Like most people in the world, I am capable of saying insensitive things. The likelihood of me doing that is inversely proportionate to my comfort level with the group of people I am among. So it is actually a fairly predictable event that tends to manifest itself as an off-the-cuff comment about something that has either annoyed me recently, or reflects a subject I might have been thinking about.
As a general rule, that sort of faux pas takes place in one of two situations – the first and most common being when I am among friends or my peers and we are engaged in the general sort of conversation more commonly known as “shooting the breeze” — and then there is the slightly less common and perhaps more risky occurrence — an observation made among people I don’t know well.
The way I view it, the biggest potential magnifier for this sort of situation is when the comment or observation happens to violate arbitrary lines – or a pet peeve – for one of the members of the group about which I have sparse familiarity.
Take it as a given that the faux pas will be uttered when I have no useful means to either predict and/or retain knowledge about the people I am with, and the often traumatic event(s) that serve as the trigger for the violent reaction about which I have no foreknowledge. And no, I am not making an excuse here, even if it sounds like I am. Truth be told I would be far better off sticking to topics like the weather or how badly the Sox are doing this season.
Basically what I am saying is that this is usually an unhappy accident in which I touch upon a subject that immediately sets off one of the listeners – and generally the subject is simply a random shot into the dark powder magazine of the enemy ship – a shot that despite long odds still results in a spectacular explosion.
Sometimes It Isn’t What It Isn’t?
Recently I managed to trigger one of the latter sort – having made a comment voicing my frustrations over the manner in which Microsoft implemented its updates and patch scheme on its Xbox One games console – and how frustrating I found it.
To be fair here, and in the interest of full disclosure, because I spend a LOT of time familiarizing myself with a wide selection of video games on a daily basis, this is a rather predictable event – but it still tends to irritate.
Sadly as it turns out, the explosion in question would have eventually happened anyway – it wasn’t so much the topic of the observation as it was the opportunity it presented.
In my defense I had no way of knowing that the thing was simmering in the background – HAD been simmering in the background – just waiting for an excuse to blow.
All of her mates knew this; I can say with certainty that they knew it – because later they admitted that they knew it when they took me aside and commented to me privately that it was such a relief that this particular demon was no longer lingering in the background of their collective relations.
They thanked me for triggering it in other words – assuming I did it on purpose – because (and this is the part that actually upsets me) I somehow have managed to earn a reputation as the guy with the short stick who enjoys poking at the irritating spot in other people’s psyche. Seriously?!
So there was that — and it probably didn’t help that the turn of phrase I used actually was as insensitive as the person it set off felt it was.
In any event, I triggered a long simmering visceral reaction from a member of the relatively small participatory audience for this real-world conversation — and was being thanked for it by the other members of this little community — all of whom felt an almost physical relief at not being selected by the fickle finger of fate to be The One. With hindsight being 20/20 I do sort of get it.
I mean there were signs – and anyone who knew that girl well – and who was actually paying attention to her body language during the conversation – would have seen those signs and known that the issue was there, just under the surface, waiting to explode. Anyone that is except me.
The only defense that I have is that, at the time, I wasn’t actually there. No wait – to be clear I was there physically – I just wasn’t there in spirit.
I distinctly remember this – I was thinking about how great it would be to have a cigarette.
No, that’s only half true. What I was thinking – the actions that I was going over in my head in sharp detail – was holding a box-style pack in my right hand – with its distinctive red-and-white pattern, and tapping the top of the pack firmly against my left palm over-and-over-again, so that the loosely packed tobacco grind would become a tightly-packed almost solid cylinder of tobacco grind.
I then saw myself opening the plastic film that encapsulates the package so as to retard the rate at which oxygen can contact the contents and oxidize it – and catching just the barest whiff of that special smell that is released when a fresh package of that specific brand is opened.
Cracking open the top of the package as its seal and the paper hinge resist the action, I saw myself carefully pinching the silver foil of the secondary seal that encapsulates the twenty cigarettes that are organized as two-rows of ten inside the package, in a paper sleeve that is wax-coated on the inside, and foil-coated on the outside, and is found when one pulls back the top.
