BLOG 2012

2012 Undone –Fake But Accurate News Review


A lot of folks this time of year come out with their top ten lists of people, places, things, and events of the year. I’d like to do the opposite. Not the bottom ten, but the top ten non-events. Or rather…

Top Ten Things That Didn’t Happen in 2012

  1. Ice caps melt. Santa Claus gets bailed out.
  2. Greece abandons euro. Accountants find Greece had no euros anyway.
  3. Wheel reinvented. Axles to be reinvented in 2013.
  4. Meek inherit Earth. But can’t afford estate taxes.
  5. US Congress passes budget. It could happen.
  6. Riddle of universe solved. Answer not understood.
  7. Theoretical black hole created in lab. Theoretical astrophysicists sucked in.
  8. Bigfoot found in Ohio. Votes for Obama.
  9. World ends. S&P goes risk-off.
  10. Pigs fly. Bacon sales soar.

What’s done is done. What’s not done is not undone, but not done. And in other news…

Filed 12/28/12

M-m-m-m-m Nitrogen


Where can you buy a bag of nitrogen? At the nearest convenience store, bodega, corner market, whatever. But don’t look in the gaseous substances aisle, head for the snack foods and pick up a bag of chips which are inflated with nitrogen. Two reasons. Chips spoil pretty quickly when exposed to oxygen. Which you’d know if you ever ate from an opened week-old bag of chips. The poofiness keeps the chips inside from getting crushed. It’s like an automobile air-bag for chips. Car air-bags also use nitrogen, but for reasons other than freshness.

Pringles come in tubes for protec­tion instead of air-bags. Which they can because they’re stackable. Pringles cans don’t use nitrogen because the chips pack so tightly there’s very little oxygen in there. While you could also stack flat potato chips, Pringles are all made with a curvey, horse saddle shape called a hyperbolic paraboloid. Besides looking nice and more like a real potato chip, the curve gives the chip extra rigidity for dipping in dip.

How the hyperbolic paraboloid adds rigidity would take an engineer to explain. You can demonstrate that it does easily enough. Take a sheet of paper and hold it between your thumb and one finger. It droops. Hold it between your thumb and two fingers, pressing with the thumb so the paper curves and it will extend out. It’s the same piece of paper, only the shape makes it stiffer.


Tennis balls also come in a tube like a Pringles can. Though the tennis ball can came first so it’s the other way around. Why in a can? Maybe it keeps the balls fresh and bouncy. I really don’t know. Balls are curved in every direction imaginable. Which might make them the ultimate in curvey rigidity. They can roll in any direction. There’s no right side up or upside down to a ball. They’re a marvel. Then again, it’s very hard to stack tennis balls like Pringles. Which might explain the can.

Filed 12/19/12

Only Economists and Politicians Don’t Know War and Disasters Don’t Boost the Economy


There is a notion floating around that a natural disaster boosts gross domestic product (GDP). Just think of all that economic activity it takes to rebuild. Surely that’s good for all the workers and businesses hired in the effort, right? Let’s think about it.

No money was created by the disaster. Money spent replacing a destroyed building is money not available for something else. The rebuilding mostly diverts money from one thing to another. In which respect it’s a wash as the money would have added to GDP in some other way. Unless you think that money would have gone forever unspent. Hardly likely.

Except it’s not a wash, it’s a loss. Had there been no disaster you could have had a building and built a second building, a net two buildings. With the disaster you lose one building and build one to replace it, a net one building. How is it you can invest the same amount in both cases, yet be ahead in one and behind in the other? Why is this not reflected in GDP?

GDP = Consumption + Investment + Government + Exports - Imports

Investments are things like building infrastructure, capital equipment, buildings and the like. This adds to GDP. Seems to me the reverse would also be true, destroying infrastructure, capital equipment, buildings and the like subtracts from GDP. What Hurricane Sandy destroyed should reduce GDP by that amount. It’s simple math.

Therein lies one of the many flaws of GDP as a metric. They only add to investment, it’s always positive. They never subtract lost investment. So if disasters were destroying infrastruc­ture faster than you replace it, you could be increasing your GDP all the way to the poor house.

What is GDP telling us? What good is it? Mightn’t it be better to calculate net domestic product? What good are higher sales if the business operates at a loss? Would it be good for an entire economy to do the same thing? This reminds me of the old line, “The operation was a success, but the patient died.”

