Vegetable Science

I am Vine. That means retailers on Amazon can offer me stuff in exchange for a product review. The theory is that Vine members can provide impartial reviews and drown out the paid shills. There are Vine members who don’t understand this, and there are retailers using Vine to dump inventory.

But as a part of this program, I explore categories I would never look at otherwise. It’s fun; I’ve learned about tools I never knew existed, and seen many, many useless things.

One of the categories I can explore is “Professional Medical Supplies”. And in categories like that, there are items that are obviously for one purpose, but can only be sold for another purpose. Syringes with hypodermic needles is an obvious example.

CLEARLY, these items are not meant to inject stuff into humans. They are for injecting stuff into… maybe… vegetables?

Perhaps you are a neatly-bearded scientist who needs to inject blue stuff into a zucchini. Have we got the tool for you! Or maybe it’s broccoli anchored to a chemical stand, with a needle up its butt, and you need to inject some red liquid:

I have to give props where due. Most sellers would not have bothered taking the above photos. The shallow depth of field in the top photo suggests that an actual photographer was involved. With lights and everything.

The entire effort is to support a fiction: that this product is for injecting colored liquids into vegetables, and not human beings. It’s a respectable amount of work to support a transparent lie that everyone knows from the get-go is a lie.

But now I wonder now how a floret of broccoli clamped in the air with a needle up its ass will respond to red fluid.

3

Whew! That Could Have Been Trouble!

I was watching television this evening and there was a commercial for a car of some sort. In the ad a giant claw descends with a crash and lifts an old junker up into the air. From underneath the crappy car a shiny new car drops.

At the bottom of the screen, in fine print: Do Not Attempt.

Back in the day, he was Fleeker

It seems that most places I’ve worked there’s been the designated guy who the rest of the office likes to pick on. It’s a combination of traits that lead someone into this position — an almost contradictory combination of a tendency to take himself too seriously, making sweeping pronouncements that he expects people to instantly see the wisdom of, while at the same time having his own sense of humor and willingness to laugh at himself.

Fleeker was that guy at Binary Labs. He was smart and hard-working, and he wasn’t afraid to make a bet that might end with him wearing a dress to work. Every office needs a Fleeker.

Eventually Fleeker went back to school, got his MBA, and is working now at some big food company in Chicago. The office wasn’t the same without him, but somehow we managed. I fell out of touch with Fleeker, so it was a bit of a surprise a few months ago when another former coworker sent me a link to (I think) a Wall Street Journal article. The article was about using the Internet to find love, and it started off telling about a Chicago guy who had been rejected by a major online dating service — apparently no small feat. In response this man launched his own Web site. I clicked on the link, and sure enough, there was Fleeker, in a particularly unflattering photograph.

That is the first thing you see when you go to SettleForBrian.com. On the site he does his best to lay out both the good and the bad about him, so there will be no disappointment later.

On valentines day this year the online version of the San Diego paper featured Fleeker. Apparently the full-discolsure method has yet to work magic, although there has been some interest.

I think it’s time to pitch in and help the lad out.

A big part of the site is a long list of pros and cons, listing his good points and his less endearing qualities. Looking over the list, however, I see a few omissions. Not necessarily pro’s or con’s but important Fleeker facts. Also missing, and much more needed, are testimonials. Naturally, in the spirit of things, the testimonials should also not sugar-coat the truth. Toward that end I’ll be sending a testimonial to Fleeker, for him to use as he sees fit. I encourage those who know Fleeker (or the new Brian version) to send in your own testimonials. I have no idea if he’ll use them, but it should add depth to the character he presents on his site. If he posts the testimonial there, I’ll slap it up here as well. (I had the testimonial up here for a couple of minutes, but then I decided to take it down until Fleeker had a chance to see it.)

Coming Soon to a Paris Runway Near You

There’s something that’s been percolating through my grey matter for a few days, and it’s finally reached the surface. A while back I read a blurb about a guy who was looking ever-so-stylish in a custom-tailored four-button coat.

Four buttons! Wow! Can you believe it? That guy has some brass!

Four buttons.

One time, many years ago, I went into a suit store (lacking the funds to pay someone thousands of dollars to make a jacket for me with one more button) and asked for the suit that would be the farthest thing from the Standard Male Uniform without offending people who expected to see me in the SMU. (Nobody I knew was in the ‘expecting to see’ category, but there was a funeral or a job interview or a wedding or some tragedy like that that required me to look ‘respectable’.) I ended up with a fairly nice suit in a borderline scandalous dark dark green that utterly failed to bring out my eyes. It looked, to my eye, like just about every other suit I’d ever seen.

