Banned at the Aldi’s

I approach the cash registers at the local Aldi grocery store. In a rare occurrence, no one is already in line.

I eye the cashier on duty and decide I don’t want him touching my items. So I go to the self-service checkout right next to his station.

I abhor self-service checkout, but I only have a few items, and the cashier is playing with his Android phone, so I’m doing him a favor. He is probably close to beating his high score in Super Mega Bubble Pop, which explains why he doesn’t glance up when I approach his station.

I start self-scanning my items and glance over at the cashier. He’s leaned all the way back in his chair, has a foot up on the counter, and is engrossed in his game. (Yes, Aldi cashiers sit in chairs, which is really weird.)

As I scan my items, I place them into my backpack. It’s a little too full; I bought too much, as usual. I pay, and the screen reminds me to take my receipt, which ends up at the bottom of my bag after I repack to make everything fit. (Note to self: don’t put bread in first.)

I turn on my heels, take a step towards the door, then hear a voice behind me.

“Did you get a receipt?” Oh, the cashier has awoken from his trance!

“Yup, got it. Thanks,” I reply.

“Let me see it.”

“What?”

“I didn’t see your receipt print.“

“You were on your phone.”

“I need to see it.”

“No, you don’t. It’s in the bottom of my bag, and I’m not unpacking everything. I literally checked out right in front of you.”

“Show it to me or don’t ever come back,” he says, trying to sound authoritative while still leaning back, foot on the counter, and chip-tune music blaring from his phone.

“Ha! Yeah. Right. See you later, asshole,” I say, and walk out the door.

Postcript: I have, of course, been back. I haven’t seen Mr. Super Mega Bubble Pop again. (Which isn’t a surprise given the frequent turnover of employees at the store. I rarely see the same one twice.)

“Banned at the Aldi’s” will be the name of my next album.


The sad death of computer magazines

I am sad that there are no more American computer magazines. See these two articles for the ugly details:

I grew up with Family Computing and K-Power, then fell in love with Mac User, Byte, ST Format, and Dr. Dobb’s Journal. As a college student, I dreamt about someday being a columnist. (And I ended up doing some ad hoc writing for several of them. It was always a treat to be published like that, but it was a side gig, so the dreams of my youth were only partially fulfilled.)

Perhaps this reveals something about the adult that I grew to be, but these are some of my fondest childhood memories. Looking over the code printed (!) in the magazine, dutifully typing it all in, then finding my mistakes and making it work taught me about computers, writing, and myself. The code was an incantation that invoked magic, and not only could I wield it, I could actually understand it through study.

Today, Readly provides me with enjoyment of the few computer magazines that remain, including HackSpace, MagPi, Retro Gamer, and Linux Format. (All of which are British, by the way. British magazine racks are outstanding.)

But I hold out hope for a retro-resurgence in the US. Even after the shocking death of Playboy, it managed to return to newsstands (in a much lamer form). Hope springs eternal.


Descaling the KitchenAid Nespresso machine

I have written about my beloved KitchenAid Nespresso Espresso machine. Here are a few more tips, but this time related to cleaning and descaling the unit.

  • The descaling information provided by Nespresso’s website isn’t very helpful. I refer to this eight-year old YouTube video every time. (I hope it stays published!)
  • However, the video has a horrible instructional flaw. Namely, you must close the pod chamber before starting the descaling process. The video does not mention this, and you’re likely to have the chamber open as you’ve naturally ejected the last pod before cleaning. Do not forget to close the chamber or you will have a considerable mess on your hands! (Yes, I speak from experience.)
  • A related discovery, thanks to the above situation, once the descaling process is started it cannot be stopped. Even if you unplug the machine, it will resume until both cycles are complete.
  • No, I can’t fathom why the video instructs you to clean and dry the water chamber before filling it with water again. Seems like busy work. This sort of thing is typical of amateur technical writing, though this is an official video, so it should be better.
  • KitchenAid recommends descaling the unit monthly! This seems excessive to me, especially given the amount of time it requires, but I guess it depends on how hard your water is.
  • Unscientifically, making a cuppa seems to go a lot quicker after the machine has been descaled. If your machine’s coffee stream reminds you of an old man during the middle of the night, consider that it might need to be descaled.

And yes, thank you, I would like another cup. Black.


Book Review: Snails and Monkey Tails

This 2022 publication by Michael Arndt is subtitled “A Visual Guide to Punctuation & Symbols.” I was initially drawn to the book by its distinctive design, which definitely makes it stand out among other reference books for writers.

gordon meyer holding book cover

But, I didn’t buy it the first time I saw it, as the bookstore only had one copy and it was rather shelf-worn. Nor did I buy the book when I saw it the second time, in a different store, as it was shelved with the design books, and I was thinking it might be more style than substance.

