Welcome to Jenius, where you can get opinions from a certified genius who just doesn’t put the effort into it.

Here you will find a mixture of the heartfelt and mundane. Serious and silly. Topical and esoteric. Pretty much whatever comes to mind.

Beer Can Hat

I don’t remember when or where I first heard of beer can hats, but I know that I had to make one as soon as I saw one. They date back to the late 60s, back before fashion was invented. While never ubiquitous, they wouldn’t have stood out at any gathering of white, counter-cultirists.

Like any good plan, my plan for my hat started with a four pack of Guinness. I didn’t want to use the typical Budweiser cans, mostly because I wasn’t about to drink that, but also because I wanted to make something a little more classy. Formal even. Yes, a Guinness top hat.


You start by emptying your cans of choice and cleaning them out. I used metal shears to cut out the labels, two per can, but a heavy duty pair of scissors could work. I wore work gloves to prevent cuts and metal shards. They can be sized, but basically just make them even. Round off the corners for safety and appearance. Then it’s time to punch holes around the edges. I used a simple single hole punch and put the holes about an eighth of an inch from the edges and about a quarter of an inch apart. Finally, hit the cut edges with a little sanding. I used a foam sanding block.


After preparing the labels, it’s time to start crocheting. Choose a hook that fits through the holes with a little room to spare, a G or an H. I used an H to reduce the stitch count. Start in the middle hole on the bottom of a label. Put the hook through the front of the can, yarn over, draw through the can, yarn over, and draw through the loop on the hook. Then SC around the edges, two to three stitches per hole, depending on several factors. You want the stitches close enough to provide coverage, but not be too tight. For the corners, I did something similar to what I do for granny squares: stitch 2, chain 1, stitch 2. My head is big, so I did another round of SC around the label, but you may not need to.


Once all six labels are edged accordingly, it’s time to stitch them together. To create a smaller crown, use a whipstitch to connect them. I used a SC to connect them to each other for extra space.


When it comes time to connect the final two labels to create the crown, you need to decide if you need to do it with the labels facing out. I had just enough give to finish mine with the labels facing in and then turn it around. Smaller cans make it easier, but smaller hats make it more difficult, so judge for yourself.


I started the top with a DC magic ring and continued rows, increasing as necessary. I do this so often that I have no idea of when to increase, I just throw an extra DC in when it looks right. You can follow any pattern that gives you a flat circle of the right size. Mine looks a little big, but when I attached it, I only had to skip three or four stiches in the crown to attach the top.

Every time I build something like the crown from different pieces, I like to crochet a row around the raw edge to build a good foundation. For the top of the hat, I wanted to add some height so I used DCs. Then I attached the top to the band using a whipstitch.


At the bottom, I did another DC band to attach the brim to. To start the brim, DC into the back stiches of the band, increasing to make the brim perpendicular to the band.


I did another row the same as that one. The next to DC rows don’t have increases so the brim curls up. Slip stitch the edge to finish it.


It took me about eight to ten hours over a week. It’ll go great with the ugly Christmas sweater I made last year (more to come on that).

Guerrilla Crochet – Halloween Trivet

Target had some 30 yard skeins of jute twine in the dollar section near the front recently and I grabbed three of them: black, orange, and cream. I had no idea what I was going to do with them, but cheap craft materials are cheap craft materials. I threw them on my desk and ignored them for a few days.

After staring at them for a week, I decided to crochet something out of them. And that’s where the term “guerrilla crochet” comes in. I don’t really know what I want to make so I can’t search for or create a pattern. Instead I decided to wing it. I grabbed a small hook that seemed to work well with the twine (00, 3.50mm) and just started working a chain with the orange. I connected the ends after six chains and started working in the round. I did three total rows before I switched to cream for a row, then to black for three rows. I carried the colors I wasn’t using since I didn’t want to deal with a lot of ends to weave in.

I had no idea how long the twine would last, so I just kept up the pattern of three rows orange, one cream, three black, one cream, three orange, etc., until I ran out of twine.

