Tuesday, March 18, 2014

An Ode to MSG

Just saw this funny, well written ode to MSG that's not all about allergies and other pseudoscientific reasons to pick and choose the foods you like to freak out over (like "Chinese food", vs Doritos, tomatoes, beets or seaweed).


A great quote:

"I know that you’ve had some tough times the past few years. People have called to ban you, to oust you from the kitchen. They held that you were unsafe and toxic and unnatural. They accused you of causing headaches, diarrhea, and increased heart rate, as well as asthma, cancer, and brain disease. I read that you caused “fuzzy thinking,” which is as vague as it is untrue. Korea and Japan just ate, like, three thousand pounds of MSG for lunch and everyone seems to be thinking very clearly as they design our phones, TVs, and our robot army."

Check out the whole piece by Annie, and browse some of the other interesting pieces of writing from Asian American authors as well!

Saturday, November 23, 2013

BH Bad Article Dissection: Aspartame

I have a tendency to over-react to posts about pseudoscience on the internet.  I know, not the best idea, seeing as we're all swimming in a veritable primordial soup of pseudoscience and false claims from everywhere.

My latest rant stems from Facebook, as it often does, when I saw a post circulating about aspartame.  Don't get me wrong; I don't like that stuff myself.  It tastes very strange to me, nowhere close to sugar, and I avoid it whenever possible.  Naturally, some people don't have that luxury if they can't or don't want to consume real sugar, so I completely have no problem with other people consuming it.  Like MSG, people just love to dump the hate on aspartame, and perhaps some of the claims are warranted, and all the studies done with it have not revealed its true nature within the human body.  Though with the number of people I know who consume endless quantities of diet sodas and energy drinks, I feel like I should have noticed something going wrong by now...

Anyhow, I get annoyed when people circulate an obviously poorly written, illogical piece of writing, even if it isn't about how aspartame is the worse thing since wedgies.  It's possible that too much aspartame consumption in certain people can cause problems, but your reasons for jumping on the hate-aspartame bandwagon should be at least reasonable.

Well, I should've known better than to expect that.  So I had to post something about it, and you can check my rant out here as a guest post on the awesome Snarky Scientist blog!


Monday, November 4, 2013

Trafficmaster Allure Ultra Planking: A Year Later

Greetings, folks!  

It's now well over a year since I've installed Trafficmaster Allure Ultra in my home, DIY style.

I hope that my post about our adventure installing the flooring was helpful to some of you in making your own flooring decisions.  If there are tips and advice you'd like to share, please post!

Since I continue to receive interest in the state of my floor, I recently took some a few more photos, and am making a quick video.

For those of you who may be wondering, I have not had any separation of any of my planks thus far, and there are absolutely no signs of that happening anywhere.  No corners have raised up, no seams opened up. Cleaning has been a breeze with a simple vaccum/sweeping and Swiffering.  No noxious fumes have appeared.  The foot-feel of the planking remains great.

If you have any other questions or requests that would help answer your questions about this Allure Ultra flooring, please feel free to ask in the comments!  I'm not a flooring specialist, but I have had a good amount of time living on this floor and handling the planking now, so I am happy to help out if I can!

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Death by Chocolate: Review of an effective mousetrap

See that gap on the left?  Yeah...
After my DIY re-flooring adventure a few months ago, I lazily left my wall molding unpatched over an inexplicable gap that was left in my wall due to lazy previous installation of the floor baseboard by the previous homebuilder/owner.  Being a good procrastinazn, I figured finishing off my floor edges and patching up that gap wasn't a big deal.  I could live with a hole; it's only a good, oh, two or three inches high and just a few inches wide.

So I suppose a lot of this was my own fault...

Anyhow, probably about two weeks ago, a small brown mouse tunneled its way into my wall and slipped through that hole into my home, where it ravaged my chocolate hoard in the night.  It ignored the rice, crackers and cough drops and made a beeline for the good stuff.

I would hear little scratching, scrabbling noises as it inhaled a chunk the size of a full stick of gum from a gourmet chocolate bar, and ripped into a bag of Lindor truffles that it found in some boxes I had on the floor and table.  It pooped on the floor, shed little hairs on my dining room table when it groomed itself, and while refreshing itself at the faucet, also pooped in my kitchen sink.


This meant war.

