Category: essays

The Essential Geography of the USA Map

Last night, I finally had time to sit down and explore my new Essential Geography of the United States of America map. Produced by Imus Geographics, the Essential Geography map is designed to bring out basic geography of the country, and is different than traditional maps in several ways. I got the folding version of the map, and when it is unfolded, it is huge—53” x 35.3”. I settled down with the map for about an hour last night, and the amount I discovered about the country that I didn’t already know was astonishing. Here are 5 of them.

Three Mile Island is in Pennsylvania!

For some reason, I thought that Three Mile Island was in New Jersey or New York. Perhaps I confused it with Fire Island. But as I browsed the map, I spotted it, right there not far from Hersey.

Three Mile Island

The highest point in Florida.

Anyone driving through Florida can’t miss the utter flatness of the state. The Essential Geography map includes the high point in every state, so I searched Florida until I came across Britton Hill in the panhandle. At an altitude of 345 feet, Britton Hill is only about two-thirds the height of the Washington Monument.

Florida High

Route 66 begins in Chicago

Here’s another tidbit I learned. The old Route 66 begins in Chicago. For some reason, I thought it spanned the entire country, from east coast to west. Perhaps I was confused by I-66 which is the toll road that goes into and out of Washington, D.C.

Route 66

Idaho has some strange time zone boundaries.

There is a place in Idaho where the time can be 5 pm where you live, and be 4 pm to the east and west of where you live. Don’t believe me. Check this out:


It’s not Purdo Bay!

What I’ve always through of as “Purdo Bay” Alaska is actually Prudhoe Bay. I feel like an idiot for referring to it as Purdo Bay as many times as I have.

Prudhoe Bay  

I can’t wait to spend more time pouring over this map, and discover more things bout the geography of the country that I don’t already know.

The Evolution of Road Trips

Having driven 900 miles over the last two days, I have been thinking about road trips. When I was a kid, the longest regular road trip we made was from Warwick, Rhode Island to Spring Valley, New York. The trip took about three hours each way. We talked, and looked out the window. We counted the number of Volkswagon Bugs we saw. We called them Beetle Bugs. We listened to the radio. Kasey Kasem’s American Top 40 was a favorite of mine. Around 1982 or so, we played variations of handheld electronic games, like Coleco’s Electronic Football.

Driving from northern Virginia to central Florida, we spent about seven hours in the car for each of the last two days. The kids watched shows on the iPads. Kelly watched shows on her iPhone. Sometimes the kids played games on the iPads, or colored in coloring books. For a few hours each day we listened to the audiobook version of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. Occasionally we listened to the Holiday Traditions channel on Sirius XM. While I enjoyed listening to the audiobook, my favorite part of the drive was when the devices were silenced and I could look at the windows and watch the country roll by.

Trip Map
All of the trips we’ve taken since 2013, via our Automatic Link.

The kids are probably still too young to just look out the window and observe, but as I drove, I tried to keep my eyes open. We drove on Interstate 95 for most of the way, and despite it being a big interstate, there is still plenty to see. I was fascinated by how the road changes from one state to the next. I-95 is 3+ lane highway through Virginia. Somewhere in North Carolina, it squeezes down to 2 lanes in each direction. It stays that way pretty much through South Carolina. In Georgia, it becomes a 3-lane highway again, and it remains at least three lanes as far as we took into Florida.

There are lots of interesting roadside signs. I wish I could have grabbed some photos of some of the signs, or jotted down notes about them, but I was driving. The signs vary by region, too. In North Carolina, the adult store signs (Adam & Eve) compete with a variety of religious signs (“What if you died tonight?”). Approached the border of South Carolina, there is a Burma-Shave series of signs leading up to the famous South of the Border roadside attraction.

I’m always fascinated by vast farmed fields on either side the highway, and the single house that always seems to break up the farmland, as if someone absolute refused to sell their home. Dilapidated barns dot the countryside as well, fossils of an earlier time.

