Rules for Writing Online, #3

Choose the shorter, more commonly used word so long as it doesn’t change the sentence’s meaning.

People are busy. There’s a lot to read. We can help by writing accessibly.


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Dog Shopper Edition: 5 Reasons To Go Mutt

We’re the proud owners of a mutt named Jack. And not only is he a mutt, he’s also a mutty mutt with odd, muttish tendencies. He is unpredictable, nervous, and unable to dig a hole without first putting the thing he wants to bury inside the hole, which only gets in the way of his digging. He consistently bungles the most routine investigations and he barks in Polish. But he doesn’t have hip dysplacia! (In fairness, he might have mange.)

Hip dysplacia, like the bizarre smiles of European aristocracy, is the side effect of generations of inbreeding common to purebreds like the Royal Schnauzer and the Benedict Cumberbatch.

Because of this and other science-based reasons, Jack has made me decidedly pro-mutt. If you’re considering a dog for your happy household, here are 5 reasons I recommend picking up a mutt and skipping the purebred.

1. You can blame things on mysterious heritage

When you get a purebred dog, its behavioral tendencies are already well documented. So if it misbehaves, you’re clearly a bad dog owner who  shouldn’t have shelled $600 on a Cumberbatch in the first place.

When you have a mutt, on the other hand, it can act as crazy as it wants. As you restrain the mutt from sure attack, people will say “is it a rescue?” and give you a pat on the back before they realize what a bad dog owner you are. Trust me, I know from experience.

Jack is known to lunge at small children, for example. But who’s to say his great-grandmarm wasn’t bred for that very purpose? Intriguing!

2. Purebreds are the product of bioengineering

Purebreeds are the product of selective breeding and they’re cultivated by humans. Do you know what that means, in practice? It means that instead of just adopting the millions of mutts who spend their lives in little cages, grown-ups with email addresses like “” find each other on Craigslist, swap dog photos, arrange a meeting point off a highway in Pennsylvania, and then share sandwiches while two specific dogs get down to business. The owners of the male dog get paid a stud fee and the owners of the female dog sell those pure pups at a premium while the poor mutts in cages think about things like mange and curse their free-wheeling ancestors.*

Isn’t that evil-ish? The people who do it aren’t doing anything bad on purpose, but isn’t it kinda bad? If mutts knew English and you explained that humans were swapping dog photos with strangers instead of adopting them, boy, would they be upset, mange permitting. Sometimes the mange makes it hard to focus.

*Maybe it doesn’t really happen that way. This part isn’t based on science.

3. Crazy dogs are good dogs

The Cumberbatch, a cool-headed purebred famed for its ability to solve British mysteries.

All mutts are a little unhinged. That means they do hilarious things like bark at fire hydrants and join in human hugs. These things make you laugh and chuckle and they make life a little less serious and routine.

Now that we don’t really use them for herding or chasing down ducks, isn’t that what dogs are for?

Bonus tip: If you want an animal who behaves predictably, go with the cat. And if you find the cat too unpredictable, I recommend a new set of living room furniture, which can really spice things up depending on the pattern and fabric.

Extra bonus tip!: Never look a mutt in its eyes.

4. Mutts are already here, purebreds need to be created

I can see the purebred logic when applied to cars. There are millions of cars out there, but I’d rather drive one that’s brand new. But cars are different than dogs.

What makes them different? Odd question. Well, let’s see…instead of lungs cars have “engines.” Instead of guzzling gas, dogs “guzzle” oxygen. Dogs play catch, cars are driven places. Cars are driven by people, dogs are driven by a desire to eat bones and chew stuff, and we need to talk about how you’re using the word “driven” there. The list goes on.

It does? OK, well, dogs “sleep” at night while cars “get parked.” Instead of a brain, like dogs have, cars lack a basic central nervous system. Dogs sweat through their mouths while cars have complex exhaust pipes. Cars need a “key” to start while dogs just need you to walk into the room.

But the point is this: if cars had hearts and brains, buying a shiny new Cabriolet would not be the right thing to do. Go to the junkyard, pick out an old Subaru with a good personality and maybe just a slight case of mange, grab the keys for a small donation, and drive that Subaru to a better life.