Filed 12/15/12

Fastest Bow in the West


I like a good swashbuckling celluloid romp as much as the next guy. As long as the next guy thinks swashbuckling celluloid romp means Robin Hood and not Miss Tranny Shack, despite both being men in tights. In any case, in such a flick you can generally count on the occasional sword fight. How much these fencing duels were like how folks back in the day really fought, I couldn’t say. One assumes a real life fight to the death would be no holds barred. Eye gouging, biting, kicking, whatever it took.

I seem to recall a story concerning an expert swordsman advising a man who was set to fight a duel. This dueler was older and smaller than his opponent, so a long fencing match was beyond his strength and stamina. The blade maestro told him, “Run at your opponent screaming like a madman, jump in the air and bring the sword down on the top of his head as hard as you can.” Not very swash­buckling, but I guess it worked.

Another thing you’ll often see in these types of “historical” flicks is bows and arrows. One wonders how accurately Hollywood portrays the way ancient archers arched, if that’s the way to put it. We haven’t been using the things in warfare for quite some time now. Have we lost some of the techniques? I can’t answer that. But this short video might:

Lars Andersen - Speed Shooting Bow and Arrow

Filed 12/6/12

Quick Quips from P.J. O’Rourke


And now a few sarcastic words from my favorite curmudgeon not named H.L. Mencken.

“When buying and selling are controlled by legislation, the first things to be bought and sold are legislators.”

“The Democrats are the party that says government will make you smarter, taller, richer, and remove the crabgrass on your lawn… The Republicans are the party that says government doesn’t work and then they get elected and prove it.”

“If you are young and you drink a great deal it will spoil your health, slow your mind, make you fat — in other words, turn you into an adult.”

“The question is not how does government work, but how to make it stop.”

All courtesy of the poison pen of P.J. O’Rourke. Though he probably writes on a computer.

Filed 11/19/12

Subdivided Subcontinent


To some Britain means England. Don’t say that to a Scot nationalist. To them the English are foreigners. Just mention King Edward I and prepare for an earful. Old Longshanks wasn’t called the “Hammer of the Scots” for nothing. Then again, Scots divide themselves between highlanders and lowlanders. Highland Scots further subdivide themselves into clans. You’ll find this same sort of thing all over Europe. All the same, they have nothing in this regard compared to India.

Due to its caste system Indian demo­graphics are something else again. By discouraging intermarriage, caste has subdivided Indians into multiple what you might call micro-ethnicities. A leading population geneticist, L.L. Cavalli-Sforza, estimates there are 43,000 endoga­mous communities in India. That’s a whole lot of little villages where everyone is related to everyone else in the village, and unrelated to outsiders.

As you can imagine, this made for a pretty closed community. As a result life for the rural Indian villager has been isolated and limited for no little while. In 1952, the fifth anniversary of independence, the government initi­ated a survey to discern whether the average villager had learned yet the British had left India. The study was abandoned when early results indicated most villagers didn’t know the British had ever arrived.

Filed 11/13/12

Infrequently Answered Questions

How to Fathom the Fathom


Q: I get furlongs, knots, miles and naut­ical miles. Now then, what’s a fathom and a league?

A: A fathom is six feet. Or two yards if you’d prefer. Fathom comes from Middle English fathme, which comes from Old English faedm, meaning “outstretched arms” even though people were shorter back in the day and likely didn’t have six foot arm spans. All the same, though it’s highly unlikely anyone will ever ask you, a furlong is 110 fathoms and a mile is 880 fathoms.

Just like furlong, folks don’t much talk about ye olde fathom any more. Except to say something like, “That’s hard to fathom.” In which case fathom means understand rather than six feet. Though that meaning of fathom comes from the other meaning of fathom.

Sailors used to fathom the deep, that is they’d measure water depth under their ship. They did so with a weighted rope marked off in fathoms dropped over the side. In the open ocean the sea floor was often so deep their rope wasn’t long enough to touch bottom. In which case the depth was unfathomable, it couldn’t be meas­ured, it was hard to fathom. From there it was a easy step from if you fathom it, you knew it.

