Wednesday, July 31, 2002

I was not aware that Tech TV is rerunning the entire classic Max Headroom series (heck, I was not aware that such a thing as �Tech TV� existed - check the listings for availability in your area).

For the younger crowd, Max Headroom was everywhere in the early to mid �80s, but somehow managed to be one of the few pop-culture icons of the time that never got too obnoxiously omnipresent (at least in my mind). My wife remembers him being on all the screens at a Art of Noise concert she went to in - 1984? 1986? Well, sometime around then, anyway.

If you�re still fuzzy on the whole Max Headroom phenomena, brush up on the characters. Read a synopsis of each episode. Download your own Max Headroom Sound Board, if you�re so inclined. My own fallible memory, however, is at odds with one point in the TV show: I remember the �human� component of Max as having died in the process of his creation - and that �max. headroom� was the last thing the guy saw, on a sign in a underground parking garage, just before he crashed and �died�. The Max Headroom character that was created from his memory bank (or something) then took the name as his own. Am I hallucinating this part?

Tuesday, July 30, 2002

Vaguely Disturbing Trends Department

As if there weren't enough websites selling all the old "As-Seen-on-TV" infomercial stuff, now I see someone has started up, not one, but a whole chain of mall stores to sell the stuff directly. Is it a good thing or a bad thing that now the people who would actually want to buy a "perfect pancake machine" or an "abs energizer" can do so out in public with the rest of us?

Monday, July 29, 2002

More Stories About Brothers-in-Law and Food

So, I was reading kafkaesque's greatest hits and came across the bit about the Self-Mashing Potato Idea, and that reminded me of one of the wacky brothers-in-law; not the one who started the whole eXtreme Croquet thing, but the one who's the webmaster of the CECS site and who used to be a food scientist for Nabisco (and several other places as well).

This guy actually made a better mashed potato. And he didn't have to bother with the little arms. That powdery stuff in a pouch, that looks like sand and you don't believe it will actually work its way back into potato-dom, but which I can't find a link or a picture for? That was his design. The Grey Poupon Parisienne Style, which I think has since been discontinued, but you may remember it as "the one with the seeds"? That was his mustard. This guy designed a mustard.

He also had the one, killer idea for a product that was just too "risky" for anybody he worked for to actually produce and market, so he formed his own company to make and sell it himself. (Here's where I slip into unsolicited, unpaid promotion mode). What it was was no less than a frontal assault on the tyranny of the steak sauce market, which is dominated by A-1 and its clones, all of which are predominately vinegar-based, and all of which are part of a 200-year old culinary tradition of covering up the very taste of meat, so patrons wouldn't notice if their particular cut was a little - well, off. Okay, rotten. Your traditional steak sauce was originally developed to cover up the taste of rotten meat. True. The sad part is that the majority of people still use such sauces today, even though they (hopefully) aren't eating rotten meat on a regular basis.

Now you don't have to. You can have Steak Sense Steak Sauce, and enjoy your beef the way it was meant to taste. Don't believe me? Read the history of steak sauces, and find out why Steak Sense is different. Peruse the recipies, and find out why adding real grilled beef flavor makes even cheaper cuts of meat taste better.

Yes, I know - it sounds like gravy in a bottle; that's what I said originally, and that's what the first few test runs kind of tasted like. But numerous taste testings and experimental batches (and you have no idea how hard it was grilling steak after steak to test the latest batch was. Good thing I care so much for my family, or I just couldn't have gone through with it) finally resulted in a honest-to gracious sauce that complements, but doesn't compete with, the flavor of real grilled steak. The company had the perfect product, and was poised for massive success.

Except that it still wouldn't sell. Apparently, the only thing harder than getting a first novel onto bookstore shelves is getting a new product onto grocery store shelves, and without the massive product support that groceries provide, the product doesn't move.

Well, this is my free plug. Try some. I can't guarantee you'll like it, but I do, and I never use steak sauce. And if that isn't a ringing (and completely unbiased) endorsement, then I just don't know what is.

Saturday, July 27, 2002

Yes, this is just a straight news link. I promise my next entry will either be obtuse writing, in-depth analysis of something or other, or an oddball link to a minor bit of pop-cultural ephemera, but for the moment this somehow bothers me.

Yeah, people see things all the times, and usually (always?) they're mistaken as to what they saw. But you don't scramble F-16's for hallucinations, swamp gas, or the planet Venus. At least you didn't used to. Also, the explanation is disingenous, if not laughable. "Ha! Of course it wasn't an Unidentified Flying Object! You idiot! It was simply something flying around that we thought it would be a good idea to chase with heavily-armed fighter jets, except that it suddenly disappeared and we don't know what it was. That's all!"


Thursday, July 25, 2002

Everybody in the world will be linking to this today, so I might as well too - Rock and Roll Confidential: Regrettable Band Promo Shots (aka the "Daily Douchebag").

Hit the "next" button from any pic to continue laughing, or go here for an overview. Warning: it's not healthy to do too many at a single sitting.

Tuesday, July 23, 2002

Update from the Fish Department

I'd just like to point out that since I first reported on it, the Invasion of the Snakehead Fish has become the story of the summer, moving up to third place on the "current most over-reported news items" list, displacing pedophilic priests are everywhere but still unable to overtake omigod, watch out for random child abductions. The long-time champ, Dubya is a dummy, remains uncatchable.

This is the curve.

This is me out over here, ahead of it.

Sunday, July 21, 2002

Some good friends of ours have a friend of their own (yes, the mythical "friend of a friend', hereafter abbreviated as "FOAF", except that in this case, I have met the FOAF in question) who has them saving pull-tabs from beer cans for some charity or another. Mr. and Mrs. Good Friend dutifully collect the tabs, and turn them over in big plastic bags to the FOAF, although Mr. Good Friend has expressed some skepticism about the whole project.

I first witnessed the "turning over the bags of pull-tabs" a few weeks ago when we went over to the Good Friends' for dinner and met the FOAF and her husband. Since it is not too socially acceptable to dis people you just met, I kept my mouth shut at the time. Since then, Mr. Good Friend has expressed even more skepticism, so I decided to take a closer look. I would love to report, as per my first instinct, that the whole thing is an urban legend, fostered generation after generation by well-meaning but delusional folk who think they are doing the world some small bit of good. Alas, although that simple explanation may have been true in the past, the situation now is considerably murkier.

To begin with, "redemption rumors" have been around for ages, and as usual, the good folks at have a pretty good section on their history. Basically, these start as passed-on stories designed by the tellers to make people feel better about something bad they are doing - the earliest such tale seems to be the one about collecting empty cigarette packs to buy seeing-eye dogs for the blind. Yeah, we're smoking a lot, but we're helping people, see? (Or, helping people see, depending on the intonation). No doubt, these caught on and gained credence due to their similarity to real promotions in which companies would encourage people to save bits and pieces of their product to win some fabulous prize - I'm reminded of the Burma-Shave sign that parodied the whole phenomenon, but which backfired when they did have to give some idiot a "trip to Mars" for collecting 900 empty jars (they sent him to Moers, Germany). The real promotions, though, couldn't possibly compete for the public's enthusiasm for the rumored ones - like sending an old pair of sneakers to Nike for a brand-new pair, or the venerable find an indian on the Tootsie Pop wrapper, and send it in for a free pop. None of these could hold a candle though, to the excitement that began when someone, somewhere, first decided that you could trade in pop-tops for kidney dialysis.

In it's purest form, for at least four decades now, the rumor says that if you collect a [random but very large number] of pop-tops (or, later, pull-tabs), [some company or charity or another] will "redeem" them, and buy time for some poor sick child on a dialysis machine. Ain't true, and never was. The rumor has plagued charities for generations, as well as Kidney Foundations - here's the National Kidney Foundation dispelling the rumor, and a more recent debunking from the Illinois Kidney Foundation. Snopes does a much better job than I can explaining the whole sordid story, so read all about it in the link above - but note, however, the ominous addition at the end of the article about that all-American institution, McDonalds.

Yes, the evil fund-raising minions at Ronald McDonald House Charities have found a way to capitalize on the piles and piles (and bags and bags) of pull-tabs that well-meaning folk have collected over the years (only to find that they are not worth nearly the effort involved in collecting them),and in so doing have given the entire urban legend new life and new focus. Not only are they taking embarrassed "kidney dialysis" collectors off the hook, they're giving a place for all the sucker teachers who organize pull-tab drives and then try to explain it away as a way of teaching kids "what a million of something looks like" a place to dump their nearly-worthless scraps of aluminum. (And if they wanted to collect a million of something as some kind of object lesson/math experiment, why not do something worthwhile and collect a million pennies? As our pal Kokogiak will tell you, that's a net ten thousand bucks and change, right there).

Local Ronald McDonald Houses have jumped into this "fund-raising" idea with both feet, and often do so in surprisingly similar sounding terms - so, I suspect that the FOAF is collecting the pull-tabs from our friends and others in response to the local R.McD as well. They are also perpetuating the one big lie that has insinuated its way into the whole affair - that collecting the tabs is somehow better than saving the whole can. The MickeyD explanation is that the tabs are "pure aluminum" (as opposed to the crap they make the rest of the can out of, apparently), which I also heard from the FOAF, and that it's somehow easier, better, and more profitable to just recycle the tabs. Wrong. Here's the Delaware County, Ohio, Health District trying (and undoubtedly failing) to convince people to recycle the whole can (Cans can be crushed and baled, tabs can't. Tabs can get lost and cause more problems than the cans themselves, etc.) If you're still not convinced, here's an excellent FAQ section from Alberta's Beverage Container Management Board - no, you shouldn't bother pulling off the tabs to donate them to charity. No, the tabs are not made of anything any more special than the rest of the can.

All the debunkers are fighting a losing battle, though, because the depth of ignorance on this subject is amazing. Here's an article in the Villanova student newspaper that manages to completely confuse every issue! Pull-tabs can be redeemed for dialysis! They can be traded in for wheelchairs! Oh, wait, no they can't, but it worked out okay once for a bunch of folks that tried to do it! Anyway, whatever happens, you can always turn 'em into your local Ronald McDonald House, because the tabs are so much more valuable than the whole can! Finally, here's a "Truth or Fiction?" entry that isn't sure whether collecting pull-tabs is an urban myth or not, but does think they're worth 100 times as much as the cans themselves, based on what "one charity" told them. Dollars to donuts that charity was the local Ronald McDonald House.

Whew. Tom (oh, sorry, "Mr. Good Friend") if you're still reading this, I'm sorry I couldn't give you a simpler, more straightforward answer. The truth in this instance is that saving pull-tabs is, as we both knew in our gut, of no real benefit, but people do it anyway, so now the Ronald McDonald House Charities are encouraging people to continue to do something that is of no real benefit, other than that it makes them feel good about themselves. Human nature is wonderful, isn't it?

Wednesday, July 17, 2002

Uh-oh. Lawyers' malpractice insurance does not cover damages for spanking a client. May have to rethink that particular strategy.

Tuesday, July 16, 2002

Who the hell was Casper before he died, anyway? I've always leaned towards the Richie Rich theory, myself, but I dunno - perhaps he was Macaulay Culkin in a former life? Or maybe he was Kaspar Hauser? It'd just be too weird for him to have been Billy Casper, wouldn't it?
The Pillar Mountain Golf Classic is an annual, one hole, Par 70 golf tournament to the top of 1400 ft. snow covered Pillar Mountain in Kodiak, Alaska. There�s a five-stroke penalty for waking the bears.

Alternatively, if you�re not partial to frostbite, you could try the Black Rock Self-Invitational Desert Classic, held each year on the rock-hard Playa of the Black Rock Desert, Nevada, where 150-yard putts are common. Unfortunately, it�s now too late to participate in this year�s tournament. Dang. Well, there�s always next year.

(links courtesy of the nuts at the Connecticut eXtreme Croquet Society)

Saturday, July 13, 2002

I am also going to try to give wider exposure to this little story about Elvis, which came up in the course of a larger, light-hearted discussion of how everybody always calls for "Free Bird!" at concerts. I laughed, I cried, I'd see it again.

Friday, July 12, 2002

From the World's Greatest Recipies file - Salted Water. The reader comments and reviews are what make this really hilarious.
California's oldest inmate begs to stay in jail, but is released anyway at age 92; commits suicide a few days later. Even though I'd already seen the movie, that doesn't make the true story any less sad.

Wednesday, July 10, 2002

Today Chris brought home a bag of Marpo Marshmallow Fun Cones (that's a terrible picture of them, though), which was the rarest of things - an old-timey candy I had never heard of before. They're basically packaged ice cream cones with flourescent marshmallow goo inside them instead of ice cream - she remembered them as a kid, though, and after eating half the bag agreed that once in thirty or forty years was enough. I was more intrigued by the disclaimer on the bag (how can you not love a candy that comes with its own disclaimer):

This candy changes with the weather. In cold, dry weather it will be quite crisp. In warm weather it will be soft. However, crisp or soft, this candy is fresh and tasty!

Uh, huh. Some say similar things about Peeps - "Oh, they're better when they get a little stale" - but I don't hear Just Born, Inc. (and isn't that a great name for a company that makes little marshmallow chickies and bunnies) making such claims.

In the course of our research into the mysterious cones, though, we were led inexorably to and quickly became lost in what may be the font of all online candy goodness - the appropriately-named EBULKCANDY.COM. My lord. The elusive Walnetto, and many more seemingly extinct morsels. Tastykakes! Chocolate hockey pucks! And - do my eyes deceive me - Pop Rocks. Wow. This one's a keeper, for that "just in case" time when we absolutely must have a Flake Bar.
Maybe I'm crazy (apologies to the differently-perceptive if that's an offensive term), but in my naivete, I actually thought today was a very good day on MetaFilter. And on MetaTalk, too!

Tuesday, July 09, 2002

Oh, man. Just in case ColdChef and I manage to get the MetaFilter thread deleted by baiting the boo-hooers, here's an alternate source for The Big Book of Sign Language.
Here's another good reason why I don't drink iced coffee. I mean, besides the fact that coffee is supposed to be hot. And black, without sugar, milk, cream, frappucino, or any such fruity or spicy nonsense. You might as well serve nice cups of piping hot ice cream as sell iced coffee.

Monday, July 08, 2002

Update from the Duck Department

We got our celebriducks today. I can now confirm that these are quality rubber ducks, well designed, well packaged, flawlessly rendered and promptly and accurately shipped. And they squeak, too! All of which, damnit, makes it darn nigh impossible to send any back. We finally agreed to return the Laurel and Hardy and the Charlie Chaplin, and Betty Boop is still on the fence. Mr. T, James Brown, Groucho, Carmen Miranda, Mona Lisa, Will Shakespeare and the Queen, however, will definitely have places of honor in our bathroom, although they may have to take turns. If they ever finish Frank N. Furter, though, he may well join the rotation.

Sunday, July 07, 2002

Smoke from Canadian forest fires has blown down to New England, and all day it has looked like a very odd sort of perpetual twilight, tinted a hazy rust. The appearance is very much like you'd expect to see on Mars, and the whole effect is very end-of-the-worldish. It's a little creepy, and I swear it's driving the birds and animals outside (and our cat and conure) absolutely nuts.
The only problem with four-day weekends is going back to work after they're over, and I'm dreading it already. This has also been a particularly busy four days, so although we've been doing things constantly, it seems like we haven't accomplished anything. Since there is so much worthwhile stuff to do, then, I'm wasting time here, naturally. Look up "procrastinate" in the dictionary if you want any more pictures of me.

Yesterday, we wrapped up our civic duties by doing our time in a ticket booth at the carnival on the Town Common. The Town's Fourth of July Carny is about the biggest one around, and draws quite a crowd each year. Sales of ride tickets are also the biggest source of revenue to pay for fireworks, bands, etc., so official-types tend to get "volunteered" to work a shift in a booth a lot like the Army asks for "volunteers".

It's amazing how much money is the carny biz. In four hours, I sold over 4,600 tickets at a dollar a pop. For those keeping score at home, that's over $4,600 going throough my hands, in cash, and in small bills. And I was in one of three booths. And the carnival goes on for four days. You quickly see why the carnival trade has historically been a little shady.

Selling tickets is actually fairly enjoyable, but you do get the stupidest questions repeatedly. There's a big sign on the front of the booth that says "TICKETS - $1.00 each. Kiddie Rides - ONE TICKET. All others - TWO TICKETS", but people still ask "how much are tickets?" Other questions I enjoy:

Is there a discount for bulk sales? No - One dollar, one ticket. Pretty simple, actually.
Can I sell you back tickets I don't use? No - this is how we make the money. Duh.
Do I have to buy a ticket for myself to go on the [whatever] with my kid? Yes - see immediately preceding answer.

And my favorite, that I actually got twice:
How do I buy tickets? "You give me money, I give you tickets."

Thursday, July 04, 2002

I believe somebody out there wanted to see some parade pictures . . .

I am happy to report that the republic is secure in Franklin, Massachusetts.

All right - I have completed my duties. Time to drink beer and eat hot dogs.

Let freedom ring, y'all.

Tuesday, July 02, 2002

I finally remembered why I was so taken with the juxtaposition of organ music and food. It was the damn Fin and Feather, in the unforgettably-named Gore, Oklahoma. Of course, they have a website now. Every place in the world has a website - I have a website. When I was a kid in Oklahoma, though, they didn't even have computers.

My grandparents had a place on Paradise Hill, overlooking Lake Tenkiller (which, of course, has its own website now too, as well as its own webring). My grandfather bought the place shortly after the Army Corps of Engineers dammed the Illinois River to create the lake (there aren't too many naturally-occurring lakes in Oklahoma) with the idea that he and my grandmother would retire there when he finally got tired of selling furniture. He not only bought the lot for the house, he bought the one across the street, so he'd always have a view of the lake, and the ones on either side (the "North Forty" and the "South Forty", respectively) so he wouldn't ever have to worry about neighbors being too close. My grandfather was a smart man, and eerily prescient at times.

When I was a kid, though, the Lake House was all about summer and weekends - my parents would drive up with a couple of their friends, and me and maybe one or two of my friends (if I was lucky) pretty near every weekend each summer. Sometimes my grandparents would be there, in which case I'd eat my grandmother Ila's biscuits and gravy on Sunday morning. Sometimes one or more Uncles and Aunts, or other folks I didn't really know would be there too. Later on, my little sisters came as well. Whoever was there, though, would go to the boat house and either swim or fish there or go out on the boat to water ski. My dad was the best water skier of all, up until I started to learn how, then he stopped and said he couldn't do it any more. He always blamed his knee (old motorcycle injury) for not being able to do it any more, but I noticed that he never got tired of turning the boat around and around when I was learning to slalom, and how proud he was when I got better and better at it.

After swimming and skiing, we'd all go back to the Lake House, and rest up before dinner. Some Saturday nights we ate at the Lake House, but more often we all, whoever was staying there that particular weekend, went down to the Fin and Feather. It was the only lodge around for miles and miles, so it had kind of a monopoly on the local crowd. It's probably four times as large now as it was then, but even back then the dining hall would be packed, and the line to get into the buffet would snake way out the door. Waiting in line for the buffet is one of those indelible memories I will always have - as is the mashed potatoes and gravy, and the huge (for a kid, anyway) salad bar and dessert bar, and the roast beef that I could always seem to eat more of than anybody else.

The memory I had nearly forgotten about, though, was the entertainment at the Fin and Feather - a pleasant, elderly (again, to a kid) man playing a Hammond Organ and singing old songs. I'm sure that eating at the Fin and Feather is the only time I've ever heard "Shine On, Harvest Moon", but I know it. And several others. It seemed to me that every time we went to the Fin and Feather to eat, it was always Roaring 20's night, too - the waitresses all wore little sequined dresses, and had hats with feathers in them. I only gradually tumbled to the notion that they rotated the "themes" of the buffets during the week, and since we were only there on Saturday nights, the Roaring 20's night was the only one I ever went to. I didn't mind too much - I liked the food (ummm, that roast beef) and the silly old music that the guy played on the Hammond organ.

My grandfather never got to completely retire to his house on the lake. He passed away back in the 70's. My grandmother kept going to the lake, but not as often, and gradually turned the maintenance of the place over to my father before she just couldn't go back any more either. She's gone now, too. She left the place to my Dad, and he and his wife go there as often as they can, but they're busy now too. I don't think my sisters go there that often any more either. There's a lot more that everybody can do now besides going to the same place every weekend and going to the same place for dinner every Saturday night. Things change.

But Saturday night is still Roaring 20's Night at the Fin and Feather, and they still have roast beef, and mashed potatoes and gravy. Thank God.
Today at the Brunching Shuttlecocks, Lore Sjoberg reprints a piece about the Pizza and Pipes Restaurant in Redwood City, California that he originally put in his weblog "Slumbering Lungfish" back in 1999. You can't get to the page anymore, but here's Google's cache of the original article from September 15, 1999.

Now, I realize that no mortal is expected to be both funny and original 365 days a year, but I don't know whether to feel happy or sad to discover that Lore is apparently mortal too. Oh well, it's still a very nice piece of writing, so I'll go ahead and report on the research that the article orginally inspired me to do, in the course of which I accidently came across the old one.

There are still Pizza and Pipes restaurants in Santa Clara as well as the one Lore originally visited in Redwood CIty, in case any left-coasters have a hankering for enjoying a little wurlitzer with their pizza. There's also a remarkably similar establishment outside of Sarasota, Florida for the Floridian organ afficionados. Sadly, though, the Pizza and Pipes in Tacoma, Washington burned down in August, 1999. Raise a glass to the vanishing wurlitzers with your next pizza.

Monday, July 01, 2002

Wish me luck. Despite all warnings, and at great personal risk, I will still be marching in our Fourth of July Parade this Thursday. I regret that I have but one life to give to this stupid little podunk Town.
130-year old bottle of Tabasco found in Nevada. Hell, they could've just looked in my refrigerator. There's one right between the 150-year old bottle of barbecue sauce and the 115-year old jar of chow-chow that you should never, never open.

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