Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Why Do I Waste My Time Like This?

A week ago, my best "friend" Brian suggested I install Tetris Friends to my Facebook (I refer to it as FB Tetris). Why did I let him talk me into such a cataclysmic waste of time?

I've concentrated on the Sprint variant. FB Tetris Sprint requires the player to optimize clearing 40 lines with respect to time. In other words, clear 40 lines fast.

To get better at Tetris Sprint, it is a matter of math, really:

1 line = 10 blocks
1 piece = 4 blocks
1 game = 40 lines

40 lines = 40 * 10 blocks = 400 blocks
400 blocks / 4 blocks / piece = 100 pieces

To finish this game, you need at least 100 pieces to fall. That represents a perfect, waste-free game, which never happens. There are no line "bonuses" that get you to 40 lines any faster than 100 pieces. Since we are optimizing for time and there is always going to be waste, the questions is:

How much time does each block cost?

My computer isn't sufficiently precise or powerful enough to record the games and replay them, frame by frame, to see the latency cost incurred while doing certain tetris game actions such as:
  • dropping a piece straight down ("Hard Drop")
  • swapping a piece in/out of the single-piece buffer
  • clearing a line/lines (it should be noted that the time it takes to clear 4 lines is the same amount of time it takes to clear 1 line)
  • moving a piece right/left
  • latency between pressing "Hard Drop" and getting the next piece in play
The only other actions involved with tetris are:
  • thinking
  • reacting to misplaced pieces
Additionally, I haven't recorded myself playing to measure the latency of my eyes skipping around the screen.
  • your eyes will move back and forth between the piece and the playing area
  • your eyes will move around between the 2nd, 3rd, etc pieces and the playing area
  • your eyes will move right and left as you consider where to drop the piece.
I do not consider using the "Soft Drop" reasonable. You are wasting my time and yours if you think you can compete using that button.

Turns out that of all the time-consuming things above, time lost to thinking dominates all the others. In trying to optimize for time, you want to improve the areas that promise the greatest rewards first. It also turns out that latency related to eye movement is usually associated with thinking.

My FB Tetris Fundamental Assertion (FTFA): If you want to compete in FB Tetris Sprint, stop thinking.

Each of these thinking activities turns out to be counter-productive (for most players):
  • Planning to clear multiple lines at a time. Don't do it. If you lose 1/2 second to game planning, you have already wasted more time than the game takes up clearing 3 singles. Defeated.
  • Planning multiple pieces ahead. Don't fall victim to this. Eye movement back and forth and the pause needed to mentally place them erase the rewards for multiple lines.
  • Moving your eyes up to see the next piece. Your eyes must stay put. Memorize the colors and use your periphery. If your eyes are moving, your fingers are not. Generally, you'll put your eyes where you want the piece to go and use the "Hard Drop" once the shadow is there, correctly oriented.
  • Changing your mind. Go with your gut and never look back. When you've identified the next piece to come into play and identified it's resting place, never alter that plan. Moving pieces costs finger movement and time to move across board "space."
  • Using the one-piece buffer. This is about the worst thing most people can do. If it isn't enough that you've moved your eyes around to identify the piece in play and moved them back and forth across the board to locate a place for it only to determine not to use it, you then move your eyes up to the buffer piece and repeat the same series of actions. The one piece ends up costing you between 3-5 pieces, or 12-20 blocks. At the end of the day, that one buffer piece cost you two lines. If you are using the suggestion below to lay pieces flat, the worst that will happen is you have a hole which will open up in 3-5 pieces anyway. No time/lines lost.
  • Caring about where a piece lands. Sure, you meant for it to be somewhere else. It isn't. Don't ever think about it again, just play the next piece.
On the other hand, try to do the following:
  • Lay pieces flat. Laying them flat means a smaller likelihood of blocks being left behind vertically at the end. It also means less likelihood of multi-line clears, which reduces the need to think.
  • Use peripheral vision. Discussed above, this shaves worlds of time off.
  • Minimize movement and rotation. After you get good at memorizing the next piece coming into play, you'll recognize its initial orientation. In this implementation of Tetris, it is always starts out the same (which is merciful). You've identified the piece, your eyes see it's location, you know the destination location and orientation, so your fingers can get right to work, all the way to the Hard Drop before the shadow gets there. You should never rotate a piece more than two (2) times, and worse case you shouldn't move it right/left more than 5 key presses.
  • Press right/left at the same time you press rotate. Instead of losing the amount of time it takes to press 5 keys, you lose the amount of time it takes to press 3.
  • Intentionally rotate the proper/intended direction. Teach both fingers to rotate. Don't just always rotate clockwise. You'll rotate much less, and find that you don't get lost with the expected vs. real orientation only to rotate a time or two more, which also consumes tons of time. You have to wait for the game to catch up with you. For advanced Tetris players, your mind is already trained to do this. Think like Neo. "Know you're faster."
  • Keep your eyes glued to the middle of the board. Especially as you lay things flat, it will be easy and obvious where pieces should go, so your eyes will need to move less. This shaves tons of time.
In the worst game (academically speaking of course) your keypresses would be:

