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July 31, 2006

Time to "Strategerize" About "Wacky" Prices

Another “Wacky Weekend” at X10 has left the Big Guy in a bad mood. It’s not that the Big Guy isn’t charitable – ask any of his employees who received a bite-size Halloween candy bar as a Christmas bonus last year – but selling products at ridiculous prices has taken its toll.

Imagine a decorator XCam for $19.99. Imagine a Video Sender for $34.99. Imagine a 2-camera spycam for $39.99 and a single spy cam for just $19.99!

You obviously have imagined, because these products are selling like mosquito repellent on the Gulf Coast. The stuff is moving by the truckload. Sales have never been as fun!

Still, the Big Guy is upset.

What’s his problem?

It’s time for the second quarter profit and loss report. Apparently the loss in this last quarter is higher than the profit. Times like these require some major “strategerizing” with the accountants.

It is time to create a “new math” of sorts, to look like the company is taking in more than its putting out. But the accountant says the balance sheet is as unbalanced as the “midnight bandit” who set off this rage of price cutting. “Not even my colleagues at Enron could figure this one out!” he says sadly.

“Could we declare ourselves a non-profit?” The Big Guy proposed.

“I think you have to do that from the outset,” the accountant said. “While these numbers definitely demonstrate a non-profit history, the IRS frowns on post-Wacky Weekend declarations.

“Being a nonprofit an interesting concept,” the accountant said. “You could arrange with your employees to revert to volunteer status and have them donate their paychecks to the cause.”

“I’m sure if we started putting in running cold beer in the water fountains it wouldn’t take long for employees to make this sacrifice,” the Big Guy said.

“How about we just double the price of everything?” the accountant said “We could simply depend on the altruistic love of our customers… they’ll just buy our products – at any price – because they love us.”

“I think we’d have a better chance getting the city of Kent to build us a new headquarters,” the Big Guy said. “It works for sports teams – don’t we still have that softball team?”

“You could always reduce sales cost by employing a less-experienced customer support system,” the accountant noted. “Instead of answering customer service calls 24-hours per day, you could merge the call center with a phone-sex system that charges $19.95 per minute of customer care.”

Just then, a young man dashed into the Big Guy’s office, a bit out of breath. “Big Guy!” his breathing was labored now. “They just dropped the price of a Vanguard Camera down to $299!”

“Excuse me,” the Big Guy said. “I have to go back to my place at the freeway entrance and raise some money for my heart medicine… anybody seen my cardboard sign?”

July 28, 2006

Pass Go and Show Me the Money!

Monopoly money will no longer be the coin of the realm – at least in England, for now. Hasbro Inc, the makers of the classic Monopoly board game will try a new version – Monopoly Here and Now – that comes with its own debit card and a scanner to add up or decline fortunes. The new version of the game that has been played for seven decades by millions of people will feature modern game pieces (such as a cell phone) and reflect “new realities” in property taxes.

Modern Luddites may cringe at the thought of a traditional board game taking on electronic vestiges. It is time, however, that even old dogs can learn new tricks. Imagine an entirely new game where players acquire X10 home security products to protect themselves from passing players. Imagine passing “go,” collecting your $200 (or is it more like $2,000 these days?) and acquiring your Vanguard camera. You are even luckier because you pulled a “Chance Card” that will get you the highly powerful Vanguard system complete with camera software at a “bandit” price.

Now, you can scour your cell phone screen to see who is approaching your property. “Baltic Avenue?” The rent is no longer $6, buddy. Fork over $200 to buy the landlord a new garden to replace the one you trampled in. We’ve got the videotape to prove it, show me the money!

You better have that “Get Out of Jail” card ready, because you’re headed behind bars, ready to enjoy some County Hilton hospitality. We’ve got film at 11 – 11 Marvin Gardens that is.

Where is that scanner?

I need to count up my fortune!

What’s This? Pay property tax of $10 million on all my property because the city wants to build a new sports stadium? What kind of Community Chest is this?

That does it, I’m broke, time for me to head into jail. At least I’ll get two squares.

Oooh! I rolled a three!

FREE PARKING my butt!!! I’m collecting stiff parking fees from all of you. That’s right, $50 million worth. Time to PLAY BALL!

OK, I think I’ll buy myself a utility. Looks like ConnEd is available. I’ll pass on Enron.

Hey, who wants an evening at the movies on Park Place? Nothing but the finest here, direct from Cannes. Good thing I have my X10 video sender hooked up to the DVD. That will be $5 million a night, per room.

Wipe your shoes, please before you come in.

Anyone else want to play?

July 27, 2006

If a Souffle Falls at the Fair, Can Anyone Sense It?

As the second half of summer approached, Aunt Irene was scanning the stores for fresh cherries, peaches, apricots and even rutabaga. It’s that wonderful time when her kitchen smells like a candle store just before Christmas. Irene was one hell of a cook, and a very talented pastry chef.

The medallions on the wall from every nearby country fair proved her value. She had more blue ribbons than a presidential commission. She had swept away every baking prize ever created by county and state fairs. She had been awarded ribbons for all of her pies, her cakes, and probably could have won with a pie made from shaving cream – her reputation was that great.

Naturally, she was a bit upset last summer when her chocolate soufflé failed the judge’s exam, and came out of the oven entirely flat. She was even more disappointed two weeks later, when she went to the bigger urban county fair and failed yet again.