A league is three statute miles. It comes from medieval Latin leaga, a measure of distance. A league is another of those measures rarely used any more. About the only time you’ll run across it is in old writing. Like in Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea or “The Charge of the Light Brigade” by Alfred, Lord Tennyson.

Half a league, half a league,
  Half a league onward,
All in the valley of Death
  Rode the six hundred.

A league is 2,640 fathoms. Not that the Light Brigade cared much about that. They had other things to worry about. File that under absolutely worthless information.

Filed 11/7/12

Infrequently Answered Questions

The Speed of Knots


Q: OK. You explained nautical mile. What’s this other term sailors use, knots?

A: Unlike statute miles and nautical miles, a knot is a speed and not a distance. A knot is one nautical mile per hour. Since a nautical mile is one minute of arc, a knot is one minute an hour. At the equator, that is.

Knot comes from the way they used to measure speed before they had speedometers. They did this with a log on the end of a rope, called the stuff line, which was marked at intervals with knots. They’d drop the log into the water and sail away from it. Speed was the number of knots paid out on the stuff line over a set time.

Landlubbers don’t have a single word for speed. We say miles-per-hour, mph. Maybe we could turn mph into a word, meph. Or mepah. Or mpah, pronounced pah with a silent M. But most places use kilkometers-per-hour, which would be keph. None of these have a nice ring to them in my estimation.

Perhaps we could take a page from flying where they have mach, the speed of sound named for Ernst Mach. So we might have land speed named after someone having to do with the steam locomotive or something. Instead of going 75 miles-per-hour you could be going 75 stephensons. Though stephenson, being three syllables, is no shorter than miles-per-hour. To keep it short and sweet we could make it 75 stephs.

Besides being unclear whether steph should be pronounced steve or steff, it wouldn’t be universal since most places go by kilometers. Any­way, we already have a speed word that would work on land, knots. We could use that, but it’d mean changing all car speedometers and speed limit signs. Seems hardly worth the bother.

Filed 11/5/12

Infrequently Answered Questions

Why Nautical Miles Are Longer than a Mile


Q: OK, a mile is eight furlongs. So then, why is a nautical mile longer than a mile on land?

A: Nautical miles are longer because sailors tend to exaggerate everything. Fish stories, tales of sirens, hippogriffs and “Ar-r-rh, matey, here be mon­sters.” Not being a sailor, I’ll give it to you straight. The nautical mile is not based on so many feet, or furlongs, where the mile on land is. Rather than an adding up, it’s a dividing down.

A nautical mile is one minute of arc at the equator. Which makes a nautical mile a subdivision of the circumfer­ence of the globe (1/21,600th) rather than a multiple of feet or what-have-you. As a result, a nautical mile is about 15% longer than a regular mile. I guess that was close enough so they called them both a mile. Confusing, perhaps, but so it goes. Why they couldn’t come up with a new word, I don’t know.

This is a little odd because sailors make up their own words for lots of other stuff. A floor is a deck, a rope is a line, a toilet is a head, a barrel of water is a scuttlebutt. Even left and right are port and starboard. Or the other way around, I never could get that straight. I suppose they do this just to confuse us landlubbers. If so, it works. I mean, what’s this lubbing they’re talking about us doing on land?

Filed 11/3/12

Infrequently Answered Questions

Why a Mile is an 5,280 Feet


Q: Why is a mile 5,280 feet rather than a nice round 5,000 feet or something?

A: It’s because a mile is based on X number of furlongs rather than so many feet or yards or whatever. The X number being eight. The word furlong comes from furrow-long, the length of a plowed field. Somehow, sometime a furlong was set as 660 feet. Eight furlongs make a mile. Eight times 660 feet is 5,280 feet, a mile.

Nobody outside of horse racing uses furlongs very much any more. In days of yore furlongs were more meaningful than miles to the average man on the street because most folks worked on farms and farm fields were measured in furlongs. So the average man on the street was in a field and not on the street, but we’ll not linger over that. Anyway, it was important for farmers to keep track of farmland measured in furlongs, but not so important to know how far it was from London to York measured in miles. So when they finally ironed out what a mile would be they based it on furlongs. That’s my story and I’m sticking with it.

