Science Isn't Always Fun

The best thing about The Best Science and Nature Writing anthology is that the writers do all the work for you: if you want to learn about the wonders of gene expression, you don't have to pore over exciting medical journals such as Thorax . . . -- instead you can skip the primary-source research and just read David Dobbs' essay "The Social Lives of Genes," which details the incredible power your environment and social ties have over your genes (basically, if you're lonely, your immune system doesn't work very well) but I must warn you, the book is not all fun and games; Maryn McKenna's article "Imagining the Post-Antibiotics Future" is downright scary-- infectious bacteria is becoming increasingly resistant to the antibiotics we have and we can't create new antibiotics fast enough to deal with this problem, so some time in the near future, we're going to loop back to the days when stepping on a rusty nail could kill you-- and that's a minor problem compared to what Roy Scranton describes in "Learning How to Die in the Anthropocene": near the end of the essay he reminds us that "the human psyche naturally rebels against the idea of its end . . . likewise, civilizations have throughout history marched blindly towards disaster, because humans are wired to think that tomorrow will be much like today-- it is unnatural for us to think that this way of life, this present moment, this order of things, is not stable and permanent; across the world today, our actions testify to the belief that we can go on like this forever, burning oil, poisoning he seas, killing off other species, pumping carbon into the air, ignoring the ominous silence of our coal mine canaries in favor of the unending robotic tweets of our new digital imaginarium."

Like a Sea Urchin in Your Urethra

In The Matrix, just before Morpheus sends Neo down the rabbit-hole, he commends him for his awareness: "you know something . . . what you know you can't explain, but you can feel it . . . you don't know what it is, but it's there, like a splinter in your mind, driving you mad" and his words are both ominous and elegant, a perfect set-up for the bombshell soon to come, but I recently learned from an anonymous source that the Wachowski Brothers ran through a number of alternatives before they arrived at the "splinter in your mind" simile . . . here they are:

1) like a cinderblock in your anus;

2) like a sea urchin in your urethra;

3) like a Khan worm in your ear;

4) like a polyp in TR's nostril;

5) like a hedgehog in your armpit;

6) like a caltrop between your butt cheeks;

7) like a booger in your mustache;

8) like the early-morning gound in your eye;

9) like a donkey in your bathtub;

10) like a splinter in your pinky-toe, right under the nail, and you can't get it out-- even with a pin that you sterilized with rubbing alcohol . . . it is this feeling that has brought you to me . . . do you know what I'm talking about?

Innovation: Dead in the Water or a Phoenix Rising?

So most of you are aware that I'm the greatest teacher ever (when I'm not feeling grouchy or tired from pub night or claustrophobic or hoarse from too much coaching or irked by teens and their cell-phones) and my great skill is that I consume a lot of media-- print, audio, and visual-- and just barely understand it, but my subconscious does a good job of making connections, which I only half-comprehend-- and because I have no problem not fully understanding things, I'm willing to present these loosely connected things to my classes, which are full of smart kids, and let them sort it out; I am trying to get them to understand how much style and rhetoric influence an argument (and I am all style and rhetoric, with very little content) and I recently stumbled upon two pieces on innovation that are almost humorous to consume one after another-- though their content is similar, they generate completely opposite tones; the first is a dire piece by Michael Hanlon in Aeon called "Why Has Human Progress Ground to a Halt" and it makes an excellent historical and global argument for why our best days of invention may be behind us (specifically: 1945-1971) and the second is an inspirational gem from Planet Money called "The Story of Ali Baba,"-- the piece offers two success stories of innovation, and in both, the innovators use the Chinese commerce marketplace Ali Baba to directly buy parts that individual inventors have never had access to before . . . ex-Wired editor Chris Anderson ends up opening a drone-building company and Shawn Hector and Steve Deutsch built an automated chicken coop . . . so you be the judge, humans are either treading water waiting for the flood, or living in the most convenient time to innovate in human history.