(5 (r/l) + 2 (rotation)) * 100 = 700

Although that is severly overstated because of (at least) the following:
  • That assumes every piece is a straight piece moved against the wall
  • You can press r/l and rotation buttons simultaneously
  • That assumes a perfect, wasteless game
So even a very exaggerated count would be:

5 (r/l/rot) * 100 = 500

Assuming that only one in four pieces will need to be moved to either edge as a worst case scenario and that the others can be positioned with at most 3 r/l movements:

25 * 5 (r/l/rot) + 75 * 3 (r/l/rot) = 75 + 225 = 300 key presses

Again, the 2 rotation key presses are done concurrently with the r/l movement key presses, so there is no need to count them explicitly. Even if you consider the possibility of having a relatively clean board, with say 10 wasted pieces (which is a ton), you just 10 * 3 = 30 more serialized key presses.

All this leads to the following:

330 key presses is sufficient to finish any game of FB Tetris Sprint.

In case you've missed how profound a realization that is, read it again. To win a game of FB tetris, you can count a very finite and relatively small number of actions you will be required to make. This means you can start eating the clock.

We could get a better approximation by using statistical methods, but I'm not good enough to do so, and the time won back won't be precise enough to make a difference. 330 is a very good approximation for the purposes of online, Flash-based Tetris.

Go ahead and try it. Press a key (or several different keys) 330 times in a row. This is your ideal game time - your time to beat. In reality, that isn't the case because NOW the other factors you have less control over come into play:
  • latency between next in-play piece
  • latency to clear line/lines
  • latency to move piece right/left after pressing the button
  • latency to rotate a peice after pressing a button
  • latency for a Hard Drop to fall
Although #1, #3 and #4 can be ignored because everybody has to do it, so it isn't time "lost" but rather time "required."

So assuming you have mastered all the above skills, the only things left are:
  • latency to clear line/lines
  • latency for a Hard Drop to fall
If you are at this point and you are optimizing even more, the way to resolve #1 above is to clear 10 perfect Tetris. es. (How do you pluralize Tetris?) That represents the time "required" to play the game. This requires being able to see not just the piece in play, but all 4 subsequent pieces in your periphery and mentally rotate/place them before you get them in play.

The only way to resolve the second one that I can think of is to make the board shorter. You would do that by sparsely dropping the first number of pieces such that you build a "platform" 1/3 to 2/3 the way up the board, and simply clear the 40 lines on a higher baseline plane. Shorter distance to fall, quicker piece turnaround time.

This, however, will likely violate the FTFA noted above (stop thinking). I suspect the time it would take to appropriately configure the pieces into a platform alone would eliminate the amount of time you gain back from drop-time latencies. Assuming it doesn't, you would likely lose time due to more strategic piece placement (to avoid death being closer to the top).

Having thought about all of this, I don't have a theoretical "best" game time, but I don't know that it matters. I also don't have a feel for how different computers may affect game time (better processor speeds, faster RAM, more RAM, springs in the keyboards, etc). At the end of the day, we aren't good enough to blame our game time on the responsiveness of the keys or handling times of the interrupts.