It’s pretty hard for folks nowadays to relate to a furlong. We might be able to think in terms of football fields, which are 100 yards long, or 300 feet. Not counting the endzones. That’s a bit under half a furlong. A Canadian football field is 110 yards long, 330 feet. Which is exactly half a furlong. So a furlong is two Canadian football fields. And a mile is 16 Canadian football fields. Which might be relatable if you lived in Canada, except they mark their roads in kilometers. Before you ask, I must admit I have no idea how many football fields, either American or Canadian, there are in a kilometer.

Filed 11/1/12

The Casual Sportsman

When Four Outs Beat Three


First, a little personal celebration. Tigers sweep Yankees to make the World Series. Yippee! Not that most folks besides Tiger fans care all that much. And likely as not wouldn’t think much of what I have to say about it. So we’ll let it go.

Now down to the business at hand, explaining the intro. When does four outs beat three? How do you get four outs? What’s the point?

Here’s the situation: men on first and third, one out. Batter sends a looping liner to right. Looks like it will fall for a hit, the runners go. The right fielder makes a shoestring catch for the second out. The right fielder throws to first base doubling up the runner, out number three. Meanwhile, the runner on third, who didn’t tag up after the catch, crossed the plate before the third out was made at first. The question, does the run count?

Even though he never tagged up after the catch, the run counts if the runner crossed the plate before the third out was made doubling up the runner from first. To negate the run, the defense must also make an appeal play to third base, doubling up the runner there. This would be a fourth out. Though if they did that, it would cancel the third out at first base, making the fourth out the third out and the third out a non-out.

Perhaps I didn’t explain that very clearly, but that’s the gist of what they call “the fourth out rule.” Though technically it’s only three outs. Not something you see very often, but it does happen. Why this “illegal” run is allowed is a quirk of the rulebook. Baseball has lots of special rules to cover special situations. If you don’t know the rules you can get mighty confused when odd situations pop up.

Here’s an example of such confu­sion popping up on a pop-up called by two different broadcasts of a strange play in a game between the Marlins and the Dodgers. The Marlins announ­cers go through all sorts of gyrations trying to explain the play. Meanwhile the Dodger announcer, Vince Scully, makes the correct call right off the bat. Though Mr. Scully does muddy the waters when he starts going on about the infield fly rule. He should have followed his own advice and “Forget the play” because once runner inter­ference is called, nothing else matters. The runner at first is out, the other runner remains at second, and the batter keeps on batting as if the play never happened.

Filed 10/19/12

Latin Greek You’ve Likely Seen


Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consec­tetur, adipisci velit. Perhaps you’ve run across that sequence before. It’s a bit of standard placeholder text used by graphic designers to mock up a page when a manuscript is not avail­able. Oddly enough, they call this greek text even though it appears to be Latin using Roman letterforms. The curious might wonder, is it real Latin or gibberish, and what might it mean.

It is real Latin. Mostly. It’s Latin with bits missing here and there. It comes from Cicero’s De finibus bonorum et malorum, a treatise on the theory of ethics from 45 BC. The original goes as follows, Neque porro quisquam est qui dolorem ipsum quia dolor sit amet, consectetur, adipisci velit… Which translates as, “There is no one who loves pain itself, who seeks after it and wants to have it, simply because it is pain…”

How and where this bit of text being used as a placeholder started is unclear. There’s some indication it traces back to the early days of movable type when most scholarly books where in Latin. It’s lasting power is easily understood. If you need greek copy it’s easier to simply copy than to write or find something else. As they say, why re-invent the wheel.

On a related note, you may have run across this sentence which sounds like something from a children’s book, “The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.” This is an example of a pangram, a phrase containing every letter of the alphabet. Typographers often use it to show what every letter­form of a particular typeface looks like in text rather than as an alphabetical table.

Filed 10/4/12



You likely know what a legal loophole is. It’s pretty much a way to evade a law legally. Slip through the cracks, as it were. But why is this called a loophole? Where did that come from?

If you are familiar with military history or castles you might know what else a loophole is. It’s a small opening in a castle wall, fortification, or bulwark, usually a vertical slit or cross-shaped, from which a defending archer or crossbowman can shoot at attackers.

A loophole is a small opening in an otherwise impregnable wall through which, if you could squeeze through, you can defeat the wall. That’s where the term legal loophole comes from. It’s a simile. Or is it an allusion? Whatever it is it’s a gap in the defense. A chink in the armor. (A phrase harkening back to days of loopholes, appropriately enough.)

