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Monday, December 17, 2012

The Last Christmas Tree... my holiday gift to you

It was a ‘Charlie Brown Christmas tree,’ even before there was a Charlie Brown. It stood almost six-feet tall with a crooked trunk and so few scraggly branches that you could almost call it a stick. As my sister and I dragged it home, we left a trail of needles from Grandpa’s store to the house where he and Grandma lived, just a block away.

In a word, it was WORRYSOME. How could this pitiful specimen ever become a ‘real’ Christmas tree?

Dad was in the Navy, gone now three years fighting World War II. The three of us, mom, my kid sister and me, lived in on a brick-paved street in a tiny rental house that was owned by grandma and grandpa who lived next door. This is where we moved when dad was called to serve our country. Our rent was $20 a month… or not, depending on if we had the money.

Between our house and the store was an alley, used mostly by garbage trucks… like the one that hit and almost killed me once when I raced across in my Radio Flyer wagon without looking. But that was another time. On the other side of the alley was Frasco Brothers’ Corner Grocery Store. It belonged to grandpa and his brother, our Uncle August. His family lived above the store. The Frasco brothers were Italian immigrants who came to Peoria, Illinois through Ellis Island in 1903. The Frasco men found their calling in groceries and, after establishing themselves, sent for their families. Mom and dad were both first generation American born.

It was the morning of December 24th, that long time ago. My younger sister and I were so excited. Not only was tomorrow the BIG DAY but right now, we would get to put up grandma’s Christmas tree… and that thrilled us beyond telling. This was only our second time… but this year, we got to do it (almost) all by ourselves. Grandma’s house was the center of our family Christmas.

Because of the war, the scarcity of some food products limited what could be bought, but everyone went all out for Christmas and Frasco Brothers’ was the only place folks around here shopped. The nearest Kroger was still 41 years away. And who wouldn’t choose a neighborhood grocer who knew every customer by both first and last name and delivered free in a horse drawn wagon… until the first Model T truck was purchased.

Grandpa (Butch—short for butcher—or Teddy, they called him) and Uncle August carried many of their customers ‘on the books’ with full knowledge that some debts would never be paid, “…because widow Johnson doesn’t have the money and we can’t let her go hungry,” or “Tony just had a big hospital bill because of Mary’s operation,” or “Mrs. Melvin lost her husband in Italy and still has three small kids to raise… “

The customer always came first at Frasco Brothers’ and this went double when it came to Christmas trees. Grandma always got whatever was left, usually around Christmas Eve, after Grandpa had called all his customers who didn’t have their trees yet. “No money this year, Mrs. Albert… who said you needed money for a Christmas tree? We are saving the best for you. Want us to drop it off?”

This year, there was just one left for grandma… the best … the only… but, as grandpa said, we had the chance to help God make our own beautiful tree. So… Over the alley and through the neighborhood, to grandmother’s house we drug… that poor, mangy stump of a tree, while pulling our wagon filled with the extra branches that fell from other, long-ago-purchased trees, a card of thumb-tacks and a ball of green butcher’s twine.

“Look,” Grandpa showed us, “ with just some extra branches, thumb-tacks and string, this will be the best tree of all.”

Grandma smiled as she greeted us at her door. ”My, what a wonderful tree we have this year.” (We later learned that she always said that.) “I just know you will make it so that baby Jesus himself will want to lie in our manger.”

Now we knew…the fate of Christmas was in our hands.

From the attic’s drop-down stairs came the boxes of heirloom ornaments older than we were and the rag-tag, impossibly jumbled strands of mixed lights that sometimes did, but mostly didn’t work. With the patience of the knitting and crocheting whiz that she was, grandma would carefully untangle, and then try every single light to find ones causing problems, replacing all that needed replacing. Sometime, she even had to repair the flimsy wire that tied them electrically together. Eventually, we had full strings of working, blinking Christmas lights… and we were thrilled!

Our attention turned to that miserable specimen of a tree lying on the parlor’s tile floor. I picked it up and settled the tree’s base into the stand. With grandma’s keen eye, she judged the best angle of the crooked trunk and my sister held it in place while I tightened the stand’s screws. Our ‘Charlie Brown ‘tree was soon able to stand as straight as possible without being held.

We all stood back and surveyed our work so far. “Hmm… ” Finally, grandma nodded, “Just right! Kids, get those branches and let’s get started.” Grandma was an amazing woman.

We hummed Christmas carols as we worked… and thumb-tack by thumb-tack, grandma began attaching extra branches to the trunk while I tied supporting strings higher up the tree.

We gently layered our tree with all the working Christmas bulbs… and oohed and aahed when they actually lit the tree. 

Grandma then had to leave us to get grandpa’s lunch on the table for their big noontime meal.  Grandpa opened the market at 6 am and, after finishing cleanup chores when the store closed 12 hours later, his feet hurt… and he was too tired to eat much before he fell into a hard-snoring slumber on his favorite chair… six days a week.

Sis and I stayed busy, fully consumed with our important task. We were a well-oiled team, happier at our task than at any other time of the year.

Ornament-by-ornament, our scraggly leftover started to look like a real Christmas tree. The topper was, of course, the most beautiful star you could ever imagine. Grandma made it out of yellow felt and red ribbon. She used the ladder to put it atop the tree, and after a few ‘tippy’ moments, she had it looking ‘just right,’ even if it was a tad off center. Then we wrapped the tree in popcorn and ribbon garland and draped it with so much silver tinsel that Santa himself couldn’t tell it wasn’t perfect.

Finally, our favorite part--we unpacked the manger and carefully unwrapped all the characters… the camels, the wise men, the sheep and shepherd, the angel, Mary, Joseph… and the baby Jesus.

It was my sister who lovingly laid Him in the manger. We stood back… and after an appreciating pause, we sang Away in a Manger and Silent Night. This was the first moment when we really felt the meaning of the season in our hearts. And of course, ours was the most beautiful Christmas tree ever!

