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Archive for the month “May, 2013”

CRUMBLING INFRASTRUCTURE

So a bridge collapsed in Washington State. Same thing happened in Minneapolis a while back.

We as a collective society shake our heads at the way our leaders failed us yet again by letting this happen; the leaders we elected. But then we sweep up the rubble, count the casualties and move on.

Another “report card” comes out about our failing schools. Then we slash budgets and decry “greedy” teachers while cutting their resources and increasing their class sizes.

Entire neighborhoods in large cities consist of little more than empty storefronts; entire small towns are becoming ghost towns and what schools they have “consolidate” so they can survive.

Increasingly, the quality of health care you get depends on how much money you have. Gas prices rice and fall on the whims of oil companies. Companies of all stripes are “people” for purposes of secretly donating to political campaigns, but more or less untouchable entities when it comes to everything else.

The NRA shouts louder than angry, grieving parents and wins. Again. For reasons almost no one but the NRA could ever understand.

I have a day job which is quite pointedly centered on people disagreeing: with each other, with me, with the system. People have always been angry about one thing or another. These days, they’re something beyond angry. Not even sure what to call it.

I don’t really have a specific point here.

Well, maybe I kind of do. In so many ways, the US is the greatest country in the world. And, yet, there are still so many things it sucks at. The nice thing is, though, we keep trying. We fall on our asses a lot. Then we get up and try again. In many ways, about now, feels like we’re losing the battle. But, as they say, the war rages on.

Just felt like saying that.

I’ll be back to Doctor Who or something next time.

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RUINED

So the other night, I was merrily rolling along on a new batch of homebrewed – from a kit, but still – beer. Assembled the keg, checked the spigot, did the sanitation process, mixed up the wort, dump it all in, add the yeast. Wham, bang, boom. HERE’S BEE-

WHAT THE HELL!?!?!?!?! WHY IS THERE BEER ALL OVER THE COUNTER?!?!?!?!?!??!?!

$()$*%&*#()!_@_)$**(

Obviously, there’s a leak somewhere.

The spigot is leaking?

I CHECKED THE MOTHER#($*%*#()@)( SPIGOT!

Yup, it’s leaking.

#()$*(%&#()@()$()

That’s pretty much a verbatim transcript.

The spigot was either screwed in too tight or not tight enough and there’s no real way of knowing which. Beer keg spigots operate on the same principles of obfuscation that our elected leaders too. Ironically, both also make you want to drink. The fix required sticking my entire arm inside the keg to fiddle with the little rubber gasket thingy. That, of course, rendered the keg and the beer no longer sterile thus ending my latest foray into homebrewed delight.

$(%*(Z%()#_@_)@_)$*$()#_)@_)!_)#$*$()$_)@_)@@_)#()$*%*)%*(%^&%*$)(#@_)!@+

With knobs on it!

Maybe I was rushing to much and got careless. Maybe I should have paid a little more attention to the water on the counter during sanitation. Maybe the spigot is just f-ed up. Maybe it was just one of those things.

That last one is a killer, isn’t it? It was just one of those things. Don’t you hate it when something bad happens and that’s the best your friends can offer as consolation? You don’t want to hear that something just happened and it was no one’s fault. You want to hear that someone or something screwed you over. You were wrong. It wasn’t you. It was him/her/it/society/drugs/lightning/illness/Howie Mandel. Something, anything, but you or, worse, random chance.

So there it is. Whatever happened, I lost my beer and the time I spent making it when I could have, I dunno, been building ships for widowed orphans to sail to buy dry goods and slide rulers with which they could draft better maps to chart their course to dry goods much more efficiently. Or something.

Show of hands, or, better yet, show of comments, who has watched a project go up in flames (if it was literal flames, that’s even cooler) and wrestle with who to blame for it? Or maybe it’s not a struggle. You know damn well who to blame – YOU – and want to use my blog space to unburden yourself. Go for it.

Consider it my beer-soaked penance.

RAT RACE IN A CUBE

The author Susan Orlean worte a piece for the New Yorker recently about her “treadmill desk.” Apparently, this idea is all the rage. People still say that, right? “All the rage”?

Groovy.

Basically, the treadmill desk is what it sounds like. It’s a desk with a work surface set up higher so that you can stand next to it. Only, you don’t just stand. There’s a little treaddmill attached to the bottom so, while you crunch the numbers, you can crunch the cartilage in your knees as you workout.