5. Mutts appreciate it (this would make a good t-shirt)

As Tolstoy famously wrote, all adopted mutts are happy mutts. You’ll never hear a mutt say “My word, Eleanor,  this is NOT what I had in mind when I was conceived at a farm outside Cleveland!” Unlike eloquent purebreds such as Cumberbatch, mutts can’t talk.

But if they could, here’s what they’d say: “hey human let’s go play give me bones who’s that stranger get him out of here i am so scared stop touching me what is that a ball give it give it give it how do you bury things anyway give me more of that dog food stuff when you have a chance can you take me outside what if i get in that bed for a quick sec i don’t see the big deal why does the mailman still think he can come so close remember when that person said they were a dog person ha ha ha i taught him a lesson i’m sorry if i embarrassed you it is probably the result of my heritage which is that i am a mutt tracing back to the beginning of dogs and we just run around and bark and eat stuff and get tired and hang out with you humans let me get a little closer you are the best except for other dogs and treats and running please don’t approach me from the side i get a little jumpy ok naptime.”

Something like that.

I have nothing against purebreds because purebreds are awesome mange-free dogs.

All I’m trying to say is this: let’s get all those mangy mutts adopted before we start corresponding with Tom and Deb. Let’s shut down those assembly lines until we get all those sad Subarus in garages.

Who’s with me?

“Not sure I understand the question but here’s Paw”

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5 Perks of Being the Guy on a Babymoon

On the way down to Queen’s Bath in Kauai

Back from Hawaii after a relaxing and thoroughly enjoyable week in Kauai, where my 7-months-pregnant wife and I rented a condo and went to a good buddy’s wedding. Babymoons make a lot of sense if your wife/girlfriend is pregnant, and if you’re anything like me, you might find a babymoon more enjoyable than a regular moon.

Here are 5 reasons why.

1) You can be lazy

If you’re the type of person who flies thousands of miles to be lazy, you’re a winner in my book and you’re going to like the babymoon.

The third trimester slightly slowed my wife’s pace and daily traveling ambition, elliptically bringing it near my own natural orbit. It’s fun to say “do you want to go back to the condo and relax?” when really, that’s all I want to do.

The condo rules. There’s a couch that overlooks the ocean in it.

2) You have a designated driver

Delicious, but let it go, man

The flipside of this is that your designated driver is your sober wife. Tread carefully! I recommend keeping the conversation simple, commenting on such things as waves, the speed of traffic (but in a patient way), and the food at the place that also served the giant drink in the pineapple. You can bring up the giant drink in the pineapple, but only once.

If you think she thinks you had too much pineapple drink, do sober things like turning the radio down or sighing.

Also, it may seem funny to get in the back instead of the front, but it’s not (yes it is).

3) Learning to relax under pressure

Everyone knows you’re on a babymoon, and the pressure to enjoy every last second of peaceful relaxation can work against your natural inclination to actually relax. Parents are generally supportive, and most interactions go something like this:

Parent (scary, foreboding expression): Ohhh, you better enjoy the rest while you can.

(A few moments pass while you nod)

Parent (trying to smile): But you’re going to love it.

Given the intensity of raising a new human without any practice, I imagine relaxing will soon be done under a fair amount of pressure. The babymoon allows you a dry run — it’s not easy to sit on a beach, watching the tropical waves crashing, thinking about that baby. (Not literally…it’s actually very easy.)

4) Spending money

There are strong societal hints that we’ll struggle to afford a baby, or at least struggle to eat at a nice restaurant and order a drink served in a giant pineapple, while staying afloat financially. The babymoon is the last time you can spend selfishly.

Enterprise, if you are reading this and wondering why I stuck with the Hyundai…it’s a fair point. Get off my blog though.

5) Buoyancy

One thing they don’t teach you in chemistry lab, but should because it’s interesting unlike those bunsons I’m not allowed to touch, is that pregnant women are awesomely buoyant. This probably sounds silly but it’s really, really fun to snorkel and swim alongside your wife and baby to be.