In general, when dealing with an animal intrusion, you basically have three options.  Try to co-exist, try to capture and relocate the critter alive, or try to exterminate it.  In general, when it comes to animals that not only easily reproduce and overpopulate, but also are potential vectors for disease, I tend towards the extermination course of action.

So after cleaning up and boxing away the remainder of my food and chocolate, came the search for an effective, cheap and permanent way to get the mouse outta the house.  As anyone who has dealt with rodents will know, they are nocturnal and shy by nature.  They are, however, also creatures of habit, using the same general pathways and exits/entrances.

I faced these mouse elimination options:
1. Poison.
2. Traps.

I traveled to my local Home Depot, where I found several different styles and types of trapping mechanisms, as well as poisons.  I considered the poison baits, but people have cautioned against using them unless you must, as the mouse is unlikely to die immediately after consumption of the poison.  That leaves it free to crawl back into your wall or under your bed or inside your winter sweater storage bin or some other place inside your home, suffer a likely unpleasant death from the poison, and then begin to stink if you don't find it quickly enough.

That left the traps.

Most people have seen the Victory brand, old-style wood-spring-metal bar types, but I had heard enough stories about shoddy construction to avoid them.

Sticky traps were next, where the animal is supposed to walk onto the sticky pad after being lured there by food you set out, to get stuck there like flies on flypaper until you come by to deal with them.  Problem was, the brand at Home Depot did not appear to be sticky at all.  I pulled a sticky panel from the box and tested the stickiness in one corner with the edge of a piece of paper.  It was at most tacky like chewed gum, at worst the texture of melted gummy bears, with no grip to it at all.  I had to discard it as a viable option, though I had to debate with myself for awhile.  Maybe if the trap was deeper, and the target animal heavier, it could work; like a horse trying to ford quicksand, it would mire itself without hope of escape.  But mice are small and light; even with all the chocolate this mouse had been consuming, I was willing to bet it would dance right over the "sticky" surface and dance right off again with any bait. 

Home Depot also offered a more expensive electrocution trap that I passed over.  K.I.S.S.  The more parts and the fancier the mechanism, the higher the chances something could go wrong.  The Victor electric trap does have good reviews on HD's website, though.

This Ortho Home Defense Max Press 'N Set trap is what I finally settled on.  It looked sturdy, had the simplest, most efficient and humane mechanism, and had pretty high reviews on Amazon.

I bought six of the suckers, since I wanted to put out as many tempting traps as possible.  They're easy to bait; I used peanut butter for two, and the mouse's apparent favorite, Lindor chocolate truffles, for the other four.
Ortho Trap baited with peanut butter, showcasing its impressive snappy mechanism.

I set them out all around the hole in the wall, and along the edges of the wall just in case the mouse missed some on its nocturnal meanderings.  Let me tell you, if your rodent population has a sweet tooth, Lindor truffles are amazing for bait, because they melt so quickly as you're stuffing pieces into the well that there's no way the mouse can just snatch-and-run; it's going to have to hang around and really work to eat it.

I left the traps out in the early evening, turned out all the lights, and left my place for the night.  I figured the less disturbances the better.

Come out and feast, mus musculus!
Aaaaaaaaaaaaaand lo and behold: problem solved the very next day!  Mouse was caught (in a chocolate trap, of course).  I could not help feeling somewhat triumphant.

This must be what it feels like to be a cat.

It was a clean, instant kill, from the look of the aftermath.  Two words: cervical dislocation.

Thanks, Ortho!  And just for fun: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Plz9JxsnhH4

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Reflooring Partay! Installing Trafficmaster Allure Ultra Planking

What's under your carpet?
Oct 2012 
Jan 2013 
May 2013
Nov 2013 - Quick update here

August 2014.  Floor still going strong.  Will update later in the fall with more photos and document any scuffing or damage after two tenancies.

This blog post recounts my personal experience removing my old carpeting and installing Allure Ultra Planking. I discuss our thought process, our installation tools and tricks, and I review Allure Ultra planking.  (The sticky Allure is not the click-lock Allure Ultra that I review here.)

If you have remaining questions, your own review, or proud photos to share, please post a comment below!  Other kind blog visitors have also provided their tips and tricks in the comments as well.
So with allergies, sleep quality issues and indoor air cleanliness that likely matched the level of LA smog, judging from the state of my apartment air filter just 24 hours after switching to a fresh one (white->brown), I felt compelled to attempt a major home and health improvement task: ripping out who-knows-how-old carpet and putting down new flooring.

