More identity explorations as we move into the plague summer


Here are some more identities you could develop while it’s safe here, now, what with nobody knowing what to do.

You could be the person who floats their head to the side of the screen, letting it drift sideways up and down, in every group video chat. This is what I do. Cut it out. We may be technically correct that Ernie Kovacs would do this, but only David Letterman and I care. Also, as mentioned last week, it’s most often a bad idea to do things like me. It involves a lot of books set across the tops of other books on bookshelves until the whole thing collapses.

You could, though, develop some particular niche hobby to incredible, almost cartoon-like depth. This is a great idea. For instance, I know two people who are amazingly deeply into squirrels. Everyone they know is always sending them squirrel plush dolls and videos of every squirrel being cute or clever on the Internet. Every report of where a squirrel, say, causes a stock market panic because they chewed through an Internet cable. Every time Mark Trail has a giant squirrel talk over a log cabin. They’re so renowned for being into squirrels that their hobby’s self-sustaining now. Their friends do all the work, and all they have to do is sometimes acknowledge that yeah, that squirrel sure got onto that bird feeder all right.

You could become that person with an amazing stock of music knowledge. For example: remember 1981? That year, three-eighths of all sounds were radio plays of the Theme to The Greatest American Hero. (Believe it or not!) I know, I’m surprised too. I remember 1981. I would have sworn it was at least three-and-a-half eighths of all sounds. Anyway, the guy who sang that, Joey Scarbury? He went on, with Desiree Goyette, to record “Flashbeagle”. You know, for the Charlie Brown special It’s Flashbeagle, Charlie Brown. Yes, Desiree Goyette, the voice of Irving’s other girlfriend Brenda from the 1987 Cathy cartoon. Anyway, drop a fact like that into any conversation and you’ll have changed it forever! I’m afraid that’s about all the music knowledge I have for you. Sorry. It has to be your thing, not mine, anyway.

You could become a know-it-all, but one who tempers every statement by prefacing it with “it’s my understanding that”. This doesn’t work. Also, it’s the kind of nonsense I do, and again, you should avoid doing things like I do.

You could be a person with a deep-dive podcast into some small mystery of life. Like, you could be the person who finally solves why the nutritional information for a noodle packet gives you both the cooked and the uncooked nutrition. Like, are there an appreciable number of people who’ll eat the Hamburger Helper mix — dry shells, powder and all — without any hamburger or water or help or anything? Who are the people tearing open packets of ramen to eat them raw? Where are they? Are they coming after us? Are they getting nearer? At the end of fourteen deeply thoughtful segments you come to the realization that everybody runs at minimum about 25% freak and, you know? If your freak turns out to be “chomps down on raw Noodle-Roni”? That’s fine. It’s not like you’re hurting anyone like you would if your freak had something to do with, I don’t know. Enchanting poodles or anything that’s professionally titled “arbitrage” or something. The good thing is if you do enough of this series, your audience may start doing fan art or sending in tips and then the thing becomes self-sustaining.

You could become a neighborhood legend. You maybe imagine that requires an incredible load of effort, such as by stealing three golf carts from the course on the north side of town, chaining them together, and RV’ing your golf cart train around the neighborhood park. Not at all. You can make do with two golf carts chained together, if the people who are Extremely Upset Online in the neighborhood Facebook group are representative.

What’s important is not so much what you do but that you choose something that feels right to you, a person you are trying to not be like. There are ways that this makes sense.

Thinking About Rotini


Boy, do you ever look at a box of machine-extruded rotini and think about all the generations of pasta-carvers plying their trade? Rotating this thick noodle base and chiseling away a long and deep enough groove to make that spiral? Learning how to have a steady enough hand as to not chop the rotini up into too-short a length, or making the spiral tread too shallow or the vanes too thick? And doing it fast enough that they could carve away a whole dinner’s worth of pasta in the time it takes to make a meal? And then all those centuries of accumulated experience being wiped away in favor of pasta-making machines that don’t need any humanity to them.

Hey, totally unrelated yet fun fact: my sister-in-law won’t let me tell her kids anything without a responsible grownup supervising.

The Most Wonderful Wikipedia Sentence Ever Of The Week


And it was just sitting there ready to be noticed.

List of dumplings: This is a LIST OF NOTABLE DUMPLINGS.
Also it turns out the singular of “ravioli” is “raviolo”, just like my love and I were saying to each other, only we were joking.

Lighting Up My Life


So I’m just staring that the new boxes of Christmas lights I got to replace the ones that broke over the summer when they weren’t having 120 volts of alternating current blown through them for twelve hours a day. And then at the warning: FOR DECORATIVE USE ONLY. It’s got me feeling for those poor, mad fools who hoped to string load-bearing lights this season. Or the ones hoping to make some industrial use of them. “Why, I needed to extrude pasta noodles,” they cry out, “and this set of General Electric ConstantON bulbs is of no use for the task!” They should have realized. They’re not made by General Electric, but by a company licensing the name so that we think the lights are more generally electrical than they actually are. I bet the bulbs are actually bioluminescent, and they manage their ever-on technology by harvesting firefly enzymes. In short, I’ve had a very busy last several days and am not sleeping enough. How are you, and can you justify that state of being?

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

The Another Blog, Meanwhile index dropped seven points during trading. Investors, seeing this coming, held up their arms and cried “wheeeeeee!” Excitement level 5.15, intensity level 3.55 (moderate). Requires a block of five squares by four squares not counting entry and exit gates and queues. (Roller Coaster Tycoon 3 version. Roller Coaster Tycoon World version not yet rated because it hasn’t come out for the Mac yet.)

98

Oh yeah, A Labor Of Like is posting again


And if I may I’d like to offer a heads-up to people who need things to read but can’t find them on the Internet themselves somehow. I have this problem often. I’m not saying that’s why I own multiple histories of containerized cargo, but it might be why I’ve read a mid-90s book about then-current innovations in pasta technology. That or how many times I found the word “extrude” when I opened to whatever page to try it out.

But after a several-month hiatus A Labor Of Like has got to posting again. I enjoy the style of writing there and, who knows, you might also. Here’s a sample of a recent posting, built on the most universal of human experiences. That is wondering what can possibly explain this thing you’re staring at in the supermarket. Enjoy, insofar as that’s wise.

In short, yes, I’m running like a week behind answering comments and I’m sorry. I’m grateful for everyone who writes here. It’s just been kind of busy and I should maybe spend less time hiding under furniture instead of writing back. The furniture thing is just easier to do.

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.