Kindling: Converting a Word Doc to a Kindle Book

Occasionally, I have serious thoughts. These times usually pass quickly and are soon forgotten, and they're certainly never posted here on my humor blog.

But in this case, today, the serious thoughts were around the comedy book I just published, so it didn't seem unwarranted to post the thoughts here. More importantly, the thoughts were around the incredibly tedious and frustrating process of converting a book written in Microsoft Word to the format that Kindle accepts. I've gone through this pile o' fun three times now: once for the first book, and now twice for the second book (once when it was first published, and again when I realized I really needed to fix some of numerous, tiny errors in the first edition). I'm getting sick of re-learning all of these steps each time, so I thought I'd write them down this time. And what better place for me to find them again when I do this next time than on my blog?

If anyone else finds their way here in search of the same information, or otherwise finds this a fascinating read worthy of posting on this gripping humor blog, so much the better.


  • You wrote a book. I can't help you with this one. I can barely help myself with. So let's just assume that you got this far already. If not, you might want to stop reading right now and go write that book. Come back when you're done.
  • You wrote the book in Microsoft Word. This is not a requirement for books, or writing, or anything. In fact, I regret using Word for many reasons, and spent precious hours fighting with it over the course of trying to ready my book for publication (especially the $%*%&?!$!!! non-deterministic Picture placement functionality. How hard can it be, really?) But it's a decent way to do a fair job of formatting something reasonably complex, and many people know how to use it, so it's a reasonably place to start.
    By the way, I used Word 2008 on a Mac for my book. I'm not sure how much of my experience is specific to that version (although I believe the Table of Contents issue described below may be specific to the Mac).
    Note that many of the steps below apply regardless of whether you use Word, but some of the steps were specific to my situation of using Word and some of the corner cases I ran into were because of the specific (creaky) process used to convert from Word into Kindle-friendly HTML. So even if you didn't use Word, maybe the following points can help you ... but you could also just go to the KDP site and start there. For example, this page provides a starting point with various formatting tips for Mac users.
  • You feel the need to make the book available on Kindle. It's a fantastic book. The world is dying to read it and it will surely be voted Best Book Ever, except for this one fatal flaw: it's not available on Kindle. Of course, you started writing because you love books: you love the way they feel, you love the turn of the pages, and you love the fact that they stare down at you from your shelves, showing you in glorious color what you've already read and what you will read soon.
    But the rest of the world doesn't share your love of books: they take up too much space, and they just aren't as trendy-cool as content that they can access on their many electronic gadgets.
    So you want to provide them a way to read the book on Kindle.
  • You're using the Amazon's Kindle Direct Publishing service. I have no idea if there's a better service. This is the one that CreateSpace sends you to after publishing through them, and it's the one I used. I recommend it because I don't know what else to recommend. And what the heck; it's free (like CreateSpace, they take their cut off of the copies sold, not off of the creation/uploading process).
  • You have a half day to kill. You're already so incredibly sick of your book that you'd just as soon burn it as read it, but you fortunately have nothing better to do on a Saturday morning than review it one more time as you walk through the various steps to convert it to Kindle format. This shows not only the strength and fortitude which made you an author, but also the lack of social life which also makes you a good author.


This is not a comprehensive soup-to-nuts description of what to do to post the book to Kindle. For that, please refer to the Kindle Direct Publishing site (or whatever other service you want to use for this). In fact, the KDP site covers some of the items below, and in much more detail; I've honed my list to the real pain points that I ran into, whether covered there or not.
Instead, this article is about just getting the damn Word doc converted into HTML that looks reasonable on Kindle. Period.

