Nicer in Iowa

Big city people won’t ever believe you when you say that small-town folk are nicer, but it’s true. It isn’t that they aren’t worldly enough to be savvy, it’s that they spend a bit more time looking at people and getting to know them than most of the world does.

When I lived in Southeast Iowa, they had a great blues bar downtown. It was operated by a guy who loved to play blues and wanted to bring more traveling musicians into the area, but for some reason he never got around to getting a liquor license. And, since it was right across the street from the police station, they weren’t about to fudge it.

So they opened the bar as a “Bring Your Own Beer” joint.

I’m not kidding. Despite the cover charge at the door (to pay for the bands), whenever you planned to spend a night at this bar, you had to first walk a few blocks over to the nearest liquor store, stock up, and walk in with your own beverages for the night.beer-bucket

Picture this layout: The stage was beside the front door, dance floor just beyond that, and if you pushed your way in far enough you could get to the tables. Along both side walls were hugh ice troughs for you to store your beer, wine coolers, etc.

And it was always a great time. The bands would blow you away. If it got too crowded or too hot, we’d just go dance in the street. If you drank more than you anticipated, you’d usually find someone wiling to do a beer run about once an hour.

Yes, you’d see a total stranger announcing he was about to leave the bar, and you’d hand him your cash, confident that he’d return in a quarter hour with your liquor!

One Friday night, a guy I worked with who had just moved to town from New Jersey said he’d come down after work. I ran into him near midnight and he said it was the greatest bar he’d ever been to. He couldn’t wait to tell all his friends back home about this place! For only $5 cover, you could drink whatever you wanted all night!

That’s when I realized that the “Bring Your Own Beer” concept had never been posted anywhere. We all just knew how the place worked, and word-of-mouth was enough to keep it going. This kid, however, thought it was a normal bar that would provide alcohol and he’d been walking along the ice bins sampling whatever he wanted!

The craziest part of the story, though, is this: when the college boys whose beer he’d stolen found out about him, he didn’t get his butt kicked! We all had a good chuckle about the city boy and decided he’d make it up to them by doing the next beer run.

They did, wisely, send a couple big farm boys along with him to make sure he returned with their change and liquor. Like I said, Iowans are friendly, not stupid.

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Dot the i’s with circles

My sister had a book on handwriting analysis that I stumbled across in 4th grade. Being a gullible kid, I believed every word — that my aggressively-crossed t’s indicated that I was a braggart, while the backward slant of my l’s said I was introverted and shy.

I’m not denying that I was all those things at once, but what a thing to put on paper for other people to see!

Handwriting and I were not good companions, anyway. I’d just come off of two laborious years of barely passing my handwriting classes. Remember those? They’d force kids to go from printing to cursive writing and then complain that it was sloppy. Have you ever in your life encountered cursive writing that was easier to read than printed letters? Isn’t the entire point of it to speed you up, at the loss of decipherability?

So, just in case I became famous, I decided not to leave behind any “aha” clues for future generations like the case studies of Napoleon that this book started with.

My logic went like this – if these experts could tell my personality by keying in on my sloppy lettering, why not reverse that? I picked out several traits that seemed cool to have and taught myself to write like that.

So my letters started slanting forward to show people I was a positive thinker. My initial caps loomed larger, showing I was bold, adventurous. And my hearts earned cute little circles for the dots, the sign of an artistic mind.

Did it work? Honestly, I have no idea. My handwriting is so terrible people constantly ask whether I was born left-handed and was forced to change (I wasn’t). But I’ll tell you this: if future generations try to figure me out, they’re in for some confusing twists!

Spam and Gouda, part 2

MPgameBoxMonty Python doesn’t get much credit for their contribution to technology, but geeks have always loved the Flying Circus. Beyond their help in christening e-mail spam, they (or, rather, the game developers who adored them) also took the first steps to anti-pirating software. Today when you buy a new game (assuming you’re still purchasing DVDs to install with), you’ll get a 16+ character alpha-numeric code that you have to type in as proof of purchase. But back in the DOS days, when every dang byte was precious, simple password security hadn’t yet arrived. You bought a game on a floppy disk, installed it on your computer, then gave the disk to your friends. You wouldn’t need it again unless you filled up your 8-Mb hard drive and had to uninstall. One of the pioneers of stopping this lazy piracy was Python. The MS-DOS version of “Monty Python’s Flying Circus” opened to a … um, a cheese quiz. It looked like this: MPcheese Yes, that terribly-rendered 2-d drawing of a block of cheese was their line of defense. One of 20 random cheeses would appear and you had to type the name correctly to play the game. The only way you could identify was to compare the block to the official Cheese Chart that came with the game. I got it wrong at least half the time, anyway, because the line drawings were so similar. It was effective, however, in that it was almost enough to stop us. We weren’t about to shlep all the way downtown to the library to spend 50 cents on the only copying machine in town just to get duplicates of the chart! Believe it or not, a buddy of mine who was eager to have me play his copy of the game spent an entire afternoon copying the Cheese Chart for me, down to getting the right number of holes in the Swiss. After all that, it’s really a shame that the game play was so terrible. And the graphics were awful even for the time period. I’m sure my buddy spent more time making the chart than I ever did playing it. This is about as far as I ever got: MPgame

Spam and Gouda, part 1

I often hear people ask why unwanted e-mail is called spam. Nobody ever gives the right answer to this. How do I know? Because I was there, kiddies. I remember.

Pull up a chair and I’ll tell you a story …
a story of a lamer time, when many of us had heard of this internet doohickey, but had no idea what to do with it.

In the early days, most of us had only one way to access the ‘nets, and that was America Online. Remember getting CDs to install this in almost every computer magazine? Well, their marketing worked – we all went through their interface to get online. But then what?

There were websites, of course, in the early 90s, but they weren’t much to shout about and so hard to find. (I clearly recall one of my friends saying, “H-t-t-p, then w-w-w, a period, Pepsi, another period, and C-o-m. Who do they think is going to remember all those letters?”) So, sooner or later, most of us ended up in the chatrooms.

I submit to you that, no matter what era, chatrooms are lame. Back then, of course, they didn’t even separate us into categories or interests. It was just just Chatroom #1, Chatroom #2, etc. And you couldn’t directly message people. Anything you typed showed up as just another line in the mish-mosh of data lines. Imagine holding a conversation at a ballgame if every damn person had a microphone tied to the loudspeakers.
I think my record was 15 minutes before I gave up.There were others who got bored just as quickly, but they made a sport of it. Geez- I’m such a geek I just called “tag” a sport! What they were doing was to jump from room to room in the chats. They’d start at chatroom #1 and start singing their song lyrics (in all caps), then switch to the next, do the same, etc. until they’d hit every chatroom. Along the way, they’d pick up joiners and eventually everyone would be in chatroom #1 singing the same song.Maybe I should have described it as a conga line.To the kids involved, it was a fun waste of time. To everyone else who was trying to follow an already jumbled conversation through this barrage of lyrics, it was the most annoying thing ever invented!Have you guessed the official song of the chatroom conga?”SPAM, SPAM, SPAM, SPAM, LOVELY SPAM!”