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Observations Observations

Back in the Saddle

December 22nd, 2014
It's like starting over.

The father of the official sweetie of Muddled Ramblings and Half-Baked Ideas has a saying when it comes to exercise: 2 days off is rest, any more than that is atrophy.

After riding to work for the first time in more than a week, all I can say is, “amen”. I did not tear up the roadway this morning. Not by a long shot. And my legs are already informing me that they are not enthusiastic about the prospect of the ride home tonight.

On a happier note, I have decided that 55˚ F is about the ideal temperature for a ride. So at least I had that gong for me.

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Writing Writing

Honorable Mention!

December 22nd, 2014
It's good to be mentioned, especially honorably.

Writers of the Future is a big-ass writing competition, and it’s pretty prestigious to win. I did not win. It’s also cool to almost win, as you still get your work published in a book that people actually read.

I also was not a runner up.

But I did get an honorable mention. Honestly I don’t know how difficult that is; I’ve entered twice and been honored both times. My guess is that it means “good enough to encourage the writer to enter again.” I will be doing so. Several of my eligible stories fit the WotF style pretty well. My careful reading of the rules tells me that stories published over at Piker Press are eligible, so if you remember a favorite from back in the days when I was a regular there, let me know!

On a side note, I think I’m going to play with a short story during my company’s holiday shutdown.

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Idle Chit-Chat Idle Chit-Chat

Half-Assing Christmas this Year

December 17th, 2014
There's something in the air, and it isn't snow.

My company shuts down for a week and a half, from Christmas Eve to New Year’s day. That’s pretty sweet, and many years I’ve used the time to visit family or friends. Not this year. After losing Thanksgiving to plumbing, and part of December to a totaled car, I’m way behind.

Additionally, my coworker, the guy who tends to the humming machines, will be traveling. As a result, I can’t stray more than a couple hours’ drive from the office. Somebody has to be there to kick the machines if they need kickin’.

As far as covering the software side of things for the Web applications my group has built, today my newest boss asked, “who do we call if we can’t reach you?” My answer: “There is no one.”

The domestic hardships have affected my sweetie even more than they have me. By now most years she has prepared big bundles of joy for people flung across the globe. Do not panic, dear readers, there will be big bundles of joy! However, some labor-intensive favorites will be missing. We have called a halt to the last of the plumbing work until after the new year so that bundles of joy can be baked. However, not all the bundles may reach their destinations in time for Jesus’ birthday party.

So it goes, as Billy Pilgrim might say.

If you happen to be in the bay area, do drop us a line. We’d love to see you, but alas, our guest room is filled with stuff right now. We’ll get that all sorted out next year.

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The Great Adventure The Great Adventure

Automotive Dreaming

December 13th, 2014
Shopping for a new car isn't necessarily an entirely rational exercise.

A little time travel happening tonight, as I do the Heisenberg shuffle to keep the questions raised in this episode from affecting the answers. By the time you read this, we will have sipped our wine, gazed at the pictures, and perhaps shed a tear or two for reasons hard to define. We will have toasted the departed Roxy, and set a new course.

And now to the story…

My sweetie and I need to replace the eminently practical and utterly reliable Ford Escort that was declared by actuarial tables to be a total write-off this week. More on that anguishing process later, but in the end, it could have been a lot worse. We actually got a settlement that was a bit on the happy side of fair. It was not a gentle ride, however.

Now, suddenly, we’re car shopping. Buying a new car is out of the question, so we’re combing the used-auto sites, seeing what’s out there that we can afford. (One observation — surprisingly few Hondas. Unscientifically, I have to conclude that they hold their resale value extremely well.)

There are a lot of cars in our price range, but not all of them qualify as ‘practical’. This story is about one of those cars.

I was at work today, putting in some Saturday hours to catch up with my deadlines after dealing with all sorts of automotive distractions over the week. I got a call on the Sweetie Hot Line. When I asked her how she was, her answer was tentative. “Uh, oh,” I though. “Is 2014 throwing a farewell spitball at us?” 2014 has not been gentle.

That turned out not to be the case. What had happened was this: An online acquaintance of The Light of My Life had sent her a message about a car she was selling. She looked at the pictures and her heart went pitter-pat. The car is a 1960 Studebaker Lark V8. The Lark was one of the first North American entries into the car class that would come to be known as “compact”, and by 1960’s standards this car is tastefully understated. This one is apple red, has all new electrics (including an alternator instead of a generator), and based on the description is in very good shape.