Converting a Word document to a Kindle book

Okay, here goes:
  1. Overview: "All" you're doing is converting the Word file (.doc or .docx) to HTML. This is actually easy ... but if you look at the results of the conversion, you'll probably see, as I did, that many things get messed up in this conversion. The steps below are meant to take care of these issues so that the resulting book looks good on Kindle.
  2. Start from the final version of the Word doc used to create your hardcopy version. For me, this was the final version of the Word file that I then converted to PDF, which I then uploaded to createspace (my publisher). You'll want to start with this copy because it would be really handy if the versions you're working with don't get out of sync. Also, it's common sense - you want to make sure you get all of those last-minute fixes you applied to your published version before you start on the electronic one.
    By the way, in the process of converting to Kindle format, you may want to make changes that should be applied to the original version - go ahead and do this to avoid the versions getting out of sync. For example, you may have a future edition, and you want to make sure that all of those fixes you made to get the Kindle version working don't get clobbered by starting from an older version of the hardcopy version.
  3. Save As... to a new version of the document, like MyFantasticBook-KDP.doc. You're going to do things to your book that will be specific to the electronic version. These will be horrible, terrible things, things you wouldn't tell your children about, things you wouldn't want your co-workers to know about, and definitely things that you don't want to pollute the original version of the book. For example, you're going to move images around that you worked so hard on to get Word to inline them next to the text in question; you're just going to put them on their own lines, after the referencing text. Don't destroy your artwork of the hardcopy by doing this in the original document.
  4. Image Insertion: For some reason, KDP suggests you "Insert" all images instead of copy/pasting them. When I have noticed problems in moving pictures around and getting them to stay where I put them (between the version I see in Word and the version I see in the resulting HTML), I've deleted the picture and done the insert operation (Insert -> Picture -> From File...), and seemed to have better luck with that.
  5. Image Placement: Occasionally, I've had inlined images end up (in the resulting HTML and/or Kindle document) in a reasonable place, next to the text where I inlined them. Usually, this is when I placed the image on the left of the text. But more often, I've had the image move around unpredictably between the Word and Kindle versions, moving above the original placement, below it, to the right, and to the left. I've even had it hop a number of chapters and resize itself along the way, like it was a high school kid trying to crash a local frat party. There is something completely f'd up happening with Picture placement in Word, and it's best to just avoid the issues entirely: put each image on a line of its own near the text that references it (I put my images after the text usually, hoping that the reader hasn't yet forgotten what I wrote before they see what I drew).
  6. Table of Contents: Word has this great ability to create a custom Table of Contents (TOC) based on styles that you specify and use for section headings, chapters, whatever. It's quirky, but once I figured out how to use it, it was very powerful.
    And then I converted to Kindle.
    I believe there's a facility on the Windows version of Word that allows you to carry this TOC over to the Kindle version. But on the Mac, you have to start over. Completely. Like this:
    1. Delete the TOC. (Remember that part where I said you want a new version of the document for Kindle? This is one of the reasons).
    2. Go to all of the items in your book that you want in the TOC and create a Bookmark for them (Insert -> Bookmark...). Name them appropriately. Note: I dumbed-down my TOC for the Kindle version and just created headings for the sections. No way was I going to go to the trouble of bookmarking all of my tiny little chapters. Huh-uh.
    3. Go to where you want the TOC and create Hyperlinks (Insert -> Hyperlink...) for each of these items (go to the Document tab in the dialog box, select the Anchor field and find the bookmark you want to link. Name it appropriately in the Display field and click the OK button and voilà your TOC entry is there for that item). Keep going until everything you want in the TOC is there. Note that you can format all of these handy hyperlinks however you want (you may want different formatting for chapter headings than, say, the 96-point bold all-caps Chancery font used for the ABOUT THE AUTHOR link, because that's how important you are).
  7. Create extra bookmarks for the Start and TOC locations just for Kindle. These are used by the Kindle readers and won't show up in your TOC section. Go to your TOC and insert a bookmark named "TOC" (not with quotes, those were just to call out the word in my text here). Now go to wherever you want the user to pop into the story when they start, or when they navigate to the Beginning of the book. Insert a bookmark named "Start" (no quotes. See above.)
  8. Use Page Break. Freaking Word, I swear. In fact, I swear all the time. At Word. One of the reasons is its insistence on using Column Break instead of Page Break when I specifically used the keyboard shortcut that it says is for Page Break. (Note: you can see what kind of breaks you have by going into Outline mode).
    Anyway, use Page Break whenever you want to start at the top of a new page. This may be between sections or chapters or whatever. I found that Section Break and Column Break worked similarly in the hardcopy version of the Word doc, but were completely wrong in the Kindle version. Fortunately, it was easy to use Find/Replace to replace the mistaken Column Break things with Page Breaks. And where I did have a Section Break instead of a Page Break, I deleted it and inserted a Page Break instead (Insert -> Break -> Page Break). I had some issues around Page Breaks inserting an extra line afterwards that was tricky to delete, but some fiddling around will fix that when it occurs.
  9. Watch for custom-formatted fonts/characters. I had one single character that I custom-formatted several times in my book to get it to look right. Basically, I wanted a huge W, italic and bold, at the beginning of some of my sections of text. I got it to look right (without too much padding around it) in the hardcopy version by doing a Format -> Font on the character, going to the Character Spacing tab of that dialog, choosing Spacing: Condensed and then specifying 8 pts for it to do the right thing. Looked great. Until I converted to Kindle.
    Kindle displayed this same text by placing that character several characters over to the right, over the following letters in that word. Icky. Totally icky.
    The fix was to simply remove that formatting before converting. This made it look bad in Word itself, but the converted HTML, and resulting Kindle, text looked great.
  10. Save as HTML: Now you've done all of this (and probably many more things besides) and you're onto the final step (oh, so you hope). Save as HTML by doing Save -> Save As Web Page....
    This will create a .htm version of your document, along with a folder that is similarly-named which contains all of the images used in the doc. You're almost done, except for a couple more steps...
  11. Review: Open up the resulting HTML page in a browser (double-click on the file in Finder) and see how it looks. It won't be paginated, but you can at least see how things like the images and text look. This preview may also show you things like messed-up HTML which I found in my conversion. Just look for anything that looks screwy and deal with it.
    In fact, this step may be useful several times between the steps above - you can always save as HTML and see how things are going, just to check in.
  12. Image sizes: I found that converting to HTML converted several of my images from their original, large PNG files to much smaller GIF files. But I also found that it left the originals in the folder with the other images, giving me about 6.5 MB more image bulk in my upload than I really needed (remember: time is money. And so is upload size. The KDP pricing is based partly on download size, so getting rid of huge images can save some of the overhead cost). I simply deleted the images that I knew I didn't need anymore (because there were smaller versions also saved) and everything was fine.
    However: You should always check the resulting HTML to make sure that you haven't deleted an image that it was actually using. Refresh the HTML page in the browser after these changes and make sure you don't have any missing-images problems.
  13. Upload to KDP: Now you're almost there (ha!). Compress your htm file and images folder into one single zip file (I did this by selecting both the file and the folder in Finder and compressing them together, which created a file called Archive.zip). Upload this to KDP (use their UI for this - there's a step where they tell you to browse to this file and upload it). This will make available both online and offline preview versions. You really need to preview it. Really.
  14. Preview: Preview your resulting Kindle file. Trust me, the HTML-in-browser version does not show all of the problems that can result from the double-conversion step from Word, and you really need to see what your book looks like on actual Kindle devices (or even these emulated offline/online devices that KDP offers).
  15. Finalize: Once you're satisfied with your eBook, you're ready to go - follow the rest of the steps in KDP and publish the damn thing.
Now you're ready for the final two steps. These are by far the most critical in the entire process, so pay attention:
  1. Sell millions of copies.
  2. Use your unbelievable profits to come back here and buy my latest comedy book. Or my other comedy book. In Kindle format, even, because I'd hate to have wasted all of the steps above and that Saturday morning I spent doing this instead of wondering what to do with my Saturday morning if nobody actually buys the Kindle version.
I hope this was useful to you. If not, I have no idea why you've read this far.


Standup: Parenting

I realized that I never posted this older standup session. This is from a set at the San Jose Improv in April, 2012. It's an expanded, more, er, refined version of the short set I did at the Purple Onion.

