Getting Ready For The Eclipse


So we’ve only got a couple days left before the eclipse. I think we’re basically set. But we should go over some last-minute arrangements before we do.

First. I’ve talked with about two-thirds of all the dragons I know and they’ve agreed they aren’t going to go eating the sun while everything’s happening. They also agree not to eat the Moon. They’re making no promises about not eating Saturn, though. I know, I know, I kept pointing out how much we like the rings. This one silver dragon asked when’s the last time I looked at them and that’s just not fair. I’m not on Saturn-ring-watching duty. That’s, like, I want to say Eric? I think Eric signed up for that.

Second. We don’t need paper plates or plastic silverware. We have Jakebe signed up to bring them, and we’ve even got someone who’s going to tell him. Don’t worry. I’ve known him for years and I’m pretty sure he’s got this. Or will. Ooh, do you think he has those little wicker baskets you put the paper plates in? They make picnics just so much better.

Third. Egg salad. Here we do need help. We need someone who’ll whip up enough egg salad for everybody who’s on the path between 80 percent and totality. We’ve got enough egg salad for the 40 percent through 80 percent bands, and we’ve found that most of the people in the 40 percent and less bands are figuring to get their own lunches so we’re not worrying about them. They’re missing out, though. Should say, we want the egg salad with a little bit of dill picked from the yard just as if it were all right to grow plants in your yard and pick them and eat them. I know, we’ve been doing this for years but it still feels like we’re getting away with something. Please check the sign-up sheets and it’s all right if we have extra left over.

Fourth. As the sun passes behind the mountains of the lunar horizon we may see Baily’s Beads. We need about four more people to get up and polish them to a good shine so they’re really presentable. We’ve got the polishing rags, since we somehow have twelve camera-lens-cleaning cloths and we don’t know why we needed more than, like, two.

Fifth. Cloud cover. After the Transit of Venus we’re all rightly fed up with clouds obscuring stuff like this. We’ve got enough volunteers to go up in the sky and eat as many clouds as they can. That’s not going to be able to cover all the eclipse path, so we also need people who can go up and wave fans around to blow any clouds out of the way, then get out of the way before totality sets in. Please bring your own fans! We can’t arrange everything. Pro Tip: write your name or e-mail address on the fan’s handle so if it gets separated from you we know how to get it back.

Sixth. People to handle leftover egg salad. Yes, I said it’s all right if we have extra left over. That’s because we are going to have people to handle this left-over stuff. Look, it’s hard enough getting a big event like this organized. I’m not going to waste my time trying to make sure we exactly match up egg salad needs with egg salad availability. I say, make all the egg salad we can and we’ll work out what to do with the extra. I’m thinking spare lunches, but am open-minded.

Seventh. Oh, this is important. The music. Our band backed out because the guy who plays guitar has some impossibly complicated problem going on. You know the sort, where everything is caused by like four other causes and they’re all cross-feeding each other. So. I know how great it was back during the Annular Eclipse of 1994 when we just grabbed whatever CDs we had in our cars and did a jam of that. It’s temping to do that again but there’s a shocking number of you have cars that can’t even play CDs. I think we’re just going to have to stick to everybody listening to whatever podcasts they’re already behind on. Disappointing, but these are the times we live in. But if you do know a good band that’s got guitarists who aren’t caught up in crazypants drama please let us know. No, we’re not doing Pink Floyd covers again.

So I think we’re all set. If you want to do any last-minute sign-ups do it by 11 am Sunday. We are not pushing things to the last second and this time we mean it. And let’s try to get this right; this is our last full rehearsal before April 2024. Good luck and enjoy!

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

The trading floor is empty today. After a bit over a year at this and growing the Another Blog, Meanwhile index from 100 to 400, the analysts and traders agreed that they had done everything they could have hoped for, and that to carry on would just be to spoil the memories of what they had accomplished. All have agreed it was some of the best times of their lies, and agreed to stay in touch, all the while knowing that while everybody basically likes everybody else, they’re going to dissolve into bunches of at most two or three people who stay Facebook friends. They’ll now and then think of one of the others, and maybe even make contact, agreeing that they should totally get together sometime again, but never exactly do. And that’s all right. It’s fine to have friendships that aren’t ended, or estranged, or anything, just left after a contented while and occasionally revisited like an old home that’s not yours anymore.

In Which The Journey Is Its Reward, Turnip Edition


I don’t remember why I was reading Wikipedia’s article about turnips, but it was justified by running across this sentence and its parenthetical diversion:

The Macomber turnip (actually a rutabaga) dating from the late 19th century features in one of the very few historic markers for a vegetable, on Main Road in Westport, Massachusetts.

Yes, they have a photograph of the historical marker (“Legend of the Turnips”) and no, I’m lying. I know why I was reading Wikipedia’s article about turnips. I just don’t want to admit what it was.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

The index dropped fourteen points and while there’s a faction trying to argue that that isn’t anything more than if it lost like four points back when it was at a hundred there’s people running around screaming and just making everybody all tense.