As we stood there in reflected silence and pride, we knew Christmas meant hope, love and peace. But mostly, I think, hope. Please bring our dad home… and all the dads and brothers and sons and daughters. End the war… please end the war. And let us all do unto others, as we would have them do unto us…

All wasn’t right with the world that Christmas, but we believed it would be again, someday… sooner, we prayed, than later.
So, with hope abounding: Happy Christmas to all… and to all, a good night.

Jerry C.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Any shoes look great if you are cool enough to wear them... and cute enough too!

Five Fingers is the name, running's the game. And if you've never tried them, you should... or shouldn't. It depends.

Now this extra-cute runner is my grandchild, and she and her younger brother run and run and run. Their school has a great cross-country program for almost all ages. She runs 3ks and her brother runs 2ks... and they both post better times than me. (Darned kids!)

But let's talk shoes. I have been running in my Vibram Five Fingers (there are other brands) for almost 2,000 miles now... and they show it. In 'regular shoes,' I should have bought a new pair months ago... but that was with 'regular shoes." I think the idea here is to simulate barefoot running without getting the soles of your feet pierced by sharp rocks, so a hole simply means 'closer to perfection,' I guess... or cheapness.

My running partner, Abby
I went this route after I heard a talk by barefoot advocate Christopher McDougall, author of Born to Run. And because my running style is almost all heel, I figured I had nothing to loose by trying. And I was right! It works terrific for me. I am fairly flat-footed and was never mistaken for a gazelle... a blue-footed booby, maybe, but never a gazelle. Don't laugh though... I have never had feet, knee or hip problems and that is good.

These funny looking 'things' were just my thing. While I slap the ground so loudly that I could never sneak up on anyone, I run with so much less effort. My time and distance, though still not near world record standards, improved, and I loved the feel. Winter or summer, wet or dry, this is for me. The feeling of freedom and being one with nature really does give a spiritual boost to your ego.

As Confucius (551-479 BCE) say: "Running shoes without toes like chicken without happiness... both smell when step in dog poop." Or was that Charlie Chan?

If you have a high arch, or are perfectly content with your clunky shoes, or don't want to be outnumbered or laughed at, these probably won't work for you... no matter how cool like us you want to be. So just tuck in behind and draft until we get tired of you and turn it on.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

"I vant to be alone." Fat chance Greta!

Greta Garbo
"I vant to be alone" (so she had a sexy accent) was the famous quote many old-time movie buffs remember her by. Greta Garbo (1905-1990), was a reclusive Swedish born movie star and pin-up queen at a time when America fell in love with 'the cinema.' Her sensual, mysterious look made her a hit, both in silent and sound films before World War II.

Indians catching a train ride
Maybe it was easier then, but wanting to be alone just won't cut it today. Just ask Lindsay Lohan, Kate Middleton, J-Lo... or anyone in India... the world is a crowded place... and growing more-so at a rapidly increasing pace.

Russia's 125-mile long traffic jam
Perhaps Russia, with all its enormous land mass, would be a better option. I DON'T THINK SO. Motorists recently had to sit out a week-long, 125-mile-long traffic jam (take that, Los Angeles)... and the weather could be better.

Wyoming? Maybe, but once you've seen all the splendors in nature, what next?

Perhaps one of the Voyager probes nearing outer space could have been an option. Launched in 1973 and traveling at a mere 35,000 miles-per-hour, these two space craft have put more than 11 billion miles between us and them. It takes 17 hours for anything they transmit to reach us. They are so far 'out there' that even Matt Lauer couldn't play "Where in the world... " because they aren't even in our solar system any more....

And their voyage is just beginning.

Now the real kicker: when 'the (hypothetical) kids whine, "Are we there yet? I have to go to the bathroom," the nearest star (not counting our sun) is Alpha Centauri, just 4 1/2 light years further.

"Just cork it kids! I'm going as fast as I can."

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Let's Do the Time Warp Again... NO! I really mean, let's DO IT this time.

The Rocky Horror Picture Show, some say, was based on a true story... and it kind-of gave us the inspiration to dream big. There is today, a real belief that we can do The Time Warp Again... for real. if NASA can land a man or two on the moon, who's to doubt? (FYI: Lyrics to the whole song--for inspiration-- are found at the end of this post... but you have to supply your own tune.)

So here's how this dream started... astronomers last month discovered an Earth-sized planet orbiting Alpha Centauri B, a star in the closest system of stars to our own... and this planet might just be so much like ours (size, distance from a sun, etc.) that it could foster life. That raised the question... could our children's children be the ones to discover life elsewhere in the Universe? There is one itsy bitsy potential problem however.

That potential Earth is four light year's travel away... much farther than the distance Red Riding Hood had to travel to grandmother's house... and, if you can believe it, a lot more dangerous. Since four light years is too far on a tank of gas, it is way out of our reach... unless... unless there is some way to create a time warp for real. 

An MIT astronomer thinks that is quite possible. She says we have the capabilities to get to a tenth of the speed of light if we catch a solar sail or take advantage of nuclear pulse propulsion... time-warping space. 

Now here's the secret-- and don't you tell anyone: "In terms of the engine's mechanics, a spheroid object would be placed between two regions of space-time (one expanding and one contracting). A 'warp bubble' would then be generated that moves space-time around the object, effectively repositioning it--the end result being faster-than-light travel without the spheroid (or spacecraft) having to move with respect to its local frame of reference... This takes advantage of a quirk in the cosmological code that allows for the expansion and contraction of space-time, and could allow for hyper-fast travel between interstellar destinations. Essentially, the empty space behind a starship would be made to expand rapidly, pushing the craft in a forward direction--passengers would perceive it a s movement despite the complete lack of acceleration... "

Of course! Why didn't I think of that?

 That puts 'Earth Jr.' just a little over 40 years away. But if Superman can do it, then why can't we?

Forty years though is a long rocket ride... and if there is traffic, it could take forever. At the end, there is the rude awakening that this is a one-way trip. (I don't think we need to tell the travelers that right off the bat. We could leave a note for them to find later.) We really don't know if those on 'Earth Jr." would like us. The only clue we have is from astral-radio waves that have been picked up, and 'they' seem to be benevolent. We are decoding one of their books and we don't know much yet... but the title gives hope.... To Serve Man. So it seems they would like us very much.