Cut to a year later. I finally finished it after mostly ignoring it. And, like I suspected, it ended up being a trivet. A Halloween themed trivet. Not bad for three bucks of material and a little bit of work.

Crocheted Dice Bag

I’ve been getting more into various tabletop games recently. And as part of that, especially RPGs, I’ve also started to amass a small dice collection. Well, regular sized dice, but not many of them. Only around six dozen.

I’ve seen lots of dice bag projects online and have seen many others available for purchase. My favorite is probable the D20 bag that Paul Mason made for his YouTube channel. I was also thinking of making a TARDIS one. But when I sat down to make one last night, I just really didn’t want to get out my sewing stuff. What I did have was a bunch of random yarn and a hook because I’m still finishing my ugly Christmas sweater (post to follow).

The design is fairly basic. Just a circle with sides built up. It won’t hold more than about a hundred and fifty dice. But it only took a few hours and holds stuff, so I call it a win.


This is cheap, worsted yarn, but a little softer than the Red Heart I usually buy. I used a J (10), 6mm, hook. There are only two stitches used, double and triple crochets. Also braiding and overhand knots. All chains are implied, so don’t make this your first project.

Start with a magic ring using twelve dc. Dc around, increasing in every stitch. Dc around, increasing every fourth stitch. Dc around, increasing every fifth stitch. You should have a flat circle about three inches across.

To start building up the wall, dc in the front for the first row. Dc around for the second row. Turn inside out so the ridge from the dcs is on the inside. Continue crocheting rows of dc until it’s as tall as you want. I did about 22 total from the starting circle. Tc around. Finally dc around. You can slip stitch around, but I didn’t bother. Thread your ends.

To make the drawstring, loop your yarn around your bag six times and cut. Cut the yarn into equal thirds. Tie one end of all three pieces with an overhand knot. Braid until there is about an inch and a half of yarn left. Overhand knot again to hold it and trim the ends.

Thread your drawstring through the tc row near the opening of your bag, alternating over and under. Make sure you begin and end with the drawstring ends on the outside. Mate the ends of the drawstring and tie them with an overhand knot. Et voila! She is done!

Mandarin Spice Asian Grill

Located in the former Green Leaves location on Twixt Town road, I spotted Mandarin Spice while I was heading to Michael’s craft store. They have added an outdoor seating area and two statues that are reminiscent of the terracotta warriors (and I wouldn’t be surprised at all if they came straight out of the Pier 1 Imports next door).

The inside looks to have had a minor upgrade, with darker tones and a more sophisticated look than the Green Leaves had. I was quite out of place in shorts and raggedy hoodie. The buffet fixture is still in place, although not used from what I can tell. Two long grills have been added for the Mongolian grill effect. They could easily fill up both sides of the grill area on Friday and Saturday nights.

The menu is a conglomeration of east Asian dishes. Nothing too out of the ordinary, though the only Korean dish is a chicken dish with spicy sauce and “refreshing” kimchi slaw, not a word I usually associate with the typically spicy, pickled cabbage.

It was ten minutes between the time I was sat and the time I was able to order. I did get a drink order before then. It wasn’t really busy enough to justify the wait in my mind. That being said, if I wasn’t sitting alone I probably wouldn’t have noticed the wait at all. Having a conversation with friends makes up for a lot of time. It was only ten more minutes for first dish to arrive. It was my main dish, but as the menu doesn’t have appetizers, but “Small Plates”, technically the order doesn’t matter. Although running a restaurant on word choice rather than normal food business practices is a risky move.

For the main dish, I chose Mongolian beef. It was sweet, without being cloying, and had a hint of spice from the dried red chili pods hiding throughout the dish like a minefield. The vegetables, red and green bell peppers, onions, and green onions, have a nice bite. There was a bed or crispy rice noodles on the bottom that didn’t serve much of a purpose, flavor-wise. The sirloin was very tender, although I did get one piece with some tough to chew fat attached. It was served with a bowl of white rice. The bowl was large enough to add bites of the meat and veggies and eat Chinese style, which was nice. The real down side of the dish was that there was an oily residue on the plate when I was done. I’m guessing the fried rice noodles on the bottom were designed to soak some of that up.

