Propper Attribution

It has been a while since I have created anything to put here, and I find myself sitting at my computer typing this out with two confessions I would like to make. The first is this: My last post was on April 4 or something like that, which means it has been over a month since I posted, and that makes me sad. To the twenty-something people who have looked at my blog (12 of whom are probably definitely Russian hackers trying to hack my website) I am sorry. But also, life happens. So deal with it.

The second confession is that I am a monumental fan of a writer named Neal Stephenson. Massive fan. Probably more than is actually normal. Maybe more than is actually healthy. That part is alright though, I’m okay with that. It’s my life and I’ll cry if I want to. The reason that is important (the Neal Stephenson bit, not the crying part) is because it gives you, reader, a glimpse into why I was googling things relating to Neal Stephenson. Specifically, I was googling things in relation to his latest novel, Seveneves. It’s like Interstellar meets The Martian, but also it’s entirely unlike both of them, all the while written by a real writer. It’s brilliant. I was googling to find pictures that other Neal Stephenson fans more artistically gifted than Y.T. in the visual arts had drawn depicting things from the book. I can’t tell you exactly what I had in the search bar; it was some combination of “Neal” “Stephenson” “Art” “Seveneves” “CLANG!” and maybe some other words. The point is, I found this. (Click it. If you don’t click it the rest of this won’t make any sense. Go on, I’ll wait.)

Those of you with eyes can see what it says, and those of you with eyes connected to your brain are processing that and forming emotional reactions in your brain. Most of you are probably like, ‘Oh, that’s cool. Neal Stephenson feels a particular way about government.’ That, ordinarily, would be fine. People can think what they think. People should think what they think. People should express what they think. However, because I am a massive Neal Stephenson fan, I know that Neal Stephenson didn’t actually say that. Technically, yes, he did. They appear in Seveneves. They are spoken by a character who is recounting something spoken by another character. Which brings me to my point.

How do you attribute stuff people say when they’re writing fiction? A lot of those picture quotes you see are things written or said by the people who wrote or said them, but when writing fiction, the characters in the novel don’t always agree with the personal views of the author. It’s not that difficult to simply attribute the quote to the appropriate character, and then attribute the whole thing to the author of the novel.

I’m going to use Ayn Rand to make an extremely idealized example of this. Ayn Rand wrote things in her objectivist bibl…I mean novels, things that contradict completely what her belief system was about. For instance, take this actual Ayn Rand quote about love: “If you loved your brother, you would give him a job he didn’t deserve precisely because he didn’t deserve it – that would be true love and kindness and brother hood.” Or this about the virtue of jobs: “If a man deserves a job, there is no virtue in giving it to him. Virtue is in the giving of the undeserved.” Take these quotes about science: “The entire history of science is a progression of exploited fallacies, not achievements.” “The more we learn, the more we learn that we know nothing.” “Do not look for ‘common sense’. To demand ‘sense’ is the hallmark of nonsense. Nature does not make sense. Nothing makes sense.” All of these appear in Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, and are things that are spoken by characters in the novel (usually to the protagonists). To simply attribute any of these quotes to Ayn Rand would turn her over in her grave.

The writers of stories, stories with ideas, need contrast. A good story (or at least one type of good story) looks at a particular problem or impasse from many different angles, and they portrays a possible outcome. The quotes above make Rand’s novels such spectacularly good examples of her ideals; by including the very things she set out to defeat, she achieves her goal through contrast. Yet her words are there, just waiting for some ignoramus to misplace them in a way that makes Ayn Rand seem entirely not what she was. This can be found in many places. Carl Sagan had characters that championed religion in Contact. C.S. Lewis’ White Witch. Good story tellers must do this. They must, like actors, play parts to give a fair representation of how society and humanity would exist in their fictional reality. They must write characters on all sides, any one of whom could be in opposition of the writer’s actual beliefs, or could be just slightly misaligned, or somewhere in the middle.

Ironically the writers of television shows and movies don’t have this problem. Everybody knows it’s the characters talking. There are loads of motivational posters with silly quotes from television shows, attributed to the character who said them. Nobody remembers the names of the writing staff of Parks and Rec, but everyone can say their favorite Ron Swanson line off the top of their head. Maybe it’s that people need their creative thinking done for them. When it’s an actual person acting out the part, it’s easier to distinguish between the real world writers and the fictional characters. When the burden lies with the reader to imagine it, for some, the line isn’t so clear. Some of you reading this are probably great readers, and would never commit such a felony as putting a literary characters quote on the internet without attributing them, and that’s great. To those of you who would do such a thing, don’t.

The characters in novels don’t necessarily represent the people who created them. Nor should they. If authors only wrote characters they agreed with, literature would be an utterly useless thing. There would be no great works of fiction, only fantastically boring tales of one individual driveling on about whatever it is they believe. And as you all are probably well aware by now, that’s what things like this blog are for.

