Category Archives: musings

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.

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?

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:

QWERTY II

I like learning odd things. Many of these posts are inspired by odd things that I learn, and felt I should share over the Internet. Which is why I was so excited to find out that there was NEWS about everyone’s favorite keyboard layout. As in new stuff. About a keyboard layout that is almost 250 years old. Very exciting. A little while ago, I wrote a post on how we all ended up with the QWERTY keyboard layout. It came from typewriters, and a man who made typewriters, Christopher Latham Sholes. The story goes that the typists of the days of typewriters became very good at typing. This caused typewriters to jam. So Mr. Sholes created an intentionally cumbersome layout to slow these typists down, and fix this problem. As it turns out, you see, the story, might just be a story after all.

A recent paper published by Koichi Yasuoka and Motoko Yasuoka from Japan details evidence of the QWERTY design that has nothing to do with slowing down the pace of typists. They posit that the layout actually stems from morse code and telegraphy. According to the article, the first keyboards that were used by Sholes’ company did resemble a piano. Where they were next developed from, however, begins to differ from the traditional story.

Typewriters and keyboards were used for transcribing morse code messages and telegraphs. This meant that the position of the keys had to be correlated with the morse code symbols. As explained in Smithsonian Magazine article, the paper from the Kyoto researchers suggests that the layout was developed over several years, with the help of telegraph operators. So that’s that. The story was picked up by a bunch of other news-ish type publications, such as The Atlantic and The Huffington Post. The thing is, they’re just going off of the Smithsonian piece, which is about two guys who wrote a paper.

Now, I used to like that the history of the QWERTY layout was simple, despite it’s design to slow me down. I am a decent typer, and so I don’t really hold it against Mr. Sholes. But I’m not going to jump on the bandwagon that is full of the Ysouka’s, and the people from Smithsonian Magazine, The Atlantic, and The Huffington Post. The reason is this: they are basing all of their arguments on the opinion of two guys.

There are a couple of points to make here, the first of which is there are likely elements of truth to every side of this keyboard layout scrum. The jamming problem is so widely referenced and so widely known, and it likely did exist. As a make of typewriters, Mr. Sholes would have been invested in making typewriters that didn’t jam, because then more people would buy his typewriters, and he would make more money. This paper by Stan Leibowitz and Stephen Margolis suggests that the rearranged keyboard layout was designed solely so that keys commonly hit in rapid succession would swing up to hit the page from opposite sides of the mechanism. This also makes for a method of typing which alternates hands a lot, which makes touch typing easier. Another point they make is that what we think of as “touch-typing” now, with computer keyboards, is different from “touch-typing” when typewriters were abundant.

This entire episode has actually lead me to dig up some more information on the Dvorak keyboard layout. It seems that according to an article originally published in 1996 in Reason Magazine, a study performed by the Navy in the 1940s to figure out which keyboard layout was superior, QWERTY or Dvorak, was riddled with threats to validity, meaning that the research is essentially meaningless. Other tests of typing speed have shown that the pace at which one can type is actually more dependent on one’s experience and practice typing in a particular keyboard than the keyboard itself.

For me, to try and type on a Dvorak keyboard would be initially much more difficult, because I don’t have to think about the QWERTY layout when I type. That said, if I put in the hours typing like I have with the QWERTY layout, then I would be able to type on a Dvorak keyboard just as easily. This makes the point that regardless of the efficiency or inefficiency of the QWERTY layout, since we all learned on it, and industry has accepted it as something of a standard, that it is. We’re all used to it, and relatively good at it. The people who type a lot anyways.

The moral of the story is this: The origin story of the QWERTY keyboard is probably not as simple as anyone is making it out to be. The researchers at Kyoto University have found some evidence that further add to the mystery. These keyboards were used for telegraph operators, but typewriters also would jam. So, if anyone reading this happens upon a smallish lamp with a genie inside of it, rub the lamp, and wish to speak to Mr. Christopher Latham Sholes so we can put this issue to rest, once and for all.

