Keep It Simple, Stupid

66EB136D-D757-4C4B-9144-CEC0002C9741I figure that most people who respond to today’s one-word prompt, “rube,” will handle it in one of two ways. They will either write about rube as a country bumpkin — you know, someone who just fell off of the turnip truck — or they’ll write about Rube Goldberg.

I’m going the Rube Goldberg route.

I once worked with a guy who was quite brilliant. However, as smart as he was, he tended to overly complicate things. He never seemed to be able to take the most direct path toward the solution to any problem. Of course, he earned the nickname, “Rube.” But it wasn’t because he was someone fresh off the farm. It was an homage to Rube Goldberg.

So who is Rube Goldberg? He was a Pulitzer Prize winning American cartoonist, sculptor, author, engineer, and inventor. He died in 1970, but he is best remembered for a series of popular cartoons depicting complicated gadgets that perform simple tasks in indirect, convoluted ways. These creations became known as a “Rube Goldberg machines.”

So what is a Rube Goldberg machine? It’s a deliberately complex contraption in which a series of devices that perform simple tasks are linked together to produce a domino effect in which activating one device triggers the next device in the sequence.

If you ever hear anyone say, “that’s quite a Rube Goldberg thing you’ve got going there,” you’re probably violating the KISS principle. KISS is, of course, an acronym for “keep it simple, stupid.”

Hallmark Holiday

Today is Valentine’s Day and aren’t our little, romantic hearts all aflutter?

Not mine.

I am not a fan of Valentine’s Day. Call me unromantic, jaded, or cynical, but to me, Valentine’s Day is a totally bogus “holiday.” That’s why a column by syndicated columnist Tom Purcell that I read a few years back still resonates with me.

Purcell wrote that on Valentine’s Day, women “dream of romance, surprise, and having sweet nothings whispered into their ears — and if such things happen, they hope their husbands don’t find out!”

But for men, Purcell said, “Valentine’s Day is a contrived undertaking that makes mandatory the things — flowers, dining out, expensive jewelry — that should be reserved for the times when we do something really stupid and are desperate to make up.” I hear you, Mr. Purcell!

I started to wonder what’s really behind this so-called holiday, so I Googled “Valentine’s Day.” It turns out that Valentine’s Day was originally observed to honor early Christian martyrs. The Catholic Church recognizes at least three different saints named Valentine, all of whom were martyred. Interestingly, no romantic elements are present in the original, early medieval records of these martyrs.

Some historians believe that Valentine’s Day is celebrated in the middle of February to commemorate the anniversary of Saint Valentine’s death. Hmm. Did all three saints named Valentine die in the middle of February? Did it happen in Chicago and was Al Capone invovled?

But others claim that the Christian church may have decided to place the Saint Valentine’s feast in the middle of February in an effort to “Christianize” the pagan celebration of Lupercalia, which was celebrated around the middle of February.

Lupercalia was a festival in honor of Lupa, the she-wolf who suckled the infant orphans, Romulus and Remus, the founders of Rome. Lupercalia translates to “Wolf Festival.” During the festival, Roman priests would sacrifice a goat for fertility and a dog for purification. They would then cut the goat’s hide into strips, dip them into the sacrificial blood, and take to the streets where they would gently slap women with the goat hide strips.

Oh wow, it doesn’t get any more romantic than that, does it?

Send a Hallmark Card DayHaving educated myself on its origin stories, I am more convinced than ever that Valentine’s Day is the epitome of the expression “Hallmark holiday,” a phrase used to describe a holiday that exists solely for commercial purposes.

Valentine’s Day as a romantic holiday was actually concocted during an intense, closed-door brainstorming session at the corporate headquarters of Hallmark Cards, Inc. The Hallmark executives were trying to figure out how to sell more cards during the lull between the Christmas and Easter holidays.

That, my friends, is the true story about how the Valentine’s Day holiday in America came into being. (And, as Mark Twain said, “Never let the truth get in the way of a good story.”)

