Holiday Greetings





SUGGEST YOUR OWN CAPTIONS

“I would go back to the drawing board if it hadn’t been repossessed last week.”

“Given the economy, and now that you have written the proof that two can live as cheaply as one, I guess I will marry you.”


This cartoon was suggested by Brooke Allen, illustrated by Alicia Reeves, and published in the November 21, 2008 on-line edition of Science Careers Magazine in the story Finance’s Quant(um) Mechanics.

How to Be a Saboteur

© 2009 Brooke Allen
brooke@brookeallen.com www.BrookeAllen.com
Originally published in International Family Magazine

When I was young, shooting a TV wasn’t as unusual as you might think.

I grew up at a time when it was not uncommon for a young boy or girl to receive a .22 rifle as a graduation present from the sixth grade.

Youngsters would take their rifles to the garbage dump and televisions were a favorite target. They produce such a satisfying sound when the picture tube implodes.

This is because they contain a vacuum and if the picture tube is broken, it implodes. The glass in the front is thick but the back tapers down to a neck of a few inches in diameter and as thin as a light bulb. The safe way of destroying a picture tube is to wrap a blanket around that neck and give it a light tap. The towel will collect the glass shards, and the thick face will easily stop the inrushing air.[1]

However, if you crack the face of the picture tube, the air will be funneled into the narrow neck, which will break off from the pressure and become a high velocity projectile.

A friend was at the dump and shot a picture tube that was outside of its case. The neck was facing him, and he managed to nick a corner of the glass where it was thickest. The neck traveled about fifty feet before it hit him. He was not badly injured, but good enough to make the story worth telling.

My father shot our TV through its face as it stood in our living room. The picture tube was still in the case and the debris was contained.

If you were to shoot a television or computer screen these days, I’d suggest you go for a flat panel. It won’t sound as good, but it is safer.

When shooting appliances, do not shoot at anything that can shoot back.

 

(Hopefully, they have not gotten wind of this story, and have not decided on preemptive action.)


[1] For details about picture tube implosions, see: http://www.repairfaq.org/sam/crtfaq.htm#crtpti

My Good Name

© 2008 Brooke Allen
brooke@brookeallen.com www.BrookeAllen.com
Originally published in International Family Magazine
Republished in Folks Magazine on 8/22/09.

Brrrrring. Brrrring.

“Hello”

“Is Brooke Allen there?”

“Speaking.”

“I’m sorry, I have the wrong number.”

Click.

When I first moved to New York City a well-meaning friend gave me a book about surviving in the city. It served no purpose but to destroy all pleasure in life: When pushed in front of the subway, lie down in the ditch between the rails. Carry your wallet in your front pocket since your back pocket will be sliced open with a razor. And by all means, install three locks so the burglar finds your neighbor’s door more attractive.

Immediately after moving to the city, phone calls like the one above were repeated every week or two.

I was convinced that someone was casing my apartment and the instant I didn’t answer I would be robbed. What’s worse, since the caller’s voice sounded different each time it appeared there was an inexhaustible supply of crooks.

Two years into my torture one of my mystery callers explained it to me. There was another Brooke Allen who lived on East 88th street. Her number was unlisted and mine was.

I tracked her down. We exchanged phone numbers and thus began a long and entertaining relationship.

I would call her answering machine and play her messages on my machine.

I became comfortable acting on the various party invitations that arrived in my mailbox every so often.

“Who the hell are you?”

“Brooke Allen.”

One year I held a Christmas party. My friend called to say, “I’m confused. My sister-in-law received an invitation from you for the same date but a different location.” It appeared we had both friends and party dates in common.

Eventually we just held a joint party: Brooke Allen squared. Everyone might as well meet each other.

She is an established writer. When her play, “The Big Love” with Tracy Ullman opened on Broadway, I taped her poster on my office door.

“I had no idea you were you were so accomplished,” a coworker would comment.