356

In Which The Facts Are Kind Of Annoying


So the Salisbury steak was invented by the physician James Salisbury. He was of the opinion that people should eat Salisbury steak three times a day, if possible. All of this is as true as something attested on Wikipedia could be. And I’m annoyed because this sounds exactly like what I’d produce in the first two sentences if you gave me the topic ‘Salisbury steaks’ to riff on. It’s an injustice of some kind.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

The index rose twelve points to yet another record high somehow, as all the talk about Salisbury steaks has got people thinking maybe they’ll be for dinner soon. Many of the traders have fond memories of Salisbury steaks, since they grew up in the 70s and early 80s, when white American home-cooking was yet to quite emerge from its “Hey, what if we boiled it?” phase.

392

Statistics Saturday: What The Days This Week Have Felt Like


Day Felt Like
Sunday Sunday
Monday Monday
Tuesday Weeping
Wednesday Thursday
Thursday Friday
Friday A Pillow Full Of Bunny Kisses
Saturday Take-Out From The Chinese Place With The Fake Vegetarian Chicken So Good You Kind Of Don’t Want To Check If It’s Real Chicken And They’re Just Lying

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

The index rose another sixteen points as investors decided that the week has just gone that well, what with having the gridiron thing explained and how the water bill turned out to be just exactly what everyone figured so they don’t have to worry about it being too high or suspiciously low.

291

In Which I Fix A Non-Broken Business Model


So the shop is called Muffler Man and, OK, that’s not a bad start. It lets you know clearly that at this shop you’ll be dealing with a man of some kind, and that he asserts to have some experience dealing with mufflers. That’s all very good stuff because you can trust a company whose name tells you what it does. The only thing that would improve it is if the name also included a location, like, “Lansing Muffler Man” or “Michigan Avenue Muffler Man”, because companies that tell you where they are usually know what they’re trying to do. When a company removes their geographic designator from the name that’s the first sign they’re going into providing services of some kind instead of doing anything useful. And if the name doesn’t mean anything it means they don’t want to do anything either, and if they are good at anything anymore it’s just inertia. They’ll screw it up as soon as they want to improve analysts’ ideas of their stock value. “Muffler Man”? Safe company to deal with. If if were, say, “Asperience”? Will never do anything that leaves you happy.

Thing is, you hear “Muffler Man”, you can’t help thinking that jingle about “Muffin Man”. So: why don’t they embrace that and start having muffins too? I haven’t had any real problems with my mufflers since I stopped buying $1,000 used cars from guys my dad knows. But if Muffler Man were a place to go and hang out and get something like muffins to eat — and I’m open to things in the greater muffin metropolitan area to eat too, such as cake-type brownies — I’d sure hang out there more than I do now. I bet I could find marginal excuses to have my muffler … looked at or whatever it is car repair people do with mufflers. The possibility is right there; what’s wrong with society that we’re not taking it?

Like I warn, though, this is just about making what’s already perfectly fine a little bit better. Muffler Man is not at all screwed up, as it is. I just think there’s more eating could be naturally associated with the experience is all.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

The index rose another sixteen points today in trading that’s just encouraging everybody’s Imposter Syndrome, so it isn’t like anybody is even happy about this.

263

In Which The Pasta Was Nothing Special


The comic strips that don’t have stories to over-explain but do have someone say “algebra” in them I talk about over on my other blog.

Specials: Soup - Vegetable beef; Special - meatloaf slidders; Pasta -
The soup was Rack of Lima Bean. From the Blind Squirrel Tavern, Fremont, Michigan. (We were there for the pinball.)

No, I am not engaged in the lazy form of comedy in which someone notices a sign has a mistake in it. “Slidders” are a specialty of the restaurant, where they make extremely thin hamburger patties fried on an incredibly hot metal sheet. To keep the burgers from overcooking they’re literally slid down the heavily greased sheet. They’re then smothered under almost a soup of boiled onions and mushrooms, but that’s incidental. If this seems strange, is it really odder than planked shad? Anyway, I just want you to know they’re the tastestoostiest.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

The index rose thirteen points today and — wait, what, really? No, huh, that’s exactly what the point-o-meter says it did. Well, we have no explanation for this phenomenon.

109

Some Arrogant Vegetables And Their Enablers


Because people were wondering after the spinach discovery:

An Arrogant Vegetable Its Enabler
Cress Sunflowers
Peas Apples
Radicchio Flamingos
Watercress Less watered cress
Grape leaves Jacobins
Sea lettuce Sea grapes
Cassava Status-seeking artichokes
Pumpkin Halloween

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

There are signs of imminent smugness coming from certain areas of the analyst community. Though there are no warnings yet posted residents are advised that sudden squalls of incredible self-righteousness accompanied by fast-moving clouds of “if you had listened to me in the first place then I wouldn’t have to point out how right I was about the whole thing” may break out at any moment. Be ready with an evacuation plan, including several sensible changes of clothing and two days’ water and snack foods, just in case.

102

What’s In The Refrigerator Still, Somehow


So sometime back I bought a pack of kaiser rolls. I’m not sure how far back, except I’m almost sure it was summer when I got them. We use them for (vegetarian) burgers, except I keep thinking they’re pretzel rolls when I’m not looking at them. That might seem like a curious mistake to make repeatedly but then remember I keep them in the fridge so they’ll last longer in the summer weather.