When it came time for the State Fair in September, Irene became suspicious. Instead of waiting with her friends as the judges gathered for a taste and quality test, she went to the back of the exposition hall.

It was then that she noticed the Parker boys standing behind the hall. Each of the Parker boys – who lived just down the street from Irene – weighed at least 300 pounds, a testimony to Irene’s pastry competence. It usually didn’t take more than five minutes from the time Irene took a pie out of the oven until the Parker boys showed up at the front door with outstretched hands and an offer to mow the lawn in exchange for Irene’s cherry pie. Irene didn’t mind. “They’re growing boys,” she said, stating the obvious.

But one day, Irene left on a shopping trip for more fruit, putting her freshly baked pie on the kitchen counter, not far from the window. The automatic sensing device native in the Parker Boys picked up the aroma, and disappointment hit the air when they discovered that Irene was not at home.

Knowing Irene’s good nature, the boys helped themselves by cracking the kitchen window pane and reaching through the window for a piece of pie. They had not even wiped the cherry remains off their faces when Irene showed up in the driveway.

The boys gave a sheepish look, showing their embarrassment. They hoped Irene would be forgiving.

She was not.

“Get out of my sight boys,” she said. “I don’t ever want to see you again!”

Disappointed, the boys had sworn to get “even” with the Queen of pastry for her act of rejection.

Now, she had caught them red-handed. The boys had apparently set off Irene’s new X10 motion detector. She had made a bargain with the X10 bandit, in hopes of catching a bandit herself.

Now she had caught two bandits that had denied her two championships. The Parker boys had registered motion at about 5.2 on the Richter scale. It didn’t take that much for the X10 system to sense activity and for her to sense that it was time to put the Parker boys on a no-pastry diet. “See if you ever see one of my soufflés again in your life,” she told the boys as she reset the motion detector.

July 26, 2006

A Life Saver You'll Never Forget

It had come to this.

Again, the month of July was about to end. Again, the circus was coming to town.

Again, Jack felt sick to his stomach.

It wasn’t that he didn’t like the circus. He liked going to the circus almost as much as his dad enjoyed taking him when he was little.

He loved the cotton candy, the side shows, and the trapeze artists. Most of all, however, he and his Dad – and even his granddad enjoyed the elephants.

Oh, what a spectacle those elephants were! Jack loved watching the elephants squirting water from their trunk into their mouths. How they lifted their trunks, looked at you in a friendly fashion, and just about invited you to jump on their backs. So, they weighed a ton or two (or four or five or six). They were big and beautiful.

But Jack could never jump on an elephant back.

Nor would he go to see the circus anymore.

Not since his grandfather was stomped to death by an elephant, when he was only 10.

Not since his father was stomped to death by still another elephant ten years later to the day. It was all a bizarre accident, his mother explained. Elephants typically don’t stomp people. Something scared the elephants, his mother said.

Exactly 10 years had passed since that July day that had claimed both his grandfather and his father ten years apart. Would it be his turn this time?

Jack wasn’t about to let his elephant fright keep him from his appointed rounds. He had to do something. He knew his own kids were itching to go to the circus this year.

He finally got an idea.

As the circus parade passed within a block of his house, Jack went to the library and got a National Geographic DVD on elephants. He hooked up his X10 video sender to the DVD and hung a screen from a telephone pole along the parade route. As the parade passed by, the lead elephant saw Jack and something seemed to overcome him with rage. The elephant was now aiming directly at Jack!

Jack was ready, however, with the remote to the video sender. As he invoked the sender, suddenly the lead elephant was diverted and stepped away from Jack, his attention fixed on the lovely female elephant on the screen. Other elephants also headed toward the screen.

Jack was finally safe. As the elephants gawked at the tree, Jack took his kids in hand and headed for the circus.

Not this year, guys!” he yelled out in joy.

July 25, 2006

All Hat, No Cattle

Ferdinand, my eight-month old, is literally at the brim of a life of crime. Any day now, I expect the juvenile authorities to be at my door and take Ferdinand off in handcuffs.

For some reason, Ferdinand has developed a deep affection for hats. Not just any hat, but big, tightly laced straw hats that keep out the summer sun. I can understand Ferdinand wanting to protect himself from the summer sun. After all, this orange tabby has a thick coat of hair that probably adds twenty degrees to the outdoor temperature.

But Ferdinand never wants to WEAR the hats. He just wants to capture them. He sneaks through the entire neighborhood, garage by garage, garden by garden, backyard by backyard, looking for his favorite prey. Once he finds it, he never wants to let go. Until, of course, he deposits his kill on the living room floor.

I now have the most exotic collection of straw hats in town. I’ve got Panama hats, sailor hats, gambler hats, and Ferdinand recently captured a pith helmet. Most of them represent quality haberdashery. These hats probably would make lovely nests for a family of birds, but I doubt Ferdinand is gathering foodstuff for his dinner. He seems to have a taste only for the high quality manufactured pet food – the best that upscale suburban pet stores can supply. His natural instincts aside, I doubt Ferdinand is a dedicated carnivore.

Ferdinand’s addiction has, however, upset some neighbors, even as I put up notices on neighborhood telephone poles to announce the arrival of dozens of found straw hats. At least this has become a way to meet some of my neighbors and get a glimpse of their personalities. I make a note to stay away from the ones who arrive at my door with belligerent tones.