So, bringing it back to the original question, each block costs some sort of combination of turnaround time, rotation/relocation time, Hard Drop time and line clearing time - none of which are really measurable. However, the statistics the game provides helps us out quite a bit with the "Tetrominoes Per Minute" ("TPM") metric.

Think about it. My best time isn't that great: 1:38.45 or 1.64 minutes (98.45 seconds). My TPM? 67.03 (1.12 per second). That particular game, I played a total of 110 pieces, which represents an average amount of waste. This means that if you want your times to be fast, you just have to play more pieces per minute. I'll assume 110 pieces in a game. Consider your net time if you get your TPM very, very high:

69.4 TPM = 1:35
73.3 TPM = 1:30
77.6 TPM = 1:25
82.5 TMP = 1:20
88 TPM = 1:15

Of course, you'll likely have more waste at the end, but you didn't die which means that you're clearing lines. Tons faster. An interesting side note is that if you are wasting, you're slowly getting your baseline "platform" higher, which shaves little bits of time off the Hard Drop latency. The extra waste incurred isn't a substantial cost of time.

The net result? Keep your eyes down and count to 100. For each piece that falls, count. Play dirty. Play sloppy. Play quickly. If you concentrate on counting more than you concentrate on playing traditional "clean" Tetris, your times will drop. Quite a bit.

And maybe I'll see some competition. Say what you will about why I waste my time like this, but you just read it all, so poo on your face. Who's the bigger time waster?

Friday, November 21, 2008

I Hate Electric Cars

I find it curious that as we wrestle with energy issues, we are at the point where we seem to really believe that the solution is to consume alternate forms of energy, rather than the painfully obvious answer that nobody (in a significant enough position of influence) is brave enough to shout from the rooftops:

Use Less Energy.

I am so sick of the crap we are told to believe with respect to electric cars. Electric cars as a solution to our "energy independence" mantra has absolutlely no leg to stand on. I realize that the initial idea of this will incite many of you (at least one of the two who will read this). Ten years is too long to get cost-effective units to market, and ten more years for them to get traction once they hit market defeats the purpose. I've heard on NPR that 2020 will see about 25% as a generous estimation of all new vehicles as electric. That's only the new ones. How is that a solution?

If the 1970s energy crisis taught us anything, it shows that the US isn't long-suffering enough to sustain and complete such a long-term commitment, especially given that the lure of cheap oil makes it too cost-prohibitive to see through the end. 20 years? Yeah right. Somehow, America forgot after the 1973 oil embargo until the 1979 energy crisis.

Make no mistake, America won't succeed making electric cars anything other than an overstated election issue rhetoric.

All through the '70s alternatives were discussed and researched and we learned a ton. We went nuclear, solar, hydro-, atmos-, and every which way on oil's ( and OPEC's) *bum.* We know how to harness the tide. We know how to harness the wind. We know how to harness the atom and the sun. We just don't. I own a home in Arizona, and it will cost me in excess of $25,000 USD to put solar panels on it. Phoenix, Arizona, where the sun never stops (EVER), 30 years later still costs insane money to harvest the most abundant resource there: the sun. Instead, Phoenix pays through the nose to cool homes, fill pools, light the streets and light homes.

Seriously? I mean, seriously?

Money to research and stuff is nice and gives people warm fuzzies, but meanwhile, the streets are congested, pollution is nasty, commutes are terrible, junk yards are filling up,

Let me tell you what I think I learned this past year. As stated forever ago (probably the last blog post over a year ago), I love the train and bus. I love it for the time I get back, the driving I don't have to do, the comfort and stress-free way to start and end my day. What I've seen the past year is that ridership shot through the roof this past summer. I hated it. A bunch of noobs gets on the bus, making me stand. Then once gas drops below $3/gallon, you lose a bunch of them. Then below $2.50, a bunch more dropped off. Now that it is less than $2/gallon, I'm back to seeing all the old-timers and hard-core bus and train riders. Hey there Jill, James, Aaron and Barb. Long time, no see.

The only way to get American citizens to take this seriously is to make them pay for it, and pay through the nose for it. There came a point this summer where we were no longer willing to shell out to drive our HUM-Vs and Denalis 20-30+ miles to and from work. All the disgruntled gas addicts were in rehab on MY train, and I was left standing in the aisle... I welcomed them to the brotherhood all the same.