Thing is, we have four of them left in the pack. And we had four of them left in the pack last time we had burgers. I’m not sure when’s the last time we didn’t have four of them left in the pack, which is part of why I can’t really swear to just when we got the bag. It’s been a long while considering our veggie burger consumption.

Anyway, I just want to say I’m going to be cross if I’ve finally come across a magic endlessly-regenerating never-empty bag of something for my life, and it’s kaiser rolls instead of Boyer peanut-butter Smoothie cups. Or, I guess, pretzel rolls. Not that Mallo Cups are bad, just the Smoothie cups are harder to get in good shape.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

Also, I’ve learned that people really, really like numbers. At least numbers they don’t have to do anything with. If they can just see a number that’s different from the number it was last time — but is the same just often enough to be exciting — they’re happy. So who am I to fight that? So let’s try this. I’ll start the index at 100, so today it’s:

100

In Which I Explain The Nathan-Nebus Conversation


Singapore’s Former President S R Nathan died this week. So this is a fitting time to record for posterity my understanding of our relationship. It’s also the last time I can share this story without my being inhumanly dull. That’s all right. I’ve been using this story to be a bit dull for twelve years and that’s not bad for a standard-grade anecdote. It doesn’t measure up to the styrofoam peanut computer monitor incident of 1999, but not everything is.

Back in the day (2004) I was working at the National University of Singapore, in the Department of Computational Science. This was a department that did physics, chemistry, biology, and mathematics from a computer science perspective. “Wait,” you ask, “how is that different from ordinary physics, chemistry, biology, mathematics, and computer science, what with it being literally the 21st Century and everything being done on computers?” Our department would say that LOOK THERE’S A BIG DISTRACTING THING OVER THERE and run out to the Science Canteen to regroup. We were disbanded the next year.

It was the start of the school year. It was time for the Commencement ceremonies. Last year’s graduates officially received their diplomas and I realized all the time I had spent in United States academia had been a lie. “Commencement”! The word is right there in the name of the thing. WHY DO WE PUT IT AT THE END OF THE YEAR? WHY? WHY? WHY? WHY? This was enough to send me to the Science Canteen and drown my sorrow in tuna buns. These are a Singaporean food thing where you take a bun and put tuna in it. Well, they put tuna in it. You just eat it. Someday this is going to hit the United States big. Corn buns ought to too, but that’s probably not enough meat for the typical American. Chocolate buns may be just a little too weird. Too bad.

The department needed someone to be on stage for Commencement, one of those professory types in dignified robes watching the proceedings without nodding off. I’d volunteered for one of the school Commencements. The University ran two or three commencements for the various schools over the course of like two weeks because maybe they had too many subdivisions. He thought, from the doomed department. That led to the whole “Dubiously Wanted Pants” Affair but that’s another story. Then I got an invite to attend the main commencement, if I responded before the actual letter was sent to me. I checked and they told me that sure, they’d have a chair for me if I got there for 9:20 am. That’s like my third-best 9:20 of the day, but all right. I wore the pair of dubiously wanted pants and everything.

My participation got me marked for VIP treatment. This ran hard against my general level of self-esteem. I won’t brag about my low self-esteem because I couldn’t possibly bring myself to do it. But to have actually well-dressed ushers ushing me off past velvet barriers and stuff encourages the feeling of accidentally stumbling into a Nikolai Gogol play I never actually read or saw or anything. Also somehow all us faculty misunderstood something the first time we went out on stage so they had to call us back and send us out again. That’s just reinforcing so many stereotypes.

The ceremony was different from United States university commencements in that they only played like eight bars of Pomp and Circumstance at the start. They had to save time at some point. There were like twelve more school commencement ceremonies later that day. At this one they just blasted through the doctoral and master-degree candidates and presented them all to the University Chancellor, President Nathan. (Remember him?)

At the reception afterwards they still wanted me around and among the VIP section even though honestly. And our department didn’t have any doctoral or masters-degree candidates. So all I had to do was wander around the packed hallway, filling my plate with kueh (any of hundreds of desserts made by compressing sugar into Singaporean Hyper-Sugar) and bee hoon (the tastiest part of the bee) and then emptying it. And then I sneezed. I wasn’t yet skilled at sneezing into my elbow and I just managed to sneeze into my right hand instead. Not too messy but still, sneeze.

I saw a little clearing of people, off in the general direction of the bathroom, and I charged directly into it. It was a little open gap of people in front of President Nathan. He smiled at this fat, tall person who had just sneezed into his hand in front of him. I had always assumed President of Singapore to be a pretty easy gig. The country’s got a Westminster parliament scheme but with only one really organized political party. So there’s not even the occasional bit of choosing to approve a coalition government or proroguing parliament or anything for the Head of State to do. But he proved me wrong about the job’s easiness. He reached out and shook my booger-laden hand. I could never do something like that.

And then we had a conversation that, to the best of my recollection, was exactly this majestic:

“Good day,” he said.

“Good day … I’m honoured to meet you, sir.” (I would do my best to approach the Singaporean accent without sounding like I’m making fun of myself.)