You Should Print This Out

Ferris Jabr's article "Why the Brains Prefers Paper" presents some interesting evidence as to why reading a book or magazine is better than reading on a screen; there are tactile reasons of course, and people comprehend texts better when they read them on paper (and remember more) and students suffer less eye-strain, stress, and fatigue when they take tests on paper-- as opposed to on a computer-- and they actually score better . . . so this is an interesting rebuttal to the new standardized tests students will be taking on computer this year-- in our school, kids are taking the PARCC test and they will be taking it completely on computer, but there is also a paper-and-pencil version of the test . . . so I wonder if the results between the two mediums will skew the data . . . I certainly hope so, as there's nothing I enjoy more than skewed data (except Campbell's Law . . . which often leads to skewed data).

Platinum Fatigue Part 2

I was making my way through the 2014 edition of The Best American Science and Nature Writing and I saw an essay entitled "TV as Birth Control" and figured it was on the same topic as yesterday's sentence-- people are so busy watching all these platinum quality TV shows that they don't have time for sex-- but that was not the thrust of the article: apparently, TV (especially soap operas) in developing countries gives women a different view of motherhood, fertility, and women's rights and generally causes a major drop in fertility rates (in the 1970's, the Mexican government used soap operas as propaganda to promote family planning and contraception . . . this is known as the "Sabido Method") and so despite the steamy and salacious associations, soap operas may save the human race from a Malthusian disaster.

Platinum Fatigue

Sometimes, I get so tired and I don't think I can keep it up-- the pace is too fast and I want to close my eyes and just sleep, like forever . . . but then I rise to the challenge and keep on swimming . . . but somewhere, buried deep in my subconsciousness, like a splinter in my mind, there's a niggling thought: I can't do it . . . it's impossible . . . there are too many . . . it's a fool's game . . . there's no way out . . . there are too many good shows!  . . . there's no way to keep up! but then I dispel the negativity and think to myself: I am doing it . . . I've watched The Wire and Madmen and The Sopranos and The Shield, Luther and Battlestar Galactica and Breaking Bad and Curb Your Enthusiasm, The Return and Top of the Lake and Portlandia and Deadwood and Orphan Black and The Walking Dead and Sherlock and Louie and Friday Night Lights and The Guild and It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia and I acknowledge that these are the best shows ever made and that we are living in the Platinum Age of Television, and that these shows are better than movies, better than books, better than music, almost better than fornication, and certainly better than any form of entertainment ever created in the entire history of humanity, and I bow down to the show-runners and the show-writers, I applaud everyone for the effort, and I express my admiration and appreciation (and I also wonder how this many different good shows can all make money) but I think I've finally hit the wall, I can't do it any longer-- I grew up on Night Court and Real People . . . I patiently waited all week for a new episode of Cheers-- so this is quality overload-- there's too many choices, something has to give; I've learned to quit fairly good shows (Orange is the New Black and American Horror Story) and while I'm trying to do Broadchurch and Fargo and Black Mirror, it's never enough--  people keep recommending new things: The Fall and The Affair and The Missing and The Return and True Detectives and The Americans and Happy Valley and a bunch more that I've forgotten . . . so I guess I've got to accept the fact that I can't watch them all, and be happy that I'll have something to do when I retire (which doesn't seem likely, considering what's a happening with my pension fund).

