Is it another goofy-ass video from the monkeys at terry colon dot com? Well, I wouldn’t be surprised.
Attack of the killer kites? Extreme kite fighting run amok? Kite pirates on a rampage? Your guess is as good as mine for this old “Strange Deaths” art spot done for Fortean Times. I could jot down any old thing and the reader mightn’t be any the wiser it was spun from whole cloth. It is the web, after all, nobody checks up on these things.
Instead, I’m going to let each and every one of you participate in the proceedings. Type your own story of any length in the endlessly expandable text box below and, voila! it becomes a wiki-Snippet.
Yeah, there’s no send, submit or save button. Sorry, guess it’s not all so very wiki after all.
Filed under Snippets 2/3/16
Bolivia was named after one person, Simón Bolívar, “The Liberator,” so called. Saudi Arabia gets its name from the ruling house of Saud. They own the place, I guess. What if all countries were named after people, or maybe the most common surname in the land? Imagine the map of Europe. Heck, don’t imagine, click on the pic and see for yourself.
Click to enlarge
Admittedly, this is just a gimmick to present the most common surnames per country with a slight twist. As you can see, some names are popular in more places than one. Müller rules in Germany and Switzerland. Smith is numero uno in England and Scotland. I would have thought Stewart, Stuart or MacSomething would have been tops in Scotland. A bigger surprise to me is Malta with the name Borg. Go figure.
Then there are cases of variations on a theme. Jensen in Denmark and Joensen in former Danish settlement Iceland. Whether the Danes lost an O or the Icelanders gained one is an open question. There’s also the Croatian Horvat and the Slovakian Horváth. It appears somehow the H and the mark over the A got lost or added passing through Hungary. But the winner is the tripled-up Nowak, Novák and Novak in Poland, the Czech Republic, and Slovenia respectively.
On the other hand, if you go by the names the locals use for their own country, there is one instance where the commonest surname and country name more-or-less jibe. The most common Croatian surname, Horvat; Croatian for Croatia, Hrvatska.
While I grant the locals get to call their country what they will, I don’t think Americans will ever latch onto those names. I mean, Slovenščina, Magyarország, Shqipëria, and Eeti Vabariik? I think we’ll stick with good old Slovenia, Hungary, Albania and Estonia, thank you very much. Could be worse though, what would we do with the likes of Poccия, Укpaинa and Ελλαδα?
Filed under Fun Facts & Trivia 2/2/16
In the age of digital shopping, digital banking, digital credit, and maybe soon nothing but digital currency, we are seemingly overwhelmed with PINs, codes, passwords, and combination lock type security measures of all kinds. Given all that, one might wonder what is the worst password imaginable? 12345, your name, your phone number, the word “password”? All pretty bad, as you no doubt already know since this topic is not exactly novel. On the flip side of the question, what might be the best encoded ID?
Some folks suggest it might be convenient to use a natural encoded ID like fingerprints or the like. Despite being unique, personal, and always with you, fingerprints can actually be lousy passwords. They are not all that secret; unless you wear gloves all the time your fingerprints are going to be all over the place for someone to lift. Possibly worse, if your fingerprint (or eyeball or DNA, etc.) password is ever cracked, hacked, or stolen, resetting or swapping out your fingerprints (or eyeball or DNA, etc.) for uncompromised replacements wouldn’t be all that easy, would it?
Here is where I believe it is the customary practice for the author to offer a novel, surprising, simple and foolproof solution. First, totally divest yourself of possessions. If you have nothing to steal it can’t be stolen. Next, or optionally, eliminate every person on Earth, other than yourself, of course. If there are no thieves nothing will be stolen. Those are the only foolproof methods, everything else is a compromise.
OK, those half-baked suggestions fall into the solution-is-worse-than-the-problem category. Instead, you might go in for what the big boys use:
Filed under Odds & Ends 2/1/16
mortify (môr′ tə fī) verb. 1. Cause (someone) to feel embarrassed, ashamed, or humiliated. 2. Subdue (the body or its needs and desires) by self-denial or discipline. 3. Archaic, (of flesh) be affected by gangrene or necrosis.