Music to my Ears

I was a band geek in high school. Let me rephrase that. I was in just about every musical group that I could be in in high school. I earned my high school diploma from Arlington High School in Lagrangeville, New York, and along the way I was a member of the marching band, the wind ensemble, multiple full orchestras, a brass quintet, a pit orchestra, the holiday brass choir, and the graduation band…you know…pomp and circumstance and whatnot. I was actually the drum major of the marching band my junior and senior year. The only part of high school music I was never really a part of was jazz, but that was only because I am a french horn player – that’s right, a horn player through and through, I didn’t start out on trumpet or anything – and french horn players can’t swing to save their lives. I wasn’t really a band geek though. I mean I practiced, but only as much as I had to. I’m more of a band geek now than I ever was in high school. I’ve learned about the physics of sound waves, and listen to various bits of instrumental music in my free time, and not just because of nostalgia.

If the pen is mightier than the sword, then how mighty is the baton? Or the horn? The piccolo, or the violin? Music invokes a visceral response from people. To spread an idea through words, people have to read the words. With the sword, blood must be shed, or it is simply a fancy prop. With music, the ideas permeate through the resistance that is given to words and swords. Music goes beyond language. Two people can listen to a song, and understand it, even if they can’t understand one another. There are musicians who I love listening to, can barely speak english, and yet they convey more emotion in their music than many people who use actual words. Not to downplay the significance and beauty of words. Certain phrases and passages written by those whom I deem to be great writers will make me melt like butter. Or, really, anything that melts, whenever the temperature or pressure are such that the thing will melt. I digress.

I saw something posted on Facebook a little while ago by the guy who was my high school marching band director. It was a quote about how you need to be selfless when performing, and how the accomplishments of the group are greater than the accomplishments of any one of the members, or something like that. It made me a little sad to see it, because it’s just crap. Yes, the accomplishments of the group belong to the group, but creating good music is more than just the group’s achievement. It’s one of the things I like so much about it. In order for the group to be good, there needs to be individual talent. Each member of the group must be able to stand alone, and be just as perfect then. It is easy to be a part of a large group, and to go unnoticed. Both the good, and the bad. The beauty of music isn’t simply in the power of a large ensemble, it is in the intricacy of a single performer. Each individual’s intonation, each individuals volume, and tone, that matters. One of the keys to a good ensemble is the talent of the individuals within.

The accomplishments of the individual go hand in hand with the accomplishments of the group. A very talented individual can be part of a terrible ensemble, and vice versa. The performance of the group does not take away from the performance of the individual. If a group performs well in spite of a poor performance from one individual, the individual still performed poorly. Every part of the ensemble matters, and the best ones have every detail squared away. Every individual does all that is required of them, no matter how minute the detail. The thing that is so awe inspiring about an immaculate performance from an ensemble is that simultaneous individual greatness. It is in this spirit of individual performance, where lies the reasoning behind my favorite instrument of all time.

My favorite instrument, out of all of them, is the piano. The french horn has it’s great moments, and, because I’m biased as fuck, I think it has WAY more great moments than all the other instruments. I get all quivery in the legs from a well placed oboe note every now and then, and the shrieky piccolo frills in Sousa marches are brilliant, but the horn just makes me melt. Despite all of that, the piano is my favorite. It is my favorite because all you need are fingers, and you have a little symphony. Polyphony. Chords. You have chords. Yeah yeah, you can do chords with a guitar, but a guitar is simply not as beautiful to me. Personal preference. It is what it is. You can take a piano, and play. Try out different notes, and see what happens. You don’t need an ensemble. Before computer programs let us write music that was all synthesized and shit, there were pianos. Some of my favorite music to listen to is just one guy hammering away on some keys. And Mannheim Steamroller. I love the shit out of Mannheim Steamroller.

Ultimately, music is so powerful because it can fill so many roles. It can bring people together, it can be humorous, it can diffuse great tension, right after creating it. It says so many things, without saying anything at all. It is the one thing that can place me right back in high school, reliving all the emotions and experiences I had back then.

I started on this tangent because I happened upon some youtube videos of drum corps performing, and it brought back all of the memories that I have that are associated with music. Playing music was a definitive part of my high school years…and middle school years…and elementary school years. More than that, now I can feel rhythms, and I can sing (not well, but I mean, I know what notes are, and attempt to hit them). Plus, I got that really groovy metaphor for all those group projects our professors and bosses have been assigning us. It has introduced me to people who have through the years meant a lot to me. Isn’t that really all we want, to mean something to people? The people whom I have met through music are some of the craziest, whackiest, insane, weird, and amazing people I’ve ever met. But that’s ok, because I am crazy too.

Word of the Year

There are many problems in the world today. Hunger. War. Terrorism. Disease. Racism. Sexism. Religious fanaticism. Here, on the soapbox that is my personal blog, I don’t shy away from the hard issues. Those problems that you look at, and think,’<Insert problem here>. Boy, I don’t know.’ The things that keep you up at night. The things that you read about all over the Internet, probably on blogs like this owned by people who just have an opinion and an high speed hookup, or maybe on credible news sites. That is why, here today, I am writing on this very serious issue. The Oxford Dictionaries 2015 Word of the Year, well, isn’t.

This year, the people who work at the Oxford University Press, responsible for the selection of the hitherto prestigious Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year, have selected the “Face with Tears of Joy” emoji. The first thing you will notice about the Oxford dictionaries word of the year, is, it is not a word. It’s a picture. Of a face. I first saw this in an article published by The Onion.Thinking it was a brilliant joke, I almost drove my car off the road when I later heard it on a BBC radio news broadcast. It turns out The Onion doesn’t make up the thing that Victoria Brenden, Glue Spreader, et al. are responding to, just the responses.

Back to the Not-Word of the Year. Actually, I heard Mona Lisa was in the running, but her eyes were creeping out the judges. It’s ironic, because her gaze is most reminiscent of the looks I have received after breaking the news of the Oxford UP’s utter abomination of the year to my friends and colleagues, most of whom communicate with actual words, and not face pictures. As is usually the case with things that I deem worthy of discussion on my blog, there is quite a bit more to the word of the year than you might think.

The Word of the Year is a spin off of Time Magazine’s Person of the Year. Interestingly, this prestigious honor was called “Man of the Year” until 1999, despite being awarded to a woman in 1936, 1937, 1952, to “American women” in 1975, and again to a woman in 1986. Because someone might care, while the general term was “Man of the Year”, the years in which women were selected had “Woman of the Year” printed on the cover. The first Man of the Year was Charles Lindberg, the year in which he flew solo across the Atlantic. The idea of the Person of the Year award is to name the person who was most influential during the past year. This can be influence for good or for evil, and in fact Adolf Hitler was Man of the Year in 1938, and Joseph Stalin was Man of the Year twice, once in 1939, and again in 1942.

The Word of the Year is not as old as the Person of the Year, although the institution that started it is. The first Word of the Year was chosen in 1990, by the American Dialect Society, which was founded in 1889. The 1990 Word of the Year was bushlips, which refers to insincere political rhetoric. Other categories for the Word of the Year — that’s right, the American Dialect Society has categories — include the following. Most Likely To Succeed: notebook PC and rightsizing (tie). Most Useful: technostupidity, and and potty parity (tie). Most Original: voice merging. Most adventurous: bungee jumping. Most Unnecessary: peace dividend. Finally, Most Outrageous: politically correct or PC. So not only did the American Dialect Society choose actual words, they chose ones that were appropriate, and even correctly placed political correctness in the outrageous category, a move which I would have applauded…had I…you know…had I been alive then.

The American Dialect Society had another apt Word of the Year winner for the year of my birth: Not! I don’t mean to negate my previous statement, I mean that was the 1992 Word of the Year. “Not!” That was it. The string of words that followed as words of the year in various categories throughout the years have been phenomenal, including 1993’s Most Unpronounceable Word of the Year, Jurassosauros nedegoapeferkimorum, 2004’s Most Outrageous Word of the Year, santorum, which was a play on the senator’s name, and 2013’s Most Unnecessary Word of the Year, sharknado. In 2014, the society selected #blacklivesmatter as the word of the year. They also introduced a new category that year, most notable hashtag. Now, I don’t like hashtags. I don’t really use them. I’ve tweeted six tweets in my life, all for a news writing class assignment junior year of college. Anyone who wants to know what my social media posts are about, as sporadic as they are, can just deduce it from the content of the post. That being said, I understand that languages evolve, and that a lot of people are using hashtags as a way to communicate. The addition of a new category to address this is something which I can’t really argue. Selecting a hashtag as the Word of the Year, well, that was stupid. Especially since there some pretty dramatic words that could have been selected instead. Like, say, racism. But that’s not really what the Word of the Year is for, and I’m not a member of the American Dialect Society.

The American Dialect Society actually outlines what a Word of the Year must be. It must be demonstrably new or newly popular in the year in question, widely and/or prominently used in the year in question, indicative or reflective of the popular discourse, and not a peeve or a complaint about the overuse or misuse. So I must admit that racism wouldn’t have been a good candidate for Word of the Year in 2014. It doesn’t fit the bill. It is a powerful word, and it accurately describes some attitudes that still exist in this country and around the world, but it wasn’t widely or prominently used, or newly popular. While the American Dialect Society did go a little off their rocker by choosing a hashtag as the Word of the Year, their other Words of the Year were actual words. (You can find them all here.)

So we come back to the original instigator of this post, the Face with Tears of Joy emoji. I think the best thing to do is to compare it to two winners of Time’s Man of the Year. The first, in 1982, was the computer. Obviously, not a man. The second, in 1988, was the Earth. Also, not a man. I’m still upset that the vulgar folks at the Oxford Dictionaries chose a pictograph as the 2015 word of the year. But I have hope. I have hope because the the 1982 man of the year was a machine, and the 1988 man of the year was a planet, and the 1983 and 1989 men of the year, were men. I have hope, because as it turns out, the Oxford Dictionaries people don’t even really matter anyways. They even explain to you on their website how they have partnered with a special emoji analytics software company to help select the word of the year. They just had this new piece of technology, and wanted to show it off. Of course the Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year was an emoji, they were looking for it with a tool that only looked at emojis. If you take words seriously, the only words of the year that really matter are the ones chosen by the American Dialect Society. Their vote hasn’t taken place yet, so we’ll have to sit on the edge of our seats to see what they decide.

In the mean time, the Word of This Post is “year”, which is used 48 times (not including this paragraph, and accounts for %10 of the words on this page). The runner up, is “word”, used 26 times. “Man”, “society” and “American” all place in a tie below the top two, with a count of nine each. The Most Likely to Succeed Word of This Post is “American Dialect Society Word of the Year”, and the Least Likely to Succeed Word of This Post, is “Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year”. Finally, the Most Outrageous Word of This Post is “Face with Tears of Joy Emoji”.

Grape Juice

Thanks to the wonderful children’s author Laura Numeroff and illustrator Felicia Bond, we all know what happens when you give a mouse a cookie. We even know what happens when you give a pig a pancake, or if you give a moose a muffin. We’ve got those totally plausible every day scenarios down pat. But we know very little about when life gives someone a lemon. Ms. Numeroff and Ms. Bond have not graced society with a children’s book on the subject, although if they where to write a children’s book explaining what to do with lemons I’m sure we’d all have had…um…sweeter childhoods. The thing is there are several ways to deal with lemons, which is good, because life is littered of lots of lemons left lurking in low lonely lairs only to leap out literally when we least expect it. What do you do when life gives you lemons?

Now, there are several things to do with lemons. Make lemon chicken. Season some fish. Or, if you’re a traditionalist, you could make lemonade. This, though, is boring, so I’m not going to talk about it any more. The truth is, as it turns out, there are quite a few options after life hands you lemons.

Let’s start with lemon chicken. Wikipedia helpfully tells us that lemon chicken is the name of several dishes found in many cultures that include both chicken and lemons. From this, we can deduce that it is not only your culture that gets handed many lemons, but rather, many cultures. As an aside, if you find one day that life gives you oranges instead of lemons, you can make orange chicken and still have a tasty dinner. This recipe which is provided to us by Ina Garten (there is no possible way that can be what it says on her birth certificate, because parents who would name their child that should either not be allowed to have children, or are so awesome that they ascended into a higher life form made of pure energy) takes one hour to make, and serves four people. This is useful, because if you are handed some lemons and are with friends, then your friends can eat dinner too. It has 393 calories per serving and only 19 and a half grams of fat, so you can handle life’s lemons without worrying about your figure. It is also high in protein, so that’s good. Ms. Garten’s lemon chicken recipe is a great thing to do with life’s lemons. But what if you are a pescatarian?

Fear not, pescatarians. There is hope. For those of you wondering what a pescatarian is, it is not a religious sect, but rather someone who does not eat any meat except fish. Once again going to Wikipedia, a fairly comprehensive list of raw fish dishes reveals at least one ,from Tonga, that is made with lemon as a garnish. Several others use citrus, a category in which lemons fall. Incidentally, oranges also fall into this category, so if you are a pescatarian that has just received some oranges from life, you are in luck. This website of unquestionable character informs its readers that Aioli was a sauce originally intended to pair with Cod, a type of fish, and then mentions Provencal dishes, which could date back to the 12th – 14th centuries, which means people have been dealing with lemons for quite some time. Aioli does include a fair amount of lemon juice, so this is relevant. Another aside, that aforementioned food website contains the words, “Mustard was known to the ancients. Ketchup surfaces in the early 18th century.” So, some good stuff on that website. At least it’s not Vicodin crusted potatoes. Now back to the lemons.

Let’s say you’re not into fish. Or, you live in the middle of nowhere where all the fish has to come on trucks from the sea, and none of it is any good. Luckily, there are many more things that you can do with lemons. For instance, you can make lemon ice cream. That recipe makes enough ice cream for 12 sandwiches, which at first is confusing, until you realize they mean ice cream sandwiches. (Note: You should probably use cookies instead of bread for these sandwiches, but I’m not going to tell you how to live your life.)

What if you don’t want to eat your lemons? Good news! You don’t have to! You can use your lemon to play baseball with. (Incidentally, there is a thing called a lemon peel baseball, which is made out of leather and not lemons, but can be used to pelt runners as they try and make the base without the additional hassle of throwing the ball to the appropriate baseman.) WolframAlpha tells us all sorts of useful things about lemons, such as: they have about 6% of your daily value of copper (about 124 micrograms); they grow on shrubs and trees and are possibly naturally occurring in Florida; there are less than 5 people with the given name Lemon in the US, based on birth data from the year 2014. You can also use lemons for a number of other things, as preventdisease.com explains. You can keep cauliflower from turning brown, soften dry, scaly elbows, use it as a vaccine for Diphtheria instead of the actual vaccine for Diphtheria (don’t really do that), use it for vaginal hygiene, or just freshen your refrigerator.

You could always take the lemon and throw it back at life’s face. After some searching on the internet to find out what the terminal velocity of a lemon is, I only came close. This person claimed to be purchasing a lemon to find out what it’s terminal velocity is, and if they ever found out, I would love to know. I also found a Quara page where someone inquired about the speed a lemon would have to go before it would ignite into flames, which is about 16,500 m/s (about Mach 48), but that doesn’t really help me. This website compares lemons to hailstones, and gives an estimate for a lemon sized hailstone at about 200 kph, which is 55 m/s or 124 miles an hour. According to this Wikipedia article, and the blurb under a google search result for the Guinness book of records which subsequently would not open due to an unending string of redirects, Aroldis Chapman holds the MLB record for fastest pitch ever at 105.1 mph (169 kph, or 47 m/s). This means that he would be able to throw your lemon as fast as he could without bumping up against the aerodynamic limits of lemon flight in Earth’s atmosphere, and give life one hell of a black eye.

I originally started writing this post a little while ago, because I liked the saying, “When life gives you lemons, make grape juice, then sit back and watch the world wonder how you did it.” Now, though, I don’t really like that saying any more, for several reasons. Life doesn’t give you lemons. Bad things just happen. When they do, you can complain about it and muck about for a while, or you can get to work. I choose the complaining option quite often, and it gets me nowhere. Also, if so called life has given you lemons, and you make grape juice, there are many unanswered questions. Did life also give you grapes? Did you go find grapes, or grow them on vines? If you had the time and energy to go find your own grapes, why are you still caring about the lemons from earlier? My final gripe, as if all that stuff isn’t enough, is this: There are, as we’ve seen throughout this post, many useful things to do with lemons. So if you have some lemons, forget about grape juice and do one of those instead, because you can’t make grape juice with lemons. (Some grape juice actually does have citric acid in it, “for tartness”, but mostly, to make grape juice, you need grapes.) So now, you have what is sure to be the start of a comprehensive list of what to do with lemons, that you either find, possibly in Florida, or that you buy from the store or farmer’s market. If all else fails, take your lemons, go find Aroldis Chapman, make a video, and get probably at least 14 hits on YouTube.

The One Space Two Space Squabble

My roommate and I get into a lot of stupid arguments. Like, for example, how many windows are there on the space shuttle? I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, ‘Who the fuck cares?’ Well, I do. That argument quickly lead into ‘how many windows are on the Apollo spacecraft, which devolved into ‘well, which part of the Apollo spacecraft?’ In any event, we spend a whole lot of time talking about things that A) nobody really cares about, and B) really don’t matter in the grand scheme of things. So it was only natural that we would have an argument about the number of spaces that go after a period in typed copy.

Normally, if I’m honest, our arguments are really quite boring if you’re not one of us. (One of us! One of us! One of…er, sorry, can’t help myself sometimes.) This time, though, since I thought this was really a stupid thing to argue over, I decided to settle the argument by asking people I knew. Then, it hit me. Why, I asked myself, keep this information to myself. I have a blog, on the internet. Is it not my duty, my moral obligation, to fill up the internet with completely useless bits (and bytes) of information that nobody will be interested in, yet lots of people will probably read?! Yes, yes it is. So you, my dear reader, get to find out all about this grand debate, this monumental kerfuffle, which hence forth and hitherto will be known as The One Space Two Space Squabble.

Before we get into the data I collected…yes, I collected some data…lets discover just how silly sentence spacing really is. Since humans have had the ability to typeset language, after Gutenberg invented the printing press in the mid 15th century, humans have needed to have rules about how many spaces to put where. Humans like rules, you see, so the more the better. So, some rules were drafted up, (the real question, is who decided how many spaces to use when the wrote the rules about sentence spacing), and then people lived happily ever after. Until they didn’t. Most early style guides for printers and type setters stated that sentences should be separated by more space than words. This wasn’t known a a double space, rather it was called an em-space, where the ’em’ comes from the typesetting unit based on the point size of a font. The space between words was usually 1/3 or 1/2 an em-space, and the space between sentences was one em-space. Ok, simple enough. Then came along, the type writer.

Type writers really threw a wrench into the mix. Type writers made it relatively easy for typists to typeset papers and whatnot in real time. Since it would be complicated to have all sorts of space keys, early typists had to use the one space key they had to match the old typesetter style guides used by the people who worked the printing presses. This resulted in two main styles, known as the English style, and the French style. The English style, named after the typesetting style of that country, was to use two spaces between sentences, while leaving no space around other punctuation marks, while the similarly named French style was to insert spaces around other punctuation, and use single spaces between sentences. This was all fine and dandy until printing began to take place on a very large scale in the 1940s and 50’s. Typewriters also evolved to have ‘grids’ that could be broken up, which allowed for proportional spacing. Due to cost, and complexity, the mass printing industry adopted the single space standard during the 1950s.

With the invention of computer based typesetting programs in the 1980s (What you young folks call Microsoft Word), the need for more or less space became arbitrary. A computer could just draw the amount of space or not, and a printer could just print it or not. Computer programs also lead to a wide variety of fonts, which meant a wide variety of space between letters. Some fonts had more space between the letters, and others had less. Spacing issues also lead to programs like TeX, a typesetting language. Today, different authorities on writing will tell you different things about spacing. The American Psychological Association (APA) recommends using two spaces after a period, for clarity reasons. The Chicago Manual of Style, originally published by the Chicago University Press in 1906, now used as a standard for publishing of academic papers and some trade publications, says to use one space. The Modern Language Association (MLA) will tell you that more and more papers are being written with one space, it is not incorrect to use two spaces, and the only thing you can actually do wrong is be inconsistent within your paper or publication. So, basically, according to the authorities, you can find evidence to support your position no matter what it is.

What I found out, is that this is an issue that most people tend to have pretty firm opinions on, although most people also recognize that it is an arbitrary choice. In a very scientific survey that I conducted of people who would answer my text messages, 24 people said they use one space, eight people said they use two spaces, and two people said it depended on what they were writing, or the device they were writing on, for a total of 34 responses.

Figure 1: Total responses to the survey

Figure 1: Total responses to the survey

As you can see in the figure, a little over 70% of people who texted me back use only one space, which is in line with the switch to one space being taught in most english and American schools somewhere in the second half of the 20th century. What was more astounding, to me, was the number of people who had deleted their contacts (or deleted me, and didn’t want to admit it), got a message from a random number that said, “Random question: how many spaces do you type after a period when you are just typing, not thinking about a particular style?”, and just answered, without asking any questions. (It was about five). I was also interesting to me how many people whose telephone numbers I have just answered that question without inquiring as to why I would want to know.  This, actually, restored my faith in humanity…whatever that means.

So, which is right? Well, I don’t know. There are arguments for both. The data shows that the people who I know generally use one space. I didn’t break it down by age, because I did not ask the age of the respondents and am bad with birthdays, but that would have been an interesting aspect to look into. (I suspect that older folks use two spaces, and young delinquents like myself only use one.) That being said, I myself am a two space kind of guy. I don’t know how or why, but at some point two spaces was ingrained into my brain, and now it just happens without my thinking about all. (If your intelligent enough to notice that this article has only one space, it’s because of find ” ” and replace with ” “…because it probably does look better that way in this application.) Honestly though, it really doesn’t matter. I mean people do it the way they were taught, and it’s so easy to manipulate text now-a-days that it’s six one way half a dozen the other. I will say this though: since the keyboard layout we all use is ancient, and solves a problem that doesn’t exist anymore, it seems only fitting to use a typesetting style that came out of the same era.

Thanks to everybody who willingly, or unwillingly, or unknowingly took part in my survey. Since this is a useless issue that people tend to get emotional over, you should probably talk about this with all your friends and cause rifts in relationships for no good reason, and generally be annoying. Because life is too short to not cause a ruckus, or, you know, be overly worried about how many spaces to use after sentences. Oh, and by the way, there are 10 windows on the space shuttle, five on the Apollo command module, and three on the lunar lander. Thanks for reading, see you next time.