Some have demanded that I keep track of Ferdinand. I have even attempted to put a small X10 surveillance camera on Ferdinand’s collar. Unfortunately, they don’t seem to stay on board. Presumably, Ferdinand scratches this impediment from his collar and leaves it lying in the street. There could even be some folks out there who collect X10 surveillance cameras the way Ferdinand collects straw hats.

You might think people could get their own little X10 cameras at the ridiculous prices X10 is charging these days.

They’re a lot cheaper than straw hats.

July 24, 2006

Mississippi Imaginations Burning

In all of the tragic news surrounding Hurricane Katrina last summer, there was little notice that my Uncle Bubba lost his frozen custard stand. The stand had survived Hurricane Camille in 1969, and kept both locals and tourists through Waveland, Mississippi, cooled off on a typical spring and summer day. Now, the custard stand was no longer frozen in place, and its remains landed somewhere near Gulfport.

Uncle Bubba was luckier than most, his house survived Katrina, in fact his property value improved when the vestiges of some very expensive waterfront homes landed in his backyard. Among the debris was evidence of what might have been a big-screen television set and an X10 Video sender. While the big-screen TV had met its makers, there were signs that the video-sender still had life.

Uncle Bubba was somewhat of an amateur technician. To him, there were two delicacies in the world — pecan pie and circuit boards. I thought that was kind of funny, since he served neither at his frozen custard stand. He did fashion himself a neat little radio system at the custard stand’s drive-up window, but it was nothing like the X10 video sender he had just been sent as a gift from God.

Bubba went directly to the X10 Web site to see what the video sender device could do. This thing was amazing! It seemed like it could provide more fun than Sports Illustrated Swim Suit Calendar night at the local NASCAR track! You could send video and audio from any electronic device like a DVD player, a VCR, or even Bubba’s beloved eight-track player and send it to a more convenient screen or audio player — even if that screen was your neighbors.

Bubba himself felt lucky that all he lost was his frozen custard stand. He had neighbors that had lost so much more. Like his Waveland neighbors, he had struggled for months with the insurance companies that insisted that the frozen custard stand’s trip to Gulfport was caused by the resulting floods from a storm surge, not by wind damage. Bubba, like many others was not insured for floods.

Still, Bubba was determined to stay in Waveland, where t-shirts declared “Sometimes, the waves come on to the ground.” He had come here forty years before when he joined the Air Force and served in Biloxi. Now it was time to serve Waveland.

The entire community – including the insurance companies – feared that this first hurricane season after Katrina would deliver a rerun of another devastating storm. It would take something powerful, something beyond the imagination to alter the course of Karma.

Bubba, still feeling some pain, had just the thing. God had delivered it in the form of his X10 video sender. All that was needed was a little hard work and some coordination.

Like a Pied Piper, Bubba convinced the community to help construct his vision. He had read about scarecrows protecting cornfields in the Midwest. Mississippi needed some sort of scarecrow that would keep hurricanes from the coast. If he built it, they would not come.

In weeks, he and volunteers constructed a giant movie screen that would be the envy of any drive-in theatre. It was built on the foundation of three devastated waterfront homes. Finally, on the evening of Fourth of July, Bubba pulled the switch on the X10 Video Sender.

Up on the screen, Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward recited the words of Mississippi’s great pride, William Faulkner. The Long Hot Summer had officially projected itself on the Screen of Dreams from Bubba’s DVD player. A few members of the Waveland community looked on, keeping a wary eye on the bay waters.

It worked! The seas remained calm.

So far, it has worked better than anything else the government or insurance companies have done.

July 21, 2006

I'm Ready for My Closeup, Mr. X10

America is on fire…

A heat wave from coast to coast is sending half of America into shopping malls and other air conditioned public areas, while the other half sips mint juleps by the swimming pool. An egg is frying from my nose, I have removed every bit of clothing the law allows.

So, what do I see in my Mid-Summer Day’s Dream?

I see a Christmas present for my family. Not the simple “get down to “BigBox Land and buy something” present. Not even a complex “Gift of the Magi,” where I get a dermabrasion for my zit-filled face, only to get acne cream as a present for myself.

For this Christmas, my present must be something that everyone in my family can enjoy. Something more than the autographed picture of myself that I gave everyone last year. No, this year, I will do better than a photograph.

This year, I’ll make a video!

I’ll make a video of myself getting rid of dozens of pounds of ugly fat. I have reached a place in my life where I need to be able to fly away on a business trip without having to buy two seats. I need to be able to freely go into Victoria’s Secret and not be directed to “Sag Harbor.” I need to have my back enter the room at the same time my front does.

My family needs to see me at least try.

That’s why I think I will install some X10 XCam2 WideEye InstantON cameras above my treadmill. These cameras will be able to focus in on all sides of me, and then I can pick out the side that looks best. This way, everyone will always see only my good side. Not that I’m ready to actually get on the treadmill, or even go up the stairs of my house to GET to the treadmill…. But one day, before Christmas, I’ll make it happen.

Yet, the X10 Sentinel allows me to focus in deeply enough so that my family can watch a sliver of sweat-covered mascara drop on my face, accented by the sound effects CD I keep for this purpose. They will be able to watch me slowly bend my knee and pretend to walk at a pace equal to the speed of the fast-moving treadmill. They will be able to witness poetry – if not a perfect silhouette – in motion.

Even if I show up at Christmas looking 20 pounds heavier than I do today, (it takes at least two cream puffs to get the energy to go upstairs and turn the camera on) my family will intimately know that I am finally doing something about that global bulking problem.