The Time Warp   

(Riff Raff) It's astounding
Time is fleeting
Madness takes it's toll...

(Magenta) Ahh...

(Riff Raff) But listen closely...

(Magenta) Not for very much longer...

(Riff Raff) I've got to keep control.
I remember doing the Time Warp.
Drinking those moments when
The blackness would hit me.

(Riff Raff & Magenta) And the void would be calling.

(Guests) Let's do the Time Warp again.
Let's do the Time Warp again.

(Narrator) It's just a jump to the left.

(Guests) And then a step to the right.

(Narrator) With your hand on your hips.

(Guests) You bring your knees in tight.
But it's the pelvic thrust.
They really drive you insane.
Let's do the Time Warp again.
Let's do the Time Warp again.

(Magenta) It's so dreamy
Oh, fantasy free me
So you can't see me
No not at all.

In another dimension
With voyeuristic intention.
Well secluded I see all...

(Riff Raff) With a bit of a mind flip...

(Magenta) You're into a time slip...

(Riff Raff) And nothing can ever be the same.

(Magenta) You're spaced out on sensation.

(Riff Raff) Like you're under sedation.
[ Lyrics from: ]
(Guests) Let's do the Time Warp again.
Let's do the Time Warp again.

(Columbia) Well, I was walking down the street
Just having a think
When a snake of a guy
Gave me an evil wink.
Well it shook me up
It took me by surprise
He had a pick-up truck
And the devil's eyes
He stared at me
And I felt a change
Time meant nothing
Never would again.

(Guests) Let's do the Time Warp again.
Let's do the Time Warp again.

(Narrator) It's just a jump to the left.

(Guests) And then a step to the right.

(Narrator) With your hands on your hips.

(Guests) You bring you knees in tight.
But it's the pelvic thrust...
That really drives you insane
Let's do the Time Warp again.
Let's do the Time Warp again.
Let's do the Time Warp again

(Columbia) Ah! Oh! Oh! Yeoooww...

(Guests) Let's do the Time Warp again.
Let's do the Time Warp again.

(Narrator) It's just a jump to the left.

(Guests) And then a step to the right.

(Narrator) With your hands on your hips.

(Guests) You bring your knees in tight.
But it's the pelvic thrust
They really drive you insane.
Let's do the Time Warp again.
Let's do the Time Warp again.

More lyrics:

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

If Michael Jackson (God rest his soul) is/was the undisputed "King of Pop," then STAND BACK because I have something to be proud of.

A while back, I posted about a common dog-owner incident...

Wife and I were walking our two dogs with her son and his two. One of his dogs pooped and, as his dogs were going in different directions, I, plastic bag in hand, was the de facto 'PPU' (Poop-Picker-Upper).

When he said, "No, that's my job," he was calmly reassured. "Don't worry," wife says, stopping him with an extended arm, "Jerry is... (are you ready for this?)...

"The King of Poop."

And so I am. But titles must be defended from all comers, right?

This past 10 days my wife and I were caring for our 3rd youngest beautiful grandchild, two-year-old Audrey. We also had our two grand-dogs while mom and dad were on an anniversary vacation on some incredibly beautiful island in the Caribbean. And if this sounds like a "poor me," it is not. We had a ball, especially with Audrey.

Tess (golden), Abby (Lab), Zoe and Kasey (Aussies)

But, with four dogs (counting our own two), a grand baby... and a wife heavily burdened with the flu, it was a busy time.

With four dogs in the house and one baby, that's a lot of poop! Count two a day x four dogs x 10 days +  at least once a day of the baby variety = 90... yes, 90 poops that need cleaning/picking up... + the average wait time which is no small consideration. Given that the typical dog poop of this group runs to an estimated (but not officially weighed) 1/2 pound... and baby isn't a piker in that department, that's a lot of mass, time and effort spent on poop!

So, Guinness Book of Record guys, how about it? And this time, I want to be declared more than just the "King of Poop"... I want to become the "Ace of Poop!" 

Oh, you say I am more than that? OK, now we are getting somewhere. And while I don't want to brag, just relish in the glory of the master... the officially titled:



Sunday, November 4, 2012

Now do you think I am kidding?

There is a change going on... a subtle but very real change. And if you think I am kidding...

Makes you stop and wonder though because the fix is in... and look who's fixing it. Yep, definitely, robots are slowly and surely taking over our world. They are infiltrating at every level in ways the average, intelligent human being would never suspect. Now aren't we sorry that we pushed so hard to create artificial intelligence (AI)?

Just look at some of the evidence: We regular humans love comedy, right? Well Marilyn Monrobot (really) is slaying them on the comedy circuit. "'She' is a 22 1/2 inch robot that tells jokes: "A doctor says to his patient, 'I have bad news and worse news. The bad news,'" says Monrobot, "'is that you only have 24 hour to live.'

'That's terrible,' says the patient. 'How can the news possibly be any worse?'

'I've been trying to reach you since yesterday.'"

The audience roars... of course, because they are probably all robots. I tell you, they are infiltrating everywhere.

Engineer Heather Knight built Marilyn, who also hosts the Robot Film Festival (see, Robert Redford may have already lost... unless he is a ro... No! He/it can't be, otherwise would his face be so wrinkled?

Says Knight, "My job is to give robots the charisma that makes us want to bond with them." What is unsaid is that after bonding, maybe replacing? Give these machines an inch and they will take a mile.

There! Need more proof? There is a new movie out this fall: Robot & Frank, staring Frank Langella as the human jewel thief who uses a robot as an accomplice... or is it the other way around?

Then there is Kate Darling, a (supposed) human who is an Intellectual Property Research Specialist at the MIT Media Lab. She presented her paper, "Extending Legal Rights to Social Robots" at the University of Miami's We Robot Conference. In it, she reasons why we might consider granting limited legal protections to social robots designed to interact with and elicit emotional responses from human beings, much like the protections granted to animals. Oh yeah? This when even many actual human beings in the world don't have such rights. See what I mean?