If someone from a non-suit-wearing culture were to visit me in a suit-required situation and apologize for mixing up our names by saying ‘you all look the same to me’, I would nod my head in agreement. Women have fashion, men have the SMU. Men are reduced to the necktie to express who they are through clothing. Unfortunately, the necktie has turned into the business equivalent of gang colors. It’s not an expression of individuality; it’s your membership badge for whatever pathetically irrelevant subset of suit wearers you imagine yourself to be. There is the Power Tie (ha!), the School Tie, the Invisible Tie, and (the only one backed by a shred of honesty) the Family tie. I like the Family tie. It changes with the holidays, is sometimes horrible but carried as a badge of honor. “I’m wearing this polyester disaster because it will make my family happy.” There’s a good chance it will deflect bullets as well. The Family tie is cynically wielded by gray-haired salesmen.

Back to the buttons. You read it here first, kids… the TRUE FASHION REBEL will have no buttons at all. Velcro, baby. Imagine the clean lines of your suit jacket that is in every other respect just like what everyone else is wearing. No buttons! The Scandal!

Velcro. It’s the new black.

A Nation Comes Together

The TV is not on here at the Little Café Near Home very often, but sometimes there is an event that draws people here to watch as a group. the most obvious example of this is for major sporting events, but there are other programs that draw in the crowds as well. One of those shows is on right now. I’d consider going somewhere else, but any other place with a TV will have the same show on.

What is this event that draws the nation together? I’ve mentioned it before, but the current season of Česko hleda Superstar is getting down to the finals. The good news is that means the contestants who really, really, suck have all been eliminated. Now we have a homogeneous batch of people who fit the formula. They all sound pretty much the same, craftsmen rather than artists, singing safe tunes written by other people. One of these will be labeled ‘Superstar’, a large fish in a small pond, and will then try to turn that into a career, just like the other winners of the other Superstar contests all over the world.

I’m not sure you can pin all the blame for the superstar formula on the U.S., but as the worlds largest producer of pop clones I think it’s fair to guess that the recipe for the McPopstar was perfected there.

As I was watching the show (I have no resistance to the box of moving lights) I started to wonder: what’s so damn special about singing that these guys are the superstars, while artists in other disciplines toil in relative obscurity? Technology is part of the answer, certainly; electricity has made it possible for there to be a music industry. People are listening to music all the time, where for most other art forms they have to dedicate time to appreciating it. Technology has changed both the product and the distribution.

A hundred years ago there were certainly celebrated musicians and entertainers, but back then there were people in other art forms that were just as celebrated. Maybe more so. I think for a while the writers had the edge — between the invention of the printing press and the invention of radio they had the best mass-market potential. Ah, if only I was born a hundred years earlier! Before that, I’m not sure. Whatever the talented person in each village did, perhaps.

The Buggles claim that video killed the radio star. That may well be true, but the singers are still hanging in there, as long as they are attractive enough. You can’t be a superstar if you can’t carry a tune. Well, let’s just say you can’t be a superstar without singing. With Internet getting steadily faster video will become more and more influential, but the difference is that people will be able to watch anything, whenever they want. By putting distribution squarely in the hands of consumers, we might (fingers crossed) see the last of the manufactured pop star. There will always be those who have big promotional budgets, flashier videos, and whatnot, but already I only buy music from independent labels (not out of any sort of protest, their terms and pricing on downloaded music are better), and I don’t think I’m missing out on much. Honestly, I have no idea who’s popular right now anyway, and I can always find something I enjoy on an indie Web site.

I am told there are even people who use the Web to read what other people write.

The next few years will be interesting. Big extravaganzas like the one I witnessed tonight will work to make the next superstar, while beneath the stage the termites are gnawing on the supports.

Sometimes, you see things.

I am sitting in a bar, watching a woman with no shirt serving beer to a man with no nose. Actually, I have seen that before, in this very bar. What I had not seen before was the event that drove me here.

First, a small detour. I was sitting in the Little Café Near Home when the call came in. I will be getting up absurdly early tomorrow morning. My last word from Athena had been costumes on Monday, shooting on Wednesday and Thursday. I got increasingly neurotic as I received no further word about costumes, and I sent Athena a couple of messages. No response. Tonight, while wrapping up my celebration of successful bumness, my phone rang. I am expected to be at a certain Metro station at 6 am. The good news: starting that early, overtime is a distinct possibility. The bad news: starting that early, I will be getting up even earlier.

