Mar 21

A series of unfortunate events

This has to be the the most wonderful headline I’ve ever seen: Flying Cow Leaves Two Police Cars in Flames.
Key quote from the article: “I mean the best way to characterize this is, it’s bizarre. It’s really really strange.” Having read the entire account, I have to say that “bizarre” is probably the best term for what happened. In addition to the police cars and the cow, it involved two trucks, a trailer, and a pair of illegal immigrants.
I think this story has the potential to become a major motion picture.

Mar 16


A penpal of mine in upstate New York once told me that that region has just two seasons: “winter” and “July”. Years later, after I moved to North Carolina, I learned that there were four seasons in that state, but they weren’t the usual four. The North Carolina seasons are “almost summer”, “summer”, “still summer”, and “Christmas”.
I’ve heard other variations of the Seasons Joke, and I’ve come to believe that every region of the U.S. (if not the world) has its own version. Gerard Van der Leun, who used to live there, wrote that New York City has two seasons: “winter” and “road work”. Southern California reportedly has four: “wildfire”, “mudslide”, “earthquake”, and “riots”. What are the seasons in other parts of the country? If you know another version of this joke, post it in a comment.

Mar 07

Mistaken identity

There are a lot of other Pat Berrys in the world, and occasionally I hear from somebody who’s looking for one of them. But not often. So I thought it was remarkable when, earlier this year, I had three such experiences in the space of a month.

January 24: I received an e-mail from a woman named Lisa. She wrote:

I’m wondering if you are the same Pat Berry that was associated with the Marco Island Film Fest in Marco Island, FL? My friends and I attended the events held for the Guiding Light actors for several years. We have been trying to contact you through the film fest organization but telephones are out of service and I can no longer find your website.

I could have just written back saying, “I’m afraid you have the wrong Pat Berry. I’ve never even been to Marco Island.” But I thought it would be interesting to see if I could track down the film festival. I did some searches and determined that Lisa was correct. The festival’s website was gone, although it was still in Google’s cache. The phone numbers in the cached version were disconnected. So I called the Marco Island Chamber of Commerce, and the woman who answered the phone said that this year’s film festival had been canceled. All of this seemed to suggest that the film festival was defunct. I wrote back to Lisa, informing her of what I had found out. (She thanked me for my detective work.)

January 27: I received an e-mail from a lawyer named Tom, who wrote:

Pat: Pursuant to our telephone conversation yesterday, attached are a basic will form and an estate planning questionnaire. For now, you and Julie may choose to delete the answers to the questions about net worth (assets and liabilities). It is not necessary to have that information in order to prepare drafts of wills for the two of you.

This message was obviously misdirected, and at first I was tempted to just delete it. But communications between attorneys and their clients are supposed to be confidential. The note I had received was harmless, but I thought I had better warn Tom before he sent me any messages containing significant private information.

I didn’t trust my ability to explain the situation in an e-mail, so I decided that I had to contact Tom by phone. But I didn’t have his phone number or even his location. However, the e-mail included the name of his law firm as well as Tom’s last name. After a little more detective work with Google, I was able to find the the law firm (it’s in Chicago). I phoned and left a message with the firm’s receptionist. The next day, one of the lawyers called back, and I told him about the mistake. He said he would make sure Tom was notified. I’m still not sure how Tom happened to send the note to my address instead of the right one for the Chicago Pat Berry. But apparently the error was corrected; I haven’t received any more notes about Pat and Julie’s wills.

February 14: Google Talk informed me that someone named Debra had requested permission to send me text messages. I didn’t recognize the name, but I told Google Talk that I would accept the messages. Then she didn’t send me any. I could have just shrugged this off, but my curiosity wouldn’t let me. So a couple of days later, I sent Debra a text message asking if she was someone I knew. She said, “Sorry – I was looking to chat with another Pat Berry.” I asked, “By any chance, is the Pat Berry you were looking for a female film festival organizer in Florida? Or a married man living in Chicago whose wife is named Julie?” Debra replied that her Pat Berry is female and works at an advertising agency in New York City.

Perhaps someone should organize a Pat Berry convention so that we can all meet each other. At most conventions, you wear a badge with your name on it. At this one, I don’t suppose that would be necessary.

Mar 04

Internet time

In early 1997, it was announced that Wizards of the Coast (WotC), publisher of the Magic: The Gathering card game, had signed a letter of agreement with TSR Inc., the publisher of Dungeons & Dragons. WotC was planning to acquire TSR. This seemed like wonderful news to me, because TSR was on the verge of bankruptcy and hadn’t shipped any products to its distributors for over six months.

But on, the D&D newsgroup, some participants reacted with hysteria, predictions of doom, and conspiracy theories. People wailed that WotC was buying TSR to liquidate it and eliminate the competition, or that WotC was going to make all sorts of changes that would ruin D&D. The newsgroup was filled with speculation and rumors, almost none of it based on any shred of factual knowledge.

In an attempt to stem the tide of paranoid drivel, I compiled a Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) list and posted it to the newsgroup.

A week later, I wrote the following essay.

June 6, 1997
8:58 a.m.

From time to time, I’ve seen statements in computer magazines that one year of real time equals some larger number of Internet years. The implication, I suppose, is that things happen much faster on the Net than they do in real life. It was never clear to me why this should be the case, but I can tell you now that it’s absolutely true.

One week ago, I got fed up with all the rumors and confusion about the TSR-WotC buyout and decided to do something about it. I quickly threw together a FAQ List about it, using only statements posted to the Net by TSR or WotC employees. I got them all from and the TSR Web site. After maybe an hour of editing and formatting, I posted the result to That was on Friday, May 30.

On Monday, June 2, I learned of an interview with the WotC president that provided some new information. I updated the FAQ and posted it again.

On Tuesday, WotC and TSR announced the completion of the buyout. This required major changes to the FAQ. I updated and posted it again.

On Wednesday, I started receiving e-mail comments about the FAQ, which provided some new information. I also decided that it would be fairly easy to put it on the Web, so I added minimal HTML coding and uploaded it to my server space. By the end of the day, it was already linked to by at least one other Web page (and maybe more that I don’t know about).

On Thursday, I received a one-line note from Adam Conus of WotC Customer Service that read: “I just wanted to say that your unofficial FAQ is fabulous.” E-mail about the FAQ began to arrive from places like Italy. As new information came in, I updated the Web FAQ several times.

Today is Friday, and the Unofficial Buyout FAQ is one week old. I woke up this morning to find a note from a gentleman in Moscow who has translated the FAQ into Russian, and would like for me to put the translation on my Web site. And the day is still young.

I think I understand the concept of Internet time now.