But, as they say, the third time is the charm, especially when yet a different book store had it in their remainders section for less than the price of a nice coffee. I figured it was worth a purchase. And boy, was I right.

It does belong in the design book section because it is a lovingly, beautifully produced publication. (All those bleeds! The typography!) But as a reference for writers and word-lovers, it really shines. There’s no usage information (aside admonishment that one exclamation point is enough), instead it consists of the fascinating history of punctuation marks.

Just a couple of the things it taught me:

  • The abbreviation “lb” for pound originates in “Libra Pondo,” where libra is “scale” in Latin, and is also related to the astrological sign of the same name, which is depicted as scales. Over time, the abbreviation was written with a tittle (a crossbar connecting the two letters), which eventually morphed into a currency symbol for the British pound (£).
  • The ampersand is a twisted rendition of “et,” which is Latin for “and.”
  • My favorite punctuation mark, the interrobang, gets only a brief mention‽ Well, partial forgiveness is granted for introducing me to the percontation point, which is a backwards question mark meant to signal a rhetorical question. I wonder why nobody uses it⸮
  • The pointing hand symbol (manicule) lives on in emoji, but was commonly used in medieval times and Renaissance. ☜
  • In addition to the period (full stop) we know today, dots shifted off the baseline were the original forms of the comma and colon.

Usually, a book like this I’ll read, take some notes, and then donate to a Little Free Library. But this one, I’m keeping. It was Unabridged Books where I finally got my copy, but you can find it at the Amazon too. Don’t be like me and procrastinate.


Salt of many flavors

This is about the furthest away from a “food blog” than you can get, so pardon the surprise diversion of topic. (Although years ago I did publish a few restaurant reviews, before the hell spawn Yelp became a big thing.)

Anyway, I have called you here today to recommend Sel Magique. It is the “the worlds finest blend of salt and herbs,” and it’s French. So you know it’s pretentiously expensive.

But it’s also very delicious. Especially with smashed Avocado. This is the sort of seasoning for which kings launched a brigade of ships to retrieve from a distant land, but you can have it delivered to your door via the Amazon. What a time to be alive!

Thanks to friend and Realtor Brian Loomis for pointing my taste buds in this direction.


The sad death of AM radio

In a parallel universe, I’m a disk jockey, or maybe a newsman. Being on the radio was once a career goal for me, and very few of my friends know that I almost earned a degree in broadcasting. Almost, because I was one class short of earning a dual-major in “broadcast communications” in college. (I really should have just taken the extra class and gotten it done, right?)

So, I’m sad that AM radio is waning. (Catch me in the right mood and I can even explain the physics and practical differences between AM and FM — it was part of my course of study.)

Today, even though I have some excellent Tivoli receivers, most of my “radio” comes over the Internet courtesy of Tune-In or another streamer. Other than the now quaint call letters (another mini-lecture that I can deliver on demand), I don’t even know from which band — or in which city — the stations I listen to exist. Hell, now that I think about it, some of them aren’t even licensed and don’t broadcast over the air at all.

But old-fashioned AM radio is still my guilty pleasure when I’m driving. The last car I bought, a few years ago now, didn’t initially have an AM radio, but I was happy to discover that the AM band was an option hidden in the settings of the navigation system. Many manufacturers have dropped it completely, but recently, I read that congress is considering mandating its return.

(That, frankly, is probably motivated by the conservative politicians who know that AM has become a key method by which right-wing con artists spread their propaganda to rural Americans.)

But back to my listening on road trips — if you’re persistent, you can usually find a weak AM station that is broadcasting hyperlocal news. You’ll hear reports of new businesses, quaint weather references, and best of all; radio auctions.

The first time I heard a radio auction was driving across Oklahoma. If you’ve never heard one, the basic format is that people call in and describe household (or farm) items that they have for sale. Let’s say, a leatherette couch. Then, other listeners call in and make offers to buy it. Cash money. The radio host takes their bids on the air and keeps track of the highest one.

During these calls, everyone gives their phone numbers, names, and sometimes addresses over the air. Hell, maybe they all know each other anyway, but as a city guy, this free exchange of personal information always surprises me.

In addition to being quaint, the radio auction is great “Gladys Kravitz” entertainment. Some callers will talk about when and where they bought an item, what they like about it, and why they’re selling it. As in “My last kid moved out so I ain’t got no need for the couch cuz I set in the Lazy Boy. It only has two cigarette burns but you can’t notice them if it’s not sunny out.”

If AM radio goes away, I guess I’ll have to start listening to podcasts. Please, Congress, don’t make me do that.


