Sunday, July 28, 2013

Here's what you'll be dining on in Hell. (Why I Hate People)

Yesterday, as a treat, I had an ice cream sundae.  Two scoops of vanilla ice cream, and some "Magic Shell" (Reese's Peanut Butter Cup flavor!) on top, with a couple of old animal cookies crumbled into it for flavor.

That sundae was an homage to the sundaes they used to serve at a drive-in restaurant I went to, as a kid, called "The Kiltie."  The sundae at "The Kiltie" was called a "Circus Sundae," and had chocolate syrup on vanilla ice cream, with some frosted animal cookies on it.

I never understood the link between animal cookies and circuses; possibly, the animals represented by cookies were circus animals? I don't know -- we didn't think about it much because ice cream usually didn't require much thought.  Or forty-eight hours prep time.

*Sound of one shoe dropping*

Ice cream, one would think, would require minimal prep time, if you are not making the ice cream from scratch (as I used to do when I lived on a student budget.  I don't know if it was cheaper to make my ice cream from scratch.  I do know that when I lived on a student budget I had $35 per month for 'entertainment' set aside, and 'entertainment' included clothing, as well, so once I had to choose between getting a new pair of shoes and going to a movie.  I chose the shoes.  So I made ice cream not as a way of saving money, but as a form of entertainment.)  Ice cream should require maybe a few minutes sitting on the counter to let it soften up enough to scoop it easily out of the container, max, right?

RIGHT! say all the people who do not know the best way to eat ice cream/demonstrate that you are a soulless monster. All those people, people like me, think that ice cream is a simple, inexpensive treat that has nothing in common with jewelry, which is (A) why we have at least a chance of going to Heaven and (B) have never eaten "Serendipity's Grand Opulence Sundae."

I don't remember where I first heard about this abomination, but it's enough to know that it exists and that there are people who can order it and somehow sleep at night.

The "Grand Opulence Sundae," I think, has to be a joke, but if so, it's not funny.  It actually appears on the Serendipity III's menu, listed at $1,000.  Why is it a thousand bucks for a sundae?

Here's the recipe, taken from a site that didn't know how to spell "opulence" but tried to blog about it anyway:

Start with 5 scoops of premium vanilla ice cream made from Tahitian Vanilla beans and Madagascar Vanilla and cover them in 23k edible gold leaf. 

Drizzle the whole affair with the world's most expensive chocolate, Amedei Porceleana and chunks of rare Chuao Chocolate. 

Then suffuse the sundae with Parisian candied fruit, gold dragets, truffles and Marzipan Cherries. 

Place a tiny bowl of Grand Passion Caviar on top and serve in a baccarat Harcourt crystal goblet with an 18k gold spoon. 

For the finishing touch, add a gilded sugar flower by Ron Ben-Israel. 

As I said, this has to be a joke, right?  The menu at the restaurant says "Guiness World Record," so this was a stunt or something, right? STILL NOT FUNNY but someone's attempt at a joke, right?

Maybe not.  You can watch one being made:

And the site where I got the link to that also claims that Serendipity serves not just a $1,000 ice cream sundae but a $25,000 Frozen "Haute" Chocolate:

I see what you did there, Serendipity.  No, not the play on words, but the way you demonstrated your contempt for humanity by even imagining these desserts.

(The Haute Chocolate is described on the restaurant's site as "The World's Most Expensive Dessert,":

served in a baccarat Harcourt crystal goblet with an 18 carat gold and white diamond bracelet attached to the neck. The goblet is further laced with 23 carat edible gold. The recipe includes Serendipity frozen hot chocolate mix that contains 14 rare and secret cocoas, 14 of the world rarest and most expensive cocoas from Africa and South America, milk, ice cubes whipped cream and shavings from the world's most expensive truffle, the La Madeline au Truffle ($2,500 a pound). Topping it with five grams of 24 carat edible gold, this opulent dessert is served with a $14,000 jewel encrusted spoon. The bracelet and the spoon belongs to the sweet-toothed customer who ordered this bejeweled dessert.

Although it seems both cheating, and remarkably dumb, to include 'jewelry' as part of the dessert.  If I serve you a pizza inside a mansion, and you get to keep the mansion, would that make the pizza the world's most expensive?

Or would it just be dumb?

The restaurant claims to sell about 1 sundae per month, and the 48-hour notice is required, according to Wikipedia, because ingredients have to be flown in from around the world.

I went looking to find someone who had actually eaten -- paid one thousand dollars to eat-- this ice cream sundae, and I found this blog that was chock-full of poor spelling, claiming that people who have "accomplished something" and feel like "donating money" --


-- and which, poor spelling and all, wanted to suggest that the author had eaten the sundae but clearly he or she had not.  This site, meanwhile, claimed "there are many people" who would tell you the sundae is "worth every penny" but couldn't name one of the "many" people.

Another blog claimed that in the 9 years the restaurant had offered this Way To Prove You Are Awful, it had sold 200, citing a restaurant spokesperson, but then THIS blog claimed that the first one (or maybe the first one at the DC version of the restaurant) had been sold to celebrate a 12-year-old's birthday.)

AS AN ASIDE: Congratulations, mom and dad: you are among the World's Worst Parents!

Let me just point out that all the blogs say that the ice cream is luxurious and that the whatever is whatever and let me say that all of that talk about how the more expensive something is, the more whatever it is.  That is bullsh*t.


There is, of course, a link between how expensive something is and the quality it will have.  I get that: when I buy a toy at the Dollar Store, as I do because I am not rich, I know that toy will likely be far lower quality than a $40 toy from Toys "R" Us, and the same goes with food, generally: discount, 2-for-$1 boxes of generic Frosted Mini Wheats are not going to generally be as delicious/nutritious as full-price name brands.

But there is an upper limit.  There is clearly a point where the ice cream can get neither icier nor creamier, and hence there is a maximum price point where, after that, you are paying for things likee "edible gold leaf," which: all gold is edible, it's just harder to chew, or you are, more clearly, paying for things like "HA STUFF IT WAIT STAFF THIS ICE CREAM COSTS MORE THAN YOU WILL MAKE THIS MONTH AND I'M GOING TO GIVE IT TO MY BRATTY 12-YEAR-OLD SNOT."

I mean honestly, the "world's most expensive chocolate?" What separates that from melted down Hershey's bars?

(I look forward to at least one commenter telling me about some process that makes chocolate from the Andes taste far better, or some kind of crap.)

I want to put this in perspective, for that commenter, and for anyone who is tempted to defend (or try!) a dessert like this or the mere idea that we should fly in desserts for people.

The USDA puts out monthly estimates of food costs.  You can read them online, when not leaving comments somewhere about how awesome it is that we can have someone hand-carve an edible flower for dessert.  The most recent stats available, May 2013, have for a family of four an average cost of food $1,032 for a month, on a "moderate" plan, and $632 on the "thrifty" plan.

The "thrifty" food plan is the one that people on food stamps are supposed to be eating -- it's what they could afford.  That includes such luxuries as one serving of cereal per child per week.  But that lucky kid also gets a whopping 3.45! servings of milk!  Imagine that lucky kid on food stamps, getting to wash down his PB&J with a cold glass of milk as many as 3.45 times per week!

"Mom, can I have some milk?"

"Not until tomorrow, Junior.  Enjoy your 0.41 cups of dry cereal."

Dinner could be either the 0.19 servings of "red meat, lower cost," or perhaps one of the 2.45 eggs allotted that child per week, alternated with 1.18 potato servings per week.