  • Internet research 
  • Big girly sunglasses, or preferably, real safety goggles
  • gloves
  • packing/duct tape
  • broom/vacuum cleaner
  • trash bags
  • big crowbar and/or prybars (prybar is too a word!)
  • pliers
  • scissors
  • boxcutters/utility knives
  • ruler
  • marker
  • radio
Key requirements: 
  • Trafficmaster Allure Ultra Vinyl Planking, in Clear Cherry, from Home Depot.  
  • $3 rubber mallet
  • Help, in the form of bf and a cavalry of friends
My studio is a small place, with let's say 400 sq ft of carpeting that needed to be taken up, not counting areas already floored with vinyl sheeting or tile.  Still, it wasn't going to be a piece of cake.

Maybe a very old tough piece of shepherd's pie...

Lucky for me, I had the internet, bf and friends to help me on this quest, which I had not quite dared to tackle on my own, though I had certainly daydreamed about it in the past.

Below the carpet, which likely contained years of past tenant debris and cat dander mixed with dust mite cityscapes, there was wooden parquet flooring, likely of questionable quality.  The good folks who had originally laid down this carpeting had done a somewhat sloppy job of it, barely tacking down the carpet edges or the foam carpet pad beneath.  This of course held the promise of an easier time removing everything.

Allure Ultra plank, from Home Depot.
Internet research and forum-lurking led me to choose Home Depot's Trafficmaster Allure Ultra vinyl planking as my new floor of choice.  No, it's not the cheapest; no, it's not the one with the most positive reviews; and no, I don't work for Home Depot.

Pros: claim of waterproofness, toughness, and the comparative ease with which planks could be cut and snapped to length with a utility knife during the flooring process, compared to the need for a saw to work with wood laminate.  Does a decent job of looking like wood.  It would be a floating floor laid directly over the existing wooden parquet; probably as easy as reflooring gets.
Potential Cons: ability of the pieces to "snap" together as easily and tightly as Home Depot claimed on their fancy Youtube demo video, and if the floor beneath the carpet would be flat enough to work with their locking mechanism.  If they really were as scratch and scrape resistant as they claim to be.  Also rather pricey.

The boxes of Trafficmaster Allure Ultra were heavy puppies and 18 of them gave me and the bf quite some exercise lugging them from store to car, then car to apartment complex door, and then down two flights of stairs.  Definitely not a task for the weak, nor for the weak of heart.

After much effort moving most my furniture and things out of the space in question, removing the carpeting was quite simple on the day of the Flooring Partay.  Somewhat laborious, but simple.  Pliers and gloves, teasing and ripping up the edges of the carpet from the wooden tack strips below, then cutting the carpeting into narrow strips that could be rolled up, taped up, and hauled outside, piece by piece.  One will be surprised how heavy a seemingly little strip of carpet becomes once it's rolled up.  Quite a few ugly stains showed through to the back of several pieces.

Steam cleaning: not so penetrative after all.
Much hair and dust and dirt and sand--so much sand--was found after the carpet pad underneath was rolled away.  That, and two large rusty razor blades.  Livin' life on the edge of tetanus!

Ramen box full of tack strips.  Also note the large, manly crowbar.
The floor beneath was stained in some places, with evidence of past water damage.  After a good vacuum, it appeared none of the wood pieces had buckled or warped, so the hope was the floor would be flat enough to lay the Allure Ultra planks on top.  By then, friends had arrived, along with pizza, and the tedious and slightly dangerous task of pulling all the tack strips, nails and staples out of the parquet wood floor commenced.

Sand.  And a hole in the wall.  Thanks, lazy baseboard installer.
Let me tell you, the difference in time and annoyance-level between two people with crowbars and pliers removing nails and staples, and five people with crowbars and pliers removing nails and staples, is huge.  HUGE, I tell you.  Even with the added task of prying old quarter-round molding off all the baseboards, this seemed to take almost no time at all with enough friendpower at work.

Plus, it was fun to see folks going a little crazy with a crowbar.

Good, healthy violence.

After de-nailing and de-stapling, another good vacuum was in order.  Decided not to bother mopping, and we went on to figuring out how to work the Allure Ultra flooring.  It seemed simple enough; all four sides of the long vinyl planks had either a gray rubber groove or a lip.  Notch one into the other tightly and it forms (so they claim) a waterproof seal between adjoining planks, and you move on to the next one.  The black undersurface of each plank has white arrows keeping you oriented to where the next plank should be connected (always add new pieces to the right side).