A little trivia: The first couple of years it was out, the V8 Lark could do 0 to 60 in less than half the time of its competitors. That was mostly because the competitors were really friggin’ slow, but still. I learned that on Wikipedia today. I learned a lot about the Lark today. Strictly to help us make an informed decision, obviously.

My Sweetie was calling me to be a voice of reason. She needed someone to tell her how crazy it was to consider a car that’s already had its 50th birthday as a replacement for a modern, reliable ride.

My attempts to pour ice water on her dream were only half-hearted, however. There’s part of me which thinks driving a Studebaker around town is a pretty grand idea. Then my favorite redhead said, as an argument against buying it, “We’d have to go get it.”

“Where is it now?”

“Kansas.”

And just like that my head filled with images of a road trip with my sweetie, in a Studebaker, and writing each day about the road we had covered and the conversations we’d had and the comments we got at rest stops when we let Lady Byng out to pee. That would be awesome. After that, my attempts to dissuade her lost all muscle. “There will be a day you need to get somewhere and you turn the key and nothing happens,” I said. Which is certainly true.

Bench front seat. Remember those? This car seats six. Automatic transmission, but for a car like that we could put up with it.

Yet, from the very beginning there was something I could have mentioned, something that I will have to mention eventually, that will probably end the conversation. It’s about safety.

I’m sure we can get three-point seatbelts installed, and airbags are overrated. But there’s one other safety feature that modern cars have that almost no one talks about. Had our little Ford not had this feature, however, it’s quite possible I could have been badly hurt when the kid smacked into me. My head was snapped back quite forcefully, but the headrest on the driver’s seat caught me and protected me from potentially serious harm. As a result, our insurance claim was strictly about property damage.

Air bags are complex, expensive, and require extra complexity to keep them from doing more harm than good in certain situations. In contrast, the headrest is an example of safety legislation with a lot of bang for its buck. Simple and effective.

The Studebaker in question has no headrests. Pristine interior, red and white, but no headrests.

When I point that out to my sweetie, talk of classic cars will likely end, much as I’d love to glide along with my honey next to me on that bench front seat.

Or… not. Maybe this is the litmus test of our dedication to a classic automobile. Are we willing to be a little less safe to drive something cool? (Corollary: does that make us hipsters?) Are we prepared for weekends of cursing and scuffed knuckles to keep her running? Will I have dirty fingernails every Monday when I go to work? To be honest, I kind of miss having a high-maintenance car. It’s like exercise. Sucks when you’re doing it, feels great when you’re done.

Is it a sign from above that the car costs almost exactly what our insurance settlement is? Are we destined to be the curators (not owners — it will likely own us) of a classic automobile? It sure would be cool to do photo shoots with a ride like this.

We’ll have a little something to drink tonight, look at the pictures, and dream a bit. Then most likely we’ll move on, turning our attention to the sensible end of the spectrum, and wondering forevermore what might have been.

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The Great Adventure The Great Adventure

A Particularly Shitty Couple of Weeks

December 5th, 2014

A couple years ago, we lost out entire kitchen to a plumbing problem. Since then, we’ve had two near misses. The laundry room under-floor will never be the same, but we can pretend all is well. Then there’s the leak that’s been going on long enough it has been supporting its own ecosystem. Our plumbing is crap.

It came down to this: we would never sleep well at night until we tore out the horrible plumbing in our home and replaced it with not-horrible plumbing. Money has been tight, but we agreed that it was worth spending some cash to end the ongoing risk of catastrophic and expensive plumbing failures. It took all our immediate savings and some sale of fruit-flavored stock, but after a week of what might otherwise have been a relaxing time off work, the plumbing crew was mostly finished. A stressful week, but one that promised peace of mind on the other side.

There were a couple of hitches, so on Tuesday the plumbing company sent a guy out to fix them. Our wee doggie has not dealt well with any of the plumbing intruders, but as I got into the car Tuesday morning I saw the light at the end of the tunnel. We had better pipes. The endless worries about losing months of our lives to home repair were soon to end.

It was raining Tuesday; that’s why I drove. That’s why the roads were slick. That’s why the kid in the Corolla slammed into me.

I’m not hurt. Roxy, the 2001 Ford Escort, is mortally wounded. Roxy has only 40,412 miles on her, which means There are simply no comparable vehicles out there. And there’s the bitch of the thing. The actuarial tables State Farm uses will not yield a number that comes remotely close to the replacement value. We could have ridden that car for another decade easily. The thing just plain did its job.

