Push the Panic Button!

Many, many years ago I had a summer job in the research and development arm of IBM.  It may seem very unlikely today but back then IBM was known solely as an all-male organization where you wore only white shirts, black ties, wing-tip shoes and all-blue or all-black suits.  Those of us in R & D were considered wildly outré because we were allowed to wear patterned ties, loafers and sport jackets.   I know this is hard to absorb so please take a moment, sit quietly, take deep breaths and react calmly.

I was joined by a motley crew consisting of a chemist, an electrical engineer and two lab-technicians who rebelled, in a modest way, to the straight-jacketed marine-sergeant like rules that the company imposed on us.   For example, the chemist’s office was in a noisy corridor and mine was in a quiet cul-de-sac.  Since my job was temporary, he asked if he could switch his office with mine.  I did not care but the Oberfuhrer office manager objected vehemently.  My office was too small, according to the official IBM manual on office sizes, for the chemist’s pay grade.  The chemist had no objection and I had no objection but this carried little weight with the office manager so we stayed put.  It made the chemist furious and it was then that we found a way to relieve the oddities and irregularities of our work environment:

The Panic Button!

Remember that this was way before personal computers, Photoshop, cell phone cameras or other conveniences.  The lab technicians went to their workshop and created a panic button.  They made the top of a semitransparent plastic with instructions.  It did, in fact look remarkably like today’s Office Depot Easy Button except that it was white instead of red:


We added a switch, a light, scribed the appropriate symbol on the underside of the plastic, mounted it on the nearest wall, stood back and waited for the first case of panic relief.  We didn’t have to wait long.

Every week we crammed into our boss’ office to review the work we were doing.  Our boss – known affectionately as “Shaky” because he daily smoked about a million cigarettes and drank about a million cups of coffee with the resulting shakes – would review our fruitless efforts to create a new substance that would improve the performance of computers worldwide.  Each week we failed; were told to repeat the same experiments and come back in a week with, supposedly, better results.  The repetitive and useless endeavor began to get to the electrical engineer whose frustration started to boil over.

Quick, we said, push the Panic Button!


Yes I know it was childish and tame by today’s standards.  It also didn’t make sense.  Why would you push a Panic Button to relieve stress?  But it worked: It amused us and annoyed the up-tight, straight-laced guys in white shirts, black ties and dark suits.  We could all use a Panic button from time to time.  In the words of George Ade, “A good jolly is worth what you pay for it.”

The Official Rules

The official rules

In an earlier post, I wrote about Finagle’s Creed which described every information technology project that was ever worked on or will be worked on.  Several of you commented by adding laws and corollaries of your own and I realized that someone had already done the work of amassing all the rules by which we work and live.

No, it’s not The Bible but it is the bible of official rules.  Paul Dickson wrote a book entitled The Official Rules.  This book, sadly now out of print, is “the definitive, annotated collection of laws, principles and instructions for dealing with the real world.”  Dickson organized the rules alphabetically from Abbott’s Admonitions (1. If you have to ask, you not entitled to know.  2. If you don’t like the answer, you shouldn’t have asked the question.) to Zymurgy’s Seventh Exception to Murphy’s Laws (When it rains, it pours).

Dickson followed his first book with The New Official Rules and, for a long while, entertained submissions for any subsequent “new” rule that he had overlooked.

Here are a few random examples from both books:

  • Boren’s Laws of Bureaucracy:  (1) When in charge, ponder; (2) When in trouble, delegate; (3) When in doubt, mumble.
  • DeVault’s Razor:  There are only two laws. (1) Someday you will die.  (2) If you are reading this, you are not dead yet.
  • Erma Bombeck’s Rule of Medicine:  Never go to a doctor whose office plants have died.
  • Exxon’s Law of Energy Costs:  We’ve upped ours, now up yours.
  • Leahy’s Law:  If a thing is done wrong often enough, it becomes right.  Corollary: Volume is a defense to error.
  • Mrs. Murphy’s Law (also known as the Buttered-Side-Down Law and now as Sod’s Law):  An object will fall so as to do the most damage.
  • Russell’s Right:  If it succeeds, it is right.  If it fails, it is wrong.

I added two of my own:

  • Curmudgeon’s Law #1:  To a fire department, there is no such thing as a “little fire.” (from personal experience)
  • Curmudgeon’s Law #2:  Nothing is impossible so long as you don’t have to do it.