If the Dead Sea comes back to life and Israel, in its panic, scrambles to create an ad campaign that suggests you can still float super easily in spite of the decreased salinity, they may want to hire several hundred pregnant extras for the shot. Or use Photoshop if that’s easier. Or just an old photo come to think of it.

Anyway, can I play with the bunson burner now or what. I’m 30.

Conclusion: do the babymoon

Anytime you can call a vacation something that sounds obligatory, you go for it. I recommend Kauai and any other places that were shown in George Clooney movies.

Bonus animal note!

You know how there are ligers? Well Hawaii has peasters/roococks.

“Can somebody please tell me what I am”

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A Husband’s Guide to Manly Yet Indoor Responsibilities in the Age of Electricity (now with rooster fact)

It feels like yesterday when I awoke to a crowing rooster and was expected to find that rooster and give it some rooster treats just to say thanks. Now that I pause and look back on it, that was many thousands of years ago.

Gone are the lumberjack gloves, long halls for mass gatherings, and 3-string guitars carved from ancient canoes. With electricity on the rise, you just don’t see many roosters these days.

(Speak of the devil you guys, there’s one now. On the right.)

As a modern man, you want to prove your manly chops inside of your home and not just outside, where you’ve already mastered such things as the wood pile and the sprinkler but still have a ways to go when it comes to compost.

Inside of the home, the husband’s role is changing. And with that in mind I offer 4 elements of my daily indoor routine that are indisputably and irrefutably 100% grade-A man-grade.

Take them or leave them, but if you do one thing, I sure hope it’s “take them.”

1) Loading the dishwasher

Don’t just do the dishes. Unflinchingly collect the muckity-muck when you’re finished and deposit it into the garbage can with a swift thwack.

Manly tip: don’t use gloves to avoid the heat. When the water gets so hot you can’t stand it, take a sip to build your tolerance. If you must start out with gloves, maybe you can just do one glove.

2) Monitoring the trash situation

Maintain a constant awareness of how full the kitchen trash bag is at any given time. Once it’s full, wait a day or two to see what will happen. When the lid no longer closes or your wife is in the same room (whichever comes first), pull on those drawstrings like Johnny Cash must’ve pulled on his trash bags once the strings were invented.

From there you’ll want to leave the tied bag in a strategic and out-of-the-way location, typically right in front of the trash can, and wait a day or two to see what will happen.

Manly tip: inhale deeply when you pull on the drawstrings.

3) Waking up first

A key to maintaining your wife’s respect is to pop out of bed whenever an alarm goes off. It doesn’t matter if it’s the fire alarm or the little helicopter alarm you treated yourself to after that disappointing Christmas. As soon as you hear a buzz or a bell or a beep, you want to be as upright as Johnny Cash likely was when his alarm sounded.

Manly tip: where alarms are concerned, it’s important not to lose face in front of your wife. If you mistake a 4 a.m. text message for an alarm and yell “I’ll take the dog out!”, grab a flashlight and take the dog out. If your wife says “I think that was just a text,” well, I don’t know what to tell you. It’s tricky and kind of depends on your dynamic.

4) Feeding the dog

Every day, twice a day, you should feed a dog. Preferably your own dog, but if the neighbor has one you can feed it just the same.

Don’t just grab a cupful of dog food and feed it to a happy mutt piece by piece. No, no. Train him. Say “sit,” “down,” and “stay” while you carefully balance the dog food, trying hard not to spill any.

Here’s the key: you only let the dog eat after he either follows your commands OR ignores them. If he doesn’t do those things, I recommend you still go ahead and feed the dog.

Manly tip: if you like the taste of dog food, hey, you’re not alone. Dogs like it too. Be yourself and have fun with things.

Fun fact: roosters “crow” and crows probably “roost.”

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Segway vs. rollerblades (vs. self-confidence)

I’m a man of the people, and the people named Bryan Raven and Nicole something or other request that I settle a battle that rages in few people’s minds.

That’s right! The Segway vs. the rollerblade.

The Segway

Hard to believe it’s been a decade since the Segway graced us with its hilarious 2-wheeled presence. Its breathless debut promised the end of walking and exercise — an impressive goal but one that doesn’t really solve a problem.