Football, Soccer, and the Cinema

Sunday's Seattle/Green Bay game was the first time all season that I watched an entire NFL game-- start to finish-- and while the finish turned out to be extremely exciting, I was mildly annoyed for the first three quarters: Seattle looked inept, and there were a lot of commercials for new movies (which wasn't annoying in itself, I can usually tune out movie trailers but my children and their friend had to do a full review of how "awesome" each movie looked . . . they-- like many folks much older-- are still deceived by the fast cuts and the good music into thinking that every movie will be a masterpiece, simply on the strength of its trailer) but luckily my friend Roman was demoing his new deep-fryer for us, so he kept us all amused through the slow sections of the game with delicious and crispy fried-treats . . . and then, of course, the last thirty minutes of the game were a lightning-paced rollercoaster of plot twists and spectacular plays (and discussions about the rules-- my kids are still at the age where the ins-and-outs of onside-kicks and two-point conversions are riveting . . . and I can get sucked into it as well: I still don't understand why Seattle didn't go for two when they were down 16-0 and they scored their first touchdown . . . but seeing how the game turned out, I guess that's why I'm not an NFL coach) and I will say that it was fun to watch football with a bunch of soccer players (my son mistakenly called the Superbowl "the World Cup" during the game, much to the amusement of his friend, who is a real football fan) and unlike a soccer match-- which would have been long over if it was 3-0 in the rain going into the last stretch of the game, an NFL football game always has the possibility of a cinematic ending . . . and no matter what, there will be "an ending"-- a specifically final chance, an official climax-- unlike the flow of a soccer match, where there is no exact moment you can call the last attempt at victory-- and so I guess we like out sports the same way we like our movie trailers: episodic, fast-paced, explosive, and awesome (and Seattle's fake kick to set-up their first touchdown was extra awesome for me, because it made me remember why I started rooting for the Seahawks in the first place-- I was watching a Giants game in 1979, pre-LT, so it was ponderous-- and at the half they showed Seattle running a fake-field goal play and then throwing the ball to their little Mexican kicked, Efren Herrerra, who scored a touchdown . . . and apparently they did this often, and so, on the merits of that awesome play, the Seahawks became my AFC team -- they were the opposite of the Giants: they had no running game to speak of, except when Jim Zorn scrambled; and Zorn mainly heaved lefty passes at his little wunderkind white-boy wide-receiver, Steve Largent, and-- until they got Kenny Easly in 1981-- their defense was porous . . . it's hard to identify the current NFC powerhouse Seahawks to that AFC expansion team, but it still reminds me that I had a super-excellent Seattle trash can in my room when I was a kid-- the Seahawk logo wrapped all the way around, and I was also the only kid in town sporting a Jim Zorn jersey).

46th Proverb of Dave

Corn muffins are simply an excuse to eat lots of butter.

The 846th Proverb of Dave

When you are old, you will accumulate too many extension cords.

The 77th Proverb of Dave

When you sweep the kitchen, save some dust for next time.

More Ice

Yesterday, my son Alex and his buddy Gary walked down near the river to play on the ice (not on the frozen river itself, which is forbidden for obvious reasons-- I'm not that negligent of a parent-- but there are large frozen puddles near the river that my kids love to play on) and when I went to check on them, the two of them were playing ice hockey-- literally-- they were using sticks they found to play hockey with a puck made from a large chunk of ice; I didn't bother to tell them how funny I found this, as I didn't want to interrupt their game (which they played for a really long time . . . I had to walk back there to remind Gary he had to get home, and I'm thinking this is one of those rare and priceless kid memories that I'm going to need to recall when future teenager Alex does something obscenely obnoxious).

Chem for Dogs

I'm not very strong in my comprehension of chemistry (in fact, I'm downright stupid when it comes to chemistry, as anyone who has taken a chem class with me can attest) and so I'm not going to try to explain why this happens (if you're curious, read this) but apparently, not only does salt melt ice, but it also lowers the temperature of the ice as it melts-- somehow the salt uses energy from the water to cause the melting, and when you take away energy, then things get colder . . . but the interesting part of this equation is that I learned this from my dog . . . the other day when it was very, very cold and I was walking him down at the park, he started bobbing up and down like he had Parkinson's, but then I noticed that he was walking on three legs-- he was holding one paw in the air, and I took a look at the paw and it wasn't injured so I just chalked it up to weirdness and in a moment he stopped, but when I brought this up at the dog park, everyone seemed to understand this principle about salt and ice and they all gladly told me about it (I talked to multiple people about this phenomenon, at different times, and everyone I talked to cited the fact that when you make ice cream, you use salt to lower the temperature of the cream . . . does everyone who owns a dog also make homemade ice cream?) and so my first solution to this problem was untenable: for a few days I carried my dog across the street to the park-- because all the salt collects on that patch of pavement-- but my dog is fairly heavy and I walk him a lot, so that got old quick . . . instead, I bought him some Musher's Secret paw wax and that did the trick . . . and now I can proudly say that my dog taught me more about chemistry than that old bat I had in high school.