So now the showdown begins. State Farm will offer us money for our car. That money won’t be enough. Our position: make it like it never happened. Put a car in our garage that fills the same role. It’s not about money. Their position: We’re buying your wrecked car for a fair amount.

Meanwhile, we just gave all our spare cash (and a little more) to plumbers. We’re not ready to take on car payments.

I know, as I bitch about the ill fortune that has beset me, that a lot of people have it worse than I do. Most of planet Earth, in fact. People in camps near where I live would scoff at my problems. But a twenty-year-old kid driving like twenty-year-old kids do has put us in a serious financial bind, and honestly I don’t see the right answer.

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Observations Observations

A Random Energy Thought

December 5th, 2014

It takes a lot of energy to make a photovoltaic cell. Once it’s made, it gives you almost-free energy for a long time. Photovoltaic electricity is about investing a lot of energy now for a long-term payoff later.

Recently, for reasons I’d probably understand if I were paying attention, energy costs have dropped dramatically. To my way of thinking, then, it’s time RIGHT NOW to make a crap-ton of photovoltaic cells. Like, this month.

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Observations Observations

A Clockwork Octogenarian

December 4th, 2014
My new hero!

I’ve been riding to work long enough now that I recognize a few of the faces I meet. One of those I see almost every day is an elderly woman. She seems healthy, if a little thinner than her doctor would no doubt prefer, but time takes its toll on even the best of us, and I would be quite surprised if she were less than eighty years old.

Each day I pass her going the other direction. Depending on how late I’m running, this takes place over a roughly five-mile stretch of my commute (she is much more punctual than I am). So it’s safe to conclude she rides east at least five miles every weekday. I think it’s safe to assume she also rides a similar distance the other way. That’s a nice, steady 50 miles or more each week.

While I have no knowledge of the reasons she bikes (for all I know she’s not allowed to drive anymore), it makes me happy to see her out there. I hope I’ll still be in the saddle thirty years hence.

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Writing Writing

NaNoWriMo Complete

December 1st, 2014
The month by the number.

With hours to spare, I closed the laptop with 50,009 words for my story A Cool Breeze in Hell. Victory!

I could have stopped at 50,003, but I was on a roll.

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Stories Stories

November 1, 2014

November 30th, 2014
Normally I post the first night's NaNoWriMo output here. I suppose I ought to do it again.

You probably didn’t notice that I didn’t put my first night’s NaNoWriMo effort here on November 1st. It’s not like people wait all year to glimpse the unedited, unplanned, product of my imagination. It is rarely sparkling prose. My first sketch of a story (not even a draft, really) often turns out to be conversations between people about what they could do, and not a whole lot of people doing things. Kind of an outline-the-plot-with-dialog technique. They are also rather light on description. Periodically in this year’s effort, I put great emphasis on description, and was pleased with the result. But not on November 1st. Maybe some other time I’ll post my description of a breakfast diner in rural North Dakota.

But even though I’m less proud of this month’s first chapter than I have been of others, it does set the scene for the action that follows. (Well, the action that is subsequently discussed.) So, here it is. You don’t have to thank me, it’s what I do.

Note that as usual, I didn’t spend time doing silly things like proofreading or correcting errors or (God forbid) tightening up ambiguous pronouns. I’ve still got to finish my NaNoWriMo effort this year, and there’s only six hours left.

A Cool Breeze in Hell

Harper pulled out the last of his crumpled wad of bills and smoothed them out on the fake woodgrain of the bartop. His backpack sat at his feet, containing everything in the world that he could call his own. Two extra pair of socks, one pair underwear (in need of cleaning), blue jeans (the pair with smaller holes in the knees), a toothbrush, a few toiletries, and a t-shit for a band he’d never heard of all shared space with an ancient laptop whose battery really didn’t hold a charge any longer. In his pockets huddled some loose change, a pay as you go phone (unpaid, going nowhere), and a pocket knife that had attachments to do almost anything… poorly.

When his little pile of greenbacks ran out, things were gong to be tough. He scratched his four-day beard and held up his finger to catch the bartender’s attention.

“Another one?”

Harper nodded.

“Happy hour ended five minutes ago. I’m going to have to charge full price.”

“That’s fine,” Harper said. He hadn’t been that happy anyway.

