I Wear a Hearing Aid

Ten years ago I underwent surgery for an acoustic neuroma that resulted in the total loss of hearing on my left side.

At the time I didn’t think losing hearing in one ear would be a big deal – after all, I had another ear which worked just fine – but I quickly discovered otherwise. Unilateral hearing loss makes it very hard to hear anything over background noise, and sound on the same side as the deaf ear doesn’t always reach the good one.

Trying to hear people in a group situation became very stressful. I’d have to aim my good ear at the person talking which made me look pretty awkward, and I often got nasty looks from people because I’d talk over them without realizing they were already talking.

So I started avoiding group situations. I stopped going to conferences and stayed away from large get-togethers. If I really needed to be somewhere with a group, I’d make sure to arrive early so I could position myself on the left.

That’s the background story.

Today I got a CROS hearing aid, which transmits sound from my left side over to my right ear. It’s far from a perfect solution in that background noise will still be an issue, but it does enable me to hear those talking on my left side. After a decade of turning to hear people on my left it’s pretty amazing not to have to do that.

Lawns are Overrated

I hate having a lawn. Lawns don’t make sense to me.

It’s like owning a table you can’t cut things on: it’s just not suited for its purpose, so you spend an inordinate amount of time protecting it.

Where I live, in the spring you have to start mowing the lawn every week. By summer you have to water it to keep it from dying. Then fall rolls around and you have to rake up the leaves or else they’ll smother the grass. And then you hope it’ll survive the winter.

It feels so pointless constantly taking care of something that shouldn’t be there in the first place. If it was meant to be there it would survive without any help.

Funny thing is, I never thought I’d end up with a lawn. When I was younger I decided that home ownership was a scam designed to keep us tied down – and a yard was the extra nail in the coffin. But then I got married, had kids, adopted dogs, and BAM! Home ownership suddenly made sense. And of course a yard made sense, too, because once you’re responsible for other life forms you have to give them somewhere to run around so they don’t destroy the furniture.

My bad attitude about lawns stems from my childhood. My parents bought a house with a yard that was much too big for them to care for so they assigned that task to their three sons. I had weed duty, and I developed a deep hatred for it which never went away. I don’t think I ever understood why I had to spend so much time pulling out plants that could thrive in our environment in order to maintain a lawn that clearly couldn’t. Forgive the awful pun, but I was rooting for the weeds.

Now that I’m a middle-aged guy with a lawn I’ve vowed not to burden my kids with yard work. Yeah, I know – yard work is supposed to build character. But I’d rather do that by forcing them to watch Monty Python clips and subjecting them to my music.

So I attempted to take care of my yard myself, but after a while I gave up and hired someone else to do it. It feels like a waste, but I figure the point of earning a decent living isn’t to buy expensive toys but instead to be able to pay someone to do all the crap you hate to do.

Once the kids are out of the house and the dogs have expired, I’m sure my wife and I will do as so many other empty nesters have done and move to a smaller place with no lawn. I’ve talked with older couples who have done this and it’s pretty clear they do it to escape the yard work.

My only fear is I won’t be able to last that long and will have the yard paved out of exasperation.

So About the Cartoons

If you’re a regular reader you’ve no doubt noticed the cartoons that appear here every now and then. And you may have noticed some of them seem a bit dated.

That’s because I drew them 25 years ago.

The cartoons were all published in The Daily Beacon when I was a student at the University of Tennessee from 1989-1991. I had flunked out of another college while pursuing a CompSci degree (it’s a long story) and decided to switch majors to journalism. My dream was to be a syndicated cartoonist so I figured I should understand how journalism and newspapers work.

That seems laughable now. I was ‘tooning in the golden age of newspaper strips like Calvin & Hobbes, The Far Side and Bloom County, but the best comic strips these days are self-published on the web, not in newspapers. I can’t imagine any up-and-coming cartoonists dream of being published in newspapers anymore.

I’ve told my cartooning story here before so I won’t rehash it now, but if you’re interested here’s the rest of the story.

Thanks, Radio Shack!

When I was 15 my Dad bought a TRS-80 Color Computer from the local Radio Shack. I was an extreme underachiever at the time, and I think his hope was this new toy would spark my interest.

It worked.

I fell in love with that little 4K box. By the end of the year I was writing BASIC games for it, and soon afterwards I was publishing articles in Hot CoCo and Rainbow Magazine. Next I taught myself assembler and began selling games like “Moon Runner,” a knock-off of the arcade hit “Moon Patrol.”

Moon Runner (1985)

Now that Radio Shack is on its last legs, I just want to say “thanks, Radio Shack!” Thirty years later I enjoy writing software more than ever, and that underpowered TRS-80 is where it all started for me.