Now, if only America would do something about global warming. What did I do with that mint julep?

July 20, 2006

Keeping an Eye on the Neighbors

Ours was always an intimate community. We usually knew what just about everybody was up to – or down to. We held each others secrets and each others valuables. Neighborhood watch was not only a duty, but a commitment.

That’s why we were just a little surprised to see a squad of SWAT team units surround Harry’s house down the street. I couldn’t believe it when a policeman told us he was wanted for a series of bank robberies!

Harry had always been an electronics nut. His house was surrounded by X10 Home Security products. He had bragged about his motion detectors, his surveillance cameras, and his Action Home kit that let Harry monitor anything and everything that moved around his house. Just last weekend, he had installed a set of new X10 Sentinel cameras for an unbelievable low price. “Got to watch those wacky weekend sales at X10,” he had bragged to his neighbors.

Harry was always the philosophical type. He said he was an artist, and a musician. Every Thursday evening a bunch of guys would come to his house and practice music. I can’t imagine where they got their gigs, as their music tended more to very slow classical music, not the honky tonk they played in bars in this town. Since I don’t know classical that well, I couldn’t really tell if the music they were playing was on or off key.

Harry and his band loved to entertain the entire neighborhood. They especially liked playing music at the grand opening of new businesses, such as the bank that opened by the mall a few weeks ago.

When the house next door to Harry’s sold, we were happy that it went to a fellow from the local FBI office. The new guy could probably give us a bunch of great tips on how to keep our neighborhood secure. I noticed, however, that Harry wasn’t very happy when the FBI guy introduced himself.

Harry made one major mistake in his technology-driven boastfulness. He let everyone know that he had just installed a wireless network at his house that let him not only lie by the pool and do his stock trading, but he could also watch every inch of his property connected to his Action Home setup

Harry apparently was not quite as smart as he thought about technology. His wireless network missed a key security component. By forgetting to add a security key to his access point, Harry gave access to his entire network -- including his Action Home setup – to his FBI neighbor. Imagine the surprise of his neighbor last Thursday when he clicked on the wrong wireless network on his laptop – Harry’s home network – and was able to see Harry’s “band” look at a floor plan of a downtown bank. Each of the “band” members was given a weapon – shown on camera with amazing clarity during the presentation.

If Harry ever gets out of prison, I’m sure he’ll be excited about the pictures still on his Action Home system that were taken during his arrest.

July 19, 2006

The President is All Hands

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has put in an emergency order at X10 for a motion detector to intuit any future approaches by an American president. The custom motion detector will sense the aroma of barbecued pig, executive Blackberries or pomposity.

If it detects a target presence, the motion detector will automatically light up floodlights in the German Bundestaag, where a team of lawyers is prepared to give Merkel “deliverance” from the American misogynist within a flash of paparazzi lights.

The order was entered just hours after Germany’s top executive was inappropriately fondled by the President of the United States. Mr. Bush pretended he was giving the chancellor a back massage, vigorously rubbing her neck and upper back. Ms. Merkel was not a happy camper. “Who does he think I am — some kind of intern?” she yelled in heavily accented English to a Secret Service agent.

“No, that was the previous President,” the Secret Service agent told her.

“I don’t care, he is a dumb Kopf! At least a schweinhundt,” Merkel said.

“If you were in America I could throw you to the ground and have you arrested for that,” the agent answered.

“Schweinhundt, Schweinhundt, Schweinhundt” Merkel repeated.

“Mr. Bush is just a touchy-feely kind of guy!” the agent said with remorse.

“Dumb Kopf, dumb Kopf, dumb Kopf, “ the Chancellor repeated herself again.

“You have no respect for the SS do you, Madam Füerer?”

“Don’t make me laugh,” she answered.

It had been a painful week already. After hosting the World Cup, where Germany had to settle for third place, she had to host the American President, and this was one time she wasn’t going to settle for third or second place. After the President attempted to kiss her on the cheek, Chancellor Merkel set up an X10 appliance module on the microphone near Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair. With her remote in pocket, she turned the microphone on and off, after waiting for an opportune moment in the Blair/Bush conversation.

When the President spoke in a language that even Germans know, she fired on the microphone, telling her aide “I hope that the American FCC hears this and makes him pay one of those huge fines!”

Despite her visible anger, the President remained unapologetic. He slowly approached her, whispered in her ear and said: “Is there any more of that boar left?”

July 18, 2006

Light Up Your Credit Card, Get Control of Your Life

So many nights I sit by my window
Waiting for someone to sing me his song
So many dreams I kept deep inside me
Alone in the dark but now
You've come along

You light up my life
You give me hope
To carry on
You light up my days
and fill my nights with song

Despite the efforts of X10 to reproduce them by the thousands, the species lampus controlus suddenly became as rare as a discounted gallon of gas. The component that had launched its own love ballads worked only in its native environment, ready to have its inner circuits mounted by homo sapiens for electrifying action.

Scientists had observed the diminishing quantity of the lampus controlus, as they quietly took their place in a configuration more wired than a conference of Seattle computer scientists at Starbucks headquarters. Prong by prong, the individual modules learned their place securely fastened to an outlet they could ride until their rhythm of power was discharged.

Despite their constant networking, many of these controlling entities lost their charge somewhere between the Betamax and the Eight-Track Tape player. Still, scientists at X10 cloned more and more. As the species became rarer and rarer, naturally their value increased. At times the individual unit could fetch scores of dollars in the after market – a body of water known only as E-Bay.