I then selected one of the two cigarettes that are positioned in the center of the front row, depriving it of the company of its nineteen brothers or sisters, and raising The One to my nose and smelling that oh-so-very-distinctive aroma of a fresh cigarette.
I’ve heard other addicts describe this smell as unlike any other smell in the world – but that is horseshit. It’s exactly like ONE other smell in the world – and that is the aroma you smell when you open a fresh package of raisins and raise it to your nose to smell it.
So when an addict opens a new package of cigarettes – and especially one that has the distinctive red-and-white pattern that this brand sports — let’s call them Morley Brand because hey, that’s good enough for Fox Mulder so it’s good enough for me! – the smell that they are describing is one that is familiar to pretty much any kid from kindergarten to middle school – at least any kid whose parents make the effort to pack them a nutritious lunch that is.
That was what was going through my mind while the rest of the group noticed I had lit the fuse on this girl.
That was what I was seeing, smelling, and experiencing as I verbally picked up the business-end of the fuse and applied the flame from an imaginary green Zippo lighter upon which was painted in black stenciled letters “USE ZIPPO LIGHTER FLUID ONLY. PA. 16701 U.S.A.”
Before this continues: Yes, I know that I would not have used a lighter – I would have used a cap or one of those very cool pull-ring style commercial self-contained initiators – NOT a naked flame, But hey, just whose wool-gathering mind was this? It was mine, that’s whose!
Ignoring for the moment the fact that I quit smoking successfully in 2001, for some strange reason this is how it plays out. My mind creates this strange combination of truth-and-fiction. Live with it.
So yeah, the flame first scorched the yarn coating, which smoked, creating a very distinctive smell as the orange yarn-like casing which, itself, serves as the coating for the 10 gr/ft of PETN that was contained inside and that briefly began to burn.
You can’t confuse this with any other type of fuse mind you – this was very clearly Primacord Number 2. If it were Primaline 4D it would be coated in an orange plastic jacket, not orange yarn, and when the flame touched it, the end would have melted first – not smoked – before the flame ignited its 18 gr/ft of RDX.
Thanks to the Ensign-Bickford Company we have detcord that explodes at a rate of 23,000 feet-per second. Wait, yeah, you probably think that the fuse I lit above actually burns. Nope. That’s why I would not have set it off with a lighter – why I would need to use either a cap, or a commercial initiator.
See I may obtain my imaginary cigarettes from a TV Prop Company, but my imaginary explosives are drawn right out of the imaginary EO Bunker on the training base where some very special people taught us how to blow things up!
The reason why detcord is so reliable — and why you can cut a length of it and know when it will detonate the primary package — is because it is not burning, it’s exploding.
Now for the sake of argument, in this case, in my spiritually mental state, and considering that the imaginary package was not attached to a commercial initiator that, when triggered by the detcord fuse would have had a set delay to it, as I was making figurative love to that cigarette the distance between me and the girl simply must have been approximately 230,000 feet – or 43.5 miles.
Because THAT is how long the detcord would have to have been to obtain the 10-second delay between what I said, and the resulting explosion, since there was no commercial initiator at the other end to serve as a time delay.
So according to her friends and work-mates — thanks to me — the girl obtained the much-needed relief of unloading what was apparently a huge butt-ton of pent-up rage. On Me.
Maybe I didn’t deserve that – but on the other hand I took a hit for our side (men) and you guys owe me. Just saying. Wait, did you notice how I totally waffled above? How I did not come right out and name the thing I did? How I talked about the whole cigarette thing, then the technical details about the imaginary fuse, and all that goes with that?
The reason for all that dissembling is simple really: I was avoiding stating the actual details of the thing I said that triggered all of that.
The reason for my appearing to be diplomatic and discrete in the extreme actually has more to do with my desire to not trigger a chain of similar explosions that I am fairly certain would erupt were I to — in any way — treat the matter either trivially, or without due care and diligence.
Be patient mates! I will get to it – but not before completing this PC influenced dance of care in order to provide myself with a proper reason for bringing the issue up at all.