Cardio and Computers!

Quads and Quality Control!

“I’m away from my desk. Please leave a message at the – ow, goddammit! Stich in my side!”

yes, it’s a brave new world where the few people who manage to get a job and keep it can’t even take time away to exercise for fear some fat slobs with clogged arties won’t rush in to steal their jobs – though “rushing” doesn’t seem like much of a risk in that event, does it?

Fat jokes. Classic comedy!

*clears throat awkwardly*

Anyway, the treadmill desk is an interesting idea. Makes me wonder what else we could mash up with exercise equipment. (Sidenote: “Mashing Exercise Equipment” was the worst Smashing Pumpkins tribute band ever.)

Dumbells with ink in them – Sign a contract, build a bicep.

Jump rope telephone cords – “Yes, please tell him to call me back about the Magrudder account and th-kewejmesrmemwem,!” *sound of glass breaking, body hitting the floor*

Combination coffee pot and punching bag – The second degree burns from splashing coffee will only serve to help your rhythm on the bag.

Exercise bike/filing cabinet – “Working up a good sweat. Nice sweat.” *Flip pages in the folder* “Oh, there it is. Dated last month…Augh! Stairs!” *THUD THUD THUD THUD*

Staple remover-ab cruncher. This one can double as copier jam fixer/glut worker

Well, I think we did some good today. The Europeans might work shorter workweeks and die at their desks a lot less, but we Americans will look a hell of a lot better when we keel over.

Take that, work ethic!

I MISS JOHN HUGHES

It’s not my birthday.

I’m not that old. Yet. Unless you ask my kids. But, then, the younger one still mixes up the days of the week and the older one has no concept what “I’ll be there in a minute means”, so they probably aren’t the best judges of the degree to which I am ancient.

There’s been no great trauma. No near death experience.

And yet…

And yet…

I’m feeling…nostalgic? Wistful? Dunno.

I miss John Hughes movies. Everyone talks about Sixteen Candles and Pretty in Pink, but my favorites were Weird Science and The Breakfast Club.

I miss Saturday morning cartoons. I know there are whole channels devoted to cartoons 24/7 now, but that’s the point. There was something great about waiting all week to get up early on Saturday morning to park in front of your pals on TV. The Superfriends. Bugs Bunny. Fat Albert. Scooby-Doo. Throw in huge (guilt-free) bowls of Cocoa Puffs or Cap’n Crunch and that’s a perfect kid morning.

I miss summer vacation. The last day of school, sure. But also fireflies and fresh cut grass and cousin Mike’s annual visit (that’s how I discovered Doctor Who – thanks, Mike!) The chill when you go from ninety degrees outside to the freezer section at the grocery store. And long expanses of time with nothing to do and being just fine with that.

I miss Twinkies. I mean Twinkies back when I didn’t know or care what was in them.

I miss the scuff marks on my shoes from stopping my bicycle with my feet instead of the brakes.

I miss walking to the park and stopping to get a strawberry crush – in a glass bottle! – out of the machine at the gas station.

I miss a time when I didn’t miss things from a time before that.

THE NAME OF THE DOCTOR: SOME THOUGHTS

This isn’t really a review of this week’s series (or “season” if you prefer) 7 finale of Doctor Who. If you’re reading this, you hvae probably seen it, have your own opinions, and have read who knows how many other reviews. Still, this would be the time to warn you thusly:

KEEP READING AND THERE BE MAJOR SPOILERS, YO! YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.

So, with that disclaimer, let’s proceed.

Having had time to ponder the episode, these are just some thoughts and reactions.

For the first time since…I dunno… End of Time?…I was jaw-droppingly stunned. In a good way. All those past Doctor cameos…wow.

Question: I barely caught a fleeting glimpse of the 10th Doctor and didn’t see 8 at all (though I’ve read there was a glimpse of him just before 2 runs across the screen. On second viewing, I can kind of see it, but it’s certainly fleeting.). None of the old docs had a lot of screen time, but could the relative lack of 8 and 10 hint at a bigger role for them in the November 50th special? We already know 10 is definitely in… Dunno. Could just be wishful thinking.

So, we’ve got hints that, aside from Trenzalore being where the Doctor’s tomb is, something big happened to put him there. Time War, maybe? Will the 50th be all about the time war? The Doctor hs claimed responsibility for locking away the Daleks and Time Lords to stop the war, but which Doctor, precisely fought the war? All of them?

Where dies John Hurt’s “Doctor” fit in? We were told the evil Valeyard was the Doctor’s last incarnation, so who is this guy? Is he really the last Doctor? Could he instead be the first Doctor, the one all the others have been running through time and space to leave behind? Could he somehow be an older version of an existing doctor?

Clara. I’m liking the idea of infinite copies of Clara spread throughout time and space, but still a little underwhelmed, frankly, with the character. For someone who is so many different people, we’ve only really seen three: Oswin, Victorian Clara and “modern” Clara. Maybe if every episode this season had featured a different Clara. But would that have given something away? The revamped Doctor Who that started in 2005 has been preoccupied with spunky, hot young women as companions. The old series did it too, but that at least had a few men sprinkled throughout. And even a tin dog. Sure, new series had Rory. That’s one, I guess.

Why is the tomb TARDIS interior just like 11’s? Surely by the time The Doctor eventually dies, he will have redecorated. It may be nothing, but it feels like a plot complication to me.

I kind of dig the idea of the dead Doctor being just a pulsating scar on the time vortex.

The Doctor very specifically says John Hurt is “me”, but he does NOT say “future” me. He strongly implies the man is an alternate version of himself that goes by whatever The Doctor’s real name is.

“What I did, I did in the name of peace and sanity.”

“I know. But not in the name of The Doctor.”

It’s gonna be a long wait until November…

THE FUTURE OF BOOKSTORES REVISITED

I write a lot about why bookstores are dying and what in my humble opinion (shut up – I’m the most humble person ever) they could be doing differently to change the downward spiral they’re caught in.

So here I am writing about it again.

In Santa Barbara, CA, in June, Granada Books will open its doors. No ordinary bookstore is this. Rather, it’s a weird new creature. Not entirely non-profit community center. Not entirely a for-profit bookstore. It will be both.

“Hey! You got chocolate in my peanut butter!”

“And you got peanut butter in my chocolate!”

And they called it a bookstore.

Is this the new wave? The new trend? The future of book selling?

I dunno.

Granada Books hopes the same people who browse bookstores, then buy online for less, will be willing to instead spend their money in the brick and mortar location to help support the community center, which in turn will feature readings, book fairs, yoga classes and other stuff. Their inventory is mostly donated and about half-and-half new books and used or rare books. The hope is to eventually turn the whole thing non-profit and focus on public education and literacy.

And selling books.

That you can pick up and thumb through first.

Right there in your local community.

Sounds pretty nice.

No fancy bells and whistles. No eight dollar cups of coffee. Just books and doing a little something to shop local. Granada Books is offering something online retailers can’t: your neighbors. The people you live and work with every day.

It’s the future. Leap into it.

BOOK REVIEW: IMAGINATION ILLUSTRATED: THE JIM HENSON JOURNAL

This is weird.

I was trying to come up with an idea for a blog post to debut in this space on May 16. I had the thought of writing about this book I’ve been reading, Imagination Illustrated: The Jim Henson Journal, by Karen Falk, with a foreword by Jim Henson’s daughter Lisa Henson.

That’s not the weird part. Getting to that.

Jim Henson was, of course, the creator of the Muppets. Sesame Street, The Muppet Show, Fraggle Rock, the cult-move fav The Dark Crystal, all benefited from or sprang directly from Jim Henson’s mind.  Kermit the Frog, Fozzie Bear, Miss Piggy, Gonzo, not to mention Bert & Ernie and the gang from Sesame Street, formed a HUGE part of my childhood. Me and a lot of others.

So, recently, I was given Imagination Illustrated: The Jim Henson Journal as  gift. The book takes pages from a handwritten journal Henson started as a young man starting out in puppeteering in the 195os and uses it, along with his drawings and photos from his life and work, to frame Henson’s story. He kept that journal nearly up to his untimely death in 1990 at age 53.

Here comes the weird part.

So, I thought, this might be an okay blog topic. But then I noticed something. The date. Two dates actually.

I was planning the blog to go up in 2013. On May 16.

Jim Henson died in 1990. ON MAY 16!

Did your blood just turn cold. Mine did. I may also have peed a little. It’s not warming me up though.

Given this cosmic confluence, or something, how could I not do this blog post now?

So here it is.

I love this book. My favorite thing about it? There was clearly no separation in Henson’s head between his work life, his family life and his own personality. They all fed each other. A lot of his journal entries are things like: “August 14-26, shooting new training film for IBM. Using Rowlf in this one. Second kid born. Doing the Kermit bit on Ed Sullivan.” Entries about flying to London to shoot a TV special land alongside picking up the family’s new station wagon.

Yet, despite the lack of separation, Henson wasn’t screwed up. He was passionate about his work AND his family and he figured out how to make them co-exist. Nice skill, that.

My SECOND favorite thing about this book (so far anyway. I’m still reading it.)?

Kermit was NOT the first national, break-out Muppet star.

I just freaked your crap out, didn’t I?

It’s true that Kermit was one of the first Muppets. He was a character on Henson’s 1950’s show Sam and Friends, a late-night show. Each episode ran all of five minutes but got Henson noticed by advertisers and lead to a long and productive career in commercials and industrial training films featuring his Muppets and odd characters.

One of those characters was Rowlf the Dog. He’s probably best remembered now as the laid-back piano player on The Muppet Show. But back in the sixties, he was EVERYWHERE. Henson used him in ads for IBM and a host of other companies. He was a regular on TV variety shows.

Although there are a slew of Muppets today more famous than Rowlf, without him, the Muppets never would have happened.

We’re assuming Rowlf’s agent will leverage this into a better deal for the next Muppet Movie.

See, kids, this is what happens when you read books. You learn stuff.

Go read something. Like maybe my other posts, or my book In the St. Nick of Time .

So! The takeaway is: The Henson book, awesome. My shameless self-promotion, despicable.

CICADAS!

Any day now, all life on Earth will end as we know it.

98 Degrees is reuniting for a new album.

Just kidding. Actually, the cicadas are returning.

I actually wasn’t kidding about that 98 Degrees thing.

But that’s not what we’re here to talk about, because, you see, I said:

THE CICADAS ARE RETURNING!

Every seventeen years, like clockwork, these creepy little oversized grasshoppers emerge from the ground, make a hell of a lot of noise, mate and go back underground for another seventeen years. It’s kind of like Congress, only the cicadas will actually manage to pass a few laws.

BOOM! That’s free political humor, baby!

So, the cicadas have been gone since 1996. That’s a long time. They’ve missed a lot. We here at the blog got to thinking about what the cicadas might do during the brief time they’re in town. Here’s a few ideas.

  • Pee. They must be about ready to explode. I can barely make it through a 6-8 hour night of sleep.
  • Avoid hitting the bars. This one is true. They especially don’t want to go here, where they will be served as part of the drink. Swear to god.
  • Catch up on Downton Abbey.
  • Find out how the series “The X-Files” finally ended. Spend some time feeling let down.
  • Get strip searched at the airport. “I’ve been underground seventeen years! I didn’t know! …No, I hibernate underground. I do not have an underground terrorist cell.”
  • Wash the bedsheets. Ripe, man.
  • Make some prank calls, only to discover everyone has cell phones now, sort of making prank calling stupid and ineffectual.
  • Get an iPad app that will calculate for them what year they are supposed to emerge from hibernation next time, because counting is so 1996.
  • FINALLY read the Harry Potter books. NOBODY MENTION WHAT HAPPENS TO DUMBLEDORE!
  • Check their investment portfolios they last reviewed in 1996. Incessant buzzing is replaced by sobbing.
  • “We went to war with who?”
  • Which country is threatening us now?”
  • Restock the underground hibernation hole with Cheetos, Maker’s Mark, and insect porn (Oh, it’s out there. This. Is. The. Internet.)
  • Fly around and make a really annoying buzzing sound for hours on end. It’s how they roll.

CICADA TOUR 2013 (I so wish I’d had t-shirts made up.)

I’M SORRY – MOTHER’S DAY EDITION

Moms.

Where would we be without them?

Nowhere, obviously.

Come on. You never took biology? See, when a man and woman love each other very much…

Anyway.

Mother’s Day is the day set aside to honor our mommies. And what better way to do that than by admitting all the ways you’ve screwed her over?

And so, without further adieu….Happy Mother’s Day!

Mom, after all the heartache I put you through, it’s so awesome of you to come down here and visit me at my great new job. But…I’m sorry, you’re going to have to move your car. You’re blocking the drive thru.

I’m sorry your waiter screwed up your drink order, but Grampa is doing the best he can.

I’m sorry I never took piano lessons like you always wanted. On the other hand, when you didn’t want me to bludgeon that satellite TV guy, I restrained myself, didn’t I?

I’m sorry Dad never appreciated you like I do. I mean, Dad never even asked for bail money, did he?

I’m sorry the food at our Mother’s Day brunch wasn’t very good. I’m hoping the prosecutor uses that as a mitigating factor at our trial for breaking into those people’s house.

Further, I’m sorry about taking the last hush puppy off the buffet. I know how much you like them…which makes my decision to spit the hush puppy out on the floor when the crunchy part felt a little too crunchy seem even more selfish.

I’m sorry the baker messed up the decoration on the cake. I KNOW I clearly said, “It should say ‘Have a great day, Mother Funckner‘.” I hope, Mrs. Funckner,  you won’t call off your daughter’s and my wedding.

I’m sorry Mother’s Day is only one day. I mean, come on, we get Monday off for PRESIDENT’S DAY! We can’t get a freakin’ three-day weekend for this? I work and I work and for what? We can put a man on the moon, but we can’t figure out a calendar and…uh, oh, by the way, love you, Mom.

I’m sorry I invited my sister to your party, but, seriously, she only tried to burn down the house one time. Get over it already.

I’m sorry Hallmark doesn’t make a card that says “Happy Mother’s Day from the son you don’t like as much as Peter”, but, you could at lest have waited until I left the room to say it.

I’m sorry the flowers I got you were plastic. On the upside, the chocolates were real. Mostly.

HI, MOM!

 

INJECTION CONNECTION

So, apparently some scientists at Boston Children’s Hospital have hit upon a microparticle that can be injected into a body to oxygenate the bloodstream. It works even if the patient has difficulty breathing or EVEN if the person can’t breathe at all. There are lots of medical possibilities for this particle to keep patients alive until they can be operated on and what not. The article I read also pointed out some non-medical application – like, say, letting Navy Seals and deep-sea rescue crews stay under water longer.

All of this got me thinking. What other stuff could be injected into us that would be beneficial? We already put God knows what into our bodies every day anyway (what exactly are Pop-Tarts made of? Never mind.) We might as well start making stuff work for us a little bit. Here are some ideas:

1.  The Internal Muzak capsule. A tiny microchip is implanted under the skin that senses when you’re bored – listening to your brother-in-law’s views on Congress, stuck talking to that weird dude at the office Christmas party, long family car trips – and automatically turns out a serene selection of your favorite music to drown out the chatter.

2.  The Pee Machine. Getting up to pee is such a chore. Come on, science! Why haven’t you fixed this for us? You created the roomba for god’s sake! Imagine if you could develop some sort of microorganism that eats pee. Just shoot up right there on the couch with this little particle and enjoy another beer without having to worry about the consequences. Except, you know, getting drunk and losing the love and support of your friends and family.

3.  Facebook For The Brain. Good with names, but can’t remember faces? Vice versa? Here’s the answer. An enzyme injected directly into the brain (you won’t feel a thing, honest) that gives you total recall of the appearance and biographical info of everyone you’ve ever met. I’m all over this one. Except that one waiter at The Outback. That bastard. He’s dead to me. (When I say I want a Bloomin’ Onion, I want it RIGHT NOW.)

4.  Injectable mocha lattes. Just ’cause I really dig mocha.

5.  A particle that causes you to secrete some sort of hormone that repels people who hand out pamphlets on street corners or come to your door to sell you stuff.

6.  New-Age Steroids. Instead of big muscles and ‘roid rage, maybe these new ones could give you, I dunno, a greater capacity to empathize with your fellow humans. And, of course, tiny gonads.

7. Some sort of fat blocker that lets the good parts of a bacon cheeseburger into the heart area and kicks the rest to the curb.

8.  Some sort of serum that makes me understand why anyone STILL cares what the Kardashians are doing. Also Kate Goselin, Glen Beck, and Sarah Palin.

Well, that’s it for this week on Science Corner. You’ve got your mission, scientists of the world. Make us proud. Or at least give us something that makes us forget how disappointed we are.

 

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