It's about parenting. Or, rather, about sucking at parenting. The audio's not great. Oh, and it's not completely kid-friendly. A bit like me, I guess.


Butter Up!

It's the time of year for holiday treats; here are some simple recipes.



Christmas is Coming!

Christmas is Coming!
I have to be good!
I must be the best kid
In my neighborhood.

Santa will know if
I’m not at the top, and
He gives the best gifts to
The cream of the crop.

I tried to be nice
All the year long.
But all that I did
Just turned out wrong.

I helped an old lady
Crossing the street
Till she fell through the manhole
Under her feet.

I lit up our house,
‘Twas the brightest in town.
But the fires I lit just
Burned the place down.

I donated things and
Gave to the poor,
But I guess they don’t like
My compost anymore.

I tried to recycle
All kinds of things
But my sister complained
She still needed those rings.

I treated my parents with
Kindness and pleasance,
Except for the times I
Was in their presence.

I kept my room spotless
One time for a week,
After my dead gerbil
Started to reek.

I help with the dishes when
Mother is cooking,
And I only break stuff when
She isn’t looking.

But no matter what,
I just don’t end up nice,
So Santa, I really could
Use some advice.

How can I do this?
What have I missed?
Help me to get off
Your long naughty list.

Should I write you more letters?
Can I bribe you at all?
Do you have a cell number
That I can call?

If I kidnapped your reindeer,
Would that do the trick?
Or what if I threatened
You, Mr. Saint Nick?

I’ll do anything,
Anything; is that clear?
Whatever will get me
A present this year.


Depend on the Kindleness of Strangers

The Kindle version of When I am King... II: More Reasons to Put Me in Charge is now available on Amazon (the hardcopy version was already available).

In an odd twist, the Kindle version is apparently free ($0.00) for Amazon Prime members through the Kindle lending library. I don't quite get how this works, but apparently you can read it free through the library. Or you can buy it for $3.49. I, er, uh... maybe they make it up through volume?

Either way, you can get it for your Kindle now.

This eBook version is quite distinct from the hardcopy in several respects:
  • Unique table of contents, specifically tuned for this electronic edition (because Kindle couldn't cope with the hardcopy's table of contents. Apparently links to page numbers don't translate well. That was fun to fix)
  • Unique placement of graphics (because the conversion process completely messed with the nicely inlined pictures in the original Word version and everything had to be painfully tweaked, one by one. Holy hell, graphics are tough to deal with when going electronic. Next time, I think I'll stick with words.)
  • Fixes for minor glitches found during the publishing process (No matter how many times you edit your own stuff, you will *always* find more errors, especially after it's actually published. Grumble.)
Oh, and it's way cheaper, as eBooks should be, coming in at about half the price of the hardcopy.

Obligatory link to the eBook version. And, for completeness, a link to the original hardcopy WAIKII-classic version. You know, the book. The actual, printed thing. Made from trees, has pages.



When I am King... II: The Book

It's out. It's here. It's the one you've been waiting for, even if you didn't know it.

It's the second, it's the sequel, it's the one that the first was published in anticipation of, even if it didn't know it.

It's published, it's on sale an Amazon, it's the reason that Amazon exists, even if it doesn't know it.

When I am King... II, the book. Available now from Amazon.

Get it for a gift. Get it for yourself. Get it for a coffee table coaster.

Buy one for your dog.
Buy one for your cat.
Buy a couple dozen for
A front door mat.

This new book is remarkably similar to the first When I am King... book, except for the part where it's all new content. Okay, okay, it contains King essays originally published on my blog, but none of them are in the first book. Because that'd be cheating, and dumb. It'd be like those bands that release Yet Another Greatest Hits album with most of the songs from the previous Greatest Hits on it again. Also, this second volume is bigger. And longer. And bigger. And I spent some quality time refining this one, adding a bit of content here and there, updating the material, and generally making the book look (if I do say so myself) pretty good.

The book will also be available in a Kindle version, just as soon as I can push that through the process. Expect another self-serving blog post about that soon.

In the meantime, go get the hardcopy. Before Amazon runs out of books and the Amazon Rainforest runs out of trees.


My jeans are much tighter than this time last year.
Maybe I’ve been drinking far too much beer.
And too much dessert didn’t help, it seems clear:
I’m think that I’m getting fat.

The problem is that I just like food too much.
I can’t stand just looking; I have to then touch.
Then touch leads to eating, my emotional crutch.
I feel really bad about that.

My shirts don’t even button all the way down
They stop about half-way, right around
My stomach, expanding, without any bound.
Like it’s trying to break itself free.

I can’t see my feet past the rise in my middle.
The view past my chins is also quite little
And the fat in my cheeks blocks the view from my spittle.
I really can’t see much of me.

I tried eating pebbles and twigs and dirt
But rocks made me nauseous, and sticks made me hurt.
I lived like a hermit, in a cave and a yurt,
But nothing helped me a bit.

I tried throwing up everything that I ate
(So desperate was I to lose all this weight)
But getting rotunder just must be my fate
Though I wish my clothes would just fit.

I tried drinking less than a keg every day
And cases of wine are not good, so they say,
I’d like to keep guzzling scotch, if I may,
But it all settles down on my gut.

Then birthdays happen, with piles of cake,
And holiday feasts drag me into their wake,
And I end up stuffing all I can take,
Till I can’t even get off my butt.

So nothing is helping to knock down the pounds,
Not the diets, or puking, or teetotalling, sounds
Like I’d better get used to my big, doughy mounds;
I just can’t seem to beat it.

So bring on the cake and the ice cream and frosting,
And give me the steak and the gravy. It’s costing
My health and it’s emotionally exhausting,
But if you can’t fight it, eat it.