“There are many sides of me you don’t know.” Yea, like that I’m shameless and I’ve never written a Broadway play.

When I wrote a letter to the New York Times, she got the comments.

When she wrote an essay in the Nation called “Our Godless Constitution” questioning the Religious Right’s right to claim we were founded as a Christian nation, I got the threats.

When I went to register for my MBA at New York University, they told me I was unwelcome there. It appears Brooke Allen had once been pissed at NYU, told them to get lost and put a stop payment on a tuition check.

While I was on vacation with a girlfriend, a friend of hers called my apartment and was told by our house-sitter that “They are in Europe.”

That friend them met Brooke at dinner and told her of the stranger on her phone. Only after she and the policeman found her apartment untouched did it dawn on her.

Revenge comes to all those who wait.

So tell everyone you know about that great writer, Brooke Allen. Tell them to look up Brooke’s books on Amazon and order them. Just don’t tell them she is not me.

 

Take pride in, protect and promote your good name, particularly if you share it with others.

Environmentalist, Get Thee to an Editor

© 2007 Brooke Allen
brooke@brookeallen.com www.BrookeAllen.com
Originally published in International Family Magazine

Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs)[1] are neurotoxins and potent carcinogens that were once used extensively in cooling oils for electrical transformers back when we were fearless (and stupid).

Transformers can overheat and catch fire. Breathing the smoke from a burning transformer containing PCBs can put firemen at more risk than they signed up for.

At the train station in Hoboken, New Jersey, I spied a large transformer with a sticker on it that said:

“NO PCBs”

What did this sticker mean?

Did a protestor place the sticker there thinking he was working in the best interests of workers, firemen, and the general public?

Or did it mean that the transformer had been tested and was free of PCBs?

A falsely reassure a maintenance person or a fireman might put himself at great risk. Or he might take it as a warning and fail to put out a fire putting others at risk.

These two words (well, one word and an acronym) take my prize for the shortest ambiguous sentence.

Don’t believe what you can misread.

 

Ambiguity is the soul of the nitwit.


[1] Replacing more than one of the hydrogen atoms in a biphenol with chlorine atoms produces a Polychlorinated Biphenol; but you knew that already just from the name.

Sublimation

© 2007 Brooke Allen
brooke@brookeallen.com www.BrookeAllen.com
Originally published in International Family Magazine

“Granddad, something’s different.”

“What’s that?”

“I haven’t seen you smoking a cigar since we got here.”

“I quit a year ago.”

“Why? I thought you loved those things.”

“Nope. I hated them.”

This was puzzling. “If you hated them, then why did you smoke.”

“It started in the 1920’s. I was the head of the United Press office in Havana. The other men in the office told me that, since I was the highest paid man there, it was entirely appropriate, expected even, that I have a mistress.”

“When I told your grandmother that everyone thought I should have a mistress, she blew a gasket.”

“When she finally calmed down, she said, ‘I guess I have been too strict. I will allow you just one vice, but a mistress is out of the question.'”

“Since cigars were so cheap in Havana, I took up smoking.”

“You didn’t like cigars?”

“No. I hated those things.” He laughed, “I wanted a mistress.”

“So, why did you quit.”

“Anne told me that for my 80th birthday I could have a mistress, so I quit.”

That was interesting, “So, now do you have a mistress?”

“No. It is probably too late and I’m not really interested. But I’m sure glad to be done with those cigars.”
Find alternatives to doing the wrong thing.

Hobbies are good. Carcinogens are bad.

Holiday Remembrances

© 2006 Brooke Allen
brooke@brookeallen.com www.BrookeAllen.com
Originally published in International Family Magazine

I find holidays are an important time to pause and remember things. These days I’m getting older so I do the pause quite well, but the remember part… well… I’ve decided to keep notes.

Thanksgiving is a time to remember how much less I weighed November a year ago. Now that our son goes to McGill in Montreal, it is also a time to remember that they celebrate their Thanksgiving in October and they celebrate mid-term exams at the end of November.

Christmas is a time to remember who sent us holiday cards last year. It is also a time to remember that a bunch of Christians got all whacked about calling them “holiday cards” instead of Christmas cards. Maybe I don’t need to send cards to everyone this year.

Chanukah is a time when I remember that I took an accounting course at Baruch before transferring to New York University.

Easter is a time when I remember that, as pre-teens my sister and I were given two rabbits named Bach and Beethoven. Beethoven turned out to be a girl. Within two years we were feeding more than one hundred rabbits every day after school. I never once saw a single one lay an egg.

On July fourth I remember how much fun an M-80 can be in a trash can.

On secretary’s Day I remember when there were secretaries. 1990 was the first year I noticed there were no secretaries in sight on site, so I sent cards to every generic secretary I could think of, along with a few bucks and a suggestion they buy themselves a small present or a drink. After all, if I had a secretary, I would have sent them out to buy something. It’s part of the job description

Only two replied. They were:

Elizabeth Dole, then Secretary of Labor, and,

Edward Derwinski, then Secretary of Veterans Affairs.

I think they must be really decent people.

Holidays can be stressful. Humor helps.

Tricky Economics

© 2006 Brooke Allen
brooke@brookeallen.com www.BrookeAllen.com
Originally published in International Family Magazine

We once attended a “Tricky Tray” fundraiser. It offered some excellent economics lessons. If you haven’t experienced one of these is, I’ll explain.

“Tricky” means what you expect and “Tray” comes from both the French word “très”, which means “very”, and the Spanish “tres” which means “three”.

A Tricky Tray is a very tricky device for separating you from your money three ways.

1) You pay $40 for a meal worth about $7.49.

2) You donate a prize that is supposed to cost about $20 but since it will bear you name, and since you don’t want to appear cheap, you will spend about twice this amount.

3) You must buy at least 10 tickets for $1 apiece that you will use to bid on the prizes. However, everyone else buys five times this number to increase their likelihood of winning something, so you will too just to stay even.

If everyone spends more to increase their chances, then everyone is worse off. The cost to achieve the same chance of winning goes up. This nicely illustrates the relationship between inflation and money supply.

If everyone has the same chance of winning a prize as everyone else, and if the number of prizes exactly equals the number of attendees, and if the average value of a prize is $40, then each participant should expect to win something worth about $40. This nicely illustrates the concept of expected value. As everyone contributes a $40 gift to join the game, they should all break even.

People then spend money for the tickets to underwrite a process that simply keeps people from going home with what they came with; sort of like the way Wall Street charges you a fee to sell one stock and buy another.

The average person paid $40 for their meal, $40 for the gift that they brought, $50 for the tickets with which to win other people’s tickets. Therefore, the average person received $7.49 in certain value and an average expected value of $40 in prizes, but with a large variance in outcomes. You can see how this could lead into a discussion of risk/reward ratios and breakeven analysis. It could lead to that discussion, but it won’t. Not now.

Anyway, it was all for a good cause. At least we assumed that it was.

In our case, we came with prizes that cost us $20 each (though not evidently so). We followed instructions precisely, and did not care who thinks we are cheap.

We bought the minimum number of tickets because: 1) we are not gamblers, 2) since we already had everything that we needed, we did not need anything else, 3) we already had a house stuffed with things we did not need, the only thing that this might suggest is that we could use a bigger house – however we didn’t expect to find a house among the donated gifts), and 4) we had no desire to collect other people’s ideas of things we did not need.

Eve and I separated upon arrival.

With my ten tickets I proceeded to win five prizes. This was more than nearly everyone else. Let me explain how I did it

A ballroom had dozens of tables holding hundreds of gifts. Next to each was a brown paper bag of the size that typically holds a flattened PBJ sandwich under an apple and a milk carton. You were to inspect each prize and decide if you wanted a chance at winning it. If it interested you, you’d drop half of your numbered ticket into the bag. During dinner, each bag would be shaken and winners called out.

Those are the physical and mechanical aspects of the Tricky Tray.

It was worth observing the behavior of participants.

The whole endeavor was clearly a female thing. Men were in tow, but they weren’t digging it. Of a few hundred items, less than a dozen might possibly appeal to someone with a Y chromosome. Even then, they were a woman’s concept of what a man might want.

A typical exchange in front of a variable speed drill:

She (all a titter): “Oh honey, I’m putting a ticket in this bag just for you. You could use it.” It was hard to force the slip into the bag since every woman in the room had used a few percent of her tickets on one of the man-prizes as a gesture of fairness.

He: “I don’t want another drill. I already have one.”

She: “But you can always use another drill.”

He: “How?”

She: “What if the one you have breaks?”

He: “Then I will buy another one.”

She: “But you could have this one.”

He: “If the one I have breaks, then I will want to chose the one I buy to replace it.”

Dinner began at 8:00 P.M. by which time the inspection of the prizes was to be completed.

By 7:45 the room had emptied, but for me.

On a first pass I inspected each bag. Some of the bags were overflowing, many had dozens of tickets, some had fewer than five; a few were empty.

On a second pass, each empty bag got one of my tickets. The remaining tickets went into bags with little competition.

Of course I won lots of prizes. Some folk with over 100 tickets won nothing.

During dinner, half my numbers were called. The women at my dinner table became upset with me. (The men couldn’t care less.)

Was I cheating? Several people suspected as much, until they began to inspect my winnings.

She: “No wonder you won so much; you bid on the stuff nobody wants.”

Me: “I want these things.”

She: “What on earth are you going to do with a shelf of children’s books?”

Me: “I have children.”

She: “Or those reference books?”

Me: “I can use the atlas, the dictionary, the pocket encyclopedia and the almanac. The only thing I have already is the thesaurus and so I’ll give that away.”

She: “OK, but a basket of pet toys? What are you going to do with them? You don’t have any pets.”

Me: “Yes, but I have friends who do. These will make fine presents.”

Priscilla put her finger on it. “None of the things you’ve won are any fun. I saw your bucket with the mop and the cleaning supplies. Are you crazy?”

“I saw that one too.” Suzanne laughed, “Who on earth would donate such crap? There was a really cute pair of earrings nearby. I wanted them so bad. Brooke, why didn’t you try to win those?”

I blushed, “I don’t wear earrings. Besides, that bag was full.”

She: “You could give them away. They would make a better gift than pet toys.” There was obvious contempt in her voice.

Me: “So, if you won those earrings, would you wear them or give them away as a gift?”

A pause.

She: “Well, actually I probably would pawn them off on somebody. They aren’t exactly my style.”

Me: “Good. This will illustrate the point. Let’s look into my cleaning bucket. How much would you normally pay for all this stuff? Bucket, mop, spare mop head, brush, floor cleaner, tile cleaner, window cleaner, pot scrubbers, pumice, natural sponge… the bucket was brimming.”

She: “More than $30.” There was lots of nodding indicated consensus. “But I could buy that stuff any time.”

Me: “Exactly. You have and you will again as you use it up and so will I. So this prize, that not one other person wanted, will save me at least $30.”

She: “Soooo…What’s the point?”

Me: “How much do those earrings cost? They look like costume jewelry.”

She: “I know exactly. I’ve seen them at the drugstore for $19.95. They have a hundreds on display.”

Me: “Now, if I wanted to give you a pair of earrings, I could take you to the store and let you pick exactly the ones you want. If I did this with the money I saved from taking the cleaning supplies that nobody wanted, I’d still have $10 left over.”

Everyone agreed that the real point of the evening was to enjoy oneself. Somehow, for them, my approach didn’t cut it.

Funny, I was having a blast.

The laugher, shaking of heads, and derisive comments lead me to believe I had not trained any competitors for next time.

You need not have fun nor make economic decisions the same way as everyone else.