Problem is, multiple DIYers have reported difficulty fitting planks snugly together, and it did take some trial and error for us to figure out the best and most efficient way to lay the floor.  The Home Depot community offers this invaluable snapshot of two planks being adjoined here (top figure).  (Or rather it did: the top photo here is a good approximation.)  Keeping that angle while you get the planks as close together as possible is all-important, because pure horizontal or vertical force when the plank is not angled won't get you the tight seam you want.
A not-quite-there-yet seam between two planks.  The thin black crevice can be removed by lifting the bottom edge of the new plank up at an angle and gently tapping that edge with a rubber mallet until the gap is gone, and then setting the plank down flat.  A few gentle hammers on the seam afterwards doesn't hurt, either.
A good, tight seam between two planks, both on the long and short edges.  No gray seams, no thin black crevices.  Good job, guys!
11-04-13 edit: note about the mallet/hammer.  Unlike what some people seem to have assumed, we did not force the planks together by "hammering" them into each other.  If you've handled these planks before, you'll know this is pretty much impossible given the delicate but rigid rubber locking mechanism.  Our small rubber mallet was used to essentially tap the tongue of one plank deep enough into the groove of the other so that tight seams could be achieved once the plank was laid down flat (from the other side of the plank).  Again, this GENTLE tapping on the edge you are holding must be done only while the plank being added is held at about a 45 degree angle above the ground.  Gently tap along the free edge until you no longer see any gap, then lay that plank (or row of planks) down flat.  We found that if we skipped out on tapping each plank deeply into the groove, they almost always showed either a thin black or large gray gap.

We also discovered that the fastest way to lay if you happen to have an assembly line of people (or even if you don't) is to piece together whole rows first -- varying the length of each first piece, to keep things staggered -- and then, with one person holding each of the short seams to keep the row together, connect the entire new row up into the existing floor, everyone again keeping that angle in order to shove the new row's long edges tightly into the grooves of the existing floor, using the mallet to tap things in tight, before everyone lays their part of the row down flat.
Human weight holding the virgin floor in place; new box of planks being opened; an end row piece being measured so it can be scored/snapped to length.
For DIYers: If you can do this WHOLE ROW METHOD, please save yourself time and do not attempt to install plank by plank.  It will take FOREVER and you will fiddle FOREVER with the problem of 90 degree angle seams.  Don't know what I mean?  Imagine laying down planks lengthwise, starting from the left corner of a room, and adding new planks towards the right side of the room.  The first row of flooring is a breeze since there are only short ends to connect, which are really easy to join tightly.  Then, the 1st plank of the 2nd row is easy, because there is only one long edge to connect, though I'd recommend using the mallet to gently tap them together tightly as you hold the new plank at an angle, then lay it down flat.

The problem starts at the 2nd plank of row 2.  You have both a short and a long edge to fit tightly, and this is where things get stupid.  If you fit the short end first, you have to lift both planks of the 2nd row in order to get the long edge of plank 2 in tight.  It's even more annoying if you try to fit the long edge first.  The problem stems from each new plank edge needing to be installed at an angle, which is the key to getting the tight seam.  Having seams at 90 degrees that both require angling makes for much frustration and probably very loose seams, resulting in some people's floors coming apart. 

TL;DR?  Use our awesome whole row installation method.  You'll thank us later.  

8-17-2014 Update from comments: 
  1. Laurie reports that just 2 people can do the Whole Row method, and that a flooring installation kit from either Lowes or Home depot was very helpful.   
  2. A (very hale) gentleman reported that he was able to work plank by plank, by having someone stand in the middle of the last plank that was laid, so that he could manhandle the individual edges that needed to be angled.  He provides some nice photos of two transitions as well.
Check out our Whole Row InstallationTM method.  And some ghetto cardboard spacers!

The sun has left us.  So has most of the pizza.
And so it went.  After we started doing entire rows at once, progress picked up significantly.  Cutting pieces for each row's end took the most time, since the pieces had to be measured to different lengths.  (Use the leftover piece to start a new row.)  We found that it was easy to score and snap planks; get a sturdy metal ruler and just run your utility knife three or so times down the edge where you wish to snap the plank, on the black undersurface.  Then just snap the plank towards the upper surface and it will break cleanly along your scored line.  Doesn't require much strength at all, and your blade doesn't really have to be very sharp.  We didn't change any of our blades for the entire project.