The nigiri arrived next. There was only one piece per order, which was disappointing, but not unusual for similar restaurants in the area. The presentation was nice, but nothing special. The real star was the pickled ginger. It is either made in house or sourced differently than every other sushi place I’ve ever eaten at. It’s not pink, but ginger colored. It tasted fresh with a nice bite of spice. The amaebi was a little warmer than I prefer, but tasted fresh. There was an unpleasant slimy texture next to the rice, though. The unagi was pleasantly warm without being too hot. There was a good balance of sauce to meat to rice. It was unnecessarily sprinkled with white and black sesame seeds, but they didn’t distract from the taste.

What I was thinking was my appetizer, the bacon wrapped stuffed shrimp arrives after another ten minutes. I have no idea what they’re stuffed with. Some kind of starch that adds body without flavor. Each shrimp is wrapped with bacon then battered with tempura and fried. I could have done with more bacon flavor, but the were very good nonetheless. The sweet Thai chili sauce served on the side complements them well. Phong Lan has a similar item on their menu, and I prefer those to the ones offered here.

The background music was essentially non-existent until the Beastie Boys’ “Sabotage” came on. I like the song, but it breaks the mid- to high-level feel they seem to striving for with their black cloth napkins and black plastic chopsticks. That song was followed by Beck’s “Loser”. I was starting to think they’d tapped into my phone’s playlist.

Overall, I had a pleasant experience. Mandarin Spice will not supplant the other, similar restaurants in the area, but it has a good chance of success simply for being in a location that doesn’t have many Asian restaurants. The menu is varied enough to have something for everyone. There is a full bar, even though I didn’t partake of its services. And there is no kids’ menu that I could see, which is something I can appreciate even with a picky eater. I would say that no one should drive out of their way to eat there, but if you live by Lindale, or you are out shopping and want a good meal at a fairly decent price, you won’t go wrong by stopping in.

Removing Blood from a Dress Shirt

I got a new dress shirt yesterday. I’m starting a new job soon and need to beef up my wardrobe since I’ve been telecommuting full time for a decade.

I’m a fat man, there’s no equivocation. But I’m not so big that I can’t usually shop in the average department store or men’s store, albeit in the big and tall section for the latter.

I got this particular shirt at Men’s Wearhouse. I was in buying dress pants , but they’re very good at upselling. I managed to hold off to only one new shirt, though, so I feel I won in the end. At any rate, the weird thing about fitting shirts to me is that I have a fat neck, but relatively slender wrists. Slender enough that I need to have the buttons moved. Or just move them myself. I think you see where this is going.

As I was sewing on the second button, I hit my fingertip with the needle. I didn’t think too much about it, but soon after I noticed a couple of blotches of blood on the cuff and the sleeve. Honestly, I wouldn’t have cared too much about the cuff because it was on the inside and that’s the level of laziness I’m comfortable with. But there was a little dot of blood on the sleeve that you could clearly see from the front.

Since I’ve never been good at removing statins, I used the standard way of finding a solution: searching the web. Unsurprisingly, there was a ton of different, and often conflicting, information on the best way to do it. I read through an article and some of its approved comments, then just closed the browser and used what I read to fix my problem.

So, for fresh blood stains on a 100% cotton dyed broadcloth shirt, here’s what worked and worked quickly:
1. Rinse in cold water.
2. Sprinkle Oxiclean, or similar, on stains.
3. Rub cleaner in with fingers.
4. Rinse in more cold water.

And remember, stop the bleeding before you clean your shirt.

Apologize Correctly

There’s really no right way or wrong to apologize, but there has been an excellent tutorial going around Facebook on A Better Way to Say Sorry. I like the method and the message it sends, and I’ve started to use it myself, even before teaching it to my children. I encourage to read the full story at the link, but I’m providing a quick crib sheet that should get you started.

There are four steps to an apology that forces the person doing it to think about what they actually did to cause offense and how they can correct that behavior in the future.

