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Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Wednesday 3/31

Tumbleweed

Every once in a while I see or experience something that reminds me of where I live.   Texas . . .  Fort Worth, in particular, which is where the West begins.  (Dallas is where the East ends, by the way.  Who knows what all that stuff in between is. . .) Well, I was idling at a traffic stop in broad daylight one day when a tumbleweed blew by.  I couldn’t decide if it was a western icon to proud of and marveled at, or if I was watching the butt end of a million jokes roll across my path.

When I think of a tumbleweed, I think barren wasteland, desolation, desert, lonesomeness, cowboy showdowns, good, bad, and ugly.  But when this tumbleweed tumbled, there were no barbed wire fences, boot spurs, or saloons in sight.  Just a gas station, a fast food restaurant, and hybrid cars.  I couldn’t help but laugh to myself.  A tumbleweed

A wandering tumbleweed is often a way to punctuate a bad joke or an awkward silence in a movie.  It can be used to symbolize the untamed frontier as well as to poke fun at it.  A tumbleweed spotting is in most cases, a comically random event.  Where do tumbleweeds even come from?

The answer is: lots of places.  Tumbleweed is a behavior, not a specific plant.  Many different types of vegetation can have this effect.  The above-ground part of a plant simply dries up, snaps off and blows away with the next passing breeze.  The “weed,” if you will, gets herded around by the wind and eventually forms a ball shape.  Sometimes they get caught on fences, buildings, and hobos, but for the most part, they just keep on rolling wherever the wind takes them.  So where do they all end up?

Is there a great tumbleweed deposit where the wind stops?  You’d think if they just kept on blowing, they would end up on the coast.  Well, I’ve seen pictures of beaches and I don’t see any tumbleweeds!  I thought maybe they get caught amongst the trees in a forest somewhere, but that doesn’t make sense because there would be a great wall of tumbleweed on one side.  I’ve never seen that either! 

The sobering truth is, a tumbleweed’s journey is probably most often squelched by a rainstorm or by tumbling into a body of water and sinking to the bottom.  I refuse to believe they all end that way, so there must be some mysteriously disappearing survivors out there somewhere.  So take delight in the rare sight of these marvels, for sadly, they are seen by thousands and remembered by none.

By: S. Cole Garrett

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Tuesday 3/30

Water Tower

Whenever you’re on a mid-west road trip, there’s one sure fire way to know you reach a new town.  No matter how big or small the towns, they almost all have water towers.  Some towers are massive feats of engineering, rising aplomb where civilization thirsts.  Others seem like little more than a few gallons perched on sticks in the middle of nowhere.  Many of them are adorned with local high school mascots.  One tower in nearby me even hails the ‘fighting farmers.’  (No joke, that’s really a high school mascot.)  I’m fairly certain we all know what a water tower is, but what are they?  What do they do?

I bet some of you are asking, “who cares?”  Well, someone asked me and I happened to have the answer for them.  I realized I would be happy if I could save at least one more person the embarrassment of having to ask the question.  The answer is: fish.  They are built to house endangered marine wildlife.

…very endangered marine wildlife.

Just kidding.  The obvious answer is that they hold water.  This is true, but it isn’t the main purpose of water towers.  It seems like there wouldn’t be enough water in one tower to shower a whole town every day (even the towns where not everyone takes a shower every day . . . ew).  The main reason towns have towers is to create water pressure.

Think about it.  When your electricity goes out, the water still runs, right?  Sure it does.  That’s because somewhere, that water is being ‘pushed’ through the pipes.  It’s kind of like your toilet.  The water in the tank is held at a level above the bowl so that when you pull the lever, the water falls down (and swirls, but that’s a whole other discussion).  Keyword: gravity.  Water towers hold enormous amounts of water to provide what’s called hydrostatic pressure to push water through pipes, using gravity. 

So why are they raised?  For residential prowess and pride?  No.  (That would be too easy to make fun of!)  It’s more physics than is worth explaining, but it’s the same concept as siphoning.  The water source (the water tower) works better if it is at a higher elevation than the destination (all of the plumbing in your house).

Now, if someone asks you why we have water towers, you have two options.  You could tell them what you now know, that they are for water pressure.  Or you could intentionally lead them astray down the ignorance-paved path.  Tell them it’s a cheaper way for tiny towns to advertise than billboards and then laugh when they tell the next sucker!

By: S. Cole Garrett

Monday, March 29, 2010

Monday 3/29

Yellow

To go, or not to go?  Isn’t that the split-second decision at almost every yellow traffic light?  Not many people like being forced to make decisions, especially quick ones, but it happens to people every day!  You approach an intersection and the traffic signal turns yellow.  You really only have tow choices: stop or coast through (speed through, for some of us).  Seems pretty basic, right?  There is something peculiar about yellow lights, however.  Intuitively, the more driving experience one has, the easier the decision should be to make.  It’s actually quite the opposite.

It seems like no matter how long you’ve been driving, a yellow light still has the potential to make you slam on your brakes of gun it through the intersection in frustration (or victory, depending on the person).  There are several factors that need to be adequately judged when confronted with the yellow signal.  Beginner drivers only know two things to think about: speed and distance remaining.  With practice, judging when you should go and when you should stop becomes easier.  There are times to “definitely go” and times to “definitely stop.”  But there are points where you would “probably go” and “probably stop.”  There’s also “not-sure-if-I-should-go-or-stop.”  The closer the two decisions get, the blurrier the decision.

Other variables muck up your decision-making process, though, and they stack up fast!  For example, are you towing anything?  Do you have kids in the car?  Are you familiar with how long the yellow light is (because let’s face it, some are annoyingly much longer than others)?  Is there a camera at the intersection?  Do you feel lucky?  Well, do ya?  All of these factors make the decision much more complicated.  A camera-monitored intersection (that is, if you know which ones are) probably sways more of your decisions to ‘stop.’  Same thing with toting kids or if you know it’s a short light.  If you’re towing a trailer, you might be more inclined to go.  Well, what if you’re towing a trailer and you have a car-full of kiddos and the intersection has a quick yellow and it’s monitored . . . and it turns yellow on you?  See?  Your brain thinks about this every time.

(The worst is when you’ve made up your mind and it happens to be on the riskier side of ‘go’ and all of a sudden you spot a police officer.  You can either freak out and slam on the brakes and get his attention or speed through and hope you don’t get his attention.)

Yellow lights essentially invoke you to make a bunch of decisions all at the same time.  Beginners don’t know to think about as many and so as it turns out, it’s a little easier.  Experienced drivers, on the other hand, have tons of yellows under their belt, but their brain goes through a lot more steps to get a decision.

You’re still going to get caught off guard sometimes by yellow.  It’s in their nature.  You can even have a bunch of general rules-of-thumb for every factor.  The problem is: you run out of thumbs pretty quickly!

By: S. Cole Garrett

Friday, March 26, 2010

Friday

Purpose

Can you think of some really bad inventions?  Of course you can.  For all of us, there are probably different products and ideas that come to mind first.  Maybe you think blimps are the most belligerent things to ever take flight.  Maybe you think Curling is an embarrassment to the winter Olympics.  Perhaps you had a lava lamp break once and now you’re forever biased.  (Maybe you like all of those things.  Who knows?)  Well, whatever your contention, consider these: single-purpose items.

Single purpose items are good for only one thing: one thing.  There are exceptions, but most single-purpose items are benign (and for some reason, a lot of them are found in the kitchen).  Take the egg separator, for example.  The egg separator doesn’t do anything else!  I guess you could spank your kids with it, but that’s about it!  I’m not making fun of anyone who has an egg separator, just enlightening them.  It does exactly what people have always done with their fingers.  Or better yet, the egg shell itself.  Yep, the amazing egg even has a separator built in! 

How about the fly swatter?  There’s one that’s stood the test of time!  When you first buy a fly swatter, you could probably use it for many different things.  But once you swat that first fly, are you really going to see how cool it would be to flip a pancake from a distance?  I don’t think so.  (In case you’re wondering, yeah, you could probably spank your kids with it, too.)  The fly swatter is just like the egg, though.  When a fly is bothering you, you don’t want it to get away, so you just grab the nearest magazine or flip flop.

Then again, there are some things that should only have one use.  Like the gas pedal on your car.  Imagine your pedal working like your gear shift.  That would be scary.  Also, I’m content with my stapler just being a stapler and my letter opener neatly opening my letters (actually, my bills (they should change the name to bill opener)). 

There is something, although rare, that is more embarrassing to society than single-purpose items.  That is, multi-single-purpose items (I made that up, I think.)  It’s something that was originally used for only one reason, now used for a completely different reason, and no longer used for what is was for in the first place.  I’m sure you can think of one if you try hard enough.  Here’s one:  the cow bell.  It was designed to hang around a cow’s neck so they couldn’t wander off without being heard or simply to help find them if they get lost.  Now it’s a musical instrument (and an extremely tacky one, at that!)

So next time you’re buying a kitchen gizmo or something and asking yourself, “do I really need this?” I implore you to ask a greater question: “Does the world really need this?”

By: S. Cole Garrett
3/25/10

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Thursday

Effort-less

In case you haven’t noticed, technology changes very rapidly!  I know, it’s a shocker.  You can buy a brand new computer and its technology is old news in less than a year!  Everything from cars to cell phones becomes obsolete obscenely fast.  Our society is becoming increasingly advanced, but there’s a less-than-subtle side effect.  Our society is becoming increasingly, well . . . incompetent. 

Take phone numbers, for example.  I can still remember many of the phone numbers I had to actually dial before I first got a cell phone.  I remember the phone numbers of my best childhood friends and of the house I lived in until I was twelve.  Can you?  Now, I don’t even know my work phone number.  It may seem miniscule, but how many things do you really have to remember nowadays as compared to fifteen years ago?  Hardly any!  Something in our lives does it for us.  Your brain is suffering from a lack of exercise.  Pretty soon its going to get brain-abetes. 

A more recent trend in rendering basic motor skills obsolete is the keyless movement.  Many things are going keyless now.  Vehicle entry was revolutionized by the remote keyless entry device for your key ring.  Most people call it a fob (even though fob can be just about anything on your keychain).  Fob users no longer have to physically unlock their car doors with the key itself.  What’s the main benefit?  You save about 4 seconds in opening your door, we’ll say 8 if you have to reach in and push the power unlock for any passengers.  Doesn’t seem like much, but time is money, right? 

Think about how much you earn per hour.  Now divide that by 3600.  The result is how much you earn per second.  You’re doing pretty well for yourself if it’s over a penny.  Do the math.  I’ll be honest.  I have a remote for my car, and I use it, but I wouldn’t be terribly upset if it didn’t exist.  But it gets better!

Some vehicles have a device on the fob which allows the user to just be close enough and the car unlocks itself automatically.  I’m talking to the guys, here.  I know it’s cool, but is that much of an inconvenience to reach into your pocket?  I mean your pocket is already at hand-level.  All you really have to do is move your wrist to take out your keys . . . and use them. 

It’s an uphill battle to fight off cool, though, even if it results in convenience (or laziness).  It used to be skillful to parallel park, now it can be bought.  It used to be skillful to do a lot of things which have since been automated.  Maybe someday, I can just think and my computer does whatever I want and types articles straight from my atrophying brain.  Now there’s an idea . . .

By: S. Cole Garrett

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Wednesday

Blame it on the Romans

“Thirty days has September, April, June, and November.  All the rest have thirty-one, except February, which only has twenty-eight.”  I still have to recite that little rhyme to myself if I don’t have a calendar in view to know how many days are in each month.  Some months are easier to remember their length because of a holiday, like Halloween and New Years Eve, which are both on the thirty-first.  Ask me about any other besides February and I honestly have to think about it.  But even if you have trouble remembering the number of days in October or December, one month no one ever confuses is February: the twenty-eight day wonder.  So why on Earth does February have only twenty-eight days?

Turns out that’s a very good question.  You can ask the internet all day why February has only twenty-eight days.  Many different sites lead off with “As the story goes…” or “Legend has it…”  What does that tell you?  Among all the month-muck out there, you’ll find several different versions based around the same facts.  The irony is (as with many things in life), the one thing people seem to be sure about is that we’re not exactly sure. 

This is probably why when you asked your parents about it when you were little, they didn’t have an answer for you.  They didn’t know.  If the exact history of the calendar were carved in stone, we would probably all learn about it in grade school.  Rest assured there are some widely agreed-upon truths. 

First, the modern calendar is based on the Roman one.  That Roman calendar only had ten months: March (being month 1) through December (month 10).  (This explains the “numbered” roots to the months Sept-(7)-ember, Oct-(8)-ober, Nov-(9)-ember, and Dec-(10)-ember.  Also, July and August used to be Quintilis and Sextilis, respectively, for fifth and sixth.  The pompous Ceasers, Julius and Augustus, felt the need to have their own months.  Greedy, huh?) 

Secondly, there were most likely days accounted for between the original December and March, a sort of winter, per se.  Third, when January and February were established, January was modeled after the original months and February was comprised of basically whatever days were “left over.”  (Poor February.  Later, when someone decided leap year was necessary, they gave it to February to make it feel better.)  The last fact is that the rest is unclear history. 

So February is both a blessing and a curse.  It’s a blessing because we can always remember how many days are in it.  It’s a curse because we still pay the same rent as every other month!  Blame it on the Romans.

By: S. Cole Garrett

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Tuesday

Global What?

The first day of spring this year was March 20th.  My family and I had just polished off some delicious flounder and eel at a fantastic local sushi joint (because that’s the cool thing to do).  We walked outside and lo and behold!  Snow!  Let me be a little more specific: sideways-blowing snow!  We couldn’t see the windows from where we were sitting, so needless to say, we were surprised.  Why were we surprised?  The weatherman did say we were expecting it, but who really believes them?  Now, snow may not be a big deal for some folks, but we live in Texas.  Snow (not to be confused with sleet (or “wintery mix”)) is a big deal!

Global warming advocates are probably reeling right now.  I’ve lived in DFW my whole life and this winter past has seen more snow than all of the previous I’ve seen combined, especially with that thirteen-incher back in February.  It stuck for a week.  We even built a seven foot snow man.  Remember Washington D.C. got a record double-blasting, too!  I was never convinced about the idea of global warming, but now I have a radical counter-question.  Is this a global cooling? 

Even after asking that question, my answer is probably ‘no.’  I do believe, however, that the Earth just has some natural cycles and we may just be in the middle of a string of colder winters.  For all we know, we might have just been lucky enough to have all the right weather ingredients to have snow here.  Even further in the back of my mind, I can’t help but return to questioning global warming.  I mean, if it’s snowing in Texas, what’s going on at the North Pole?

Well, Santa’s probably freezing his butt off!  I’m no climatologist (in this life), but behind all of the cold air that brought us snow, there’s got to be even colder air, right?  It’s pretty basic knowledge that the further north you get, the colder it is.  Sometimes, the arctic puffs its cheeks and blows that mess down to Texas.  I see the temperature map of the whole country, and I see thirty-something degrees here, twenty-somethings in Kansas and Nebraska, and single digits in Minnesota.  What’s going on north of that?  They’re probably freezing mercury up there! (That’s a sweltering -37.89۫F, by the way).  I doubt there’s a whole lot of glacial meltdown going on, but remember, I’m no climatologist.

I’m not planning on starting an anti-global warming rally or anything, just raising questions.  When was the last time you heard about the ozone problem?  I thought the hurricanes were supposed to get worse and worse after 2005.  The 2006 and 2009 hurricane seasons were below average and 2007 and 2008 were average.

I realize that hurricanes and blizzards are worse for people who actually get hit by them so it’s kind of a matter of perspective, but they still choose to live there, right?  As for the polar bears, don’t hold your breath for that global summer vacation.

By: S. Cole Garrett

Monday, March 22, 2010

Monday

Ham

When you want to insult or compliment someone, there are of course several ways to do it.  You can use actual descriptive words (which are boring).  For example, ugly, stupid, gorgeous, or smart.  Luckily, we have extrapolations of some words so that we have more to work with, like butt-ugly, and drop-dead gorgeous.  When that’s not enough, we can use action type descriptions to more emphatically illustrate someone in a positive or negative light.  You could call someone a bottom-feeder or heaven-sent.  Well, when that creativity runs dry, you can’t go wrong with a good old animal metaphor.  One of the most versatile of earth-dwellers is an adorable, pink ungulate called the pig.

The pig (and pig products) can be used to describe someone in so many ways!  When someone is dastardly, evil, or steals something, you might say, “You dirty swine!!”  It’s hard to call someone a swine and say it without squinting your eyes at them.  It comes from deep down and relieves a lot of tension.  It’s a good insult.  It’s also very unmistakable.  If one were to be accused a swine, they know exactly why, too!  (It’s also surprisingly inoffensive.  Have you ever seen anyone taken aback by such slander?  I don’t think so.)

Have you ever heard someone called a ham?  If somebody is the life of the party or tells jokes often, you might say, “Oh, you’re such a ham!”  I’m not exactly sure where this saying comes from, but I’m fairly certain it’s complimentary.  Perhaps one who can make others laugh so hard they snort is to be called a ham.  Pigs are innately social creatures, but I’ve never known one to be funny.  Then again, I’ve never really known one, either.

Here’s another scenario.  A man and his girlfriend/wife/whatever are out eating at a restaurant.  The smoking hot waitress takes their order and strolls away, and without realizing it, the man’s eyes are glued to her glutes.  His date catches him red-handed (or red-eyed, I guess) and says, “You pig!”  (There may be an accompanying face-slap.)  A well-deserved insult, indeed!  But are pigs really that adulterous?  Only farmer Joe knows.  Good-sounding insult, bad metaphor.

The poor pig (and pig products) can be used to describe many other qualities as well: sloppiness, over-eating, money-earning, dishonesty, etc.  Use your imagination.  So I’d like to extend a warm ‘thank you’ to you, pig, for providing this end of the food chain with a wealth of insults and compliments when we need you the most!

By: S. Cole Garrett

Saturday, March 20, 2010

For the Weekend

Slow Lane

Every waking moment, there’s a mysteriously-growing nuisance in our country.  It’s called the fast lane.  I’m not talking about the far left lane on the freeway, either.  It is the self-checkout lane at grocery stores.  They’re good for just about one thing: that is, when you only buy one thing!  And it can’t be produce, lightweight, or bags of ice! 

The idea behind the fast lane goes something like this:

Once upon a time, before the 1960s, when hippies and bellbottoms hadn’t come about yet, and kitchens were decorated in turquoise and goldenrod, there was essentially one way to purchase your groceries at the supermarket: any of the one type of checkout lines.  So if all you needed was milk and bread, and the person in front of you was buying enough food to feed an army for a month, then tough luck, you had to wait.  Doing your shopping for thanksgiving dinner at your place?  Better make it an all-day outing (most of it, waiting in line at the checkout). 

Perhaps it was all the throwing-around of the “s” word (segregation) in the sixties that inspired the brainchild of the express lane.  It was a hit!  People with lots of stuff, go over here, and people with not-a-lot of stuff, go over there.  Customers who needed to buy only a few items didn’t have to risk waiting behind the lady with seventy cans of cat food.  So it goes, supermarkets caught on and soon ran two, or three, or more express checkout lanes. 

This is where things might as well have been left alone.  But in the early 1990s, someone invented the ever-convenient self-checkout, or the fast lane.  Alas!  An even faster means to pay for your groceries!  Or is it?  As it turns out, most of the benefit derived from the fast lane is for the supermarket itself.  It can run up to four or six lanes with just one employee.  Jackpot!  I even went to a store once where the only option was self-checkout.  I’ll admit, I was a little offended.  Therein lies a fundamental error.  Retailers are assuming that we actually want or like to ring up our own things. 

There are plenty of do-it-yourself things I like to do: mow the yard, fix the house, fluff my pillow, assemble my kids’ toys, etc.  But asking me to ring up my groceries at the store is like asking me to cook my own food at a restaurant.  That kind of defeats the purpose!  Pretty soon, I’ll be pumping my own gas and answering my own door. . . oh wait, I already do. 

Oh please, super-duper-ultra shop-ville-mart, please don’t steal one of the last, lavish, little liberties in life.  Just check me out!

By: S. Cole Garrett
3/17/10

Friday, March 19, 2010

Friday

On the Bubble

I was walking down the toy aisle the other day looking for an inflatable beach ball for my son, and I saw something else I knew he would certainly enjoy: bubbles.  Bubbles are endless fun and they’re super easy to make.  As long as you have an arm, a hand, and at lease one opposable digit to grab the bubble stick and wave it in the air, you can make bubbles!  I picked one up and suggested it for the kids.  I was rejected immediately being told the only thing bubbles are good for is spilling.  Come to think of it, I don’t know that I’ve ever made it to the bottom of one of those bottles.

Want to ruin a bubble party quickly?  Kick over the bottle of bubbles.  It begs the question.  Why aren’t they spill-proof?  Well some of them are, but they are hardly as hap-happy to use.  Part of the beauty of blowing bubbles is their simple nature.  Dunk, wave.  Dunk, blow.  Dunk, anything.  Basically, dip the ringed stick in the soapy water and somehow get air to pass through the hole.  The spill-proof containers get in the way of this uncomplicated process and consumers buy the good old “even-though-it’s-going-to-spill-it’s-easier” bottle anyway.

Another solution to the bubble bottle toppling travesty is bubble-making toys.  It seems like a great idea because you can pour the liquid into a toy and screw on the top and the toys do all the work.  No spilling!  The novelty of bubble-blowing is lost, though.  When you reminisce someday about your youthful pastimes, you probably won’t think about how fun it was to shoot bubbles out of an AK-47-looking bubble gun or how you used your air-powered 10,000 bubbles-per-minute mega blower!  No, you remember the good, old-fashioned using-your-lungs and stick that always seemed to fall into the bottle.

(It’s kind of funny how the stick has a ring on both ends so that you can fish it out of the bottle when you drop it in.  The people who made these had to have realized this because they put the ring on both ends.  Why didn’t they just make the stick longer and strap it to the side of the bottle or something instead of putting it inside from the start?).

(And are they ever going to change the colors of the bottles?  I wasn’t alive, but I think they’ve been the same since the seventies!)

Good thing regular bubbles are cheap, because until they make a spill-proof (but not fun-intrusive), longer-sticked (but not lose-able), memory-friendly version, we’re stuck with the ever accident-prone bubble bottles of old. 

By: S. Cole Garrett
3/18/10

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Thursday

Anywhere?

Where did all the phosphorus sesquisulfide go?  By phosphorus sesquisulfide, I mean strike anywhere matches.  I haven’t seen them in years and in most states, they’re illegal to sell.  That’s because they have been deemed as “dangerous goods” by the government.  Well, leave it to them to nanny us out of some of the most convenient innovations in our lifetimes.  Oh, strike anywhere matches, how I miss thee!

The convenience of strike anywhere matches is in the name.  They could be lit with enough friction on just about everything.  Here’s a list of some of the most creative ways my friends, brothers, and I figured out how to light them in our youth:

-         On zippers, front teeth, other strike anywhere matches, a finger nail, toys, sidewalks, shoes, watches, the edges of school books, bricks, trees, bicycle tires, the telephone (cell phones weren’t widely-owned yet), cereal boxes, bowling balls, forks, stale bread, the metal on a pencil, computer speakers, and (are you sitting down for this one?) even ice cubes. 

Were we pyromaniacs?  I don’t think so.  I’d rather our creative, inclination to ignite be called something along the lines of . . . how should we say . . . thinking outside the box.  In retrospect, I can’t say we were smart about everything we did with strike anywhere matches. 

We had a particularly entertaining game we played called “burn the forest.”  Sounds safe, right?  Anyway, it goes like this.  Two players each gather a pile of dead leaves and put it in front of them.  They set up facing each other about ten to twenty feet apart from each other (depending on how skilled they are).  Each player has their own regular-sized, 250-count box of strike anywhere matches.   The concept is simple: burn the other player’s pile of leaves first.  To do this, the match box (or anything rough, for that matter) is turned on its side so that the striking side is face up.  A match is stood up vertically with one finger holding it and with the head of the match to the box.  With the other hand, the player takes aim at the opposing “forest” and flicks the match at the base.  The friction lights the match and it fully ignites by the time it reaches the other player’s leaves.  The players take turns until one pile burns down. 

There are plenty of other irresponsible ways we found to waste perfectly good strike anywhere matches.  If something was flammable, knew about it.  Camping with open flame might as well have been called camping with open fun.  In all seriousness, however, I don’t condone playing with fire. . . unless maybe it’s controlled . . . and supervised . . . and involves strike anywhere matches.

By: S. Cole Garrett
3/17/10

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Wednesday

Chicken

Fear is a funny thing. It’s an emotion you can get from watching a movie. It can come from being chased by a large bear (or a serial killer, you know, just whatever). Fear comes in many varieties, too. It ranges anywhere from simple caution to paranoia. It can be derived from immediate and definite threat or even non-existent threats. Phobias and anxiety are often described as fears, but they may actually be illegitimate perceptions of danger rather than real danger. Perhaps one of the stranger associations we make with fear, however, is its animal: the chicken.

We use many different animals to describe human traits and sometimes for emotions as well. One could be stubborn as a mule or as sly as a fox. For some reason, cats and chickens are deemed the expressions of fear. Why is that, exactly? Are felines more often or more intensely frightened than other animals? Are chickens really that chicken?

The truth is, not really. Chickens (mostly roosters) are just about anything but chicken. In some cases, the chicken is a much more revered animal. Ancient Greeks, for example, even thought lions to be afraid of roosters. The devil supposedly flees at the morning crow of the rooster. Roosters are subjects of the very ruthless (and very illegal) cock-fighting sport. Even in Socrates’ dying words, he supposedly asked his debt (a rooster) be repaid for him. So why the negative connotation?

Most negative emotions come from the same gland in the brain, the amygdala, and from many factors like conditioning and different levels of cognition. Animals, too, have this gland which is of course much smaller, respectively. So yes, animals can be scared. Chickens flee from threats greater than they can tackle which is to most chicken farmers, a sure sign of intelligence. But when faced with danger at or below its level a rooster will fight to the death (fearlessly, I might add). Cats behave similarly, but the term scaredy-cat or fraidy-cat has a little more ground seeing as though cats seem to be universally afraid of water.

So be more refined in your insult-flinging! Besides, there are many other endearing terms for the chronically fearful. Try wimp, wuss, pansy, crybaby, weakling, scallywag, yellow-belly, pant-soiler, fright-fleer, danger-dodger, adversity-avoider, uncontrollably-unconfident, or just plain coward. Take your pick, but leave the chickens out of it!

By: S. Cole Garrett
3/15/10

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Tuesday

Wasps

Do you have a favorite word? You should, if for no other reason than to have an answer the next time someone asks you. Maybe you like scientific words that no one else knows. Maybe you like words that sound funny. Maybe, in severe irony, you like the word hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobia (look it up). Or maybe you could care less about words all together. Well my favorite word is wasps.

Try it. Say “wasps.” The “s” followed by “p” followed again by “s” comes out of your mouth like you’re trying to get someone’s attention. Wasps. I suppose it works with any word ending with an “s,” consonant, and another “s.” Okay, now try these out loud. Lists. Cists. Mists. Wisps. Costs. Masts. Casts. Fasts. Feasts. Crisps. Wrists. Asps. Clasps. Heists (Is your tongue getting tired yet? Are you spitting everywhere?). The one that takes the cake, however, is lisps.

Forgive my speech impediment insensitivity here. Lisps, as is, sounds just like the rest of them. “S,” consonant, “s.” Here’s the kicker, though: say it with a lisp (without laughing and spitting). (My advice: never ask someone with a lisp to say it.) It would go something like this. Lithpth. Isn’t it a little ironic that the word which describes a condition when it’s difficult for someone to say the letter “s” has an “s” in the word? Not to mention, two if it’s plural!

Now try the words from before, this time with a lisp. Lithth. Mithth. Withpth. Cothth. Mathth. Cathth. Fathth. Feathth. Crithpth. Writhth. Athpth. Clathpth. Heithth. In this light, there’s a new cake-taker: Cists, which would sound more like thithth. Can anyone even manage that one? If you can, save yourself the embarrassment and don’t show all your friends.

I still have a soft spot for wasps, though. It seems to linger on your tongue a little longer than the other examples. The humor in its pronunciation (that is, if you’re amused by it like me) is completely contradictory to the menacing image of the insect itself. Also, it requires the lips to move in many different directions all within the same word.

Pick a word and arm yourself with the knowledge surrounding it. Roam confidently with your vocabulary prowess! If you ever enter into a word-war with someone, be prepared to throw down the heavy, hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobic hammer on them!

By: S. Cole Garrett
3/15/10

Monday, March 15, 2010

Monday

Layers

Lasagna is a uniquely curious food. It’s very popular. It is highly customizable. It even has a noodle named after it: Lasagna. As a matter of fact, the noodle is pretty much only used for lasagna. This meal-food is surrounded in mystery as well. For example, who invented it? Lasagna is certainly Italian fare in most minds, but some legends tell the British baked it first. Ancient Romans stacked it up, too. Who knows? Well, something else yanks at the corner of my brain: why is the lasagna noodle flat in the middle and curly on the sides?

The “how” part of that why is easy. Dough is rolled or pressed out flat and cut into long strips. The edges are somehow stretched and curl up when dried. But why was it decided that noodles with curly edges were best for baking lasagna (before they were aptly named lasagna noodles, that is). Why not just use one over-sized flat noodle (by the way, you can buy completely flat lasagna noodles, but not pan-sized ones)? Or how about corrugated noodles which would be curly all the way across, like cardboard? All we can do is to speculate.

Perhaps the dawn of the lasagna noodle was by chance. Two Italian brothers were bickering over who was to lay the very first noodle of what was to become a world-wide food-phenom. The noodles they had cut were long strips and completely flat. Both brothers grabbed the corners and pulled, determined to steal infamy from the other. The edges they were holding stretched the sides of the noodle in their struggle. Like rubber, the noodle snapped from their hands at the same time. The first lasagna noodle of modern history was formed! The middle was flat and the edges now curled, a constant reminder of mankind’s outer conflict and inner peace.

Perhaps lasagna’s bright beginnings were scientific in nature. A great innovator discovered a great problem. Lasagna as-was was a complete mess! The flat noodle was not rigid enough to hold together the cooked consistencies of meat, ricotta, and ragĂș. Lasagna was well-loved and well-loathed once served. As delicious as it was, it was a slippery, sloppy, sliding mess! The layers were completely separated and the ingredients formed no bond. But the great innovator knew exactly what to do. A more proper lasagna noodle would be classically flat-centered, but wavy on each of its longer sides. Alas! The curly edges served a dual purpose. For one, they “gripped” the other ingredients, both up and down. Two, they allowed for ingredients to seep together through the small openings where the curls met, heating when baked, and ultimately bonding chemically. The great innovator turned a common dinner disaster into a magical meal!

We may never know the true history of the curly creation, but we do know this: no matter how you slice it, lasagna is surely a savory, sensational supper!

By: S. Cole Garrett
3/14/10

Saturday, March 13, 2010

For The Weekend

Save Jackson

Don’t ask how, but I managed to drop several wooden pieces from one of my all-time favorite board games in the sink. Not just the sink, however, the disposal side of the sink. Before thinking, and as delicately as a spinal surgeon, I retrieved the six or so immediately visible pieces. After resuming thought, I came to realize exactly why I so cautiously plucked the pieces as quickly as I had: because of . . . the hole.

The wooden pieces scattered and certainly fell faster than I could count them and, even more certainly, faster than I realized how nice it would have been to have counted them. What if one of them tumbled into that darkness? I was almost positive one did. There were but two means of uncovering the answer. I could flip the disposal on and listen for any potential piece crying for mercy or I could simply reach into the hole and feel around.

My rationale kicked in. I significantly reduced my options by deducing two solid reasons for recovering what piece may have fallen into the black hole. First, the board game in question would be undeniably unplayable with an incomplete set of pieces, especially for such avid players as myself. Second, the board game cost me in the ballpark of twenty hard-earned dollars. Let’s put it this way. Twenty bucks is twenty bucks. So . . .

Flipping the disposal’s switch would likely mar both the wooden piece itself along with the integrity of its use in game play. The primary benefit, of course, would be the definitive divulgence of proof that there in the hole lies something worth going after.
The alternative, sadly, is extending a blind hand into a corner of the universe rarely graced by the light of day. The scary part is, both options ended with the latter.
I flipped the switch. CLACK! Clack CLACK! I heard the piece beaten again with the disposal revolving to a stop.

I know now and I knew then that in-sink disposals are cleverly designed to allow for safe retrieval of carelessly mishandled foreign items like jewelry, infant spoons, and small toys. In theory, that is, the turntable in a disposal unit rotates innocuously in a counter-clockwise direction. It still has hammers which force waste through shredders, though. Call me crazy, but it doesn’t sound limb-friendly to me. It is, without doubt, counterintuitive to willingly place your hand into a device that mauls pineapple tops into pipe-safe bits as easy as a bar blender pummels ice, rum, and strawberries into a daiquiri delight!

I know myself well enough to know I would talk myself out of doing it if I waited any longer. I rolled up my sleeve and looked at my hand as if I were sending it to the gallows or off to a deadly war zone. I reached in.

The slobbery tongues of the rubber disposal guard licked my wrist on the way in. My fingers pricked and teased the fangs of the turntable. My pinky grazed the piece! Trembling, I reached one finger and one prized opposable digit and seized it.

I might have kissed the piece if it wasn’t soiled with yesterday’s sink fodder. I sighed in both triumph and relief. I rest proudly at ease, having risked life and limb, mostly limb, for the love of the game.

By: S. Cole Garrett
3/4/10

Friday, March 12, 2010

Friday

Boxulism

If you’ve ever had a food borne illness, you may know how miserable, possibly embarrassing, and commode-confounding it can be. Ignorantly high spikes in cases tend to occur after holidays involving gathering and food. Food sits out for hours on end, bacteria grows and exponentially multiplies, and finally people woof it down. That scrumptious salsa that sat outside all day on the fourth of July becomes a bacterial fiesta in your intestines. Oh, and you’re invited!

But what about a food borne illness less talked-about? A disease which is reported little over a hundred times per year is botulism. Ever wonder why you shouldn’t feed an infant honey? Why should you not buy dented cans of food? The answer is because in rare cases, both can lead to botulism (In theory, eating tainted dirt could give it to you, as well. So long, mud pies!). Botulism can cause nerve damage and paralysis in parts of the face. Severe cases could mean respiratory failure. Death is rare.

Recap:
No honey for babies. Check.
No dented cans (despite the possible price discount.) Check.
Note: Botulism from cans is very, very rare, but would you really want to be that statistic?

One illness is talked about even less: boxulism. There is no recorded contraction of the illness and the symptoms are unknown. No continuum of case severity exists and no cure has been discovered. The source of this illness is invisible to even the most powerful microscope. Most of us, however, avoid it like the plague.

Let’s say you go to the store for a box of cereal and there are only two boxes left on the shelf of your favorite one. One of the boxes is just fine but the other is crushed in one corner. Which one do you pick? The un-dented one, of course. What’s wrong with the dented box, though? The contents are in flexible packaging within the box and are untainted. So, what if the only box on the shelf was mangled? Would you take it, no questions asked? Or would you seriously consider another choice before committing to the damaged, but preferable brand in front of you?

Ah! A simple question on the surface, but the reality is, we all have an “affinity threshold,” if you will. The risk of Boxulism is only one factor in it. In other words, how much damage does it take to outweigh your love for a certain product? For some die-hard consumers, a box of frozen corn dogs which is water-logged, crushed on one end, heat-discolored, and impaled by spear is still worthy. Flightier food fans, however, flee from even the slightest fandangled-with package. Funny, huh?

Re-recap:
Eating honey = good. Feeding honey to babies = bad.
Eating canned food = good. Eating dented canned food = botulism.
Eating boxed food = good. Eating dented boxed food = certain boxulism.
Eating baby-bee honey from a dented can out a damaged box = call 911!

By: S. Cole Garrett 3/10/10

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Thursday

Shmoomsday

On December 25, 2012, I am going to wake up, brew some delicious Colombian coffee, and open Christmas presents with my family. I will be happier than normal that day, too. You know why? Because maybe all these doomsday fetishes will finally have blown over. It seems like every time we turn around, someone on TV or the radio is prophesizing the coming of the end. Quite frankly, it’s getting old.

Shocking stories make the news. There’s no question about that. What’s more shocking than the end of the world? Not much. The problem is, people shrug off the end of the world catch line because it’s too disastrous. So the media (bad media, that is) has to start small. What makes the news are things that can kill YOU!

The airwaves are paraded with baby-killing BPA, tainted tomatoes, and poisonous peanut butter. Mini doomsday scenarios pop up, one after the other. If something utterly accidental happens to someone, the news wants you to freak out. If it happens to an unlucky few, national epidemic ensues. There’s too much mercury in your mackerel! There’s lead in your paint . . . so don’t eat it! Bird Flu! Swine Flu! Flu flu! Your medicine could be killing you! The ozone has a huge hole over your house! Crack kills! There’s black mold (not to be confused with really, really dark green mold) under your floors! There’s anthrax in your mailbox! There’s anthrax in your email box! Knives are sharp!

Not to worry, however, because the end of the world is coming soon, anyway. And people are as serious about it as they were about Y2K. Y2-what? Oh yeah, I slept through that one, too. Mayans predicted the end. The planets are going to align. Nostradamus tells of apocalypse. (The only way we ever know he’s right is after the fact. Anyone could write a bunch of bizarre prophetic poems and eventually they’ll come true. Well, this one really helps, doesn’t it? I guess we’ll know once we’re all dead. Er, something like that.)

The media has convinced us that anything can happen because they started with the small stuff and worked their way up to doom. Websites and organizations exist now to help you plan for the end of the world. They’ve accepted the fact that it is inevitable and now we have to plan on it. I’m not a rocket scientist (yet), but isn’t it kind of counterintuitive to plan for post-death life on earth?

End-of-the-world shmend-of-the-world. I wish it would end already so we can move on with the rest of our lives.

By: S. Cole Garrett
3/10/10

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Wednesday

Engrained

Has anyone noticed in the last several years how the bread aisle at the grocery store just seems to keep expanding? The choices used to be white and wheat. You could also sidestep and pick up some peanut butter and then again for jelly. Now, the same sidestep leads you to more bread, and again to more bread past that. You can shuffle all the way down the aisle and you’ll find bread bread bread bread bread! There’s pumpernickel, rye, sourdough, potato, iron-enriched, French toast bread, Texas toast (I’m a little biased for this one), 5 grain, 7 grain, 9 grain, 11 grain, 12 grain, and yes, now you can find 15 grain bread!

15 grains! Now that’s healthy! So the question has to be asked, how many grains is too many? Here’s the answer: if you can’t think of a different grain for each one claimed, it’s too many. Try it. How many can you think of off the top of your head? Six? Seven? I’d be impressed if you could fathom ten. Sure, whole grains reduce the risk of heart disease, prevent and relieve constipation, and help manage weight, but the main benefit derived from them is fiber. Whole grains are almost synonymous with fiber. They might as well be called Whole Fibers. That’s what the whole grain movement is training us to think, at least.

Just like breads are often enriched with iron and niacin, they can also be pumped full of fiber. Some breads even offer Double Fiber! Sounds good, right? Sure does, if you’re within sprinting distance of a commode. Fiber helps you regulate, but too much of it will regulate you for you. Chances are, you’re getting fiber from other sources in your diet, too.

You know it, “Beans! Beans! The magical fruit…” There’s a reason behind all catch phrases and stereotypes. Beans are loaded with fiber and turn anyone into a regular Beethoven. I hear they’re good for your heart, too. Many people forget about the other fibers they eat every day like broccoli, corn, apples, oatmeal, strawberries, and coffee. So before you go munching on that mega-grain, ultra-fiber, sesame-crusted wheat bread, think about if you really want that little frog hiding under your seat the rest of the day.

By: S. Cole Garrett
3/09/10

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Tuesday

Food Faux Pas

Fine dining is like fashion. It has phases like seasons that come and go. Fresh, creative styles are last night’s casserole faster than we can realize we’ve missed them. Any culinary connoisseur needs an ever-adapting palate to suit the relentlessly changing edible of arts. So what makes it into food famedom and how? Who knows, but it sure is easy to poke fun at!

With each erupting food-fad, masters of the craft instantly rise to fame, only to inevitably fall back into the forgotten realm of recipe remission. Remember tapas? How about going out to a restaurant and in stead of eating at a table, customers kick off their shoes and eat in a bed? It seems silly now, but they were all the rage in their prime. Here are a few examples of short-lived, comic fare.

Someone recently decided food might be more adventurous to eat if it were taken apart. The word used to describe this twist is “deconstruction.” Any and everything could be deconstructed and formed into piles of ingredients on a plate. Doesn’t that sort of defeat the purpose of having someone prepare the food for you? I like my chicken, my noodles, and my broth together in the same bowl like soup. . . because it’s soup! Imagine a plate with a sticky glob of peanut butter and a dollop of sweaty grape jelly next to conveniently-sliced (but not spread-upon) bread. Voila! Deconstructed peanut butter and jelly! But that’s not all! It has to be fancier, so instead , you’re served fire-roasted Turkish Pistachio spread and late-harvest Oregon merlot jelly on pygmy-harvested rye sourdough. Oh, and it’s a hundred bucks. I love a good savory safari, but I don’t want to work for it.

Even more recently, comfort food swept the nation. You might have encounter vine-ripened tomato gazpacho with a grilled goat cheese finger sandwich on the side. How would you like an Herbes de Provence Porterhouse meat loaf with a side of Peruvian purple potato hash? Bottom line, though, it’s still comfort food. I go out to eat wanting food I can’t cook at home. The phenomenon kind of died off when patrons began to realize that grandma’s potato soup recipe is every bit as good as that vichyssoise at the five-star downtown!

Maybe you like your vegetables vertical, your pastries painted in chocolate, your foie gras extra fatty, or your meticulously-massaged-before-butchered beef. Well enjoy it now, because the next trendy cuisine is just around the culinary corner!

By: S. Cole Garrett
3/8/10

Monday, March 8, 2010

Monday

Double. Entendre.

One of the most crucial factors in determining whether an advertising campaign will be wildly successful or fall flat on its face is originality. Step back for a moment and imagine a consumer atmosphere where all media reached all audiences and where products’ benefits and attributes were negligibly different. What matters most in advertising would be the ability of a product’s message to ‘stick’ in a consumer’s mind more than its competitors when they walk up to the shelf and make a choice. So in advertising, give the consumer something they’ll remember more than the other choices. Easy, right? Sure it is. . . Until everyone else starts to copy it.

A recent noticeable trend in the media is to use of adianoeta. It’s kind of like a multi-meaning, for example, a combination of words or even an entire phrase which could be interpreted in more than one way. For the record, any examples from here on out are fabricated and any likeness, copyrighted or trademarked, is strictly coincidence.

Say you make healthy fruit juice and you want to be original and you come up with a genius advertising campaign. “Drink. Healthy.” It’s so simple. It’s modern. The phrase contains a command: Drink. It tells you in brief about the product: it’s healthy. The brevity of the phrase implies how simple the choice is. Manipulate them how you wish, such phrases are economic knockouts! Instead of a single tagline which means one thing to everyone. It lends itself to the subjectivity to mean whatever the receiver wants it to mean.

But when things start cooking, everyone wants a piece of that pie. Copy cats reproduce everything! If any idea or product can be tweaked, twisted, or transformed and resold, someone’s going to do it. Just walk into a gas station and count the varieties of energy drinks in the coolers. How many social networking sites can you think of off the top of your head? Exactly. Even advertisers copy advertisers.

It won’t be long before adianoeta ads reach markets they shouldn’t. The worst copy cats take a great idea and un-improve on it. Imagine a book store stating the obvious, “Read. Books.” or a dollar store soliciting an unenlightening slogan “Cheap. Stuff.”

So when is it time for the original creator to start getting creative again? It’s when the state and federal governments get their hands on it. Federally protected wilderness reserves need to increase revenues by attracting more visitors (however that works). Here’s what you might see on their next campaign banners: “Visit. National. Wild. Life. Park. Facilities. Today.” It amounts to nothing more than tacky noun-stacking separated by periods. Leave it to them to take someone’s hard-earned tax dollars and flush them down the “what-worked-for-fruit-juice-will-surely-work-for-floundering-government-properties” toilet.

Now go! Walk confidently with your. Marketing. Savvy. Mind!

By: S. Cole Garrett
3/6/10

Saturday, March 6, 2010

For the Weekend

Flat Line

Few incidents in life carry the potential to elicit as wide of an array of emotions as road kill. It can be downright tragic and in other instances, wildly funny, but why? And where do we draw the line? For most of us, the accidental auto-slaughter of a golden retriever is heartbreaking whereas the tire-ironing of a common bullfrog may not be. In fact, depending on the position of the poor frog, possibly arms and legs out-stretched, it may actually be funny. For those who think all road kill is tragic, there is still an arguable range of sadness. Surely, a family pet death evokes stronger emotion than that of a pan-caked raccoon.
So what exactly is the spectrum of sadness involving road kill? At first glance, it seems very straight forward. Give anyone a list of animals and ask them to order them from comic to tragic. With slight subjectivity, a collection of these lists would turn out very similarly. We can all agree that the inadvertent expired existence of a human being is by far more depressing than a flattened field mouse. A linear pattern certainly exists, but it’s more complicated than that.
Add a second dimension to the same question: the gore factor. Clearly, some road kill is more gut-wrenching to observe than others. Revisit the frog. A paper thin amphibian with no entrails in sight most likely won’t make one avert their eyes. What may be difficult for some is the suspension of laughter. A poor, pulverized pit bull is not so funny. Ask the same group of people to rate goriness and the results would probably be even more similar. We now have a planar representation within which to plot our road kill emotional state. If only it were that easy.
Our understanding could be enhanced with a third dimension, a fourth, a fifth, and so on. Without going into much detail, we’ll hit a few of them. There is the quantity factor. For example, if one finds a paved possum humorous, then no doubt, two would be doubly so. There is the delayed reaction factor. Think skunk. There are a multitude of others, blurring the delineation between comedy and tragedy: the eye-contact factor, the trajectory factor, personal taste (maybe you hate Chihuahuas), the tread factor, the exotic factor, the collateral damage quotient, and etcetera. Use your imagination.
You will have to decide for yourself what tickles you and what doesn’t. So for every squashed squirrel, Panini-ed pigeon, tread-ridden turtle, steam-rolled stray, and waffled weasel, laugh appropriately and mourn when meaningful. Just be glad it wasn’t you.
By: S. Cole Garrett

Friday, March 5, 2010

First Attempt (Seriously)

Glass Ceiling


It was a time when male and female aviators alike traversed the Atlantic, a time of presidential mediocrity at best, when television birthed into broadcast media, when the pan-solvent penicillin proved a powerful ally to medicine, a famous rodent took the screen for the first time, inklings of great companies emerged, both summer and winter Olympians still competed in coinciding years, natural disasters shook, pelted, covered, and flooded the earth, and the US economy was on the brink of catastrophic collapse. In 1928, the singular, inventive, and irrevocably greatest innovation in modern history posted the benchmark of all benchmarks:
Sliced Bread.
So simple. So convenient. Yet every invention, incredible idea, brilliant brainchild, and epidemic-eliciting entrepreneurial-ship, despite any fathomable and formidable fame, cannot amount to the infamy of sliced bread! Of the highest regards for things of superior nature, we proclaim them “The best thing since sliced bread” as if the ingenuity of it is infinitely approachable but unsurpassable. Take music, for example. The 8-track may very well have been the best thing since sliced bread. Cassettes soon replaced 8-track, and compact discs booted cassettes, and the Moving Pictures Expert Group developed the basis for the current phenomenon, the MP3. CDs aren’t the best thing since cassettes, but the best since sliced bread. Cassettes drop to the forgotten realm not in, but even beneath, the shadows of the convenience bakery product. MP3 will someday banish CDs and eventually be bested itself. Each innovation is a brief shining light of a blazing meteor descending unsustainably into an acidic, ruthless and callous atmosphere lorded-over by sliced bread, the constant in our universe. Do not be saddened by the impending fame-failure of every future hall-of-famer, technological breakthrough, anomaly discovery, and kitchen fad. Instead rejoice daily in the toaster-compatible, sandwich-loving, safety-minded, portion-friendly commodity we all to often take for granted, a conveniently-packaged, pre-sliced loaf of freshly-baked, sliced bread.

By: S. Cole Garrett
3/3/10
 

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