We zipped through countless small towns where life goes on as usual, while cars zip by on the Interstate. Henderson, Oxford, Dunn, Hope Mills, Lumberton, Ridgeland, Dock Junction. We zoomed along at 70 mph listening to audiobook, and watching shows, and these towns rolled behind us, virtually unnoticed.

I look forward to the day that cars are entirely self-driving. The kids could play their games, or listen to audiobooks, or nap, or color. Freed up from driving, I could pull out my Essential Geography of the United States of America map, and keep my eyes out the window, looking for the places the landmarks that show up on the map. It would feel less like driving, and more like experiencing the road trip.

The Slow Demise of Check Books and Fax Machines

We had our office holiday party a week ago. There is a nominal fee of $5 adult and $1 per child. The money goes to pay for the next year’s holiday party alcohol. I’d waited to the last minute to get my tickets. When I stopped by to pick them up, I realized that I had no cash on me.

“That’s okay,” the person in charge of distributing the tickets said, “I takes checks.”

She might take checks, but I am less likely to carry a check than cash. Checks are rapidly going the way of the dodo. We write just two or three checks a year, usually for miscellaneous things at the kids’ school like a t-shirt for basketball. When I got the Little Man his Class B shirt for Cubs Scouts, I paid for it via PayPal. When a place asks us to send a check for something, I always ask if there is an alternative. Who uses checks anymore?

Well, a few places, I suppose. I still receive checks when I sell something to Analog or InterGalactic Medicine Show. When I wrote for The Daily Beast, my payments were direct-deposited. When I wrote for 99U, I received my payment via PayPal. Almost anything is easier than writing a check. Banks have made it pretty easy to deposit checks when they come in. But I still prefer direct deposit or PayPal when it is possible.

The week after the holiday party, one of our telecomm specialists was in the office completing the final migration to IP phones. It wasn’t a hundred percent transition. They still need to support the fax machine.

“Fax machines?” I said. “Do people really still use fax machines?”

Apparently they do.

Thinking about the slow demise of check books and fax machines made me wonder what else had vanished in my lifetime. Here is a list of things I came up with, good and bad:

  • Telephone booths.
  • Smoking sections on airplanes and in restaurants.
  • Pagers
  • Typewriters.
  • 7-digit p.hone numbers. When I was kid in New Jersey, I could dial my best friend’s house by picking up the kitchen phone and punching 846-3835. Today, I have to add four additional digits for country and area code.
  • Baseball cards. What happened to baseball cards? I see them at Target near the Pokemon cards, but I never see kids trading baseball cards, or even talking about them. I have feeling they have no idea what baseball cards are.
  • Good FM radio. Like 92 PRO FM, Providence, Rhode Island, circa 1981. Or KQLZ “Pirate Radio” in Los Angeles, circa 1989.
  • The White Pages. It’s been years since I’ve seen a copy of the White Pages. I’d love a copy of the White Pages. It is a great source of names for characters in stories.

I’m sure that when the Little Man is in high school, he’ll say to me, “Who uses WordPress anymore?” Serves me right.

Blooper Reels

Blooper reels always crack me up. Whenever I am feeling a little down, I can sit down and watch blooper reels and almost instantly feel better. Watching a blooper reel has never failed to cheer me up. In most instances, I get to laughing so hard that I begin to cough and my eyes begin to tear.

While blooper reels are funny for funny’s sake, I suspect that part of what makes them funny is watching professionals make mistakes. Too often, we try to hide our mistakes when they can, in fact, help us learn. The entire history of science is a history of mistakes. We might be afraid to make mistakes ourselves, but we enjoy it when others make mistakes. And as we have a tendency to idolize those we see in the movies and on television, seeing them make mistakes can be refreshing.

The Little Man is going through a phase where he will repeatedly tell us, “Don’t laugh!” He is referring to us laughing at something he’s done. Telling me not to laugh will almost guarantee laughter, but the Little Man doesn’t understand this, and takes offense when he feels it is directed at him.

Watching blooper reels, you’ll see actors laughing at their mistakes as much as I laugh when I watch them make the mistakes. It is humbling to laugh at your own mistakes.

I wish there were blooper reels for things besides just movies and television shows. It would be great to see the President practicing a speech and flubbing the lines. If other writers end with amusing infelicities in their manuscripts as much as I do, it would be a amusing to be able to see the “blooper reels” version of the manuscript.

Doctors and dentists must make innocent mistakes every now and then. And how do we not have outtake reels from court sessions. Lawyers and judges must flub their lines from time-to-time. Sports tend to have their own blooper reels. They end up in ESPN late at night, but if you happen to be up, you can watch players who make millions of dollars a year allows a simple ground ball to roll between their legs.

Plumbers probably can tell some stories. And I imagine the military has its share of bloopers from basic training that we would find amusing. Lecturing college professors will make a mistake that will get the class roaring with laughter every now and then.

There were all kinds of bloopers I heard over air traffic control back when I was a pilot. And you should read some of the comments I’ve embedded in code that I’ve written!

I suppose there is a fear that exposing trivial mistakes makes a professional look less professional. But what better lesson is there for those just getting started, who don’t yet have the confidence they need, to see professionals make mistakes.

Blooper reels might seem like trivial afterthoughts, a marketing gimmick to help make the actors feel more human and relatable. In addition to finding them funny, part of the joy I experience comes from the evidence they provide that everyone makes mistakes now and then.

One day, I’ll go through the various version of posts I’ve written and post the outtakes. Some of them, I imagine, must be pretty funny.

Going to the Movies

I am not what you would call a movie-goer. I enjoy movies, but I don’t enjoy the experience of going to a movie theater to see one. For the last four years, I only get to a theater about once a year, usually in December, when we are visiting family in the southern gulf coast of Florida. I don’t mind that. There is a huge theater nearby and because all the locals seem to leave the warm weather for more winter-like climes, we generally have the place to ourselves. When you think about it, that’s really not much different from watching the show in your own home.

A movie costs a fortune to go see. A ticket averages $8.61 in 2015. Popcorn, candy and drinks can easily run $25. Then there’s the babysitter, who gets $10-15/hour. If Kelly and I go to a movie, we can plan to spend $80. Or, we could wait of the movie to come out on Netflix and pay substantially less.

I suppose if the movie-going experience was different I might be more interested. My grandfather always referred to movies as “pictures” as in, “The Goonies was a great picture.” I like that. There is a glamor to the metaphor that “movie” lacks. When I think of going to see a motion picture, I imagine getting dressed up, being led to our seats by an usher. Seeing a picture was an experience, like going to a Broadway show.

When I do get to the movies, if the showtime is listed as 7 pm, I can expect 10 minutes of advertisements followed by twenty minutes of previews. Then the lights dim and clever cartoons remind me to silence my cell phone, and refrain from talking during the program. “What program?” I wonder, “the movie hasn’t even started yet.”

As ironic as it may be, movie theaters seem antiquated to me. In an age when we can watch movies on our ultra-high definition, 3-D flat screen television sets, what is the point of driving to a crowded theater to watch a movie? Certainly not for the glamour of the experience. It would not surprise me if, within the next decade, studios and distributors realize this, too, and decide to eliminate the middle man entirely. I’d pay more than $8.61 to be able to sit in my family room, with my a bucket of popcorn I made in my own microwave, and beer from my refrigerator , and watch Star Wars: The Force Awakens on the day it was released. It doesn’t have to be a solitary event, either. I can invite my friends over and we can all watch the movie together. No fighting for parking spot, or jockeying for an ideal showing time.

Going to the movies sounded fun in its heyday, when it really a night out on the town. Going to the movies even sounded fun in the days before every house had air conditioning and the movie theater did, thus offering a cool reprieve to hot summer days. Those days are gone. Theaters have evolved, as has theater-going. The next logic step if for the theaters themselves to take a bow, and head off into the wings of history.

Reading for Guilty Pleasure

Looking over the list of books I read this year, there is some variety. Some books I read for entertainment, some because I want a good story. I read to educate myself. Occasionally, I read for sheer guilty pleasure, and it is usually a certain type of book.