What would become of this worthy species? Would they go the way of the Vacuum tube? Would they be replaced by some faceless dual-ported, 10-100 Ethernet card? Would the prong go the way of Pong?

Fortunately, X10 values its lampus controlus highly enough to devalue them. Somewhere in the X10 marketing department a bandit is on the loose, and he believes the species should return in its traditional glory. The only way to do that is to clone millions more, and practically give them away to good homes. Rumors abound that call center staff are running out of the building in sheer exhaustion as thousands of prospective adoptive parents for the newly coined components are getting change for the $10 bills they hand over.

Imagine lighting up your days, filling your nights with song and change for a ten-spot.

What more could you ask?

July 17, 2006

Digging Down to the Bare Bones

Wacky Weekends at X10 are beginning to get noticed around X10.

Customers are starting to line up at the call center as if it were the Friday after Thanksgiving at the dearly departed Filene’s Bargain Basement in Boston. Ordinarily nice people who would ordinarily use the proper “please” and “thank you,” are stomping over each other to bid on the electronic necessities of electronic life. “Gimme that video sender you #@%^ Jezebel,” or other discouraging words are now so often heard.

Our phone company keeps reminding us that there are laws against the kind activity going on over innocent telephone wires – wires that are burning with loquacious customers watching their timepieces, pleading to get to the end of the queue before the clock strikes midnight.

Like the Filene’s customers that would rip clothing off the backs of other shoppers, some of our telephone and online customers are making some strange bids. Several female shoppers dropped into the blog of the deliciously handsome young Michael Mallari and started making bids on him. Fortunately, his wife turned out to be the highest bidder.

But now, the marketing people still fresh from their magic mushroom experience, are adding still another level of offense to their plan to give away the company store. No longer are the weekends around here “wacky,” now we have “Bare Bones Wacky Weekends,” implying some sort of homicidal action. The first response is already in, and typically it has no objection to the homicidal implication:

Dear Mr. X10:

We, the good families of Kent, object to your current advertising campaign regarding “Bare Bones Wacky Weekends.”

We can not allow our impressionable young children to witness “Bare” bones on their way to Sunday School. If you must display cadavers in your place of business, please make sure that they are at least properly dressed.

We will be watching closely to make sure that you stay within the proper legal boundaries and you do nothing that spoils the family environment that blesses our city.

Yours in harmony,

Penelope Pluperfect, Director of Moral Activities

Since X10 is, of course, a family company, we have taken care not to display any “Bare Bones” in public. If, however, you knock twice on a piece of wood, when you call, the call center representative may direct you toward some “Bare Bones” action.

July 14, 2006

Focus on the Family

It’s a good thing Uncle Siegfried didn’t live to see the new generation of X10 Sentinel cameras. His talents in cinematography might have created a national scandal with the kind of zoom quality on the newest X10 technology.

You can be sure Uncle Siegfried was an X10 fan. He bought one of the first generation of black and white hidden cameras to put in his game room during his weekly poker game. He didn’t trust that his pals were on the up and up. While this was probably a normal behavior for suspicious folks like my Uncle Siegfried, apparently, it was only a beginning.

We would not have known about the kind of fun Uncle Siegfried was having if he hadn’t asked that his cobbled work of pride be shown at his memorial service. It wasn’t long after the film began that we learned that Uncle Siegfried was not only suspicious, but he had a weird sense of humor.

As the film opened, there was classy old Aunt Sophie, sticking her index finger right up her nose, picking little gems from her nasal cavity and rubbing the extracts underneath the mahogany dining table. This was a woman who was once humiliated when a single salad fork was on the wrong side of the plate at a family gathering dinner plate.

Aunt Sophie was quickly followed by the very lovely Katie, who took care of Uncle Siegfried in his later years. Katie was shown in the film scratching herself in some odd places, while the focus of the camera showed some interesting angles behind her low cut blouse.

It was at this time that Aunt Sophie had seen enough and walked out of the service.

Meanwhile, Siegfried’s brother, Ralph had his 15 seconds of fame, while he plucked his disgustingly close-up nose hairs on the hidden cameras with a pair of tweezers. With each pluck, he winced as the cameras caught sight of water forming in his eyes.

I recognized the family Thanksgiving dinner where Sister Sally, the nun from the local parish had joined our gathering. I had not, however, noticed the moment Sally had taken out her false teeth and rubbed them clean on her robe.

Siegfried had even added sounds to the action in scene after scene, disgusting noises that are seemingly never heard at public gatherings. It’s just a good thing that Siegfried didn’t have the skill and technology to add smell to the soundtrack.

If only I had known what a skilled cinematographer my good old Uncle Siegfried was, perhaps I would have been more careful in his presence.

From now on, at family gatherings, I think I’ll check for the presence of cameras.

July 13, 2006

A Pedestrian Encounter of the Fraudulent Kind

It was a beautiful day in La-La land, (as usual) and I was walking down Wilshire Blvd breaking every law ever written in Southern California. Walking is punishable by certain death at the hand of millions of unskilled motorists, or if you survive, immediate exile to Dubuque, Iowa.

But I needed some exercise on this working vacation to the land of bountiful abs. If I wanted to go shoulder to shoulder with the stars I needed some new frocks – not to mention some plastic surgery and a very tight corset.

Beverly Hills could provide all that.

But Beverly Hills was the last place I ever thought I would run into someone pushing X10 technology – even if it was illegal X 10 technologies.