But that’s not why I am here, now.

After the hokej (rhymes with hockey) game, Little Café Near Home cleared out. It was just me and Bechovins (rhymes with Bevins, only in Czech). Then another guy came in and started scooting furniture around in a nonsensical way. After some muddling he unplugged the now-quiet television and plugged in…

Guess. Go ahead and try. You won’t get it right, but if you guess something completely crazy and then read the next sentence, which will be more whacked-out than what you came up with, that will make the revelation all the choicer. Have you guessed? All right then.

…a hair clipper. Bechovins was getting a haircut. In a place that serves food. Faced with a choice between drinking in a bar where the only other guy was getting a haircut, drinking in a bar where women with no shirts serve men with no noses, and not drinking at all, I chose “B”.

The man with no nose is much more difficult not to stare at than the woman with no shirt. She is quite pretty, and if everyone here in the bar had a nose, she would be drawing my eye. Sadly for all, that is not the case. He has a piece of gauze taped with a big X over his face, and there is no bulge beneath. It has been this way long enough that I wonder why he has not come up with a better gauze holder, something more comfortable than tape. I don’t know how he lost his nose; there must be a story there. I hope that eventually he gets a new one. In the meantime, what bothers me most is the tape. But, like him, I am getting used to it.

I hear those stunt men are crazy

I don’t want to give too much away (as if anything I’m putting in the script now will make it to the screen anyway), but I just wrote a new Most Dangerous Scene To Film. The old Most Dangerous Scene To Film involved two open cars tied together, speeding down the highway while people clamber all over them. Lots of people, fighting one another with cutlasses. Oh, yeah, there’s a big rig coming the other way. (I figure that part’s just a matter of editing magic.) The new MDTFS requires a convertible overflowing with people to jump over a sheer canyon, while other cars crash and fall in.

I’m sure fuego will wave his hands and say “No problem! We do crazier things all the time in this business!” Still, that seems pretty nuts. The stunt people are definitely going to earn their pay on this one. If, that is, we find a way to pay them.

Immediately after writing the above, I returned to the script and wrote the Most Impossible Scene To Film. Oh, but it would be sweet. The moment after the final credits that would just seal the movie, and reward those who stayed. Let’s hope for editing magic.

4

Next they’ll change its name to some wacky symbol

I just learned that the official name of the country of Macedonia is “The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia”.

Only in Los Alamos

I saw a truck today, a big ol’ Dodge 4×4, mud-splattered but in good condition. The front vanity plate read “Forget 911… I dial .357!” and had a drawing of a revolver pointed directly at the reader.

On the rear of the cab were stickers. Some proclaimed the owner of the truck to be in favor of various causes favored by the conservative crowd: POW/MIA, the right to bear arms, and so on. There were also five stickers in a row, white ovals modeled after the stickers that in europe indicate country of origin. In this case, the stickers indicated that the driver was from PHP, WWW, MP3, C++, and W3C. Man, what a geek.

Strč prst skrz krk

No, that’s not gibberish in the title of this episode, it’s Czech. It is a sentence just about anyone over here will quote when you mention vowels. It translates, more or less, to “Put your finger through your neck.” It doesn’t seem that useful in daily conversation, but it is notable for having no vowels at all. The Czechs are a frugal people, saving up their vowels, but they are also binge spellers, writing whole words with no vowels at all only to write others with strings of vowels, each of which is voiced.

I do not know enough czech to come up with my own vowel-free sentences yet, but it sounds like a fun game.

3

Shows what they know…

I’m not sure how I found this quiz – someone else must have posted a link to it somewhere. I put the results here because they are so laughably wrong. I was going to rate them by degree of wrongness, but I’ll leave that as an exercise for the reader.

Your view on yourself:
You are down-to-earth and people like you because you are so straightforward. You are an efficient problem solver because you will listen to both sides of an argument before making a decision that usually appeals to both parties.

The type of girlfriend/boyfriend you are looking for:
You like serious, smart and determined people. You don’t judge a book by its cover, so good-looking people aren’t necessarily your style. This makes you an attractive person in many people’s eyes.

Your readiness to commit to a relationship:
You are ready to commit as soon as you meet the right person. And you believe you will pretty much know as soon as you might that person.

The seriousness of your love:
Your have very sensible tactics when approaching the opposite sex. In many ways people find your straightforwardness attractive, so you will find yourself with plenty of dates.

Your views on education
Education is less important than the real world out there, away from the classroom. Deep inside you want to start working, earning money and living on your own.