When Someone Makes Soup, You Eat It

When your wife slaves all day over a batch of home-made chicken soup, then come dinner, you eat the soup (I made the mistake of making a few tacos with the leftover chicken, instead of partaking in the home-made soup, and she was really pissed at me).

This is My Best Effort

My son Alex passed his stomach virus to Ian and me, and while the really gross part is over, my body is so sore and worn-out that all I can do is sleep and pet the dog.

You Can Pick You Nose But You Can't Pick Your Kids

While my son Alex still habitually picks his nose and eats it-- which disgusts me to no end-- I am also proud to say that he can now execute another, more elegant pick-- the pick-and-roll, which he performed perfectly with his buddy Luke in a basketball scrimmage the other day . . . this was one of my proudest moments as a dad (it competes with watching him proficiently snowboard) because, let's face it, as your kids get older, you're not going to have much influence over their behavior, morals, and/or attitude-- you might get them to say "please" and "thank you" but the rest is a combination of genes and peer influence (read the groundbreaking book by Judith Harris on this topic: The Nurture Assumption: Why Children Turn Out the Way They Do) . . and so if all the kids are getting cell-phones implanted in their buttocks, then you're probably not going to convince your kid to do otherwise-- and if you join the party, then you'll just be a weird old wannabe hipster with a cell-phone implanted in your buttocks, so there's just no way to keep up with them . . . really the only way you can have some sort of permanent influence on your children is if you teach them a specific skill, especially if that skill will have a influence on their life in the future . . . I didn't learn to snowboard until I was twenty-two and I didn't learn the pick-and-roll until after that (I was developmentally challenged as a basketball player) and, despite learning them late, both these skills have had a great influence on my life: snowboarding became one of my favorite sports and encouraged me to travel to a lot of places I never would have gone, and I still play pick-up basketball to keep in shape, so seeing my son learn these things at age ten makes me very happy.

January > Teetotaling

I think all of us living in the Northern Hemisphere will agree that January is a terrible time for resolutions-- especially ones that involving eating and drinking less; it's cold and dark and one of the best ways to dispel the winter blues is with delicious food, delicious food preparation, social gatherings, and plenty of booze . . . and so I am proposing we switch New Year's Resolution Season to the first day of spring-- people tend to have plenty of resolve then and there's actually stuff to get done (spring cleaning, home improvement projects, gardening and landscaping, getting in shape for bikini season, etcetera) while in the winter, there's no need to lose weight-- you're wearing layers of clothing-- and there's a whole lot less that needs to be done . . . so let's save the dieting and teetotaling for some time in the future and face the facts: January and February are for eating and drinking until you have a smooth, soft layer of insulation covering your body that will protect you from the cold and the wind.

The Wild Fern: Seventeen Stars Out of Five

Fans of The Dave know that I tend to be fairly binary with my reviews-- things are either "the best in the world" or "the worst thing ever" and that may be because I don't have a very good memory; I tend to live inside each moment, like an incredibly focused Buddhist yogi, discarding the past and ignoring the future . . . but despite this ability/impairment, I'm asking you to take this review very very seriously: if you ever find yourself in Vermont, on Route 100, a bit north of Killington Mountain, then you need to visit The Wild Fern and you need to eat whatever the owner/cook/waitress/hostess Heather has prepared for the day-- if you catch breakfast, it might be the best bagel you've ever tasted (with local eggs and bacon) or a delicate and airy New Orleans style donut with Nutella-- and if you go for dinner, then you need to try everything: the burger (local beef, homemade English muffin, Vermont cheese) is juicy and delicious; the pizza is fantastic; and the roast pork and sauerkraut is one of the best things I've ever eaten (and I hate roast pork and sauerkraut!) but the food is only half the deal; there's usually live music (Heather's boyfriend is local musician Rick Redington and she plays the bass in his band-- Redington performed when we ate dinner there, he's an incredible guitarist/singer and seems like a very nice guy) and the place has some sort of local post-hippie vibe that's only possible in a rural place that's still spitting distance to civilization (The Wild Fern is in the middle of nowhere, but it's still only thirty minutes from the semi-bustle of Rutland) and while there's not much seating-- the place is a shack-- Heather will take your order, tell you her life story, lend you her vintage Guild guitar (if I could always play a guitar while I while I waited for my food, I'd never complain about slow service) and explain just how she makes her amazing food (and as an added perk, the "Luv Bus" is parked in the lot outside-- it's the touring bus for Rock Redington & The Luv and it's the perfect finishing touch of verisimilitude for the scene).