That's for a child aged 9-11.

On average, Serendipity claims some awful person walks into one of their restaurants, once a month, and orders a sundae that would buy food for a family of four for two months.

Did you know, too, that there's a huge fight over whether we should continue to fund foodstamps? 1 in 7 Americans receives them.  1 in 7 Americans has to tell their kids they only get a glass of milk every other day.

But we might cut that program because it's really expensive guys, to keep people from starving. News articles focus on the 'profiteering' that allegedly goes on over food stamps, claiming that it's a huge boondoggle. (The latest talking point is a claim that people are buying food with foodstamps and shipping it to relatives overseas.  If that's true, nobody has yet proven it.)

Congress, which plans on working a solid 12 days between July 25 and September 30 -- seriously: the Congressional schedule has TWELVE workdays out of 67 days in that period-- wants to cut food stamps by $100,000,000,000 over ten years, fake numbers that don't mean anything because they're not binding.

"Food Stamps" are actually a program known as "SNAP," the "Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program." In 2012, 47,000,000 people received SNAP, 72% of those being families with kids.

(ENJOY YOUR 1 egg every 3 days kids!)

The average SNAP household makes less than $2,100 per month (for a 3-person family) and gets about $133 per month in benefits. SNAP cost $81,000,000,000 in 2012, but 92% of that was money given to people -- the administrative costs of SNAP are 5%, mostly helping the states (laboratories of democracy!) administer the program.

$81,000,000,000 sounds like a lot, but you're thinking small potatoes.  The federal budget in 2012 was


or 3,795 billion dollars.  That makes food stamps less than 2% of the federal budget.

The Department of Defense, meanwhile, asked for (and will get) $118,000,000,000 just to fight in Iraq this year.  Over the next two years, the Iraq war (which, technically, isn't that over?) will spend an amount equal to food stamps each year.  Which means we could fully fund food stamps AND cut the deficit if we hadn't elected Cheney's Puppet and started and continued a bogus war designed to benefit defense contractors.

So what will those families do when food stamps get cut and they can't get help buying their kids 2.45 eggs per week?

One of the food recommendations from the USDA was to buy low-cost meat.  Nothing is lower-cost or higher in deliciousness than a good hot dog, so maybe those families could get their kids some of these:

That's the Serendipity Hot Dog.  It costs $69.00.

*Sound of other shoe dropping*

But the ketchup is made from heirloom tomatoes! Savor that taste: it'll provide you comfort when you're burning in a pit of fire for all eternity.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Now I want to learn to play violin. Or RAP. (Awesome Covers Of Already Awesome Songs)

Mr Bunches loves the song "Can't Hold Us," by Macklemore:

So much so that he will watch it over and over and also, he can sing the chorus.  So far, Mr Bunches has eluded by efforts to get him on tape singing the song, but someday...

...anyway, that's how I know this song exists.  Today, I saw on The Chive that this exists:

That's some guy who's apparently famous for violin covers of songs.

Macklemore, by the way, ought to be an inspiration to any DIYer of the indie book/music/movie age.  30 years old, Macklemore has been releasing his music independently since 2000, never on a major label, and his song "Thrift Shop"

which is a song that I love, and Sweetie hates, has been viewed 350,000,000 times and hit #1 on the charts -- all without a major label behind it.  It sold 2,200,000 copies so far.

"Can't Hold Us," which is equally if differently cool, debuted at #1.  It was featured in two different commercials last year, which probably helped him keep his indie status as a recording artist because licensing your music (i.e. wanting to make money off of what you do) is how recording artists can make money and still put songs on Youtube for free.

Also, the song "My Oh My" by Macklemore was a tribute to the late sportscaster Dave Niehaus:

which got Macklemore the chance to sing it at a Mariners game, and he's donating the proceeds of the song to the Rainier Vista Boys and Girls Club.

Seems like a nice guy.


Carlos DangerYou know him. Or you don't want to know him. Or you know him but you don't want to know him. Or you don't know him but you don't know that you don't know him. Whatever. Most certainly, you don't want him for mayor of New York City. But nobody can stop him. He's Carlos Danger, and he is unstoppable. Just look at the shirt! "Carlos Danger laughs at other dangers". Do you think that is a joke? DO YOU? It's not. Carlos Danger is above jokes. He is deadly serious, and he will be your mayor. And you will count yourself lucky for it. You will count yourself lucky, twice. Or more. Because Carlos Danger doesn't stop.


Carlos Danger by brianefp

Don't know who "Carlos Danger" is? READ SOME NEWS then come back and buy this shirt.

in celebration of the things we consume (365 Poems #44)

Hot actress: Katee Sackhoff

The Book of a Thousand Eyes [The Lost Pines Inn would be a good name for a motel]

by Lyn Hejinian

The Lost Pines Inn would be a good name for a motel, or No Sheep in the Meadow, The Lost Egos, The Downtown Country Inn, Mike and Ann's, Doug and Diane's, Bob and Joe's or Just Joe's Hotel, Warm Toes Hotel, Anything Goes Inn, The Come Inn, The Company Retreat, The Hermit's Den, La Cave, The Little House Hotel, The Reliquary, The Happy Family Inn, The Rooster's Coop, The Corky Floor, The Henhouse Hotel, The Egg-in-a-Nest, The Rooks Retreat, The Cooks Inn, The Beat A Retreat, and a music group could call itself Crested Loader, or 10-Second Crossing, or 9 Car Train, or Thumb on the Space Bar, or the Unlike Minimums, The Shepherds Without Sheep, Sheep Without Sleep, Two Feminines, Autism, The Twice Maniacs, The Genetics, The Nasty Uncles, Interfering Women, but streets get named typically after numbers or trees of they're given the names of prominent as well as lesser-known citizens or the names of great cities of the world or the great letters of the alphabet from A to Z but in celebration of the things we consume the names of products and objects should be given to some streets (Tagliatelle Lane, Glue Stick Street, iPod Alley) and to encourage pursuit of intellectual professions a city's central thoroughfare might be called Mathematics Avenue, Neurochemistry Street, Jurisprudence Boulevard, or Lit Crit Street while at the edge of town the thoroughways and by ways could commemorate abstractions and generalized conditions (as in Global Capital Street, Logic Throughway, Affluence Alley, Interruption Boulevard, Domination Interstate, Accumulation Highway) and another great name for a motel would be The Soporif's Inn, or The Archive, and Duke, High Spot, Drummer, Archimedes, Shadow, Ranger, and Gamelon might name some of the 220 horses at work under the hood of the blue 2003 220-horse power P.T. Cruiser that got me home by bedtime.


The actual title of this series of posts is "365 Awesome Poems That Rhyme And Are Worth Reading," as part of the point of the series was to find poems that rhyme, because in my opinion poems that don't are not.  Poems, that is: they exist, but if they not rhyme they are not true poems.  They are horses to poetry's zebras.

This poem rhymes a bit, in the beginning, if you read it aloud, and I picked it on that basis even though rhyme and meter get sort of thrown out the door by the end, but I stuck it in here anyway because I liked it, for a couple of reasons:

First, I like to think up what would be good names for things, sometimes, especially bands, a habit I picked up even though I was never in a band, from reading Dave Barry's column way back when.

Second, I was driving home yesterday listening to the book Look Me In The Eyes and the book was saying how the author had moved to a place where all the city streets had the word "hill" in them, and I began thinking what might make good street names.  I decided it would be kind of neat to name a whole neighborhood's streets after science-y stuff, like "Quark Lane" and so on.