I enjoy celebrity memoirs and biographies for my guilty pleasure. Particularly books about older celebrities, or ones that are no longer with us. Last year I read Hope: Entertainer of the Century by Richard Zoglin, and enjoyed it immensely. I loved Gary Giddin’s biography of Bing Crosby, Bing Crosby: A Pocketful of Dreams, and have been waiting ever since for the second volume. I find these books fascinating, and fun. Occasionally, I feel a little silly reading these books, as though I am peeking at the tabloid magazines at the checkout counter in the grocery store. I guess that is why they call it a guilty pleasure.

And what does “guilty pleasure” mean, anyway? According to Wikipedia, a guilty pleasure is,

something, such as a movie, television program, or piece of music, that one enjoys despite feeling that it is not generally held in high regard.

Okay, I think that is a fair definition. I do get the feeling the celebrity biographies are not held in particularly high regard, and yet I still enjoy them. I find it interesting that the definition given above mentions movies, television, and music, but not books, as if it is impossible that reading could be either guilty or a pleasure.

Recently I picked up three books that I thought I might try to get through while on vacation, despite what I said about my failed attempts to do much vacation reading in the past. I’ve already started reading the first and it is everything I hoped for.

The book is My Lucky Life In and Out of Show Business: A Memoir by Dick Van Dyke. All three of these books are the audiobook editions, and what’s great about this book is that the narrator is Dick Van Dyke himself. I am having a blast listening to him tell stories of how he became an actor, what life was like on the set of the Dick Van Dyke show, and to all of the people he has met and interacted with over the years.

My Lucky Life In and Out of Show Business

In addition to this book, I also picked up Dick Van Dyke’s more recent book, Keep Moving, and Other Tips and Truths about Aging. Finally, there’s Jimmy Stewart: The Truth Behind the Legend by Michael Munn. I’ve seen Stewart in movies, of course, and I know he was a great bomber pilot in the Second World War. But that is about all I know of him. I thought a biography would be interesting.

Sometimes, these guilty pleasures offer hints at life that prove useful. Not always, but occasionally, I’ll read something that an actor or other busy person did that helped them better manage their time, and when it makes sense, I’ll give it try and find my life slightly improved because of it. But mostly, I read these books because they are fun. I am fascinated by “old” Hollywood, and these books help to quench that fascination.

I hope to get through all three of these books while I am on vacation. This always seems to work out better in theory than it does in principle.

Dictionary Dilemma

I am in the market for a good dictionary, but I am afraid that I will never use it. These days, spell-checking software take care of the vast majority of spelling-related issues I have (some still slip through). Then, too, I discovered earlier today that Siri will spell things for you if you ask her to. No one ever told me this. Between meetings, I just said, “Siri, how do you spell hippopotamus?” and she replied the letter-by-letter spelling. It is particularly useful because sometimes, when I don’t know how to spell a word, I give up and choose a different word instead.

A dictionary seems like an essential tool for a writer to have on his or her desk. I have a copy of The Elements of Style, and I even refer to it on occasion, if only to remind myself to OMIT NEEDLESS WORDS. That is good advice and rarely seems to stick. But there is no dictionary on my desk. It is too easy these days to type a word into a browser search to get a definition. Why have a dictionary cluttering my desk when I have the entire Internet at my fingertips?

The answer is because I want one.

I received my first dictionary as a present during the holidays when I was six or seven years old. It was the Macmillan’s Children’s Dictionary. My brother got the Grease soundtrack record. I remember that dictionary well. It was large and white, and had lots of pictures set in with the word definitions. I was careful to use the guide words to find what I was looking for—they’d taught us that in school. I don’t know what happened to my old dictionary. I suspect it is in a storage barrel at my parent’s house.

Before I headed off to college, my grandmother gave me a dictionary. I had that dictionary for a very long time, and I got a lot of good use out of it, but time has erased it from existence. I can’t even recall when I stopped using it.