  1. “I’m sorry for…” – Specify exactly what you did that hurt someone.<\li>
  2. “This is wrong because…” – Tell the other person that you know how it affected them negatively, but with the same detail as the first step.
  3. “In the future I will…” – Share how you will correct your behavior in the future.
  4. “Will you forgive me?” – Gives the other person a chance to speak to your apology, even if they reject it.

All statements should be positive and specific, not generalities.

Good Shows that I Don’t Like

I really like to watch television. I always have. Even as a kid, I would play outside all day and still insist on watching TV at night. In other words, I’m no different from most people of my generation.

There are plenty of popular shows that I’ve liked and watched over the years: the Cosby Show, M*A*S*H, the Big Bang Theory. But there are a few shows that have been super popular that I just don’t like to watch. And I’m not talking obvious duds like anything on MTV or starting Playboy bunnies, but shows that I recognize have qualities of good production, acting, etc.


Seinfeld broke a lot of ground in television. The characters are highly memorable. The jokes are still funny today. There are still demands for reunion shows. Too bad it sucked.

It is famously a show about nothing, but it’s really a show about whiny narcissists that celebrates the idea that New York City is the greatest city in the world, a common misperception that only New Yorkers hold. I was forced to watch most of it due to dating, then marrying, a woman who liked it.

There are jokes and bits that I quite enjoyed, but overall I feel that I’ve wasted hours of my life watching people whine about problems that they created themselves. Basically Digrassi High: New York. (FYI, Friends was the exact same show, just with a cast ten years younger.)


ER popularized the modern medical drama. Not since St. Elsewhere had a show so entranced the hypochondriacs of the country. It touched on various social and medical issues. I think. I never watched it much.

The problem with ER is that it was too serious. What little humor there was was awkward, not natural. And it barely mentioned medicine. It was all interpersonal issues, no fun. Like the worst parts of House, M.D., without the ability to learn about Huntington’s Disease.

No amount of famous people, former movie nerds, or actors with unnecessary Qs in their name can make that show watchable. Even its fans thought it lasted two seasons too long.

Game of Thrones

George R. R. Martin’s Songs of Fire and Ice (I think), is a series of fantasy novels about murder, sex, and dragons. I’m not a fan of fantasy stories, but these have all the elements of great ones. And those elements also make great television. Blah.

I’ve only ever seen one episode, and I can see why people like it. Even the bits that aren’t about murder, sex, and dragons shows good writing, good acting, and good production. And yet, still impossible to watch.

On Facebook I described it as a cross between Tolkien and Sex in the City. To some people that sounds like a great combination. Those people are women. Seriously, though, those two mixed together would be something good to many people. But as I said, I’m not into fantasy, just science fiction. And I’m not into shows about whiny New Yorkers (see Seinfeld above).

The strangest thing is that I don’t believe that dragons would make that show better. The episode I watched didn’t have them in it, and the storyline couldn’t have crammed them into anyway, but I can’t imagine how dragons would be of benefit to the show. Unless dragons are the main focus of a show or movie, they don’t fit in well. That’s why Terry Pratchett doesn’t cram them into every Discworld novel, but he did write one that focused on them.

Scrambled Eggs Done Wrong

I’ve been meaning to write on this topic for years, but listening to Gordon Ramsay’s Sublime Scrambled Eggs Recipe while a friend watched it finally pushed me over the edge. I absolutely detest the way “classically” trained chefs (i.e. chefs of the French school) cook scrambled eggs. And that’s the way to say it. They don’t scramble eggs, they cook a dish called scrambled eggs which is similar, but inferior, to America’s favorite egg preparation.

Some people like light and fluffy, restaurant style scrambled eggs. And that’s fine, but they’re missing out on the deliciousness of hard scrambled eggs. Not to mention that even those eggs don’t need to have water or dairy additives if you cook them right.

Let me start with those light and fluffy eggs. It’s easy enough to make them, although the method flies in the face of everything you’ve been told about making eggs. Luckily for you I’m totally reckless when I cook eggs, so I found a simple way to cook them. Grab a non-stick fry pan and put it on medium heat with a pat of butter, or less. Move the butter around with a rubber spatula so it melts faster. As soon as it’s melted, crack your eggs directly into the still rather cold pan. Season with salt and pepper. Use the spatula to break the yolks and stir the eggs to begin the scramble. Don’t stir constantly. It’s unnecessary and too much work. Once the whites start to actually whiten, give them a stir again. It won’t take long to cook them at this point. Keep stirring them and flipping them. They’ll firm up and you can plate them. Bada bing, bada boom. Fluffily scrambled eggs without any nonsense.