“Where do you come from?”

“New Jersey. Um. The United States.”

“Ah. Are you a graduate?”

“Faculty, actually. I’m a teaching fellow.”

“Ah.” And he nodded and moved on to people not threatening to smear nasal goop over him.

This would prove to be our final conversation, for which I don’t blame him.

When Should You Wash Your Hands?


Hands. They’re fine things to have. Without them, where would the glove and mitten industries be? Certainly not curled up and tossed in the corner of the shelf in the hall closet. How would we curl them up? With my toes? Maybe. I’ve got surprisingly dextrous toes. But I couldn’t curl up and toss everybody’s gloves and mittens in a world without hands. There’d be too many things to take care of even if we pretend gloves and mittens are the same as the glove and mitten industries. For example there’s finding out whether I could open a jar of peanut butter with my feet. Probably not, because there’s no way I could get my feet clean enough to dream of touching the thing food is in with them. I have a hard enough time walking into the pantry in bare feet.

Which brings me to my topic and you to relief that I have a topic. A critical part of caring for your hands is washing them. And yet what do we really know about hand washing? Almost everything, if we’re paying attention. It isn’t all that difficult to work out. Washing of hands should be done under many conditions, among them:

When handling food. Especially if you’re handling hot soup, even if you’re doing so very quickly for fear of scalding.

After handling food. Unless you were handling it by purely psychological means guiding it to do what you wish by clever suggestion. That’s your choice, but why are you pulling these passive-aggressive head games on your bowl of Museli? Keep on like this and you’re going to be pulling pick-up artist stunts on a bag of Fritos. That’s making the world a more needlessly miserable place. Stop it. Just stop.

Before eating food. Don’t go thinking you’ve found a loophole if you didn’t handle food and just got it delivered to you by some outside agent. We’re paying attention. We aren’t going to let you get away with any argument that wouldn’t work on your mom when you were seven. And even if you did go directly from handling your food as part of preparing it to eating don’t think you can skip the in-between washing step either. In fact, just for that we’re going to say you should wash between your post-handling washing and your eating. And maybe in-between the post-handling washing and the pre-eating washing. And if you think of complaining about that then we’ll give you something to complain about.

After coughing or sneezing into your hand. Also after blowing your nose into your hand. We could avoid this easily if people didn’t make the mistake of coughing or sneezing or boogering into their hands but so many of us do. It’s natural. What else are we supposed to do but put the body parts we use to interpret and manipulate the world directly in the midst of an unpleasant eruption of secreted body fluids? You could lift your arm and cough, sneeze, or whatever into the inside of your elbow, according to a panel of American Medical Association doctors who were kidding but are sticking with that advice now because they’re delighted to see how many people are actually doing it. They want to know how far this will go. You would too.

When you are coping poorly with regret for past mistakes. Not sure when that is? You can set some time and trust it’s about the right amount of your life spent coping poorly. Use this simple guideline. Add 15 to your age and spend that percentage of the day in futile self-recrimination. So for example a 37-year-old would spend 52 percent of his or her waking day trying to wash off the guilt. Add five more percent if absolutely everyone agrees something was not by any reasonable measure your fault.

You know what? Between each bite of food too. We warned you.

After using the bathroom, but before leaving it. We agree there’s the obvious problem here of how you’re supposed to get out of the bathroom without touching something that’s been spending all its day, every day, in the bathroom. Recommended is to find a clean enough section of the bathroom and make gentle whimpering noises until someone comes in and checks on you. Race through the open door, tackling your rescuer so they don’t get stuck in the bathroom too. You absolutely don’t want to get stuck with yourself on the outside and your rescuer on the inside of the bathroom because then there’s no way out except getting yourself stuck in there again, all the while that your soup is getting cold and well-handled.

Before handling food. We saw you skimping earlier. Go back and do it again.

Note: washing can be done by yourself. There is no need to pay for specialist services or to have your hands sent out for custom care. It’s nothing but profit for the dealers.

Statistics Saturday: How Father’s Day Card Descriptions Of My Father Compare To The Actual My Father


Trait Father’s Day Cards Say My Father Has Are They Correct?
Sloppy No.
Lazy Not really.
Sports-obsessed If “thinks there is a best professional sports venue, and that it is Fenway Park, and probably could name a New York Yankee if pressed” (we’re from New Jersey) then yes, otherwise, not really.
Beer-obsessed Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha no.
Cranky Not since he stopped working rotating shifts in like 1984.
Full of really good ignored advice Other than that one about starting a retirement account when I was still in college not really.
Mechanically inept Only if you hold against him that the dishwasher in the old house would not stop leaking even after he replaced it and everything connected to it maybe five times.
Flatulent No.
The Human ATM No.
Barbecue-obsessed If “can barbecue fine, thanks, but is really happier making broiled chicken and other grown-up meals like that” counts.
Golfing No.
Napping Yeah, although usually the cat climbs onto his chest and naps first. But I understand they have an agreement about this.
Overprotective No.
Fishing I cannot imagine my father enjoying anything less than a day out fishing, and that includes “watching the televised Congressional impeachment hearings against my brother on Fox News while waiting at the car dealership for an emergency transmission overhaul to get finished”.
Long-suffering Well, that’s fair enough.