Wanting a dictionary isn’t enough. I want the right dictionary. There are too many to choose from. I did a search for “best dictionary for writers” and Google returned 24 million results. The top result was the New Oxford Dictionary for Writers and Editors, which sounds promising, except I’d never heard of it before. I’m familiar with the OED, of course, but how is a dictionary for writers and editors different from an ordinary dictionary?

One post I read seemed to prefer Webster’s Dictionary over Oxford for what seemed like good reasons. Webster’s appealed to me because of that line in Johnny Mercer’s song, “Too Marvelous for Words”:

Your much too much, and just too very very
To ever be, in Webster’s dictionary

I’m not sure that is a good enough reason to choose one dictionary over another. Besides, Webster’s Dictionary has been replaced by Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary. I don’t know who Merriam was, and I fell down a Wikipedia rabbit hole trying to find out. All things being equal, it seemed to me that the Merriam-Webster Dictionary would suit my needs, so I searched for it on Amazon and saw that they had it in stock for $3.87.

But there’s a problem. Amazon also lists a new edition of the Merriam-Webster Dictionary which comes out on January 1, 2016. The previous edition is twelve years old. Probably I should wait for the new edition to come out and get it after the new year. Using a dictionary more often could be a New Year’s resolution.

In the meantime, I’ll practice asking Siri how to spell words. I just asked her to spell philately. If I have spelled it wrong here it is because Siri can’t spell—and I lack a good dictionary.

Going Wireless?

Here is a list of things I end up taking on a family trip just to make sure that all of the various gadgets work:

  • A plug for my MacBook
  • USB cable for my the kids’ iPad
  • USB cable for Kelly’s iPad
  • USB cable for my iPhone
  • USB cable for Kelly’s iPhone
  • A cable for my Kindle
  • A cable for the digital camera
  • Pocket charger for the iPhone
  • A small USB cable for the pocket charger
  • Earbuds for my iPhone
  • Backup earbuds for my iPhone
  • The charging dongle for my FitBit Flex
  • A wall adapter for USB charging
  • A 6-place power strip.

It often seem that most of the space in my backpack is taken up by cables that support the various devices. No matter how hard I try to keep the cables neat and tidy, they always end up in a knotted mess. I have a Grid-It that I use, but the Grid-It will not support more than a handful of cables. I’d need two or three of them for all of the cables I take.


We could share cables, but it never works out. The devices are not all compatible. The kids use an iPad 2, and Kelly’s iPad is a much newer model, which uses a much newer type of cable. We always seem to need to charge our iPhones at the same time, so having two cables saves charging time.

The pocket charger may seem excessive—except that every single time I go on vacation, it seems my phone is drained before noon. The pocket charger helps to prevent this. My FitBit charge lasts five days at most. But it seems to last longer the less active I am, and I am often more active while on vacation.

A 6-place power strip might also seem excessive, until you’ve hunted around the hotel room for five minutes trying to find an empty socket. Business hotels are getting better at this, but when we take family trips, we are often staying in less expensive hotels—the kind you can stay in for the night while driving from Virginia to Florida.

I could probably charge my Kindle before leaving for a trip and not worry about needing to charge it again—but I do worry, and so I toss the cable in with the rest on the off-chance I my Kindle runs out of power while I am sitting by the pool.

If there is a right way to wrap a cable, I don’t know what it is. I twist them this way and that. I wrap them around themselves. They still look as intimidating as the Gordian knot. But they keep the devices working.

Of course, one must ask whether it is worth bringing the gadgets on vacation in the first place. Vacation is a time to disconnect, and relax. This sounds wonderful, kind of like a sleigh ride over the river and through the woods to Grandmother’s house—and just as likely as such as sleigh ride. Like it or not, these devices have become part of our life, and while I can put them away for a day or two, I wouldn’t be able to do it for a few weeks while on vacation, not very easily anyway.

I hope that when my kids are my age, they’ll look back at our road trips and laugh: “Remember when we needed all of those cables, Dad?” The case of their iPhone 19 will serve as a solar panel and charge from the ambient light even as they use it to teleport from Maui to Lihu’e.