You can buy a book for $26: How to build an Android, by Henry Holt and actually make a robotic you... so when you die, who would know? Yes, it has been done. Have you ever asked yourself, if Michael Jackson is really dead, how come he is still making all that money? Hmm.

There is another book, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? that concedes robots probably have dreams.  I guess that would naturally lead to a robotic Sigmund Freud to analyze them. "Hmm, I see. And to any of your dreams have a train going through a tunnel?"

Think robots have no emotions? Where do you think emoticons come from? 

Detroit... and Korea and Japan, etc. are all working on robot controlled cars that drive better than we do. I wonder if those guys wear chauffeur caps and uniforms?  And while we are at it, who do you think builds our cars? And computers? And other robots? This is getting downright scarey.

That's Baxter on the left... for just $22,000, he can be taught to do anything. While first thoughts go to working in factories, Baxter, in affluent households could actually take out the garbage, do the dishes, change the baby, do windows. Who needs men if you have the money. And what are men good for anyway. Oh, don't go there. We have robotic devices that do just fine, thank you.

There was an article in today's NYTimes that supposed many athletes would replace good legs with artificial ones if they made you run faster. With speculation that the marathon record would soon fall to under 2 hours, how about 55 minutes if robots have their way? And it probably would even be a Kenyan robot marathoner to boot.

We have robotic legs that climb stairs better than human legs can do, robot planes that spy and kill, robot bomb defusers, robot vacuum cleaners and robot surgeons who operate under the guise of a human doctor enabler, probably from the planet Zyrcon, if you ask me.

Peter Remine is the founder of the Seattle-based American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Robots. He says he will know it's time to get serious about rights for robots "when a robot knocks on my door asking for some help."

Ever wonder who is on the other end of those robot phone calls asking for your vote or does it all come down to this... the robot signings that displaced many with eviction notices supposedly coming from lenders?

Have robots not only taken over the top echelon of our society but also, secretly taken over the bottom. That is a perfectly planned operation that could only come from AI (artificial intelligence)... to "squeeze" the human life from the world as we know it. Could a human be so conniving? (Oh, ok... but not all humans.)

Every nation, cause and charity has it banners. So then do robots. Is this the end as we know it... or, the beginning, the beginning, the beginning, the beginning....

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

You are in the 6th percentile!

Congratulations! You... and me (so far) are in the 6th percentile of an exclusive club... those who are alive today. Pat on the back for us. We need a secret handshake!

Going back to 50,000 BC, there weren't a lot of people. I guess when you start with one (the loneliest number), a popular question had to be, how were there any children? Hmm... Adam AND Eve?

Staying alive was harder than getting that song out of our of our heads. Thanks a lot, BeeGees! Early life was tough... Tyrannosauras Rexes and stuff, and presumably filled with all kinds of bald-headed women (as cartoons show cave men dragging them by their hair). Maybe it's no wonder that birthrate didn't greatly exceed death rate until 9000 BC.

It took about 41,000 years for us to get the hang of it, but after that, propagation really took off. So, using today's number of about 7 billion, the United Nations has us growing by 2-3 billion in the next 40 years... and by the year 2300, we are predicted to grow to an astonishing 36 billion (metaphorically, because it won't be us as in you and me). This, of course, discounts any Rapture, End of Days, discovery that the Mayan Calendar is right on, a giant meteor or a DIY project by almost anyone.

So what's the message: BUY REAL ESTATE!

Of our 7 billion world population, one third of us are either Chinese (1.4 billion) or Indian (1.2 billion). The United States, (with a mere 360 million) is number three at just 4 1/2 percent of the total. Indonesia, Brazil, Pakistan, Nigeria, Bangladesh, Russia and Japan round out the top ten. Kind of surprising isn't it? Take that France!

There really is a message here: Learn to get along better of die. With war being one of he things we humans seem to do best, one wonders how we will make it these next 270 years?

As we humans have proven time after time, where there is a will, there is a way. We haven't gotten this far by accident, so, being a glass half-full guy, my ancestors will see your ancestors down the road.

In the end, there should be one underlying rule... and it should be Golden.

PS: The reason for this blog post? I found this neat illustration and thought, gee, it would be a shame to waste it.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Don't know if you have been paying attention but... IT'S NUTS OUT THERE!

Take me, for example… I’m a Chicago Cubs fan. What could be more insane… especially at World Series time? The Cubs last won a World Series in 1907—just one century plus 5 years ago! Last time they were even in the World Series was 1945—right after World War II and before everyone younger than 67-years old was even born! And don’t give me any of that “…But we deserved it… we haven’t won in three years” crap.

For sheer fan fanaticism though, it would be hard to beat the University of Kentucky fan who replaced his glass eye with one sporting a UK logo as the pupil. Actually, I respect the ardor if not the common sense. If I did that using a Cubs logo (can’t say I haven’t thought about it), it would be “Long time no C, pal?”

Oh yeah? Just wait ‘til next year!

Then there is the bizarre trial of the year where a Washington State woman was recently convicted of the attempted murder of her estranged husband. She hit him on the head with a hatchet then a mallet, among other things. The story goes that she had invited her husband over to stay the night and told him to sleep on a mattress which she had previously wrapped in plastic before putting on bedtime sheets... and he doesn’t even wet the bed.

To get ready for the big night, she purchased the hatchet and mallet, a lot of bleach, a supply of large garbage bags… and, oh yes, a chain saw.

As he was sleeping, she hit him on the head with the old ‘one-two’… first the hatchet, then the mallet. Obviously not a heavy sleeper, her hard-headed husband woke (with a roaring headache) at the sound of the chain saw firing up… grzzZZZZZZZWHINE! As she tried to decapitate him with the saw, he fought her off, sustaining significant cuts in the process.

The wife pleaded “Not guilty,” because:

·      Alibi #1--a mysterious stranger entered through the bedroom window, found the hatchet, mallet and chain saw and tried to kill her man with them. Sad for her, that window had a safety latch and only opened two inches.

·      Alibi #2--OK then, she said, her husband may have injured himself and tried to blame it on her.

·      Alibi #3—It all came down to a final 'Hail Mary," when her attorney suggested that, after all, it was only “a very half-hearted attempt” to kill him. Hmm… well, he did survive, so he had a point there.