London Pub Signs

The British still have a way with words:

pub1 pub2 pub3 pub4 pub5 pub6 pub7 pub8 pub9 pub10 pub11 pub12 pub13 pub14 pub15

Chex Mix Turds

March 2014

General Mills, Inc.
P.O. Box 9452
Minneapolis, MN 55440

Dear General:

I know that your company is a venerable one, in existence for the last 500 years or so, and has fed me and countless other millions of people such staples of life as Wheaties, Cheerios, Total and Yoplait.  You trained us to know that Wheaties was the Breakfast of Champions™; added every flavor and color to Cheerios except rhubarb and puce and made us feel unhealthy if we didn’t jog a mile or two before eating Total or Yoplait.

So what, pray God, is this substance that I found in a recently purchased bag of Chex mix (Traditional) to which I have become addicted?


What does this look like to you?

Yes, you are correct.  Turds, but saltier.  An alternate theory might be meteor turds from a distant galaxy (still quite salty).  Both theories do not explain how these substances got into my package of Chex mix (Traditional).

I have no idea why your quality control person was missing-in-action on the day that this batch of Chex mix (Traditional) was produced but, suffice it to say, while this bag may have “60% less fat than regular potato chips” (your words), it has “100% more turd-like lumps than potato chips” (my words).  Presumably, your quality control process has not confused potato chips with buffalo chips.

Here I am, mindlessly sitting in front of the cable TV watching an episode of some inane series like Duck Dynasty or Jersey Shore, happily munching away, when I am overcome with revulsion from chomping down on one of these brown beauties.  I might as well have been eating a salt lick.  The bag from which I was consuming this inedible stuff should have said Chex licks instead of Chex mix.  The fact that these lumps were the color of excrement did not add to my gustatory experience.

You advertise on the bag “Earn cash for your school!”  How?  By getting kids to accumulate Chex mix turds and turning them in for high Phosphorus content returnables at the local dump?  By leaving them on the living room carpet and getting unsuspecting parents to pay extra cash to the kids while they re-potty train the innocent house dog or cat?  By saving them up and using them in place of road salt on snowy winter days?  By selling them at rock and gem shows as “meteor shit?”

General, I have been a faithful patron of your company for the last couple hundred years and I am not about to give up now but I am having serious doubts.  Finding these lumps in my Chex mix (Traditional) package makes me think that you should hire Tom Hanks and have him reconstitute his Forrest Gump role advertising Chex mix (Traditional) with the slogan:

“Life’s like a package of Chex mix; You never know what crap you’re gonna get.”

Please, let an old man enjoy his snacks without the trepidation of consuming indigestible brown blobs.  Total is supposed to have “100 percent of the daily value of 12 essential vitamins and minerals.”  Manure is not one of those.  Cheerios cereal provides “1 gram of soluble fiber per serving.”  Road roses are not considered soluble fiber.  Wake up and fire that quality control guy and hire a new one who will keep salty meteor shit lumps out of my Chex mix (Traditional).

Thank you.





I really hate – dislike, am not keen on, disapprove of, cannot stand, wish it never existed, should not become its own reality show - static electricity.  Winter weather, combined with cold, windy, dry conditions, make me even more curmudgeonly about this phenomenon.

I am sure that I share this dislike equally with furry creatures like cats who I would otherwise despise.  Attempts to touch conductive objects – computers, light switches, metal poles – result in shocks so severe that I should by now be a prime candidate for the negative effects of shock therapy.

Just when you think it’s safe to touch that metallic surface with impunity, Mother Nature decides to give you another reason to wish that Mother Nature had never existed either.  Static electricity should be confined to those old high school science experiments where girls with long hair are asked to be Guinea pigs and attach themselves to Van de Graaff generators so that their hair can stick straight out.


Static electricity could be available in the spice section of the grocery store.  Need a little static?  Add 1 teaspoon to a full glass of water and stir.  Otherwise, I see no real need to fry the ends of my fingers every time I walk across a carpet in winter and reach for a metallic doorknob.  Zot!!  What’s the point, other than to get me all worked up?

At these moments I revive my inner Ezra Pound and say:

Winter is icumen in,
Lhude sing Goddamm, 
Raineth drop and staineth slop,
And how the wind doth ramm!
Sing: Goddamm.
Skiddeth bus and sloppeth us,
An ague hath my ham.
Freezeth river, turneth liver,
Damm you;
Sing: Goddamm.
Goddamm, Goddamm,
’tis why I am, Goddamm,
So ‘gainst the winter’s balm.
Sing goddamm, damm, sing goddamm,
Sing goddamm, sing goddamm, DAMM

Winter is NOT supposed to be icumen in or astayin in; it’s supposed to be agoin out!

C’mon spring and summer, let’s get to those hot, hazy, humid days so I can complain about that.