He watched as the balding man behind the bar wiped his hands on his apron and stooped to get a glass out of the freezer. The bar was almost deserted; there was no reason for the bartender to hurry. The barkeep straightened with a moan and slid the glass under a tap and pulled the long handle emblazoned with the logo of one of the local microbreweries. The blessed liquid gushed forth and before long a pint of deep amber liquid rested on a tiny napkin in front of Harper. “Five bucks,” the bartender said. Harper counted six off his stack and gave them to the man. He tried not to see how much was left. Better not to know, sometimes.

The television behind the bar was muted, but grabbed his attention anyway, with amateur video of explosions and car crashes. Harper decided he liked the world more before every damn thing that ever happened was recorded and put on the Internet. Still, he watched.

He didn’t see the man come in, was only peripherially aware when he sat two stools down from Harper. When he sat he exhaled heavily, as if he had taken off a backpack full of stones. “Beer,” he said, “Give me the IPA.” Harper was taken by the man’s smooth baritone voice. Though he spoke softly his voice carried, bearing a tone of authority. Harper turned and studied the man’s profile as the other waited for his drink.

He was tallish, on the thin side, darkish hair swept back, narrow straight nose. Dark eyes, thin lips pressed together, creasing his face. He seemed to be in pain, concentrating on not letting it show. His suit was probably a nice one, Harper thought, though he wasn’t sure exactly how to tell suits apart. The stranger’s navy tie with yellow stripes was loosened and his top button was undone. His right hand tapped the bar in impatience, the left he kept clenched in his lap. The other man’s beer arrived and he turned to Harper and raised his glass. Guiltily Harper returned the gesture.

“Long day?” Harper asked.

The man nodded. “I’m not even sure what a day is anymore.”

It was then that Harper knew he was talking to the devil. There was no one thing to tip him off, no weird glimpse of horns or red skin or cloven hooves for feet. There was nothing out of the ordinary about the guy at all, except that he was the Prince of Darkness, loose on Earth to spread torment and damnation.

Up until that moment, Harper had not considered himself a religeous man. He still didn’t, he realized. The bartender went about his work, pausing for long stretches to watch TV, seemingly unaware of the Dark One sitting on one of his vynyl-topped barstools.

“What brings you round here?” Harper asked.

“The beer,” the devil said. “Not the conversation.”

Harper took the hint and turned back to his own beer. He tried to nurse it, but far too quickly it was gone. “Another?” the bartender asked when there was half an inch of beer left in his glass.

He nodded. “And one for this guy.” He pointed down to where the devil sat. He counted out twelve dollars and saw that there would be no more beers tonight, or ever again until he got a job.

The bartender pulled the two beers and set them in front of the two patrons.

The devil regarded his beer with narrowed eyes and turned to Harper. “What’s this?”

Harper shrugged. “You looked like you were having a tough day.”

“And now you’re going to ask me for a favor.”

Harper blinked in surprise. “No.”

The devil rocked back on his stool and looked Harper up and down. “Everybody wants something.”

A job, a place to call home, friends, a purpose for his life. “Not so much. You just seem to be having a rough time right now.”

Somehow now the devil was on the stool next to Harper. He couldn’t remember it happening. “Have you ever said, ‘it’s hotter than hell in here?’”

“Yeah, I suppose.”

“You were wrong. Hell is really fucking hot.”

“Well, at least you can get away for a beer sometimes.” Harper raised his glass to illustrate what a fine thing that was.

“I am in hell right now. I am always in Hell. I always will be in Hell.”

“Oh, I get it. So it’s not like a physical place then? More like a state of mind?”

The devil drained his beer and set down the glass. “Oh, it’s a physical place, all right, just not in this space-time continuum. I’m what you might call extra-dimensional. I can exist in both places at the same time. And that means I’m bathing in liquid sulfur and having my flesh boiled off my bones at the same time I’m sitting on this stool being annoyed by some guy who didn’t pay attention in Sunday School.”

Sunday School was a distant memory, to be sure, and indeed Harper had not paid attention, but he was pretty sure the phrase ‘space-time continuum’ had not been used.

“So how hot is it, exactly? Sulfur boils at 445 C, so it’s cooler than that, right?”

“There are areas that are much hotter than that. I avoid them.”

“You should air condition,” Harper said. He discovered his glass was empty, which ruined the fun of his little joke.

The devil scowled. “Don’t mock me, human.” To Harper’s ear, though, he didn’t sound angry.