But, finding not the slightest benefit of the doubt in these possibilities, the jurors returned a “Guilty” verdict in a respectable three hours, which may have included lunch.

And you thought you had problems.

Then came the announcement of the 2012 winners of the Ig Nobel Prize awards (as in Nobel Prize but in a somewhat lighter vein). The Ig Nobels are sponsored by Annals of Improbable Research, a magazine for weird and humorous scientific discoveries.

The top award went to two Japanese researchers who came up with a device that disrupts a person’s speech by repeating his or her own voice at a delay of a few hundred milliseconds--kind of like Lou Gherig's "I-I am-am the-the luckiest-luckiest man-man in-in the-the world-world" farewell speech in Yankee Stadium--to be used by those tired of listening to someone drone on and on and on. This could be big!

Other winners, equally brilliant in their fields, included:

·      Dutch researchers who won the psychology prize for studying why leaning to the left makes the Eiffel Tower look smaller
·      Four Americans who won the neuroscience award fore demonstrating that sophisticated equipment can detect brain activity in dead fish
·      A British-American team which won the physics prize for explaining how and why ponytails bounce
·      The U.S. General Accountability Office (yes, our very government… GO USA!) that won the literature prize for a report about reports
·      An engineering professor and a graduate student who won the fluid dynamics prize for research into the sloshing of coffee that goes on in the cup as it is carried

Lest you think the Ig Nobel awards are parodies of the real Nobel awards, be aware that the winners, by tradition, are presented their awards by real Nobel Prize winners… at Harvard, no less. And the 2007 Nobel Prize winner in Economics, Eric Maskin was not only this year’s presenter but first prize in the “Win a Date with a Nobel Laureate” contest. See, there is humor among the very talented, if not somewhat puzzling world of geniuses. (How do you like them apples, you actuary toads?)

And you of lesser brainpower thought the Ig Nobel awards were fluff.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Who's on first? (Stick with me here.)

When Earth was just a kid... say several billion years ago, our planetary system was under heavy meteorite bombardment, says research just published in the journal Astrobiology. (I don't usually read that magazine because it doesn't have many cartoons, but someone called this to my attention.) So?

Well, the study gives credibility to the though that meteorites hitting our little home planet may have brought life from other planetary systems in our star cluster, offering--literally--billions of possibilities that life here was 'seeded.' (Seriously.)

Think about it... no meteorites hitting Earth ever came from Cleveland.

Although life on Earth is thought to have originated here, the possibility is that Adam and Eve were... OMG... ALIENS. And if they are, then where are we from... and don't give me that old Mayflower crap. So, who's really on first. If men are from Mars and women are from Venus, anything is possible.

To further confuse and amaze, here's that Abbot and Costello skit... just insert your real alien name and we are up to date. (This skit played to a full house on Mother Planet Qzyzych.)


Abbott: Well, Costello, I'm going to New York with you. Bucky Harris the Yankee's manager gave me a job as coach for as long as you're on the team.

Costello: Look Abbott, if you're the coach, you must know all the players.

Abbott: I certainly do.

Costello: Well you know I've never met the guys. So you'll have to tell me their names, and then I'll know who's playing on the team.

Abbott: Oh, I'll tell you their names, but you know it seems to me they give these ball players now-a-days very peculiar names.

Costello: You mean funny names?

Abbott: Strange names, pet Dizzy Dean...

Costello: His brother Daffy

Abbott: Daffy Dean...

Costello: And their French cousin.

Abbott: French?

Costello: Goofe'

Abbott: Goofe' Dean. Well, let's see, we have on the bags, Who's on first, What's on second, I Don't Know is on third...

Costello: That's what I want to find out.

Abbott: I say Who's on first, What's on second, I Don't Know's on third.

Costello: Are you the manager?

Abbott: Yes.

Costello: You gonna be the coach too?

Abbott: Yes.

Costello: And you don't know the fellows' names.

Abbott: Well I should.

Costello: Well then who's on first?

Abbott: Yes.

Costello: I mean the fellow's name.

Abbott: Who.

Costello: The guy on first.

Abbott: Who.

Costello: The first baseman.

Abbott: Who.

Costello: The guy playing...

Abbott: Who is on first!

Costello: I'm asking you who's on first.

Abbott: That's the man's name.

Costello: That's who's name?

Abbott: Yes.

Costello: Well go ahead and tell me.

Abbott: That's it.

Costello: That's who?

Abbott: Yes. PAUSE

Costello: Look, you gotta first baseman?

Abbott: Certainly.

Costello: Who's playing first?

Abbott: That's right.

Costello: When you pay off the first baseman every month, who gets the money?

Abbott: Every dollar of it.

Costello: All I'm trying to find out is the fellow's name on first base.

Abbott: Who.

Costello: The guy that gets...

Abbott: That's it.

Costello: Who gets the money...

Abbott: He does, every dollar of it. Sometimes his wife comes down and collects it.

Costello: Who's wife?

Abbott: Yes. PAUSE

Abbott: What's wrong with that?

Costello: I wanna know is when you sign up the first baseman, how does he sign his name?

Abbott: Who.

Costello: The guy.

Abbott: Who.

Costello: How does he sign...

Abbott: That's how he signs it.

Costello: Who?

Abbott: Yes. PAUSE

Costello: All I'm trying to find out is what's the guys name on first base.

Abbott: No. What is on second base.

Costello: I'm not asking you who's on second.

Abbott: Who's on first.

Costello: One base at a time!

Abbott: Well, don't change the players around.

Costello: I'm not changing nobody!

Abbott: Take it easy, buddy.

Costello: I'm only asking you, who's the guy on first base?

Abbott: That's right.

Costello: OK.

Abbott: Alright. PAUSE

Costello: What's the guy's name on first base?

Abbott: No. What is on second.

Costello: I'm not asking you who's on second.

Abbott: Who's on first.

Costello: I don't know.

Abbott: He's on third, we're not talking about him.

Costello: Now how did I get on third base?

Abbott: Why you mentioned his name.