Lightsabers at Radio Shack

The first time I saw Star Wars was at a drive-in movie theater somewhere in New Jersey in the spring of 1977. I was five years old. I saw it again, sometime later, in a regular movie theater. I don’t remember too much about either occasion, but I must have been impressed by the movie. I wanted a lightsaber1.

I didn’t want to be a Jedi. I just wanted a lightsaber. The blasters they used in Star Wars were cool, but the lightsaber was something I had never seen before. I liked the sound it made. It was a comforting sound.

I was a naive child at five. At some point, the question of obtaining a lightsaber came up in conversation with my father.

“Radio Shack sells them,” he assured me.

“Can we get one?” I asked.

“Oh no, they are far too expensive. I think the cheapest model is about $10,000.”

If Radio Shack sold lightsabers for $10,000 today, you can bet that quite a few people would own one, but $10,000 in 1977 was a lot of money—the equivalent of nearly $40,000 today.

I had no reason to believe my dad was just having good time with me. I went to school assuring all of my friends that a lightsaber could be had at Radio Shack for a mere $10K. In my own defense, it was a reasonable thing to believe. If my dad had said that you could buy a lightsaber at Toys R Us, I might have been skeptical. I knew Toys R Us told toys, and I was smart enough to know that a lightsaber was no toy. After all, didn’t Obi Wan cut off the arm of some creature in the Creature Cantina with a lightsaber? But he chose Radio Shack, and that was the perfect choice for 1977. Back then, the store was full of all kinds of electronic miscellany. It was the perfect place to purchase a lightsaber.

There were other things that I seemed perfectly willing to believe as a five or six-year-old. Once, when I asked my mom if she could cut my hair instead of the barber at UFO Salon, she told me that she couldn’t. “You need a license to cut someone’s hair, and I don’t have one,” she told me. I imagined that if she had tried to cut my hair without a license, a policeman would show up at our front door after the first snip.

Another time, I asked her how she happened to know all of the answers to the questions on the game shows that she watched on the television.

“I took a course in game show trivia in college,” she told me.

Both of these answers stayed with me for a long time, and I repeated them to many friends before realizing that maybe, just maybe, my mom was having a little fun with me.

I told the story of the lightsaber to the Little Man—who is six-and-a-half—when we were driving to his swimming lessons the other day. “Isn’t it silly,” I said, “that I thought you could get a lightsaber at Radio Shack?”

“Yes, it is, Dad,” he replied. He paused thoughtfully, and then asked, “But if you can’t get one at Radio Shack, where can you buy one?”

“Home Depot,” I said, without missing a beat.

  1. I was uncertain whether lightsaber was one word or two, so I checked. lists it as one word. My confusion arises from Obi Wan’s line in the original movie when he says to Luke, “It’s your father’s light saber.” There, it clearly sounds like Sir Alec Guinness is saying two words.

The “Mobile Pause”

Mobile Pause

I don’t drive as much as I used to. When I lived in Los Angeles, I commuted 20 miles from Studio City to Santa Monica. Five days a week for eight years. That gave me my fill of driving. Today, I live five miles from my office. On the rare instance when there is traffic, it takes me 20 minutes. Most times, I can make it to the office in under 15 minutes. The record is 12 minutes. All things considered, I can tolerate this commute.

We drive to Maine each summer, a trip of just under 700 miles each way. Each Christmas, we drive to Florida, a trip of just over 1,000 miles each way. I enjoy these drives. The family is together. We take our time. They are much more like road trips than commutes.

You can’t spent 27 years driving without becoming an observer of how other people drive. One trend in the local commute that I have noticed over the last few years I have christened the “mobile pause.” It goes like this:

You are sitting at a stoplight, at least one car back from the light itself. Eventually, the light changes from red to green. The cars in the lane next to you all begin moving forward, but for some reason, the car (or cars) in front of you don’t move. There is a pause just long enough to where you begin to wonder if you should tap your horn. Just as your hand hovers over the steering wheel, the car at the beginning of the line zooms off suddenly, as if in a hurry to catch up with the cars that have gone ahead.