Then I saw this poem this morning, where the poet did me one better.  So I chose it and it's got enough rhymes in it to count.

Art here! Get your art here!

Have you ever wanted to own some great art but didn't want to go to all the trouble of assembling the crack squad of cat burglars, tech geniuses and getaway men necessary to get a good painting?  It's a lot of trouble, isn't it, getting blueprints to the Louvre, bribing the proper French officials, having a small plane waiting to take you to Algeria, and then what? You still have to find a place to put that Mona Lisa and your wife thinks it looks terrible over the couch.

Instead of going through all that, why not check out the  Fabian Perez Art on sale at Paragon Fine Art?

These Fabian Perez Paintings, paintings like this:

exhibit a sense of composition and drama that makes them nearly jump off the canvas, each painting telling a story and broadcasting emotions so that the paintings do more than simply hang on a wall: they illuminate a room and give it an identity.

Perez isn't the only artist that Paragon has for sale; they've got art for every taste and every buge, whether you want a Pino or something larger or smaller or rarer.  Use them to decorate your home, your office, wherever you need a bit of class.

And tell the old gang you've gone straight.  No, not even one last job.  Not even for old times' sake.

Monday, July 22, 2013

"I'm ready to believe in hell, but without a ceiling." (Quotent Quotables)

So you want to be a monk? ... Well, it's a good opportunity. You'll pray for us sinners; we have sinned too much here.  I've always been thinking who would pray for me, and whether there's anyone in the world to do it.  My dear boy, I'm awfully stupid about that.  You wouldn't believe it. Awfully.  You see, however stupid I am about it, I keep thinking, I keep thinking -- from time to time, of course, not all the while.  It's impossible, I think, for the devils to forget to drag me down to hell with their hooks when I die.  Then I wonder-- hooks?  Where would they get them? What of? Iron hooks? Where do they forge them ? Have they a foundry there of some sort? The monks in the monastery probably believe that there's a ceiling in hell, for instance.  Now, I'm ready to believe in hell, but without a ceiling.  It makes it more refined, more enlightened, more Lutheran that is.  And, after all, what does it matter whether it has a ceiling or hasn't? But, do you know, there's a damnable question involved in it? If there's no ceiling there can be no hooks, and if there are no hooks it all breaks down,which is unlikely again, for then there would be none to drag me down to hell, and if they don't drag me down what justice is there in the world? Il faudrait les inventer, it would be necessary to invent them, those hooks, on purpose for me alone.

-- The Brothers Karamazov

You got to know when to hold 'em, know when to stop playing and get to that meeting.

I'm not much of a gambler.  My gambling skill and knowledge amounts to knowing the entire lyrics to Kenny Rogers' "The Gambler," and also to getting a little choked up each time I realize that somewhere in the darkness, the Gambler he broke even...

Give me a minute here.

Anyway, one reason I don't much care for gambling is that to gamble you have to go to casinos and casinos are usually very far away from me and almost always filled with people and smoke and noise and people! I'm not a fan of being in crowded noisy smoke-filled places where people are shoving and elbowing and getting all up in my business.

Another reason I don't gamble much is that I don't know very much about it. Aside from a brief stint playing poker for nickles in law school -- games in which I still lost thirty or forty dollars -- I've never had very much experience in gambling.

So in a nutshell: I don't like the places where people gamble and I don't know how to play the games anyway.  So if I were to gamble, I'd need to do it in my own home and have someone there to explain it to me, which means I'd need to go into the world of ONLINE GAMBLING.


(It's hard to do dramatic musical breaks on a blog.)

That's where this Online pokies site I found comes in.  Pokies is kind of an Australian term for online gaming sites, and Pokies Aussie Casino can help you find the best ones around.  Their site provides reviews and links and information about all the best gaming sites, whether you want to play blackjack, poker, roulette, or whatever.  They'll tell you which online casinos are offering sign-up bonuses or the best payouts, and give you information on how to play to improve your game.

No weird people, no smoky rooms, just the fun of gaming at the pace and price you enjoy, from the comfort of your own home.  Or desk at work. But don't let your boss catch you. He'll demand a cut of the action.  That's 'gambler talk' for 'bribe.'  See how much I've already learned?

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Now you see me, now you don't. (Stupid Questions)

I took the boys, Mr F and Mr Bunches, to the swimming pool yesterday.  That in itself was not unusual and is only a lead-in to this post, because absolutely nothing remarkable occurred while we were on the way to swimming, while we were swimming, or on the way home from swimming.  In fact, the swimming thing is really irrelevant to the post, as the inception of this post could have come anywhere, or everywhere, but in this case, it happened at the pool, where I was, yesterday. Swimming.

Here's what happened while I was swimming: I was looking a bit at the way the water reflects off the pool and watching Mr Bunches swim all the way across the pool, which he can do now, and I thought to myself

Stupid Question #1: Why can't we see air?

I mean, all my life I've been told that the sky is blue because light bounces off of it, or refracts, or something, that in essence light is bouncing off the sky and we are seeing the blue light, the rest of it being absorbed by the sky, which, as I sat in the pool playing "Sea Turtle & Sloth" (that will require an explanation some other day) began to bug me more and more, in that the sky is made of air and so why can we see the sky when it's way up there, off in the distance, above the trees and above the Ace Hardware and above airplanes, but we can't see the sky when it's right down here on top of the pool?

And, for that matter, Stupid question #2 Why does the sky reflect all the same uniform shade of blue, instead of slightly different colors because the sky is made up of different atoms or molecules or something of air, and why would nitrogen reflect the same color of blue as oxygen?

 So I kept thinking about it, as I swam and played "Up!" with Mr F (not the movie; while we play lots of movies, those are mostly with Mr Bunches and mostly involve the scenes where two characters fight, like when the chef tries to kill Sebastian in The Little Mermaid, which seems pretty horrible the first time around but becomes much more horrible later, because the first time at least you could think that the chef, who appears to enjoy his job chopping off fishes' heads a little too much, thought he was only killing dumb animals, but later on, having been made aware that the sea creatures are sentient, thinking, feeling beings, the chef still wants to kill Sebastian, so he is just a serial killer. Puts a different spin on that movie, doesn't it?

As I kept thinking about it, I was thinking, too, how water's surface looks that peculiar, awesome way, and that it must be because we are seeing the reflection of only some of the light, because water lets light pass through it, only bending it slightly, but if water passed light through entirely, we wouldn't be able to see it, at all.

That got me thinking -- and this, I imagine, is how scientists like Ben Franklin and Aristotle did 'science' back before you could just google stuff, my being in my swimtrunks in a pool and then walking home being the equivalent of being in the Middle Ages, because while I could have gotten out and checked it out on my phone (Imagine: I carry with me at all time a computer that can answer almost any question! I Love Living In The Future!), I didn't do that, because Mr F was as I said making me play "Up!" which is where I pick him up and almost throw him and then put him back down.  He does not, unlike Mr Bunches, want to be thrown, and his game is much harder than when Mr Bunches asks me to throw him, because I have to lift both up and down for Mr F, so it's a real upper-body workout.

Using my old-fashioned science, I tried to work it out.  If water can be seen, sort of, and air cannot, then that means that light passes entirely through air and only partially through water; it is light beams reflecting off of things that allows us to see them, so if we can see the water in the pool, that means that the light is bouncing off of it.

