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Rated: 18+ · Book · Personal · #1196512
Not for the faint of art.
Complex Numbers

A complex number is expressed in the standard form a + bi, where a and b are real numbers and i is defined by i^2 = -1 (that is, i is the square root of -1). For example, 3 + 2i is a complex number.

The bi term is often referred to as an imaginary number (though this may be misleading, as it is no more "imaginary" than the symbolic abstractions we know as the "real" numbers). Thus, every complex number has a real part, a, and an imaginary part, bi.

Complex numbers are often represented on a graph known as the "complex plane," where the horizontal axis represents the infinity of real numbers, and the vertical axis represents the infinity of imaginary numbers. Thus, each complex number has a unique representation on the complex plane: some closer to real; others, more imaginary. If a = b, the number is equal parts real and imaginary.

Very simple transformations applied to numbers in the complex plane can lead to fractal structures of enormous intricacy and astonishing beauty.

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April 13, 2024 at 2:25am
April 13, 2024 at 2:25am
Posting early today because it'll be a busy and exhausting day of visiting local wineries with friends.

For the sake of context, this 2013 article from Collectors Weekly came out during the time when same-sex marriage was still being debated in the US; it wouldn't be until 2015 that Obergefell v. Hodges settled the matter once and for all. Hey... stop laughing; I said once and for all.

I mention this only because, at the time, "traditional marriage" was a buzzword, and a dog whistle for "white Christian man marries white Christian woman; together they go on to produce 2.1 children, and the man makes all the decisions in the family." And even that is not what was, historically, "traditional marriage."

In reality, it’s the idea of marrying for love that’s untraditional.

This is not even getting into different cultures' traditions.

For most of recorded human history, marriage was an arrangement designed to maximize financial stability.

Much as I'd like to agree with that, it still seems Eurocentric. But, honestly, I don't know enough about other cultures to know all the nuances involved.

By the Middle Ages, gender inequality was not only enshrined in social customs, but also common law. In most European countries, married women were forced to give up control over any personal wealth and property rights to their husbands. Eventually, the system became known as “coverture” (taken from “couverture,” which literally means “coverage” in French), whereby married couples became a single legal entity in which the husband had all power.

One of the more common arguments against same-sex marriage back then was "What's next, you can marry your dog?" To me, that argument told me everything I needed to know about how the person making it would treat women. It's like the idea of "two willing adults wanting to enter into a mutually beneficial agreement" completely escaped them. Once you get to the "two willing adults" hurdle, it's not even a little bit of a stretch to consider that those adults can be any sex and/or gender.

I'd personally be perfectly content to extend that to more than two (for other people, not for me), but that's a fight for another time.

Under such laws, children were generally viewed as assets, in part because they were expected to work for the family business.

Another change: nowadays, they're liabilities. Or, at the very least, it's an emotional bond more than a business arrangement.

Despite the church’s staunch position on monogamy, in the late Middle Ages, a legal marriage was quite easy to obtain. However, as more couples attempted to elope or marry without consent, the old guard upped its game. To combat the spread of “clandestine” marriages, or those unapproved by parents, state officials began wresting the legal process of marriage from the church.

In my view, that sowed the seed that became part of the same-sex marriage debate, at least in the US. Religious people get married twice in the same ceremony: one sealing their bond in the eyes of their religious group, and one making it official to various government agencies, not least of which is the IRS. Much breath was wasted with people talking past each other, not understanding that one person meant religious union, while the other meant civil union.

As this philosophical support for individual choice spread, more young people wanted some say regarding their future spouses. “Demands for consent from the people actually getting married were thought to be quite radical,” says Abbott. Even more radical was the idea that marriage might be entered into for emotional, rather than financial, reasons.

It's also apparently radical that a marriage be considered a partnership between equals.

In fact, for thousands of years, love was mostly seen as a hindrance to marriage, something that would inevitably cause problems. “Most societies have had romantic love, this combination of sexual passion, infatuation, and the romanticization of the partner,” says Coontz. “But very often, those things were seen as inappropriate when attached to marriage. The southern French aristocracy believed that true romantic love was only possible in an adulterous relationship, because marriage was a political, economic, and mercenary event. True love could only exist without it.”

In other words, they knew that love dies, but money is forever.

Anyway, the article goes on for a while, but, as it covers centuries of history, it seems to be a decent summary. It also emphasizes how laws are often slow to catch up to social realities. And yes, there's a nod to the then-current marriage debate.

The laws, if not the attitudes of certain kinds of people, have moved on since then, and we've shifted our focus as a society to trans issues, when we're not contemplating our looming climate apocalypse.

And no, the two have nothing to do with each other. But the shift in attitudes about marriage and the climate problem both seem to have their roots deep in the Industrial Revolution.
April 12, 2024 at 11:00am
April 12, 2024 at 11:00am
Gonna have to contradict folk wisdom again: there really is such a thing as coincidence. Cracked has a few examples here:

...except "same exact" is, for most of these, a stretch.

In March 1951, a new comic called Dennis the Menace debuted in the U.S. That very week, a different comic about a different mischievous boy debuted in Britain, and it was also called Dennis the Menace. Both became hugely popular, and neither adapted the other, and neither ripped off the other.

It would be weirder if coincidences never happened. Other things invented in disparate places simultaneously include calculus and the theory of evolution. Those are less coincidence, though, and more about the background having been laid out, setting the stage for ideas that were ready to be invoked.

6. The Tale of Hershey’s and Hershey’s

These two brands didn’t, say, form on different continents with the same name, like how there was one restaurant in Australia called Burger King and was unrelated to the famous burger chain. The two Hershey companies both formed in Pennsylvania, in the same county, within a decade of each other, by unconnected men named Hershey.

Trademark law is complicated and way outside my expertise, but from what I understand, it gets even more complicated when actual peoples' names are involved.

Milton Hershey created the Hershey Chocolate Company in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, in 1884. Jacob Hershey and his four brothers created the Hershey Creamery Company in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, in 1894. The Hershey brothers were not related to Milton Hershey, and they didn’t form a creamery to piggyback off Hershey chocolate. They formed a creamery because they were a family of farmers.

Still, ten years apart, same county? You'd think even back then some lawyer would have advised one of them to change their name.

5. The True Name of Dogs

We’re playing around with exactly how the conversation went down, but the basics are true: The host kept saying “dog,” and Dixon assumed he’d misunderstood the question. Against all likelihood, “dog” really was the Mbabaram word for dogs, though the language shares no other roots with English or with any of the many languages related to English.

There exist other linguistic coincidences, though they escape me at the moment and I can't be arsed to look for them. But given the number of extinct and extant languages in the world, combined with the relatively limited number of sounds a human can make, it would surprise me more if there were no such coincidences.

4. We’re Stuck With Two Different Calories

We measure food using what’s called the large calorie, the dietary calorie or (most confusing of all) Calorie with a capital C. The other type of calorie is the small calorie, or calorie with a lowercase c.

And yet, people act like calories are an ingredient in food, not a measure of energy.

Obviously, we should not use the same word to describe these two different measures, and for a while, people tried calling Calories “kilocalories.” That made far too much sense, so it never caught on.

Pretty sure I've seen kCal in European food labeling, but I could be wrong. In any case, again, this is less coincidence and more sharing a common origin, unlike the dog example above.

Also, it's not that hard to determine which one is meant from context. If it's about stuff you're going to put into your gaping maw, it's Calories. If it's not, it's calories.

3. Nacho, and His Nacho Formula

Nachos were invented by Ignacio Anaya. “Nacho” was his nickname and has traditionally been the nickname of various people named Ignacio. You know that already if you have any friends named Ignacio, if you saw that Jack Black luchador movie or if you watched Better Call Saul.

Okay, gotta admit I didn't know that. I like Jack Black, but haven't seen that movie. Nor have I seen the referenced TV show.

In this example, the coincidence isn't, as one might expect, two dudes named Ignacio coincidentally inventing nachos at the same time. No, it's way cooler than that, at least if you know the slightest bit about chemistry:

The emulsification agent used in nacho cheese today is sodium citrate. Its chemical formula is Na3C6H5O7. NaCHO. It was destiny.

No, it's coincidence. Stay focused, okay?

2. We Keep Lolling Over Lol

Lol is Dutch for “laugh,” or “fun” or “joke.” This probably derives from an earlier word lallen, which referred to drunken slurring.

While it shouldn't be surprising that there are similar words in English and Dutch, which are, unlike with the dog thing above, related languages, the similarity here does seem to be coincidence in that LOL is an English acronym that happens to mean something similar to what this article claims is a Dutch word for laugh.

But, again, it's not that farfetched.

1. Everything Ends Up Crabs

No, everything really doesn't. Crabs are no more an inevitable end product of evolution than humans or bees. Some scientists a while back pointed out that different evolutionary lineages produced crablike forms, and the popular media ran with that and exaggerated it to "everything ends up crabs."

I can deal with some hyperbole on a comedy site, though.

You see, we have a lot of different types of crab, and they didn’t all form from one crab diverging into different species as evolution progressed. They formed because a bunch of different species all independently evolved into the same basic animal: the crab. Biologists call this process crabification.

Coincidentally (heh), "crabification" is what I call what people do at certain all-you-can-eat seafood buffets.

Often, when different species evolve in some convergent way, we can point to what’s desirable about that trait, which makes everyone naturally acquire it. When a bat and a dolphin each evolve methods to navigate through chirping, that’s weird, but we can easily say why multiple species would evolve echolocation: because it helps them get around. With crabs, we can only speculate on why creatures keep evolving these flat bodies and tiny tails instead of, say, all turning into lobsters.

Fair enough, but it doesn't rise to the level of coincidence if there's something in the marine environment that makes it useful to have a hard shell and pincers with a flattish body plan, even if we can't quite point to what that something is.

This would be like saying "what a coincidence that fish and marine mammals both have fins." Except we know that fins are useful appendages for underwater locomotion, and that underwater locomotion is helpful for underwater survival.

So, honestly, I mostly kept this article in the queue because of the sodium citrate nacho thing. But it's all interesting, as far as I'm concerned.

Because sometimes, there really is such a thing as coincidence.
April 11, 2024 at 10:38am
April 11, 2024 at 10:38am
By coincidence, this article from BBC, which I've had saved for a while, is almost exactly three years old.

Well, it can't be entirely lost, as we know about it.

Pity the event planners tasked with managing Cahokia's wildest parties. A thousand years ago, the Mississippian settlement – on a site near the modern US city of St Louis, Missouri – was renowned for bashes that went on for days.

Well, at least they didn't have the internet and its trolling, grifting denizens to deal with.

Throngs jostled for space on massive plazas. Buzzy, caffeinated drinks passed from hand to hand. Crowds shouted bets as athletes hurled spears and stones. And Cahokians feasted with abandon: burrowing into their ancient waste pits, archaeologists have counted 2,000 deer carcasses from a single, blowout event.

Pretty sure most of that still happens when the Cardinals win the World Series.

A cosmopolitan whir of language, art and spiritual ferment, Cahokia's population may have swelled to 30,000 people at its 1050 BCE peak, making it larger, at the time, than Paris.

Math aficionados might note that this would have been about 3,000 years ago, not "a thousand" like in the sentence I quoted up there. This is because, apparently, the BBC made a (gasp!) mistake here, at least according to this Wikipedia entry,   which appears to be thoroughly sourced. The Beeb should have written 1050 CE, not BCE.

I point this out only to show that everyone makes mistakes. I don't think that means we can't trust the rest of the article.

It's what Cahokia didn't have that's startling, writes Annalee Newitz in their recent book Four Lost Cities: A Secret History of the Urban Age. The massive city lacked a permanent marketplace, confounding old assumptions that trade is the organising principle behind all urbanisation.

Oh, look, a book promotion. Startling.

"Cahokia was really a cultural centre rather than a trade centre. It still boggles my mind. I keep wondering 'Where were they trading? Who was making money?'," Newitz said. "The answer is they weren't. That wasn't why they built the space."

Archaeology, or really any scientific discipline, is subject to human cultural biases. One reason for science's existence is to minimize, at least over time, the effects of bias. It helps to have people from diverse cultures studying things. We in the English-speaking world tend to assume everything's always been about money and trade, but this is not necessarily the case. (In fairness, it appears that math and written language in Eurasia both began as means to record business transactions, but even that appearance may be the result of some bias.)

When excavating cities in Mesopotamia, researchers found evidence that trade was the organising principle behind their development, then turned the same lens on ancient cities across the globe. "People thought that this must be the basis for all early cities. It's led to generations of looking for that kind of thing everywhere," Pauketat said.

Like I said.

They didn't find it in Cahokia, which Pauketat believes may instead have been conceived as a place to bridge the worlds of the living and the dead.

Yeah, let's not immediately leap to that conclusion, either. "May... have" doesn't fill me with great confidence. Nevertheless, it indeed seems to fit as a hypothesis.

Eventually, Cahokians simply chose to leave their city behind, seemingly impelled by a mix of environmental and human factors such a changing climate that crippled agriculture, roiling violence or disastrous flooding. By 1400, the plazas and mounds lay quiet.

Great, more ammunition for the anti-climate-change crowd to seize on. "See? Climate always changes." I mean, sure, it does, but usually on a much longer timescale than what we're experiencing now. Plus, recall that this was in the Mississippi flood plain, and that river has been known to shift, even during a single human lifespan.

But it's more than that. Cahokians loved to kick back over good barbecue and sporting events, a combination that, Newitz noted, is conspicuously familiar to nearly all modern-day Americans. "We party that way all across the United States," they said. "They fit right into American history."

The only thing missing is beer. And I'm not going to wade into the cultural quagmire on that subject.
April 10, 2024 at 11:36am
April 10, 2024 at 11:36am
I'm sure everyone here already knows what the headline here is saying; at the very least, I've talked about folklore and fairy tales in here before. But the article, from Vox, goes into more detail.

She's a princess. She wears a beautiful dress with a shiny headband, glass shoes, and long white gloves. She overcomes the adversity of her wicked stepmother and stepsisters, who treat her as their maid, so she can meet and dance with a very handsome prince, then hurry home before the clock strikes midnight and her carriage becomes a pumpkin again.

But that's not the real Cinderella. That's the Disney Cinderella, the one from the 1950 animated film and the new remake in theaters right now.

Yeah, that bit's way out of date; the article is from 2015. This makes no difference to the history.

At the center of most Cinderella stories (whether they use that name for their protagonist or not) is one thing: a persecuted heroine who rises above her social station through marriage.

It is impossible for me to hear "Cinderella story" without picturing Bill Murray's glorious, and reportedly ad-libbed, performance in Caddyshack. Which, now I think of it, does have a thematic element of rising above one's social station (but for a dude, not a chick). But it's been a while since I've seen that movie, so my memory there might be a bit fuzzy. And, really, a silly comedy, no matter how funny, has no right to contain such metaphorical depth. It's a movie featuring a dancing gopher, for shit's sake.

The first recorded story featuring a Cinderella-like figure dates to Greece in the sixth century BCE. In that ancient story, a Greek courtesan named Rhodopis has one of her shoes stolen by an eagle, who flies it all the way across the Mediterranean and drops it in the lap of an Egyptian king.

A shoe, not a coconut; an eagle, not a swallow.

The pop culture movie references just keep coming.

Another one of the earliest known Cinderella stories is the ninth-century Chinese fairy tale Ye Xian, in which a young girl named Ye Xian is granted one wish from some magical fishbones, which she uses to create a gown in the hopes of finding a husband.

Because even in China, the most important thing for a young woman to do was find a husband.

In total, more than 500 versions of the Cinderella story have been found just in Europe, and the Cinderella we know best comes from there (France, specifically).

This should not be surprising, but it was to me; I always had this vague idea that it was German in origin, probably because it was featured in Grimm's.

The Brothers Grimm also collected the tale in their famous fairy tale compendium. That story, called Aschenputtel (Cinderella in the English translations), appeared more than 100 years after Perrault's version in the 19th century.

Hence why I associated it with Germany, I suppose.

In the Grimm version, the heroine's slippers are made of gold (not glass), and when the Prince comes to test the stepsisters' feet for size, one of them cuts off her own toes to try and make the shoe fit. In the end, Cinderella marries the prince, her stepsisters serve as her bridesmaids, and doves peck their eyes out during the ceremony. It is, needless to say, a beautiful tale for children.

This is the sort of thing I absolutely adore about the non-Disneyfied versions of these stories.

Did Cinderella invent the Wicked Stepmother trope?

In a word, no.

I didn't think it did. It's almost as common in fairy tales as "Once upon a time..."

But plots don't just emerge out of nowhere. Most are pulled from real-life scenarios or at least real-life feelings. As Dr. Wednesday Martin, author of the book StepMonster, wrote for Psychology Today, "Stepmothers are frequently singled out for very bad treatment indeed by stepchildren who pick up on their mother's anger and resentment and become her proxy in their father's household."

It is entirely possible that the whole reason I saved this article into my queue was because that author's name is Wednesday, and that's too funny not to share.

At its core, Cinderella is about how dependent women once were on men to determine their place in the world.

Yeah, I'm not saying that's wrong or anything, but it strikes me as a postmodernist deconstructive interpretation.

Thus, Cinderella as Disney retold it in 1950, is the true embodiment of what that time period thought of as women achieving the American Dream — not through work, but through marriage.

So, your homework (it would be my homework, but I'm entirely too busylazy) is to reinterpret the story through this post-feminist lens.

Or maybe Caddyshack already did that.
April 9, 2024 at 6:24pm
April 9, 2024 at 6:24pm
Made it back home. Amusingly, the weather did clouds and rain the entire 8-hour drive back—which, fortunately, didn't happen yesterday.

If you're hoping for a description of the eclipse, look elsewhere; it's been covered by better writers, and better photographers, than me, so I won't even bother. Just know that, whatever you've read, it's insufficient to describe the experience; and whatever pictures you've seen cannot do it justice.

I've seen some scoffs on the internet to the effect of "why bother with the hassle of traveling when you can watch it on video online?"

Leaving aside how sad their lives must be, or how it might feel to have one's sense of wonder surgically excised, I have to wonder if they ask that about everyone's experiences:

"Why go see a band in concert when you already have all their albums and can listen to them anytime?"

"Why bother going to a football game when you can watch it on TV?"

"What are you doing going to Disney World when you can watch internet videos of the lines and rides?"

"Why go camping when you can just look at pictures of trees and rocks?"

Now, granted, you won't catch me doing the last three, and my days of doing the first one are probably behind me, but I try not to yuck other peoples' yum.

Maybe some of them are just trolling. Maybe some honestly don't see the point in viewing celestial phenomena, and would rather go to concerts, sports games, amusement parks, or the (shudder) outdoors. Maybe an eclipse is "nerd stuff," but the fact is, everyone's a nerd about something. If it's not astronomy, maybe it's music, sports, theme parks, or hiking. Or beer or wine. If you really like something and seek its experiences and knowledge, you're a nerd about it.

As for me, I ended up seeing it from the grounds of a winery in Indiana, which may sound odd, but I'd been to that particular one before, and I knew they had good product. My friend and I got lucky that, when we got there, they still had viewing spots available, and we even got bling bags out of the deal. And they played Pink Floyd as the eclipse progressed, so everything came up Waltz. No, I didn't have detailed plans beforehand; I didn't see the point when, had it been cloudy, all that planning would have been mostly wasted.

Sick of hearing about the eclipse? Don't worry; that was very likely my last one, so no more from me on the subject... probably. Tomorrow, back to my regularly (and randomly) scheduled nerdery.
April 8, 2024 at 7:01am
April 8, 2024 at 7:01am
As I warned yesterday, short update today, and be aware I'm going to spend most of it bitching.

My plan to catch the total eclipse was: Drive to Louisville (about 7-8 hours), which is outside but close to the path of totality; then, today, drive into Indiana, most of which will experience the full monty.

Well, the plan's holding up so far, and the hotel I picked wasn't price-gouging, and they managed to not "lose" my reservation. So there's that.

The hotel kinda blows, though. My first clue was when my room key didn't open the door. I went to get it fixed. Still didn't open the door.

There's tea in the lobby, which, if you've been following along, maybe you remember is one thing I don't mind paying extra for. However, the provided hot water wasn't hot. If I wanted ice tea, I'd have traveled south instead of west.

The toilet doesn't like to flush, either.

I hope those problems aren't related.

They also put us in a room right across from a massive, military-grade floodlight. I was hoping for an eclipse of that, but no.

On top of which, it was one of those nights: As long as I was up and doing stuff, all I wanted to do was sleep. When I'd try to sleep, my brain insisted on staying awake. I'm not usually one to have trouble sleeping in hotel rooms. I generally like hotel rooms, and I've certainly slept in enough of them.

At this point, I'm going to be so tired that I'll probably succumb to the darkness the moment the full eclipse begins.

Honestly, I expected better from a Hilton. Perhaps my mistake was expecting better from Louisville.
April 7, 2024 at 12:57am
April 7, 2024 at 12:57am
I'm getting this done early (really early) because I don't know when or if I'll have a chance to get online later today. And the next couple of days' entries might be short and also at weird times, because I'll be traveling.

Today, we're going back in time again, but not very far—February of last year. I have a self-imposed one-year blackout on Revisited entries, and this one makes the cut by less than two months: "Social Greases

In it, I discussed an article from New York (not The New Yorker). Unsurprisingly, the link   is still valid as of today. I'm not sure I can say the same for a lot of the "rules" they discuss for "living in a polite society" (I'm increasingly unconvinced that we do).

From the article:

We sparked office arguments and made messes and ended up with a guide that we hope will stand the test of at least a bit of time — until the next great exciting social upheaval.

So, a year later, what's held up and what hasn't? You might need to read the article and decide for yourself. Me, I'm just going to rehash some of my own comments.

4. When shopping with a friend, don’t cut them in the rack.

Someone needs to explain this to me. On second thought, no, don't. I never shop with friends.

I still haven't figured out what in the hell this is supposed to mean. I could have looked it up, but it's so far removed from my lifestyle that I simply haven't bothered. Not to mention I promptly forgot it until re-reading it just now.

6. Never wake up your significant other on purpose, ever.

Never wake them up accidentally, either.

You know what's worse than either of those things? Passive-aggressive waking. You're mad that they're still snoozing, so you do the dishes as loudly as you can without breaking them, or run the vacuum, or something equally obnoxious, productive, and designed to make them feel bad that their lazy ass is still in bed.

Their lazy ass is still in bed because they need the sleep. Never mess with that.

Yes, I've been on the receiving end of that.

Another thing sure to make me grumpy? Sleep-shaming. "Oh, look who decided to join the living." Not everyone's a morning person, dammit.

28. Don’t ask people how they got COVID.

29. Or why they’re wearing a mask.

No, please ask me why I'm wearing a mask. Depending on my mood, I might answer with "to mess with facial recognition," "because I get compliments on my cat mask but never on my face," or "to keep you from running away screaming."

This one probably aged less well than most of the others.

30. When casually asked how you are, say “Good!”

Valid only in English-speaking countries. And not even then; if someone asks me that, I assume they really want to know.

Corollary: Don't ask if you don't want to know the truth.

34. Actually, it’s great to talk about the weather.

No. Talking about the weather is just going to start an argument about climate change. It's now a topic more fraught than sex, politics, or religion.

I've had people try to strike up conversations with me by bringing up sports. I'm happy to talk to people, despite what I said in that entry (or others), but the only thing I need to know about sports is that they involve way too many commercials for me to even think about watching them.

38. Always wink.

What the bullshit is this?

Another one I had no idea about then, forgot about until now, and still have no idea.

84-91. There are new rules of tipping.

This might irritate or confuse you, but the reality is there are new social expectations around what deserves a tip.

These have, on the other hand, been on my mind. I've started to follow a simple rule: the more work I have to do, the less I tip. Full-service restaurant? Full tip. Delivery? Same. Pick up at restaurant? If I have to do the driving, I tip less. Uber? Always. (That's kind of a pun.) And if I have to order at a counter, wait, pick up my order, and bus my own table, they get nothing. I despise self-checkout, so I never use it, but I've heard some of them have now added tip begging to the checkout screens. Never. Not in a billion years. If I'm doing all the work, shouldn't I be getting the tip?

I'm considering implementing another one: if the screen suggests something like a 50% tip, they get nothing and I never go back. Already did that for cabs in Vegas. That's when I signed up for Uber.

Some people suggest memorizing who gets lower wages and tip all of them. I guess you can do what you want, but I still think it should be based on actual service, not intricate economic knowledge. I'd prefer a system where people get paid by their actual companies, and not the customers. Raising prices to compensate would make little difference in total amount spent.

Obviously, these tipping tips are only valid in the US.

Enough of that. The "rules" that really raise my hackles? There are some pearls of advice that suggest that one should do the opposite of what you're asked. Like, "Even when a kids’ party says 'no gifts,' you’re supposed to bring a gift." I've lived my entire life in the South, with frequent trips to New York (whose population this article was obviously aimed at). Doing the opposite of what someone says has always been a Southern thing, and I don't like it here, either. In New York, this "I know I asked you to not to being a gift, but what I meant was bring a gift" or similar would be like traveling to Italy and seeing everyone speaking in perfect, unaccented English without moving their hands. It's not right. It breaks my entire conception of how the world works.

Doing as asked is a mark of respect and courtesy. Anything else requires one to memorize a maze of rules, and I don't have the bandwidth for it. On the flip side of that, it's courteous to state your desires plainly. Don't be coy. "Don't bring a bottle of wine" means "don't bring a bottle of wine," not "bring a bottle of wine."

It's not that I try to be discourteous. I'm simply not a mind-reader, and some of society's expectations are opaque to me.
April 6, 2024 at 10:09am
April 6, 2024 at 10:09am
I need to believe that this article, from CBR and brought to my attention by a friend, is satire... but I'm still not really sure.

    10 Ways Calvin and Hobbes Has Aged Poorly  
While Calvin and Hobbes is generally regarded as an iconic, timeless comic strip, there are some ways in which it hasn't aged especially well.

Imagine if I wrote something like "Why Shakespeare's plays have aged poorly," and cited things like archaic language, outdated customs, and now-obscure references?

Am I really comparing C&H to Shakespeare? Why yes. Yes, I am.

Any reader can still enjoy the strip the way Bill Watterson initially intended. The characters, setting, and circumstances always feel like something that could easily be replicated today.

Except that, admittedly, the characters don't have smartphones to stare at.

Like Cracked, CBR seems to be fond of countdown lists. As there are ten items, I'm not going to bore you with every single one of them.

10 No One Supports Calvin

Calvin's parents are often busy taking care of the house or working, leaving Calvin with few opportunities for emotional support... It is a lot of pressure for a little boy and would not be considered socially acceptable parenting today.

Leaving aside for now the open question of whether this is satire, that is kind of the whole point of the strip: that while all of C's physical needs are taken care of, he has Hobbes for everything else. Since Hobbes is only animated in his imagination, he's really supporting himself.

9. Calvin Gets Dinosaurs Completely Wrong

Dinosaurs actually had feathers, which contradicts Calvin's imagination

Now... everyone should know by now that I'm usually the first person to get all technical about stuff like this. I've done it here in this blog. I've done it in newsletters. Hell, I've done it in fiction writing. But dinging the strip for this is like ragging on Jules Verne for getting a trip to the moon all wrong, or on Ray Bradbury for imagining a Mars that's inhabited and inhabitable. Or, to keep it in the comics world, it's like ragging on Pogo because opossums don't hang out with cigar-chomping, bipedal, talking alligators. On top of which, it feels like the same thing as saying "an actual tiger would have eaten Calvin," neglecting the whole bit about it all being one little kid's imagination, and this is what first led me to believe that we're dealing with satire here.

Besides, I'm pretty sure not all of them had feathers. What we call dinosaurs were around for longer than they haven't been around, and they were quite diverse. Don't quote me on this, but I think they started scaly and at least some lineages, over the couple hundred million years or so that they dominated the planet, later evolved feathers, which are modified scales (so is hair on mammals). The few that survived the mass extinction event did have feathers, and their descendants are what we call birds.

None of which matters if you're a six-year-old kid with an overactive imagination.

7. Calvin's Babysitter Threatens Him

After all, Rosalyn regularly threatens Calvin for even the slightest offense. Staying up late or playing too loudly often led to threats of violence or a punishment of solitary confinement.

That's just the way we did things back then. Also, I can attest from personal experience that for a kid like Calvin, solitary confinement is hardly a punishment.

5. No One Tries To Stop Moe

In the modern world, students would receive instant support in the face of bullying, especially if the bully is physically hurting them or stealing from them.

From what I understand, lots of bullying still goes unremarked these days, too. True, it was probably worse in the past.

"Instant support," my ass.

4. Calvin Spends Too Much Time By Himself

This one, I took personally, having been an only child with no other kids usually around outside of school. That made me more self-sufficient and less needy, qualities that I consider part of my core personality. Would I be better at social skills otherwise? Possibly. But then I wouldn't be Me.

I've said in the past that Calvin was that kid I wish I had been, and hope I never have. The strip was a big influence on my decision to remain child-free, lest I end up with a Calvin to deal with.

3. Calvin Wanders A Forest Alone

Hey, so did I.

1. Calvin's Behavior With Susie Wouldn't Be Acceptable Today

I have only vague and sporadic memories of being six, but at that age, girls were alien creatures. Pretty sure they saw us the same way at the time. Cooties were scary.

In any case, most of these boil down to needing historical context. Lots of older works of art need this. I mentioned a few of them above. (And make no mistake; C&H was absolutely a work of art.) This doesn't negate the art; rather, it's an opportunity to learn more about changing cultural norms and even scientific findings.

And if this article really is satire, it's not very good satire.
April 5, 2024 at 8:11am
April 5, 2024 at 8:11am
This article, from Slate, has been, like a customer at the DMV, patiently waiting over four months to be called up. And it's 9 years older than that. But, despite the headline and date, it's not time-sensitive; grammar and spelling rules are timeless. Sort of.

Nothing quells my Christmas cheer as quickly as a stray apostrophe. Every year they assault me.

Oh, you only notice them in December? Then you haven't been looking.

Usually it’s in the middle of an otherwise quaint moment: I am padding around my parents’ house, wearing pink slippers, sipping on some hot chocolate. Snow is falling outside the window, and Josh Groban’s Christmas CD is filling the downstairs with peace on earth and mercy mild. My mother is baking a pie. She’s about to ask if I want to lick the spatula (which, duh, I will).

Remarkable; 12-year-olds are writing articles these days, while other writers struggle to make money.

First, though, I find a stack of Christmas cards and begin to flip through them—pausing to marvel at how big so-and-so’s kids have gotten. And then I spot it: an apostrophe in a last name that isn’t supposed to be possessive.

This part, I absolutely relate to.

Gone is my Christmas cheer! All my glad tidings, replaced with fury.

Look. I get it. It pisses me off, too. But if that's all it takes to turn you into the Hulk, seek help. Maybe I overestimated her age, above.

Okay, okay, kidding. I recognize hyperbole when I see it. Usually.

This year I’d like to preempt the pluralization problems. It’s mid-November now, time to order Christmas cards again.

The holiday season starts earlier every year. It could be that, by waiting this long but not long enough to write about this article, I'm contributing to Christmas creep. But, given the prevalence of year-round Christmas stores in the US, I don't think my small contribution makes any difference.

I have created a brief guide to help you pluralize your last name. It is my humble attempt to preserve not only apostrophe protocol but also the dignity of the letter S.

You should visit the link just to see this chart. It's both informative and funny.

In summary, if you're writing in English, every surname adds either -s or -es to become plural, and an apostrophe doesn't belong anywhere near it, unless the name already has one like O'Brien. I have no idea how they do it in other languages.

Q: Why do people add apostrophes?
A: I have no idea.

Neither do they.

I have an alternative suggestion, though, since so many people misuse apostrophes, putting them in where they don't belong, or omitting them where they do belong:

Instead of "Happy Holidays from the Smiths," consider: "Happy Holidays from John Smith, Jane Jones, Braden Smith-Jones, Kaylee Jones-Smith, Fluffy, and Stinky. (Don't look at us like that. Braden was four when he named the dog.)"

It's not like you have to get the damn things engraved at a printer, these days, and get charged by the letter.

Besides, calling the whole household by one last name perpetuates the myth of the nuclear family, and enforces the hegemony of the patriarchy. We can't have that, now, can we?

I bypass the whole thing by remaining singular.

And not sending holiday cards.
April 4, 2024 at 11:15am
April 4, 2024 at 11:15am
One of the more philosophically interesting implications of physics as we know it is that there is no such thing as "nothing."

    We are not empty  
The concept of the atomic void is one of the most repeated mistakes in popular science. Molecules are packed with stuff

Well, except maybe for the contents of your savings account.

The empty atom picture is likely the most repeated mistake in popular science. It is unclear who created this myth, but it is sure that Carl Sagan, in his classic TV series Cosmos (1980), was crucial in popularising it.

Part of the problem is that everyday language fails in its ability to describe sometimes esoteric scientific concepts. Take the word "nothing." It's obviously an ancient portmanteau of "no" and "thing," implying that when you describe a space as "nothing," there's "no thing" there. But the word "thing" isn't exactly precisely defined, especially when you get down to subatomic scales and discover that all particles are actually energy, and "thing" can be used to describe, well, anything, from stars to light to dark matter... maybe you see the semantic problem.

In other words, maybe the problem isn't the science, but the language used to communicate it. Sagan was brilliant, and a strong communicator with excellent fashion sense, but, being human, he'd have made mistakes, and he was working with a 1980s knowledge of science, which has advanced a bit since then.

All it takes to question the idea of the empty-space idea is to attempt to bring two fully solid objects together. Swords, say. If swords were mostly empty space, they wouldn't be very effective at parrying other swords. Or cutting, when you're not quick enough to parry. Swords swing just fine through the air, though, with only minimal resistance (unless you swing them broad-side-on), but air isn't "nothing," either.

Most problems surrounding the description of the submolecular world come from frustrated attempts to reconcile conflicting pictures of waves and particles, leaving us with inconsistent chimeras such as particle-like nuclei surrounded by wave-like electrons. This image doesn’t capture quantum theory’s predictions.

Saying that light, for example, behaves "sometimes like a wave and sometimes like a particle," betrays our macroscopic bias. If we'd learned the quantum stuff first, we might be confused by the "things" that only behave like waves (sound, e.g.) or only like particles (ping-pong balls, e.g.).

To compensate, our conceptual reconstruction of matter at the submolecular level should consistently describe how nuclei and electrons behave when not observed – like the proverbial sound of a tree falling in the forest without anyone around.

Two problems there:

1) How do we experimentally verify how these "things" behave when not observed? By definition, we'd have to observe them to find out.

2) A tree falling in the forest absolutely makes a sound. Sound is waves in air, caused by a transfer of kinetic energy; it exists whether an ear is there to pick up on it or not. The only way a tree falling in the forest would not make a sound would be if the forest were in a vacuum, in which case we have way more immediate problems than philosophical koans.

Here’s a primer on how to think of the fundamental components of matter: a molecule is a stable collection of nuclei and electrons. If the collection contains a single nucleus, it is called an atom. Electrons are elementary particles with no internal structure and a negative electric charge. On the other hand, each nucleus is a combined system composed of several protons and a roughly equal number of neutrons. Each proton and neutron is 1,836 times more massive than an electron. The proton has a positive charge of the same magnitude as an electron’s negative charge, while neutrons, as their name hints, have no electric charge. Usually, but not necessarily, the total number of protons in a molecule equals the number of electrons, making molecules electrically neutral.

I could quibble about some of the details there—for example, a neutron is slightly more massive than a proton—but that's a remarkably good summary, so long as it's understood that some details need further embellishment.

The interior of the protons and neutrons is likely the most complex place in the Universe.

Yes, even more complex than crowds at a Taylor Swift concert.

Particles with the same electric charge sign repel each other. So additional interactions are required to hold protons close-packed in the nucleus. These interactions arise from quark and antiquark pairs called pions that constantly spill out of each proton and neutron to be absorbed by another such particle nearby.

It occurred to me later in life that the grade-school simplicity of the seemingly contradictory statements "like charges repel; opposite charges attract" and "atomic nuclei are positively charged while the electrons are negatively charged" should be way, way more confusing to middle-school students than it is. Positively-charged protons in a nucleus stick together, and electrons don't just fall in and join with a proton to neutralize the charges. This article does a pretty good job explaining the basic physics behind why that's not a contradiction. I won't quote it.

Not gonna lie; it gets a bit technical. It needs to, though, to avoid the inevitable wobbliness of everyday word definitions, like "thing."

The association between this mass concentration and the idea that atoms are empty stems from a flawed view that mass is the property of matter that fills a space. However, this concept does not hold up to close inspection, not even in our human-scale world. When we pile objects on top of each other, what keeps them separated is not their masses but the electric repulsion between the outmost electrons at their touching molecules.

This bit kind of answers the implied question in the headline, so I'm including it.

My criticism of the empty atom picture isn’t meant to shame people’s previous attempts to describe atoms and molecules to the public. On the contrary, I applaud their effort in this challenging enterprise. Our common language, intuitions and even basic reasoning processes are not adapted to face quantum theory, this alien world of strangeness surrounded by quirky landscapes we mostly cannot make sense of.

Which is what I've been trying to say. Also, the Ant-Man movies didn't get it right, either. Fun movies, but don't use them as quantum physics lectures.

In the end, though, the idea of "something" and "nothing" will stick with us in our everyday language, and they are, I think, generally adequate to describe, say, the difference between a planet and the mostly-vacuum of space.

But even vacuum has something in it.

Not so sure about some humans' brains, though.
April 3, 2024 at 9:25am
April 3, 2024 at 9:25am
Thank Atlas Obscura for this one, which, again, I'm sharing mostly for the hell of it. Because it talks about two of my favorite things. No, not science and math; beer and food.

    Ordering Off a 5,000-Year-Old Mesopotamian Menu  
A community effort brings ancient flavors to modern Texas.

Texas has forfeited any claim to being "modern," but whatever.

Among the campus buildings at Rice University in Houston, Texas, one curious structure stands out... It’s called a mudhif, and for Iraq’s Marsh Arab ethnic minority, it’s a traditional village meetinghouse where disputes are settled and important gatherings are held.

What Marsh Arabs are doing in Houston is explained in the article.

Alrawi describes the dinner as a way “to complete the setting” of the mudhif by paying homage to the structure’s ancient origins. Rather than modern Iraqi food, the dinner menu is based on recent archaeological discoveries from Lagash. Located in modern-day southern Iraq, Lagash was a major Sumerian city home to some 100,000 people in the third millennium BC.

While that might not seem like a huge city by today's standards, I think it was quite a lot of people for 5,000 years ago. The far better known Babylon, in the same general area, might have reached 200,000, but that was several centuries later.

...the central grain was barley, used to make both bread and another Mesopotamian staple that the team in Houston set their sights on recreating: beer.

And now they're speaking my language.

Though the beer of ancient Mesopotamia bore little resemblance to the delicious magical concoctions of today, it was fermentation of malted barley. The article goes into some of the process.

“Whenever you put an archaeologist together with a chef or a brewer,” says Lao, “they feed on each other.” Recreating the Mesopotamian meal has been a team effort.

Now, that's an image I might have done without.

Also, as the article points out, it's probably impossible to faithfully recreate all of the recipes. Moreover, we're talking about working-class food, the ancient equivalent to street tacos, hot dogs, and the like. Food availability and price keeps changing; a commonly-touted example is that lobster used to be considered trash that only poor people ate, while now it's treated as a luxury item (I don't know how true that is). So do you recreate the food, or the experience? Lots of cultures have come up with their own working-class food, but the commonality there (pun intended, as always) is that it's all based on what's abundant and cheaply available.

At least until it becomes widely known as delicious, at which point it ceases to be working-class food. Like how you might pay $10 for a stadium hot dog, or how I pay $30 for a pizza.

But I feel like it brings history to life if they try to recreate the recipes with the foods then involved. Few people love memorizing the facts, dates, and minutiae of history, but get people together for a meal, and stuff will stick in their memories.

That said, I have little interest in trying original Sumerian beer. It's enough for me to know how the beverage got its start.
April 2, 2024 at 10:56am
April 2, 2024 at 10:56am
Lots going on today, so I'll try to keep this short. It's from SciAm, and I'd find it amusing if it weren't, well, not amusing.

    Inside the Crime Rings Trafficking Sand  
Organized crime is mining sand from rivers and coasts to feed demand worldwide, ruining ecosystems and communities. Can it be stopped?

Good thing this didn't come up yesterday. People might think it was a prank.

He had been in Mali doing fieldwork on the drug trade when a source noted that most cannabis in Mali came from Morocco and that sand trafficking was also a major market in that country, with drug traffickers involved. “I think that when you talk about sand trafficking, most people would not believe it,” Abderrahmane says. “Me included. Now I do.”

I'm still not entirely sure I believe it.

Very few people are looking closely at the illegal sand system or calling for changes, however, because sand is a mundane resource. Yet sand mining is the world's largest extraction industry because sand is a main ingredient in concrete, and the global construction industry has been soaring for decades. Every year the world uses up to 50 billion metric tons of sand, according to a United Nations Environment Program report.

For comparison, a metric ton is slightly more than an Imperial ton, less than a shit-ton, and a lot less than a metric shit-ton.

A 2022 study by researchers at the University of Amsterdam concluded that we are dredging river sand at rates that far outstrip nature's ability to replace it, so much so that the world could run out of construction-grade sand by 2050.

Of all the things I'd expect us to run out of, sand is way down there on the list, right above human stupidity.

Sand is any hard, granular material—stones, shells, whatever—between 0.0625 and two millimeters in diameter. Fine-quality sand is used in glass, and still-finer grades appear in solar panels and silicon chips for electronics. Desert sand typically consists of grains rounded like tiny marbles from constant weathering. The best sand for construction, however, has angular grains, which helps concrete mixtures bind.

I've gone on about categorization problems in here before. This is one that has apparently been well-defined.

In case you're wondering, since "angular grains" and "diameter" appear to be mutually exclusive, sand is, in my experience, graded by successive sieves. Any grains that fit through a 2mm sieve but not a 0.0625mm sieve can qualify as "sand." Those limits are arbitrary, but useful in concrete design, with which I've had some familiarity.

There's a lot more to the article, but, as I said, I'm trying to be brief, finishing before too much sand passes through the hourglass. I don't have an answer for the problem, but it's one I'd never considered before, so I thought it was worth sharing.
April 1, 2024 at 12:17pm
April 1, 2024 at 12:17pm
Welcome to Trust No One Day. It's kind of appropriate that this article (from Mental Floss) came up at random today, because, while it's probably not intended as a prank, I don't really trust it.

For various definitions of "facts."

The solar system: It’s big, it’s heliocentric, and it’s got space junk to spare.

"Big" is relative. From our human perspective? Sure. Compared to the rest of space? Not even a pixel.

Here are 24 out-of-this-world facts about the corner of space that’s home to Earth, enough asteroids to keep Ben Affleck and Bruce Willis working for decades, and a football-shaped dwarf planet called Haumea, adapted from an episode of The List Show on YouTube.

Ah, YouTube, that bastion of fact-checking. Sure, I watch science videos there, but that doesn't mean I accept them all unconditionally.

I won't highlight all 24.

1. Our solar system is a group of celestial bodies in the Milky Way galaxy.

Thanks. That's so helpful.

I've mentioned before why "the Milky Way galaxy" is redundant: "Upward Spiral

One can think of "the solar system" as being everything affected by the gravitational pull of the Sun. Gravity drops off with distance, but never goes to zero, though at some point, the combined gravity of, well, everything else balances or outweighs the Sun's pull.

2. The sun is huge.

If you combined the mass of everything in the solar system, the sun would account for more than 99 percent of that mass.

Okay, fair enough, though it's much closer to 100%   than 99 percent. And again, "huge" is relative. As stars go, the sun's somewhere in the middle.

4. A block of lead on Venus would melt like a block of ice on earth.

True enough, but misleading. There are plenty of places on Earth where a block of ice wouldn't melt, though I tend to avoid such places. Also, lead doesn't melt like water. Ice is less dense than water, which is why it floats to the top of your glass and forms skating surfaces. But okay, maybe that's too pedantic. The point is, Venus is bloody HOT (from our perspective, not the Sun's), and you wouldn't want to go there. Hotter than Mercury. The planet, not the metal that's liquid at normal temperatures here on Earth.

5. Rocks from space have been found all over planet Earth.

Okay, but also pretty trivial, and that's leaving aside that every rock on Earth is "from space;" it's just a matter of how long ago it arrived. I have a meteorite fragment; they're not that uncommon. They are, however, cool.

6. Jupiter is massive.

Well, duh. Compared to Earth, anyway. Compared to the sun, it's significantly less than 1% of the sun's mass.

If the sun is 99.86% of the solar system's mass, though, Jupiter is most of the rest.

Earth is a rounding error.

10. Space junk is a big problem.

No, they're not talking about space aliens' genitals.

13. One object in our solar system orbits the Sun backwards.

In 2008, astronomers discovered an object that orbits the sun at about a 104-degree tilt. Technically, this means that the 30-mile-wide object is orbiting backwards. The team that found it gave it the name Drac, based on the myth that Dracula could walk up walls.

Having a retrograde orbit, or one that's nearly at right angles to the plane of planets (the ecliptic), or, in this case, both, isn't that farfetched. If I had to guess, I'd guess "captured extrasolar object," but that's just a guess. No, what I like about this one is the name.

Sadly, the prank here is that "Drac" is just a nickname,   not its official designation. Much easier to say than "(528219) 2008 KV42" though.

14. Drac was found in the Kuiper Belt.

The Kuiper Belt is an area of our solar system past Neptune containing a lot of icy objects; it's also where Pluto is located.

Also misleading. Pluto spends a significant fraction of its time closer to the sun than Neptune. Still, it is considered a Kuiper Belt object, but that's a categorization thing, like its non-status as a planet.

Plus, given Drac's orbital inclination from the ecliptic, maybe it should be the Kuiper Shell instead.

15. Neptune has a moon that’s a lot like Pluto.

Triton is probably one of those icy Kuiper Belt objects that at some point got trapped by Neptune’s gravity and has been orbiting it ever since. Triton has a couple other distinctive features: It orbits Neptune in the opposite direction than the planet is rotating, and it has geysers that erupt.

Hence my "captured object" guess for Drac.

18. One dwarf planet in our solar system has also been a planet and an asteroid.

Pluto’s fellow dwarf planet Ceres takes up about 25 percent of the mass of the main asteroid belt, which is located between Mars and Jupiter. In the 19th century, Ceres was considered a planet. Then it was demoted to asteroid. Finally, in 2006, it was upgraded to dwarf planet.

And yet, people aren't still salty about that one. Well, maybe astrologers are; I don't know.

19. There are millions of asteroids in the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.

They can range from less than 33 feet (10 meters) to 329 miles (530 kilometers) long.

See, it's because of statements like this (which is, to the best of my knowledge, accurate enough) that movies commit what I consider to be one of the most egregious errors: depicting the asteroid belt as some densely-packed rocky hazard that Our Hero has to demonstrate superhuman piloting skills to navigate. First of all, space is three-dimensional (at least); just go around. Second, if you were standing like Le Petit Prince on one of the asteroids and looking at the sky, you'd be hard-pressed to notice even one space rock.

The only show that did it right was The Expanse. But I give props to Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2 for inventing the quantum asteroid field, which was funny enough to overcome my pedantry.

20. Two of Saturn's moon have water.

Yawn. Freakin' Mercury probably has water (ice) at the poles. So does the Moon. Not to mention the probable ocean covering Europa (one of Jupiter's moons). Water isn't rare. Water is probably second only to rock on my list of "things we find on moons." Liquid water with life swimming in it? Wake me up when we find that on a planet other than ours.

22. The tallest volcano we know of is on Mars.

Olympus Mons is estimated to be 16 miles tall, meaning it’s basically three Mount Everests.

That's cheating, on two levels. One, it's been extinct for an unimaginably long time, so calling it a "volcano" is nothing more than acknowledging its areological origin. Two, Mars has about 2/5 of our gravity, so of course mountains can be higher. The slope of its sides is comparatively gentle, though, and I question what datum they're measuring from. Everest is generally measured in height above sea level, but from its base on the Himalayan Plateau, it's much less tall. Measured from base, there's a volcano (an active one) in Hawai'i that's taller than Everest (the "base" there is underwater). Measured from the center of the planet, there's a peak in Ecuador that can be considered higher than either (Earth bulges at the equator), but I guarantee you Olympus Mons isn't higher by that standard, as Mars is smaller than Earth. Not to mention there's no sea level on Mars, even if there is water there. Somewhere. Probably frozen.

24. Many of these facts would still be unknown if not for space exploration.

Finally, something I can't quibble about.

No fooling.
March 31, 2024 at 8:32am
March 31, 2024 at 8:32am
You know what today is, right? Oh, sure, it's April Fools' Eve, of course, but being Sunday, it's time to revisit an older entry. This one was from five years ago, and follows my usual comment-on-an-article format: "Heartbreak

The BBC article   is still up, as of today. Remarkable, considering how many episodes of early Doctor Who the BBC destroyed to make room for newer things. Maybe they learned their lesson.

To summarize, there was some evidence that a particular heart condition is at least partially caused by stress or strong emotion.

Me: The more I learn, the more I think that the commonly stated dichotomy between mind and body is bogus.

I would probably phrase this differently, now. Also, throughout my entry, I seem to have used "mind" and "brain" interchangeably, which I think I'd be more careful to avoid, these days.

My understanding of the internal workings of a person or other animal is rudimentary, but from what I've heard, the brain is a physical, identifiable organ located mostly in one's head. It does lots of stuff, including stuff we don't understand, but it seems to be responsible for, among other things, telling your feet to walk and your chest to occasionally fill with air. The "mind," however, is a far more nebulous concept. I seem to recall doing another entry about that at some point in the not-so-distant past; it involved René Descartes, who asserted that because you can't put a set of spatial coordinates (Descartes invented coordinates) on the mind, but you can on the brain, that there's no way that one can act upon the other. Might as well link it, too, for reference: "Mind, the Gap

In addition to walking and breathing, the brain is sometimes fairly good at thinking. More in some people than in others, but "thinking" is a legitimate activity, even if it doesn't look like much of an activity to other people. But many people think (pun intended) that it's the mind doing the thinking. Once you're done thinking, often, you do some physical activity. For example, writing what you just thought. We draw that separation between "thinking" and "doing" because we love categorizing things, like cats and dogs being different species, or Pluto not being a full-fledged planet after all.

Point being, a lot of the seeming contradictions of mind/body dualism, such as in the last entry I linked, go right out the window when you consider that the mind is a product of the body. It's probably more complicated than just being conjured up by your brain, but the brain is a body part too. Descartes' assertion that the mind cannot influence the body is, therefore, wrong. Brilliant guy, but in this case, he was working from a shaky premise.

Anyway. The original entry, from up top, ends with the literal video version of Total Eclipse of the Heart, and I'm pleased (state of mind and body) to see that the video is still in existence. I have a whole entry on that song (the actual song, not the parody) coming up at some point; it's in my queue and will pop up at random.
March 30, 2024 at 11:07am
March 30, 2024 at 11:07am
What I'm sharing today, from Men's Health, is two and a half years old, so its main target is what was plaguing everyone's lives in October of 2021. Nevertheless, it's still relevant.

    The Golden Age of Junk Science Is Killing Us  
Misinformation is being spewed, weaponized, and consumed at a deadly rate. Fortunately, there's a way out. Here's how to make sense of what you're seeing.

Considering that not much has changed on the misinformation front, we didn't take the "way out."

In a recent Economist/YouGov poll, 20 percent of U. S. citizens surveyed said they believe that Covid vaccines contain a microchip.

Again, "recent" here is 2021. Obviously, 20 percent is about 20 percent too high, even if you account for poll trolls. But it's a lower number than I, a pessimist, expected.

This survey also found that only 46 percent of Americans were willing to say that the microchip thing is definitely false.

Okay, that's more in line with what I expected.

It is becoming harder and harder to tease out the real from the unreal. Sense from nonsense. Magical thinking from microchips.

Yep. Just look at the nutters trying to attribute the Baltimore bridge disaster to, well, pretty much everything except mechanical failure.

Part of the problem is that we have normalized nonsense in some very subtle and some very obvious ways. Heck, there are a host of (very) successful wellness gurus who have embraced pseudoscience as a core brand strategy.

"A host of?" No, it's all of them. Unless your wellness "guru" says something like "follow evidence-based medicine," which none of them do.

We really should come up with a better term. Using guru like that has got to be insulting to Hindus and Buddhists.

And thanks to people like Andrew Wakefield—the disgraced former physician who started the vile “vaccines cause autism” fallacy in a paper published in and later retracted by The Lancet—misinformation about vaccine safety has continued to spread and find new audiences.

As I've noted before, the fallacy got lots of attention. The retraction did not. People still believe that bullshit.

Besides, even if it were true, which it's not, a person's fear in that area reveals a great deal about how they really feel about the neurodivergent.

But there is a way forward! By using a few critical-thinking tools and being aware of the tactics used to push misinformation, we can cut through the noise.

Yeah, but we didn't.

We know that misinformation can spread fast and far. In August, Facebook released a report on its most widely viewed content from January through March 2021. The winner? The post seen more times than any other was a misleading article implying the Covid vaccine had killed someone. This nugget of misinformation was viewed nearly 54 million times by Facebook users in the U. S. in that three-month period and has been leveraged by countless anti-vaccine advocates, compounding its impact.

Even if the vaccine (or any course of treatment) did cause a death, what we have to do is weigh that against the expected number of deaths from doing nothing.

It's pretty well-known, for example, that, on occasion, people die during surgery. Maybe from an unexpected reaction to anesthesia, or whatever. Would that mean we should stop dong medically necessary surgery, which many more people would die from the lack of?

People make fun of the philosophical Trolley Problem, but there's a practical example of it right there.

And that's not even getting into the fact that people die every day (in general, I mean; obviously, no one person dies every day), so it's inevitable, statistically, that some of them will die of unrelated causes after medical treatment. It's like "Frank ate a turkey dinner, then dropped dead! No way am I ever again eating turkey! Or dinner!"

Another problem: Lies, fake news, and pseudoscience can be made more compelling (microchips in the vaccines!) than the boring old truth (safe, clinical-trial-tested, actual vaccine ingredients). Indeed, research has found that, yep, as the saying goes, “a lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.”

Fact-checking a statement takes many orders of magnitude longer than making the statement. And, because of primacy bias, often, fact-checking does absolutely no good whatsoever.

The Wakefield disaster is a perfect example of primacy bias. "Vaccines cause autism!" has way more staying power than "No, they dont," even though the first statement is provably false.

The article also has something to say about my favorite bias, confirmation bias.

So, I do what I can.

It's not enough.
March 29, 2024 at 9:27am
March 29, 2024 at 9:27am
After yesterday's rant (which indeed contained an egregious error made by me; I didn't notice it until today and by my own rules it's now set in stone forevermore), how about something fun from Cracked?

This could just as well have been "5 Facts About U.S. Landmarks," but that doesn't get as many challenge-accepted-clicks.

What color is the White House? The Kennedy Space Center is named after which U.S. president? These are questions that you, the well-informed reader, are proud to answer with ease.

They left out the old classic: Who's buried in Grant's Tomb?

That's a trick question, though; U.S. Grant and Julia Grant are interred in sarcophagi therein, not buried.

5. Why Does the Pentagon Take Up So Many Acres?

And why are we still using acres?

For years, the Pentagon was the world’s largest office building, boasting more than six million square feet of floor space.

Let's see... commercial rents in that area go for around $30/sf (okay, yes, I'm using square feet after complaining about acres). That would be $180,000,000 in rent if it were rentable. That's per month.

The Pentagon is so large because it’s the headquarters of the Department of Defense, the single largest employer in the world. The DoD employs almost three million people, and 27,000 of them work in the Pentagon. The building is especially large because we built it during World War II, which was the most complicated challenge ever faced by the Department, or by anyone.

Um... well... I can think of a more complicated challenge during WWII. They released a movie about it last year.

None of that answers the exact question we asked. Even if the Pentagon has to contain six million square feet, why is it so spread out, across 30 acres?

Because the banks of the tidal Potomac aren't known for being able to support skyscrapers?

Washington, D.C. doesn’t have the skyscrapers many other cities do (no building in that town should be higher than the Washington Monument), but plenty of its buildings have 10 floors or more.

(1) The Pentagon lurks in Arlington County, VA, not Washington, DC.

(2) My understanding of the DC building law is that no building can be taller than the Capitol. But that's irrelevant, because (1).

(3) After checking around a bit, my understanding of (2) was wrong; it's more complicated than that. But that's irrelevant, because (1).

(4) Even ignoring all that, the National Cathedral in DC is built on high ground,   and its spire exceeds the elevation of the tip of the WM.

Normally, a taller and narrower building would be the wiser choice. Land is scarce in most locations where a building this large is desirable.

Except that building taller and narrower buildings requires better subsurface features, either bedrock (like in NYC) or massive underground structures to distribute the load.

If space were truly an issue back then, there wouldn't be all surface parking around it.

Plus, elevators move up and down, not side-to-side.

Easy enough to fix. Wonka might have some design ideas there.

But for a building to stand many floors tall, you need lots of steel, and during construction, they wanted to use as little steel as possible, to save the stuff for the war effort.

Okay, there's that, too.

The real question here is: why a pentagon? Even in the early 1940s, they must have expected conspiracy theories. The actual answer is more mundane: the original design was meant to be bordered by five roads.  

I should note that, while civil engineering technology plods along, it does eventually advance, and I'm pretty sure that right now there are no engineering barriers to building skyscrapers on the banks of the Potomac. Probably not going to happen, though, because engineers don't run governments.

4. Where Is the Center of Gravity of the Space Needle?

Sure, let's hop to the entire other coast. I did that once. Took off from Washington (actually Arlington) and landed in Washington (actually Tacoma).

Skipping to the spoiler:

The building may look like a needle pointing from the ground to the sky, but a large bulk of the structure’s mass sits underground. The foundations run 30 feet below the surface, and these foundations weigh 5,840 tons.

I told you tall buildings required big foundations. Now, I know way more about foundation requirements in Virginia than in Washington state, but I'm pretty sure the Needle was built on bedrock. Problem is, it's in an earthquake zone.

Oh, and here's more fuel for the conspiracy fire: The Needle was privately financed and built by the Pentagram Corporation...  

3. What Faces Did South Dakota Want to Carve into Mount Rushmore?

If it were up to me, it'd be Curly, Larry, Moe, and Shemp.

It started out with a more narrow focus. First of all, the idea for the monument came from South Dakota specifically, rather than from the federal government that provided funding.

That's because there is literally nothing else interesting in the entirety of South Dakota.

As it was conceived as a South Dakota attraction, it was originally supposed to be themed more to the region. Rather than depicting four presidents, it was supposed to depict figures from the Old West. These included Lewis and Clark and Sacagawea.

Lewis and Clark were from around my hometown. We had a big statue of them, along with Sacagawea, at a prominent intersection. Remember that this is Charlottesville, and take a guess if the statue's still there.

In fairness, while the statue was meant to depict the white guys staring boldly off into the distant wilderness while their Native guide did some tracking or whatever, it ended up looking like the poor girl was cowering at the heroic-looking pair's feet.

I do wish they'd do something with the plinth, though. Right now, it's a big hunk of concrete. Maybe a giant inoffensive abstract hypercube. Except that abstract art also offends some people.

2. Who Was the St. Louis Arch Accused of Plagiarizing?

Hint: It's not McDonald's.

1. How Long Does the Grand Canyon’s River Take to Reach the Ocean?

If I'm being honest, this is the only one of these that I got right without looking at the text. The Grand Canyon's river is the Colorado, which also supplies some well-known desert reservoirs and a bunch of farms. The answer, if you just consider surface runoff and not the evaporation-clouds-rain water cycle, is infinity.

Because by the time you trace the old channel of the Colorado down to the Gulf of California (an arm of the Pacific, so "ocean" isn't the trick part), all the water is gone, diverted to thirsty people or agriculture, or evaporated naturally.

This is, of course, a marvel of civil engineering, and I should be quite proud of my field's accomplishments.

I'm not.
March 28, 2024 at 9:35am
March 28, 2024 at 9:35am
I'm aware that language changes over time. But some things are just always wrong. For example, "alot" is not, never has been, and never will be a word, as in "I have alot of problems with spelling." One does not "loose" one's keys if they're misplaced; one can only "lose" them. "It's" is never possessive, and is always a contraction of "it is." But, being Southern, this one especially annoys me:

    What's The Difference Between Y'all And Ya'll?  
There's only one correct way to spell it, y'all.

The South is known for its laundry list of unique, quirky, cultural sayings, like "Bless your heart," "Too big for his britches," and "Well, I s'wanee," to name a few.

Okay, I've never heard that last one until now. I don't know everything, but damn if I'm not working on it.

But the best-known word in the Southern vernacular is probably our most-loved pronoun: y'all.

And make no mistake, it is absolutely a word. Modern English lacks a universally-agreed-upon second person plural, and the other candidates, with the possible exception of the very British "you lot," just don't work outside their regions.

The only proper way to spell the contraction of "you" and "all" is "y'all."

And that should be the final word on the subject, but I guarantee you, sometime soon, I'll see someone's typed it as "ya'll" and rage will boil up once again.

The article goes into why. Basically, an apostrophe serves two major purposes in English: possessives (for words that are NOT pronouns such as "it"), and to replace missing letters. There are a few edge cases, but they mostly involve borrowed words from other languages. "Y'all" is obviously not possessive, so the apostrophe replaces missing letters. The missing letters are "ou." As in "you all" contracts to "y'all."

I did say the apostrophe is not used for pronoun possessives, but here, "y'all" is an exception. If you're writing about something that belongs to y'all, it's "y'all's," as in "Where's [where is] y'all's [belonging or relating to all of you] tater tots?" (Never mind that it should be "Where are your tater tots?"; you gotta cut people a bit of slack.) For context, one might ask a helpful grocery store employee this question, usually while standing right next to the freezer containing the tater tots.

Though, to be fair, Wikipedia   asserts: "The possessive form of y'all has not been standardized; numerous forms can be found, including y'alls, y'all's, y'alls's, you all's, your all's, and all of y'all's."

Unlike French, German, and Spanish languages, the English language does not have a designed second-person plural pronoun.

I think they mean "designated," because English was far from "designed." But yes, it does. It's "y'all." Anyway, the French second-person plural doubles as the formal second-person singular, and you have to figure out the difference from context.

What we desperately need is another second-person plural. Right now, if I said, "We are going to a party tonight," it's ambiguous whether "we" refers to "I and you" or "I and my closest friends, of which you are not one." Call it first-person plural inclusive and first-person plural exclusive. I suggest "ze" for the latter, but no one cares.

While we're on the subject of poor spelling, what the hell is up with "Opps!"? Look. I've never, ever heard someone exclaim "opps," which, by that spelling, would be like in "drops." No, I've only ever heard "Oops," though the oo there can be pronounced either like book or like boob.

Speaking of boobs, I've been seeing more and more people writing something like "a women" as in "There was a women waiting for the store to open." No. There is no such thing as "a women." There's a woman, or there's several women.

Look, I'm not saying I never make mistakes. That would be a mistake. And by Waltz's Second Law of the Internet, because this post discusses spelling mistakes, it probably contains an inadvertent spelling mistake. But come on... at least try.
March 27, 2024 at 11:05am
March 27, 2024 at 11:05am
Unless you've been hiding under a rock or on a remote arctic island, you know there will be a total solar eclipse visible from parts of North America in a couple of weeks. I've known about it since 2010 or so, when I decided I wanted to see an eclipse, even if it meant traveling, and I saw that there would be not one, but two solar eclipses within the following 15 years visible from places that didn't even require me to put up with the discomfort, indignity, and humiliation of air travel.

Of course, this foreknowledge (eclipses can be predicted to a very high degree of space-time accuracy even several centuries out) didn't stop me from procrastinating the procurement of travel arrangements until very nearly the last minute, but the fault there lies not in the heavans, but in myself.

Point is, stuff about the upcoming eclipse is all over the news. Where to see it. How to get the proper viewing glasses. Hell, I wouldn't be a bit surprised if someone didn't have a "what shoes should we wear for the eclipse" (sponsored, of course, by a shoe manufacturer). I hate to add to that cacophony; perhaps you're sick of eclipse pieces by now, and I wouldn't blame you.

But I couldn't let this egregious pandering from a formerly distinguished and reputable source (BBC) go unremarked.

"Move over?" Look. There is, objectively, no sight more spectacular than that of a total solar eclipse. None. Oh, you may think "except for the birth of my child," but no, babies get born thousands of times a day and they all come from the same place and look exactly the same. A partial eclipse doesn't come close. A lunar eclipse is cool, but ooh, the moon turned red; now what? I thought Avengers:Endgame was a fun movie with great CGI, but it still can't touch an eclipse on the grandeur scale. Photos, no matter how good, cannot capture the experience. No writer has ever been able to pen words that convey even ten percent of the awesomeness. The only thing I can even conceive of that might approach the spectacle of a total eclipse is if there were a nearby (but not too nearby) supernova; those things can outshine entire galaxies and can be visible during the daytime. But even that, while astronomers and cosmologists would absolutely have orgasms over it, couldn't possibly match the unique experience of a total solar eclipse.

So this nova had better come with multicolored flashing lights engineered by sentient aliens saying "We did this!" for it to even be in the same galactic quadrant of gloriousness as a total solar eclipse.

The nova T Coronae Borealis explodes about once every 80 years.

In other words, it's somewhat predictable, but not nearly to the accuracy of eclipses.

While the world's attention has been focused on the total solar eclipse that will occur later this spring, the distant Corona Borealis binary system – which contains one dead white dwarf star and one ageing red giant star – has been busy gearing up for its own moment of glory: a spectacular nova explosion.

I'll say this for the article: it does a pretty good job explaining, based on the best science we have, how and why this happens.

So, how will this event overtake the eclipse in the race of awesome?

The T CrB star system normally has a visibility magnitude +10 in terms of brightness, according to Nasa. But when the upcoming T CrB nova eruption takes place, the visibility will jump significantly, up to what's known as a magnitude +2, which is far brighter than a +10. To put that into some context, a +2 is a similar level of brightness as the North Star, Polaris.

By the time that happens, T CrB will be visible to the naked eye.

Magnitude 2? Magnitude 2? And you have the audacity to compare the experience of seeing this to witnessing the moon eat the sun, belch corona, and shit the sun out again?

Despite what a certain pop song asserts ("You are as constant as the Northern Star, the brightest light that shines") Polaris is neither all that bright, nor constant. Not only is it a Cepheid variable, which means its absolute brightness fluctuates over time, but apart from its useful position near the north celestial pole, there's nothing distinguishing it from surrounding stars. Hell, the only way I can ever find it in the sky is to locate the Big Dipper (hard to miss) and follow the two "bowl" stars across the blackness to Polaris, which is the tail star of the Little Dipper. Further, due to precession, it wasn't the North Star in the past and won't be in the future. So much for "constant."

Don't get your scientific facts from popular music. Well, except maybe They Might Be Giants. And Schoolhouse Rock.

The dimmest stars you can see on a clear, cold night in the desert, if you have decent eyesight, are magnitude 6. From a city, you can usually see magnitude 2 stars, but they lack context. It's a logarithmic scale, like with earthquake magnitudes or decibels.

I'm a big fan of astronomy and love looking at the night sky, but if a new mag-2 point of light shows up in a small, obscure northern constellation, and I didn't know there was a nova, I'd never even notice it.

Those hoping to see the nova display should look in the sky for the constellation Corona Borealis, or the Northern Crown – a small, semicircular arc near Bootes and Hercules, says Nasa.

Right, because everyone can recognize Boötes and Hercules at a glance. (The article does helpfully provide constellation illustrations.)

Now, look. I'm not downplaying how awesome the nova is from a scientific viewpoint. We certainly have better instruments to observe it with than we did last time it flared, and I bet they'll do some great research on the thing. And I'll do what I can to take a look at it, myself. But from our everyday perspective? It's not going to outdo a total solar eclipse.

I think the BBC is just salty that we Yanks get two solar eclipses seven years apart, while they haven't had any in a while.

So, speaking of celestial sights, I recently found out that there's a comet   visiting us here in the inner solar system, and that it might—just might—become visible during totality.

My first thought upon reading that was "That would be so fucking awesome." And then, like a few hours later, it hit me:

People are, in general, prone to superstition; and both eclipses and comets have been considered portents of DOOM through most of human history. Having both in the sky at once? Damn, that would be spectacular. Except... idiots.

Think I'm being too harsh on the people of the land? Well, consider this article from Atlas Obscura: Why Doomsayers Think the Eclipse Will Bring Disaster to Illinois  

“If you lived forever, and you never moved from where you are today, on average, you would have to wait 400 years for a total eclipse to come across where you are,” says Frank Close, Professor of Physics at Oxford University and a Fellow of Exeter College. The likelihood that you could experience two total solar eclipses in one place in the space of seven years is miniscule. The chances are so low, that some believe something special is going on in Carbondale. In particular, conspiracy theorists believe that a seismic event will be triggered when the eclipse arrives in this part of the state, known as Little Egypt, killing hundreds of thousands of people.

Back when I was preparing for the 2017 eclipse, I noticed that the track took it right over Yellowstone. Pretty much everyone knows about the Yellowstone Supervolcano (though the actual danger there may be, pun intended, overblown), so I tried to start a rumor that the combined gravitational forces of the sun and moon would aggravate the magma underneath Yellowstone, causing the doomsday eruption.

It's a stupid enough idea that I was genuinely surprised when it didn't gain traction.

Now, let's be clear. Something bad is going to happen. Something bad often happens, like just the other day when that container ship destroyed the bridge near Baltimore. There's usually a reason for it, but that reason is never a) we're sinners or b) celestial events (unless the celestial event is, you know, a nearby supernova or a giant meteor hitting the planet, in which case it's still not because we're sinners).

But I'm glad my idea didn't take off, even though it logically made more sense than the Carbondale "theory" (and by "more sense," I really mean "slightly less nonsense"). Because shit like that often becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Like when it's about to snow, and you think the grocery store is about to run out of milk and bread, so you rush there along with everyone else in town to buy out the entire stock of milk and bread.

If you want to contemplate cosmic coincidences, the one to ponder is this: the sun and moon appear to be about the same size in the sky. Because of elliptical orbits, sometimes they seem slightly bigger or smaller, which is why you sometimes get annular (ring of fire) eclipses instead of totality. But there's no known scientific reason for this coincidence. In the distant past, the moon was closer and appeared larger. In the future, it will be more distant and all eclipses will be annular. There will, consequently, at some point, be a last total solar eclipse.

And that makes me ineffably sad.

Me? I plan on going to central Indiana. It's fairly close to here, with some good hang time for totality. Because I'm me, though, I fully expect thick obscuring cloud cover. That would suck. But at least I saw the one in 2017.
March 26, 2024 at 9:09am
March 26, 2024 at 9:09am
No article to share today, just a personal update:

I wanted to say thanks, everyone, for acknowledging that I have the best opinion. I've always known that, of course, but it's good to have others acknowledge it.

...wait, what? Oh, my mistake. This blog is the 2023 Quill winner for the Opinion genre. Apparently, that's not the same thing as saying I have the best opinions. Who knew?

Long-time readers (or anyone who bothered to see all the stuff at the bottom of the intro) will note that it did not win Best Blog this year, after taking the title for several years running. Some might wonder how I feel about that, so let me set the record straight: I'm thrilled. Other people are doing wonderful blogs, and I was starting to get a little embarrassed hogging the limelight for four years in a row. Not that I mind winning too much, you understand; I wasn't embarrassed enough to have voluntarily withdrawn the blog from consideration altogether.

So congrats to all the other Quill winners, runners-up, finalists, and nominees. And, of course, huge thanks to the organizers; that project is massive, and I certainly wouldn't be able to do it and still keep whatever remains of my mind intact. I'd link everyone here, but I'd probably mess up and leave someone out, so I'll just post the actual winners / finalists list:

2024 Quill Awards - Nominees  (E)
2023 Quill Award Nominees, Finalists, and Winners
#2314619 by Lilith of House Martell

Besides, I'm entirely too lazy to copy/paste all those usernames.

And I still say I have the best opinion.

Back to articles tomorrow, but not a random one; I have a time-sensitive link to post.
March 25, 2024 at 8:50am
March 25, 2024 at 8:50am
Today, I'm sharing a link that shows, once again, that it's fun to set things on fire.

    Flambé Your Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner  
This retro cooking trend is back.

Back? As fire as I'm concerned, it never went away.

Here at Gastro Obscura, we really like playing with fire.

When I was a kid, the thing I got in trouble for the most (and this is saying something) was playing with fire.

There was the time that editor Sam O’Brien made feuerzangenbowle, a flaming German rum punch with roots in the rowdy student culture of the 1700s. Then there was the night I risked my fingers and eyebrows with the Victorian party game known as Snapdragon, where players compete to pull raisins and almonds out of a puddle of burning brandy.

"Snapdragon." Get it? Huh?

There's one problem with flaming food and drink: I have facial hair I'd like to keep. Okay, two problems: it's harder to exercise reasonable precautions when you're drinking flaming booze while already drunk.

Both of those were Christmastime traditions, though. I’d argue that adding flaming alcohol to food and drink should be a year-round thing.

Absolutely! And April Fools' Day is coming up fast...

Setting food on fire with warm booze was considered the height of luxury for a good chunk of the 20th century.

Now, I don't know about that. The iconic "height of luxury" was usually champagne and caviar. Champagne can be delicious, but caviar? Meh.

Besides looking pretty, what does flambéing do to a dish? There’s the taste of the liquor—which could be rum, bourbon, Calvados, or brandy—with some of the potency burned away, resulting in a smoother taste.

I've heard some people assert that it burns away all the alcohol. It does not. I suspect that at least part of the reason it fell out of favor was anti-alcohol attitudes.

I’ve flambéed a few things in my time, so I decided to set myself a challenge: to flambé my breakfast, lunch, and dinner over the course of one day.

My biggest problem with the technique is that it burns away at least some of the alcohol. This is alcohol abuse. The only time I tolerate it is if it makes something else better, which, generally, flambé does.

Doing it for every meal, though? That's a stunt. I guess it worked, because I read the article and shared it. Though we have no way of knowing if the author is completely honest about the "every meal for a day" thing, I'll give her the benefit of the doubt, mainly because it doesn't much matter.

There follows the actual dishes prepared, with hunger-inducing photographs.

I just have one thing to add: absinthe.

The first time I tried absinthe was at a Moroccan-themed bar here in my town. I forget the exact ritual they went through, but fire was involved. And I liked it enough to go buy absinthe and try it myself. But the serving of absinthe, with or without fire, is kind of finicky. Sure, you can drink it straight, like other liqueurs, but, like some other liqueurs, it's not really meant to be straight.

At the very least, the serving of absinthe involves ice water and sugar. Generally, you pour the absinthe into a specialty glass and then use some contraption to let the ice water drip slowly into it over a sugar cube.

As I am, above all, a science nerd, I decided to compare flaming absinthe to not-flaming absinthe. Of course, I used the same absinthe, same water source (my kitchen sink) and the same kind of sugar (Domino's brown sugar cubes), because science is all about controlling variables.

The result? In my not-humble opinion, the one without fire had the superior flavor. It was also, I can only assume, more potent because the alcohol hadn't burned off.

However... the flaming absinthe was just more fun.

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