Derivation: from late Middle English (in the senses ‘put to death,’ ‘deaden,’ and ‘subdue by self-denial’); from Old French mortifier, from ecclesiastical Latin mortificare ‘kill, subdue,’ from mors, mort- ‘death.’
So, death-ify to mortify. As in embarrassed to death, humiliated to no end, ashamed as hell. Or in the toon, mortified to death to no end in Hell with a capital H, which rhymes with… uh… does H rhyme with anything? Never mind. To return to the word under scrutiny, when you know the derivation you’ll see that old bit of art from the Suck archives fits to a nicety.
Filed under Word Meanings & Origins 1/30/16
This is an old spot I did for AdWeek magazine. To own the truth, having long lost and forgotten the story text I don’t quite know myself what the possum is doing on the subway. Yes, it’s reading a magazine, you know what I mean. How old is this spot of art, you might ask but probably didn’t. One hint, the commuters, as well as the possum who probably isn’t commuting since possums don’t have jobs as a rule, are all reading stuff printed on paper. Reading from paper, of all things. How very second millenium. The paper part, not the reading.
In these digital days we have the paperless office and, one imagines by extension, the paperless subway. By paperless I mean no paper, as in newspaper, which fewer and fewer people are reading every day on the subway or anywhere else. Unlike newspapers which are going paperless much to their consternation, offices aren’t really paperless, or even less papered, as every cubicle denizen is on a computer hooked up to a printer and the temptation to print out anything and everything is too much for folks to resist.
Anyway, computers aren’t to be trusted, ink on paper is just more real somehow. The whole e-thing seems fraught with peril. You start with a thought, put it into words, which are transcribed as phonetic symbols, typed in and translated to computer code, gets sent as electrons or photons or something somewhere somehow, is translated back to computer code, transcribed back to phonetic symbols which translate to words which are symbols for the thought the end reader must interpret based on their own understanding. Though, now that I consider it, the weakest link in this chain isn’t the machinery, is it?
Filed under Snippets 1/29/16
Why are Americans so incredibly fat nowadays? Well, why do people get fat at all? Or better yet, why does any animal get fat, like the ones which layer on the lard every fall prepping for winter? Do they know lean times are just around the corner and are planning ahead? How about the first-year newbie critters who never saw it snow before? Is mama bear something of a Jewish mother, “Eat, eat, you’re skin and bones. When February rolls around you’re going to need that fat to keep you going”?
This dovetails into Infrequently Answered Questions #93. Autumn is when many fructose-laden fruits and such ripen, the animals get hooked, gobble as many as they can sink their teeth into, and get fat. The creatures of the woods don’t plan it, they can’t help themselves. One marvels at how Nature works these things out.
Thinking of tie-ins, is it only by accident Lent is in late winter, the same time hibernating animals are also basically fasting?
Filed under Links & Sites to See 1/28/16
Another Reason magazine “Brickbats” rerun from nine years ago.
There’s no sign telling you not to take a photograph that might include the building at 3701 N. Fairfax Drive in Arlington, Virginia. But if you do, expect to be stopped by a police officer, have your personal information recorded and be told to delete the photo from your camera. That’s just what happened to Keith McCammon, who later found out the building houses the federal Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. In fact, the government apparently has a list of buildings that, for security reasons, it won’t allow people to photograph. But, citing security concerns, it refuses to release the list or warn people in advance they can’t photograph the buildings.
You have to break the law in order to find out what’s in it. “How do you plead, Number Six?” “Who is Number One?” “I am the new Catch-22.”
Filed under Snippets 1/27/16
Infrequently Answered Question #93: Is junk food addicting?
A: Depends. What do you mean by junk food?
Q: That’s not an answer, it’s a question.
A: That’s not a question.
Q: What is this, some kind of music hall crosstalk bit?
A: You’re failing to grasp my clever rhetorical device implying the question is unclear…
Q: Are you saying I’m not clever, rhetorical boy? Just answer the question.
A: Ah, sorry. Now then, some junk and whatever-the-oposite-of-junk-is foods are addicting, some aren’t. Addicting meaning they fiddle with your brain chemistry so the little voice in your head keeps crying for more and doesn’t know when to say when, so to speak. Opiates, caffeine and alcohol are all greedy little voice in your head enablers. They’re addicting.
You can think of foods as falling into three basic types: fat, protein, and carbohydrate. Being chains of sugars, you can replace the word carbohydrate with sugar. So, stop thinking what I first said to think and think of foods as fat, protein, and sugar. Now then, is fat addicting? No. Is protein addicting? No. Is sugar addicting? Yes and no.
While there are all kinds of sugars, maltose, lactose, galactose, sucrose, et al, only glucose and fructose get out of your gut and get at the brain. Good old glucose is generally nice and better-behaved and not addicting, fructose is the naughty sugar, a bad influence on the little voice, it’s addicting. –Hey, if medicos can talk about good and bad cholesterol, why not nice and naughty sugar? All very sciency.– Naughty old fructose creates addiction identical to alcohol addiction, turning you into a sugar wino. Why might that be? Consider, alcohol is fermented sugar.
Now let’s look at what might be called junk food, a typical fast food meal. A Coke would be addicting since it has both caffeine and fructose. Fries might be addicting because of the potato, but not from the oil or salt. A burger might be slightly addicting because of the bun and ketchup, not the meat or cheese. A non-fat cookie for dessert, pure sugar, the little voice would latch onto it like white on rice and urge you to keep it coming.
Oh yes, being pure carbs, which is to say sugar, white on rice could be somewhat addicting, too.
Video: Fat Chance: Fructose 2.0
Filed under Infrequently Answered Questions 1/26/16
Here’s a Green message you don’t often hear: The less naturally we live, the more we separate from nature, the better off nature is. Modern farming uses nearly 70% less land today to grow a given quantity of food than fifty years ago. Is organic farming more “sustainable”? Think how much natural habitat would need to be plowed under if we returned to organic farming.
Filed under Links & Sites to See 1/25/16
Does mamma lemming sound anything like your mom? It’s pretty much every parent’s advice for avoiding the logical fallacy, Appeal to numbers (argumentum ad numerum) or majority, or popular belief: asserting that the acceptance of an idea by a majority, or by a large number of people, is reason to believe it.
Propagandists use it in bandwagon campaigns. You know, as a Madison Avenue hack might say, “A million whatever-they-ares can’t be wrong.” Really? As the man once said, “If a thousand people believe a foolish thing, it’s still a foolish thing.” So how do foolish beliefs become so widespread? Here’s one possibility.
An old saw says two heads are better than one, which is often the case. –Then again too many cooks spoil the broth, but we’ll ignore that.– On the game show Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? the studio audience majority usually votes for the right answer. A consensus answer that’s right on the money.
What if, instead of a secret ballot, the audience voted aloud sequentially? Now suppose the first person gets it wrong. If the second person has no idea, maybe they agree with the first person to play it safe. Then, even if they have doubts, voter three is liable to go along assuming the first two must know a thing or two. This starts an “informational cascade” as one person after another assumes the rest know what they’re talking about.
Thus, what they call a “consensus cascade” can lead majority belief one way or another depending on what answers are given first rather than actual knowledge. If you think only the impressionable masses fall prey to this sort of thing, you might want to read this from Michael Chrichton:
Filed under Odds & Ends 1/24/16
That’s right, isn’t it?
And now, a link to a short video about how Brits and Yanks talk differently in a way you might not have realized. Well, I didn’t, anyway. Americans might find the presenter’s American accent a bit off. Still, better than many a Hollywood actor’s tin-eared attempt at an English accent which, often it seems, amounts to various regional British dialects, misheard, misspoken and jumbled together.
Heck, we can’t even seem to get the right next door Canadian accent right. I mean, what’s all this guff about Canadians saying “aboot” for about? Sounds more like “aboat” to my ear, though not quite. At least we all write the same, apart from the spellings Americans changed because they were too French. Like taking the U out of colour or swapping the C for an S in offence, which Canadians pronounce oh-fense with a long O, by the way.
Anyway, I’m getting off the track. Though actually, I’ve hit the end of the line. That link:
Filed under Links & Sites to See 1/22/16
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contronym (kŏn′ trə nĭm) noun. A word with two opposite meanings.
A contronym is an antonym of itself, as for instance cleave (divide) and cleave (adhere) or left (went) and left (remaining). Left seems some kind of Schrödinger’s word conveying both being there and not being there. Then you can cleave a chicken into left and right, eat the left and have the right left, right? One imagines contronyms are words someone of George Carlin’s bent would have plenty of fun with.
Then we have the contronyms: trim, oversight, sanction… Rather than my retreading the wheel, I’ll just redirect you to the source:
Filed under Word Meanings & Origins 1/20/16
Body snatching, grave robbing, and battlefield scavenging are, most would agree, pretty unsavory occupations, if they can be called occupations. Talk about filthy lucre and adding insult to injury. The cold-blooded might call them victimless crimes, at least the primary victims won’t be any the worse for wear, the worst has already happened and it can’t get worse than worst.
All the same, there was another side to these dark practices besides robbing the dead; not quite organ harvesting, but something like it. You might call it medical gleaning, a euphemism which looks better on a business card than, say, corpse monger. Back in the day before organ and tissue transplanting were developed, surgery pretty much entailed removing and lopping rather than inserting and attaching. Dead human internal organs aren’t much use to anyone other than medical students to study, and maybe cannibals.
The first type of insertion of bits from other people, beginning in the 18th century, was not swapping out vital organs, but implanting teeth. For the well-healed there were live teeth yanked from jaws of willing donors. The thrifty made do with dead teeth from “donors” who didn’t have much say in the matter, but at least weren’t bothered by the lack of anesthetics in those days. Though the donee might have gotten more than he bargained for if, as was sometimes the case, the donor had syphilis.
What the medical gleaners really needed was a supply of healthy young corpses, if dead can be called healthy. The Battle of Waterloo provided a windfall of 51,000 possible donors and a cache of so-called “Waterloo teeth” was made available as war scavengers following the Napoleonic armies made the rounds with sackfuls of teeth they sold to dentists and surgeons around Europe. According to one practitioner of battlefield post-mortem dentistry, “It is the constant practice to take the teeth out first …because if the body be lost, the teeth are saved.”
Nowadays we’re much too civilized to traffic in slightly used human body parts… oh, scratch that.
Filed under Fun Facts & Trivia 1/18/16
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Fauxcabulary Word #9
gawkward (gawk′ wərd) adj. Causing when-the-stranger-you’re-looking-at-looks-back-at-you-then-you-look-away-briefly-and-look-again-and-they-notice-that-too embarrassment.
When a gawkward moment crops up invariably, one guesses, the looker imagines what the lookee supposes the looker is thinking about the lookee. Depending on the looker and lookee this could be real or imagined ogling, morbid curiosity, wonder, or, as the case seems often enough, just plain absence of mind. Whatever the case one hardly knows whether to smile meekly, nod slightly, or pretend you were actually peering at some endlessly fascinating whatever just over the lookee’s shoulder. All in all it’s a bit of an ‘oops-err-heh-heh moment’ society has neglected to provide a clear rule of etiquette for.
Filed under Word Meanings & Origins 1/17/16
Above is interactive joke number two. Hold the cursor over each person to make the dialog balloon appear. Do I need to tell you go from left to right? Then come back and read the rest.
I’ve heard that in the first year of medical school they tell students, “Half of what you will learn is either wrong or will be useless within ten years of graduation. The problem is, we don’t know which half.”
Which makes me wonder, what about all the other fields of study? Or is now the one time in history where we have the right answers for nearly everything? Other than for medicine, that is.
Filed under Odds & Ends 1/15/16
Infrequently Answered Question #92: What’s the dumbest question you were ever asked?
A: Many, many years ago someone called me on the phone and asked me where I was. Duh, where did you call? Back in the day phones were hard-wired to the wall so if you called my home phone and I answered… guess where I am.
Now-a-days, what with everyone and their uncle having cell phones, this wouldn’t be a dumb question at all. I imagine under twenties probably wonder about the usual phrases of phone useage.
“Please, hang up and dial again.”
“Um-m, hang what where? What dial?”
Just as old-timey phrases made sense to folks 200 years ago and not now, things change so quickly easily understood idioms you tossed about growing up are conundrums to kids today. If you’re a seasoned citizen like me, that is.
“Who cut the cheese? Crank open a window.”
“There’s a crank? I don’t get it.”
“Roll down your window.”
“It rolls? I don’t get it.”
“You sound like a broken record.”
“Broken record? I don’t get that, either.”
Speaking of dumb questions and time displacement, in Back to the Future Professor Brown asks Marty, “OK, future boy, who’s the President in 1985?” Well, this can’t verify if Marty is telling the truth about really being from the future, Professor Brown doesn’t know the correct answer, does he?
Filed under Infrequently Answered Questions 1/14/16
As it’s playoff time in the NFL, it’s a good time for this Reason magazine “Brickbats” from a couple years ago.
Referees working the football game between Tarkington High School and Splendora High School in Texas have filed a complaint against Liberty County Precinct 5 Constable L.W. DeSpain. DeSpain, who was not working at the game, charged onto the field when he disagreed with a call made by the refs.
Maybe your favorite team is out of the playoff picture. No matter, you can still place your bets, which is half the interest in the NFL. The other half is fantasy leagues. At least I think I saw something recently how fantasy league betting rivals wagering on the actual league. Preferring fantasy to reality, sign of the times, I think.
Filed under Snippets 1/13/16
A whole lot of pretty bizarre stuff happened in the fourteenth century. Folks didn’t understand it then, we don’t truly understand it now. The once accepted plague from black rats is largely discounted these days. Here’s an alternative hypothesis to entertain, it came from space. Is that possible? I have no way of knowing.
One thing I do know, I was able to repurpose an old Suck art spot. What do you know, the lazy plan works.
Filed under Links & Sites to See 1/12/16
If, as they say, you are what you eat, so must be the creatures of the forrest. Taste-wise, anyway. Which is one good reason wild game tastes, well, gamey. Besides chowing down on pungent appetizers you’ll not find in a feeding trough, wild animals are lean and mean with less tasty fat, unless you bag one in late fall as they fatten up for winter. There’s another reason for the toothsomeness difference of wild game, exercise. Which takes some explaining.
Muscles burn sugar in the form of glycogen for fuel and the more an animal burns the less glycogen its muscles contain when converted from living beast to dinner. Glycogen turns into lactic acid after death making the meat tender. So, a layabout fat pig will go to slaughter full of glycogen, a wild boar you chased through the brambles not so much. Lactic acid turns bacteria on the flesh into slackers increasing meat’s shelf-life. High pH living puts the little buggers to sleep, they go dormant if you want to use sciency terms.
To go off on a tangent, acidity is why leaves don’t rot until fall. During summer leaves are covered with bacteria, but are also full of water which raises pH so the microbes just sit there on vacation. When fall rolls in trees cut off the water supply, the leaves dry out and the bacteria wake up and start breakfasting like there’s no tomorrow. That’s why if you don’t dredge your backyard carp pond, if you have one, it’ll become choked with slimy leaves that never seem to rot.
Back to our meat story. The taste difference of tuckered out animals has not gone unnoticed, though moderns who do all their hunting in the supermarket wouldn’t be aware of it. The Ojibwe had a word for “having the taste of an animal that was tired out before being killed,” Pikikiwepogosi.
Oh yeah, pH is for “potential of hydrogen.” Which is why the H, an element, is capitalized. It’s an electrochemical thing, but we won’t go into all that.
Filed under Fun Facts & Trivia 1/9/16
If I said “swashbuckler” you’d likely as not conger up images of those dashing French swordsmen, the Three Musketeers. Though why musketeers are renowned for prowess with the blade and not musketry is another question. Still, in every Hollywood extravaganza featuring the trio none have ever buckled a swash or swashed a buckle. Where did the term come from, anyway? I hear myself ask.
The buckler bit has nothing to do with our swaggering heroes being festooned with buckles on fancy belts, tall boots, jaunty plumed hats or whatever. The first part of the word refers to pretty much what you might expect, a sound effect; as in swish, swoosh, swash. Like the sound of a metal disc swung through the air. Which is what a buckler was; a small, round, metal dueling shield popular in the 1500s. A sort-of steel, self-defense Frisbee.
So a swashbuckler was someone who wielded a buckler, with some panache we assume. Though panache more aptly applies to their rakish hats. Panache, as a noun, is a plume of feathers.
A buckler, like many shields, had a single central handle with a round protuberance covering the hand. This bulge was called a boss. Thus, such a shield with this raised surface bump was… embossed. If you’re not sure what a buckler is or how it was used, check out the video:
Filed under Word Meanings & Origins 1/7/16
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Infrequently Answered Question #93: What should you do if the power goes out?
A: As suggested in I.A.Q #7 you might light a candle and curse the darkness. Or do what I did yesterday when the electricity was off from 7:30am to 8:30 pm, curse the power company. Once you get that out of your system, which shouldn’t take too long as there’s only so many oaths you can sputter before you run out of steam, light a candle. At least while darkness persists, no point in having lit candles cluttering the place when the sun is out.
Then read, draw some pics, do a crossword. But first, put on a heavy sweater because the furnace doesn’t work without juice for the fan and ignition and it’s c-c-cold this time of year. Since I certainly couldn’t run the computer on candle power, I’m now a day behind on everything web-wise. There goes my extra leap year day. At least the toilet worked. What a relief. Ha-ha. A pun. Forget it.
Now, one might suppose with all manner of machines and whatnot being unpowered one might enjoy a little natural peace and quite. One supposes wrongly. I was subjected all day to a neighbor’s emergency generator constantly cycling, R-R-R-R-r-r-r-R-R-R-R-r-r-r… I cursed him, too.
Anyway, restarting tomorrow, back to our irregularly unscheduled programming.
Filed under Infrequently Answered Questions 1/5/16
“He looked as if Nature had intended to make an ape, but at the last minute changed its mind.”
The above being Bertie Wooster’s description of Roderick Spode from one of the Wooster and Jeeves stories penned by the inimitable, hilarious P.G. Wodehouse. The joy of these tales is not merely the absurd vicissitudes inflicted on the oblivious Bertie and the clever way the ultimate English gentleman’s gentleman, Jeeves, saves his British bacon. No, indeed. The proceedings are narrated in goofball Bertie’s upperclass nitwit fashion, which is half the fun. An example from Very Good, Jeeves:
Baring a dentist’s waiting-room, which it rather resembles, there isn’t anything that quells the spirit much more than one of these suburban parlours. They are extremely apt to have stuffed birds in glass cases standing about on small tables, and if there is one thing which gives the man of sensibility that sinking feeling it is the cold, accusing eye of a ptarmigan or whatever it may be that has had its interior organs removed and sawdust substituted.
Another excerpt from The Code of the Woosters:
I can well imagine that the casual observer, if I had confided to him my qualms at the idea of being married to this girl, would have raised his eyebrows and been at a loss to understand. ‘Bertie.’ he would probably have said, ‘you don’t know what’s good for you,’ adding, possibly, that he wished he had half my complaint. For Madeline Basset was undeniably of attractive exterior – slim, svelte, if that’s the word, and bountifully equipped with golden hair and all the fixings.
But where the casual observer would have been making his bloomer was in overlooking that squashy soupiness of hers, that subtle air she had of being on the point of talking baby-talk. It was that that froze the blood.
With winter well and truly here you couldn’t do better than curling up with a good Bertie and Jeeves book and taking a delightful romp in the long-passed, funnier world, that never really existed, of the British upper crust at play. You can read one book online for free:
Filed under Quotes & Sayings 1/2/16