Which didn't explain why we can't see air, though, as (A) we can, remember, we can see the sky, even if it just seems to be a big blue sheet hanging somewhere up there,and (B) even if air is less densely-packed with molecules or atoms or whatever than water, which was my next hypothesis, that didn't mean that we shouldn't be able to see some air, whenever the photons hit an air molecule near our eyes, for example.  After all, if a dust mote drifts near my eye I can see that, so shouldn't all the little molecules of helium near my eye be visible, too?

Which led to a new hypothesis: maybe it was that there are impurities in the water and that is what we're seeing when we look at water: not the water itself, but the chlorine, or the dust, or... let's not think of any other impurities that could be in water.  Let's leave it at dust and chlorine.  After all, there are supposed to be spots in the ocean that have superclear water where you can see the bottom of the sea 20 feet down, and just because I've never seen them doesn't mean that everyone's lying about them.  (I secretly suspect everyone is lying about them, so I'm going to suspect that you, and you, and even you and all of you over there are liars unless you arrange to send me on an all-expenses-paid factfinding trip-not-vacation to such a place. For two weeks. In January.  Put your money where your mouth is, liars.)

I was doing all this thinking because I still like to exercise my thinking muscle, or 'brain,' before actually looking up the answer, and also because: swimming in a pool.  But that was what I came up with: we are actually seeing impurities in the water, and hence the air, which we see as blue because of impurities?

Didn't seem right, even though that would account for days that are 'hazy,' and fits in with things like when you see smog or fog, too, when the air becomes visible because it has more 'impurities' in it.

Now, then, sitting here this morning with my coffee and my computer and the invisible air all around me, I can check out those answers against 'real' "science", by which I mean the kind of science that even though we generally believe it still does stuff like "makes up dinosaurs that never existed and then pretends they were real," so let's take "real" "science"'s answers with a grain of salt.

First, I googled

Stupid Question #1: Why can't we see air?

I got, with that answer, to a site called "Quora," which is apparently new and which I see on Slate a lot, even though I don't read Slate anywhere near as much  as I used to because Slate honestly is becoming just more and more personal blogs and less and less actual reporting or analysis.  I'd say about 75% of Slate's content is no better or worse than this blog -- things I think about stuff, with some googling thrown in, which is okay if you're writing a blog for fun, but not as okay if you  are purporting to be a serious news source.  It says something when I feel like I get more hard news from HuffPo than from Slate, and that is how I feel.

Anyway, I got to Quora where I had to sign in and create a password to see answers to questions! Oh, good! Another password!  That's awesome!  I love having to constantly have a list of identities with me just to read a #(#%*$ question on the Internet!  I know, you use my email to sell to direct marketers and that's how your website becomes free, I get that's the tradeoff I'm making: I can read your website and you can use my email to have me sent "Groupons" or something, but understanding that, why do I have to have a password? Are we worried that someone will use my email to sign in to Quora as me, passing themselves off as me on a site where they can ask questions about stuff?  That's a fear I can live with.  If the worst thing an identity thief can do with my identity is ask questions in my name, I think I'll survive.

(Side note: given my credit rating, I have a standing offer to identity thieves: If you can qualify for credit using my identity, I'll split the credit with you and not press charges.)

Having signed in and created another junk password that I won't remember so that the next time I use this site 30 months from now I will have to have it "send me a reminder," or something dumb, I got to an answer that I couldn't tell if it was by a scientist or not -- it seemed to be but then again it seemed not to be, which is part of the problem with googling stuff: you never know whose answer you're getting.

In this case, the top answer seemed to be from a guy who billed himself as "not a physicist":

but who still seemed more credible than "Karl Malcolm, scientist, academic, guitarist."

What three things would you want the world to know about you if you were trying to convince them that you were smart? "The ability to play hot guitar licks" is definitely near the top of the list, although people who can do that probably don't advertise it.

The top answers I got from skimming those three entries and then ignoring Karl Malcolm's answer because he said air does not absorb light in the visible spectrum and therefore cannot be seen and even I know that's incorrect, that it is the reflection of light that we see, not the absorption, is that we cannot see air because for the most part, air is too small to interact with light.

(Another problem with the internet? "Science" is not a popularity contest. Having regular folks -- or regular folks with an email address and a willingness to use the phrase "CheezDoodle" as their password -- "vote" on what the "best" answer to a question "is", is not science, or even fact.  The popular answer may or may not be right.  I recall once looking at the question "What flavor are white jellybeans?" The top answer was something like "I don't know, but they are delicious," which, while factually accurate as far as the answerer's own state of mind went, was not really the answer to the question, at least not the way we traditionally think of "answers" as "answers.")

It was actually answerer number 2 on that site that gave me the most insight, as he explained the four ways light interacts with junk:

When light passes through an object, one of four things can happen:
1. Absorption: this occurs when the photons of light interact with the electrons in the material and the photon gives up its energy to the electron. The result is that the electron moves to a higher energy level, and the photon disappears.  This makes objects look opaque. The color of an opaque object is dependent on the range of frequencies that it did not absorb.
2. Reflection: this occurs when the photon gives up its energy to the electron, but another photon of identical energy is emitted.
3. Transmission: the photon doesn't interact with any electron in the material and light exits the material at the same frequency that it came in.
4. Scattering: as Joshua Engel mentions, the light interacts with matter or structures in the matter, being absorbed and re-emitted in a different direction. Earth Science: Why is the sky blue?
Air molecules are sparsely distributed, so light passing through air has a small (but non-zero) chance of interacting with air molecules along its trajectory.  However, if there's a lot of air (imagine a 50-mile stretch), lots of these improbable interactions add up, and the effect of the air molecules becomes visible.  Rayleigh scattering, which is the phenomena causing the sky to be blue, favors light in the blue / violet regions and occurs when interacting molecules are much smaller than the wavelength of light.

That guy goes on to explain that we also 'see' light when there is a temperature differential causing the light to change its path: light goes in a straight line through air but temperature can make it change direction, which is why light appears to shimmer above a hot highway, because the air is hotter just above the tar than it is three feet up, so when the light hits it it changes direction and we see what looks like water above the road.

Which made me think that you could make yourself invisible if you could alter the temperature around your body enough to completely bend the light away -- you would appear as a shimmer, like Predator, maybe, but you would be more or less invisible.

Or would you?

Stupid Question #3 If you could have the air immediately around your body be a superdifferent temperature than the air just past it, would you be invisible?

I'll get to that in a bit.  For now, back to #1:

Stupid Question #1: Why can't we see air?

We can't see air because it's not interacting enough with light: air molecules are (relatively) far apart compared to, say, pizza molecules, which are densely packed (yum!).  That and air molecules are smaller, in many cases, than the light waves/photons (light is a both a wave and not, remember), which means that when light interacts with air, it first has to hit some air, and that's hard to do because air is so small and so far apart (relatively speaking, again.)  When light DOES hit air, because the air molecule is (usually) smaller than the light wave/photon, it undergoes "Rayleigh scattering."

Rayleigh scattering, named after the British physicist Lord Rayleigh,[1] is the elastic scattering of light or other electromagnetic radiation by particles much smaller than the wavelength of the light. The particles may be individual atoms or molecules. It can occur when light travels through transparent solids and liquids, but is most prominently seen in gases. Rayleigh scattering results from the electric polarizability of the particles. The oscillating electric field of a light wave acts on the charges within a particle, causing them to move at the same frequency. The particle therefore becomes a small radiating dipole whose radiation we see as scattered light.

(That's from Wikipedia.)(Quora: your site is less helpful/believable than Wikipedia.)  Rayleigh scattering also has to do with the softness or hardness of the particle.  That's measured by the refractive index:

n= c/v,

where v= the speed of the light through your substance, and c= the speed of light in a vacuum, so that's the same "c" as in E=mc(squared).

Rayleigh scattering is, by the way, why we see the sun as yellow, which


So we do see air, it's just that we don't see very much of it and the parts we do see are the results of miles and miles of air being piled on top of us (300 miles, total), so we're seeing the results of billions upon billions of extremely rare interactions as the light gets Rayleighed all the way down to us, and by the time the light is near our eyes there's relatively few atoms of air to bounce off of, but if there were lots of them you'd probably see a blue haze around your eyes.

Why blue? That brings us back to

Stupid question #2 Why does the sky reflect all the same uniform shade of blue, instead of slightly different colors because the sky is made up of different atoms or molecules or something of air, and why would nitrogen reflect the same color of blue as oxygen?

 Remember wavelengths of visible light: ROY G BIV or "Richard Of York Gave Battle In Vain," as our British friends like to remember it.  Light goes from very long wavelengths -- 'very' again being relative, okay, everything's relative keep that in mind -- at the red end (650 nanometers) to very short at the blue end (400 nanometers.)

A nanometer is 1/1,000,000,000th of a meter, so you would have to line up 2,500,000 violet light photons in a row to make a yardstick, which I was going to say meterstick but that's dumb, even if it's a meter long we'd still call it a yardstick.

That would be a cool yardstick, though. It would look like a lightsaber.

The important thing to remember here is that how much something Rayleigh scatters is inversely proportional to the fourth power of its wavelength, so the SMALLER the wavelength the larger the scatter, which is why blue and violet light scatter more than red and orange.

Okay, so

Stupid Question #2A why isn't the sky violet then?

Mostly because we breathe oxygen, and partly because of the color of our sun.  Oxygen tends to absorb light near the ultraviolet end, so that reduces the amount of violet we see, and there is more of the kind of light needed to make blue in the spectrum that comes from the sun.  (This caused me to remember when we would burn salts in chemistry to see what spectrum of light they threw off in order to identify them.  I did NOT pass that test.)

Our sun is a 'yellow sun' because of the spectrum of light it gives off. That means that it looks yellowish to us on the Earth, I gather, because if you look at the sun from space, the sun is white.  Also you would be blind, so use sunglasses.

(The sky is of course black in space.)

The sun looks yellow to us because when we look in the direction of the sun (NEVER look directly at the sun although once I did during an eclipse in fourth grade, and I'm still here, so just don't do it for very long) there is less scattering: the rays hit us more directly and we see more of the red and yellow and orange, which is why sunsets aren't blue, either -- it's the way the light is passing through the atmosphere.  At noon, when you look up at the sun (AGAIN NOT FOR TOO LONG) the sunlight comes shooting straight at your retinas from 93,000,000ish miles away and you see most of the spectrum and it evens out to a yellowish-white.  Looked at from the side (i.e., sunset) you see more reds.

As for the rest of question 2, the answer is that the atoms DO refract different colors.  So do larger particles, like smog.

Here is something you didn't know, I bet, and I know I didn't know it: Moonlight is blue, too. Moonlight is just reflected sunlight, but we don't see it as blue because we use rods, not cones, to see at night and rods see only black and white.  If you lived in an area with enough light pollution -- that is, other light to activate your cones -- you'd see the moonlight as blue.  A blue moon is possible all the time!

Then it's on to

Stupid Question #3 If you could have the air immediately around your body be a superdifferent temperature than the air just past it, would you be invisible?

The answer is "yes."  This site explains that carbon nanotubes can conduct heat quickly and efficiently so that a device or cloth made of them would make you invisible.

Or watch this video:

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

So I guess Superman's Just A Murderer, Then. (12 People Superman Has Killed In The Comics)

This is sort of a feature I'm thinking of calling "pop investigates," or something. It's basically a continuation of what I used to call Minibests, a series of posts loosely grouped together but written over time.  The 365 Poems is one of these, as it The 8 Hottest Moms.  There will probably be others, and there have been others.  But this is this one.

A few weeks ago I finished up an essay so long that it literally looped time in around itself, which is probably why so few people have read it so far.  (Actually, the post has been viewed 63 times since I posted it June 30, which is as of today, July 16, not bad for something so long. Then again it's not good for something that mentions Superman.)

In that essay, which was what I thought about the movie "The Man Of Steel," I said "Superman does not kill people."  I even said it in bold, I was so sure I was right.  And nobody since then has challenged me with any specifics.  People have challenged me, people like The Boy, who said "How do you know that?", but not with specifics, and so I just had to respond that I had "looked it up," which I sorta had, by which I mean I had read some stuff about Superman on Wikipedia and I had also thought about it for a while and so I was pretty sure that I was pretty sure that Superman had never killed anybody.

BUT there is ONE PERSON out there smart enough to prove me wrong, and that person is ME.  I have confounded myself (and logic) by once again being the only person who is smarter than himself, and I have therefore taken it upon myself to correct myself by pointing out that my (earlier) self was wrong and my (currently existing) self is right, in that Superman does kill people.

Or person, at any rate.  Let me tell you first how I found out I was wrong: I looked it up on Wikipedia the other morning.

This picture doesn't relate to the post at all,
but it came up on an image search and
FOR SOME REASON I wanted to include it.

Wikipedia doesn't usually prove me wrong, let alone inadvertently, and in this case I wasn't even trying to prove myself wrong.  Nor was I trying to prove anything, really, I was just trying to read about superheroes because I had in mind to start doing a series of posts like this one only this series was going to be about crazy origins of superheroes, which I always find fun to read when they are condensed onto websites and I don't have to go buy 330 back issues of Alpha Flight to get the whole version of how Red Tornado is actually an elemental demon or whatever.

(Which I know I'm muddling up heroes there, but let me just say that I'm about 84% sure that currently Red Tornado is an elemental demon, and also I'm 85% sure that most superheroes in the DC pantheon are demons or angels or elementals or something else of an overpowering spiritual/demigoddish nature, because everytime I read an origin of a hero, that's the latest turn. That probably says something about society, which is something that I like to do: say things about society, which is why I was going to do that series of posts about origins, to see what they said about where our society has gone to, in that an ordinary (!?) robot masquerading as a human being (!?) with the powers to create tornadoes (!!) isn't enough for us anymore (?&) and that ordinary robot human being now has to also be an elemental demon of the wind, or something close, but ultimately I... am I still in a parentheses? Better get out of that)

ultimately I didn't go with that series of posts because I couldn't find a good quick list of superheroes, they were all subdivided into women heroes and heroes from Iceland and heroes with dyslexia or something, and then I thought "maybe something about villains, then," since it's been a while since I did something about villains, and that's how I stumbled on "The Ultra-Humanite,"

and I paused because (A) I have that comic! which made me want to read the article the same way if you once met a minor celebrity in person you'll probably watch that person on The Tonight Show, and you'll say to your wife "Hey, I once met that person!" which, trust me, makes a bigger (better) impact on her than "Hey, I have that comic!" because that latter line is always followed by an explanation of

1. What comic?
2. Why is he a monkey?
3. With a big skull?
4. What are you doing reading Wikipedia entries about giant monkeys with skulls, aren't you EVER going into the office?
5. How much Cap'n Crunch can you fit into a bowl?