I had two instant clues that the street seller of X10 technology was not necessarily legit.

1. Seeking pedestrian clients in a town where pedestrian is defined as “uninspired,” is not necessarily a smart marketing move.

2. The “hot” new “Centinal” cameras he had mounted inside his heavy raincoat on this 95-degree day might not be the same as the exciting new X10 Starlight Sentinel camera with 44x zoom. Besides, I know that the X10 marketing people have at least one English major in their facility that can spell “Sentinel.”

Still, I opened myself for a sales pitch from the man who seemed a bit new in the camera business. I could tell when he said that this camera’s Swiss-built mechanism could be pointed at a clock that would always give you the right time from anywhere.

I know, of course, that Kent, Washington is not now, or ever has been in Switzerland. Right away, I became suspicious. “So how does this work?” I asked smugly.

“Oh, the camera has some of the finest infrared technology known to man,” the vendor explained. “You can use this to monitor your baby’s room, keep track of the hired help, or give it to your friends in Baghdad – even though it doesn’t come with body armor.”

HA! “I exclaimed. “ I happen to know that the REAL X10 Sentinel doesn’t use possibly dangerous infrared technology. It uses natural light instead.”

At that, the vendor began to cry, shamelessly offering me a free “genuine Rolodex,” and a map to the stars’ home, if I didn’t turn him in.

Being a compassionate person, I compromised.

I had him exiled to Dubuque, Iowa.

July 12, 2006

One Enchanted Evening... There Were Mushrooms

Now it can be told. X10 headquarters recently served as the West Coast clinical trial for the John Hopkins University study of magic mushrooms. The study released this week in Psychopharmacology was conducted in both Baltimore, Maryland and Kent. There was no general knowledge of the participation among most X10 employees, as the study concentrated on a small segment of the marketing department.

Researchers concluded in the public report that the participants had "mystical" experiences,” upon taking the magic mushrooms and many of them still felt unusually happy months later. Some participants even dropped negative behaviors such as smoking and alcohol consumption as long as they were given more mushrooms. The selected few chosen for study maintained a unique eye contact and a secret handshake that identified them to each other. Conversations were engaged with the word “Portobello.”

Each Wednesday afternoon, they would gather in a remote conference room where doctors fed them psilocybin extract, the chief ingredient in the Psilocybin family of mushrooms. The government study followed the participants as they left the conference room to join in their typical workday tasks.

“Am I the only one in this room that believes Lola is one magnificent woman? If I weren’t already married….” A marketing manager was beginning to make aggressive gestures toward X10’s acclaimed video sender product.

“Lola?” Another asked. “What is that amazing bright light over there in the corner? Is that a friend of Lola?”

“It seems to be some kind digital display, the kind that can only be captured by the advanced Sentinel camera after they’ve taken down the last of the 99 bottles of beer on the wall,” said another.

“Excellent, gentlemen,” the observing doctor marveled at his work.

“You know, I think I see another figure in my vision,” the first marketing guy said. “It kind of looks like the figure of a masked bandit working late in the night…”

“Oh wow, I see him. He’s a Robin Hood figure, but wearing black instead of green.” The younger one said. “I wonder what is meant by the symbolism in all that?”

“Gosh, I don’t know, “said the other. “Perhaps it means there’s an Inconvenient Truth in all of this…”

“Damn, maybe Al Gore still wants to be President,” said the third marketing guy, now assuming a weird position at the end of the couch.

“Maybe he wants to be president of X10?” the others chimed in.

“I just hope no mushrooms were hurt in the making of this vision,” said one, conscientiously.

July 11, 2006

Is the Midnight Bandit in Custody?

X10’s notorious midnight bandit may be in custody on the East Coast!

Executives and security officials at the Kent, Warehouse are traveling to Kentucky and Ohio this week to question two potential suspects in the recent rash of “midnight bandit” attacks at the Kent, Washington warehouse.

One of the men came under suspicion when he called a local law enforcement official to point out his national television premiere on “America’s Most Wanted.” The suspect had been wanted in a number of local bank robberies and received a great deal of attention from the FBI. The suspect was arrested by authorities in Kentucky less than two weeks after appearing on the television show.

The second suspect, also with a history in bank robberies, was serving time in Ohio when he apparently sent in a major donation to a local “crime stoppers” police tip line that had suffered financial setbacks and was unable to pay out promised rewards for tipsters to an unrelated homicide case.

X10 officials say the “midnight bandit” who has tormented the company for weeks is obviously a criminal with an “enormous ego” and is “very proud of what he has wrought.” The executives say both criminals show a inclination toward a “Robin Hood” criminal model, taking from the “man,” and giving to unsuspecting customers of X10.

The Midnight Bandit has been responsible for unheard of bargains, and even “free” giveaways on seconds notice when customers stop by the X10 Website around the midnight hour Eastern Time.

It was this propensity for dealing on Eastern Time that first alerted X10 officials to the possibility that the bandit may be working on the East Coast. “It wouldn’t take more than access to a lot of X10 products and possibly an inside source to work the crime from the other end of the continent,” an X10 security official pointed out. “Chances are, he has access to some X10 surveillance cameras and some souped-up version of the X10 video sender or Action Home to send the tracking information directly to his IP address. That IP address does not have to be on the West Coast.”

Agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation are getting first crack at interrogating the two suspects for crimes not involving X10. In the meantime, security around the warehouse has been beefed up to break through the bandit’s electronic operations.

X10 customers are being advised to keep an eye on the Web site in the late night hours and report any unusual action on the community forum pages.

July 10, 2006

A Wacky Weekend at the Porcelain Throne

It was pretty obvious Monday morning that there had been still another “wacky weekend” at the X10 headquarters in Kent, Washington. Some personnel were still worshipping the Porcelain Throne as they contemplated a weekend in which they gave chase to the Midnight Bandit.

Much to the dismay of the Big Guy, the Midnight Bandit had become something of a “Pied Piper,” firing up the imaginations of marketing people as they watched hundreds of bargain hunters lining up to take advantage of X10 deals of the century. It seems there are some who will buy the champagne of surveillance cameras with bubbly control software if the price is less than the cost of a case of sparkling cider. It seems there are legions of ventriloquists who wish to throw the voice of their MP3 players to their remote stereos for the price of a weekend’s play on the tavern jukebox.

In short, there are folks who will consider buying X10 electronics for CHEAP, rather than for the advanced technology and craftsmanship that is found on every product.

Naturally, this makes the Midnight Bandit a popular personality in these parts. So popular, that some X10 employees have given him access a Lola video sender that feeds him a picture directly from the Big Guy’s big-screen TV in the corner office. This way, he can stay on top of any efforts to locate him while he is on the premises.

The Bandit has gotten an appreciation for the surveillance camera technology and the Action Home capability over his month of watching X10 security monitors. Sometimes, he even feels badly that he is giving away this technology to unsuspecting customers simply looking for bargains.

Still, a bandit must always be a bandit. He must rob from the rich in technology and give to those devoid of a respect for craftsmanship. Perhaps there will come a day, he believes, when bargain hunters will join him in his appreciation for the labor that went into the development of each electronic device.

Until then, the Big Guy is the one you’ll see praying to the Porcelain Throne.

July 07, 2006

A Truly Fluffernutter Day!

At last it’s here!

After days of waiting for the postman, the big, unmarked box came ready for assembly. It was truly the shiniest tool in my toolbox. It would go a long way to preserving my one indulgence.

Not even the NSA would be able to come near the neat, air-conditioned, fully carpeted showroom where I have encased my treasure. I’ve staked my life, my fortune and my sacred honor on making sure that no one will be able to move toward the secret I guarded in the back of the house.

The brand spanking new X10 Sentinel Camera would be a large part of preserving this unmitigated delight that no other person could now approach. The door to the room was solid steel, backed by mahogany. Sensor alarms were everywhere including the built-in sensor on the Sentinel. I could zoom in on the treasure with 44x zoom capability and I could pan and tilt to my heart’s delight.

My remote could penetrate the ceiling over the secret chamber, and the cameras charge-coupled device (CCD) image processor would make sure that I captured a clear image of any intruder.

My treasure was safe in the showroom, it was so important that I had to store the gold bars in the toilet tank to give the glass showcase breathing room. A part of me demands that I hide this booty from my family and friends, but still another wants to show the world what of wealth is hidden in this remote paradise.

But I shudder to think maybe what happen ought to word of my fortune spread. The most powerful army in the world might be hopeless in defending my cache of marshmallow Fluff.

In the morning, I think I’ll make myself a fluffernutter — all by myself!

July 06, 2006

North Korean Fireworks Traced to North Carolina?

Agents from the Department of Homeland Security were questioning a North Carolina parent Wednesday, after it was discovered that a middle-school student had been chatting on My Space with an account registered to North Korean President Kim Jong-il.

Homeland Security was notified after the North Carolina town discovered its entire public fireworks display had been stolen just hours before the North Korean leader began testing at least 10 missiles over the Sea of Japan. "I don't understand how Mr. Jong-il got interested in my kid, "the parent said, "Perhaps he figured that North Carolina was just like North Korea – a people's republic."

The parent says he found out about the conservations just the day before July 4, when he installed an X10 PC to TV Video Control Kit on an upstairs computer used by his kids. "It was certainly worth the less than $40 to see what my daughter was doing online," the parent said. "It seemed innocent enough, and I was real happy to know that she had apparently learned a second language at her tender age."

The parent said he did not notice anything strange when the daughter asked for a ride to ship an international package at the last minute. "Well, she's a smart kid, and she has pen pals all over the world."

Thanks to the PC to TV Video Control Kit, however, the parent was able to not only monitor the conversation with Kim Jong-il, but also to go upstairs later and save the conversation to a file. "Mr. Jong-il seemed like a respectable man, and did not make any suggestive remarks to my daughter," the parent said. "He did suggest, however, that were would be " buckets of kimchee" in this for her… and boy, we all love kimchee in this family.

Homeland Security officials and town fathers did not comment on whether or not there was any plutonium within the stolen fireworks. Town fathers say the explosives were secured at an undisclosed location known only by authorized parties and readers of a local middle school blog.

"Be assured that our town would use only 'safe and sane' fireworks in a display," the mayor told officials of the city's insurance company.

"Sane?" Kim Jong-il was heard to reply.

July 05, 2006

There has to be a morning after…

It was a classic Independence Day at our house – baseball, apple pie and cat fights.

It’s a good thing we had the X10 surveillance camera on to record the whole thing – at least that’s what the police told us when they arrived.

It all began around the third inning, (or was it the fourth hot dog for Uncle Chester?) the home team was winning by a pretty large margins and things were getting kind mind-numbing. My cousin Ralph, who was visiting from down South said something that hinted that the baseball player who had just hit a ball into the stands for the home team was “juiced” on something.

“More bug juice, Uncle Ralph?” Cindy, my 8-year-old grand-daughter asked.

Ralph had apparently been imbibing something other than “bug juice” before then. He turned around, didn’t see Cindy and thought it was Charles who had taken umbrage at the “juice” remark. As he turned around kind of angrily, he stepped on Theodore’s tail. Theodore is my tabby cat.

Theodore is never very happy when someone steps on his tail. His scream could be heard two blocks down the street. Ralph’s scream could be heard even further down, as Theodore dug his claws up his legs and to a sensitive part of his body.

Ralph reacted furiously, tossing Theodore directly into the three-layer chocolate cake sitting at a nearby table. Theodore landed on his feet, taking some appreciative licks and then knocked the punch bowl directly on the electrical wires that connected to the television.

Sparks flew all over the place to the fascination of the little ones that were getting bored by the baseball action. Jimmy, Cindy’s little brother watched as one of the sparks came near the sparkler he was holding in his hand. In seconds, the sparkler was lit up and soon enough, so was the towel Ralph had just used to clean up the grease on the barbecue grill.

Meanwhile, Theodore was trying to fend off my other cat, Suzy-Q, which was attempting to lick the chocolate cake from his body. The cats were rolling in the grass before little Jimmy knew what was happening. In seconds, little Jimmy had been knocked over as well, and his lit sparkler landed on the greasy towel and a box of cherry bombs Ralph had brought us from a nearby Indian reservation.

At least some of our neighbors expressed gratitude that they didn’t have to pay the cost of gas and parking to go to the big downtown fireworks display. They just “ooohed” and “aaaahed” as the bombs went off one by one. I think I also heard a “typical” from one of them.

A couple of other neighbors spoke through their attorney, handing us some papers.

Perhaps if we promise to spend next Independence Day at the lake next year, they’ll settle down?

July 04, 2006

Protecting Our Independence

Dad was always the independent one.

When the rest of the world was buying Thunderbirds and Chevy's, he was buying an Edsel.

At every presidential election he keeps writing in the name of Dorothy Parker – his personal heroine. "It's time we had a woman president!" he always says.

"Dorothy Parker is dead," I would remind Dad.

"We're not doing that great with the living ones we elected," he reminds me.

He is proud of his major electronics purchase, an eight-track tape player that plays the only music in his collection, Neil Diamond's Jonathan Living Seagull.

Make your soul
And every heart will know
Of the tale

Make your tune
For none may sing it
Just as you do

He sings the verses over and over again. I have become obsessed with the tune. When it's over, I naturally get out of the car and scrape the windshield.

But he's my Dad, and I love him. Sure, he's my obsessive-compulsive, difficult to understand Pop, but hey, where would this world be without its obsessive compulsives?

That's why I could never suggest he leave his condo for one of those "assisted living centers." This is the kind of place where they don't mind when your Bloomingdale's tie has split pea soup all over it. The kind of place where you have to remember a key code before you can step in the lobby and be seen by strangers.

Dad just isn't ready for that. Hopefully, he never will be.

That's why I keep him busy with battery-operated independence that also serves as a cover-up for split pea soup. X10 makes a complete independent living system that includes a pendant he can wear around the neck, a console where he can push buttons to connect to 24-hour medical assistance, and a remote control that will not only get help, but turn off the lights when he wants to sleep in front of the TV.

Now, if they only make a device that will allow Dorothy Parker to get elected president, we'll all be happy.

July 03, 2006

Half-Asteroid Emergency Calls for Half-Panic

OK, how can I put this gently.

Run for your lives we're all going to die!

Well, that might be going a little overboard.

If you are reading this on Monday, July 3, 2006 you are no doubt aware that an asteroid, a quarter-mile wide is at this moment headed for Earth.

Happy Independence Day America.

It seems Asteroids, too, hate our freedoms.

But, the same scientists who said "no one could have imagined a levee breaking" during a major hurricane in New Orleans now say that 2004 XP14 (as the little fellow is known among scientist) will miss the earth by about the distance between earth and moon.

That's a pretty close call. Chances are the asteroid will be visible in parts of the earth. Here on the West Coast, we're told it will be visible in the night sky.

Already we have been frantically preparing for 2004XP14, holding surfing parties from Malibu to Nome . Should the asteroid get a little closer and perhaps fall into the Pacific, the surf should be up.

Those who haven't prepared for the asteroid may want to get their X10 surveillance cameras ready to shoot the arrival of a 400-meter object as it enters the neighborhood. X10 guarantees that the object will be detected if you attach the low-cost motion detector to the camera.

If you live on the West Coast, and scientists back down from their previous statements that the asteroid will stay several hundred thousand miles away, you might also want to take advantage of the X10 video sender, which will let you observe the impact from a distance through an Internet connection. This might be a time to reconnect with family and friends far away… say Antarctica. (Unless the asteroid has an inherently poor sense of direction)

Even if this whole thing passes as the scientists say, you might remember this as the half-asteroid event. Whatever preparations you make for this one will be a great rehearsal for the major event, strangely enough scheduled for Friday, April 13, 2029. Some Scientists (many of whom do not wear aluminum foil protective gear on their head) are predicting a serious asteroid impact on that day.

I will go out on a limb and say if the asteroid hits in New Orleans, there IS a chance that the levees will break.