Self Evaluation – June 9, 2010

Preface: I found this in my account on the desktop computer I used throughout high school. It is a self evaluation of an oral presentation I gave during my final days of AP English, possibly on Arthur C Clarke. I actually did submit this, verbatim, to my AP English teacher. (The file name is “AP English Arthur C Clarke thing on this computer..docx”. Yes there are actually two dots…don’t ask my why.) Reading it now I find it to be particularly amusing. The only manipulation I have done has to do with converting it from a word document to HTML; there have been no edits of grammar or content. This is one of those things that is better served raw. Please do enjoy.

Matt Beattie
AP English
Review of Oral Presentation

This project was actually somewhat enjoyable to do. Of all the projects that were given out during the last two weeks of school, I found this one to be the most enjoyable. I really liked the book I read, and researching the author I found to be interesting. Now my presentation itself, well, there is where it gets a little more interesting.

I would like to start off by saying that while I did come into class Tuesday June 1st ready to present something and hand in an outline, listening to the first people present did teach me what I had forgot to put in my presentation. I had lost the second sheet of the project guidelines, so I sort of just winged it, and left out vital pieces of information like themes and whatnot. So I was very glad that I did not have to get called on on the first day of presentations, because it would have been interesting. While I did not go all out on my preparation, I did have an outline and visual aid. I could have made note cards, but, I did not.

I would also like to say that the series of events leading up to my presentation were not the best. If I could compare my presentation to a flight, a decision made by me the pilot as to whether it was a “go” or a “no go” based upon human factors, it would have been a “no go” for sure. I was in pretty bad shape at that point. Unfortunately as far as presentations go that kind of decision cost like a billion points, or, maybe only ten or something, I don’t really remember the details, so I went.

The last bit of sleep that I had received before giving my presentation in class had been over 36 hours ago due to another end of the year project, this one much less cool, a 10 page research paper on the United States’ foreign policy. Woo. Anyway I was up all the previous night writing that paper and mentally bashing that teacher. This is what led me to almost fall asleep during Sam’s presentation due to basically pure exhaustion. So when I was called up next I was like, “oh drat, this is gunna be interesting.”

My presentation was very mediocre in the opinion of awake matt, and the tired exhausted matt who gave it thought that it was fairly decent. I realize that there are several things I could have done better, I personally felt that I was droning on and on, and my summary of the book was not very good at all. I feel like I could have definitely improved upon that part. I knew it was bad and considered saying something to that point, but decided to just go with, you should all just read the book. There were probably better ways to cover his books and awards rather than just reading off the samples I chose to read. At the end I was a little pressed for time, and ended up rushing through the last bit to get it in, because much of the last bit had been amended earlier in the previous week.

I feel that my performance on the oral presentation was, when viewed at by a person who has had no sleep for a while, was fairly decent. I was coherent through the whole presentation, I think, and got most of my points out there. I can say nothing as to whether or not they were received. Now when viewed through by the eyes of a normal person, it had a lot of room for improvement. But I tried to interject enough small humorous comments to make it interesting. I hope it worked. Thank you for reading. The end.

Eye Stabbing Mother Fucker

Or, Oedipus

Oedipus. The guy probably most notable for precipitating this moment. Why would Oedipus have a different answer to this question? Is it better to know, or not to know? It’s better to know? Well. He fucked his mom. Yeah. Actually, he married his mom. Then fucked her. At least he gets points for commitment.

The story goes that an oracle told Oedipus’ father, who was the king of Thebes, which is in Greece, that his own son would slay him. Back in the day, oracles were pretty hot shit, and if one told you something, you tended to listen. Naturally, Laius (Oedipus’ dad) was hence forth terrified of having a son, because it would kill him. His wife, (later, Oedipus’ wife) Jocasta, had a son. Probably because they hadn’t invented condoms yet. Actually the invention of condoms kinda makes oracles obsolete, because if one tells you your son will kill you, you just use condoms, don’t have a son, and the oracle is out of business. Anyway, Jocasta has a son. Laius freaks. They do the only logical thing: leave the kid out to die. But, a shepherd fucks up their plan. Shepherds actually turn out to be pretty crafty bastards. They’re the unlikely heroes of the Bible…this Oedipus thing…other things…

So the shepherd saves the kid, who is adopted and raised by the King of Corinth and his wife. Oedipus then goes on to kill his dad walking down the street one day, and then marries his mom. And, he usually gets a bad wrap for all of that. I grant you, at first glance it appears disconcerting. But it’s not like he actually knew what he was doing. I have the same problem with Star Wars. (Hear me out…) Luke always gets shit for kissing his sister, Carrie Fisher, in the second/fifth episode. I have many problems with this, although I don’t condone incest. My first problem is, Carrie Fisher kissed Luke. Look at the tape. Go on, do it. She kissed him. He just kissed her back. Which, I’m sure, seemed like a polite thing to do. If Carrie Fisher circa Episode V kissed me, I’d kiss her back. If Carrie Fisher circa Episode VII kissed me, I’d kiss her back. Shit, if Chewie kissed me I’d kiss him back, just out of curiosity. I’m not saying I’d make a regular thing out of it. My second problem is that Luke didn’t know it was his sister. It was just Carrie Fisher, a beautiful ice princess, or something. And, yes Carrie and Hans Solo were meant to be together from the beginning, and that ended in heartbreak, but it’s not like Luke thought, ‘Damn my sister is hot.’ But, objectively, Princess Leia is attractive. You can’t blame Luke for thinking that.

Oedipus gets a bad rap for everything he did, and he shouldn’t. I mean, except for killing a guy walking down the street. That’s not cool. Freud’s Oedipus Complex describes a son’s love towards his mother, and jealousy of his father. Oedipus never felt any of those things. He was just pissed at a guy who started an argument with him, and attracted towards the Queen, whose hand he won by solving a riddle nobody else could solve. And it’s not like he didn’t call back the next day. Oedipus and his mom were married, and had four children.

Oedipus is actually just a regular son of a king, or two kings, because he was adopted. Throughout his ordeal he’s just trying to do the right thing. The oracle tells him he’s going to murder his father and sleep with his mother, so he flees from his father and mother. Except the parents he fled from aren’t his parents. By attempting not to fullfil the oracle, he fullfils the oracle. Which, I suppose, is predictable.

Now, we have to talk about the elephant in the room. In some versions of the story, Oedipus stabs his own eyes and blinds himself. He didn’t even think about it. He finds out who his father really was, and that he has made babies with his mom (who, after finding out herself, commits suicide), goes to her body, and stabs his eyes with the pins that held her dress together. Just seemed like the right thing to do. Since he took the pins out, her dress probably fell open. But I would imagine his stabbing motion was so quick he didn’t see his mother’s naked body. And, after all, he’d already slept with her many times, so it doesn’t really matter. He then lives out the rest of his days in exile with Ismene and Antigone, his daughters/half sisters. (If you’ve stumbled upon this page and you’re reading this for a high school English class, Antigone is pronounced just like the words “anti” and “gone” put together. Otherwise, you know how it goes.)

So, the point is, give Oedipus a break. He’s just a guy with free will trying to buck the trend and not fullfil an oracle. What’s so wrong about that?

Lists: Pedantic Words

A list: pedantic words in the English language.

moreover

heretofore

aforementioned

however

nevertheless

matriculate

corduroy

besotted (first definition)

besotted (second definition)

pedantic

The United States of Cheese

I try to push the boundaries with this simple internet blog. I don’t shy away from the hard stories, those ideas that are difficult to grapple, as I think is evident with my previous post, on grape juice. This time, in keeping with that spirit, touching the untouchable, taming the wild beast, climbing the looming peak of humanity, I’ll be talking about cheese.

According to researcher Bonnie Leibman at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, Americans eat 23 pounds of cheese a year, which is up from eight pounds a year in 1970. There are other rather predictable aspects of the United States’ food report card, if you are wish to take a brief foray over to that wonderful PDF. (Namely, we do not receive a single “A”, and receive “C” or lower in Dairy, Grains, and Sweeteners.)

Because cheese is a very broad topic – a Google search for cheese elicits 392 million results – I feel the need to narrow the topic down, mostly so my fingers don’t fall off whilst I type. So, specifically, the thing I would like to discuss, is American cheese.

In my searching the internet for things to write about cheese, I stumbled upon the incredibly amazing website cheese.com. Their hope page is literally covered with cheese, and it simply makes me happy. One of the prominent picture links on their home page, as those of you who clicked the previous link are now discovering, is American cheese. Like most things in America, American cheese started out as a mixture of other cheeses. (In America, we’re not so good at being entirely original, but are excellent at making great things out of other original things.)

The website Mental_Floss starts out an article on American cheese with the line, “While the they had plenty of other culinary talents, the Native Americans were not a cheese-making people.” Cheese is a very Anglo-Saxon food. American cheeses were originally made in ones home, to be consumed in ones home. They were never fancy, or moldy, as many fine cheese are. Keep in mind: at this point to say, “American cheese” is simply to say, “cheese made in America.” America was still a pretty new thing back then. This type of cheese, colonial American cheese, was actually cheddar. Cheddar cheese is sturdy, and versatile, and could handle the climate of the colonies, which had much greater seasonal extremes than in Mother England. By the 1790s, the American’s were exporting their cheddar cheese back to the Queen’s Island, where it was known as “American cheese”.

In 1851, a man Jesse Williams created the first American cheese factory. This, my dear readers, was a game changer. Jesse Williams was to cheese as Steve Jobs was to computers. He did things differently. He had dreams. He didn’t take no for an answer. He was voted out of his own company by former Pepsi CEO John Scull…wait…no…nope, that was only Jobs. In its first season of operation, Williams’ factory produced 100,000 pounds of cheese. Williams’ turned American cheese into the unofficial official cheese of the American marketplace. It was known as simply yellow cheese, or store cheese. (It was still known as American Cheddar in England.) And, at this point, it was still edible.

Then came along that asshole Kraft. Now, the Swiss had actually been toying with processed cheese before Kraft ruined cheese for America. Like the good Swiss citizen that he was, Gerber was just trying to make cheese as technically magnificent as he possibly could. Processed cheese has a longer shelf-life than regular cheese, it melts better while staying in one piece, it is easy to mass produce, and costs much much less. On paper, all these things look good. If you’re business is making cheese, all of this stuff seems great. Regular cheddar has especially fun properties when melted. This has to do with the way that the proteins and fats behave when heated. Process cheese does not do this, probably because it is a terrible terrible food product. I guess sometimes the things that look good on paper just don’t cut it when put to a practical test, such as, can I eat this food thing.

In other cheese news, due to a twisted turn of events, the yellow color of cheese is probably fake. Cheese used to be made from whole milk. The fat in whole milk gave cheese a yellowy-orangish hue. When the people who made cheese figured out that the fat in milk could be used to make other things, like butter and heavy cream, the began scraping the fat off of milk before they made cheese with it. With the fat went the color. To maintain the original hue, and convince buyers that they were buying regular cheese, the makers added yellowish-orangy coloring. And we’ve been being duped ever since.

I originally started writing this for National Cheese Day, which I think is sometime in February, and then I lost steam. Or, perhaps, we can say that the occasion is the 100th anniversary of the patent which was filed for the process of making process cheese – the patent (US 1186524 A) was filed on March 25, 1916, and published on June 6th of the same year – but I really don’t want to give Mr. Kraft any more time in the spotlight.

I suppose we can just leave it at this: We’re in the middle of an election year. Everyone seems to be ready to rip out everyone elses’ throats, and it wouldn’t actually surprise me if that was tomorrow’s headline. We’ve forgotten how to compromise. We’ve forgotten how to argue with each other, as in civil debate. Arguing does not involve physical violence. Instead of a loyal opposition, we have cartoon characters running for president. Yet, despite all of that, we have cheese. We have our own cheese, born out of a Swiss cheese maker who set out to make something better, combined with methods that came with us across the Atlantic, and turned into a quintessential part of American cuisine.

We have a cheese, as old as America itself, still around after all these years. There are important differences that we have, we that make up the cheese, like the Colbies and the Cheddars that are usually used to make the actual cheese. We have to move forward, lest not we founder in the backwash of some guy eating a cheeseburger. We have to move forward and rid ourselves of some cheeses that really have no place here. Those cheeses that are really just mold, but call themselves cheese in an attempt to be eaten. Except blue cheese. You can stay, blue cheese. Our cheese-nation is being thrown into the frying pan. And not on two pieces of white bread with butter. We are being heated by our issues. But because of the process patented by Mr. Kraft 100 years ago, we do not break apart when melted. We stay together, the Colbies and the Cheddars, and we grow together, and it is progress. That is what I have to say about cheese.

SpaceX SES-9 Launch Photos

On Friday, March 4th, SpaceX finally launched their SES-9 mission after several aborted attempts. The SES-9 satellite was launched atop a Falcon 9 v1.2, an upgraded version of the Falcon 9 v1.1. In order to obtain more performance without making a significant change to the aerodynamic properties of the vehicle, Falcon 9 v1.2 uses supercooled liquid oxygen instead of regularly cooled liquid oxygen. Liquid oxygen is usually pretty cold – about minus 297.3 degrees Fahrenheit – but SpaceX supercools the liquid oxygen (LOX) to around minus 340 degrees. By supercooling the LOX, more propellant can be squeezed into the same space, which allows the rocket to both propel things higher into space, and have a better shot at landing on a barge. The use of supercooled liquid oxygen added complexity to the process of launching things into space, which isn’t exactly a cake walk to begin with, and SpaceX had to work through some technical bugs. The barge landing on Friday’s launch went terribly, as the live feed went to color bars almost immediately after the rocket arrived on the premises. I was down at the cape with my parents, and captured the pictures below. The light was fading and the camera was trying it’s hardest, but I managed to get a few shots. The pictures were taken from the A. Max Brewer Memorial Parkway Bridge over the Indian River.

Vehicle Assembly Building in the sunset. The Falcon 9 is visible just to the left of the smaller building on the right.

Vehicle Assembly Building in the sunset. The Falcon 9 is visible just to the left of the smaller building on the right.

My loving parents.

My loving parents.

The sun setting behind us.

The sun setting behind us.

Liftoff!

Liftoff!

The contrail shining in the sunlight.

The contrail shining in the sunlight.

Just before staging.

Just before staging.

Just after staging; You can see the light reflecting off the first stage,  and the motor of the second stage.

Just after staging; You can see the light reflecting off the first stage, and the motor of the second stage.

Pulp Friction

Pulp Friction: Softcore Erotica for the Looseleaf in Everyone

I began my life as a sapling in southwest Washington state in 1978. I was planted by one of those tree planting tractors. Nobody does things by hand anymore. Oh well. People drove by me in their cars, looking at a sign that said “Planted: 1978, Harvest Date: 2015.” I like to imagine that many people were impressed by how long it took me to grow. Then again, what do I know, I’m a fucking tree.

I was cut down by one of those tree cutter downer tractors. It would have hurt, but at that point I was just a tree. I was loaded onto a truck with some of my tree friends, and we went on a road trip. It was actually quite nice. We drove to the Nipponese Paper Packaging plant in Port Angeles, north of Tacoma, and were cut up into little nice sized planks to be fed through the mill. We all went through the mechanical pulper. It was something of an experience, because the lines where my fellow trees stopped and I began got blurry in a hurry. Not that it was at all erotic; this was simply the process by which we all achieved existence as one in a ream.

It’s the only thing that any tree ever dreams of. As a tree, you don’t see much action, save for the occasional hug. But hugs are for squares, and number two pencils. The reams, they get action. They’re all any adolescent tree dreams of. Of course there is the chance that you’ll end up as a disposable coffee cup, or one of those tri-fold cardboard things gradeschool children use to explain how their vinegar and baking soda volcanos work. Which is useful, I guess, but I’m no pervert.

Any how, there I was. A sheet of printer paper. A brand new white sheet, young, hot, sexy, ready to go out and face the world. I turned heads. All those big black permanent markers could think about at night was my clean, white surface. Ballpoints would click their clickers in vein to pictures of me, printed on more white paper. It was too much for them to handle. They would just explode all over, probably staining some guys shirt in the process.

I thought I was ready for the world, but the world is a harsh mistress. I lost my virginity to a laser printer. An HP LaserJet Pro Multi-Function MFP M277. The sheet that went in before I did jammed, and came out all wrinkled. I only caught a glimpse of the mangled corpse. Needless to say, I was terrified. I had been told stories, you know, about my friends first times. I was excited. I was full of anticipation. I was nervous. I was ready. The fucking asshole printer never even called me afterwards. It was a terrible experience.

There were fans whirring, little cervos driving small wheely things that were supposed to be massaging, but just pounded my fibers with no regard for my wellbeing or comfort. The ink barely entered my fibers before it was over. There I was, dumped out in the tray, adorned with “Mark’s Schedule Toyota Saturday February 20.docx” I would have started crying, but I was just a fucking sheet of printer paper. We don’t cry. It’s just not what we do.

I was whisked out of the printer tray by Mark, who, I guess, wanted to look at his itinerary. He was going to Daytona Beach, which is in Florida, to work on a promotional photo shoot that Toyota was doing the day before the Daytona 500. He surveyed my now deflowered surface, made a “harumf” sound, shoved my in a leather folder, and put the folder in his bag.

It was dark for a long time. When I next saw the light I was lying in a table. The smells of a hotel continental breakfast found their way to my…oh yeah, I don’t have a nose. But it was one of those good continental breakfasts with powdered eggs and pancakes. Mark was munching on some of the eggs, which he had doused in catsup because, you know. There were other people around the table. They were talking about some photographer, who they were supposed to meet later that morning. They all got up to go, and as Mark was beginning to close his folder, one of the other people at the table said, “Oh wait, we need a sign for the car.”

There was a moment of confusion, I could tell everyone was really thinking hard. Then Mark said, “I’ve got a sheet of paper.” He pulled me out from the folder. “Here,” said the first person. That’s when I saw it. She was holding out a king-size black Sharpie. I had goosebumps on my smooth surface as the morning sunlight fell through the sliding glass door, making its way through the lobby and landing on the table on which I had been laid. Mark said, “Thanks.” He took the Sharpie and uncapped the magnificent specimen.

He flipped me over so that I was lying face down on the surface of the table. I was glad, because then Sharpie wouldn’t see the schedule that had been inked onto my front. I breathed in anticipation. I felt Mark’s hand steady me as he brought the wet black tip down. I closed my eyes, and the ink started to penetrate my white fibers. Sharpie moved over my surface with a powerful confidence. The slow, long strokes, forming the letters, and short bursts of energy doubling back to cross t’s and arch h’s were everything I had fantasized they would be. It only took a couple of seconds to write the words, but it seemed to last forever. The intensity was almost more than I could bear. As Sharpie’s tip was brought down to begin a new word, I let out a screech of ecstasy and quivered. (The quiver was because Mark was one of those people who misinterprets the screech as simply a weird noise that sometimes happens when you write on paper with a permanent marker, and his hand just shook.) He finished the last word, and I lay there exhausted, heaving air into my chest, with my back now adorned, “TOYOTA PHOTO SHOOT”.

It was the most intense couple of seconds that I had ever experienced. Everything I ever dreamed it would be. Afterwards, I was put back into the folder and then into a backpack. Once we were underneath the stands, I was took out again and stuck face down against the back windscreen of the SUV, held in place by the windshield wiper. The markings on by back were there for the world to see, and I wasn’t ashamed. If more papers could have such an intimate, emotional, analog experience, I think the world would be a better place. Swiping through pages left and right spewed out by an ink jet is no way to go about intimacy. But what do I know, I’m just a sheet of paper.

They forgot about me when they left. I held on for a little while before someone hit the button to clean the back window. The window washer fluid destroyed my structural integrity, and the wiper blade tore me to shreds. But it was all worth it, for those brief couple seconds with the Sharpie.

Our sheet of paper, as seen on the back of the SUV underneath the speedway.

Sheet of Paper, 2015-2016

The Hunter – Part I

He wakes up early. All the hunters do this. He knows from off handed references in news clippings about hunting accidents and from watching episodes in sitcoms from the ’70s. He hits the switch on his coffee machine, because he has a slight caffein addiction, and doesn’t want to be handling a shotgun with a migrane. As the scalding hot liquid hits his bare toes, he realizes the coffee pot is still in the dishwasher. He’ll be handling firearms later, but that will be after the coffee. This is good.

After successfully brewing a pot, he stumbles up the stairs and prepares himself for the hunt. He has been prepared for this. Nobody told him that hunters get up early, but everything else he has been taught. In a classroom. Hunting school was a huge ordeal. There were classes on firearm training, how to conceal yourself from a beast so as to lure it in to your sights, how to go after the really big ones, how to use the smaller ones for practice. There were classes on structures to make in the wilderness, what kinds of nuts and berries to eat if you were stuck out overnight, how to navigate by a compass. There were classes on the different types of beasts, where they lived, how to prepare yourself specifically for each beast, how do research the beast and what it liked and didn’t like in the hunter. It was a long, grueling affair. The hunter had thought about leaving, or switching his major to english studies, but something kept him there. Now, standing in front of his mirror pulling on his camouflage, he has no idea what that was.

He has all the camouflage. This was one of the first classes he ever had to take at hunting school, so he had to search how to camouflage yourself for hunting on the internet. He has camo boots, camo baseball caps, camo winter caps, camo fishing caps, camo gloves, camo pants, camo shirts, camo sweaters, camo jackets, camo rain coats, camo long johns, camo short johns, camo baklavas, camo socks, camo bags, camo scarfs, camo belts, camo water bottles, camo folding chairs, camo coffee cups, camo backpacks, camo binoculars, camo sunglasses, camo turkey calls, camo deer calls, camo bison calls, and even a camo hunting rifle. And a camo hunting rifle bag, camo bullets, and a camo rifle strap. And, for good measure, a camo crossbow, camo crossbow case, camo bow, and a camo bow quiver. I can’t not catch one, he thinks. He dons all of his camo. He steps in front of the mirror. He looks cool.

He steps into the forest. He looks stupid. For one thing, he bought all the camo (which, by the way, cost a fortune) in orange. The website he found on the internet said something about the beasts being colorblind, so all that mattered was the pattern of the camo. What the hunter failed to notice was that this was a websight for art history majors. The beasts that he is seeking are not colorblind, and could see him coming from about three miles away. Also, he has his coat on backwards, and somehow one of his boots ended up on his hand. He only realized this when he was having a hard time opening up his camo rifle case, which incidentally had blended in amongst his camo crossbow case, camo folding chairs and camo backpacks.

The hunter doesn’t realize that he has the wrong type of camo. He realized the thing about the boot, because he’s not incompetent. Laden with all his bags, his rifle, and his chairs, he sets off. Walking through the woods, he takes out the turkey call. He uses it, and the sound he hears is identical to a large, juicy bird ready to be impaled with an arrow shot from a crossbow. The sound that is emitted from the call in his mouth is actually the sound of a hoarse duck attempting to yodel. All the beasts flee.

The hunter gets tired. He stops using the camo bird call. The beasts start emerging. Most of them, however, require 3 to 5 years of experience. This is bad, because this is the hunter’s first hunt. They said he would be able to bag someting easily. They said, at hunting school, that he would be prepared for this. He’s not. He hasn’t brought a camouflage cooler with camouflage sandwiches and drinks. He is hungry. After walking over a couple of hills, he sees down into a valley. There, are some smaller jobs. They are grazing peacefully in some tall grass. He sneaks down the valley, and approaches one from behind. He was taught about the small ones. They can be good, his teachers had told him. If you catch one, and stick with it as it grows, you can have a nice career. Which, they said, was good.

The hunter goes through the motions. He sneaks up, shining like a supernova in his bright orange camo everything. The problem is, instead of thinking about what he’s doing, he’s thinking about how he doesn’t really want a “nice career”. So he doesn’t see the quicksand. One of his orange camo boots is engulfed and he falters. In the scuffle, his orange camo hunting rifle discharges an orange camo bullet into his other orange camo boot. The small jobs flee at the crack of the rifle. The hunter is stuck in the quicksand, red blood spurting out of his orange camo boot. He has been hunting all day, and now the sun is setting. The temperature begins to fall, and the hunter wonders if he will make it through the night.

…to be continued.

Ice Cream and Fruit: A Culinary Tale

Today I’ve decided to talk about something that is very important to me. It is something that I have devoted probably about 45 minutes a month to, but only in my free time. I don’t really know what that means. The something is this: ice cream. I love ice cream. If I could eat nothing but ice cream, and not die of ice cream poisoning, I would. Sometimes I still do that, but that’s just because I eat when I’m stressed. Don’t judge me. Today, I’m going to categorically and unequivocally prove that fruit deserves a place amongst ice and cream and sugar and those churns that you make ice cream with.