And so I paused and read the entry because (B) I was thinking about doing something about supervillains, and I read about how the "Ultra-Humanite,"

is the first supervillain faced by Superman, and among the first supervillains of the Golden Age of Comics. He was designed to be the polar opposite of Superman; while Superman is a hero with superhuman strength, Ultra-Humanite is a criminal mastermind who has a crippled body but a highly advanced intellect.
And how he was first discovered by Superman when Superman was breaking up a cab strike,

Superman sets out to smash the so-called Cab Protective League, an underworld organization, headed by a racketeer named Jackie Reynolds, which is attempting to seize control of the city's lucrative taxi trade by launching a reign of terror against the independent cab companies, murdering their drivers and demolishing their taxicabs in an effort to coerce the independents into joining the League.[3] Reynolds organizes unscrupulous cab drivers into a union, the Cab Protective League (CPL). Reynolds' union, financed by the Ultra-Humanite, intimidates other cab drivers through violence and threats against passengers. In the summer of 1939, a cab carrying Clark Kent (alias Superman) is assaulted by a CPL driver.
Which sounds THRILLING, I know, but ultimately that leads Superman to discover that the Ultra-Humanite exists and is a supervillain and also leads Superman to be knocked unconscious by electricity, "enough to kill five hundred men," which actually I think would work.

I mean, nerve impulses are electrical, right? So couldn't you simply electrocute Superman, if not with regular doses of electricity, then with a lot, enough to burn out his nerves so he couldn't move and his autonomous nervous system would no longer cause his heart to beat? Maybe. I know they can block nerves with drugs and stuff, so they could probably burn out the synapses with electricity, and Superman may not need to be able to breathe (if he doesn't then how would Krypton's atmosphere affect him, but if he does how does he fly in space?) but he probably needs his blood to circulate or he'll die.

Anyway: the electricity works but the buzz saw with which the Ultra-Humanite tries to kill Superman while he's unconscious breaks, and Superman interrupts the Ultra-Humanite's fleeing in a plane by smashing into the plane itself, breaking it to pieces and crashing it.

Which alone is enough, I think, to set up this series, as Superman has since 1939ish not been above smashing into planes to destroy villains whose only fault was trying to take over the cab monopoly/electrocuting him (which the latter was only brought about by Superman trying to stop his evil scheme, and "stopping an evil scheme" is what Florida calls "Stand Your Ground", at least when white guys do it, so can you blame the Ultra-Humanite? Not if you serve on a Florida jury and want a book deal, you can't. My recommendation to anyone charged with a crime? Make it high profile. The higher profile the better, because publishers don't want book deals with jurors who convict.)

But Superman couldn't find the body after the plane crash, so the Ultra-Humanite was still alive, and that led to round two when

After scores of subway riders have been injured in the collapse of a subway tunnel and an inspector is nearly killed by a train when he is knocked out on train tracks, Superman discovers that Star, Inc., the firm that built the tunnel, defrauded the city by charging the city for expensive materials and then using substandard materials on the actual project. Superman pursues some of the criminals who lead him to the Ultra-Humanite. 
Ultra-Humanite is more than just a bad contractor, though. He appears to know a thing or two about Superman:

As Superman barges headlong into the shed, the villain freezes him inside a block of crystal. "BEHOLD!" gloats the Ultra-Humanite. "My mortal foe imprisoned in crystal.... so that I can look upon him and laugh until eternity!"
Or maybe not. Superman escaped by punching his way out.  Ultra-Humanite uses his intellect to try to extort a cruiseline, to cause a plague of purple blotches, and to try to hypnotize Superman with a helmet, but Superman fakes being controlled, and after a ray gun fails to stop Superman,

Superman then returns to Ultra's strongholds where the villain tries to blast him, but Superman places the Ultra-Humanite in front of the gun, killing him.

(All these quotes are from Wikipedia.)

Just like that.  Not even "Oh my God I had to do it to save some people who'd have been partially burned by Zod," just "Hey, Ultra-Humanite, eat hot lead from your own henchman," bang zoom it's over, and Superman killed him.

Just flat-out killed him -- succeeding on his second try, apparently, remember the plane-smashing?

(That wasn't the end of the Ultra-Humanite; he was revived by adrenaline, so if you're keeping track so far then:

-- M. Night Shymalan and Stan Lee stole from the Ultra-Humanite, who is a crippled bald man in a wheelchair whose only power is his supreme intellect and

"Mr Lee? A call from our copyright lawyers."

"Tell them I said we're going with it, nobody
read those comics in the 30s anyway!"

-- Pulp Fiction stole from The Ultra-Humanite, not to mention The Man Of Steel, because the Ultra-Humanite's plague is designed to kill people so that the Ultra-Humanite can get around to making his own race.

Anyway: the Ultra-Humanite's body wasn't going to last long, so he had it transplanted into a series of bodies, first a young woman and ultimately an albino gorilla and Johnny Thunder.)

It was when I read all that that I realized that (A) I was wrong about whether or not Superman kills but (B) I was apparently the only person who knew/cared about that.  But on the offchance that I'm wrong about the latter, and because whether or not you care about it, I care about it, so this is just the first in this series of posts.

I don't know if there'll actually be 12 people Superman has killed in the comics; I picked that number randomly and went with it.  But it doesn't really matter, does it, how many people he's killed? The fact is that he has killed and, more importantly, he's GOTTEN AWAY WITH IT, so successfully that we (I) now think that Superman is this whole boy scout dogooder that stands above it all and represents the next wave of humanity, when in reality, he's just going around throwing villains in front of bullets.

Also, I suppose it does matter how many people he's killed.

Nobody's seen that woman since.


I did do a whole series of posts on what makes a villain the best, and chose The Best Villain, in this series beginning here.

Here are some other things that I've investigated over time:

"30 Things "The Scream" is screaming."

The Seven Best Underrated Instruments

Tuesday, July 09, 2013

"That is, until his father falls out of the sky" (Books!)

Author Andrew Leon has just released the newest installment in his ongoing serialized horror novel "Shadow Spinner":

Tiberius has always thought of himself as a normal 10-year-old boy. Maybe he's a little smarter than everyone else, but that's still normal. He's scared of shadows, but everyone's scared of something, right? His mother's completely paranoid and called the cops the one time, just one time, he went over to a friend's house after school, but, still, he's normal even if his mother is not. At least, that's what he thinks until the day his mother finally decides to tell him about his father, and she tells him things that convince him that one of them is crazy, and he's pretty sure it's not him. That is until the Man with No Eyes shows up and his father falls out of the sky.
I've been reading these as he releases them and I can vouch for this book being phenomenal.  Leon's writing is fantastic: he uses language and plot like an artist uses a paintbrush, in that the further the story goes the more is revealed by the brushstrokes.

Plus, and I probably should have said this first, this book is supercreepy in the horror parts and superfantastic in the rest.  I have no idea where Leon comes up with his ideas, but I wish I could tap into even 1% of the creativity he's got.

Get the latest installment for FREE by clicking here.

Click here to go to part one of the serialization and start at the beginning. (RECOMMENDED ONLY FOR THOSE WHO LOVE GREAT BOOKS AND READING!)

Click here to buy the ENTIRE BOOK all at once in hardcover, or "old-fashioned & outdated" format -- don't wait for the ending like me, just get the whole thing.

And, of course, learn more about Andrew at his blog, "Strange Pegs."  HE POSTS CAT PICTURES. That'll get you clicking over there.

