Category Archives: Non-fiction

This is self explanetory

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.

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.

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.

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.

Everything I wanted to know about earwax, but no more

Do you ever get those certain subjects that remain stuck in your brain for a time, and you just can’t help but wonder about them? Yeah, me too. One of them, that I’ve been meaning to research for some time now, is this: earwax. As it turns out, earwax is one of those weird, slightly gross things that everybody is actually at some level interested in, because we all have ears. Well, most of us have them.

In any event, earwax is a bit intriguing. The weirdness of it kind of gives it an allure. When you’re learning about it you get a sort of funny look on your face, a sort of disgusted grimace, and yet, you just can’t look away. (As an aside, I get this way when observing all sorts of weird things that I find around me during my daily goings on, such as young men wearing shorts and long socks, John Travolta’s face, and general mannerisms of youths involved with greek life on college campuses.) Another thing that makes it somewhat interesting is that it comes out of your ear. Ears are actually just weird in general when you consider them. They’re all scrunched up, and you use them to sense sound, which is cool…ears are sort of like human antennae to “see” things we can’t actually see. Ears may be weird, but earwax is weirder still.

So what is earwax? Well, it is a substance secreted from your body, so it’s wholly organic in nature. (Unless you regularly take pesticide baths…) A quick search on Wolframalpha will tell you that as a word, its use started around 1800, and went up dramatically halfway through the 20th century. Also, it has a scrabble score of 16. As the Earwax Wikipedia article explains, earwax is a yellowish waxy substance secreted in the ear canal of humans and other mammals. Which is great, but we already knew that. Or, at least, those of us who didn’t are off to buy some quetips now. It’s purpose is to provide protection against all sorts of stuff, like insects. It is also known in the scientific, medical, and uber-extreme nerd communities as cerumen, and comes in two main flavors, wet and dry.

This very interesting paper actually goes on about earwax in a way that is both commendable and slightly creepy, and tells the inquiring mind that earwax is made up of keratin(a lot of this), saturated and unsaturated long-chain fatty acids, alcohols(not a lot of those two), squalene(12%), and cholesterol(6% to 9%). So, like most organic things, a bunch of chemistry and biology words that you wish you’d paid attention to in high school.

The really cool bit of that paper, though, has to do with what your earwax says about you. (In the strictest sense, well, nothing, because it is earwax, and therefor cannot actually speak. But you can convey a great deal of information without actually speaking, so don’t relax just yet.) Based on the amount of certain chemicals that are found in your earwax, earwax experts (cerumenologists) can actually figure out where on the earth your ancestors came from. In this super cool Popular Science article the details of where your earwax says you are from are laid out in more or less layman’s terms. It also contains the bit of information that there is one single gene in the human genome that determines whether you have wet or dry earwax. Also, it turns out, if you have wet earwax, you are in general more smelly as a person. This paper (which, unfortunately you must pay to read in full) goes even further into earwax types, and correlates specific types of the earwax gene with locations on the Earth. It also has 39 authors, which is interesting, because I would not have guessed there were 39 people who cared enough about earwax enough to publish a paper about it. As it turns out, I would have guessed wrong.

As I scoured the Internet looking for earwaxy things, I came across a page on the Stack Exchange for Biology, which has hitherto evaded my knowledge of things that are on the Internet. Someone named “J underscore mie6” asked a question to the people who answer things on Biology Stack Exchange about the difference between earwax and mucus, since both perform a similar function: to protect places where stuff can enter the body. J underscore mie6 was slightly wrong in the original question, because technically the ears are not an entry point to your ooey gooey insides, because of the tympanic membrane. (Imagine a little man doing the intro to 2001: A Space Odyssey on your ear.) Also, earwax, for the record, is not mucus. Mucus is created by creatively named mucus glands, and earwax is produced by sweat and oil glands. This next bit is a thought that has the potential to fester, so consider this a warning before reading on. If our bodies used mucus to protect the ears, then we would be “constantly weeping mucus from our ears unless there were a drainage system into our sinus passageways [sic]”. So good thing we actually produce earwax in our ears, and not just the same old mucus that fills our noses.

Finally, before we go, here is an article about earwax from the ever insightful BBC. They have a decidedly British knack for covering science news (as well as American politics), and they do not disappoint with this bit of journalism. It includes the phrases, “jungle of hair”, “the most notable earwax scientific discovery”, and starts with the magnificent sentence, “Like other secretions, it is something that most of us deal with in private.” Which begs the question: Who are the people in the not most of us group? The article contains five bits about earwax that you probably did not know. Unless, that is, you got here by reading all the preceding text on this page.

The BBC article ends with thismajestic piece of earwax which was secreted by a blue whale. The sample is some 25cm (about 10 inches) long, and was produced over a period of 12 years. Also, yes, it is the aforementioned “most notable earwax scientific discovery”.

So there is really no point to this other than this: I wondered what earwax was, and looked it up, and thought it was interesting. Hopefully, you found it interesting as well. Oh yeah, and don’t click the whale earwax link if you’re reading this during lunch. Or really any of the links, because they’re all kinda gross. Thanks for reading!

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.

The story of a man

It’s a warm summer morning. Still early, by cubicle standards, but the sun has been up long enough to start baking the asphalt. The shade is still a pleasant place to be, and luckily for you, the shade is exactly where you need to go. Reaching up above your head you wrap your fingers around the cool metal spade, pulling down against the resistance of the pistons. Leaning into it, you push the blade through, standing up on your tip toes as another set of fingers wraps around the next one. You wonder to yourself what it must be like to be where you are, when the engines turn. Metal blades whipping through the air, driven by the enormous power of the motor. You’re glad you’ll be somewhere else.

As you walk across the tarmac to grab a bottle of water, you glance over your shoulder and see the aircraft in all of its glory, sitting on the ground, seemingly restless, waiting to get into the sky. The first group of passengers arrives, and the process begins. In the same manner that one would heard cats, the passengers are all rounded up into a group, and the briefing begins. You meander over about halfway through to find the meeting has been commandeered by an old guy in a hat that says “WWII – Ex POW”. So, you stop and listen. It’s 1944, you’re in England. In a mess hall. A Colonel has arrived, recently. You and your buddies are all sitting there, awaiting an announcement. The Colonel gets up onto the stage and begins to speak. “Gentlemen, I have an announcement to make,” he says. “The allied forces have officially decimated the German Luftwaffe’s fighters.” You cheer. Everybody cheers. But something is nagging you. You start to think to yourself, ‘You know, if I claimed the same two Messerschimdts as my buddy Tommy, who claimed the same two Messerschmidts as his buddy Joe Sue, who claimed the same two Messerschimdts as his buddy Frankie T, then dammit, we should have decimated the German Luftwaffe weeks ago!’

The laughter from the group brings you to Colorado. Denver. You’re a young enlisted soldier, in flight training. You and your crew have been doing very well. Performing all the tasks your instructors ask of you to their liking, which, is not easy. You’re excited because soon, you’ll get to go off to do what you’ve been training to do. Drop bombs on the Nazi scum who are trying to inherit the Earth. The day is finally here. Your commander tells the guys, much to their excitement, that tomorrow, they’ll be flying to England. Except, he says, you and your crew. You have, in fact, done so well in training, he says, that you are going to stay behind and train the next group of yuppies. You don’t like this. In fact, you and your crew complain, you write letters to Washington. Dammit, you’ve trained to fly bombing missions, not to be instructor pilots! Finally, you get your chance. The commander says, “Tomorrow, a B-17 is going to come in, and you and your crew are going to fly it to England.” Which you do. One, lone, B-17. From Colorado, to England. It is not even the most epic flight you will undertake.

You’re back now, you’re you. Standing there, mesmerized. The man says something about, “When we got shot down…” and your eyes flick back up to his hat. “Ex POW”. The meaning of those letters actually hits home inside your head. “We lost weight like it was in style. Your cheeks start caving in. Boy, if you want to lose a few pounds, have I got the program for you.” You don’t know whether or not to laugh. He does, so you do too. You try to imagine what it must have been like. You try, and you fail. You can’t help but stare at that man, standing there in that hat.

It’s time to move now, the first group of passengers is getting ready to board the plane. You have to practically pull the old man away from it. Safety reasons or something. Once he gets relocated, he just keeps going on about his stories. But you have to do your volunteer duties, which involves a lot of standing around, doing not much of anything. A man comes up to you and asks, “Have you been inside?”, motioning with his head. “No, not yet,” you say. “Man, I tell you what, I give those guys more credit then me and the guys I was with in ‘Nam. Being cramped up in one of those things for 10, 12 hours,” the guy says, “Especially the turret gunner, man. I give these guys credit.” His hat also informs you that he is a veteran. That gets you thinking though, as if your mind had been idle before. You’re just a 20-something year old kid. Still in college. You haven’t seen the real world, let alone war. Your idea of war comes from the stories you’ve heard, and the movies you’ve seen. A good descriptor, at times, but not real. To have a Vietnam veteran come up to you and say that the B-17 crews had it worse than he did, that’s perspective.

It becomes apparent that the second flight has unsold seats on it, so they are giving some to the volunteers, for volunteering. The head volunteer comes up and informed you of this, and asks if you want to go, and you say, “See if that Vet wants to go instead.”. He does. The paperwork gets filled out, and after all is said and done there are still enough seats for you too. The plane comes back, swings around to park. The passengers all file out with smiles on their faces, a good sign. Next, you, the other volunteers, the Vet, and the actual paying customers get herded into a group, and taken over to the plane. Under one of the massive wings, you meet the pilots and the crew chief. They start the briefing, and the Vet is just elated. You can see it on his face. After the crew gets done, they ask the Vet if they missed anything. Which is all he needs to tell some more stories. These planes were based in England, you see. They would often start their missions in the early morning. The missions would begin by everyone taking off, and subsequently forming up over the English Channel. Makes sense. The problem is, it’s the English Channel, early in the morning. What is around England and its channel early in the morning? Fog. Thick fog. So thick, that a lot of B-17s were lost due to mid-air collisions while forming up in the thick fog. A lot of men were killed. The thing is, when you’re killed in a mid-air collision with your own squadron, you’re just as dead as when you’re killed over enemy territory.

You’re now over Germany. You’re the radioman on the airplane. You come under attack from enemy fighters. All of the sudden your plane has been hit. It is your 13th mission. Ordinarily, the pilot is in charge of the aircraft, and the crew, so he gives the order to bail out. This particular time, the number two engine has been hit, which is the one on the left, closest to the pilot. Some part of the engine has flown through the windscreen and hit the pilot. He’s bleeding from his head, so he says to the copilot and the guys in the nose, “Let’s get out of here.” Which they do. They just forgot to tell you. So you’re flying along, with nobody forward of the bomb bay, and your crew members ask you, hey when are we going to bail out? You respond that the pilot hasn’t said anything, and when he does, you will. Then the tail gunner pipes up. “Hey Joe, would it be of any use to you to know that I have three parachutes that have just popped up off our tail” “Three?! Where?!?” “Just aft of us.” “Then let’s get the hell out of here!”

This brings you to the point where you have to actually jump out of the plane. Something of an unnatural maneuver. Your guys ask you what to do. This is where all that training the Army Air Corps gave you comes in. All that training. “Hold the parachute on your chest, jump, and count slowly to 10, then pull the cord real hard like.” Well, you must not have been very good at math, see, because you only made it to four. The chute has opened (thank God) and you’re not sitting there, at some 15,000 feet, just floating. It’s actually a beautiful day. For a couple of moments, you’re transported from the warplane, on your way to bomb someone, to a little speck of dust floating in the air, with nothing to do but enjoy the beauty of it all.

The next thing that the old man says really knocks you off your feet. “I have no idea if the other eight guys I was flying with are dead, or alive, or what happened to them. We all jumped out of the plane, and I’ve never seen them since.” Wow. I had always thought, in my naive little mind, that they would land in the same place. I mean, I knew that a lot of guys jumped out of airplanes, but I never really considered the possibility that they wouldn’t land together. Thinking of it now, I guess it makes sense. The real improbability is that the guys would land together. If you jump out of a burning plane moving through the air at a couple hundred miles an hour, I guess it’s a miracle to land together. It’s still incredible to me. To live for all these years. 70 years. To not know the fate of your crew mates.

The pilots convince the Vet that he can keep telling his stories after they fly the airplane, and we all scrunch into our seats. It’s hot inside, but there will be air flowing soon. The plane shakes and shimmies as the engines fire up, with a great rumbling sound that you feel as much as you hear. You look out a window and see the end of the runway, and feel the engines start to spool up. The four mighty engines now produce a magnificent roar as the plane thunders down the runway. Suddenly, you’re airborne. The crew chief gives the sign, and you unbuckle your seat belt and stand. Turning around, you look out the left waist gunner’s window, and freeze. Over the great wing, the trees and houses and rivers move by. The image, of the wing flying, brings a smile to your face. Moving up through the airplane and arrive in the radio room. You sit in the bucket seat, and imagine. You imagine your not flying over Central Florida, but somewhere over England. You’ve just taken off on a mission, to go fight for your country. Maybe it’s your last one. You really have no way to tell. You try and feel what it would have felt like. Again, you try, and you fail. It’s time to move up to the cockpit. Stepping over the narrow gangplank that runs through the bomb bay, you emerge into the front of the plane. You are directly behind the pilots, can see out the windscreen, all the instruments. It’s mesmerizing. Down you go, between the pilots seats, into the bubble nose. You crawl up to the front, and sit in the bombardier’s chair. Suddenly, you’re floating over the ocean, mysteriously moving by some unseen force. It is beautiful. The time passes both slowly and quickly. Each second feels like a minute, but suddenly, all of the seconds are up. There are other folks who want to sit in the same chair you’re in. You crawl back up to the cockpit, and stand there behind the pilots, trying to imagine the English Channel moving beneath the belly. You look over to the right, and there he is. The Vet. You can tell by the look on his face that he’s not actually there. He’s back, 72 years. He’s over England, Germany. He has the stoic look of a man who has seen a lot. It’s sobering. It’s also gratifying, because more than anything you can tell he is enjoying this.

The plane comes in to land, and you sit back in your seat, and strap yourself in. Once the engines stop, and you all clamber out of the plane, the Vet comes out and greets his wife. You found out before the flight that he is only a week away from his 92nd birthday. He is sharp as a tack though. One of the other passengers walks up and tells him what a great experience that was, and that he was really grateful that he got to share it with someone who was actually there. And, the Vet tell more stories. There are less people around now, and the stories get a little more personal. He landed in a farmer’s field. Amongst the farmers. This is something of an unusual occurrence for the farmers, so things are a bit stand off-ish at first. The farmers are keeping him in his place with their pitchforks. They are trying to communicate in German, and he is trying to communicate in English, which isn’t working well. All of the sudden the Vet remembers that he has a flag on his shoulder, like all Americans. So he points to it. Everything changes. The farmers pick him up, and begin to move him towards the barn. The Vet has a broken leg, so the farmers have him on their shoulders. A German jeep comes across the field from out of nowhere, with it German soldiers. They beat the crap out of the farmers for helping the American. This is concerning to the Vet, because these are GERMANs and all they did was help him. What’s the treatment he will receive to be like?

They put you in the Jeep, and drive you someplace. They stop at another farm somewhere. Over a hill come a hundred women, the most beautiful women you’ve ever seen. The women surround the vehicle and start rocking it side to side. There is some conversation in German, which you don’t understand. One of the soldiers, obviously the one in charge, looks at you and says,”Do you know what they are saying?” “No,” he says. “They want to know if we will release you to them.” “Well,” says the 20 year old Vet, “I could probably handle three or four of them, but not much more than that.” This gets him a punch or two. You may have just been captured by the Germans, but you’re a fighter. You know you’re going to be ok.

The whole experience accomplished what it is supposed to accomplish. Through the flight, the day, you meet people who have served in the military, mostly Vietnam. Several people come up to you on the ground tour, and explain how their father, or uncle, or grandfather flew on B-17s during the war. But the Vet is the only one who actually did. The 92 year old man, wearing the hat that says “WWII – Ex POW”. It really makes you think about what it was like. These guys, 19 and 20 years old, flying these planes into war. It’s incredible to think of what they experienced. It’s even more incredible to think of how little we think of it today. Thanks for reading.

Teenagers

Everyone who has ever lived to see their 20th birthday has passed through something we call, the teen years. Those crucial, awkward, magnificent years. The ones where we go through high school, the first years of college, or a job, or the military. Puberty. Cracking voices. Discovering what masturbation is. Well, with the availability of pornography on the internet, that might not still be a hallmark of the teenage years. There’s a wonderful short story by David Foster Wallace that describes a 13-year-old boy’s journey through some of those things which is one of the most beautifully penned pieces of writing I’ve yet to come across. It’s called Forever Overhead, for those of you googley inclined. We take all this for granted now, kids become teenagers during which time they will be evil reckless beasts, and then they’ll “grow out of it” and go to college, and live their lives. Actually, I know several who have gone to college and are spending the rest of their lives attempting to recreate the reckless teen years, with pitiful results, but that is neither here nor there. What I find the most interesting, and what I’ve never thought about until it was pointed out to me in a class I recently sat through, is that the “teenager” is only an idea some 70 years old.

This may sound like a lot, but there are people reading this who are probably older than that. Ok, ok, we’ll say more experienced. That’s what I’d want to be called. Which means, there were no teenagers fighting in World War I, or the Civil War. There were no teenagers that came across the atlantic on the Mayflower. My potentially amazing film/book/play idea Jesus: The Teenage Years suddenly had the wind taken out of its sails. Because none of those people were ever teenagers. Romeo and Juliet is a story of two young adults trapped in a deadly romance. Now, all of the people whom I just mentioned did go through the ages 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, and 19. (Except Romeo and Juliet, who died young.) But, they were never teenagers.

The term “teenager” is a product of the 1940s. The teenage mindset and image began forming in the 1920s. It had to do with one up and coming invention, another thing that we all take for granted nowadays. The automobile. Back in the day, (probably, a Tuesday), it used to be a whole big thing to date someone. It was called courting, and there were many courtship rituals. All this stems from the protestant christianity which actually shaped much more of western culture than I think people realize, myself included. Sex before marriage was taboo, the liberal dating philosophy of the mid 20th century was taboo, and the “hookup culture” that is emerging in the 21st century is probably the work of Satan himself. A young man’s love life was easily controllable because the young man was pretty much stuck in one place. So a courtship would actually take place largely in the company of the young woman’s parents. (Forget about gay romances…it’s 2015 and we still haven’t gotten over that one.) The relationship was heavily supervised; a couple might only spend a couple of minutes alone on the front porch at the end of the evening. This was the way. It was just, “the way we do things around here.” With an automobile, young people had a tool to break free from the constant supervision.

This of course, lead to kids growing independent. They could go on dates without being watched by their parents. They could drink alcohol. They could rebel against the ways of their parents, often viewed as strict and idiotic. They could play loud music, drive their cars too fast. They could experiment sexually. GASP! They could form their own little cultural niche. Which has existed in various forms through the present day.

The word teenager was invented in the 1940s by advertisers who realized something incredible. They could actually market to this emerging niche culture. Which they did, in force, and still do today. Teenagers suddenly had their own movies, like Rebel Without a Cause, starring James Dean. They suddenly had their own music, their own gangs, their own styles of dress. The people in the teen years stopped being smaller versions of adults, wearing “grown-up” clothing, and started grasping their own image. It was only a matter of time before the good christian matured parents of America started retaliating.

Starting in the ’40s, and continuing through the ’50s and onward, parents began feeling disconnected from their kids. (I have no idea how connected they were before, but I think during this time, they started noticing it. Whether that’s a good or bad shift in culture, I’ll let to you to decide.)

Another factor in the rise of the teenager was high school. In the 1940s there was a dramatic rise in high school attendance, and graduation rates. With more advanced transportation came more centralized schools, which many students travelled to. It brought people together who would have been separate before. It gave way to all the teenage fads, teen consumer culture, many of the things the people in my parents generation grew up with. They were living through these things about 40 years after their conception, and I suppose you could try and make some comparisons with that, and kids a little younger than me and the internet, but I won’t do that here.

The simple fact is, that kids didn’t used to be treated like kids. Kids used to be treated like little adults. They would work hard jobs, often dangerous ones, because they were little and could fit places adults couldn’t, like chimneys. Now, because of sciences like psychology, we know that kids are very different from adults. Their brains are developing, their bodies are growing, they’re being shaped and molded into whatever they end up being as adults. Even through the teen years, their brains develop still. Their bodies develop through the teen years into that of men and women, in all their magnificence. We live in a world where teenage culture is so much of a norm, and yet, it is less than 100 years old. Written records go back some 6000 years, and teenagers have been around for some %1 of it. That’s just after humans invented writing.

So that’s a cool thing I didn’t know about until a little while ago. Thanks for reading.

Sources:
http://www.ushistory.org/us/46c.asp/
http://www.units.miamioh.edu/eduleadership/courses/334/334_what_is_teenager.html
http://www.home-school.com/Articles/myth-of-the-teenager.php
http://www.faqs.org/childhood/So-Th/Teenagers.html
http://www.mediaent.net/americanteenager.htm
http://chronicle.com/blogs/linguafranca/2012/02/28/birth-of-the-teenager/

Liar, Liar

So I’ve been watching a lot of House, M.D. recently.  Which is cool.  And it’s been making me think about what would happen if I was riddled with a life threatening illness that needed to be diagnosed, which is actually unrelated to what I want to write about here.  It’s also terrifying to think about, since Greg House is a fictional character and can’t actually save me.  There are actually a few interesting questions you can take away from any given episode of the show if you so choose.  But one of the interesting themes is ‘everybody lies’.

Everybody lies.  If you want to stay in TV land, you can go watch another show called Lie To Me, which is also about people lying.  The idea is that everybody lies and the question isn’t if, rather, why.  Why do we lie?  Well, for all kinds of reasons.  White lies, lies by omission, there are all kinds.  But some of the most interesting lies are the ones that we don’t even realize we are telling.  Because we are telling them to ourselves.

Self-deciept is kind of a cool thing.  And kind of terrible.  It all depends on your perspective.  It manifests itself everywhere.  People who eat animals, like cows and chickens, lie to themselves about the pain that the animal went through in order for for it to be eaten.  That’s not just speculation, it’s actual science.  (Actually, it’s psychology, so, more or less science.)  You see, most people wouldn’t condone the killing of thousands of animals, or the conditions in which chickens are farmed, but they like chicken and beef, so the animals must not feel that much pain.  The coolest part of it all is that we don’t even realize that we do it.  Brains are so cool.

Some other scientists (ok, actually, psychologists) have done some research and have actually found that people are more likely to lie to themselves if they are relatively ‘worse off’ than other people. The article, by William von Hippel and Robert Trivers, actually suggest that the reason we lie to ourselves has to do with the process of evolution.  In evolution, the best people survive.  Survival of the fittest, said Darwin.  Well, according to von Hippel and Trivers, creatures don’t just try and make themselves look better in the eyes of other creatures, they also make themselves look better in their own eyes.  Self deception.

These same dudes also suggested that we can create false memories about things in order to alter our perception.  This translates into convincing yourself you performed better on a test than you actually did.  This one is also pretty cool, because we can alter the memory so convincingly, that we don’t even know we’ve been lied to.  By ourselves.

There are a ton of other really cool ways in which we lie to ourselves.  For instance, when doing research, we will stop when we find information that supports our theories, even if there is a lot of unsearched data.  The fear of finding information that doesn’t groove with our hypothesis leads us to go on in ignorance, convincing ourselves that we are difenitely right, even though not all the data has been analyzed.  Another interesting thing is that people have been found to locate photos of themseves that have been altered to make them appear more attractive faster than unaltered photos.  Hmm.

The final, and potentially most interesting thing, has to do with our perceptions of control.  We like to be in control.  So, when we’re not in control, we will convince ourselves that something is.  This something could be a government that has a great amount of control over it’s people, for the good of the people, of course.   It could also be God.  In fact, a study done by Norris and Inglehart in 2004 showed a correlation between insecurity and religion.  Countries where citizens had little control over things like food and shelter, also had a high rate of religion.  Interesting. Granted, the US is an outlier in those statistics.  Also, interesting.

Deceit is interesting.  Self-deciept is more interesting, because we really don’t know when, or to what extent, we’re doing it.   We lie to ourselves to avoid the truth, whether that truth is hard to swallow, makes us uncomfortable, or is simply…inconvenient.  Everybody lies.  The only real question to ask yourself is, why?  Thanks for reading, see you soon.

The Double Down Experiment

So this is the true story about that time I went on a wild adventure one afternoon at work to get some of those breadless chicken sandwiches from Kentucky Fried Lard. I mean chicken, Kentucky Fried Chicken. A few things you need to know before you read this, call it a disclaimer of sorts. I am a young, relatively wealthy, white, college kid. My parents both work hard to make money, and they use some of the money they make to help with the cost of my education. I don’t end up in neighborhoods where the main source of income is drug money very often. I am in a minority group however, in that I am one of the few remaining Americans who has common sense. So, know that you know a small amount about me, and the kind of eyes I view the world through, here’s the story.

It all started at about 3:30 p.m., when my boss had the idea that we should all try the double down chicken..thing from KFC. It was 3:30 p.m. in the information technology offices at Embry-Riddle, and our choices were either do this, or get to thinking about some of the moronical imbisiles that run the information technology department, and how they couldn’t pour piss out of a boot unless the instructions could be found on the first page of a google search. I think they would have appreciated us busying ourselves with this important task. Anyway, now that there was a concensus in our little cube to green light this mission, there was a frantic internet search for the nearest KFC from which to aquire our targets. And we found one. Since I am the student worker, I was elected to carry out the acquisition of chicken. Which is where the fun started.

The first thing you need to know about Daytona Beach, is that you should stay far far away from it. Unless you are a NASCAR fan, a motorcycle enthusiast, or a druglord. Or a NASCAR loving motorcycle riding druglord. Aside from the gargantuan speedway that is the center of attention, there’s really not much here worth seeing. If you want nice beaches, there are much nicer beaches to go ot literally anywhere else, where you won’t get hit by a car. If you just want somewhere tropical just bite the bullet, drive another couple hours and go to the keys. If you want an education in aerospace anything, there are other, better, less expensive places with less corrupt administrations. I digress. The location of the KFC was in a place that…well…you wouldn’t want your kids to be there. I arrived, and immediately had problems.

A car pulled in beside me, and I looked out the window while getting something out of my pocket, only to see several African Americans in the car next to me staring me down. Hm, I thought, that’s interesting. I decided to wait in the vehicle another 30 seconds before approaching the chicken. As it turns out, these folks were just dropping their nice friend off at work, and I had nothing to worry about. I walked into the joint, and up to the counter, and was greeted by the worker. This kid was the perfect example of ‘just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.’ Just because you can grow facial hair, doesn’t mean you should grow facial hair. And I know, I sometimes envy the dudes who can have a beard in like three days. Whenever I try to grow a beard, I just look like a pathetic looking dude who can’t grow a beard. But it’s ok, I’m over it. Really. Anyway, this little guy with a misplaced patch of beard on his chin (who’s voice was about three octaves higher than you’d think) asked me what I wanted and I said, “Four Double downs.”

He looked at me and said, “Hold on, I have to check if we have that many.” He came back and said, “We have to cook some, do you still want four?” I simply replied, “Yes.” I think he thought I wanted to die of cardiac arrest. “It’ll be about six minutes for them to cook,” the worker said. I said, “Ok.” Thus began the longest six minutes of…well…that afternoon.

I walked over to the railing that coralls the patrons of KFC into an orderly line before they die of heart failure, and leaned up against it. I then started observing things, because I have eyes. First, I took notice of the family that was eating a nice kentucky fried meal behind me. There was a dude who looked like he had just broke out of jail (I don’t mean to be stereotypical, but that’s what he looked like), his girlfriend or wife or partner who’s average size breasts were nearly falling out of her attention-grabbing shirt, and two very small children, one of whom was on a leash which I’m fairly certaint was to prevent it from attacking the other one. I don’t know there story, it might be a good one, but I don’t think the odds are in their favor. I felt bad for the kids.

The next event in those six minutes was a black man of about 50, with a white beard (which he could and should be sporting) walked in. He walked up to the counter, and while the little worker guy walked up to help him, I noticed him take a piece of paper out of his shirt. Odd, but not neccesarily out of place; he could have been sent by some other folks like I was. But then he started writing on the paper, and then showed the paper to the chin patch kid. Then chin patch kid, who was now quite perplexed, read the paper and then tried to decipher the mans order. Either chin patch kid was illeterate or white beard guy’s handwriting was hard to read because there was some misunderstanding between them.

I was leaning up against my railing, wishing I’d actually went out of my way to learn sign language the previous semester from the girl who sat next to me in structures who knew sign language. I don’t know if it would have helped, or if the guy was deaf or moot, but he obviously couldn’t talk or I’m guessing he would have. The scene in front of me was deteriorating rapidly, and the guy was fondling imaginary breasts on his chest in an attempt to tell the kid he wanted chicken breast. I also felt bad for this dude.

At about this point, a lady walked in and went through the corall and waited for her turn. She was also elderly, probably in her 60s. By appearances and simple guesswork, this wasn’t her first visit to KFC. She had on a fedora and a vest, and looked like she pretty much hated the world. This was confirmed for me in about 45 seconds. After 45 seconds, she was visibly irritated that a deaf man had the nerve to come into KFC before her, and did not have any sympathy for the chicken sharade that was now taking place at the counter. “Oh come on!” She looked around, and keenly discovered me leaning up against my railing right next to her, and I could see her mind going to work to attempt to gain strength by numbers. “Did you order yet?” she asked. “Yeah,” I said. Another half a minute. “Where’s the manager here?” she loudly inquisited. A short girl walked up to the counter and said “Did you order yet ma’am?” “NO,” fedora lady said, “But this guy did and he’s still waiting.” Oh great, I thought. “What did you have sir?” “I’m four double down guy, I know mines going to take six minutes,” I said. This seemed to diffuse the tension, and fedora lady’s plan.

Fedora lady then walked up and angrily ordered something, and angrily waited for it, when little chin patch dude came around the corner of the chicken rack holding a bag and said “Four double downs!” At last! “Thanks,” I said. I then took that bag and bee lined for the door. I didn’t want to get caught in any crossfire from fedora lady. I made it back to the office, and we distributed the chicken, and began masticating ourselves to an early death. As I felt the fat begin to ooze through my veins, I thought back to my time with deaf/moot man and fedora lady. And I realized I have quite a lot to be thankful for. If you’ve managed to find this blog, then I imagine that you do too.

The world, as I’ve come to see it, can be a pretty messed up place. I’m spoiled by it. I don’t have to spend a lot of time in KFC, with the likes of chin patch kid, fedora lady, kentucy fried family and so on. There are many things that could be better. There are a lot of people who are just out for what they want. Take a minute, think about all the things that you have, that you do. Be thankful for everything that means you don’t have to work at KFC, or become a Daytona druglord. It shouldn’t take a trip to KFC for me to do it. But yesterday, it did. I don’t know. Maybe I should get out more. Thanks for reading, everyone, see you soon.