Knowing that to bury the lead is to lose half of the audience, I am now going to provide you with a brief preview of this so that you can decide whether or not it is worth your time to stick around for the remainder.
Please note that while I am still attempting to be sensitive to the matter, I have taken care in handling it but I am still about to fail miserably in that respect. Cheers!
The Underlying Cause
There are a number of fairly complicated simple issues, but ultimately it is about patching and updating video games on the Xbox One games console — and my frustration at the presumptuous manner in which that subject was handled by the Xbox Team in the first place.
Well, that and how my observations on the matter triggered a deadly attack from a Feminist Activist of the female persuasion from which I still bear scars.
So now you know what the issues were – and what the matter was that I was attempting to be discrete and diplomatic about.
Being forewarned about all of that, if you stick around for what follows I want you to be very clear that you chose to do so – that at least part of the responsibility for any anger you might feel as a result is your shared responsibility, and finally, you cannot say I didn’t disclose that aspect to you.
We’re On the Same Page!
At this point we should be able to discuss this without there being any misunderstandings. So it’s time to get to the source of the explosion – my observation that instantly resulted in an explosive attack.
To do that we need to provide a brief explanation of the events that caused the observation that, in turn, caused the explosion. This is going to begin in a specific way, because hey, it’s a war story! Be patient, you will see why in a bit. So here we go…
No shit, there I was, sitting in front of the TV, my honey by my side; I loaded up Hulu and tried to play this weeks episode of Designated Survivor, but it was not working. We would get like 40 seconds or so and then the little swirly thingy that indicates it is buffering would appear and the show would pause while it buffered.
So I immediately yelled out: “Who is doing bandwidth-intensive computing?! Mom and I are trying to watch TV!”
My son’s voice could be heard yelling “Not I dear Father!” while my daughter just yelled “Not me!”
So I asked if anyone had Skype loaded and got the same reply. I pondered the matter for a moment, then I looked at the display on our Ethernet Switch and I realized that the system pulling the bandwidth was my Xbox One – which was the very same device we were trying to watch Hulu on! So I opened the My Games & Apps to see what was running and discovered that the system was patching a bunch of games – and they were HUGE patches. Like 50+ GB in size.
So I thought to myself, “Self, you have not played World of Tanks in forever. Why is it patching that?!” And how in God’s name is that a 50+ GB patch?!”
It took some digging but what I discovered was that the default settings for the Xbox One is to automatically apply any and all patches and updates for any and all video games and apps you have installed on your console whenever said patches are released.
So there I was with my honey by my side, trying to watch TV and I could not do so. But clever fella that I am I thought – hey, I can pause that patch. And I did. Then I switched back to Hulu, started play and – no… Still buffering.
When I went back to look, Sunset Overdrive was now patching, and it was a 20+ GB size patch! WTH?! I thought – or maybe actually said.
So it turned out that in addition to those games there were others that wanted to patch and update. So what I ended up doing was researching via the web to discover that the Xbox One by default automatically patches, and I learned how to change that setting so that it only patches when you load a game and a patch is waiting – that way you are not at the mercy of the patch release schedules.
So I changed that setting – but discovered that World of Tanks was very persistent and, once it starts to patch it means to finish. So I had no choice but to uninstall that game with it in my mind that if I ever wanted to play it again, I would have to re-install it. Right, so, problem solved, right? Right! No, Wrong!
The issue was addressed at that point, but the problem – Microsoft presuming it was okay to just decide that for me without any consideration for my needs – that was still a problem.
I literally lay awake that night thinking – what if I was one of those unlucky souls who lived on a farm in Elbonia and the only way I could get high-speed Internet access was via satellite?
According to Wikipedia, modern satellite Internet access is Internet access that is provided via a combination of physical hardware at both ends with a geostationary satellite somewhere in the middle that can offer relatively high data speeds. In fact the newer satellites that utilize Ka band achieve downstream data speeds up to 50 Mbps, which is actually faster than a basic Urban DSL connection.
The problem with that sort of connection is that typically satellite Internet is expensive and it is almost always metered – which is to say you purchase your connectivity as a package that is based on the amount of data you are allowed to pull each month.