Meaner Girls

If you're a fan of Mean Girls (and if you're not a fan of Mean Girls, then you'd better become one) then you'll love Liane Moriarty's new novel Big Little Lies . . . it's the story of what happens when the mean girls grow up and become mean moms; the story is set in Australia and centers around a seemingly lovely beachside elementary school, and from the first pages you know that someone has died horribly (but you don't know who) and that you're going to keep turning pages until you find out: Moriarty is a sharp, precise, and incisive writer-- she moves adeptly from satire to serious to slapstick, from plot point to plot twist; the dialogue is by turns funny and dramatic, and even though this would probably be labelled chick-lit, the dark underbelly of the story kept me up late into the night: not only will you want to find out who died and how, but you'll want to keep reading just to enjoy her keen and clever voice: five trivia nights out of a possible five.

Those Clever Teenagers and Their Electronic Devices

Not sure if this goes into the category of "something I should have known . . . but didn't because I'm old and/or stupid" or if it's a genuinely new and hip life-hack . . . but I learned in class on Tuesday that kids get fairly creative when they want to amplify the sound from their cell phone: one student said she puts her phone in the sink when she showers so she can hear her music over the running water-- and, according to RadioShack, a sink is a legit amplifier-- and another girl explained to us that "you can put your phone in your mouth if you need more people to hear it" which I deemed absurd and unhygienic, but she replied "it's my phone"; I couldn't find anything on-line about the efficiency of the mouth/phone combo amp and I don't think I'm going to try it, so you'll have to do that experiment on your own; another girl said she put her phone inside a big (unlit) candle to get some amplification, and everyone in the class knew the trick of putting your phone in a cup to make the sound louder; coincidentally, the first time I ever saw/heard this "phone in the cup" trick was over winter break, when my friend Rob (who is in his forties) put his phone in an empty coffee mug so that I could hear a song he recorded better . . . and I'm wondering if he learned this move from a youngster or if he figured it out himself-- so I will have to do some further research and report back to you.

At Least I'm Being Reasonable

I wrote a fairly lame post the other day for Gheorghe:The Blog in which I listed and discussed some of the "logic" I use when instructing my children how to behave-- and since writing the post, I have meditated deeply on the issue (and plagiarized a few ideas from the comments) and now I've produced a more comprehensive list . . . if you've got any other good ones, leave them in the comments and I will do the honor of stealing them from you:

1) because I said so;

2) because kids are starving in Bangladesh/China/India/Cleveland;

3) because that's disgusting;

4) because if you don't get it done, mom will go nuts on you;

5) because that's incredibly stupid and if you're going to do that, you need to wear a helmet;

6) because we love you;

7) because you're spoiled and need to suffer;

8) because our family is a team and we need to cooperate;

9) because you never see your mother and me behave like that;

10) because you're damaging our family's reputation;

11) because you don't know good music;

12) because in the Old West, if you cheated at cards, they shot you;

13) because stress kills, and you're killing me;

14) because people who know how to do math actually get jobs and move out of the house;

15) because if you don't get enough sleep, you're atrocious;

16) because you don't belong indoors, so get the hell outside;

17) because that's what you need to do if you own a dog;

18) because screens have ambient light that keeps you awake when you need sleep;

19) because I need a nap;

20) because if you don't wash your hands, shower and eat your fish and vegetables then you'll get scurvy/goiter/Lyme's disease and/or Ebola and your gums will bleed and you'll grow a football sized lump on your neck and your blood will be full of parasites and your eyes will explode.

Candy For Men

Black licorice is slightly more badass than a bag full of Gummi bears.
A New Sentence Every Day, Hand Crafted from the Finest Corinthian Leather.