Holiday Shopping News

Consumer Behavior on Traditionally Biggest Holiday Shopping Weekend Mystifies Analysts

11/28/2012 6:45 am

According to a consumer survey* taken early this morning, zero people in the U.S. shopped in retail stores last Friday, making it the weakest Black Friday showing since hoop-and-stick games were the only toys being sold. Said one would-be shopper, "The mall? On Friday after Thanksgiving? Are you nuts? No, I'll just hang at home. I've got some stuff to do, anyway. Mail to go through, stuff like that."

There was an uptick on Saturday as 311,591,197 people drove to the drug store and bought deodorant, then bought shoes in a local sporting goods store. As one consumer put it, "My shoes were really beat up. The soles were flapping. I sounded like a cheap clown act walking down the hallway."

Sunday saw a rash of online purchasing, as 311,591,197 people bought a book through online retailer Amazon.com. "It was an eBook," said one respondent. "Some sci-fi thing. I dunno, looked interesting."

Cyber Monday also saw a surge of online activity as 311,591,197 people browsed shopping sites, although a total of zero (0) items were purchased. As one person put it, "I looked around on some sites, but didn't see anything interesting. Same old stuff, you know? Besides, I had work to do."

If this weekend is any indication of future holiday behavior, it could be a rough season for retailers, both online and brick-and-mortar. Meanwhile, retailers are expected to stock up in deodorant, shoes, and eBooks, in the hope that these recent consumer trends continue to provide a bright spot in these dark days.

Following is a graphical representation of the survey data. Note, in particular, the huge uptick in shoes because, according to the survey data, people who buy one shoe usually buy another shoe as well.

* Survey sample size of one, extrapolated to current population of United States.


Thanksgiving is Over

Thanksgiving is over.
I feel so bloated.
I think that my stomach and
Liver exploded.

Everything was going
Along just fine.
We’d finished the beer and
Started on wine.

I had mashed potatoes. The
Stuffing was incredible.
I also had lots of all
Else that was edible.

The meat was divine,
The relish was sweet.
Even the vegetables
Provided a treat.

(Spinach casserole, a dish
Handed down from my mother,
Is just spinach held in a
Suspension of butter.)

There was bread, there was wine,
And side dishes galore;
So many that we had
No place to store

Them, and so we kept eating
Because it was there.
We packed it all in,
To the max we could bear.

No sound at the table but
Mass mastication,
With occasional slurps from
Gravy lubrication.

The carcass finally showed
Signs of demise,
And I’d stopped at my seventh
Helping (which was wise).

Uncle Ted had passed out
With his head in his plate,
Which helped his poor chair, by
Distributing his weight.

We’d all settled down,
Alive, but inert...
That’s when the cooks
Came in with dessert.

There was pie of all kinds,
And tons of whipped cream,
An infinite spread of
Dessert, so it seemed.

So we ate again,
I hereby admit.
We crammed it all down,
Every last bit.

Every pie, all the cream;
We sucked it all in.
Auntie Jen was even seen
Licking a tin.

And then it was over,
And we were all groaning,
All you could hear in the house
Was us moaning.

Joe went to sleep,
Right there on the floor,
Followed by Betty,
And two or three more.

Somebody slept out
On the back deck,
Which broke with his weight,
Nearly breaking his neck.

The rest of us managed
To struggle to bed,
Wishing we’d eaten a
Bit less instead.

Thanksgiving is over,
We’re all still in pain.
But there are leftovers;
Let’s do it again!


When I am King: Thanksgiving

When I am King...

There will be more honest holidays.

Thanksgiving is, to me, the holiday that is most quintessentially American. It is also the holiday that is truest to the original spirit of the event.

The honesty of the holiday is seen by examining other major holidays:

Christmas is, at least since the Christians took it over in hostile takeover bid, a time to celebrate the birth of Christ. So we kill each other in mobs at the store and spend ourselves deeply into debt to buy items we don’t need and don’t have room for, wrap them up in single-use paper that goes immediately thereafter into the landfill, put them under a fake (or recently killed) pine tree, and spend the holiday exchanging gifts. And we eat too much. I'm not seeing the connection here.

New Years is a day so confusing to most of us (celebrating the meta idea of the incrementing of the least significant digit of the number representing the year), that we end up binge drinking because we can’t figure out what else to do. And we eat too much.

Easter, another pagan celebration morphed into a Christian holiday, is about the re-birth of Christ. Because I guess the huge celebration at Christmas wasn’t enough for the guy? I’m not positive, but I think Christ is mostly famous for being the only person in history to get two birthday celebrations during the year. Maybe it’s because his main birthday is on Christmas, so his parents felt sorry for him. To celebrate this event, we find candy and hard-boiled eggs that were hidden by a mythical rabbit. And we eat too much.

Resurrection, rabbits, candy, eggs: I don’t get it. Maybe I’m not religious enough. I think the holiday marketing people were sniffing glue when they came up with this one.

The Fourth of July is also a very American holiday, celebrating our independence from that government that taxed us so that we could tax ourselves instead. So we celebrate it with fireworks. And we eat and drink too much at picnics. The connection between independence and blowing stuff up at picnics seems a tad tenuous. Maybe it’s because the original celebrations of people standing around waiting to sign a document weren’t quite riveting enough.

Halloween is one that I think nobody understands. There’s something about scary things, which devolves into going to strangers’ houses begging for candy. After which we eat too much of it. Again, the original idea somehow got lost in the current celebration.
Thanksgiving, on the other hand, is true to its roots, and 100% American. The original event was the celebratory meal between the Pilgrims and the Native Americans, a relaxing time of togetherness and good cheer, right before the invaders spent the next 300 years taking forcing them off their land. The current holiday celebration is similarly about gathering with friends and family and eating. The purpose and the celebration are exactly the same thing, minus the bit about taking their land (because that part’s done).

Meanwhile, the holiday is all-American. Not only does it commemorate the event several hundred years ago that happened on American soil, but, more importantly, we get to eat and drink too much, which is just about as American as you can get.