Costello: If I mentioned the third baseman's name, who did I say is playing third?

Abbott: No. Who's playing first.

Costello: What's on base?

Abbott: What's on second.

Costello: I don't know.

Abbott: He's on third.

Costello: There I go, back on third again! PAUSE

Costello: Would you just stay on third base and don't go off it.

Abbott: Alright, what do you want to know?

Costello: Now who's playing third base?

Abbott: Why do you insist on putting Who on third base?

Costello: What am I putting on third.

Abbott: No. What is on second.

Costello: You don't want who on second?

Abbott: Who is on first.

Costello: I don't know. Together: Third base! PAUSE

Costello: Look, you gotta outfield?

Abbott: Sure.

Costello: The left fielder's name?

Abbott: Why.

Costello: I just thought I'd ask you.

Abbott: Well, I just thought I'd tell ya.

Costello: Then tell me who's playing left field.

Abbott: Who's playing first.

Costello: I'm not...stay out of the infield!!! I want to know what's the guy's name in left field?

Abbott: No, What is on second.

Costello: I'm not asking you who's on second.

Abbott: Who's on first!

Costello: I don't know. Together: Third base! PAUSE

Costello: The left fielder's name?

Abbott: Why.

Costello: Because!

Abbott: Oh, he's center field. PAUSE

Costello: Look, You gotta pitcher on this team?

Abbott: Sure.

Costello: The pitcher's name?

Abbott: Tomorrow.

Costello: You don't want to tell me today?

Abbott: I'm telling you now.

Costello: Then go ahead.

Abbott: Tomorrow!

Costello: What time?

Abbott: What time what?

Costello: What time tomorrow are you gonna tell me who's pitching?

Abbott: Now listen. Who is not pitching.

Costello: I'll break you're arm if you say who's on first!!! I want to know what's the pitcher's name?

Abbott: What's on second.

Costello: I don't know. Together: Third base! PAUSE

Costello: Gotta a catcher?

Abbott: Certainly.

Costello: The catcher's name?

Abbott: Today.

Costello: Today, and tomorrow's pitching.

Abbott: Now you've got it.

Costello: All we got is a couple of days on the team. PAUSE

Costello: You know I'm a catcher too.

Abbott: So they tell me.

Costello: I get behind the plate to do some fancy catching, Tomorrow's pitching on my team and a heavy hitter gets up. Now the heavy hitter bunts the ball. When he bunts the ball, me, being a good catcher, I'm gonna throw the guy out at first. So I pick up the ball and throw it to who?

Abbott: Now that's the first thing you've said right.

Costello: I don't even know what I'm talking about! PAUSE

Abbott: That's all you have to do.

Costello: Is to throw the ball to first base.

Abbott: Yes!

Costello: Now who's got it?

Abbott: Naturally. PAUSE

Costello: Look, if I throw the ball to first base, somebody's gotta get it. Now who has it?

Abbott: Naturally.

Costello: Who?

Abbott: Naturally.

Costello: Naturally?

Abbott: Naturally.

Costello: So I pick up the ball and I throw it to Naturally.

Abbott: No you don't you throw the ball to Who.

Costello: Naturally.

Abbott: That's different.

Costello: That's what I said.

Abbott: you're not saying it...

Costello: I throw the ball to Naturally.

Abbott: You throw it to Who.

Costello: Naturally.

Abbott: That's it.

Costello: That's what I said!

Abbott: You ask me.

Costello: I throw the ball to who?

Abbott: Naturally.

Costello: Now you ask me.

Abbott: You throw the ball to Who?

Costello: Naturally.

Abbott: That's it.

Costello: Same as you! Same as YOU!!! I throw the ball to who. Whoever it is drops the ball and the guy runs to second. Who picks up the ball and throws it to What. What throws it to I Don't Know. I Don't Know throws it back to Tomorrow, Triple play. Another guy gets up and hits a long fly ball to Because. Why? I don't know! He's on third and I don't give a darn!

Abbott: What?

Costello: I said I don't give a darn!

Abbott: Oh, that's our shortstop.

Costello: (makes screaming sound)

Thanks sis, you alien you.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Grouch Marx once observed, "Time flies like a bullet... fruit flies like a banana."

... but of course, that was Groucho.  He also said, "I refuse to join any club that will have me as a member." He prophetically told us, "I intend to live forever... or die trying," which he did.

About how time flies though, doesn't it? How long is a minute? Does your week ever fly by? Ever watch a flower grow in a slow motion documentary... or a dog lapping water by curling the tongue under as it scoops? (Check it out on YouTube.) It's really neat how events happen so fast that our brain can't capture them... or so slow that they seem to go on forever.

"Honey... I'll be ready to go in a minute."

"Is it our anniversary again?" Slap!

"Can dinner wait just a sec., hon, there is only a minute left in the football game? "

"Is it Sunday night already?"

Funny thing about time... it never seems to be what it is. It is either too slow... or too fast. Never just right. That's why time in the dentist's chair seems like it will never end, but time doing something fun is over before you know it.

I used to drive my kids 15 miles to school on some days.  When I was running late, I sped (not really officer) the back roads and could make it in 18-20 minutes. When we left early and had time to spare, I drove the same route, leisurely enjoying the scenery and conversation, at a much less-nervous pace. I usually made it in... 18-20 minutes. I never could figure that one out... and was never smart enough to become a same-speed wonder. Yet, the only difference seemed to be my anxiety and stress level.

There have been several studies trying to understand how real time sometimes seems to pass in slow motion. A pitched baseball reaches the batter at a specific speed, yet to a good batter--say Ted Williams--the ball almost moves in slow motion and becomes clearer. Some tennis players have made the same observation. Williams used to say he could actually see the stitches on the ball and note its rotation.

So is that how Keanu Reeves (who's first name means 'cool over the mountains' in Hawaiian... in case you wondered) dodged those slow motion bullets as Neo in the Matrix movies?

It has been speculated that real time and perceived time are seen differently by the brain. Could it be that we have a "capture speed" as the brain takes it in and an almost instantaneous "playback speed" that we digest with?