Atheism Is Not a Silver Bullet

In software development we have a saying: there is no silver bullet. It means that no one thing will dramatically improve the quality of the programs we write. No single thing will save us.

I believe my fellow atheists should adopt this saying because too many of them act like the world would be a better place if everyone thought like we do.

This stance isn’t limited to a few well-known atheists. It seems like every time I click on an article that mentions religion the comment thread is peppered by skeptics denouncing other beliefs and touting their own non-belief as the one true thing. That the irony of this is lost on these people is a clear sign they’re not thinking straight.

Let me be clear: I consider myself a devout atheist and have been one since elementary school. Countless times I have experienced prejudice for not believing in god, including receiving death threats from Christian extremists for publishing “anti god” cartoons. I detest the injustices so many suffer in the name of religion and I will never tolerate anyone who claims their god requires women, gays, minorities, or those with different beliefs to be treated as less deserving of civil rights.

But atheism is not the answer. There is no single answer. As humans we are flawed regardless of what we believe. If we stop killing in the name of god we’ll simply find some other reason to do it.

The previous century should be proof enough that even those who claim to be rational can create incredible horrors. If we want to survive the next century then all of us – atheists included – must give up this childish notion that our way of thinking is the key to salvation. We are all just monkeys with expensive haircuts so to claim we’ve got everything figured out is a spectacular conceit.

There is a lot of resentment among atheists at being forced to live in a world that shuns us despite our achievements, but we have to get over this. If we want humanity to move forward we must build bridges rather than burn them.

I Hate Your Image (A Ramble)

I’ve been car shopping lately, and one of the vehicles I’m looking at is a Subaru. Upon hearing this, a friend mentioned that Subaru has an image of building cars for lesbians.

I wasn’t sure what to make of that. What does it mean when a heterosexual male is attracted to a lesbian car? I tried to figure that out but gave up after getting stuck in a loop.

The whole idea of attaching an image to a car – or really any product – seems silly, yet a product’s image often decides whether we buy it. We choose clothes, food, music, operating systems, and even political candidates based on how they make us feel about ourselves and how we want others to feel about us. I’d argue that some people have no personality of their own and are instead the sum total of the products they buy.

Sometimes negative images work, too. I was surprised when an “anti-aging boutique” named Snooty opened near me. The name “Snooty” seems completely off-putting, but apparently a lot of people like the store’s image. I imagine their spouses shop at a store named “Overpaid Asshat.”

I like to pretend I’m above letting a product’s image affect me, but I know I’m not. I’m one of those annoying people who shuns something just because it’s popular so I favor products with an underdog image. My son says that makes me a hipster but I know that isn’t true because I can’t wear flannel without humming The Lumberjack Song.

Over the years I’ve named three products and I only consciously thought of image with one of them. That was FeedDemon, whose name was a play on “speed demon” – I wanted everyone to think it was fast. A lot of customers liked the name, but some people avoided it because it had an image of being demonic (although in fairness, I’m sure I chose that name in part due to my ill-begotten metalhead youth).

/end_ramble

Fake Gifts for Christmas

Speaking of Christmas and practical jokes, something all three of the Bradbury boys enjoy is giving fake gifts.

One year there was a present under the tree from one of my brothers to my parents. My mother unwrapped it and was speechless to discover a DVD containing exotic dancing lessons.

My brother was also speechless, because he didn’t know anything about the gift. That’s because I had bought it and labeled it as coming from him.

Every year since then there has been a similar fake gift under the tree. It has become part of our family tradition, and I look forward to handing it down to my children.

Another Hairy Practical Joke

Some time after the first incident, my now-beardless oldest brother decided to host Christmas. My other brother would be there, and I had long given him grief about his unkempt nostril hair (what are brothers for?), so I bought him a nose hair trimmer as a gift.

I thought he’d love it, so I was disappointed when he left it behind. That’s when I decided it was his turn for a practical joke.

I bought a second trimmer and arranged for the first one to be given to him a few weeks later. In the meantime, I took the second trimmer with me on a Carribean vacation.

After my brother had been using the first trimmer for a month or two, I showed him pictures of my vacation – which featured the second trimmer.

In one, the nose hair trimmer was lounging by the pool. In another it was dancing with my wife by the beach. The final picture showed it taking a swim – in the hotel restroom. Yes, I took a picture of a nose hair trimmer floating in a toilet.

My brother, of course, was disgusted by that last picture since he thought it was the nose hair trimmer he’d been using for several weeks. I enjoyed his reaction so much that I waited several days before telling him the truth.