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.


macOS tip: You can pause printer jobs

As I’ve mentioned before, my printer is not located in my office, which is inconvenient when I’m doing a lot of printing, such as producing my series of Bizarre Fact Files.

An additional time-saving technique that I use is to pause the printer, run several jobs, then go put the appropriate paper tray in place before resuming the jobs. Not having to go back and forth between my computer and printer saves me about 70 stair steps. Here’s how it works:

Before printing, open System Preferences > Printer & Scanners, then double-click the printer in the Printers list. In the window that appears, click the Pause button. Important: Do not close the window where the Pause button appears.

screen shot of printer window

Next, print the file as you normally would. When the warning message about the printer being paused appears, click “Add to Printer.” Repeat for each document that you want to add to the printer’s queue.

screen shot of paused printer window

To take this even further, I created a Keyboard Maestro macro, triggered via Alfred Remote, to unpause the queue when I’m on the other floor. You’d need both of these pieces of software — which I recommend — to do this, so I won’t dwell on the details. But, briefly, you need to trigger the macro via Keyboard Maestro’s web server. The macro source is available at this gist.


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.


Book Review: The Experience Machine

This 2023 book by Andy Clark is subtitled “How Our Minds Predict and Shape Reality,” and it was this subtitle that drew me to the book. Partly because I’m a follower of guerrilla ontologist Robert Anton Wilson, who has written extensively on the subject of reality manipulation.

When you pick up this book from the shelf it’s a bit intimidating — but that’s mostly due to its academic nature and a substantial proportion of the back pages being filled with references, footnotes, and appendices. But don’t be frightened, it’s approachable, readable, and definitely insightful.

The odd title of the book refers to the central premise that the mind doesn’t observe reality then draw conclusions; it creates what we perceive based on experience-derived expectations. Simplified to a 1970s bumper sticker, “You are what you think.” But this isn’t armchair conjecture, it’s backed by cognitive science.

I finished the book with dozens of notes, here are a few of them:

  • What we perceive today is deeply rooted in what we experienced yesterday, and all the days before that. Every aspect of our experience comes to us filtered by the brain’s best expectations rooted in our past histories.
  • We see the world by predicting the world (which is what conjurers exploit).
  • There was a fascinating 2001 study of hearing music (and sometimes, indistinct voices) within white noise. This is the brain predicting ahead to make sense of the sound.
  • The prediction effect is why you can’t tickle yourself. Tickling relies on the element of surprise. It’s also why drinking water when you’re thirsty is immediately satisfying, even though clearly the water hasn’t been absorbed by the body yet.
  • Schizophrenia might be the brain’s predictive system gone haywire.
  • The placebo effect is well documented, but there’s also a “nocebo” effect in which the patient knows they are receiving an inert substance, but it still works just as well.

There was one part of the book that I found somewhat jarring. Clark seems to be the rare scientist who is willing to challenge orthodoxy, which makes his derisive dismissal of all things “supernatural” such a surprise. It’s an odd, unsubstantiated knee-jerk section that otherwise undermines his cultivated image of being open-minded. Particularly so, since it follows lengthy, positive discussions of psychedelics, yoga, A.I. sentience, and other fringe topics.

I would never have predicted (ahem) that I’d read two books on psychology this year, and enjoy them. But here we are. If you’d like to explore this fascinating topic — which the author deftly links to “A.I.” — then I foresee you enjoying this book too.

I bought my copy at Barbara’s Bookstore, but you can find it at the Amazon too.


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