A later study seems to indicate that when we perceive we have to take action, we deem the durations to be longer than if we were not required to move. The conclusion drawn was that time only seemed to pass more slowly because the test subjects remembered it doing so... kind of like in a dream, I guess.

Might that explain how a drowning man's life could flash before him in an instant... or would that just reveal that the drowning man didn't have that much to remember?

So much for today's not very interesting post.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Ever have one of those days when... ?

Joe Btfsplk by Al Capp
     ... you know, you learn lots of really interesting stuff but have no good use for any of it? It's kind of like being lost but making good time. I have days like that all the time. For example:

     I know how to spell the winning word in the latest  U.S. National Spelling Bee... g-u-e-t-a-p-e-n-s... guetapens! I even know what it means: ambush. (It's French, of course. They have a different word for everything.) Then I use it in a sentence during a very important cocktail party conversation: ... and the cattle rustlers took the short cut, just as the sheriff and posse thought they would, and they rode right into a guetapens.
          Sacre bleau! Hey, where did everybody go?

See what I mean?

     Just learned that our Milky Way galaxy and its evil arch-galaxy, Andromeda, are on course for a head-on collision... at 250,000 miles-per-hour! KABOOM!!! I alert my family and friends: WATCH OUT! DUCK! It's really going to be big! Hide in the closet... under the bed... right now! It could be the end of the world! It is inevitable!
     It will happen in... oh, 4 billion years. Excuse me.

     Do you know that, for the last few weeks, the top three best selling books everyone is reading are Fifty Shades of Gray, Fifty Shades Darker and Fifty Shades Freed? 
     Oh, sorry Sister Mary Margaret Joseph, I thought you loved to read.

     Have you heard that a 12-by-23 foot garage on New York's Upper East Side is Manhattan's first million-dollar parking space? 
     Look, I know you only asked for a handout to feed your hungry family... I just thought you might find that amusingly interesting.

      I just learned of  the two guys who were tossed overboard by a big Atlantic Ocean wave in 2008. They made it safely to the Nantucket shore but efforts to find their 26-foot fishing boat were unsuccessful. Thinking perhaps it sunk, they were surprised when it turned up... FOUR YEARS LATER, adrift off the coast of Spain with its motor, seat cushions and everything else still intact. 
     So have they found Amelia Earhart yet?

     Now that we have our most sophisticated exploration vehicle ever, "Curiosity," on the surface of Mars, some creatively imaginative types on earth feel we should explore the very life-like images of "a half-feline, half-human face" and "a parrot" on the Martian surface. We will discover, they say, that not only was there life on Mars but it was a very creative life at that. Says one critic, " I know art when I see it." Really? Really! 
      No, I can't make out the man in the moon but I did see the cow! Honest.

      I just read of a new study that says attractive people do better, earn more money and develop greater skill than their less attractive counterparts, despite similar backgrounds. This, says one expert, correlates with what other research calls 'the accumulation of human capital'... the psychological jargon for success.
     That's hard for you to believe, you say?
      Did you know that a Loyola University research team recently found that people who eat organic food are, on the whole, more likely to be jerks? 
      No, I didn't realize that you are  a vegetarian... and would you mind moving your shopping cart off my toe?

     Now do you see what I mean? 
     Sorry, didn't realize you were blind.


Friday, August 31, 2012

What a beautiful world we have... but look quickly, because we sure seem to be better at destroying it than preserving it.

These were some of the 2012 winners in the National Geographic Photo Contest

More than 2,000 Buddhist temples and pagodas fill the plains of Bagan. Once the capital of the Pagan Empire, farmers now raise their livestock within the centuries old complex. The best way to see Bagan, apart from a ride on a hot air balloon, is by bicycle. It's easy to get off the beaten path and live out your wildest Indiana Jones fantasy. (Photo and caption by Peter DeMarco/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest)

A lonely cabin is illuminated under the Northern Lights in Finmmark, Norway. (Photo and caption by Michelle Schantz/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest)

This is the great Japanese maple tree in the Portland Japanese Gardens. I tried to bring a different perspective of this frequently photographed tree. (Photo and caption by Fred An/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

And, a blue moon. In fact, "blue moon" refers not to color, but to rarity. Blue moons are defined as either the fourth full moon in a season, or, more recently, as the second full moon in a month. It's the second definition that covers August's blue moon; the month's first full moon was on Aug. 1.

Makes you wonder why our news always has to feature something much less than the splendor and beauty existing around many of us. I suppose that is because there is so much of the other.

I remember how beautiful Bosnia looked in the early 1990's... then came the Bosnian War of Independence... and newsreels showed the first shelling of a magnificent countryside. It was enough to break your heart.

We have to admit one thing though... as a civilization we may not have a handle on peace but we sure know how to make war. I went to because I was curious about how many wars we 'civilized' human beings have had.

No easy answer, it said. "However, estimates suggest that for 362 days of the year, there is a conflict going on somewhere in the world. This excludes internal (or civil) wars. Estimates also suggest that there have only been 250 years of peace in over 3400 years of documented history. (Some people suggest there have only been 26 days of peace).

"There are currently over 40 wars ongoing, in which over 1000 people die per year (those which result in fewer deaths are excluded from UN statistics), occurring world wide. There have been hundreds since the end of the Second World War."

If we are going to be good at something, why does it have to be this?

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Raise your hand if you know about TED...

No, not Ted Turner or Ted Kennedy or Ted Nugent or Ted Danson, but TED. I thought so... you may "Sort of know" or "Have heard of it before" or "Huh?"

Well, it is really worth knowing. TED is a nonprofit devoted to ideas worth spreading. Started in 1984 as  a conference bringing together people from three worlds, Technology/Entertainment/Design (TED... get it?) and its mission is to spread ideas to change attitudes, lives and ultimately, the world.

At two annual TED conferences, in Long Beach/Palm Springs and Edinburgh, Scotland, TED brings together the world's most fascinating thinkers and doers, who are challenged to give the talk of their lives (in 18 minutes or less). Presently there are over 1300 TED talks to see that will stir your curiosity. Browse by subject, length, popularity or rating (inspiring, jaw-dropping, funny…) by so many notables that naming a few names wouldn't even begin to tell you. But this link will give you everything.

Like technology? Check out Sherry Turkle's talk, Connected but alone. Entertainment? David Blaine will tell you how he held his breath for 17 minutes. Design? See Frank Warren's Half a million secrets. Business? Margaret Heffernan's Dare to disagree. Science? Hannah Fry's: Is life really that complex? Global Issues? Scilla Elworthy's Fighting with non-violence... all there so many more by so many smart people... all bite-size and excellently presented.

It's really fascinating to watch these short talks... and addictive. See for yourself.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

It's "Do you know... " time.

Do you know that 24 percent (pretend one-in-four) of Wall Street executives say illegal or unethical conduct may be necessary to be successful in finance... and, I add, become very rich at others' expense. We admire success.

A corollary to that might be 99 percent (pretend all) of those living below the poverty line say it may be necessary to beg, borrow or steal to survive. We should put those thieving paupers in jail just like Jean ValJean in Les Miserable.

Do you know that if you work in a high rise office building... or anywhere higher than the first floor, you live longer... GUARANTEED! A recent study, using the most accurate atomic clocks on earth, has confirmed Albert Einstein's theory that time runs faster the higher off the ground you are.  Says the study: for every floor above the ground, you gain in age about 90 billionths of a second over a lifetime.

That means, if you have spent... say 30 years in total hours working or living on the second floor, you will actually add about 50 billionths of a second to your life (assuming average rate of mortality, of course) over those poor land-hugging saps below. They could be merely 60 but you would be 60 PLUS 50 billionths of a second more. Ha ha to them!

So if that is you, what do you plan to do with all of your extra time?

Do you know that an Idaho man, still at large, tried to pass a counterfeit $1 bill?  If they catch him and the punishment fits the crime, he will do 20 minutes hard time in the Big House.

Do you know that there are 10 billion stars in the universe for every human being who has ever walked the earth, says Caleb Scharf, author of Gravity's Engines?
Amazingly, most cosmologists agree that number may be modest.

Do you know we (the taxpayers) own 14,000 vacant or unused buildings that cost us about $200 million a year in maintenance alone? It's my guess that when this real estate market turns around, we will make a killing!

So, what do you think of the title of my blog now?  It's Nuts out There!!! (with exclamation points!!!)

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

What is a comedian's most important asseTIMING!

In life, as in comedy, timing is everything. 

A costumed attendant working in the Canterbury Cathedral in Kent, England was approached by two tourists. "Are you a monk?" one of the women asked. 

"No," he explained, "I wear this robe as part of my job but I’m not a member of any religious order." 

"Then where are the monks?" asked the woman. 

The man replied, "Oh, there haven’t been any monks here since 1415." 

Hearing this, the woman looked at her watch and announced to her friend, "Betty, we missed the monks."

As the world speeds up, the pressure to act faster is pushing us all. Today, right or wrong, Twitter is the fastest way to reach anybody/everybody... and that is dangerous... unless we stick with known facts: #jones eating bacon & eggs NOW!, #roberto23 mmmm!

The Internet and social media push our "Fast" button. The news media--and you and me--have to be first, even if wrong. The Internet is always right, right? (A giant alligator consumed a Clydesdale horse, hooves and all, and the horse was found, still alive, in the dead gator's stomach. The photo proves it.)

Even the newly confirmed Higgs boson particle, which physicists say changes EVERYTHING we know about the universe, is faster. It exists only for a billionth of a billionth of a millionth of a second! Hypothetical question: If a Higgs bosun particle is drowning, how long does it take for its entire life to flash before it?)

Malcolm Gladwell said in his bestseller Blink, first impressions are often right. But sometimes they are painfully wrong. A man I respect once told me, "If anyone ever asks for a decision now or never, choose never as the best answer of the moment."

Here's a 500-word story I wrote a while ago that speaks to timing. I kinda like it:

“A time machine?” Ray never really believed in stuff like that. “Get outta here, you crazy old fart!” And with that, the bummie in the train station walked away.

“Geeze. Never heard that one before.” Sometimes Ray had more patience. He even liked to ‘pull their chain,’ once in a while.  But when you just miss your train, you aren’t the same person for a minute or so. And Ray just hated to be late for anything.

“You live in this city all your life and nothing surprises you anymore. A time machine…” he smiled as his mind was already focusing on the next train to Grand Central.

There was a big commotion on the corner as Ray walked up to 42nd Street… late. People were yelling and screaming… fist fights… police cars all over the place. “What’s going on,” Ray asked a man in a business suit with one sleeve ripped almost off as he ran past, giddy with delight.

“Some nutso over there was throwing out hundred-dollar bills by the bushel basket!” he hollered, holding up his fist full of money.  “I grabbed mine before some broad pushed me down me chasing her own c-notes!”

“Damn! Ten minutes earlier. I’d have been right there… if I hadn’t missed my train.”  

Ray almost never missed the 6:46, but the very next day, when he stopped to sip his coffee instead of slopping it down the front of his fresh white shirt, the doors closed in his face.

“This is getting to be a habit.”

On 42nd  …finally, through the crowd, he saw the back of Madonna’s head as she got into her limo with some guy. When Ray heard she was looking for her biggest fan on the street to take on-stage that night for a special song she wrote, he shook his head. No one was a bigger Madonna fan than Ray. Knew the words to every song she ever wrote, sang or danced to. That should have been him.

“Twice! Just two times I miss my train and I’m odd man out. I never miss my train!”

Ray was five minutes early the next day. He wasn’t going to miss his 6:46 and let life pass him by again. “You let grass grow under your feet and you miss all the stuff that coulda been yours. Not today!” he vowed. “Not today.”

And he was right.

An ambulance and three police cars were screaming to the scene. “What’s going on?” asked a woman who was late arriving because she had just missed the 6:46.

“Guy just got crushed by a piano that flew off that truck when it was smashed by a semi. Poor bastard! He was just in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

Maybe Groucho Marx said it best: “Time flies like an arrow; fruit flies like a banana.”

The purpose of this post? I just thought it was time.