It took me a while to figure out why this was happening. Then it hit me. The driving of the car at the front of the lane is looking at their mobile phone. It is safer to look at your mobile phone when you are stopped. The problem is, if you don’t look up, you don’t see the light turn green. I can imagine this person updating Facebook, or reading an email message. Suddenly, almost like a sixth sense, the realize that they have been sitting there for a while. They look up—and the light is green. They gun the gas, wanting to be sure to zoom ahead before anyone has a chance to honk at them.

According to the Virginia DMV:

Anyone under 18 years old is banned from using cell phones or any other personal communication devices while driving.

Texting is banned for all drivers. In Virginia, it is considered a primary offense, which means police can pull you over if they suspect you of texting while driving. The fine is $125 for the first offense, and $250 for subsequent offenses.

People are always trying to find ways around the law and I suspect that many people feel that it doesn’t count if you are stopped at a stoplight. This has been happening with increasing frequency. Several times a week, even in my short commute, I am on the verge of honking at the car in front of me after the light has been green for five seconds or so—and just before I can do it, there they go!

Having named it, I find it doesn’t bother me as much. Perhaps the phrase will even catch on.

“Honk at them,” Kelly will say when the light turns green and the car in front of us doesn’t move.

“Don’t worry,” I reply, “they’ll move in a second. It’s just a mobile pause.”

The Great Chip Card Debacle

Protecting your identity is important and credit card issuers appear to be taking this seriously, dare I say enthusiastically. In the past several months I have received chip cards to replace my bank ATM card, and all of my various credit cards, including store cards like the Target Red Card. I ordered a card for Kelly to have as a backup, and not only did they send her a chip card, they sent me one, too, even though I already had one.

The idea behind the chip card is that the chip built into the card generates a unique security code each time you use it to make purchases in a store. This prevents the card from being used even if the number is stolen, because it still needs that unique security code for the transaction to go through. This is a good plan. It is similar to the notion of RSA tokens used in multi-factor authentication.

I have only one complaint about the chip card so far: it almost never works.

Each store I go into has been updated with new card reader machines. You can slide your card the old-fashioned way, or slip them into the slot at the base of the reader, chip-first, to ensure a secure transaction. Every time I motion to slip my card into that slot, the cashier waves me off, “Sorry, that isn’t working. You have to slide it.”

It happened several times at Rite-Aid. Then I noticed it happen at other places. So I began keeping a list. Although these stores appear to be equipped to handle the chip cards, I have been waved off multiple times at Hair Cuttery, and Sports Clips. I tried to use the chip reader at Subway on Saturday, and was told that it doesn’t work. My local Safeway has not yet implemented the chip reader so I don’t have to worry about being waved off there.

Target is the only retailer where my chip card works on a consistent basis. It adds a few seconds to the checkout, but so does my attempt to use a chip card at places where the machinery still doesn’t work.

None of these retailers have put up signs by the register warning customers that their chip reader is malfunctioning. Wouldn’t it save everyone time and frustration if there was a sign that instructed you to slide your card? Nothing fancy, just tape a piece of paper over the chip slot with the word NOPE printed on it.

Of course, it would also save time and frustration if the chip readers worked in the first place.

Even when they do, they don’t. When I first got my chip card and used it at Rite-Aid, the machine told me I needed to slide my card instead. I slid my card. There was a pause. The machine said, “Please insert your chip card into he slot.” I did this. I was asked for my PIN, which I dutifully entered. A moment later, the machine indicated that I needed to slide my card instead. I recognize an infinite loop when I see one. I took my card and ran, leaving behind a baffled cashier.

Next time I came in she told me that the chip reader wasn’t working. It hasn’t worked since.

Today, all of my bank and credit cards have been replaced chip cards, and the stores I shop in have new card readers. However, as stores can’t seem to get the machines to work, the result of what must have been a monumental effort is that my level of transaction security is exactly what it was before the new cards were issued.