The Caboteria / Main Web / TobyCabot / TobyRants (09 Aug 2012, TobyCabot)
Since every other vanity website has a page full of self-indulgent rants, here are a few of mine:

Excellent! Fantastic! Awesome!

I've noticed that, over the last few years, superlatives like "excellent" and "awesome" have simply lost all meaning as they're now used to describe things that are clearly not excellent or awesome. This really annoys me, because I find myself doing it! Folks, if someone makes you a cup of coffee, or helps you add bling to your powerpoint presentation, that's "good" or "ok" but it's not "excellent." The problem with mis-using superlatives in this way is that they lose their power. If everything that happens to you is "fantastic" then what word do you use when you encounter something that's truly fantastic?

My proposal: act as if each superlative that you use costs you $1.00. It's not a lot of money, but it's enough that hopefully you'll use a more appropriate adjective. Got it? Awesome!

The Ford Excursion

This is quite simply the (second-) most disgusting vehicle available today. It's vanity, insecurity, gluttony, and lust wrapped in a shiny body and pushed around by a V8 engine. This, folks, is the vehicle that Caligula would drive if he were alive today. It's a truck which had no other purpose than to be bigger than the Chevy Suburban. It's basically a great example of what's wrong with America today: "It's incredibly wasteful, but I can afford it, so why not? It's unsafe for me, but much more unsafe for the poor sap in the VW. I don't need anything nearly this big but my neighbor has a Suburban." The irony here is that many people consider Corvettes vulgar but they cost less to build, buy, run, and dispose of; they burn less gas and pollute less per gallon of fuel burned; and they're much less dangerous to the other drivers on the road.

Vehicles like this are a great argument for $5/gallon gas. If only my income taxes weren't subsidizing your cheap fuel...

UPDATE - Just when you thought that consumption couldn't get any more conspicuous, along comes a vehicle that cranks vulgarity up to 11: the GM Hummer H2. This rolling proof of its owner's insecurity and selfishness rates even worse than the previous champion Caligula-mobile because it's even less useful while being more overtly in-your-face obnoxious. It's so shameless that it even attempts to play off the macho military image. "Sure, kids are dying in Iraq, but I'm a real ass-kicker back here in Wellesley. Hoo-ah!"


UPDATE - Rejoice - the Hummer is dead!


The final victory of style over substance, of the medium over the message. The world managed to ignore this bloated multimedia piece of shit until it was "integrated" into Microsoft Office at which point every presentation given by every PHB in the country had to have 27 colors, 14 typefaces, and 7 different animations to distract you from the fact that it had absolutely nothing to say. People used to say that the Macintosh gave ordinary people the ability to make every document look like a ransom note. Powerpoint gives marketeers the ability to make every presentation look like an infomercial. Thanks, Microsoft, for yet another innovation! (Of course MS didn't actually write Powerpoint, they just made it impossible to ignore)

True story: I once called a secretary at a big computer company (no longer in business) to ask for directions to one of their facilities. "No problem" she said "I'll email them to you." 5 minutes later a 400KB document showed up in my inbox in a format that my version of Powerpoint couldn't open at all. (don't even get me started on how big a dipshit you have to be to invent a file format that's not at least partially backward-compatible). After a few nips and tucks with Unix tools I was horrified to find out that the actual text of the directions was fewer than 400 characters! Thanks to our friends at the software monopoly we all have to suffer a 1000-to-1 inefficency.

Scott Mcnealy had it right: powerpoint should be banned in all rational companies. The problem is that he can't even make it happen within Sun. The last time I went to the valley to see a bunch of presentations at Sun they were delivered in, you guessed it, powerpoint. Game over.

UPDATE - Turns out I'm not alone in my Powerpoint loathing. None other than the guru of information presentation, Edward Tufte, has written a hilarious little pamphlet called "The Cognitive Style of Powerpoint." Bottom line, Tufte agrees with me, although in much more convincing prose.

Open-source guru Bruce Perens hates Powerpoint, too. But he's done more about it than just whine about it on the web:

UPDATE - The Onion has a hilarious article about a project manager that killed himself and left a "suicide powerpoint." Very funny:

UPDATE - Powerpoint makes us stupid.

Got anything smaller?

Another variation on this is "got 4 cents?", but either way it really bugs me. I'm caught in the crossfire between lazy banks whose ATM's only dispense $20's and lazy merchants who don't want to make change. Yes, I do feel like a loser buying a cup of coffee with a $20 but what am I supposed to do? I'd like to reply:

Yes I do have a variety of smaller bills, but I'd like to use a $20 for this purchase if it's not too much trouble. Gee, I'm really sorry that I can't buy something from you in a way that's convenient for you.

...but usually I just mumble "sorry".

Paying for air

In about the past 9 months or so it has become increasingly difficult to find a gas station (note that I did not say "service station") that has a working air pump that you can use for free. The station where I buy most of my gas (and have most of my service done) just replaced their old-fashioned air hose with a spiffy new machine that charges you fifty cents to put air in your tires. Most of the other stations just let their compressor break and never fix it.

I'm not arguing for a return to the days when 5 gas jockeys in uniforms with neckties would pump your gas, check your oil, and wash your windows (although it would be nice) but I find it hard to get past the idea that a gas station should provide a minimum level of service, including bathrooms and (free) air for your tires.


You must have seen them - those little white ovals with three block letters written in them. They're based on the "country of origin" stickers used in Europe to indicate where a car is from, but now they're used for damn near anything and everything. The initial premise was arrogant and snotty ("gee buffy, the great unwashed will see our 'ACK' sticker and they won't know that it's the airport code for Nantucket airport, it will be our little joke, aren't we just the bee's knees!"), but at least it was limited to one pretentious little sandbar off the Massachusetts coast so it was relatively easy to ignore. Somehow, then, the fad spiraled out of control. Now every one-stoplight town and crappy top-40 radio station is printing the damn things, and people are just stupid enough to plaster them everywhere.

Here's a clever enhancement to the original (ACK) sticker: take a Sharpie and add a "t" at the front and a "y" at the back and with any luck the pretentious nouveau-riche social-climbing asshole will drive his Range Rover or Excursion around with people laughing at him for 6 months before he figures out what you've done.

UPDATE Ha! I may be a crank but I'm not alone. Boston Globe columnist Alex Beam, in his "Mr. Fussy" persona, writes:

Also, use of the bumper sticker "ACK," which cool people recognize as the airport code for Nantucket, will be banned. Instead, ACK-olytes must display the following message in a highly visible place on their Lexus, BMW, or Audi: "Would you like to know how rich I am? I'm so rich that I can afford to summer on Nantucket with Jack Welch, Tim Russert, and John Kerry."

"ACK-olytes". Priceless!

Software Pretense

I was ticked off by a letter to the RISKS digest this morning and I thought that ranting about it here would be less counter-productive than flaming the guy who wrote the letter. Here it is: I have to say I haven't read quite such an obnoxious, elitist, arrogant screed in a long time. Why is it that every time an idea comes along that opens something up to a broad audience it's reflexively trashed by the few who had access to it before? This guy seems to indicate that it's a bad thing that Unix (a very elegant and powerful computer operating system) is now available for use by "diletantes". This makes me sick. The GNU/Linux people look down on Windows people. The BSD people look down on the GNU/Linux people. The Plan9 people look down on the BSD people. The eros people look down on the Plan9 people. Folks, just because something's popular doesn't make it bad! Of course in the case of Windows it happens to be both bad and popular, but the first didn't follow from the second.

Lack of respect for Old Glory

This one will probably get me flamed but here goes: It's been more than a year since 9/11 so it's time to take the faded, tattered, beaten and abused American flag off of the radio antenna of your rolling box of foreign-built Hyundai Excel shit NOW! You are not showing respect for the flag by abusing it. The flag should be flown with respect and reverence, not laziness and lack of care. Sure, it takes time and effort to raise and lower the flag and you're a busy guy and there's lots of internet pr0n that you haven't seen yet, but it's time to take that flag down and dispose of it properly. Here's a hint: if you're too lazy or stupid your local VFW or Boy Scout troop will probably do it for you.

Is No Place Sacred?

I had some time on my hands the other day and was walking around the Dock Square area of Boston when I stumbled onto the New England Holocaust Memorial. I walked through and found it very powerful and moving. It's composed of six glass towers that are entirely covered with the numbers of people who were killed during the holocaust. There's a path that you can walk down that takes you into each tower in turn where you see quotations from people who were in the camps. I was slowly walking along, pausing in each tower to read the quotations, until I got to the last tower where some asshole was standing, talking on a cell phone describing the memorial to someone on the other end of the line. Is no place sacred anymore? We're not talking about a movie or even a play or concert. We're talking about the memorial to 6 million people who were killed in the 20th century's greatest act of evil and you want to stand there yakking into a cell phone?

I Want It, What Does It Do?

Watching television has become increasingly frustrating recently, but the most annoying thing I've seen in a long time are the ads for medicines that don't say what the medicine does. "Ask your doctor about Tristatin Chlogycerol." I would ask my doctor if I thought that it would do something useful like make me belch less, but they don't give you any clue what the stuff does, and I'll be double-dog damned if I'm going to ask my doctor about some drug only to find out that it's designed to make you think you're cool driving a Hummer.

You Are NOT THAT FUCKING IMPORTANT So Put Your Fucking Black Berry Away!

I went to my nephew's school graduation yesterday. Dedham Country Day is a small school so the ceremony was intimate, heartfelt, and moving - with such a small number of people there's a strong sense of community. There are several wonderful speeches: one from a member of the graduating class, and one from their class adviser. And there was a strange, occasional, nearly inaudible beeping. It took me a while to locate the source of the noise but eventually I figured it out.

Two seats to the left of me, a parent of a graduate was working on her blackberry. DURING HER CHILD'S GRADUATION CEREMONY!

On behalf of everyone who doesn't have a blackberry but has to tolerate all of you self-important assholes that do: Turn your fucking gadget off and put it the fuck away! You are NOT THAT IMPORTANT! The world will not end if you're incommunicado for the 60 minutes that it takes for your kid to graduate from school. No one will die, or even get a papercut. Some other symbol-manipulator somewhere else will have to wait a whole hour before they can bask in the glow of your incomparable wisdom. BOO FUCKING HOO.

-- TobyCabot - 02 Jan 2001 - 12 Jun 2009

Thanks for reading, I feel better now.

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