That’s how you do scrambled eggs better than any classically trained chef, but how do you them so they taste the best? Because while you may be used to light and fluffy, eggs are like steak in that they don’t truly reach their potential without browning. The Maillard Reaction is always your friend with protein. Well, maybe not with shellfish, but that’s another topic.

The key to making the best scrambled eggs you’ll ever have is high heat. That’s right, I scoff at the notion that you can overcook eggs. Eggs don’t get rubbery, like chefs claim, they get chewy, which is a pleasant mouth feel. And if you do it right, they get crispy, which humans have evolved to associate with freshness and therefore deliciousness. (Psychology plays a large part in cuisine, don’t ever kid yourself about that.)

Grab a fry pan, preferably cast iron, but stainless will do. Anything not non-stick. I use a sturdy metal spatula I got from a restaurant supply store, but any thin bladed spatula will do. Heat your pan over medium to medium-high heat. I use 6 out of 10 on my stove’s scale. If you’re inclined to eat bacon or sausage, put them in the cold pan and cook them as it heats. If not, then when the pan has been heated add butter and coat the pan as it melts. Break the eggs into the pan, season with salt and pepper, and break up the yolks. Let them cook for a few minutes. The edges will become crisp and brittle. When the eggs are almost done, flip them over and turn off the heat. You can either use the spatula to cut them up at this point, or leave them whole. After a minute, you can plate them.

Not only are eggs scrambled hard tastier than soggy, I mean fluffy, ones, but this method is easier to use with unreliable heat sources, like campfires and grills. Now, about that old no cheese with fish thing…

Rotary vs. Scissors – The Blade’s the Thing

I purchased my first rotary cutter soon after I graduated college. Like the flash drive, I thought it was an amazing piece of technology that I never knew I needed until they existed. Flash forward several years and now I realize that while rotary cutters have their place, I still need scissors for some fabric cutting.

The great thing about rotary cutters is that they are fast, easy to maneuver, and produce continuous cuts that don’t cause those jagged cuts where scissors have to stop and start. But the speed comes at a price of less control, the maneuverability doesn’t include tight turns or, heaven forbid, notches that stay attached, and the continuity of the cut isn’t consistent with thick fabric, fur, more than one layer, etc.

No, a rotary cutter isn’t a replacement for scissors when it comes to cutting fabric. Especially not for using with pre-printed patterns. You can’t make inside corner cuts without over-cutting the fabric. Multiple fabric layers require multiple passes. Even shallow turns tend to make the layers of material and pattern shift, causing differences between the layers. And do not roll over a pin with a rotary blade.
When I did that it would miss a thread every five inches until I finally replaced the blade.

Scissors, on the other hand, are great for cutting out patterns. You have total control of the cuts’ size, location, speed. You can cut inside corners and notches without over-cutting. You can cut through multiple layers with shifting the fabric overly much. The main problem I have with scissors when cutting out pattern pieces is that I have to lift the layers in order to cut them, and that can cause its own shifting problems. Those are more readily corrected than what I experience with a rotary cutter, though.

But if you’re not cutting from a pre-printed pattern, then the positives and negatives of each tool are flipped on their head. Cutting even the most basic square quilting block is a chore with scissors but amazingly easy with a rotary cutter and straightedge. If I’m creating a pattern from scrap material, I draw on the fabric and quickly cut it out with the rotary cutter; no pattern paper to get in my way.

So, there’s a reason that rotary cutters are sold as quilting notions. That’s where they excel. Short, straight cuts. Scissors can’t give you the flat, even cuts that a cutting board and rotary cutter can. And a rotary cutter can’t give you the power and control of a good pair of scissors. Make sure you have both on hand for your various sewing needs.