Now then, actual castle loop­holes were much too small for a person to squeeze through. You’d have to be pretty slippery, able to contort yourself to extremes to weasel your way through one. Sounds like a lawyer to me.

Filed 10/2/12

The Casual Sportsman

While I was Sleeping


Been quite a while since I added anything to The Casual Sportsman. Maybe I should call it the Lackadai­sical Sportsman. Truth is, I haven’t been paying much attention lately. Not to basketball, baseball, hockey, the Olympics, the Lance Armstrong thing, nothing. You can’t say much about what you don’t know. OK, that’s not true, many people have plenty to say about what they don’t know much about. I think that’s the basis of sports talk radio.

I don’t feel I’ve missed much (though how would I know?) except for the incredibly dramatic, Bobby-Thompson-Giants-win-the-pennant!-like finish of the English Premier League season. A moment Man U haters relish.

Man City Wins Title in Added Time

Filed 9/2/12

How Big is Too Big?


Is it possible to grasp really big numbers? I mean numbers like a billion or a trillion. As analogies they sometimes talk about stacking things to the moon or laying them end to end around the world to visualize really big numbers. But does that actually help? I mean, do we even have a good grasp of the size of the Earth or how far away the moon is? Maybe, but I rather think not that much.

Let’s take another example, one thousand seconds is just over 16 and a half minutes. Without doing any calcu­lations, just guessing with a gut reac­tion, how long is a million seconds, a billion seconds, and a trillion seconds?

One Million seconds is 12 days. One Billion seconds is nearly 32 years. One Trillion seconds is 31,688 years.

Clearly, a trillion is a lot. A great big, whole lot. A billion is 32 years, half a lifetime. We can perhaps relate to this. But how do we relate to 31,688 years? Which is not to say we’re stupid, just that we don’t deal with such amounts on a daily basis. Sometimes a number so big it’s just a word to us.

Filed 8/27/12

How Cold is Space?


Thing is, space is not very cold at all. It’s not very hot or lukewarm, either. Temperature is the measure of matter’s kinetic energy. Where there’s no matter, there’s nothing there to have a lot or a little kinetic energy, in other words to have a temperature. Meaning space, a vacuum, has no temperature at all.

Think of it like momentum, a ball flying through the air. You can speed up or slow down the ball, change its momentum. You can’t speed up or slow down a vacuum because there’s nothing there to speed up or slow down. Measuring the speed of nothing is meaningless. It has no speed, color, weight, smell, taste or anything else. Being nothing, it has nothing. In the same way, it has no temperature either.

One of the greatest dangers to space-walking astronauts is not freezing in their suits, but dissipating excess body heat. The reason being in a vacuum the free exchange of temper­ature is nearly impossible. There’s no convection or conduction in a vacuum. On NASA’s Staying Cool in Space web page it states the “ISS (Interna­tional Space Station) needs huge radiators to get rid of its excess heat.” The ISS requires 14 honeycombed ammonia-tubing-filled aluminum panels totaling 1680 square feet to stay cool.

On the other hand, some object in deep space away from a source of heat can be very cold indeed. All the same, the space around it will still have no temperature at all.

Filed 7/31/12

Get ‘em While They’re Hot


The way to tell an optimist from a pessimist is the way they see a half glass of water. Below is an amusing bit from Zero Hedge on the two types, sans cliché.

Recently two noted Spanish econ­omists were interviewed. One was always an optimist and one was always a pessimist. The optimist droned on and on about how bad things were in Spain, the dire situation with the regional debt, the huge prob­lems overtaking the Spanish banks and the imminent collapse of the Spanish economy. In the end he said that the situation was so bad that the Spanish people were going to have to eat manure. The pessimist was shocked by the comments of his colleague who had never heard him speak in such a manner. When it was the pessimist’s turn to speak he said that he agreed with the optimist with one exception; the manure would soon run out.

Filed 7/19/12

How to Not Save Water


“Add three seconds of water and stir.” That’s a strange recipe direction. “Fill a large pot with 20 seconds of water and bring to a boil.” That’s pretty odd, too. Would you ever calculate the amount of water to cook with by how long it takes to come out of the tap rather than volume?

It seems somebody thinks we do. Why else would the gas company send folks door-to-door offering to install a device that restricts water flow from the faucets promising it will save 20% on your hot water bill? Happened to me just the other day. I declined the offer.