“I’m not mocking you at all. It’s a straightforward engineering problem. You need to move heat from one place to another. All that takes is energy, and you have tons of that. Possibly you could use sulfur as the refrigerant.”

“I am skeptical.”

“You’d be making some parts of Hell cooler, at the expense of making other parts of hell much hotter. Of course, it would be much more efficient if you had a cooler place to pump the heat to. Maybe…” An idea was taking shape in Harper’s head. A brilliant solution to the devil’s problems, made all the more beautiful through the haze of the five beers doing the rhumba in Harper’s brain. “So, you can cross dimensions, right?”

“Obviously.”

“Could you open up a hole from here to there? You could use hell like a geothermal source, pump the energy over here, generate a shit-ton of electricity, and cool things down a bit on your end. Not a whole lot, maybe, but enough you might notice a cool breeze. Meanwhile humanity would benefit from a cheap, clean power source.”

“The benefit of humanity is not my concern,” the devil said. “Although I do encourage technological progress where it will result in more humans on earth. More souls.”

“You must love nitrogen fertilizer, then.”

“Yes. It will be a shame when its overuse leads to the destruction of a large amount of the world’s farmland. It will be a busy time for me.”

“So, you like for there to be more people, so you can lead them astray?”

“I suppose you could put it that way. Think of me as a farmer.”

“Then this should be a no-brainer for you, don’t you think? This could mean a lot more kids growing up to be sinners.”

“You amuse me, Mr. Harper. You think you’re tricking me into making life better for humanity here on Earth.”

“I’m not stupid enough to think I can trick you.”

“In fact, you’re fooling yourself. You still don’t believe, deep in your heart, that this project could result in countless more souls in eternal torment.”

Harper didn’t have a good answer for that. “I guess I don’t. Modern agriculture made it possible for me to be here. So if you were behind that, then thanks.”

The devil smiled, showing two neat rows of narrow teeth. “Very well, Mr. Harper. I will provide you with the necessary resources and technical advice. You will install a cooling system for hell, and you will use the energy to provide clean power to humanity.”

“Uh, me?”

The devil’s smile grew. “Of course. Who else?”

“But I’m not even remotely qualified. I don’t know anything about power stations, or drilling a hole across dimensions, or getting a permit for… whatever I need permits for. I suck at that stuff.”

“Well, Mr. Harper, I think it’s time you started learning.” The devil reached into his pocket and pulled out a smart phone. “Here. You will need this. You will be getting calls from some of my people.” He set the phone on the bartop between their glasses.

Harper reached out, then hesitated. If the stories were true, accepting a gift from the devil seemed like a bad idea.

“Oh, for fuck’s sake,” the devil said. “Not every gift incurrs an obligation. This is just a tool I’m providing so you can do your job. You can return it when you’re done if it will make you feel better.”

Harper picked up the phone and held it like it might bite him. It had a satisfying solidity. No lightning came from above. He set it back down. “You have the wrong guy,” he said.

“I’ve been around for a long time, Mr. Harper, and you are one of a handful of people in all the history of your miserable race that has surprised me. So shut up and take the phone before I get angry. You are going to air condition hell. It is not for you to decide.” He reached into his pocket again, and pulled out a credit card. “I will pay you, of course. Fair compensation for your labor. Once again, no additonal obligation.”

“How much?”

“You decide. That card has no limit. None at all. Soon you will be hearing from my money people to arrange financing the project. In the meantime, I’ve asked the bartender to make sure your glass is never dry tonight. You have a new job, after all. It’s time to celebrate.”

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Observations Observations

Perfect Marketing

November 20th, 2014
Marketing is about delivering a simple message. Nice job, Duluth.

I’m sitting in a bar right now, pooping out NaNoWords, and Thursday Night Football is happening all around me. Another day I will tell you how I personally cursed the Oakland Raiders, and how I’m not sorry and you shouldn’t expect the curse to be lifted any time soon. But not tonight. This episode is about a television ad.

The product was Duluth Fire Hose Pants (or something like that). It was a simple animated affair where a guy in non-firehose pants gets his leg torn to shreds when he fails to catch a wild boar that someone offscreen threw to him. Butterfingers!

The scene is then reenacted with the man (who vaguely resembles Bret Favre) wearing the proper indestructible pants. The wild boar deflects harmlessly off his leg, and our firehose-pants-wearing pal picks the vicious animal up and sends it back.