We did discover that when you get to the end of a room, you will likely need a real saw of some sort, in order to narrow your planks.  There is no snapping these things lengthwise, sadly, despite our best efforts.  
Update: you can, in fact, snap these things lengthwise.  It just take some gentle handling, compared to width-wide snapping.  The scoring process remains the same, but you should start with a gentle bend along your score at one end of the plank, then move down the length of your score until you have the entire score mark working towards a real break.  Then you can manhandle the break until the two strips come apart.  If you try to bend too forcefully just along the edge first without "priming" the entire score, you will break off small, irregular pieces.

Also, in case you were wondering, handsaws do cut through these things pretty well.  It just takes much longer and more effort than snapping.  Why do extra work when you don't need to!
Bottom edge of the room, waiting for lengthwise cut planks to finish it off.  Note enthusiastic crowbar scrapes, yeah! 
This is how the Trafficmaster Allure Ultra floor looks, 98% completed the next day.  (Who cares about the edges of rooms anyway.)  Lovely!  There were just a few black crevice gaps here and there, but no gray gaps anywhere, and they're holding together great, even with the return of furniture, and things scraping across the mostly matte surface.  It's pretty tough.  I feel perfectly safe dragging chairs across it, and the few small black scuffs that have appeared vanish like magic with some gentle rubbing with a metal scouring pad and water.

Pretty awesome.
 These planks lay quite smoothly over the old wood floor, and there have been no cheap tic-tac or creaking noises when someone walks over it.  It looks really nice, has been easy to vaccum and sweep, and had only a faintest of faint rubber smells for the first few days (unlike the toxic fumes that some have reported from the old shiny Allure planking with the adhesive strips.  Remember: Trafficmaster Allure is not Trafficmaster Allure Ultra.  The installation methods and even the planking consistency and feel are different.  I much prefer the tougher feel of the Ultra, as opposed to the more easily scratchable Allure).  It's true that these 'click-lock' planks (I didn't hear a single click when installing, though) would look even nicer if Allure had more wood grain designs than it currently does, but eh, who's counting floor patterns?  Now it's time to kick back and plan the floor testing afterpartay.  Gotta use that lifetime residential warranty...

Ken, Yi-Hsiao, Stephen, Eric, Paul, Sam, Roseanne, Cat, Shane, Victory = = da best! 

October 19th, 2012 Update: I am still quite happily living on my Trafficmaster Allure Ultra floor.  So far there has been zero warping of planks and no separation of any planks either.  I do not keep any rugs or carpeting on the planking, as I like the ability to just sweep and mop now.  I still greatly appreciate the muted, solid foot-feel (I wear slippers or walk barefoot around the house) and am glad I went with vinyl every time I step into a place whose pressed wood planking floor makes a hollow "tic-tac" noise and shifts under my weight.

Since I first wrote this blog post, we have spilled soup, beer, had a miniature flood from melted ice from a leaky cooler, and accidentally spilled a fishbowl's worth of fish water on this floor with no serious consequences yet.  I have also dragged chairs and stools back and forth across it, and love that I don't have to worry about scratching it up like with a real wood floor at my old home.  I also park two bikes on one side of my place, and any tire scuffs have cleaned up nicely with the ol' Brillo pad treatment.

So far so great.  I would still highly recommend this flooring.  If you install it correctly, I'm pretty sure anyone would fall in love instantly.  I will update with any other floor-related happenings as time goes on!

Jan 15th, 2013 Update: As a request from a reader, here are more detailed images of an individual plank.  At least for the Clear Cherry, each plank "looks" like two-to-three long lengthwise planks.  It has the illusion of the plank edges created through slight indentations in the upper surface of the vinyl, and the wood "grain" is consistent with the illusion.

The upper surface of each plank is matte with shinier vinyl in the shallow little valleys of the wood "grain" impressions.  You can see my living room light reflecting off the shiner vinyl.  The gray edges peek out from these two edges, and fit underneath a narrow shelf on the neighboring plank to create the tight seams discussed above.

Friday, October 30, 2009

If You REALLY Know Funny...

...then dispense with the string of expletives, sexual references and the same, tired derogatory pokes at racial minorities, gays and women.  I dare you to try that, aspiring comic!  And yes, even you, famous comedian! 