Monday, July 08, 2013

Today Edgar Is Celebrating

Edgar is the suit of armor I found and put in my office.  He celebrates a holiday every day.  Today's holiday is The Beginning of the War Of Sicilian Vespers, which began on this day in 1282, and who knew that they had already invented July back in the 13th century? Learn something every day, that's my motto.

The war began, as so many wars do, with a Frenchman harassing a Sicilian woman (see also: French & Indian War; that one argument I got into at a bus stop once).  According to Wikipedia, "Accounts differ as to what the harassment entailed, who the woman was, and who the Frenchman was." I bet it was Gerard Depardieu.  (I have to say that; he's the only Frenchman I know, besides Pepe Le Pew.)

Sicilians reacted to the isolated harassment of one woman with a measured, even response: they slaughtered 4,000 Frenchmen over the next 6 weeks.  Never a country to take such a thing lying down, the French invented "Chef Boyardee SpaghettiOs" to destroy Sicilian culture.

As if that wasn't bad enough,
the French ALSO killed
dinosaurs for food!

Through a bunch of stuff involving people with confusing names, the Sicilians obtained the approval of both the popes of the time -- one I think was in Constantinople (NOT ISTANBUL NOT YET!) -- but as so often happens, just after giving approval, the Italian, or "real", pope died and was replaced by a pro-French Pope, and that led to war.

I am not 100% clear on how it led to war, just that it led to war, and the war of the Sicilian Vespers would go on for twenty years, until 1302, which sounds like a long time until you remember that it took 20 years to simply get anywhere back then, because everyone traveled by donkey (even when they were going overseas, as donkeys are notorious for their endurance swimming), so this war, like most wars back then, actually ended before it began and everyone forgot what they were fighting about and went back to persecuting the gypsies.

ALSO: the actual end of the war came when the French king, Charles, challenged the Sicilians leader, Peter of Aragon, to "personal combat," and Peter accepted, and each chose six knights to battle on his behalf (so "personal" meant something quite different back then), with the whole duel set up to be judged by the King of England, only he backed out because the Pope wouldn't let him take part.

BUT: while they were setting up that duel Peter had his deputy continue attacking, and they took 42 ships hostage and "ravaged" the coast of France or something, and then the war ended, according again to Wikipedia, when Charles died and Peter got distracted by a crusade and so "the war in Italy was put on hold by the lack of leadership on both sides."

"And so with nobody around to sign our paychecks, we've
all had to take temp jobs at this one office park.

The lack of leadership wouldn't keep the war from dragging on to 1302, when the "Peace of Caltabellotta" set up a new king of Sicily, Frederick, and awarded the Italian peninsula to the French, and the whole thing was approved by the pope and sealed with a royal marriage.

This picture is historically accurate.

Sunday, July 07, 2013

Here is the Amazon review I just posted about the book "The Gone-Away World" by Nick Harkaway (Books)

One Sunday early this spring, I was watching "Safety Not Guaranteed" on Netflix.  Lying there on my couch, headphones in, the movie playing away on my Kindle, I was nearing the end of the movie and I began thinking about how it might end, where the movie was going, and I thought to myself that there was only one way the movie COULD end if it was to be a good movie.

So as the movie came to what was OBVIOUSLY the conclusion, I was waiting with bated breath, almost literally, to see if it would end that way, if this movie that so far had been so great, so much better than expected, would win or lose -- would provide me with the ending that would make this a great movie, or would wimp out and destroy everything that had come before.

When the ending came, it made me gasp with surprise, start laughing out loud, and get tears in my eyes.  THAT was how great and perfect the ending was: so great and perfect that it actually elicted real-life emotion for me, not about the characters in the movie or about the ending itself or anything so prosaic as that, but rather real-life emotion (surprise, that is) that was sprung forth by the fact that something SO good, so perfect, so wonderful, could exist in pop culture.

We are so used to watered-down, mass-market, half-effort, almost-great things (if not things that are worse) that we have, I think sometimes, lowered the bar for what constitutes greatness.  It used to be that one had to win five Super Bowls to be considered great.  Now, a quarterback can be considered great even if he never makes it to the championship.  It used to be that the entire world watched as man stepped on the moon.  Now, the Kardashians out-rate a man stepping out of a space capsule and falling to earth.  It used to be... well, you get the point, and the point is that so many things are mediocre that the few things that are good are elevated to greatness merely by not being bland. It's as if the entire world was painted beige and so we were forced to give awards to off-white simply because it was slightly less so.

Which makes rare gems so much the more startling, and amazing, to me, rare gems like "Safety Not Guaranteed" and now, this book.

I can count on one hand the number of books I consider truly great.  They are: Catch-22.  American Gods.  Slaughterhouse-Five.  Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell.  And now this book, which might push one of those off the hand on which I am counting in order to create a second space for Harkaway's book.

I cannot remember, ever, in my life, a book that delighted and surprised me and amazed me so much.  This was a book that began on a hot roll and picked up steam and heat with each word, each sentence, each paragraph, each page.  This book careened and caromed through its story and my head with a vulgar life that shouldered aside every notion of what a book should be, what a story must be, and replaced it with image after image of THIS book.

You can get the plot from the synopsis, or from the 132 other (as I write this) reviews of this book.  I'm not going to recap it because the plot, which is head-and-shoulders above almost every other book you will ever read, is not even the most amazing thing about this book.

The real problem with reviewing this book, in fact, is deciding what IS the most amazing thing about it. Reviewing this book is like trying to describe two circuses performing amidst an amusement park where a series of rock concerts are taking place, and you have cotton candy to eat while this all goes on.  Or a giant pretzeldog.  Whatever. Don't get hung up on the snacks. That's not the important thing. I mean, of course, snacks are important, but I feel we're getting needlessly bogged down here in discussing them.

Also: the circuses are entirely staffed by supermodels.

THAT is this book.  There is so much going on that it's hard to know where to look and all you can really do is stare and take it all in and hope that the details lodge in your mind for later picking at and remembering and recapping and enjoyment, that you can take them with you so that as you sit at your desk listening to someone drone on and on, or as you are stuck in traffic, or as you are drifting off to sleep (at your desk or in traffic) you can turn your mind to the supermodelcircusamusementparkconcert that is this book, and remember it and smile and work on it again, until you can get home and continue reading it.

The language: Harkaway uses words like his characters use the hard and soft styles of fighting, changing up here and there and constantly keeping you looking for the next wave.  He makes up words. He makes references you'll have to google.  His vocabulary is about 37th grade, and yet it works: it's the only way this story COULD have been written, in a way that makes you have to tumble around and grapple with the language itself, but it's enjoyable.  It's like wrestling your six-year-old as you tickle him: you're laughing and sweaty and happy and realize that this, THIS! is how you want to spend your day.

The characters: OH MY GOD there are about 150 zillion characters, and that's not even counting the characters who are other characters, but here's the thing about that: each character is so fully realized, with backstory and quirks and language and companions, that you cannot forget them, or even mix them up.  You'll be able to tell Tobemory Trent from Assumption Soames sixty years from now, and if you and I read this book and then sixty years from now I were to run into you and not even know you and simply say "Pa Lubitsch" you will talk about the bees and that will lead you into remembering Ma Lubitsch's three-point turn and then you will get sad as you remember Marcus Lubitsch but then you'll remember how that turned out so maybe it wasn't sad after all, and you'll have walked twenty paces past me, remembering all these people that are somehow as real as you and I even though they're not...

...and that's kind of the point of the story? Maybe? One of them? One of the nice things about this book is it seems to have points while not needing them, to be able to make a point while not making a point...