$4/gallon gas was awesome. It woke us up (as a nation), and made us realize how bad excessive fuel consumption really is, albeit only on a superficial level rather than some meaningful long-lived moral level sufficient to get a meaningful commitment. At least it did win an election, though. Electric cars may be more "ecological" today and tomorrow, but in 10 years when we have graveyards of electric car batteries, what do we say? We are simply punting the ecology question another 10 years rather than addressing the root issue.

Use Less Energy.

Let's pretend for a minute that somehow we found a way to power cars for free with absolutely no environmental impact whatsoever. We still lose. I'm pretty sure that every commuter hates the traffic. The commute. The insurance. The car maintenance and repair: tires, engines, transmissions, brakes, windows, not to mention auto body repair and the personal injury and trauma following automobile accidents. If you really think that more roads and more cars is a good idea, spend a week in Southern California.

I feel like the concept of "no" is something America has forgotten. Greed and excess landed us in the financial crisis: greed and excess took out too many over-extended mortgages; greed and excess made horrible mortgages with horrible terms available to consumers; greed and excess and predatory lending sold homes to unqualified borrowers; greed and excess then packaged these mortgages as risky securities; greed and excess got many Americans to put their retirement in the hands of these "investments"; greed and excess promotes credit default swaps as a good idea (not much more than betting with a bookie) since the late '90s; greed and excess caused oil futures trading to artificially inflate the cost of fuel in the face of failed mortgage-backed securities; greed and excess over-extended credit lines for things we knew deep down inside we couldn't afford; greed and excess defines our trade imbalance and why China owns more of the US at increasingly faster rates. We as a nation are so over-leveraged. Our current economic situation shouldn't be a surprise to anybody, nor was it unpredicted every step of the way.

Go all Nancy Reagan on Detroit (and the likes of them): We need to say no. We don't need more cars, we need to consume less energy. We need to do it before it is too late. I don't know when it is "too late" necessarily, but there are things to be done in the immediate here and now that can address all these issues and more.

A year or so ago, during the middle of rush hour, a Minnesota bridge just fell into the river below it, tragically killing 13 and injuring 145 more. The nation needs to re-evaluate its infrastructure pretty seriously. This is true, even before our economy fell to pieces. I would prefer that this happens proactively rather than reactively; we shouldn't choose to fix a bridge or dam based on casualty count.

Mass transit solves more problems than an electric car. Repeat: trains, buses, light rails and the like get this nation much further along than rehashing a broken paradigm.

Build rails now.

"But how do we pay for it ... ?" When people are falling into rivers, money somehow appears to rebuild a bridge. There is money for this, and there is plenty of it.

We saw America content with paying up to $4-$5/gallon gasoline. Now that gas is "cheap" again, I say toll the roads and toll them often. Put all that money towards rails and trains and the like.

The thought of even one red cent going to the Detriot 3 makes me ill. Those companies have shown their ability to survive, and that was only at bankruptcy's feet. Through the '80s and '90s GM came close to bankrupt several times. Are we surprised to see them at it again. Are we really willing to subsidize 30 years of poor leadership with taxpayer money? Are we, as a nation, going to pay off the unions and execs of poorly-managed corporations? Are we joking? If the business isn't profitable, it should fail. I know several small businesses that aren't weathering this storm too well, yet the nation is willing to forgive gross mistakes made by horrible corporations? I wanted Quizno's this afternoon, but when I got there I found a sign in the door that said they were evicted for not paying rent.

Rather than give any of the $25B to any of Detroit's 3, I say give $1B to 25 different companies working to do the things that the "big three" think is "unprofitable."

But really, I say forget that too. Give grants to companies investing in civil projects. Give grants to local municipalities willing to put meaningful solutions in place. Give $1B to the 25 most congested areas, for example, to put trains and stuff. Tolling the roads will thin them out, making more room for more expedient buses and vanpools and the like. Even if Detroit fails, there is plenty of workforce available to build all this infrastructure. Apparently, we are in the middle of a recession, and unemployment is rising.