The right job for you:
You’re a practical person and will choose a secure job with a steady income. Knowing what you like to do is important. Find a regular job doing just that and you’ll be set for life.

How do you view success:
You are afraid of failure and scared to have a go at the career you would like to have in case you don’t succeed. Don’t give up when you haven’t yet even started! Be courageous.

What are you most afraid of:
You are afraid of having no one to rely on in times of trouble. You don’t ever want to be unable to take care of yourself. Independence is important to you.

Who is your true self:
You are mature, reasonable, honest and give good advice. People ask for your comments on all sorts of different issues. Sometimes you might find yourself in a dilemma when trapped with a problem, which your heart rather than your head needs to solve.

If you look at the questions in the quiz, it’s easy to see why the results are bullshit. I imagine that all the results are couched in flattering terms, so people will want to match the result, even if they don’t. Secure job. Heh. Sensible tactics with the opposite sex? Dates? Riiiiiight.

Where am I?

Let’s say for a moment that you’re going to the bank. In czech you would say Jdu do banky. – “I’m going to the bank.” No problem. Of course, if you’re gong to the post office you would say Jdu na poštu.

D’oh! How you say “to” depends upon where you’re going. Banks and post offices strike me as being pretty similar, but in the czech tongue they are very different. Not only does the preposition change, banky and poštu are themselves different cases of the nouns. The first is the accusative form of banka while the second is the genetive form of pošta.

How you say “post office” and “bank” changes again once you get there. Jsem v bance translates to “I am at the bank”, while you would tell me you’re at the post office by saying Jsem na poštÄ›. In the case of the post office, na now translates to “at”. At least once you get there you can use the locative form for the name of the place no matter where you are. Remember, the rules apply to names as well: Jsem v Pizza Hutu.

And what if you’re going nowhere? Well, in czech, you’re not going nowhere: Nejdu nikam. Once you start negating you don’t stop until you run out of words. The idea that a double negative implies a positive strikes czechs as rather odd. All that negating leads to sentences like Nikdy nic nikde nikomu neříkej a nijak se nezabývej žadným problémem – which would translate literally to “Don’t never not say nothing to no one and in no way don’t bother with no problem.” (I got that sentence from a book. Don’t ask me why it uses nijak instead of žádný. I know you were going to.)

Then again, if you’re already nowhere it’s Nejsem nikde. There are different kinds of nowhere here, depending on whether it’s a destination or a location.

1

Conjugating nouns

I’m writing this partly to get things straight in my own head. I may well be wrong on some of the subtleties.

In Czech, nouns have different forms depending on how they are used in a sentence. The rules are different depending on the gender of the noun, and (if the noun is masculine) whether the thing named by the noun is animate or inanimate. These rules apply to people’s names as well — they’re nouns, after all.

For instance, If I were to say “My friend Brian Votaw is over there,” I would use the nominative form of the noun: “Můj kamarád Brian Votaw je tam.” No biggie. (Of course for females it’s not so simple. The last name would have -ova appended to it: Barbara Seegerova. Naturally sometimes you don’t just stick letters on the end; that would be too simple. Čapek becomes Čapkova, for instance, and if the root family name ends in ?~C½ you just switch it to an á. But I digress.)

Since Brian is (usually) animate and (biologically) male, to say “I know Brian,” I would use the accusative singular: Znám Briana. It doesn’t matter whether Anna is animate or not, she’s female and that’s enough to turn “I’m waiting for my friend Anna” into Čekám na mou kamarádku Annu. Note that the czech word for the pronoun “my” (which was múj for Brian above because he was male and that was the nominative form) switched from the feminine (or moje, take your pick) to mou, and kamarádka (The feminine form of kamarád) became kamarádku.

I’m reasonably sure “I’m looking forward to seeing Amy” becomes Těší­m se Amy because Amy ends in y. However, I usually type it Amz, because the y and z are switched on the keyboard when I’m in Czech mode.

This episode only deals with two of the seven forms for each noun. Five more to go! Wahoo!

I hope reading this helps you as much as writing it helped me. Things are a lot clearer now, don’t you think?

1

Unscheduled Interruption

… but there’s a guy at the bar tasering himself. He starts the taser going, filling the whole room with a sinister buzz. He slowly moves it closer to his skin until he spasms violently and shouts “Ouch! Goddamit!”

A few seconds pass, and he does it again. Buzz. Spasm. “Ouch! Goddamit!” I am… astonished.

When you start feeling romantic about bars, remember this guy. I will too.