Comparing the most popular services the reality we get is that consumers who live outside of areas that are services by Cable Modem Internet Access, and communities that do not have access to DSL Broadband Internet, Satellite really is their only option.
You can pretty much do the math here yourself – having your games console automatically incur the massive hits that patches and updates will bring to your Internet Services will generate a potentially nasty surprise at the end of the month – and particularly when you have kids in the house who are big fans of their favorite games!
That being the case, if I failed to turn off automatic updates and patches – or Background Updates as Xbox likes to call it – I might get a bill at the end of the month for $700 in Internet data usage – all because they opted to set patches and updates to be automatic in the background. And unless you go looking for it, you won’t even know it is happening until you get that massive data bill! Man that is so wrong.
The Awful Event
So that was going through my head when, a few days later, I am sitting with people I sort of know for a coffee break (I was drinking tea, but still) when in the conversation one of my friends mentioned that I looked preoccupied.
Well, I was. Still.
So when they asked me what was bothering me, I told them about the automatic background patching and updates setting, and how Microsoft just assumed that was okay — even though when you BUY something from Microsoft in their online store, they show you a pop-up that warns you that downloads may cost you EXTRA.
See that warning is to notify you that you just bought a movie and it is NOT a small package and when you download it, IF you have a limit to monthly downloads, well then the download could end up costing you more money.
I am reasonably certain that they put that there for a reason.
At some point some parents somewhere got a massive data bill for their metered connection and, discovering that Jr. had bought a digital copy of GTA V and THAT was why they exceeded their bandwidth amount, ended up blaming Microsoft.
I am speculating that after the settlement, their lawyers told them it would be a really good idea to add a disclaimer pop-up to purchases online. So they did. Or something like that.
“It’s hard to believe that they would do that – configure the game console so that it has the potential to hurt you financially?” one of my coffee buddies observed.
“You know, considering that they have a disclaimer on their store, you would think that they would know better?” observed another.
In my own defense, please understand, when I said what I am about to say, I was thinking of my daughter.
“It was probably a woman who chose to go with the automatically downloaded updates and patches without actually asking anyone,” I said.
That’s when a woman at the next table leaned in and said “Excuse me?”
Okay here is the thing – I’ve been married now for 25-years. I have two kids, a house, two cars, a tortoise, three cats, two dogs, and a rat named biscuit. My life has been more or less run by other people now for nearly 20 years. So you should forgive me that my Trap Sensor and Self-Preservation Meter is a little rusty. Because it is. Never saw it coming in other words.
The table got quiet. Spooky quiet. And then – channeling Diana Edwards – I replied.
“Why, did you fart?”
Big mistake. BIG mistake.
“Why was it probably a woman?” she asked (demanded).
“Because in my experience the rules for women are different than the rules for men?” I replied.
“Oh? And how is that?” she asked, all sweetness.
One of my buddies kicked me under the table – but in my defense I should point out that the leg he kicked me in was the one that is 100% paralyzed so I never felt it.
A few months ago, when my daughter ended up repeating a mistake, and asking forgiveness AGAIN for something that she had done twice before now, I deviated from the response she had anticipated.
See she forgot that she’d already been busted for that on two occasions previously, so I was not in the same malleable state of mind that I might otherwise have been, which was why I trotted out Male Wisdom Rule 471: “Once is happenstance. Twice is coincidence. Three times, it’s enemy action.”
If you are a woman you may be unaware of that one – but based on my experience with women, probably not. That particular rule is a rare one in that it was actually adopted from an antagonist rather than protagonist, coming to us from the mad genius Auric Goldfinger, in Ian Flemings Goldfinger (1959).
Come to think on it, a large number of man rules seem to come from Ian Fleming. I should look into that.
Chagrined at having committed the same offense for a third time, and because my daughter and I are actually friends, she confided in me that she truly was sorry, but she was following the Girl Guide to Handling Men, and that was Rule 9: “It’s better to ask forgiveness than to ask permission.”