It’s not easy being easy

I love writing instructions. (Luckily, I’m also pretty good at it.) When I am faced with the task of assembling IKEA products, I always get distracted with professional admiration for their assembly instructions. I’m not kidding, they have nailed the wordless thing well, and they are a shining example of John Carroll’s minimalist approach.

ikea illustration for wordless instructions

Every detail in their illustrations is only there because it is necessary for success. (That’s why people can sometimes struggle with minimalist instructional material, they are accustomed to a high percentage of “blah blah blah” and overlook the important, if not critical, details because they are used to skimming through overwritten instructions.)

But the IKEA instructions wouldn’t work without their partnership with product design. The latest thing I’ve assembled (below) has built-in detents, bumps, and other indicators that not only allow the instructions to work, but they also ensure the product is usable and stable after assembly. What a partnership!

If you’re looking for an iPad stand that is sturdy, and quite inexpensive compared to others, take a look at the Havrehoj. At just $14 it’s a bargain, and when you’re putting it together, please consider savoring how the assembly instructions set you up for success, provided that you pay attention.


Announcing: Escape from Bucktown

My latest project is ESCAPE FROM BUCKTOWN, a self-guided tour and puzzle walk of a dozen neighborhood sites of historical and cultural importance. At each location, answer an optional challenge question, gleaned by in-person observation. The Escape from Bucktown booklet is all you need, and you can get a copy at Quimby's (1854 W North Ave) or, for Kindle (free for Kindle Unlimited members) and Apple Books. $6 for an afternoon of family-friendly outdoor fun. gordon meyer escape from bucktown cover

Book Review: The Way We All Became the Brady Bunch

Published in 2019 on the 50th anniversary of the series, the overall theme of this book is how an unsuccessful TV series (never cracking the top 30 in ranking) went on to become a syndication and cultural juggernaut.

Alice from the cover the book

Like many of my generation, I grew up as a latchkey kid who came home from school and immediately plopped down in front of the television to watch reruns of The Brady Bunch (and Sherwood Schwartz’s other masterpiece, Gilligan’s Island). So the nostalgic appeal of this book was immediate, although ultimately I was slightly disappointed, as I had hoped for more sociological analysis and less Hollywood Reporter or, sometimes, TMZ.

Nonetheless, I enjoyed reading it, and some highlights include:

  • The Brady house is the second most photographed house in America, after the White House.
  • The secret sauce of the show is its simplicity and the mirror it held to the viewer. If you had a similar family, there was a character for you to identify with. If you didn’t have a family like theirs, you wanted one.
  • The earworm of a theme song served an important purpose — it was a cleverly disguised exposition of the premise before every episode. A technique also used by Schwartz for Gilligan’s Island.
  • It was revealed that Mike Brady was a widower, but like the fate of Fluffy the dog, what happened to Carol’s husband is still a mystery.
  • The show was filmed using a single camera to minimize the time that the children needed to be on set, so they could attend school classes between scenes.
  • Lucille Ball plays two major roles in the history of the show. First, the success of her movie Yours, Mine and Ours got the series green-lit by the network. Secondly, her invention of recording shows for later playback allowed the Bradys to be syndicated, which is where it flourished.
  • The show invented the “family vacation” trope with its trip to Hawaii.
  • The pornographic parody of the show is the best-selling adult video series of all time.

On the less interesting side, the author’s insistence on detailing cast lists (including those who didn’t get the roles) for the various spinoffs and reunions didn’t hold my interest. Furthermore, as a pop culture writer, I would expect Kimberly Potts to know more accurate years for defining “Generation X.” (Douglas Coupland, who wrote about his generation using the name, was born in 1961.) Finally, this book incessantly reminds the reader that Robert Reed was difficult to work with. Yeah, we get it; TV’s favorite father was frequently a little bitch.

I found my copy of the book in the closeout section of Unabridged in Boystown. You can get yours from the Amazon, of course. The photo I’ve included here is detail from the excellent jacket design.


Fix for a clanking Kohler toilet

If you have a Kohler toilet in your home, it’s likely that it makes a “clank” sound when you flush it.

According to two professional plumbers and Kohler tech support, this is normal. (Unbelievably.)

Kohler's toilets have a proprietary flush mechanism that uses a cylindrical riser, instead of a lever, to actuate the valve that controls the flow of water.

The clank is caused by the cylinder hitting the underside of the tank cover. (You can confirm this by removing the tank cover and flushing. If the noise is gone, you found the problem.)

The fix is to put a couple of very thin rubber feet under the tank lid to raise it. The tolerances are very tight — it won’t take much to move the lid out of the way. Try something like this.

To be more specific and to help the findability of this tip, the toilet I have is a Kohler San Raphael 1.28 GPF Elongated One-Piece Toilet. Part number 1126374. Model 3722

You’re welcome.