...and I'll be looking back at you, too, and we'll both shake our heads and realize that this book has stayed real -- it has been reified, as it were (read the book to get that reference!)-- for us all those years, so real that the mere mention of it will cause us to forget we are living in this world so that we can live in that.

The characters are a sprawling happy mess of people that are instantly memorable and fully recognizable by name, rank, serial number, and catch-phrase.  I can remember every single one of them right now, and I am the kind of person who is pretty sure that Iron Man's secret identity is "Robert Downey, Jr."

The plot! OH YEAH THERE'S THAT TOO.  And it's not the plot you think.  Yes, there's a war and it's sci-fi and there's a fire rescue where they use bombs to put out a fire and there's a fight which involves ducks (but at least the narrator recognizes that's improbable) but none of that is actually the plot, unless it is, and is just one of the many plots.  Reading this book is like reading 75 other books all joined together to band as one, like if Voltron were a book.  (Full disclosure: I'm not sure exactly what Voltron is, but I think I've got the concept right, maybe? Is it like a bunch of little robots banded together to be one big robot? Or cars that form a robot? Or people? I'm not supposed to know that.  I'm 44 and 44 year olds don't need to know what banded together to become Voltron. It's sufficient that I have the concept right.)  If a bunch of books all banded together to make one superbook, they would be this book.  Each character is a book in and of him- or herself, and each of them inexorably moves the main book forward, too, so that you never feel bogged down or think "OH GOD ANOTHER BIO OF ANOTHER CHARACTER," even when that character is a seemingly-innocuous spice merchant in a war zone who also comes to matter, too.

That's probably the most amazing thing about the plot(s), is that they feel slapped together, almost, like they were just written a page at a time without worrying about what came before or what came after, only then as you go on through the story you begin to realize just how this all fits together perfectly -- and it's not like you're waiting and saying "Well, is that part going to come back around?" because it just DOES and then you think "OH MAN IT DID!" and you're great with it.

That's what kept happening in this book.  I would be reading it and then hit a part and think "OH THAT IS PERFECT!" and I would laugh out loud at how great it was that something like this could exist, that a book so perfect and so right and so wonderful to read could have just come into my life.

I didn't want this book to end, because it was too good to ever come to a halt.  I wish I was reading it right now.  I wish everyone was reading it right now, so that we could all look up and meet each other's eyes and say "I know, RIGHT!?!?!" with exactly that many question marks and exclamation points put in there, which is the perfect expression of surprise and delight -- surlight, or deprise, I should say, or maybe combining words isn't enough.  Maybe we need to invent a new emotion for books like this, for moments like this in the culture when someone transcends the mediocre, jumps above the merely "good", looks down as he sails high above the "great" and simply keeps on going to join, up in the heavens, that stratospheric realm where so few creative types ever even get to visit.  Nick Harkaway lives there now, and I hope he sends us a postcard from his new residence because that postcard would, I imagine, be simply awesome.

Saturday, July 06, 2013

Stock Photo Self Help: Relationships

Want a relationship -- nay, a LIFE -- like the one people in stock photos enjoy? Take these tips!

Friday, July 05, 2013


So everyone knows Jessica Bell, right? I bet you do.  If you don't, you should at least introduce yourself to her.  She's right over there, in the shirt. With the hair.  Her.  Go on up. She won't bite.

Anyway: Jessica Bell is an author/musician who has done several great things, all of which I'll tell you about quickly, becuase I know that Internet readers will only read about 14 words before requiring a picture of a cat doing judo.

Jessica Bell, as I was saying, Jessica's done a lot of stuff, and I'm going to mention it, beginning with

Indiestructable: Inspiring Stories From The Publishing Jungle.  This book is a collection of true-life stories from indie authors about how they achieved the phenomenal success that people like you are dreaming of.  Read it and you'll learn how to do it yourself.  Seriously, this book will give you a great insight into being an indie author, insight that otherwise you'd have to learn on the street, the hard way, from roving gangs of tough young indie authors who'd split your skull faster than you could split an infinitive. I went to a dark place there. Don't make the same mistake; the book comes out in September, but you can like it on Goodreads.  I contributed an essay, as did Leigh Talbot Moore, scifi authors Michael Offutt and Alex Cavanaugh, and others!

Jessica's also got a book called String Bridge, about a woman who wanted to be a musician, became a wife and mother instead, and now wants to go back into being a musician.  It sounds wonderful, and the reason I'm mentioning it is (a) that thing about it sounding great, and (b) Jessica's got A SOUNDTRACK TO THE BOOK, which is a thing I always thought should happen, and not only that, but if you buy the book you'll get a free copy of the soundtrack. PLUS, the book is only $0.99 from July 5 through the weekend, so that's like getting it EXTRAFREE. ("Extrafree" Copyright me 2013).

You can buy String Bridge here on Amazon, and get details on the free music here at Jessica's website.

Here's a sample of the kind of music you get, music which apparently is written and performed by Jessica herself? I think so. I didn't read the whole email:

Tuesday, July 02, 2013

Aaron Rodgers Doesn't Like Andy Bernard (Nonsportsmanlike Conduct!)

So I am perhaps a little behind on my keeping up with tracking all the many people Green Bay Packers' quarterback Aaron Rodgers doesn't like, a list that includes his own teammates, Jessica Szohr, and cancer patients, but don't blame me: blame the fact that The Office got so lame in the last season or so, practically forcing me not to watch the final episode of the show until last night, when, for some reason* (*couldn't sleep/didn't want to wait the interminable length of time it takes an issue of The New Yorker to download on a Kindle) I decided to finally give it a look-see, and saw that the most remarkable cameo on the show wasn't the OBVIOUS reappearance of Steve Carell, which no matter how you try to spin it was going to happen no matter what.

Did anyone ever actually believe that? Here is just a smattering of headlines from early May, 2013, a more innocent era when publicists actually thought someone would believe that Steve Carell would skip the finale of the series that made him a star:

While THIS is a list of things Steve Carell has done lately that have achieved any success:

1. Despicable Me, 2010.

Which, I might add,came out BEFORE he left The Office, which he did only 2 years ago, to thundering silience in the showbiz community. Also, it was 2010, so I'm using "lately" very loosely in that sentence.  As loosely as Steve Carell's agent uses the word "career."

So anyone who thought that Steve Carell wouldn't come back to The Office for the finale -- you know, when he also had a new movie coming out (Despicable Me, 2, as it happens), is simply dumb.  

While I am on the subject of making a point about things that happened several months ago (The Office finale) or which are irrelevant (Steve Carell) let me add that the surprising thing to me in the finale was the presence of Green Bay Packer/guy who has played in less Super Bowls than Brett Favre, Aaron (The Anointed One) Rodgers:

That is not the clip that appeared on the show.  On the show, Aaron's big line was telling Andy Bernard he's no good.  

So why Green Bay's Anointed One, who hails from California, on a show about a paper company in Pennsylvania with a mock a cappella (don't say mockapella ARRRGH!) competition in town?

Hard to say.  Rodgers does run a small record label and has been known to sing in the past:

 But I think it's just all part of the Packers' master plans for their quarterback.  Win a Super Bowl, appear in a cameo role, inspire an awesome tribute song:

I don't like Aaron Rodgers, but I love that song. Does Brett Favre have a song about him?

Yes, as a matter of fact. Yes:

The girl at the top of this post? A-Rodg's girlfriend/rumored fiancee, Destiny Newton: