:00 for the cast, since they have another performance at 7:30 and don’t really have time to go out for food. Crew members are invited to join them, and Marie and I do so.
4:30 – Marie leaves to pick up Ruth and Ben from their high school, where they have been working at the final performance and strike of The Female Odd Couple (Ruth was stage manager, Ben was on the running crew). I have a whole two hours free, so I decide to make a mad dash for the State Fair, which I have not had a chance to visit yet and which ends tonight. I really need to go because the vendor who sells the shower attachments we use in our house (the only ones I’ve found that work well at Holly Springs’s low water pressure) is at the Fair every year, and I need to buy a replacement for a cracked plastic part. (They don’t have a Web site or an e-mail address, and my attempts to contact them by phone during the last year have failed.) If I don’t find them now, I’ll have to wait another year. I drive to the free parking area at the RBC Center (the nearby sports arena) and take a shuttle bus to the Fairgrounds entrance.
5:00 – I arrive at the Fairgrounds and, walking at my fastest pace, find the buildings housing the vendors, search for the specific vendor I want, find him, buy the part I need, and retrace my steps to leave the fairgrounds and get back to the bus stop. I take the shuttle back to the parking lot, find my car, and drive back to RLT.
6:00 – I arrive at the theatre half an hour before my scheduled call time for the evening performance. Ruth is already there, having been dropped off by Marie while I was gone. (Ruth’s doing props, I’m running a spotlight.) I change into my all-black outfit, then check both of the spotlights to make sure they’re working.
7:00 – The house opens for the evening show. I run through my usual pre-show routine: test my headset, then review the cue sheet to make sure none of the spot cues have changed since the last show I worked.
7:30 – The show begins. This is my last performance of Schoolhouse Rock Live even though the show has another week to run, because I planned my follow spot schedule so it didn’t conflict with Cinderella rehearsals, just in case I got cast.
9:00 – The show ends. I help Ruth put away props, then drive us home.
10:00 – I arrive home for the first time since leaving for church this morning.
10:30 – I write an e-mail to the CTK choir director, informing her that I have to drop out of the choir until after the holidays due to my Cinderella rehearsal schedule. I was going to tell her in person today, but I never got a chance. I also didn’t have time to return my music folder, hymnal, and choir robe. Marie will have to take those back to the church for me — probably on Wednesday, her normal day off.
In the course of this day, I attended two church services (singing six anthems and I don’t know how many hymns and litanies), worked at two RLT shows, and changed clothes five times (if you count donning and removing choir robes). If I can get through a day like today, I guess I can survive working a full-time job and being in Cinderella. But I’m going to have to make a point of getting as much sleep as I can manage. In fact, I need to go do that right now. My alarm clock will go off again in five and a half hours.

Posted in Me
Aug 20

The china syndrome

It’s our wedding anniversary. Today Marie and I have been married for twenty years. I must have repeated those words to myself a hundred times today, trying to grasp the significance of the day, but I just can’t get my head around it. Twenty years. It doesn’t seem possible.
And then I look at my children, one of them on the verge of adulthood and the other seeming to grow an inch taller every week, and I think: Yeah, it’s possible. In fact, there’s no other explanation.
Marie and I said our vows in 1983. Ronald Reagan was still in his first term as president. Return of the Jedi was only two years old, and Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan had just premiered the previous year. The space shuttle had only been flying for two years. The earliest IBM PCs were only two years old, and the first Macintosh wouldn’t arrive in stores for another year.
The Internet existed, barely — its predecessor, ARPANET, had just begun using the TCP/IP protocol. Microwave ovens and VCRs had only been available for a few years, and the first CDs had just appeared in stores. Cellular phones had been available for less than a year.
It was a different world.
I guess I can’t deny it. We really have been married for two decades. But it’s still hard to believe.

Posted in Me
May 09

Wrong, wrong, wrong

Instead of an essay on a single topic, I have several items to report today. However, these items do have a unifying theme, which is this: I was wrong.
First, an update on my experiment in moonlighting: it was a failure. “How hard can it be?” I asked here when I announced the idea. Pretty damn hard, as it turns out. I lasted a week. It wasn’t just the chronic sleep deficit, or not seeing my family, or the lack of time for anything other than work or sleep. What finally convinced me to give up was the realization that I had decided to try moonlighting for two reasons, and neither of them was valid. Reason one, you may remember, was that I didn’t want to leave Perigee shorthanded just when their workload was heaviest. But the workload actually peaked a week or two before I started my IBM contract, and Perigee was already starting to lay off temporary workers. By the beginning of this week, the night shift was down to just a few people, and the stuff I was being given to do was pretty trivial. They didn’t actually need me very much.
Reason two was that my family could use the extra money. But I found that because I was short of sleep, I was hitting the snooze button for longer in the morning, and arriving at work later. No one at IBM seemed to mind, because we have flex time — but I was still leaving on time at 5:00 in order to get to my evening job. I wasn’t putting in a full day at IBM. Since my hourly rate at IBM was much better than at Perigee, missing an hour at my day job in order to work an hour at my evening job was, to put it in mathematical terms, stupid. If I wanted to earn more, I would be better off working more hours at IBM. So this past Tuesday, I resigned from Perigee and went home to spend an evening with my family. My stress level has been declining steadily ever since.
What else was I wrong about? Pedestrian signal lights. On Wednesday, my IBM team went to lunch together at the shopping center across the intersection. And I discovered that I was mistaken about the signal light for crossing Six Forks Road — it does sometimes say WALK. But it had never done so for me — not once! Why? There is a very simple explanation. The push-to-walk buttons work just fine, but I was pressing the wrong one. Despite the signs indicating which button was for crossing which street, I had gotten them backwards. I was pressing the button for Millbrook when I wanted to cross Six Forks. How I escaped becoming roadkill, I’ll never know.
If you’re wondering, the restaurant we crossed the street to dine at was the Bull and Bear. Yes, the place that was rated dismal in the one review I had managed to find. Not only had my teammates not read that review, the restaurant is a favorite of theirs; they eat there all the time. Well, I couldn’t very well turn down their invitation, could I? I steeled myself for possible food poisoning and followed them across the intersection. Guess what? There’s absolutely nothing wrong with the place. The service was excellent, and my bean-and-ham soup and chicken cordon bleu sandwich were entirely satisfactory. In this case it was the reviewers who were wrong (or perhaps they just visited the B&B on a bad day). But I accepted their assessment instead of checking the place out myself, so I was wrong, too.
As you can see, I was wrong about pretty much everything. But weblogs can be edited. If I were Michael Moore, I would delete the blog entries showing just how wrong I was and pretend it never happened. Well, I would much rather be like Rachel Lucas. I’ll follow her example and leave the record intact, proving to the world that I’m a moron and I don’t know anything.

Posted in Me