I fill my pots with cold water. It’s more efficient to heat the water on the burner than to heat it partly in the hot water tank first then the rest of the way on the burner. So the device wouldn’t make a difference there. Just make filling pots take longer.

When washing dishes I fill the sink with enough hot water to do the job. I wouldn’t fill it less if it took longer to fill. No savings there. I rinse the dishes in tepid water with that sprayer thingamabob. I don’t run the water full blast anyway because it splashes too much. No savings there.

Maybe I’m crazy, but the idea that a flow-restricting device at the tap is going to save me 20% on hot water seems unlikely. Especially considering most of my hot water useage is laundry and showers. Anyway, my faucets already have a device which I use to reduce water flow. It’s called a valve, and I know how to use it.

Unlike most houses mine has a device that saves water, though not hot water. I have a urinal. Easy to use and a lot less messy than a toilet. Of course I have a toilet, too, for number two.

Filed 5/14/12

Welcome to the S___burbs

Your usual big cities have a variety of neighborhoods. For instance, there’s downtown, uptown, mid­town, the warehouse district, the docks, and so on. Suburbs are like that, they vary. Not all suburbs are like where the Clampetts live, or where the Bundys live. Some might have a cement pond and others might have a cement lawn. Here is the rundown on suburb sub-categories and how to identify them.

SHRUB-urb  Older middle-class community with well-kept lawns and gardens; big, mature trees; lots of hedges and shrubs. What to look for: Privacy fences, ground cover and folks doing gardening.

SHRUG-burb  Nondescript, middle-class, comfortable suburb. Can you say cliché? What to look for: Garden gnomes, sports team flags and satellite dishes.

SCRUB-urb  Older area with not-so-well-kept yards full of scrub and dying trees. Often as not a shruburb gone to seed. What to look for: Broken pavement, aluminum siding and wildflowers, a.k.a. weeds.

SNUG-burb  Town with recently built tracts, often condos and gated communities. What to look for: McMansions and brick walls.

SLUG-burb  Slightly run down bedroom community. This was a brand spanking new subdivision in the 50s, only now it’s 2012. What to look for: Strange home “improvements” and kids riding bikes.

‘SUP-burb  Gentrified older area with caché. What to look for: Volvos, hipsters, rainbow flags and adults riding bikes.

SMUG-burb  Up-scale suburb of big houses and big lawns. Can you say hoity-toity? What to look for: Topiary and landscaping crews.

SNUB-urb  Town so up-scale the denizens look down their noses at the smugburbs. Posh with a capital $. What to look for: Golf courses and private police force.

STUB-urb  Swath of unfinished homes where the builders ran out of money and buyers when the housing bubble burst. Basically a just built ghost town. What to look for: Construction sites without construction crews.

SPUD-burb  A suburban tract in the middle of farm country. What to look for: Deer, both real and painted cement.

SLUM-burb  I think the name tells you everything you need to know. What to look for: Graffiti and security grates on doors and windows.

SHLUB-urb  Trailer park. What to look for: Houses with wheels and pickup trucks without wheels.

Perhaps you live in one of these. Though it goes by another name: Something Park, Whatever Heights, Whatnot Woods, or the like. Call it what you will, it’s the burbs of some sort or other. What exactly that means depends on the unlisted prefix. At least, according to this.

Filed 5/13/12

Little Bit on Logos


Folks like to make statements with their clothing. Sometimes it’s a fashion statement; sometimes a literal statement, as in a T-shirt sporting a slogan or gag. Sometimes it’s sort-of both, as in a baseball cap festooned with a logo. The psychology behind this… who cares. Logos look cool. Well, many logos, not all.

What makes a good logo? It should be simple, clear, not finicky. This falls under the oxymoron of less is more. A really good logo works as a teeny-tiny icon. A bold black and white symbol is more useful than one relying on colors. A pure shape works well. Like a star. But it also needs to be unique, not confused with another symbol or logo. So, unlike a star. It shouldn’t just be the name of the outfit, which is more like a trademark than a logo.

A good logo doesn’t even have to tell you a thing about the brand. It’s not an ad, it’s a mark, a symbol, but not always symbolic. Below is my idea of great company logos. Bet you know them instantly. Well, if you’re old enough to remember the fourth one.

Of the five, the Chevy bowtie is my favorite. It’s absolutely meaningless in any kind of automotive way or in referencing the name. It’s just a shape. But totally unique, distinctive. No other car company has anything like it. The odd thing, nobody is really sure where it came from. One thing you can be pretty sure of, it’s not German. German car companies are obsessed with circle logos. Just check out Mercedes, BMW, Volkswagen, Opel, and Audi. The last getting carried away to the tune of four circles.

Filed 4/28/12

“I’m Gonna Eat Some Worms”


Some things sound better left untranslated. That really goes for food.

Italian pasta names in English

cannelloni – little tubes
fettuccine – little ribbons
linguine – little tongues
manicotti – pipes
mostaccioli – little mustaches
ravioli – little turnips
rigatoni – little stripes
spaghetti – strings
tortellini – little fritters
vermicelli – little worms

Be honest, do you really want to dig into a heaping plateful of hot strings and meatballs? Or chow down on a steaming serving of little tongues in Alfred’s sauce? Marinara sauce is mariner’s sauce in Italian. Other words for mariner are sailor and seaman. Anyone for some little worms in seaman sauce? Yummy.

Yeah, some things are better left in Italian.

Filed 4/13/12

How Many Apostrophes Can One Contraction Have?


As in the heading above, English speakers use contractions quite a bit. Except for Data on Star Trek, TNG, but who cares. Anyway, contractions are common and proper usage listed in your standard dictionary. Sometimes you have a choice. For instance, for it is not you can use it’s not or it isn’t. But you can’t double it up and go with it’sn’t.

However there are cases where you can have a double contraction. Take this one I ran across reading Agatha Christie, could not have was contrac­ted to couldn’t’ve. Perhaps you wouldn’t’ve thought it was right, but there it was in black and white.

Which has me thinking, could you take that one step further and have a triple contraction? I mean, can I would not have be contracted to I’dn’t’ve? Well, I’ve never seen that. I would not have thought it proper usage. Or is that I’dn’t’ve thought it proper usage?

That’s it. It is what it is. Which can be, it’s what it is, but not it’s what it’s. Contractions don’t always work.

Filed 3/15/12

Welcome to The Club


Ten Sure Signs You’re Not in the 1%

  1. You know the price of hamburger
  2. You own clothing made by Carhart
  3. The only butlers you’ve ever seen were on tv or in films
  4. Hand-made means you made it
  5. Scull and Bones to you means a pirate flag
  6. You’re not in your congressman’s speed dial
  7. Your bank account totals have no commas
  8. You pay taxes
  9. Everything you own can fit in your car
  10. Everything you own MUST fit in your car because you’re living in it

Filed 3/10/12

Just Wondering


What’s the purpose of that little triangle just under the collar on the front of a sweatshirt?

Filed 2/21/12

Infrequently Answered Questions

…Which Starts with L Which Stands for Pound?


Q: Why is pound abbreviated ‘lb’ when there’s no L or B in the word?

A: It’s confusing because ‘lb’ is not an abbreviation for the word pound, but an abbreviation of a Latin word for weight, libra. In which case the abbreviation makes sense. Sort-of. The word pound derives from the Latin pondo, “by weight.” Why they took one Latin word for use and a different Latin word to abbreviate is something of a puzzle.

Libra also explains the symbol for British money, the pound. You know, £. It’s a script L with a crossbar for Libra. This is found on a computer keyboard at option-3. And shift-3 gets you a different pound sign, #. Well, sort-of a pound sign as it’s only a pound sign on a telephone. On a computer # stands for number, which is abbreviated ‘no.’ despite there being no O in number.

To go off on another tangent, the astrological symbol for Libra is not £ or # but a horizontal line with a hump in the middle over a straight line. Sort-of a pictogram of a balance scale. You won’t find that on a computer key­board so you’ll have to type out the word. On a telephone pad you’d have to dial 5-4-2-7-2 to spell libra. Then again, there’s no longer a dial on a phone to dial yet we say dial anyway.

Though you didn’t ask, here’s why ounce is abbreviated oz. even though there is no Z in ounce. It stands for the Italian onza, ounce. This comes from the Latin uncia, meaning one 12th, which is also the source of the term “inch.”

Filed 2/6/12

The Worst Bargain Ever


I got a puzzle-a-day calendar for Christmas. Here’s the puzzle for February 2nd, Groundhog Day, though it has nothing to do with groundhogs:

“Andy flushes the toilet 36 times a day. Each flush uses 2 gallons of water at a cost of 10 cents per gallon. How much do Andy’s flushes cost per week?”

The answer is pretty simple math. Andy spends $50.40 a week flushing his toilet. Though the better question is why is Andy flushing his toilet so much? Why is Andy’s toilet water so expensive?

Maybe it’s just me, but using the toilet 36 times a day seems a little excessive. It means he’s relieving himself every 45 minutes all day and night. I think Andy should see a doctor.

At $50.40 a week Andy is spending over $200 a month flushing his toilet. Where does Andy live where water is so expensive? I don’t pay close to ten cents a gallon for water, closer to one cent per gallon.

Could be worse. Andy might be using bottled water. Is there anything more overpriced? I mean, a 16 oz. bottle for a dollar means paying eight dollars a gallon. That’s twice the price of gas. For water. Which I can get from the tap for a penny a gallon. Bottled water is 800 times more expensive. What a bargain.

Filed 2/3/12

Way Beyond ESP


Top Ten Pretty Much Worthless Paranormal Powers:

Rubberglubility: Ability to have insults bounce of you and stick to the insulter.

Oblivoyance: Ability to have sounds go in one ear and out the other.

Revoyance: Ability to bounce ideas off people.

Televoyance: Ability to project your thoughts into inanimate objects. For thinking inside or outside the box.

Unvoyance: Ability to know what people are not thinking.

Nix-ray vision: Ability to see the invisible. When used clear things are opaque. Which, unfortunately, includes the air.

Chronosis: Ability to speed or slow time and yourself at the same rate. Which makes no difference to anyone else, or yourself for that matter.

Circularnation: Ability to die and come back as yourself and do it all over again exactly the same way, though you never realize it.

Paralevitation: Ability to levitate in weightless environments.

Gullibility: Ability to believe the unbelievable.

And five sensory perceptions that aren’t so worthless. Ability to smell a rat, taste success, feel good, hear opportunity knocking, and see the truth.

Filed 1/24/12

Truth in Humor


“Doctor, it hurts when I do this.”
“Don’t do that.”

An old gag from Henny Youngman. But true all the same. I mean, would you stick your hand in the fire if it didn’t hurt? The problem of sticking your hand in the fire is not the pain, but burning your hand to a crisp. Pain is Mother Nature’s corporal punishment for doing stupid things.

Now this may seem like belaboring the obvious, but the same sort-of idea applies to all sorts of things. Better to have a warning signal that something is wrong than letting things fail cata­strophically. That’s what the idiot lights on the dashboard are for, right? Yet people often tend to ignore warning signs. Or cover them up. Like a bit of black tape over the check engine light. That’s like painkillers for cars. Idiots.

There might be some kind of lesson in all this, but it eludes me. Like looking for a hidden meaning that just isn’t there. Which leads to my segue, as contrived as it might be, to a quote from Sigmund Freud about dream symbolism.

“Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.”

Though that reminds me of another line about cigars from the final episode of Cheers, “There’s nothing like a good cigar. And this is nothing like a good cigar.” So everywhere it says cigar you can put in posting.

Filed 1/20/12

This Is the Year That Won’t Be


Ten Unpredictions for 2012

  1. Lady Gaga will be exposed as not being an actual Lady, and not really gaga either.
  2. Maroon becomes the new black and polka-dots become the new stripes.
  3. It will be revealed Oliver Stone’s movies were not made by him at all, but by the Freemasons.
  4. Jeopardy! will be exposed for giving contestants the answers before the questions.
  5. The Onion will be declared the new paper of record.
  6. The phrase “fifteen minutes of fame” will finally exhaust its fifteen minutes of fame.
  7. To stave off bankruptcy Greece will sue the London Olympics for using the name Olympics.
  8. The presidential election race begins in earnest on January 12th. We will be sick of it by February 12th.
  9. Prices of what you own will go down, prices for what you need will go up. This will be called dinflation.
  10. The European Union will be reorganized from its current form to a united, single entity called Eurination.

Filed 1/4/12

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