I think that spending $10B of the "bailout" package is better spent sending the 130 million voters to Europe for a week to give them a taste for what things can be. Why does every household need 3 cars?

Let's just nip all of these in the bud. The U.S. has already decided it's going into insane debt (which I intensely hate to the tune of $700B), so let's spend it wisely and not feed the problems that led us where we are.

I mean, really. What are we doing?

I hate that we think that more of the same will have any impact. I hate it. For such an "advanced" and "educated" civilization, we are very selfish and not too bright.

As Bill Cosby says, "Come On, People!!!!"

Friday, August 24, 2007


I'm willing to come clean with you, I have nothing to hide. The fact of the matter is that I have nothing to say that would seem even remotely shocking to pretty much anybody that I know.

I wear a scarlet "O." I'm a night owl, and in no way at any time have I ever insinuated otherwise. I'm a predator of late-night goings-on such as blog reading, Super Mario Brothers 1-3, and Super Metroid. I like to watch reruns of Monk, Buffy, Angel, Alias and Friends, though for me they are new-runs. I troll Craigslist and eBay. I sup from Wikipedia's bottomless vat of goofy trivia, history, and other odd (yet useful) information; I'd take it intra-venously if I could. I dabble in tech blogs, news or the occasional finance or investing article. I lament my online bank statement - therein is proof positive of my lack of worth. I will usually have my dinner sometime between the hours of 9:00pm and 10:30pm.

My cats get their second wind with me, though for how lazy they are it is likely the start of their day too.

And I like it that way. Every bit of it. For some reason, I am built such that I am completely non-functional in the mornings, and by morning I mean before 10. Yeah, Meagan, Mamie and Wayne (and now even Britney) go on and on about how "everything will change" when I have kids and I'm "headed for a huge surprise." Well, Meagan, Mamie, Wayne and Britney, surprise. I don't have kids yet. I'll sleep in every minute I can.

Which is why I'm pleased that I have found a more or less viable alternative to the Sounder train that leaves at 7:30 every morning. Painful. Hurts thinking about it. There are several express busses that leave from another station a few miles down the road, the last of which (that I've found so far) is at 8:47. Hey - that is a full hour. Another 77 minutes of blissful sleep.

In fact, the bus is so cool that I'm posting this blog on the bus right now. My wireless network is called "Junxion_Box."

I love you, Junxion_Box, and the extra 77 minutes of sleep you represent, as well as the network access dorks like me have group therapy about. May you live healthy and strong.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Bean Dip

As a young teenager before I was old enough to work at Taco Bell, I worked in the corn fields surrounding the rural towns sprinkled throughout Boone County, north of Indianapolis, Indiana. Describing the work we did will take longer than I have, so for now I'll forgo the description of what it is I did. What I'm trying to say is that during these formidable years of my life, one of my many weird monikers developed: Bean Dip.

To be completely honest, it wasn't as much a nickname as it was a declaration of awesome. "That movie was Bean Dip." "You got a date with her? BEAN DIP!" "I love your car; totally bean dip." "Mr. Wendel's blog - Bean. Dip."

Bean Dip has been used very gently the past few years. Maybe it is because a very small part of me still feels 13 saying it out loud, and who liked being 13? Maybe because, at the heart of it all, it is a reference to a small bowl on a hours d'ouvres table full of beans, cheese, salsa and sour cream. Now, putting it that way makes me want to revitalize it; I love bean dip.

I have a sneaking suspicion that Bean Dip is on its way back to the mainstream, regardless of how I feel about the expression personally. Like a train or the weather, you just can't stop certain things from happening. I am formally declaring my presence distinctively before mainstream. I am the grassroots movement; with this, it has started. Bean dip is coming; "Here [it is], [gonna] Rock you like a Hurricane." (Scorpions)

That's all I have to say about that.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

The Beverage Run

So I guess this year I'm trying to drop soda. This means that I'll consume close to 1/2 gallon of Diet Coke per day less. I have been in the (arguably bad) habit of getting the 44-ouncer every afternoon on my walk to the gas station. I fear, however, that I still need my mid-afternoon beverage run. Today I embarked on my first sojourn in search of thirst quenching since relocating to Seattle.