Anyway, I hope you all have a happy Valentine’s Day. Unfortunately, mine probably won’t be very happy. When my wife reads this post, there is no doubt that, as Tom Purcell warned, I will have done something really stupid and will be desperate to make up.

Damn you Hallmark Cards, Inc. and your stupid Hallmark holiday.

I Need A New Mnemonic

6B42606A-5F18-4756-9521-24EC0BEF75AFThe first time I heard the word “mnemonic” was in music class back in junior high school. The teacher told us that she was going to give us a mnemonic that would allow us to remember the notes on the music scale. To this day, I remember that mnemonic, but I’ve yet to learn how to read music.

I think we could use a few new mnemonics. How about one to help me remember than the word “mnemonic,” starts with a silent m?

Or how about one to remind me to never write a post late at night on my iPhone while in bed and schedule that post to be published in the wee hours of the morning without having thoroughly proofed it?

Late last night I wrote a post for today’s “Song Lyric Sunday” prompt from Helen Vahdati. But it was still Saturday at around 11 pm when I finished drafting it, and I didn’t want it to be published until Sunday morning. Because, you know, the prompt isn’t “Song Lyric Late Saturday Night.”

So I scheduled the post, which was about the Steely Dan song, “Rikki Don’t Lose That Number,” to be published at 3 am. When I woke up at 6:30 this morning, I checked to see if it had posted successfully. And there it was for all the world to see.

Except the title of the post was “Don’t Lise That Number.” Sheesh. I hate when that happens.

So I need a new mnemonic. Maybe PYPITTBHP, which stands for “Proofread Your Post, Including The Title, Before Hitting Publish.” That should be an easy one to remember.


9D27FA06-2E48-4567-A547-717E8E6A09A0You know what a malaprop is, right? It’s the mistaken use of a word in place of a similar-sounding one, often with unintentionally amusing effect, as in, for example, “dance a flamingo ” [instead of flamenco].

Yesterday I wrote a post about frequently misused words or phrases. Today I’d like to relate two instances of mispronounced or misused words (i.e, malaprops) that I found uniquely entertaining.

The first one happened about fifteen years ago, but it is still fresh in my mind and it makes me laugh every time I recall it.

The executive vice president of a business unit at the company I worked for at the time was standing in front of a large room full of people. It was one of those corporate “rah-rah” meetings and he was presenting recognition awards for outstanding contributions by employees.

He clearly was reading, possibly for the first time, from a narrative that someone had prepared for him. As he read the accomplishments of a particular individual, he was attempting to articulate how this award winner was the personification of a diligent employee.

He said, “Joe Schmo (I can’t remember the guy’s name) is the epitome of efficiency.” If he had used the word “personification,” he’d have been fine. But when he read the word “epitome,” a synonym for “personification,” he totally mangled its pronunciation.

No doubt you know that the proper pronunciation of the word “epitome” is “ih-pit-uh-mee.” It’s not “epi-tome.” But “epi-tome” is the way this senior executive pronounced it.

The closest way to get across in print the way he said that word, since you can’t hear what he said, is to use another word that, when pronounced out loud, would approximate the way he pronounced “epitome.” Substitute “hippodrome” or “Thunderdome” as a way to pronounce epitome. You get it, right?

The other time heard someone I work with come up with some strange word usage took place during a meeting with a prospective client.

The speaker was expressing his dismay at some issue that had cropped up during the implementation process. That’s when he said, “I can’t phantom [rather than fathom] how something like this could have happened.” Later on, the same guy during the same meeting said that he wasn’t going to dilute [rather than “delude”] himself into thinking that the issue had been satisfactorily addressed.

I once mispronounced the word “quintessential” in front of a group of work associates. The word that came out of my mouth was “quizentential.”

Yikes! I knew I was mispronouncing it as soon as the word came out of my mouth, but by then it was too late. Once heard, it simply can’t be unheard.