I attended an evening event in DC where new and more experienced comedians gave short, several minute acts to a small audience of maybe 20+ people.  None were super amazing, but most had a few good jokes.  Two guys were great, personable and had original things to say that were also very funny.  All the other acts were replete with expletives and references to the same old things that I never have considered gut-busting funny, but were ok, worth a few laughs here and there.  Some of the acts came across as straight crude humor, or what I like to call caveman humor.

Yeah, and I'm female.  But that doesn't mean I don't find comedic expletives, sexual references and derogatorily-slanted jokes about gender, black/asian/hispanic/gay/lesbian people amusing, if the joke has been thought through and told right.  Caveman humor is enjoyable and hilarious if done well and sprinkled throughout an act tastefully.  And you do need some taste, even with a repertoire of tasteless jokes.  But when every other offering is one about sex, and every other comic swears like their life depends on how many "shits" they can let loose in a row, they lose their charm and their humor fast.  I'm not here to pay testament to your manliness.  Get over yourself and entertain me!  Of course someone's gotta be the butt of a joke, but it doesn't always have to be the same groups.  Saying "fuck" every other sentence, or going through a detailed pantomining of "pussy-checking" at an imaginary store in a world where women have been cloned from the waist down, isn't exactly the most hilarious thing you could be doing.  One person howling away in a corner (probably laughing only because she knew the aforementioned pantomimer on stage) does not a good joke make.  Faced with a long line of these types of jokes, they start to feel like very awkward, very obvious crutches to me and apparently most of the audience, what with the number of times the comics basically pleaded for audience laughter outright over the course of the evening.

So to most comics out there: stop relying on these topics alone.  It really makes you sound desperate.  Try using more jokes that anyone can relate to without having to look around for permission before laughing, stories that cross gender/racial/sexual orientation borders.  Parental issues.  Family issues.  Money.  Jobs.  Traffic.  Internet.  Lawns.  Culture clashes.  Make fun of a different group for a change.  Let's have some equal opportunity mockage!  Not that I'm a prude, not that I'm a feminazi, or can't relate to crude humor or racial jokes.  It just isn't that funny anymore, because everyone does them already.  They're tried, they're old, and I want to be amused and entertained.  Give me clever, give me unusual, give me a new way of phrasing an old joke, or dare to provoke some thinking, and only then will it have the potential to be a damn good show.

Also, dear comic, do you sometimes wonder why people laugh automatically at some things, or find certain people or situations amusing without any effort?  It's among my random musings.  I've heard it said that laugher is a social/biological response to awkward or embarrassing situations, and so it may be.  So if I laugh at you acting out some sex act on stage, or chuckle at you describing in soft-porn detail what you did to your girlfriend last night...it doesn't actually mean I thought it was that funny.  (This goes for you too, Dane Cook!)  Most of it is for your effort...some is to join in with the crowd, and perhaps the rest is just letting that automatic silence-filler laugh come through because face it, we automatically laugh at many awkward situations.  But laughter doesn't necessarily equal appreciation.  Caveman jokes really don't impress me much.  It takes very little imagination to come up with, very little imagination on the part of the audience, and so I find it equals very little actual funniness for me.  Call it a cheap thrill.  Every time I see people laughing at graphic sexual jokes, I wonder how many are laughing because they honestly, truly found it funny.

It's also interesting how sensitive comics can be to racial jokes.  One person told several jokes about Vietnamese and Chinese people, and I noticed they were a bit more toned down than they could have been, at least compared to what you could say were some extremely offensive jokes from a feminist perspective (and even if you aren't a feminist, you might be able to see how a bald portrayal of women as body parts to be bought and sold might be just a tad insulting).  You never know who might be sitting in that audience...  (There was indeed at least one person of Viet and Chinese heritage that night.  Represent!)

And on a last note, it's always amusing when pseudo-science is dragged on stage, told by a non-scientist to a roomful of non-scientists.  Now I understand why good science writing is so important.  The authority with which the comic spoke of the unquestionable results of a recent  "cell-phone brain cancer study" was painfully amusing in a different way than the caveman jokes.

But overall it was an enjoyable evening, and I give those comics much credit for standing up in front of a roomful of strangers, just trying to make everyone laugh.  But if they'd like to help one audience member really laugh, and not just out of politeness, accept her dare to the caveman!  Evolve!