When I am King, more holidays will be true to their roots. But rather than create a bunch of celebrations that tie directly into events in tedious ways (do you really want to spend Flag Day waving a flag around?), we will create new holidays that are based around food and drink. For example, we could create a day in honor of the hot dog eating contest winner, on which we all gorge ourselves on hot dogs all day. Another holiday might celebrate the establishment of college fraternities, which everyone would remember (and then forget) by drinking too much.

We won’t stop until the holiday calendar is full, and the people are too.

(Aside: Here's a Thanksgiving poem for you: http://chetchat.blogspot.com/2012/11/thanksgiving-is-here-ode-to-gluttony.html)

Thanksgiving is Here! (An Ode to Gluttony)

Thanksgiving is here!
The turkey is ready.
The relish is relished,
The stuffing is bready.

The vegetables sit there,
Untouched in their bowl,
Potatoes, mashed up, are
Right next to the rolls.

The gravy boat, filled with
Spectacular fat,
Is not very big, but
There’s more in the vat.

There’s salad here somewhere
As a healthy treat,
But everyone skips it and
Goes for the meat.

We’ll eat till our shirts
And our dresses are puffed,
We’ll eat several servings
After we’re stuffed.

We’ll cram every food item
In this abode
Into our face till we’re
Set to explode.

Thanksgiving is here!
We need to be fed!
Now let’s keep on gorging
Ourselves till we’re dead.


When I am King: Chet Lag

When I am King...

There will be no more jet lag.

Where is it written that we have to suffer jet lag on the return trip, when we never successfully adjusted to the current time on the other end of the trip?

Here's how my international trips usually go:

First, I always take a red-eye, because, well, it’s just so damn fun missing a night’s sleep. I am never able to sleep on this long flight because, for some odd reason, I find it impossible to sleep in a room with 300 strangers. It's like the world's biggest youth hostel, except with a less comfortable bed and people that are much older and crankier. I do attempt sleep, which usually includes having several glasses of whatever booze they're serving. This tends to make me tired, but never enough to actually sleep. Instead, it just serves to make me both drunk and hungover in time for breakfast.

I land in the morning and spend the day wandering around my destination city in a daze, wanting to nap but knowing that it'll just screw with my internal clock even more. So I stumble around through the day, trying not to get run over or mugged, until I can finally topple into bed, at which point I actually get a solid night's sleep, wake up feeling good, and assume that I must be adjusted to the new time zone.

What an idiot. Every time I travel I have this same experience, and every time I fall for it.

The next night, I once again fall into bed completely exhausted at some reasonably early time and proceed to lie there for something like 47 hours with nary a wink of sleep until one minute before my alarm goes off and it's time to start the day.

This routine continues off and on for the next few nights, where I get roughly two hours of sleep per night. Finally, by the end of a week, I manage to get one normal night of sleep and assume, again, that I have finally adjusted.

What an idiot.

The night before I return, my body goes into travel mode and I'm back to two hours of sleep that night.

I then board a plane that flies back home, during which I once again fail to get any sleep, although I do consume enough alcohol after the airplane breakfast to be drunk by lunchtime and hungover by the time we land.

I stumble home in a haze, buzzing with fatigue and glad to be back in the time zone that my body refused to leave, and eventually fall into bed that night and catch a decent night's sleep, at which point I declare myself done with jet lag.

What an idiot.

The second night home, I crumble into bed in the evening only to have my eyes pop open four hours later, ready to go because my body has decided that it really does want to be in that other time zone, after all.

So I spend the next week at home re-adjusting to the time zone that I never seem to have left until I got home. Meanwhile, I have more waking time than I usually do, since I'm up for most of every night and unable to take naps during the day. This could be a very productive time for me, except for the part where my brains feel like they've just finished an encounter with zombies. So it's all I can do to remember my password and log onto my computer to listlessly browse the web and social network sites looking for mind-numbing content to get me through each day.

When I am King, there will be no more jet lag because the entire world will share a single time zone. No longer will we have to adjust to different times because we will all share the same clock. If you fly for twelve hours, it'll be twelve hours later when you arrive, which seems pretty reasonable to me.

Of course, this could cause problems with the mismatch between daylight and time. We’re still working on that part. I believe it’s solvable, but my mind is so fuzzed by jetlag that I can’t really think through it right now.


Geek Poetry: Mathematickle

An ode to math. Because why not?


I think mathematics
Has pluses and minuses,
Just like our faces have
Nostrils and Sinuses.

A sign of the times,
Results in great products,
And not just for rhymes.

Over and under,
By and by with precision,
The one that remains
Is known as division.

Adding it up
I’m quite overcome,
Accruing has much greater
Impact than sum.

A take-away from subtraction,
Which has no equivalents,
Is all that is left;
It has made all the difference.

Multiplies, adds,
Subtracts and divisors;
Math’s operands are life’s
Great equalizers.


When I am King: Stop Stop Signs

When I am King...

There will be no more four-way stops.

You know the scenario: you pull up to the intersection, see there’s a stop sign, and come to a stop. You see cars coming from the other directions, so you wait for them to pass. But they slow down and stop instead. At this point, you realize that it’s a four-way stop sign, and that you were there before them, so it must be your turn. But by the time you start to pull out, these other cars have decided that you took too long, so they’ve started to pull out. You stop to avoid hitting them, by which time they’ve seen you start to pull out, so they stop. You wave them to go ahead, they wave at you, then you both start again, and both stop again. Meanwhile, more cars have come from all directions, including cars behind you, and they’re all waiting for you to get your little start/stop shuffle over with so that they can begin their own turn.

Four-way stops suck. They’re dependent on drivers that: (a) are polite and wait in turn for others to go and (b) remember when everyone got there. The first of these is obviously ridiculous. The second is patently impossible. I have a hard enough time remember when I arrived; now I’m supposed to figure out when everyone else got there as well?

If it were only four directions, it might be possible to do this. But usually such an intersection has as many as two to three lanes in each direction. the one nearest my house has four lanes going north, and four going south and two lanes each going east/west. That’s a total of twelve cars at any one time that I have to keep track of. More to the point, there are eleven other drivers that I have to trust also knowing the order in which everyone got there. Then you throw a pedestrian into the mix sauntering along the crosswalk, and all hell breaks loose and it’s as much as you can do not to run them over in spite.

We’ve got enough to deal with in our driving lives: high gas prices, road rage to keep in check, traffic to contend with, and other drivers to unfairly cut off so that we can arrive at work one car length earlier. Do we really need to add these multi-way stop hassles to it?

The response from some people when seeing this mess is that these intersections should be replaced by roundabouts. I’ve seen these work in England with great effectiveness, as cars go speeding into and out of the circle by achieving terminal velocity in the gravitational field of the roundabout. It looks like great fun and seems effective at keeping the traffic moving. The Arc de Triomphe roundabout in Paris also seems to work, although it seems more like a method to cut down on the driving population. But if you’ve ever seen one of these attempted in the U.S., you’ll know that it’s never going to work here. No matter what signage is there, nobody can ever figure out when they’re supposed to go, so either they wait forever until they think the coast is clear, or they just decide they have the right of way and go bombing into the intersection regardless of who was there already. I saw one of these installed in South Carolina a couple of years ago and some of the first cars to reach it are still waiting to enter the circle.

When I am King, there will be a technological solution to the problem. Just as traffic lights allow everyone to proceed safely even as they make people feel better about cheating the system by speeding through the yelllow-red, the new four-way stops will be both effective and and fair. In a world where tiny phones can correctly interpret sentences to return search results, it surely lies within our grasp to have the intersections themselves detect who got there first. Signals at the intersection will indicate which car should go first at any given time. If, as in a traditional 4-way stop, other cars try to race into the intersection first, a trap door will open up under those vehicles, removing the cars and their drivers from the intersection and from future intersection disagreements.

Clearly, this problem has to stop.


Sunday Comics: The Buck Stops Here

Seemed like an appropriate sentiment for the season. That is, the political season. And hunting season.


Things I Believe: Thoughts for Friday

Better late than never, said the late man's happy widow.

Another day, another dollar. I really need a raise.

Actions speak louder than words, especially words in sign language.

Do not curse the darkness. Light a candle and curse the hot wax.


When I am King: Fightin' Words

When I am King...

Candidates will just fight it out.

Presidential debates are an odd and obsolete phenomenon of our culture. Theoretically, we expect candidates to get up on stage and battle each other with their wits, knowledge, and ability to post a zinger, so that we can decide who has a better plan, and who would make a better leader, and who has a nicer suit.

But in reality, it’s just cheap voyeurism. The two remaining undecided voters in the country may want to tune in to see if they learn something new, but if they haven’t made up their mind by now, what are the chances that a debate is really going to help sort it out for them? That’s like drinking a second case of beer just to see if it also makes you throw up.

No, the real reason we do this is to see a fight. This is a culture that thrives on watching damage. We are a people that puts ourselves and our loved ones in danger by slowing down in the fast lane just to get a better glimpse of a bloody accident on the other side of the highway. We watch car races just to see the carnage (I honestly can’t imagine any other reason to watch people drive in circles for hours and hours). We watch daytime talk shows just to see if the jilted lover’s going to throw a chair at her brother-husband. We have an entire professional class whose job it is to fight for us in the courtroom while we sit on the sidelines and watch them duke it out with the other side’s highly-paid pinch-hitter.

Our culture was founded on fighting. In the beginning, Eve made Adam eat more fiber, bringing down the wrath of God upon them (Fight! Fight! Fight!) and causing the Original Argument which must have lasted through their entire, bickering marriage. Countries were formed by wars, kingdoms by murder, and governments by the side with the scariest army.

But we’ve evolved since those early days; now we have television and the internet that allows us to simply watch fights instead of having to participate in them. We’ve matured from a childish society that fights into a refined society that watches fights. Because, when it comes down to it, fighting is tiring, messy, and painful; it turns out to be much more enjoyable to watch others pound each other stupid while we have more beer and popcorn.

In political debates (a subject which I’m struggling to get back to, having gotten all excited about the topic of fighting), we each have the person we’re rooting for, and we want to see them slug it out and come out on top. We watch the debate through squinting eyes, afraid for the moments when the other person lands choice blows, and then diving onto the news sites before, during, and after to see whether we won the fight.

But this is all so indirect - why have the candidates dress up in suits and use words, prepared statements, and reams of facts and what we really want is blood on the mat?

When I am King, debates will be determined the way politics was intended; with fists, knees, and underhanded tactics. Let’s see some action, some pain, and some physical glory. Sure, winning such a contest has nothing to do with whether the champion would be a good leader for our nation. But since when have politicians ever been qualified for that role?

Besides, when I am King, they won’t be vying for the top spot, as that position will be taken. By me. So bring on the fisticuffs. I’ll sell beer and popcorn.


Things I Believe: Thoughts for Friday

Don't throw the baby out with the bathwater. That water's still useful.

Faint heart never won fair lady. Money did.

First impressions are the most lasting, especially if you leave a really big dent.

Fish and guests smell after three days. So cook your guests soon.


Ode to Beer

I suppose last week's video poem didn't quite get all the rhyming out of my system. Maybe it just made things worse.

Here's a little ditty about drinking. I like the rhyme scheme from Poe's The Raven, I thought I'd see how well it worked when applied to the subject of beer.

“I seem to have misplaced my beer
It isn’t there, it isn’t here.
It isn’t anywhere, I fear,
I think I’ll get one more.

Now my new beer’s missing too,
Even though it was brand new,
But I know just what I should do;
There’s more in by the door.

My next beer disappeared just now.
It escaped, I know not how.
It must have walked away somehow,
I’ll refill, as before.

Then I lost, not two, or three,
But four beers when I went to pee,
I wish they would come back to me,
But meanwhile I’ll go pour.

Then I lost another five,
These beers are seemingly alive,
They leave before they quite arrive,
Making me beer poor.

I went again to pour a drink,
From the keg next to the sink,
But now it’s empty too, I think,
Which really makes me sore.

I see my empty glasses there,
Not full of beer, but full of air,
Piled underneath my chair,
Standing on the floor.

I don’t know where the liquid went,
But it’s all gone, in any event,
The winter of my beer discontent,
I’ll have one, nevermore.

It puts me in a nasty funk,
For I was hoping to get drunk,”
And then he fell down with a thunk,
And so began to snore.

Twitter Grammar: Who Cares?

Here's a screenshot from my Twitter homepage this morning. Maybe the writers at Twitter should read that tweet. Or maybe they purposely sacrifice grammar for character count. What's an 'm' between friends?


The Facebook Effect

Here's a poem to celebrate that moment in time when your mental image of someone from thirty years ago meets an online image of them now.

I call it the FaceBook Effect, the turning point when you click on a name in a Facebook "Friend" request, remembering them quite clearly in the mothball crates of your fossilized memory, and then encountering the reality of them now. And then realizing that they're doing the same with you.

Or for the video impaired:

The Facebook Effect

I knew a girl in high school,
Beautiful, beyond my reach.
And when she was in class with me,
My mind you could not teach.

I stared at her, until she looked,
And then I glanced away,
For I was so embarrassed that
My gaze just could not stay.

We went through school for four long years,
Together, yet apart.
I never got the nerve to tell her
What was in my heart.

I never spoke of love, or lust,
Even even of a crush.
I only had to think of her,
And then I’d start to blush.

So I just kept it to myself,
And let her go her way,
Thinking that perhaps we’d meet
Some far and distant day.

And then I’d tell her what I thought,
And hope she felt the same,
Or just be happy if she could
Remember my first name.

I’d tell her that I waited for her
Lo, these many years,
How fate had brought her back to me...
And then I’d dry her tears.

She would, of course, remember me,
And say she’d felt as much,
And then we’d stop our talking and
Our lips would gently touch.

And so I was amazed to see,
Within my FaceBook site,
A Friend request from this old flame,
Just the other night.

I paused a moment, wondering,
If it was really her,
Or maybe she just shared the name,
Coincidentally conferred.

And so I clicked upon her name,
Which took me to her wall,
So that I could see her pics
And from them make a call.

She lived these years, lingering,
Upon my mind, inert,
Pretty, fresh, and full of life,
And terminally pert.

And then I saw the photos which
Were taken of her since.
This was the very person,
Though the pictures made me wince.

Where I recalled some dimples,
And a quiet, pretty smile,
I now saw teeth that had been stained,
By tobacco, wine, and bile.

And in my mental image,
I could still recall her grin,
But in the photos on the page,
I saw an extra chin.

(Or two). In fact, the only feature that
Reminded me of her,
Were the sparkling eyes, which now peeked
Out from eyebrow fur.

The wrinkles were to be expected
(All of us have those),
But the lesions, sores, and pustules
Covered her from head to toes.

At least she still had lots of hair
(I’d loved her golden tresses),
But most of it sprang from her nose
And hung down to her dresses.

Yes, this was the same old girl,
The one from my old dreams,
But time had had his way with her,
Instead of me, it seems.

And so I went back to my page,
And made my Friend election;
I pulled the menu down and clicked
“Not Now” for my selection.


When I am King: The Rating Game

When I am King...

Movie ratings will be clearer.

Warning: This blog has been rated by the Malicious Blogger Association of America (MBAA):

I've always found movie ratings so helpful. They take two hours of complex content and boil it down into a single letter that tells me exactly how appropriate it is for my children. Were the rating any more involved, or any closer linked to the actual material in the movie, then I would have to read and think about it to decide what to do. But the fact that it's such a simplistic measure of the maturity level needed to enjoy the film means that I can quickly ignore it.

Rating are not about providing real information. They're about making us feel just slightly guiltier about things we're going to do anyway.

I was particularly pleased with the rating of The King's Speech, which I saw when it came out in 2010. It was a serious film, well executed, that provided that perfect mix of drama, history, education, and entertainment. It was a film that I enjoyed for myself, and enjoyed taking the kids to as a cultural and historical lesson. Or at least I would have, except that the film was rated R.

I had to watch the film again to determine why it got this adult rating, checking the several obvious categories:
  • Nudity: This was Englad in the early 20th century. All of the characters were at least 5 layers of clothing away from naked.
  • Violence: True, the climactic speech was on the eve of a horrific war. But they only showed the speech itself, not the fighting. No blood, no shooting, no punches. Not even a hearty backslap.
  • Swearing: Oooooh, that's right. He drops the F-bomb a handful of times.
So it turns out that I'm advised to not take my kids to this excellent movie because they might hear a bad word. My kids hear worse language in my house when I stub my toe; what possible reason would I have for sheltering them from it in the movie theater? More significantly, how can the rating agency possibly put that kind of language on the same footing as, say, the gruesome death scenes or graphic sex acts in other R films?

When I am King, ratings will be more meaningful. Instead of obscure references like "inappropriate language" and "adult situations", the ratings will have concrete information about why the film got this rating, to help the responsible parent make the right decision. Or at least to make the wrong decision for the right reasons.

Here are some example ratings for existing films:

Space Buddies: A film that I was subjected to because of my youngest kid's abject love for anything related to dogs:

Star Trek: The Motion Picture: This film was pretty darn exciting when it came out, because it was the first Star Trek thing to come out since the original "5 year mission" was killed in its third season. But it only got a G rating, which is pretty a-typical for action movies. In hindsight, a better rating description would give some helpful information to the unwary moviegoer:

I enjoyed watching Airplane! with the kids last year. The hairstyles are totally dated, but the comedy still works. But some parents might want to know why Parental Guidance is avised:

The Hunger Games is an interesting series of books, now movies, delving into the loving and under-served genre of child genocide. Here is a more helpful rating:

We watched The Blues Brothers again recently, and were curious about the rating. Blues songs can be racy, but not quite enough to get an R rating, or so we thought. Maybe a more descriptive rating would have helped:

And finally, here's a more accurate rating for The King's Speech:

Maybe when I am King, I'll even make a speech about it. And I'll throw in a few bad words, just to get a juicy rating.


Things I Believe: Thoughts for Friday

History repeats itself itself.

Ignorance is Bliss. Complete stupidity is Bliss's sister, Irene.
They're both very nice and have lovely hair.

Marriages are made in heaven.
Divorces are down the hall to the left, then take the elevator all the way down.

No man can serve two masters.
Serve one of them for dinner tonight, and leave the other in the fridge until supper tomorrow.


If Girlfriends Were Like Phone Companies

Going out with Jenny has been fine, but you really need to move on. You thought you were compatible during that early, blissful phase of the relationship when you passed out drunk on her floor every night, but since sobering up you realized that she's, well, dull. And mean. And dating at least five other guys that you know about.

So it's finally time to call her and end it.
them: [Ring... ring … ring … Click!]

you: Hi, Jenny, it’s me. I -

them: I apologize for the delay. A representative will be here momentarily to assist you. In the meantime, I will hum for you.

you: … Um, Jenny?

them: [Hum, hum, hummmmm...]
Hello, and thank you for calling Jenny today!

you: Hi, can you tell Jenny I want to break up -

them: Por españoles, por favor presione el número dos

you: Uh...

them: For assistance in English, please press or say “one”

you: one?

them: Are you calling to ask about Jenny’s shoe size?

you: nooooo...

them: Okay. What can I help you with today? Say a phrase, such as “Is Jenny free for a date this Friday?” or “What is Jenny’s favorite restaurant?”

you: I want to break up with Jenny

them: What was that? Did you say “Jenny’s Spring Break photos?”

you: NO

them: Let’s try that again. Try a phrase such as, “Send Jenny a dozen roses” or “Apologize for not noticing Jenny’s new hair style”

you: BREAK. UP.

them: Sorry, I’m still not getting it. Try spelling it out on the keypad. For example, the letter A is entered by hitting the 2 key, followed by the 1 key. The letter B is entered by hitting the 2 key twice. The letter Q is entered by hitting 7, then 4, then 9 three times in a row. Try it now.

you: [pause], 2 [pause] 2. [Spend several minutes entering the rest of the numbers for ‘break up’]

them: Did you enter the word "bickerbot"?

you: NO

them: It's still not making sense to me. Are you using a rotary dial? If yes, say or spin the dial from “one” now.

you: No

them: great. Now, what did you call about today?


them: I’m not sure I understood that. Was that “Argyle sweater size”?

you: no

them: I'll get a customer service representative for you. One moment please...
[more humming ... Click!]

Hello kind sir, my name is ‘Gary’ and I have the honor of being your most excellent customer service representative today. How are you feeling this fine evening, sir?

you: um, fine

them: That is wonderful to hear, sir. And what may I help you with this evening?

you: I want to break up with Jenny.

them: Excellent. I will try my best to help you with that request. Please hold for a moment while I bring up your account information.

them: [more humming...]
Here it is sir. I see that you have been going out with Jenny for just over 3 years

you: I guess so

them: And now you wish to end the relationship, is that right sir?

you: Yes

them: Ah, that’s too bad sir. May I ask what the reason is?

you: Um, it’s just not working out?

them: I’m sorry to hear that sir. I will put “customer's inadequacy” in the form.

you: what?

them: are you certain that we cannot convince you otherwise?

you: no, I just want to end it.

them: I see sir. But first let me tell you about some specials that might help you change your mind.

you: I -

them: First, we have a two-for-one special this month only. It appears that Jenny’s roommate Barbara is also available, and you may date her at no extra cost for the first six months.

you: No, I -

them: Also, I see you are a customer who has been in good standing with Jenny for a long time. We have a ClientCare(TM) program available especially for you. In this program, you will accumulate Reward Points toward future transgressions, or you can spend them at birthdays, Valentines day, or other holidays during which you would normally spend too much money keeping Jenny happy. No longer, sir - just log on and spend some of your accumulated Reward Points to keep the relationship in good standing.

you: Really, I just -

them: Also, I see that Jenny has recently purchased a large, desirable present for you. You have a birthday coming up, I presume?

you: Yeah, but -

them: Just for calling us today, we will double that present and get you two of whatever it is.

you: No really, I -

them: Finally, I have my manager’s approval to add one more item to this growing and amazing list.

you: Er...

them: If you agree to stay with Jenny for just one more month, with no further obligation, we will not forward your complaint to her and she will not have her brother Ted come over and beat the living crap out of you. Guaranteed! So what about it sir? Wouldn’t you like to stay with this relationship a little longer and avoid joining the ranks of the sad, single men? I see that the area you live in has a much higher proportion of single men than women, and that you are not, if I may be so presumptuous, of an age to get into another relationship very easily, especially given your weight, IQ, and income level. Statistically speaking, it is more likely that you will kill yourself in a depressed, drug-induced haze than that you will find yourself in a happy relationship anytime in the next five years. So why not give Jenny another try?

you: No. I’m out. That’s it. It’s over. Kaput. Dead. I want it done. NOW.

them: I see sir. Well, I will see what I can do to help. First, I need to schedule a time for Jenny to come pick up her equipment at your house, for which there will be a $295.00 early-termination charge, as per your service contract.

you: What?!

them: I see we have an opening next week, from Monday-Wednesday, between the hours of 6am and midnight.

you: Uh, do you have any smaller window?

them: No, I’m sorry sir. We do have a two-day slot next year in July if you’d prefer.

you: No, next week is great. Come get her stuff.

them: Great sir. I will schedule that. Oh, I see here that we cannot process break-up transactions at this time. Please call back during normal business hours. It has been a pleasure to help you sir. Have a good evening.