Since I’m such an ice cream fanatic, here are some ice cream facts, which I definitely knew off the top of my head. If you absolutely need some sort of “proof” (it’s the internet guys, I could have written that page and posted it under that URL and you’d never know)…(but you could know if you know how Unix works…so)…(also the author writes her name at the bottom of the page) you could go to this website. China was probably the inventor of ice cream, around 3000 BC. Marco Polo may or may not have brought ice cream to Italy, where it was refined into the delicious goodness we enjoy today. The first ice cream recipe to be published in America was a recipe for a fruit ice cream published in 1792. This recipe included apricots, 12 of them, which as we know, are fruit. In fact, according to a survey of 18th and 19th English and American century cook books, fruit ice creams were the most popular ice creams enjoyed by the people who bought those cook books and then made the recipes in them as well as, of course, the people to whom those people served the fruit ice cream. In 1928, a man named Howard Johnson built the original Baskin Robins – but not the actual Baskin Robins – with 28 flavors of ice cream. Among his 28 flavors, which were varied based on season and ingredient availability, were strawberry, banana, burgundy cherry, orange pineapple, lemon, grape nut, and apple. As my more astute readers will note, all of those flavors have fruits in them.

This volume published by the National Association of Retail Druggists (yes, druggists is the word) says that fresh strawberries should absolutely be served with ice cream in season, and advised the operators of soda fountains that the only reason they haven’t been selling well in the early spring, is that they haven’t been offering it to their patrons. Which, I’ll admit, is a little presumptuous.

A website hosted by the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada, explains some of the chemistry involved in ice cream making. Which, is interesting. The website informs it’s readers that the sugars in ice cream help bring out the sweetness and palpability, and it enhances the perception of various fruit flavors. Another website hail solids in ice cream, saying they are important to the ice cream’s boby, texture, and smoothness.

At this point, I had basically run out of steam. I was looking forward to writing this long, pedantic (but brilliant) post about fruit and ice cream, and I just couldn’t find any more material to draw from. I was befuddled. Then, something happened. I was reading something on the internet which referenced a part of the vanilla plant as a fruit. This then lead down a harrowing rabbit hole involving botany, culinary art, and vegetables. As it turns out, the resulting discussion is actually much more interesting than what I was originally going to talk about, and amazingly still kind of related.

I like definitions. I like the subtleties between different words. Whom versus who. That versus which. I also like science. I think that looking at the world through the lense of science is a very good way to see things as accurately as possible. These truths being self evident (to me anyway), the first thing I did after stumbling upon this starteling and potentially ground breaking bit of information was search for the definition of fruit.

I searched for the definition of fruit, and I googled whether vanilla was in fact a fruit. Which, it is, but we’ll get to that later. It turns out that fruit is a botanical, scientific definition. It is the seed-bearing structure in angiosperms (flowering plants) formed from the ovary of the plant after flowering. At this point a bunch of voices in my head screamed things about vegetables. If that was the definition of a fruit, what is the definition of a vegetable? Here’s where the juicy part starts. Scientifically speaking, vegetable is gibberish. In fact, the term vegetable has no meaning in botany. Most of what you think of as “vegetables” are actually fruits. Tomatoes, cucumbers, pumpkins, chili peppers, string beans, snow peas, and nuts, are all fruits.

Most of the other things that we think of as vegetables are either classified as fruits and seeds, or they are classified by the part of the plant that is being eaten. There are four main classifications for this, including fruits. These classifications, as described in the linked article, are: leaves and stems, seeds, starchy roots and other subterranean structures, and fruits. With these four classifications we cover the “hard core vegetables” like kale and spinach (category one); peas, corn, wheat, oats, and barley (category two); carrots, sweet potatoes, beets (all true roots), and tubers like white potatoes (category three); and peppers, eggplant, tomatoes, okra, cucumbers, squash, and green beans (category four).

So now that we’re all reeling from the news that we’ve been lied to all of our lives, and vegetables don’t actually exist, we can get back to defining what a vanilla really is. Vanilla plants are a group of species in the genus Vanilla, which is a member of the family Orchidaceae (Orchids). There are three main types of vanilla that make up the things you consume labeled “vanilla”. These are Vanilla planifolia, a flat-leaved Mexican species, as well as V. tahitensis found in the South Pacific, and V. pompona found in the West Indies. Most vanilla is produced in Mexico and Madagascar (V. planifolia), and is commonly known as Bourbon vanilla or Madagascar vanilla. A list of all the vanilla species can be found here.

The fruit that the vanilla plant produces, which is commonly referred to as the vanilla bean, is a simple dry fruit. It consists of pods, which are the bits that we would commonly refer to as the ‘bean’. It gets slightly confusing here, but only if you’re a huge nerd and actually are still interested. I was ready to proclaim the vanilla bean a legume fruit, because it is a simple dry fruit with a pod that dehisces (splits along two seams) to reveal the actual vanilla seeds. Which, is the botanical definition of a legume fruit. However, according to many threads on the internet, and a couple different websites, vanilla beans are not legumes. They are however (I’m pretty sure) a type of simple dry fruit, regardless of whether they are legumes or not. (Because at least a few of you are going to be wondering, while the cacao fruit from which we get chocolate is a fruit, a cocoa bean, which is the part that is actually used in making chocolate, is the seed of the fruit, not the fruit itself.)

Okay. You, an ordinary person, would think of this as the end of the discussion. You would be wrong. Because vanilla isn’t one of those fruits you just eat, like apples or blueberries. It is most commonly used to flavor other things, or simply for its aroma. This is done by making vanilla extract. This can be done one of two ways: either with real vanilla fruits, or by manufacturing the chemicals that create the vanilla flavor artificially. The main chemical in vanilla fruits that gives it the flavor that we all know and love, is vanillin (4-hydroxy-3-methoxybenzaldehyde). Real vanilla extract also has acetaldehyde, acetic acid, furfural, hexanoic acid, methyl cinnamate, and hundreds of other chemicals that add to the flavor.

Vanillin2

The chemical structure of vanillin. (Source: Wikipedia)

 

Making real vanilla extract is a simple process of having some vanilla and getting hammered with vodka. Whoa. Nope. That’s just how I’d do it. Beanilla.com (it should be called fruitnilla.com) helpfully explains, the way to make vanilla extract is to immerse vanilla beans in vodka (or bourbon or brandy or rum) and just let it soak, shaking occasionally. While that article attempts to speak ill of artificial (chemical) vanilla extracts, it is important to remember that all foods are chemicals, and not all chemicals are bad. In fact, chemistry is everywhere, and most of it doesn’t give you cancer. The vanillin in artificial extracts is the same chemically as the vanillin in real vanilla extracts, otherwise it would be something else. Like an asparagus, or a lobster. Real vanilla extract tastes different (better) because of all the extra chemicals contained in real vanilla fruits. (If you actually read that whole article, here is another link about castoreum, which you will probably have questions about.)

Some vanilla ice cream has actual bits of vanilla fruit in it. (Those are the little black spots you’ve always wondered about.) Others are just flavored with vanilla extracts, either real or artificial. Vanilla ice cream is undoubtedly one of the most popular flavors of ice cream. Whether it’s in third, according to that meaningless statistics website, or first, according to that infogram (which is probably created from census data or something), vanilla ice cream is at or near the top of the most lists of favorite ice cream flavors. Since the vanilla bean is, scientifically speaking, a fruit, the notion that fruit has no place in ice cream is, scientifically speaking, simply incorrect.

However, scientifically speaking can be a lousy way of looking at things. Don’t get me wrong, it is a GREAT way of looking at a lot of things. Just remember though, botanically and scientifically speaking, the word vegetable is meaningless. Culinarily speaking, it’s not. This is why tomatoes are usually called vegetables, as are green beans, peas, carrots, beats, and the most things you put in a salad. In no way of speaking is pizza a vegetable, or a fruit. If you eat a lot of pizza, you’ll probably gain weight, no matter how you define your words. Why am I not going to keep writing about this apparent impasse? Why do I not feel a need to keep going with this until we have clearly defined everything?

Well, dear readers, even I can understand that a world full of science and logic but lacking art (which is what makes the difference between culinary art and chemistry), would be a pretty boring place to live. While scientifically speaking fruit absolutely does belong in ice cream, speaking as a normal person, put whatever you want in your ice cream. Just don’t tell me what belongs in mine.

Thoughts of a Food Runner

So this past weekend I worked as a food runner for a catering company who was catering the Rolex 24 hour race. And after walking up and down stairs carrying food and dirty dishes for some 16 hours after doing the same thing for 12 hours the previous day, and looking forward to another 12 hours the next day, I thought it would be funny to capture my thoughts and post them here.

There was only one problem with my thinking that. When I sat there wondering when I was going to regain feeling in my feet I focused on my thoughts, and realized that they were basically the same as my normal thoughts.

“People watching is very interesting.”

“That’s a cool school bus turned RV. I wonder how hard it would be to do that?”

“Man, these drunk idiots on golf carts should really learn how to drive.”

“Is that Mark Wahlberg?”

“How many laps do you think this race will be?”

“Oh, no, it’s just some other guy.”

“People do weird things to their cars when they need to prove to other people how well they’ve done for themselves, or when they actually have a small penis but can’t get over it.”

“I wonder if they wash these shirts they give us to wear, or if they have enough for all three days…”

“It’s so funny how people pay thousands of dollars to sit in this tent and eat food all day and watch the race on television while it happens right outside.”

“If people spent even half as much time noticing things around them as they did taking crappy videos of things with their cell phones…I dunno I guess they would notice more things?”

“Where did I park my car?”

Since these thoughts were somewhat anticlimactic, here is a video of Penn & Teller doing magic: