2017.05 minutiae

*Campers* like to say ‘hello’ when they *smell* the Orz. We have learned this. It is *no function* but Orz want to make *campers* happy everyday. Okay… Hello!! Now you are happy I am sure.

Sorry, I was looking at the Orz dialogue from Star Control II recently and I was wowed all over again.  The goofiness quotient of the “lingual best‐fits” is sometimes a bit high for my taste, but other than that, the phrasings are just brilliantly off‐kilter.  “Too many fun is not enough!! Do you agree? I think you *smell* like you do.”  The Orz have an appropriate quote for every occasion.  A stroke of good fortune?  “Jumping *peppers*!! This is *smiley* time!” Overcome with futile anger?  “Again I am *squeezing* the *juice*. Nnnggaaaahhh!! It does not even helping.” Offering encouragement to someone who is hesitant about something?  “If you want to, then you do. It is best, I know it.”  A student who came in late asks you to repeat the entire hour that she missed?  “I am already telling the everything story. It is too much.”  Trying to figure out what’s wrong with Trump?  “Too much crazy perhaps.”

Anyway, there haven’t been too many of these minutiae articles lately.  Some of the reason has just been a lack of time, but some of it has been that weeks have gone by and nothing has happened that I thought important enough to include.  But recently it occurred to me: they’re called “minutiae” for a reason.  Originally, lack of importance was the primary criterion for inclusion.  So this month I decided to be less picky and throw in all kinds of crap.  Let’s see how it goes!

  • Quite some time ago—​maybe as far back as when I lived in Massachusetts!—​I got the messenger bag over on the right there.  It was great!  Not only did I like the looks of it, but it had all sorts of different pockets: big and small, padded and unpadded, easily accessible and concealed.  It even had a pocket expressly designed for my type of flip‐phone—​good luck finding a bag with that feature in 2017.  I would have kept that bag forever, but after a decade‐plus the plastic piping around the outside of the front flap had broken and was sticking out in various directions, which didn’t look super professional.  I went to a bunch of stores looking for a replacement but couldn’t find anything acceptable.  So I poked around online and read a bunch of reviews and eventually ordered this bag here:

    Now, as I have mentioned a few times over the years, I have a mild case of obsessive‐compulsive disorder, which kicked into overdrive as soon as this bag arrived.  The bag was wrong.  Handles in the wrong place, pockets in the wrong place, velcro and zippers I didn’t want… I probably should have just returned it, but I, uh, didn’t do that.  I took it apart, ripping through stitches with an X‐Acto knife, and sewed it back together in a configuration more to my liking.  What made this a particularly dubious move is that there was a lot of precise decorative stitching that I had to redo when I put the bag back together.  But I actually found that getting all those stitches exactly right was very absorbing and satisfied my OCD impulses nicely.

  • I also found myself having this mental conversation:

    “I know that a needle has to be narrow to get through the fabric, but the eye end is almost as sharp as the pointy end!  Pressing on it with the nearest piece of plastic generally does the job, but there should be some sort of device specifically for pressing on sewing needles without hurting your fingers!  That would be really handy!  I should look into this!” 

    “…A thimble.  The thing you’re describing is a thimble.”

  • Unfortunately, my OCD does not extend to keeping my apartment particularly tidy.  I do give the kitchen and bathroom a regular scrubbing, but books and papers and boxes and things do tend to pile up until actually getting to the kitchen or bathroom becomes a bit of an obstacle course.  I also keep it pretty dark so I trip over things a lot.  Earlier this month I was returning from the bathroom when I felt that I was about to bang my foot into a barbell I hadn’t put away, so instinctively I did a weird little half‐skip sort of maneuver and managed to get away without any bruises.  A couple of minutes later I was congratulating myself on my catlike agility when glanced down and discovered that my toe was just gushing blood.

  • The clutter in my apartment extends to my computer equipment, especially now that I have a 34‐inch ultra‐wide monitor to juggle with the rest of the stuff.  I thought that getting one of those telescoping arms might be the way to free up some space, so I looked into them.  It turns out they come in two varieties: one for monitors 18 pounds and under, and another for monitors 20 pounds and up.  Naturally, my monitor weighs 19 pounds.

  • Unsurprisingly, I have been using my new monitor to watch the new season of Masterchef Australia.  It’s weird to reach the end of an episode and not be able to fire up the next one.  In a pinch, I’ve watched a few episodes of the new season of Masterchef Canada, but it’s so much worse: the production values are cheesy, the contestants are orders of magnitude less genuine, and the cooking is of a much lower standard.  C’mon, Canada, step it up.  (Maybe just put Mary in charge.  Mary is best, I know it.)

  • The season nine Masterchef Australia contestant whose food looked most to my taste, starting with an extremely appetizing bowl of gnocchi, seemed to be named “Peer”, which struck me as odd—​like Peer Gynt? or Peer from Permutation City?—​and it wasn’t until a later episode, when I finally saw her name printed on the screen, that I realized that I had been unconsciously overcorrecting for the Australian accent.  The name “heh‐thuh” may actually be Heather, and “pee‐duh” may actually be Peter, but “pee‐uh” turns out to be Pia.

  • A lot of the contestants of Italian ancestry on Masterchef Australia have these very narrow, horsey mouths with protruding front teeth.  But I’ve never noticed any such trait being common among Italian‐Americans or actual Italians.  Do half of Italian‐Australians trace their ancestry back to one particular village or something?

  • Sadly, Pia was eliminated quickly, so no more rustic Italian dishes for me to ogle.  I didn’t really have any particular favorites in the early episodes, but as time has gone on, I’ve found that whom I pull for tends to be influenced more by who I feel merits the win rather than whom I merely like.  Michelle was one of my early favorites because her audition dessert (the golden ball) looked awesome, but after her incompetence with savory food torpedoed the blue team in the relay challenge, I’m ready for her to go home early.  Right now I’d like to see Eloise or Tamara win, partly because they’re personally appealing but mainly because they seem the most deserving at the moment.  The one exception: Nicole doesn’t seem like one of the stronger remaining cooks, but I’d like to see her stick around just because her hair gets more glorious with each passing episode.

  • Diana was the first contestant I heard get tagged with the -zz- nickname: they called her “Dizzy”!  For one episode.  After that it became “Diazzy”, which sounds worse.  I guess she objected to the implications of the original.

  • It seems like when grasping for a name to represent the most important person in the world, someone it would be the greatest honor to cook for, these Australian contestants keep coming up with Barack Obama.  I seem to recall that in season three Ellie said that he was the only one she could think of who would outrank the Dalai Lama, and in this season Sam said of a chef who had cooked for Obama that “it doesn’t get any bigger than that”.  Somehow I doubt they will be saying the same about cooking for Donald Trump.  (For one thing, they’d have to make well‐done steaks with ketchup.)

  • When I first compiled a list of Australian desserts to try making I was apprehensive about the pavlova—​they looked complicated!—​but with strawberries in season I figured that it was time to give it a go.  I have never been able to get egg whites to form stiff peaks, so I thought I was due for a disaster, but my pavlova turned out much better than I expected:

    …but I still didn’t like it.  I generally don’t like meringue.  Pavlovas contain two textures of meringue, and while I did like the marshmallowy inner meringue, the more rice‐cakey variety on the outside was not to my taste.  Making a meringue‐based dessert in the first place may seem in retrospect to have been kind of silly, but c’mon—​after watching all those pavlovas on the show I had to try one.

  • Last month I made a bunch of apple pies, and if “as Australian as apple pie” seems to lack a certain ring to it, rest assured that I did make them with 100% Australian apples: 

  • Kitchen mistake of the month: refilling my pepper grinder with lentils

  • While I’ve been cooking, it’s been nice to have something on in the background, especially now that I have a monitor big enough to watch from the kitchen.  Lately I’ve been watching Late Night with David Letterman, which I first caught a few episodes of in 1987 or ’88 but didn’t start watching regularly until the ’90s.  A lot of his early stuff was therefore new to me.  For instance, I’d never heard of the “Little Susie” sketches, which are not necessarily the funniest things in the world, but I have to applaud the concept.  I don’t want to spoil it, so if you have a few minutes, check out this compendium.

  • I’ve also been watching Better Call Saul.  Here’s part of a still from a recent episode:

    See the guy on the right?  I have that shirt!  I picked it up on Ebay last summer.

  • It can be hard to tell a vintage shirt from one that is merely retro just by looking at a picture, but it’s obvious when a shirt is actually from the ’70s as soon as I get a chance to feel the fabric.  It’s interesting how different decades not only have different color palettes and soundtracks but tactile sensations as well.

  • This month in memory deterioration: I needed to buy some new clothes hangers and some laundry detergent, so a trip to Target seemed to be in order.  I didn’t make a shopping list because I thought I could remember two things.  Turns out, not so much!  I got to the store and found myself racking my brain: so I need detergent and… what else was it?  I swear, I know there were two things and I’m not leaving the store until I think of the second one.  Then, blessed relief: I remember now!  Light bulbs!  So I bought my detergent and my light bulbs and came home, and after installing the light bulbs, I went to do a load of laundry with my newly purchased detergent when I remembered—​argh, I can’t do this after all because I don’t have enough hangers!  I was really kicking myself, but then I realized—​if I hadn’t forgotten the hangers, then I wouldn’t have scoured my memory trying to come up with that second item, and therefore wouldn’t have bought the light bulbs.  And I actually needed the light bulbs more!

  • As it turned out, Target didn’t have the hangers I wanted.  The last time I had bought hangers, years earlier, I discovered that in addition to the regular kind there was a new variety with notches along the top sides, to catch your shirt if it started to slide off.  I got a pack of those, but it turned out that I hated them: I could no longer just pull shirts off the hangers because they’d get snagged on those notches.  It’s not like shirts were constantly falling off the regular hangers—​the notches created a real problem while “solving” a non‐existent one.  So this time around I deliberately set out to get regular hangers… only to discover that apparently they are no longer sold in stores.  Every single store I tried only had (a) notched hangers and (b) even newer varieties with “non‐slip strips” along the top sides.  I had to go online and special order a 60‐pack to get the regular 20¢ plastic hangers I wanted.  Feh.

  • But when it comes to doing away with perfectly functional stuff, it’s hard to beat Google.  First they made Stochastic Planet harder to update by removing the “see where the nearest pictures are” layer from Google Maps, and this month they disabled the ability to create opening menus on Youtube videos, so you can no longer click to the segment you want on Radio K starting with episode #9.  Between this sort of thing and the atavism of “flat design”, it’s hard to escape the feeling that a typical staff meeting in the tech industry these days looks like this:

  • While working on Radio K #9, which had a segment on a game set in ancient Mesopotamia, I happened across a video that was described as a modern musician playing the oldest known piece of music, a hymn for lyre from the outskirts of the Hittite Empire roughly 3400 years ago.  I fired it up out of curiosity—​and was shocked to find that it is awesome.  Like, this whole month I have been listening to it over and over just as I’d listen to any other music I liked.  Have a listen:

  • When I was a kid, between the time I stopped listening to Sesame Street records (around age six) and the time I discovered pop music (around age nine), my favorite album was the soundtrack to Cosmos.  But I was always disappointed that my favorite piece of music from the series, the one that played over the evolving constellations in the “Journeys in Space and Time” episode, was missing.  In fact, it wasn’t until the Internet era that I was able to find out what that piece of music was: it turned out to be “Pulstar” by Vangelis.  And in fact I have listened to it on Youtube every now and again over the years.  But it wasn’t until this month that I learned that I hadn’t had to wait.  See, another Vangelis piece on the Cosmos soundtrack was called “Alpha”.  At the time it was probably my favorite of the pieces that did make it onto the soundtrack.  And, I just found out, if during one of my trips to Music Plus or Licorice Pizza to buy 45s it had occured to me to saunter over to the LPs and look up Vangelis, I might have discovered his 1976 album Albedo 0.39, which had “Alpha” on it.  I might have bought it.  And though the name wouldn’t have meant anything to me in the shop, it turns out that the first track on that album is freakin’ “Pulstar”!  When I put it on the record player… I cannot imagine the extent to which my mind would have been blown. 

  • By the same token, as I’m in my car listening to one of Sparks’ New Wave records, I am always kind of spun by the idea that if my fourth‐grade school bus had been tuned to KROQ instead of the Mighty 690, I might have heard some of these songs instead of “Centerfold” and “Physical”.  They were on the radio at the same time!  But because I discovered Sparks in the 2010s, all my associations with their music are with my 2010s life.  The idea that as a child I could have gone to the Wherehouse and picked up a copy of In Outer Space or Whomp That Sucker is as strange to me as the notion that I could have walked up to our big wooden TV set and flipped from Diff’rent Strokes to Knight Rider to Game of Thrones.

  • This was the month that Chris Cornell killed himself, and I actually consulted my CD collection to see whether any male singer I listened to in college is still alive.  (Answer: yes, Billy Corgan)

  • This month in code words: at Target I saw that part of the shampoo aisle was labeled “MULTICULTURAL HAIR”.  Oy.  But I guess it could have been worse.  I wonder how many meetings it took to decide that “URBAN HAIR” might not be the way to go.

  • In writing something I wanted to refer to an anonymous person, and I thought the word for this was “anonyme”, but I wasn’t completely sure, so I looked it up.  I was wrong.  I thought it was a word we’d borrowed from French, but no, apparently it’s just a French word.  The English equivalent is “anonym”.  I don’t like that.  Like, a pseudonym is not a pseudonymous person—​it’s the fake name that person uses.  There doesn’t seem to be a name for the person.  There should be, and it seems most natural to me to call that person a pseudonyme.  And that an anonymous person should not be an anonym but an anonyme.  And yes, I know that on the Internet such a person is known as an “anon”, but I don’t like that because “anon” already means “in a while”.

  • It’s tempting to just use these words the way I want (along with other changes like “invidious” to mean “implying a difference of worth” and “begging the question” to mean “answering in a way that requires the question to be asked again”) but then people would think I was misusing these terms rather than deliberately using them in an idiosyncratic way.  There should be some sort of punctuation to indicate idiosyncratic usage.  Maybe in the future instead of rewording everything I’ll just go ahead and say “that’s an ~invidious~ comparison” or something.

  • From the web site of a restaurant called Thai Canteen: “Why Canteen?  Meaning of Canteen beside a water container, it means a café, restaurant, or cafeteria provided for the use of students/workers/soldiers at particular school, office, or military base.  Canteen is a food of type service.  Instead of table service, there are food-serving counters/stalls, either in the line or allowing arbitrary walking paths.  Customers take the food they require as they walk along, placing it on a tray.”  That is almost as good as the Orz dialogue!  I wish there were more places that would allow me to follow an arbitrary walking path as I take the food I require.

  • This month in clichés come to life:  Waiting at a stoplight, I saw a person with dark glasses and a cane crossing the street, tagging along after another person with dark glasses and a cane.  It was literally the blind leading the blind.

  • Facebook fed me this ad: “Ultimate mobility with the world’s smallest 13‐inch products”.  They’re also the largest.

  • I was looking at some of the very earliest Scary Go Round comics—​here are the second and third panels of the 2002.0723 strip:

    The placement of the speech bubble in the top left of the right panel prompts us to read it before looking at the picture, and then when Tessa short‐circuits her sentence we go “?” and look at the illustration to see what prompted the interruption, finally noticing the book Rachel is holding—​and in so doing we pretty much re‐create what just happened to Tessa!  It’s simple but it accomplishes something very clever.

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