Don’t Believe SEO Spam

As a regular blogger with many regular readers (read Google search bot), I get my fair share of comment spam. Most of it is about knock off products for expensive shoes and sunglasses, but occasionally I get one about search engine optimization (SEO). The theory behind SEO is that there are certain things website maintainers and content providers can do to make their site show up higher on search results pages (SRPs).

In the past you could game the the search system by doing things like putting a bunch of terms at the bottom of your page or paying people to link to your page. There were more legitimate ways to get higher results on SRPs, too, but even those things, like using metatags, seem outdated by today’s standards.

Recently Google (the Kleenex of search engines) updated their algorithm for deciding on result order. With every iteration of the secret algorithm (which is really a collection of different algorithms working together) it gets harder and harder to game the system. For the last several years, in fact, the more you try to cheat, the more likely Google, and the others, will penalize you. Which is why SEO spam is dangerous to the point of ridiculousness.

Some of the things that this recent spam comment mentioned was using <h> tags on every page, putting keywords in the title, and judicious use of bold and italics with my keywords. While it is important to properly use keywords when optimizing for SRPs, none of that optimization has anything to do with format. It never has. And while no one outside of the major search engines knows for sure, I’m betting that those kinds of tricks would hurt your site rather than help it.

I don’t worry too much about SEO because I don’t have my livelihood riding on it. I wouldn’t mind having one of those popular blogs that gets free stuff just because they’re seen as experts, but as I’ve mentioned before, I like to run things a little looser than those blogs can. I rarely do any more than make sure my titles makes some sort of sense, and occasionally link to sites to show that I do read other people’s stuff. But I’m certainly not going to spend a bunch of time making it harder for people to find me by doing things that anger the search engine gods. But that’s what SEO spammers are telling people to do.

My personal rule is never to do business with anyone who spams me. Spammers are looking for a quick buck, so right away the trust is gone. And there are legitimate companies who’ve burned their bridges with me because they let some idiot tell them how to get new customers in an asinine manner. But even worse than the misguided, are those who are selling products and services that do more harm than good. In the case of the SEO spam comment I received, their “free” tips would have made my page rank lower on SRPs instead of higher. If I were credulous, I could end up sinking more and more money into the service to try to regain my status without realizing that the people I’m paying to help are making things worse.

Marketers by their very nature are in a kind of grey area of sleeze. We all know that advertisers manipulate us in varying ways. And we’ve accepted that as part of our society because we do benefit from it when we find products and services we actually like and can use. But SEO spam, like all other spam, is wholly selfish in nature. So don’t believe anything a spammer tells you, and especially don’t click any links in spam. That would just increase their page rank on the SRPs.


I went to Puerto Rico for a week a few years ago and of course tried the local food. Unlike a lot of Latin food, Puerto Rican food isn’t especially spicy, so it’s easier for an American palate to adjust to. One of the most common foods was a mashed plantain dish called mofongo. Most Caribbean nations have a similar dish with different names. Puerto Ricans typically use garlic and chicharones (fried pork rinds) for flavor and texture.

Me being me, I had to try to make it for myself. When it came time to finally make mofongo at home, I found that I had eaten all of my pork rinds, so I made an acceptable substitution: bacon.

Tostones in progress.

The first step to making mofongo is making tostones, which are deep fat fried plantain slices. I used a pot to fry mine because I didn’t feel like getting out the deep fat fryer. I heated my oil to about 295 degrees Fahrenheit, but anything between 275 and 350 would work. Slice your green plantains (more on that later) about an inch thick and fry in small batches until they float, about 2-3 minutes. Drain. At this point, you can refrigerate them to make your mofongo later, or you can continue to make it.

Mince two cloves of garlic and roughly chop two thick slices of bacon (or three regular slices). Crisp the bacon over medium high heat until it’s crunchy. Drain the fat to leave about a teaspoon of it in the pan with the bacon. Toss in the garlic and quickly fry it. If your tostones are cold, put them in the pot with the bacon and garlic and heat. If they’re fresh, put them in the pot and remove it from the heat.

Mofongo shaped in a bowl.