I want those pants. Seriously. I want those pants – as long as they extend the indestructible ethic to the pockets.

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Observations Observations

Another Stupid Security Breach

November 19th, 2014
Once more, people are surprised to find that email is not secure.

Recently, the State Department’s emails were hacked. Only the non-classified ones (that we know about), but here’s the thing:

Why the hell is the State Department not encrypting every damn email? Why does ANY agency not encrypt its emails? It’s a hassle for individuals to set up secure emails with their friends, but secure email within an institution is not that hard.

JUST DO IT, for crying out loud!

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Idle Chit-Chat Idle Chit-Chat

The Message I Just Sent to Duraflame

November 15th, 2014
Maybe one of y'all has some advice?

We bought a box of duraflame logs from Costco and they just don’t burn right. They smolder for hours and hours, but never flame up.

Before you send me a boilerplate response, please understand that I followed the instructions meticulously, especially after the first one in the batch just sat there smoking for 16 hours or more.

This last time I tried to blow on the log and I could get one area to glow brightly, but I never coaxed a flame out of it.

The chimney is clear and drawing fine; other things burn well, and the copious smoke from the Duraflame logs does go up and out.

Right now it’s approaching 14 hours for the most recent log, and it’s still in there, making smoke but accomplishing nothing else.

I looked to see if there was any sort of expiration date printed on the log wrappers and didn’t find anything, but one possibility I considered was that these are old, out-of-date logs that Costco dug up.

What can I do? This isn’t so much about the money spent on logs as needing to consider a better alternative for our fireplace.

—————

Note: this is almost exactly what I sent, but I fixed one awful spelling corrector substitution.

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Idle Chit-Chat Idle Chit-Chat

An Elevator Conversation

November 13th, 2014
Some random encounters are less forgettable than others.

I stepped into the elevator and held the door for the person behind me. I pushed the “3” button for myself.

“Where you heading?” I asked the other.

“Fourth floor, I guess. Where are you heading?” I glanced over at my elevator roomie. He had an emo haircut, black. Sardonic smile. His outfit featured denim. Things had suddenly gotten existential.

“My short-term plans call for floor three,” I said. “After that, things get fuzzy.” My first stop after the elevator was going to be the men’s room, but I didn’t feel the need to tell him that.

He smiled sideways. After a few seconds he said, “Gotta sit in a room for an hour.”

Although his statement struck me as curious, it never occurred to me to ask him to expand. It’s an elevator. “Hey, those rooms aren’t going to sit in themselves,” I said.

“Yeah.”

The elevator pinged once and the doors opened much more slowly than they had before the elevator was upgraded. Off I went on my third-floor business.

Ever since then, I’ve been thinking about Klein bottles, rooms that can sit in themselves, and the implications for security. Those would not be practical rooms.

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Idle Chit-Chat Idle Chit-Chat

100 Commutes

November 12th, 2014
A milestone, and answering "why?"

Yesterday marked the 100th time I used a bicycle to get to work rather than a car. Since July, I’ve ridden at least twenty times per month (Well, until I took a week off in October).

On the list of benefits: That’s about 100 gallons of gasoline not burned. That’s a lot of carbon not combined with oxygen and pumped into the atmosphere, but even more important… well, let me tell you a little story…

I was southbound on Los Gatos Creek Trail. I had just crossed a street when a guy flagged me down and gave me a little handbill, explaining that it was to complete an online survey about bike trail usage. “Awesome! Thanks!” I said, taking him aback just a bit with my enthusiasm. I took it as an opportunity to be counted, perhaps to influence the electorate.

Once home, I took the survey. I entered which trail I spent the most time on, how I thought rangers could best spend their time, and stuff like that. Included were questions about why I use the trails in the first place. On one question I told them I primarily biked to get to work. Later it asked why I biked instead of drove. There were plenty of good options, but health wasn’t one of them. I guess commuters aren’t concerned about their health. So I was forced to choose the second-most important reason I rode.

It came down to two choices: to save the environment or to save money. I talk up the environment a lot, and I believe, but I had to be honest with myself. I’m a cheap bastard. I clicked the “save money” option.

… even more important, I’ve saved several hundred dollars in gas money. It will be a long time yet before I save enough to pay for the bike (and also, I suppose, before I save enough gas to offset the energy required to manufacture the bicycle), but I just have to keep at it.

And my calves are looking pretty good, if I do say so myself.