I asked a coworker if he had any suggestions for a new haunt. Apparently nothing like this had been instituted. I say give me about 6-8 weeks and I'll have a regular following.

Looking back, I suppose that back in college it was Brian, Dave R. and I that would go to Hart's, that is until it was torn down. Sometimes that gal that gave us all the creeps would come too; we'll call her Tiffany. Jess often would join and of course Ray was a big-time beverage guy. Brent would on occasion, but his stomach prevented him most of the time.

Hart's was a gas station that had every single beverage on tap right next door to our office building. That means cheap refills and huge selection. Everybody could whet their whistle at Hart's. I mean, how many places had both Coke AND Pepsi products next to each other for sale? And every single product they offer? And Squirt? Nobody carried Squirt on the fountain. Not in 1999. Close to 30 different carbonated beverages available. It was a beautiful thing. I'd dance around the many flavors, never really settling down with a "usual."

That was when I'd usually get a hostess pie, if there was any that were $.50 and due to expire, and a York peppermint patty for anybody who wanted one. Whenever a new guy came, they thought there was some sort of a catch. After about a week of this, the other regulars had their "contribution." Brian went with the atomic fireball. Good choice really, since not everybody like the burning sensation of cinnamon in their mouth. Dave did once or twice, but his wasn't one you could bank on. Once in a while, you'd get the mooch who came just for the freebies from me and Brian. Slackers.

There there was "Black Tuesday." OK, I don't remember the day of the week, but Hart's had closed, and then a week or so later it was torn down. None of us could understand. We did understand, however, that we would never find a beverage sanctuary again like Hart's. Not so close. Not with the selection. Not in this lifetime. We did what every species through the annals of time has done: we adapted. About 3 blocks further down the street, Chevron sat on the corner with a smaller lobby, smaller beverage choice, and no York peppermint patties. The Beverage Run would never be the same. Of course, at this time Randall came on and joined the clan. In our time of loss, we gained a beverage brother. Randall and I would be known for making beverage runs at all hours of the night through the remainder of college together. I was a notorious Sobe drinker at the time.

There was another Randall in another time. He and I were RAs for a one professor who shall remain nameless. We were his lackies and we all knew it. Randall and I were trying to productize some of the work that had been poured into several years' worth of research, and we got really thirsty doing it. Chocolate milk was my drink of choice, slowly sipped over wars fought on the pool table. The rec center had $2.00/hr pool tables so you know where we spent our few minutes of decompression.

In Orem, it wasn't so easy. Doug "The Duke," Boyd, sometimes Doug, Jeremy or Rick and I would have to pile in a car and go to Maverick's. Not bad selection, but it was about 1/4 mile up the street. Certainly not the convenience I was used to. Bonds of brother hood forged, however, and if any of us couldn't make the beverage run, the rest of us could feel the void. Even when the office moved and beverages were another couple miles away, we weren't discouraged. We'd rotate the driving around. The beverage run had never failed us, and we weren't about to fail the beverage run. These were my Dr. Pepper days.

In Phoenix, there was a Chevron just about 2 blocks away from the office, which included crossing a pretty busy street. I say Chevron, but it is so much "On-Auk-Mor" than that. The fuel they sold was branded Chevron, but the convenience store was called the "On-Auk-Mor." The busy street you cross actually crosses soverign borders. On the east side of McClintock Drive is the Salt River Pima Maricopa County Indian Reservation. On their turf, they had the luxury of not charging tax on their Tobacco products, so accordingly they had a 5000 square foot Smoke Shop, inclusive of every single brand of cigarettes, accessories, pipes, chew, smokeless, pipe tobacco you could think of. I'm not a smoker so honestly, this is in all likelihood an incomplete accounting of the Smoke Shop offerings.

The Smoke Shop was about 1/3 the total size of the entire store. In the rest of the store there were classic items: beef jerky, gum, candy, batteries and is customary in the Phoenix area to have walls of refrigerated beverages for sale: Gatorade, Red Bull, Sobe, Monster, Coke, Pepsi, 7-up, Mountain Dew, root beer, orange juice, apple juice, snapple. In no way can I exhaustively say all the beverages to choose from.