Traditionally a mortar and pestle is used to mash the mofongo, but a potato masher works well. Mash the plantains until they are smooth and thick and form a mass on the bottom of the pot. Serve as a side to roast pork or chicken, or eat alone. You can also form dumplings for soup.

Mofongo is a dense, starchy food, so don’t expect to each as much of it as you can eat mashed potatoes. The greener the plantain, the better. I let mine ripen too much so my mofongo ended up being quite sweet. So sweet it would have worked well as a dessert, even with the garlic. It’s better to eat it all right away, but it can be reheated slowly for leftovers.

TV Babbles

Recently on Facebook a friend of mine posited a question on why “The Big Bang Theory” is such a popular show. “It’s no surprise to me that the Big Bang Theory is being renewed for another three years, but what is surprising is how widely popular the show is. I mean, the name drops, comic nods, and very niche material would only make sense to a small segment of the population. Some friends of mine who are from an older generation love the show and I don’t see how they could possibly understand half the show’s dialogue. What is it about the show?” I posted a rather lengthy reply (for Facebook) and then realized that I could stretch it out into a fully realized blog post about the nature of television, more specifically sitcoms.

I only started watching it when season three came out, but here I sit in my Bazinga sweatshirt two years later. And the funny thing is that my mom watched it from the beginning and still does. So, anecdotally, my friends assertion stands. The show appeals to people from multiple generations and different levels of education and interests.

I happen to be a geeky guy with a degree in physics, and while it would seem that the show’s demographic would be limited to people like me, the key to a good sitcom is not that you see yourself in it, but that it makes you laugh. You don’t have to be like any of the characters or even know people like them in order to understand the humor in the relationships amongst a disparate ensemble. People focus too much on how much the guys are alike each other and don’t realize that the it’s the differences that make the show watchable to such a large audience.

The only time that the pop culture and science references really matter is in merchandizing. It’s easy to sell a punchline or a catchphrase if it’s well known, even if it isn’t well understood. So the bazinga shirts, hats, and lunchboxes will continue selling even if many of the people who buy them can’t tell the difference between the white boards in the show and the white boards in a preschool class.

IRS Form 982 Explained

Unlike most years, I haven’t filed my taxes yet. And that’s because I finally have an issue that has stymied TurboTax online. My wife had her student loans discharged, more than doubling our yearly income in the eyes of the IRS. Rather than immediately filing and trying to come up with the tens of thousands of dollars in federal and state taxes, I stopped what I was doing until I found a way to mitigate the damage.

Through hearsay and rumor I heard about a form that I could fill out to help. My tax preparer friend was clueless because it’s a fairly uncommon form despite the millions of 1099C’s being sent out every year. But somehow I was able to use a web search to find IRS Publication 4681 (p4681), which talks about canceled debts and such. From that I found that if I filled out its worksheet and found myself to be insolvent, I could fill out Form 982 and reduce the pain.

My wife and I filled out the worksheet and found ourselves to have been insolvent before the loan was discharged. Not exactly the best news in the world, but it helps us out in this case. But then came Form 982…

After reading p4681 and the instructions for Form 982, I was stymied. I figured out that I needed to check line 1b because it was personal debt that wasn’t discharged because of bankruptcy. Line 2 was just the value we arrived at on the insolvency worksheet from p4681. Then came Part II. The beast. Part III is only for corporations, so I could ignore it.

Part II, in a nutshell, is where you find out that you have adjust the value of all your assets so that if you sell them in the future you can pay taxes on the adjusted values. It took me several blogs, articles, and Q and A websites to figure that out. I also figured out how to fill it out. I don’t have any complicated things like investments or a home business, so I could ignore most of Part II. And here’s the thing, most other people can ignore most of it, too. Unless the debt that was discharged was based on your house (e.g. student loans or credit card, the two most common reasons for receiving a 1099C), you just need to fill out line 10a.

Line 10a has its own complications, though. You fill it out with the smaller of three numbers:

  1. The value of your assets at the beginning of the year,
  2. Your insolvency amount from line 2, or
  3. Your assets from the p4681 minus the remaining debt you have after your loan was discharged.