Monday, September 14, 2009

Back to school...I wish?

You know that feeling.

It comes when the summer foliage's just starting to crinkle, and a few overeager leaves have already taken the plunge. The wind's a bit sharper and everything has a hint of the sweet smell of dried grass. There's a spark, a crackle when I step outside, and just the tang of the air carries with it a sense of purpose.

Only problem is, the root of that purpose appears to have passed without warning. Gone are the days of rushing between classes, done are the days of staring at the clock and waiting for a lunch break, finished are those long-ago moments of trading of drug-dealer TI-83 programs and playing chicken with my GPA. And did I mention learning some occasionally cool stuff in-between?

Yeah, I'm really, actually referring to Back To School time. It's probably just me, but despite the reluctance of leaving those long slacking days of summer vacation behind, preparing for school and getting into a new school year is something I've now discovered I enjoyed. Back in the day, I'd organize my plastic binder (TrapperKeeper, anyone?), stick those little white donut-shaped protectors over the torn holes of my folders with the amazing paintings of space and underwater 'scapes, label my stack of spiral-ring notebooks and organize everything in my backpack. I'd note when all the exams and big assignments were in my planner once I got each course syllabus (which would eventually vanish), and write down my daily class schedule several times so I wouldn't forget. Never mind that organization, as always, is futile, and soon my backpack would be stuffed full of wrinkled assignments and candy wrappers and pencil lead and linty tissues. I loved reading a book beneath my desk during a boring lecture. Though tests kicked my butt more often than I kicked theirs, that occasional ace was a high. I liked having a collection of finished essays and assignments at the end of a school year because if not for that deadline, I'd just have a bunch of beginnings with no end. I mean, I'm pretty much writing the equivalent of a "Coming of Age" prompted English essay right now. What the hell is wrong with me?

This has got to be the most obvious embodiment of the saying, "distance makes the heart grow fonder." Do I really miss homework? No. Do I really miss exams? Absolutely not. Pulling crap out of thin air artfully for acceptable bs-ing on assignments? ....maybe. Having to get up before the sun at times to make it to class? Definitely !affirmative.

But what I do miss is that sense of community, of belonging to a class going through the same annoyances and professor-induced torture, of having expectations and being able to fulfill them. Completion. Almost instant gratification. Deadlines. Yes, I said deadlines. Freedom is beautiful, but only if you're the type able to whip yourself out of procrastinatory vegetation to do some unidentified task your brain keeps feeling that you should be doing. It's especially beautiful if you can squelsh that restless need to always be doing something, in which case I envy you your happy-slacker spirit...

It's not that I don't appreciate stability, free time, the power to be my own scheduler and timekeeper. I still do on the currently rare occasion when life is truly hectic. Yet normally, when things are slow and calm and predictable, motivation to do all those things I had been dying to do but put off when I was busy takes a bow and exits, stage left. Boredom can trigger creative muses, but having periods of busyness provides the basis for their inspiration.

This will be my second fall of no classes, no backpack, no textbooks. No assignments, no multitasking, few real timelines, no real guidelines. It's Back To School no more, that's all, folks! And I have to say, sometimes I'm a little wistful. School wasn't a piece of cake, but it was mine to have and sometimes nibble on.
And really, it's not school that I miss, but that strong sense of immediate purpose that buzzes on September air. Back in high school, physics class taught the fundamental truth that human beings aren't speed detectors; they're acceleration detectors. We can be hurtling through life at a breakneck pace, but if it's a constant breakneck pace, it gets old. Crawling along leisure-like for long periods also gets old...to my great surprise. This must be why people have mid-life crises; their brain is screaming for change, some novel stimuli, a new knot to untie, a new goal to direct themselves towards.

So you know the feeling, right?

Ok, so probably normal people don't. Normal people have a solid goal they chip away at, day by day, until they end up with a product, a skill, a purpose. But something about my current situation makes my final goal something more like a fuzzy star on the horizon, elusive, tantalizing and frustratingly intangible. I'm not quite sure how to get there, how long the travel time will be, and not a clue what to do once I arrive.

This just means I've now realized it's time to stop whining and put that sense of purpose to use.
And my next goal is finding me a piece of oily rectangular pizza and a little pint of chocolate milk with a straw and a snac-pac of chocolate pudding so I can properly wallow in my mental regression.

Just for tonight.