Particular to the On-Auk-Mor was the Him-Ko-Gee Deli, which was met with mixed reviews. Now I am going on the record as saying that I've never seen a gas station with as fine a sandwich as the Him-Ko-Gee. I mean, The Him-Ko-Gee deli knocks the socks off of Subway anyday. Granted, I am admittedly biased against Subway, but these sandwiches are good, relatively inexpensive and are made by this really nice woman whose name escapes me at the moment. You can get a sandwich, pickle and a fountain drink for like 6 bucks. It was wonderful.

I suspect that because of the deli, there were fountain drinks. This was our oasis. Dave, Geoff, Muffaddal, Jesse and I wore a track in the sidewalk as we ruminated about various aspects of our work to and from the On-Auk-Mor. Sometimes our boss would join us. The selection wasn't stellar: Coke, Diet Coke, Cherry Coke, Dr. Pepper, Orange Fanta, or Sprite. Jesse often got an upper-middle-class beverage like Tropicana Twister or something. I'd usually bring my own cup, since the refill charge was $.50 and a new drink was a full $1.00. I'd usually fill up with Diet Coke, but sometimes I'd lace it with Dr. Pepper or Cherry Coke. Occasionally I'd forget my cup, but sometimes even when I would, the same nice lady would only charge me for a refill anyway. You see, that is how they treat you at the Him-Ko-Gee.

I never did ask for an interpretation of "On-Auk-Mor" or "Him-Ko-Gee." I sort of regret that.

Crossing the busy street was a blessing and a curse. I mean, to be a good citizen you should wait there at the corner until the green man appeared. And if our little walk would stretch out a few more minutes, so be it. For the sake of humanity. That same wait could be painful in July and August as temperatures hovered around 120. And mind you, this is the mid-afternoon walk, so you'd get every single degree at 3 or 3:30. The Phoenix sun is in no way trivial. Scuffing your knee on the pavement could mean a second-degree burn.

I took my dog Kipp to work from time to time and we'd go on the beverage walk. In the summer, he hated it. He'd walk on the grass strips or beg to be carried. Once, he jumped up into my friend's wheelchair basket under the seat to avoid walking and to get in the shade. It was a riot.

So that leaves me here in Seattle. Dropping soda in no way means dropping the history, the significance or the legacy of the beverage run. I must adapt again. Acclimate to my new surroundings and of course, quench my 3:00 thirst.

Blindly, I went downstairs and out on the street. I'd gone it alone before and I'll likely do it again. I found some little Asian mart a few blocks away. Not that I am surprised - everything in about a 10-block radius is an Asian shop of some kind. Apparently, I'm in the international district, which is but a few short blocks away from little Chinatown. So that's cool. There are literally 15 different Thai, 12 Chinese, 7 Vietnamese and several other types of restaurants really close by. I'm loving it because I am a curry junkie. 20 different interpretations of curry? I'm up to the challenge.

I found that there were 3 or 4 fridges of beverages, but no fountain. I found a Sobe and felt comforted, somewhat connected to every beverage run of times past. I felt that, even though I was new in town, I was tooling the streets alone and I didn't have distinct beverage depot, everything was going to be OK. The lure of the beverage is timeless, as is the 3:00 thirst.

I may or may not return here for beverages, I can't see it satisfying enough types of thirst. But I have a contingency. I have a sinking suspicion that here too at Amazon, I'm on the cusp of forging beverage bonds of brotherhood.

That's all I have to say about that.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

The Krazy Sub
25 What?

A few weeks ago at my High School reunion I won a gift card to Krazy Sub, a sub sandwich shop close to the school's campus, by remembering the score of the football game against our arch-rival 10 years ago. Sometimes useless factoids come through for you. In this case, it came through to the tune of 10 bucks.

Though I wasn't a regular, I recall that Steve's Krazy Sub was one of the more popular haunts back in "the day." In fact two of my good friends, (then) Stacey Riggs and Julie Tenney, worked there. Maybe the fact that they were "popular" elevated Steve's to the status it enjoyed. To be brutally honest, I had been to Steve's exactly one time, and that was a quick drop-in to say hello.