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Rumblings from the Secret Labs Rumblings from the Secret Labs

All in the Name of Science

November 10th, 2014
I assume drinks will be served at the Nobel awards ceremony.

A while back, in anticipation of America’s Favorite Holiday That Includes Encouraging the Youth of Otherwise Calm Neighborhoods in a Sanctioned Protection Racket, some chick online somewhere put up a list of ideal pairings of wine with Halloween candy.

She got it horribly, badly, wrong. My sweetie, who is exposed to these random “memes” (as the kids call them today) much more than I, decided it was time for someone to do this right. She assembled her crack research team, and off we went to buy booze and candy, focussing on the candy that typically lands in pillow cases and plastic pumpkins between 6 and 8 pm on Halloween night, along with some other iconic candies that appear on the shelves this time of year.

At the booze store, we huddled around the miniatures rack for much of the time, so our shopping cart wouldn’t set off the “Leaving Las Vegas” alarm at the cash register. We loaded up with many, many tiny bottles of booze, some that made me nervous just to look at the labels (marshmallow vodka?), and larger bottles of things that we thought might come in handy on other occasions long after the science was complete.

Oh, and I accidentally chose a very expensive bottle of scotch, rather than the usual rather expensive bottle.

After a pass through Cost Plus to find a few more exotic boozes and brews, we made our way home, pulled out all the stuff, and it started to sink in: science is not always a walk in the park. Doing this important research was going to require dedication, hard work, and more than one fuzzy morning.

Much (but not all) of the alcohol we tested. I knew the panorama feature on my phone would come in handy one day.

Much (but not all) of the alcohol we tested. I knew the panorama feature on my phone would come in handy one day.

With all the different boozes (many in limited quantity) and this array of sugary treats:

The loot from our raid on the impressive candy aisle at Walgreens (expanded for Halloween!).

The loot from our raid on the impressive candy aisle at Walgreens (expanded for Halloween!).

We knew it would be impossible (and palette-blowing) to test every possible combination. We leave it to those who follow to continue in the name of Science, and to try combos we may not have considered.

The results are exhaustively (and humorously) presented at Poetic Pinup, including descriptions of why each pairing worked, and links to some of the more obscure beverages.

Methodology:

Science is meaningless if you don’t show how you got to your conclusion. In our case, we often (but not always) started by choosing an alcoholic beverage. We would each take a sip, then scan over the available candy, looking for ones that our palette memories thought might work:

Zombie Zin on the test bench.

Zombie Zin on the test bench.

Naturally, we also had to try pairings that had a lower chance of success. (Side note, Skittles make a reasonable palette cleanser between tests.) By stepping outside the obvious we allowed Serendipity to stagger into the party with a package of Sugar Babies in one hand and a bottle of 100-proof cinnamon-flavored schnapps in the other, shouting a little too loudly for the room, “Hey, check this out!”

Tastes diverge, of course, and so while the light of my lab enjoyed Seagram’s Sweet Tea flavored vodka with Hot Tamales, I found the beverage undrinkable, and while I prefer Kraken to Sailor Jerry, the sea monster didn’t tickle the palette of the head researcher (she being the one who actually took notes) and I don’t remember the match I liked for that one. Guess it’s time to get back in the lab!

In the end, however, I was a bit surprised by how often we agreed. Some things simply taste good together.

The highlights for me (in no particular order):

  1. Jim Beam Honey and Baby Ruth. I didn’t even expect to like Jim Beam Honey.
  2. Peeps and Absinthe
  3. Hershey’s Special Dark and Black Russian
  4. Honorable mention: Crabbie’s Ginger Beer and More Crabbie’s Ginger Beer. Snappy!

There are a couple of things missing from the list, most notably:

  1. Super-dark high-cocoa-percentage chocolate. I love the stuff, but you won’t find that in a halloween bag in any neighborhood I’ve ever lived in.
  2. Scotch. Remember that expensive bottle? Yeah, Science doesn’t deserve that much love. Blame government funding cuts.
  3. Krackle and Crunch bars. The chocolate is different in the two, different enough that they didn’t pair well with booze in different ways, but in the end we just didn’t find a good match for either. Perhaps someone out there can pick up this loose thread.

A final note:

Always the bridesmaid: Kit Kat Bar. It was good with so many things, but there was always some other option that was even better. It was late in the game when we found Kit Kat’s One True Love, but perseverance paid off. But if you’re going to throw a candy-and-booze bash, Kit Kat will play well with a lot of the liquid offerings.