By targeting walkers, the Segway unwittingly competes with time-honored modes of transport such as legs. And unlike walking which is free, Segways cost $5,000 (used).

What did I miss here. Is walking hard?

The perks

If you’re a slow walker with solid balance and you’re not worried about things like exercise or popularity, the Segway can reliably get you from A to B. They’re incredible devices, really. When used properly, a Segway can easily whisk you up a hill and around the corner while you stand there dorkishly shifting your weight like a huge dork.

And as a bonus, Segways are green vehicles that run on phosphate-based lithiom ion batteries (don’t know either).

The downside

Popular with tour guides. Requires a big funny helmet. Max speed of 12.5 mph. Expensive.

In some states, you can’t ride one on the sidewalk, meaning you have to join traffic and hope for understanding, compassionate drivers with open minds. I have not encountered such drivers.

Lastly, the guy who owned the company rode his Segway off a cliff. This suggests they’re not as easy to control as legs.

Best possible scenario

Cities like Boston have recently unveiled bike-sharing programs. Segways need to get involved! Ideally, the bottom of any big hill, particularly in San Francisco, would house a Segway stand. You could pay a nickel (slang for $5 starting now), hop on, dorkishly lean forward, and hop off at the top of the hill. Then a ski lift-type device would take the Segways back down.

If you’re a city manager who’d like to chat about this, shoot me an email at

Does it pass the I Am Legend test?

100 PERCENT YES. As the last man alive, I would exclusively ride Segways from noon til night. And I would go 12.5 mph from the couch to the fridge, 12.5 mph while escaping the zombie hordes, and 12.5 mph up and down the aisles of a midwestern K-Mart with a working alarm system that runs on generators.

Rollerblades, aka in-line skates

Little-known fact, aka, fact I didn’t know: “rollerblade” is a trademarked term like Kleenex and Band-Aid. They’re really called in-line skates and they have a surprisingly cool story which I’ll quickly relate.

Back in the 1780s a Belgian by the name of John Merlin was playing around with the average shoe, looking for a way to make shoes faster. This got the ball rolling.

Then in 1849, a French opera prop-master invented in-line skates for a character who was meant to be ice skating on a stage without ice. But it wasn’t until the 1980 Olympics, when popular speed skaters used them for off-season training, that rollerblades infiltrated our recreational consciousness.

They soon exploded in popularity. According to something called, 22 million Americans strapped on rollerblades in 2000. By 2010, that number had dropped a whopping 65 percent.

The perks

Rollerblades are genuinely fun to use and much faster than the Segway. They also capitalize on something we already do (walk), which is the job of any good invention.

I have a vague memory of being 10 and pretending to be an Olympic speed skater, arm carefully tucked behind me, while I cruised around the neighborhood under my mom’s close supervision.

I can buy 100 pairs for the cost of a used Segway.

With the emerging popularity and coolness of cycling culture, it’s only a matter of time before we give the rollerblade its due. In that sense, today’s brave rollerbladers are early adapters who can soon say things like “Son I’ve been in knee pads since you was in diapers!”

The downside

Mainly the knee pads.

Best possible scenario

Drew Barrymore directs a movie that catapults the rollerblade back onto the national scene.

Wait, that happened?

Best quote from Whip It‘s imdb page

Iron Maven: Nice jump, “Evel Knievel.”
Bliss Cavendar: Thanks. Maybe I’ll teach it to you some time.
Iron Maven: [a little surprised] Really?
Bliss Cavendar: Yeah.
Iron Maven: [smiles] Okay.

Does it pass the I Am Legend test?

No. If the world ended and I survived, I would not rule out a spin or two on some choice rollerblades. But I also wouldn’t use them a lot unless I found some reliable over-the-pants knee pads, and I’ll be too preoccupied with food and water to look for those.

The verdict!

It’s not a landslide between these equally uncool modes of transportation,  but as long as the world is going strong rollerblades outpace the Segway. They’re faster, more affordable, and more fun.

Segways are an incredible invention for non-walkers with plenty of cash and they don’t require knee pads (as far as I know). The expense is what’s hurting here. They need to come down by about $4,983 before they give rollerblades a run.

Thanks for reading this inexplicably long post!

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Rules for writing online, #17

Subdue your inner editor as you write what you need to write. Then let your words simmer as you work on something different.

When you return to it, you’ll be able to edit with fresh eyes.


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Fruit power rankings (1982-2012 edition)

1. Watermelon (citrullus lanatus)

Nothing says “Welcome back, warm weather” quite like a barbecue with friends or a cold beer. But a distant third is watermelon, and that’s not bad for a fruit. Watermelon had a strong three decades punctuated by mouth-watering bursts of watermelon-flavored water. If fruit shows up in a fun photograph, you can bet it’s watermelon. I love watermelon, we are good friends, and we sometimes hang out together.

Nutritional fact: Watermelon has lycopene (?).

Special power: Tastes even better when spherical.

2. Apple (malus domestica)

Long before iPods and iPads and Macs the humble apple was teaching us about gravity and helping Isaac Newton stay awake in the afternoon.

Apples are socially versatile. Is grandma visiting? Cut one up and eat slices from a bowl. Cool new friend in town? Whip out a pocket knife and eat slices off the knife while pretending to think what you’re doing isn’t awesome.

Nutritional facts: I heard in an airplane line that apples provide a bigger energy boost than caffeine in the afternoon. Apples are also packed with small amounts of phosphorus (?).

Special power: cider.

3. Strawberry (fragaria ananassa)

Strawberries are dependably delicious, especially when someone else cuts the stems off. They own fruit salads. I have seen finished fruit salads with untouched grapes and blueberries, but never strawberries. Strawberries are dignified in spite of being easily forked, and would have a legitimate shot at #1 here if they went bad a little more slowly.

Nutritional facts: Those “seeds” on the outside are actually the fruit’s ovaries with seeds inside of them. Let’s be mature about this, OK? Strawberries have flavonoids (don’t know).

Special power: smoothies, popsicles.

4. Orange (citrus sinensis)

It’s been a rocky road with the orange. It gets points for orange juice and loses points for the unpredictable quality of the fruit itself. Unlike with strawberries, I never bite into an orange confidently. It may be too sour, flavorless, messy. It may also be flavor-packed and deliciously refreshing.

Not knowing what to expect makes the orange the rebel of the fruit group. Maddening, rewarding, challenging.

Nutritional facts: The orange is the only fruit named after a color, if you don’t count red and green apples or grapes, blueberries, blackberries, and assorted other fruits. Oranges have trace amounts of pantothenic acid (wtf?).

Special power: juice with maximum pulp.

5. Pineapple (ananas comosus)

Nothing says tropical quite like a luau or a pig roast on the beach hosted by a ukulele connoisseur. A distant third or fourth is the mighty pineapple, which has the coolest armor in the fruit kingdom. It’s “the armadillo of the fruit aisle” and tastes great when canned in sugar water.

Pineapples are a social fruit. They allow vegetarians to use big knives.

Nutritional facts: In the Philippines, pineapple leaves are turned into edible wallpaper. Pineapples are also packed with manganese, a crucial nutrient most likely.

Special power: pulp bonus in smoothies, juice.

Honorable mentions

Tomatoes aren’t really a fruit, even though they are. Pizza and pasta sauce, delicious. Raw tomato, questionable. V-8 juice, the friendship’s off.

Blueberries had a strong three decades. Best enjoyed by the fistful. Infuriating when added to a fruit salad served in respectable company. I just don’t have the motor skills.

Grapes are hit and miss. They lose 40% of their appeal on the trip from the grocery store to the kitchen.

Cantaloupe/honeydew are underrated because they’re in the watermelon/pineapple-dominated big huge fruit division. But if you cut me up some honeydew, I wouldn’t complain…aloud.

Grapefruits can hit the spot or sit there for a month waiting for me to attack it with a razor spoon. I never have razor spoons handy.

Cucumbers dominate our vegetable bin. The internet tells me the cucumber is a fruit. Is anything I learned in 3rd grade true?

Dishonorable unmentions

Cranberries seem confused.

Pomegranates are too much work.

Ugli fruit.

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