So at some point during the past 10 years as I was away in Russia and Utah, the little sub shop by the school changed its name to The Krazy Sub. OK, whatever. To this fine establishment I won the aforementioned gift card.

One lazy Saturday afternoon Ashley and I opted to mozy over to The Krazy Sub so as to enjoy lunch on the class of 1996 reunion planning committee. We came with her sister, who was attending ASU at the time.

Given that I wasn't a regular, I had no real basis for comparison. I will say that I was somewhat struck by the overall crappiness of the place. Crappiness may be a bit harsh, but the walls, tables and floors were pretty beat up. It wasn't cozy. It wasn't inviting. The sandwich assembly line was hidden behind a 7-foot wall of some kind. On the right was where you start; you place your order and shuffle past the 7-foot separation wall and pick up your order on the far left of the counter. Standard fare for a sub shop.

Above the wall was the menu, wherein all the different available sandwiches, toppings, sauces and extras are advertised. The menu was boring. The toppings looked budget.

So I stepped right up to the counter, placed an order and started my shuffle past the mysterious wall.

And then it happened. It caught me off guard, and hit me hard. It seemed so innocent, but it was lurking. I had my infernal cell phone with me, which happens to have a camera. So see for yourself.

Though I had examined the menu to choose my meal, I apparently missed the fact that they charge $.25 (25¢) for a refill. Say what!!!?

In high school, I worked at Taco Bell. I could be wrong, but it seems to me that somewhere in the mid-'90s Taco Bell paved the way for soda drinkers everywhere by offering same-visit, in-diner free refills. Like 10 years ago. It seems that every crappy fast food restaurant has since followed suit. For that matter, I don't know when the last time I paid for a refill was.

In my mind, free drink refills have risen to the ranks of: taxes, commercials and infomercials, vehicle registration, clothing, noise, air, recycling, holiday weight gain, fossil fuels, my birthday (4th of July, Thanksgiving and every other holiday), elevators in tall buildings, FBI Warnings at the beginning of rented movies, my bad vision, cell phones, couches, water pipes, paint, sand and dirt, clouds, leaves, the plant and animal kingdoms all together (including fish, mullosks and fungus), high fructose corn syrup, FD&C Yellow #5, Wal-Mart, traffic lights, cassettes, CDs and DVDs, motor oil, color TV, sidewalks, grass, bark, grasshoppers, pianos, carpet, trees, Microsoft, telephones, hair dryers, mirrors, Albuquerque, outer space, Fenway Park, shoe soles, leather, lotion, chapped lips, overpopulation, boats, farms, t-shirts, otters, clay, speedometers, teenage acne, toothpaste, guacamole, vehicle emissions, speed limits, electricity, glass, smelly cat litter, DisneyWorld and Disneyland, email, paper, lawn mowers, hair gel and Monopoly.

These are things that more or less just are. I can pretty much anticipate with a fair deal of certainty that paved city streets are made of asphalt or cement, just like I have grown accustomed to getting free refills on a fountain drink. I mean, come on. Am I out of line here?

Apparently, I am. There still seems to be just cause in charging customers money for soda refills. Not that you don't pay for it 20 times over by paying a buck for it. They insult you by taking yet another quarter.

The sight of this sign absolutely blind sighted me. I erupted into a fit of laughter I had not experienced in ages. I laughed out loud, very loudly at that. I embarrassed Ashley, her sister and I'm pretty confident The Krazy Sub worker thought me an idiot. It was grand. I laughed for several minutes on end. Tears welled up and started flowing. I was out of control: OOC. There was no stopping this train. I was on the 25 cent nonstop to hysteria.

I had to buy a refill, just for the novelty of it all. "Back in my day, you had to pay MONEY for a refill..." Do you see the obsurdity of it all yet?

The quality was mediocre. The sandwich was dry. My second Mt. Dew was a quarter. As much as the paid refill annoyed me, it made the whole experience. I would have left thinking that The Krazy Sub was a lousy sandwich shop, and we wouldn't have spent the past few moments together.

That's all I have to say about that.