It’s that third one that’s difficult to decipher from the instructions. Even the example they give is too complicated to make this easy. Nowadays, most of us have a lot of debt, so number 3 will be zero (negative numbers are rounded up to zero). If it’s not zero, then you need to worry about the rest of Part II and probably have to call a professional tax preparer.

I admit, I didn’t really explain the entirety of Form 982, but based on what I’ve read my situation is the most common. Once you fill out Form 982, transfer the numbers to the insolvency section of the cancellation of debt form of your taxes. If you are using the download version of TurboTax like I ended up doing, you’ll have to switch to form view and enter some fields manually. But it is possible to reduce or remove the tax burden you have based on getting rid of debt. And any little bit helps.

Missed Week and Nothing New

So in the rush of real life I had absolutely nothing to say last week. I still don’t have anything to say, but I am trying to  post every week, so basically I’m acknowledging that there’s nothing going on. Well, there are things going on, but I haven’t finished any new projects or done any noteworthy coding.

It’s been a week or two since I worked on my patchwork quilt. It’s going to be a big sucker and I’m at a crucially monotonous part of the process. The last time I picked up a crochet hook was to make a loom band bracelet. I plan on making a different version of my zoot suit for parties, but I don’t even have the material for it yet. A friend and I are going to make a dress for her. The big news on that front is that I’ll be creating the pattern from scratch rather than using a purchased one. Hopefully that’s not a disaster.

On the coding front, I’ve moved back from VBA to DXL again at work. There’s nothing quite like using old code to create a new project and realizing that you’ve done something completely silly in the past that needs to be corrected. Without going into too much detail, I basically had a loop running in a Layout script rather than the script it was added from. So hundreds of loops instead of one. The bright side is that I’ll be making the script amazingly more efficient to run now.

Oh, and Happy St. Patrick’s day, I guess. I don’t know. I’ve always been more of a William of Orange man, myself. But then again, I’m quite contrary.

Unembed Documents in Word

For about six months now, I’ve been struggling with a bit of Word automation for a project at work. And it’s one of those only too common instances where I can just record a macro and go from there.

I have several documents exported from a DOORS database that contain embedded Word documents. Every time I create these documents, I need to open the embedded documents, copy the contents, close the embedded documents, deleted the embedded documents, then paste the contents in their place. It’s completely quick and easy, but because I have to do it regularly, it would benefit from automation.

Usually Google is my friend when it comes to questions like this, but I ran into several issues this time. First of all, it’s hard to figure out what terms to use in my search. I looked for variations of copy embedded documents in Word. That gave me lots of things that were similar, but not quite right. And the more variations I used, the more I found all the same results popping up. I ended up with several bits of code that seemed like they would work, but didn’t.

Fast forward a few months and while in the middle of a different automation project, I noticed a piece of code that purported to do what I needed. I spent quite a long time trying to get it to work, but it was way too complicated and written for an older version of Word, which never helps.

Finally was able to find some code that didn’t work at all, but pointed me in the right direction. Using the debugging features of the VBE, I slowly narrowed down the problems and came up with a piece of code that works for me.

' Function: UnembedTablesFigures
' Description:
'   This function replaces embedded documents with their contents.
Private Sub UnembedTablesFigures()
  Dim shape As InlineShape
  Dim dEmbed As Document, dMain As Document

  Set dMain = ActiveDocument

  For Each shape In dMain.InlineShapes

    If (shape.Type = wdInlineShapeEmbeddedOLEObject) Then
      Set dEmbed = ActiveDocument
      dEmbed.Close SaveChanges:=wdDoNotSaveChanges
      Set dEmbed = Nothing
    End If

  Next shape

End Sub 'End UnembedTablesFigures

There are a lot of limitations with this code. First of all, it assumes that your inline shapes (the embedded documents) will always be Word documents and nothing else. This assumption works for my needs, but should be generalized for other possibilities. There is also no error checking, which I’m terrible at because I just assume my code will always work (don’t be like me, kids!). But it does loop through all of the embedded documents and replace them with their contents, which is exactly what I needed. Finally.