When my daughter told me that I experienced an event that normally you only see in movies and on TV – but I swear to God that I was suddenly in a whirlwind of sound and colors as a thousand different events replayed in my brain, and I saw woman after woman telling me that they were sorry or they thought since it was such an obvious thing nobody would object – and a hundred other excuses – and I realized in an absolute epiphany that my daughter had just violated the Girl Code and revealed a truth to me that she should never have revealed.
There is a theory among men that women have a code they operate under that has safety features built into it. One of those features was that, if men ever discovered the details of one of the codes, they had a mechanism in place to alter its parameters so that the men could not thereafter benefit from having cracked that code.
Basically they change that rule. Then men try to do something cute based on their understanding of the rule that one of them had cracked, only to discover that no, that was no longer the operating principle for that particular rule and now they have gone and violated it and bought themselves a world of hurt.
My daughter had violated the Girl Code by revealing one of their foundation codes. One that, let’s be honest here, they can’t actually alter or change. I was very close but not quite there to finally understanding women.
So naturally I had to prove that I am an idiot and demonstrate that I cannot be trusted with a secret.
“A pretty clever woman once told me that it is far better to ask forgiveness than it is to ask permission – if you ask permission they can say no – when you ask for forgiveness if they get mad you can always start crying, then they forgive you!” I explained.
Okay you know in books, a writer will describe how the person grew red-faced by degrees, starting at their hairline, with a sort of establishing shade of red flowing like liquid down their face until it is fully covered and then how that establishing shade of red grows darker, and how that is a pretty good indicator that they are about to blow their top in anger? Yeah? No, didn’t happen in this case.
In this case instead of turning red, the face of my opponent suddenly became a very unhealthy white. Picture in your mind the technician that is normally in charge of facial colors and expressions having chucked a sickie that day, and the temp that was called in to fill in, rather than hitting the button marked “anger, red-face, progressive, warning” instead hit the one labeled “Nuclear Option.”
So what happened was the system then opened the drain valve for face color projection, and it all drained in one-go. Quickly. So what was left might have been a warning sign for anyone else, but not for me, because why? Because I can be thick that way, that’s why.
She sputtered. Like, literally. Sputtered. And while my self-preservation instincts may have been dulled by 25 years of complacency they had not been completely destroyed.
I realize now that, of any reaction I could have chosen, that was absolutely and without question the wrong one.
I also understand now that the temp who hit the wrong button notwithstanding, it was that chuckle that actually detonated the nuclear bomb. Let me explain.
At the center of each atom is a “nucleus” — the plural of which is called “nuclei” — where neutrons and protons are bound in close proximity together. Most nuclei are stable, which is to say that they can walk around, shop for a dress, have tea, and otherwise interact with other nuclei all around them and remain comparatively static and unchanging.
The thing is, during the physical change effect we call fission, nuclei of certain heavy atoms will split into smaller and lighter particles called nuclei, and in the process they may release what we think of as excess energy as a side-effect of this process. Sometimes this happens spontaneously,
A very basic definition of a nuclear weapon might be an explosive device whose destructive potential derives from the release of energy that accompanies the splitting or combining of atomic nuclei. This process can happen during a very wide and diverse set of circumstances, but generally speaking we’ve found that the proper conditions for such an event will predictably occur during the follicular phase, as a byproduct of the formation of endometrium, which is somewhat predictable in that the process is thought to begin independently starting between 384 and 288 hours prior to menses.
With those conditions noted, in the case of the trigger, a neutron is shot at the nucleus and is absorbed, causing instability and fission. In some elements — such as certain isotopes of uranium and plutonium — the fission process also releases excess neutrons, which can trigger a chain reaction if they’re absorbed by nearby atoms.
When you magnify atoms to the extent that you can actually see them, and observe their interaction during fission, you will see that at the center of every atom is a nucleus. When you break that nucleus apart — or as is the case here, combine two nuclei together — the results are the release of a large amount of energy – seemingly more energy than those two nuclei have any right to possess and certainly an amount that far exceeds any reasonable expectations.
Nuclear weapons use that energy to create an explosion. As it turns out, so do women.
(Open Google.com, and search the phrase: “What is a shaggy dog story?”)