Also, why are there no cards for father-in-laws? Or a month back, for mother-in-laws? I haven’t done a rigorous survey about this, but I’m going to bet there are more people who actually like their spouse’s parents than there are people needing birthday cards for someone turning 100.

Meanwhile, Letting Our Pet Rabbit Outside Some More


A Flemish Giant rabbit buried past his eyeballs in periwinkle, which he's eating.
“Would you like a napkin, perhaps?”
“What for?”
“… Palate cleanser?”
“I’ll take four.”

Much of the backyard is given over to what we had been calling myrtle, but is actually periwinkle. Gardening and animal-care web sites are all but universal in declaring that it is a bitter-tasting plant. (Hi, Ben!) My love nibbled on a bit, as if it were a perfectly normal and ordinary thing for a person to eat plants from their own yard, and agreed with the bitter assessment. It is commonly listed as an inexpensive and natural way to keep one’s garden deer- and rabbit-proof, as the animals find the taste so repulsive they’ll leave it — and your garden surrounded by it — alone. Here, our pet rabbit shoves his head into a huge pile of the stuff and does. not. stop. eating.

How I Spent The Snowstorm


The backyard, with a light frosting of snow on one side of the trees so you can see the edges of them very well against the bark.
Snowstorms look so cute and innocenet when they’re at this age, don’t they?
  • Like 11:30 (am). The snow started already, like four hours ahead of projections. Exciting start. It’s light, energetic snow considering some of the flakes are the size of nuthatches. I don’t mind. Cheery snowstorms like these are the results of frolicking ice phoenixes. These are majestic and magical birds, quite like their more famous fire-based counterparts except these ones never go in for stealing Baby New Year. Also they spend more of the summer sweating and wondering why it has to be this muggy and who even had the idea of letting a magic bird sweat, anyway. I toss some garlic croutons, from the bag we use to make salad less boring, out as a treat.
  • 1:00 (pm). We go out to lunch. I know, the mayor, the governor, and the county Commissioner of Drains, who just happened to be nearby, all asked everybody to do only essential travel. But it’s only like two blocks, and we had to mail a letter anyway. And it’s to this restaurant that’s trying to use the Subway build-your-own sandwich model for Middle Eastern food. There may not technically be an emergency need to get falafel and baba ghanoush over rice at any particular time but I stand by the decision. Three-quarters of an inch of snow gathers on the car while we eat. We forgot the letter.
  • 2:15. Checking the animal feeders in the back yard. I fill up the bird feeder, so that the squirrels have something to eat. I fill up the squirrel feeder, so that the raccoons have something to eat. Also since we should totally have a fire I take a big tote bag full of lumber off the pile in the garage. The mice living far underneath the pile complain that this is “totally bogus” and they paid their rent, why are we taking the tenth storeys off their woodpile now. I leave a handful of sunflower seeds and fill up the water dish so they don’t have to venture out to the raccoon feeder.
  • 2:25. I stare out the kitchen window at my car. I tried doing that thing where you leave the windshield wipers up, instead of against the car, this storm. I’m not sure why people do that and I wanted to see what difference it makes. Mostly I feel anxious about it. Are people walking past the house looking at my Scion tC and laughing at the wipers? Or are they just laughing that I have yet another car from a marque that’s been discontinued? In my life I’ve had two Mercuries, a Saturn, and now a Scion. I don’t go looking for car marques to drive to extinction. They follow me. Maybe I should put the windshield wipers back down.
  • 4:45. There’s way too much snow to put the windshield wipers back down.
  • 5:20. The snow is doing that thing where it’s a perfect field of white out the front window. Out the back window there’s a couple scattered flurries and an ice phoenix taking a drink from the pond heater. It’s eerily tranquil. I think about tossing out some leftover chow mein noodles but don’t want to risk it.
  • 7:00. The remote control’s batteries have gone dead, foiling our plans to catch up a backlog of Stephen Colbert episodes dating back to when he was a bright twelve-year-old reporting the 2004 Republican Convention for Comedy Central. We leave the TV on the station it was last on, hoping to see school closing reports.
  • 8:15. In the pantry. We’ve got a half-eaten box of Peanut Butter Bumpers. That would be a great breakfast tomorrow except who wants to eat cold cereal on a snow day? I am a genius: what we need is something that’s as good as milk for pouring onto cereal but that’s warm and hearty, like … um … warm milk, or maybe miso soup or something? This could revolutionize eating and in the good ways.
  • 8:17. Experiment over. I am an idiot. The raccoons examine a bowl of Peanut Butter Bumpers mixed with warm almond milk and miso powder and just shake their heads sadly, then shuffle away into the snow, pausing only to be berated by a red squirrel.
  • 9:20 Maybe I could clear off enough of my car to put the windshield wipers back down only what would I tell my love I was doing out there?
  • 10:50. But couldn’t something else serve to replace the warm milk in the snow day cereal experiment? Maybe history will vindicate me after all.
  • 11:45. We forgot to have a fire.

A Vignette That Is Made Up Yet Also Entirely True


“And you know what the annoying thing is about vegetarians? They always tell you they’re vegetarians! You can’t sit down next to one and suggest that you ever ingest any form of nutrition without them pointing out how they’re vegetarians. And how everyone else would be too, if they were even slightly decent people. They just won’t let you be in peace, they’ll shove their vegetarianism down your throat,” declares, to no one in particular, the guy three unoccupied seats down at the bar who’s wearing a Woot-class T-shirt that reads “Bacon-wrapped bacon is my spirit animal”. I grin as noncommittally as I can while continuing in silence to eat my red-bean-patty olive burger.

Bob and Ray: They Went To Venus, You Know


A lot of life is hanging out without anything particular going on. That’s generally omitted in dramas, of course. Just hanging out might establish the tone of normality before the Crisis comes in and disrupts things. Even comedies don’t much depict “nothing particular going on”; even genial hangout comedy usually gets some possibly slender activity going on. If nothing really is going on, you’re either watching Waiting For Godot or in the parts of a paranoia-suspense thriller where “nothing to talk about” becomes sinister.

One of the running Bob and Ray characters was Lawrence Fechtenberg, Interstellar Officer Candidate. Here you know the genre of show they’re spoofing. What might startle is how precisely they parody the tone and the production of the radio version of space-cadet and space-captain programs. (I’m still stunned by one show that briefly stranded the cast on Saturn, the solar system’s junkyard world.) Science fiction, or space opera, or similar shows are even less prone to showing the “nothing particular going on” than regular shows are. Futurama has a few episodes like that, but mostly even they had stories to get to.

Lawrence Fechtenberg, though, he had a lot of time fumbling around without getting to anything particular. If the tension created by mixing the signals of high drama and the fact of incredible slightness amuses you, then his holding forth on the topic of “what the food was like on Venus” will just keep getting more maddeningly funny.
I’m attempting again to embed it, but if that doesn’t work, just download the MP3 file. This is tagged as “600330LawrenceFechtenbergInterstellar” on archive.org.

That’s the center piece, yes, though not the whole of this 15-minute show. Most of the last five minutes is spend attempting to get a report from Washington. Like many Bob and Ray pieces, the central observation here is that it’s really hard to do anything quite exactly right. We all fumble about at our jobs, whether radio journalists or space navy officer candidates or meteorologists. These are universal moments that few people pay attention to.

Those Who Do Not Study The Pasta Are Sure To Reheat It


I know I’ve written several essays inspired by books I was reading recently. I can’t help it. I keep finding my reading inspirational, and that’s why I’m doing another one like it. This time the book is Pasta And Noodle Technology, edited by James E Kruger, Robert B Matsuo, and Joel W Dick, and published in 1996 by the American Association of Cereal Chemists. Yes, I read a book about the noodle technology of nineteen years ago. Maybe more than nineteen years ago. The book collects scholarly articles that probably weren’t written after the book’s publication.

“But wait,” you may ask, “Joseph, why would you pick up such a book?” I give my permission. You may also note, “While you’re most interested in eating food, you almost never have any interest in where it comes from.” Go right ahead. If you like, point out the time some people in Singapore’s Orchard Road shopping district set up a trailer-home exhibition dedicated to some athlete, and passed out waffles, and I took and ate one without considering how odd every piece of that scene was. But I had good reason to pick up the book: I have absolutely no self-control while in a library. Put any book at about shoulder height on a shelf near the space history books and I’ll take it.

But the book rewards its reading. Just on page two we get this:

The legend [ of Marco Polo bringing spaghetti to Italy ] published in the year 1929 in The Macaroni Journal, the magazine of the American Association of Pasta Makers, still survives today.

I don’t know how rough your week has been. But I say that it’s better now that you know there is an American Association of Pasta Makers. And you probably grinned at learning there’s a trade publication called The Macaroni Journal. And it’s surely delightful to know that magazine still exists today, in 1996, even though that isn’t quite what the text says. The week is better still because of what came before. The text had just described the legend that the muse Thalia “kept secret for years” how to make macaroni but finally shared it with the mermaid Parthenope. Parthenope shared it with Naples, who shared it with everyone else. It adds a whole new dimension to the muse Thalia, who I thought was just the muse of comedy. Apparently she was the muse of comedy and macaroni, and now “muse of comedy and macaroni” is my new dream job.

Another discovery is that the Minolta corporation even today in 1996 makes chromatographs which pasta-makers use to make sure noodles are colored correctly. I’m not clear whether Minolta was hired for pasta-color-validation technology. It could be the pasta-makers kept their intentions secret. I’m entertained by imagining someone rushing in to Minolta Master Command and crying out, “I just found out what those maniacs at San Giorgio are using our chromatographs for!” Gasps all around, and then she tells them what the use is. They shake their heads and say, “There is no recovering. Close up the business.” I guess it’s closed up. I never hear about Minolta anymore.

Another valuable discovery from the book: pasta-making requires a lot of uses of the word “extrude”. I like “extrude”, as a word. It’s faintly funny-ish without being worn out the way “nostril” or “moist” are. If you want to use the word “extrude” a lot without people thinking you’re deliberately being a clown, then get into pasta scholarship.

The articles include many close-up photographs of noodles that have long since rotted away. For example, in Figure 11 (Figure 1, scanned best I can) a close-up picture shows what spaghetti produced in a vacuum looks like compared to spaghetti not and … I don’t know. I think the point is that vacuum spaghetti is better, but I have no idea what I should be looking at. I can’t even swear there’s a difference.

It appears to be two strands of spaghetti set next to one another. That's it. If there is a difference I do not know what it is.
Figure 1: Figure 11. Appearance of spaghetti produced without vacuum (left) and with vacuum (right). From Pasta And Noodle Technology, edited by James E Kruger, Robert B Matsuo, and Joel W Dick. 1996.

But this shows how untrained my eye is. The many charts of variables plotted against one another also show how untrained my pasta brain is. The lesson I draw from this is that pasta is too complicated for me to understand. If I were thrust into a non-technological world there are many things I might be able to rebuild by myself. I don’t want to brag but I’m very good with inclining planes. But I would never manage even a primitive kind of ravioli. It’s humbling, and isn’t being humbled the best reason to read about pasta technology?

You Won’t Believe What I’m Reading Now


I am in some ways never happier than when I’m in a library. It’s just a natural place for me, somewhere it makes sense for me to be, and I think anyone who knows me would agree that if I were to shed all my worldly possessions and set up camp somewhere not particularly needed by other people, like around the oversized, falling-apart books about motorcycles, they would say they kind of saw that coming.

Among other problems I have terrible impulse control in libraries, and will notice books and decide that if someone went to the bother of writing it there must be something interesting worth reading in it, and, well, what I’m saying is this is why I borrowed Pasta and Noodle Technology, a collection of papers and monographs on the title subject published by the American Association of Cereal Chemists, edited by James E Kruger, Robert B Matsuo, and Joel W Dick. And the book was published in 1996, so it’s not even a book about the current state of pasta and noodle technology, but is instead about the state of pasta and noodle technology from the days when having an online community devoted to Spaghetti-o’s was just the distant dream of some madmen in alt.fan.pasta. What I’m saying is I think I need librarians to save me from myself.

I Don’t Know What’s Going On In Apartment 3-G Anymore


Prepended, 23 November 2015: Hi again. For what I have to imagine is my last review of Apartment 3-G plotting please look to last Friday’s entry. For a couple guesses about the sad state of comics in the post-3-G world there’s Sunday’s essay. Overall, it’s been a terrible year for comic strips, not just for Apartment 3-G. Also yes, the rumors are true: Edge City is coming to an end.


Prepended, 23 September 2015: Hi. I’ve seen a good number of people finding this page as they try to figure out what’s going on in Apartment 3-G. I’m happy to be of service. I’ve taken to following closely enough the big pile of — for summer 2015 — absolutely nothing that’s been happening.

To that end, and to help the confused follow along, I’ve been updating fairly regularly as nothing progresses. The most recent explanations of the nothing going on can usually be found by looking at the Apartment 3-G tag. They should be available through the link in this paragraph. To sum up: since writing this, I have worked out what’s going on in Apartment 3-G, and that is nothing. But I am trying to keep people up to date on what kind of nothing is going on. Thank you for reading.

The thing is that the article after the horizontal rule here was written to describe the mess that was Apartment 3-G‘s summer 2014 storyline. And that was a big sloppy mess, yes, but somehow less inept than 2015’s, possibly because it was shorter even after the action stalled out for six weeks straight. But I don’t want to confuse people who’re already confused by 2015’s failed storyline by explaining 2014’s failed storyline without warning.


I’m not embarrassed to admit I have no idea what’s going on in the comic strip Apartment 3-G anymore. Last year saw a crushing pile of dullness stacked upon other piles of dullness, in a story about a wounded deer-kangaroo-fox-nightmare hybrid that never actually did anything. Now, I don’t even follow the action well enough to say what’s supposed to be going on. All I’m confident in is that the scenes are becoming some experimental drama, where all the dialogue is mixtures of atomized conversation, any line of which might make sense, but which in sequence, don’t seem to mean anything.

Margo is angry with Sam about something or other. And Skyler is the new Bond Villain.
Frank Bolle and Margaret Shulock’s Apartment 3-G for the 15th of March, 2015. I’ve followed the backstory but don’t understand it either.

In Monday’s strip I guess that Lu Ann has brought some homemade jam by some means to Martin’s hotel room, although, how? I’d like to think she’s brought a proper Yogi Bear-class picnic basket through the streets of Manhattan to deliver a mason jar of plotberry juice to Martin, who I guess has something to do with something that might be happening to someone, somewhere, but that’s entirely my imagination. I guess it’s nice that the strip is leaving us free to decide stuff like that, but it feels like they’ve given up on drawing anybody or anything below the shoulders.

Lu Ann surprises Martin with some homemade jam, which is alleged to exist, and might even be strawberry, I guess.
Frank Bolle and Margaret Shulock’s Apartment 3-G for the 16th of March, 2015.

Also apparently in the 3-G universe the next James Bond film is going to have a woman as villain, which could be cool, especially since the current actor in-continuity used to date 3-G personality Margo, who broke up with him when she remembered she has to either break up with or kill all her fiancees, and it just didn’t feel right to kill the guy playing James Bond, I guess.

Anyway, my mathematics blog has a roundup of comic strips that did Pi Day stuff, or did mathematical topics somewhere in the past week, and if you wanted to read that instead I don’t think you’d be doing too badly.

Why I Shouldn’t Be Left In The Kitchen


So I picked up a box of paczki from the Quality Dairy convenience store. I’d had to pop in for cash anyway and they had so many boxes of so many doughnuts that it felt like a mercy to buy some. Plus I was thinking of my father, who can’t appreciate them considering the state he’s in (South Carolina). On the box’s side is a paragraph of information titled The Paczki Tradition, provided I guess in the charming belief that Americans might require some coaxing into eating doughnuts that are slightly thicker than usual.

The paragraph, by one Herbert A Holinko, “Recipient of the Cavalier’s Cross, Poland’s highest civilian award”, explains that they’re made of the finest ingredients and covered with several types of sugar or glaze, and was traditionally made “to use up the ingredients in our households” before the Lenten fasts. I hope he means using up doughnut ingredients. If we tried to use up all the ingredients in our pantry ahead of Lent we’d be making paczki bulging with rice, dry spaghetti, six different bottles of vinegar each with about a quarter-inch of liquid we assume to be vinegar in them, packets of mee goreng-flavored ramen noodles, and a bin of those Boston Baked Beans candies that we only tried for the first time like a month ago and it turns out they’re pretty great. I cannot say what kind of pastry this bundle of ingredients would produce but I imagine anyone eating it would fall back on the oft-used “Frankensteinian” adjective before fleeing our house, never to return.

Holinko also explains “Our German neighbors to the west call them Berliners and our Austrian friends to the south celebrate with the Krapfen”. This is, I believe, the kindest thing any high-ranking Polish person has said about Germans or Austrians since 1683, when Jan Sobieski said, “You know, I like these coffee shops Vienna’s got all of a sudden, and this bagel thing seems like a good idea if we just added some salt or garlic or maybe chocolate chips and blueberries to it. Anyway, good start, maybe needs just a little work or cinnamon jalapeno cream cheese”.

I got to a little bit of work on a bagel yesterday when I realized we’d forgot to take any out of the freezer and wanted to have one as breakfast. Rather than give up on the bagel idea, maybe having the ramen instead, maybe carving a hole out of the center of a potato and smearing enough cream cheese on it that nobody would care about the difference instead. Since I had already gone plainly mad — it was a salt bagel, not a plain, anyway — I tried defrosting it in the microwave.

The microwave has got a defrost setting, I assume, somewhere in that collection of neglected buttons showing pictures of potatoes and popcorn and pizza and whatever other foods whose name starts with the letter ‘P’ they could think of. So I tried setting it for sixty seconds on fifty percent power and the microwave went to work on a sixty-minute cooking cycle and that is not me comically exaggerating, that is me somehow failing to press ‘6 0 Power 5 Start’. And here I need to point out that while it is technically true that I hold a doctorate in mathematics from a very well-regarded university, microwave oven button use constitutes only a very small section of one course in Functional Analysis and it’s not like you remember everything you get to in a course like that.

So I got that straightened out and the bagel down to defrosting for two minutes, at the end of which … it was piping hot and soft and, when I sliced it open, warm and flaky, with little clouds of steam rising and I’m not certain but I believe that an angel rose up from its center and gently brushed my cheek. I have known harder croissants, not to mention firmer clouds of water vapor, and I’ve been feeling guilty ever since that I committed some gross offense against the laws of bagel-preparing. I wouldn’t have had this problem with ramen; there’s very little need to defrost that, most of the time.

A Grain Of Solace


I’ve come to realize that I have no idea how to pronounce “quinoa”, and furthermore, that I’m fine with that. Perhaps someday I will learn to say it aloud, perhaps someday I will not, but I am disinterested in what the outcome will be. As life ambitions go it’s rather like hoping to someday see Promontory Summit, Utah; it would be kind of nice to, but I would not think my life ill-spent if it turns out I never do.

I confess I’m not sure exactly what quinoa is; the name makes it look something kind of grain-y, and I guess that’s fine, what with the world needing grains so the farmers feel like they’re not just keeping busy. I know from reading the comic strips that there are people who’ve decided to eat it, and possibly nothing but it, lately; and that there are a lot of people who think this is the most absurd silly foolish thing ever, what with quinoa being a thing they didn’t eat, so far as they remember, back when food was normal and not scary or weird, when they were eight.

All I really know food-wise is that the stores around here have gotten filled with boxes of paczki, as every Meijer’s and Kroger’s and convenience store builds a fortress of doughnut boxes. I appreciate paczki, sure, what with it being food and all that, but the quantities of it are mystifying to this transplant. I accept it as part of human nature’s beautiful diversity, the way in Michigan people also elect the state Attorney General and follow college football. I do know how to pronounce paczki, half because of the Polish side of my heritage, half because the boxes and signs all spell out how to pronounce it. I don’t think they have anything to do with quinoa.