I’ve switched to a different mail-sending mechanism, so if you get these posts by mail and anything looks strange, please let me know. And as always, please feel free to follow my sad, lonely Facebook page.
Oops! Some of you may have gotten two copies of this in the mail. Sorry about that — it won’t happen again.
Too bad I haven’t been able to read this until autumn. Are there any recommendations on how to eat fall fruits easily and safely?
Good question, Dana. Fall fruits are more challenging than summer fruits. For one thing, they’re elusive. Wikipedia’s Seasonal Food page lists a couple fruits each for winter and spring, 18 different summer fruits, and a grand total of zero fruits for fall. But don’t despair. Fall fruits do exist. They include pumpkin, apples, and … um, did I say pumpkin already?
The most important thing to remember about fall fruits is that they should always be consumed in the form of pie. Pies can be obtained in a variety of ways.
Method 1: Bake a Pie
Baking a pie is the oldest and most traditional method of pie acquisition. To bake a delicious pie featuring your favorite fruit, you will need:
A recipe for a delicious pie featuring your favorite fall fruit.
Pie ingredients, as listed in the recipe.
Assorted pie-making tools, such as an oven, a rolling pin, a pie pan, etc.
Learn to bake.
Following the directions in the recipe, bake the pie.
That’s all there is to it! What could be simpler?
Method 2: Purchase a Pie
If you don’t have time to bake a pie, you can always buy one. You will need:
The name, address, and operating hours of a reputable pie retailer (typically a grocery store, restaurant, or bakery).
Go to the pie retailer during their operating hours. Bring money.
Find an employee, and inform them that you wish to exchange some of your money for one of their pies. They’ll walk you through the rest of the procedure.
Method 3: Steal a Pie
Occasionally, you may find yourself unable to bake or purchase a pie. For example, you may be out of both money and pie ingredients, or you may have a sudden desire for pie late at night, when all the pie retailers in your area are closed. In that case, you’ll have to steal a pie. You will need:
The name, address, and operating hours of a reputable pie retailer.
A set of lockpicks, a crowbar, or a rock.
A car or other motor vehicle.
Have your friend drive you to the pie retailer during a time when the retailer is closed.
Ask your friend to remain in the car and keep the engine running.
Using the lockpicks, crowbar, or rock, enter the building.
Working quickly, locate the pie storage area. This will probably be inside a refrigerator.
Take a pie, leave the store, and jump into the waiting car.
Instruct your friend to drive away from the pie shop.
Enjoy your pie! And don’t forget to share it with your friend.
Method 4: Obtain a Pie Through Extortion
If you can’t bake or purchase a pie, and none of your friends are available to help you steal one, don’t despair — you can still obtain a pie using a simple time-honored process known as extortion. You will need:
The name, address, and operating hours of a reputable pie retailer.
A general air of intimidation.
Go to the pie retailer during their operating hours.
Project a general air of intimidation while entering the pie shop. Try to walk with a swagger.
Maintain the swagger as you approach the pie display and pick up a pie.
Say something like “Nice pie shop you’ve got here. It would be a shame if something happened to it.”
Swagger out of the store with your pie.
Well, Dana, I hope this answers your question and provides you with the knowledge you’ll need to incorporate delicious and healthful autumn fruits into your diet. Please let me know if there’s anything else I can help you with.
Summer fruits are delicious, but many people miss out on these healthful treats because of the amount of effort required to transform a piece of fruit from its original state into something fit to eat. With today’s modern technology, however, fruit preparation has never been simpler. The following is a step-by-step guide for enjoying some of the most commonly available fruits of the season.
My goal here has been to provide instructions that the reader can follow at home to eat a piece of fruit purchased from a grocery store or farmer’s market. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to do that for bananas: the peels aren’t edible, and there are no banana-peeling tools available for home use. So before you proceed with the following steps, you’ll need to have your banana professionally peeled.
Place the banana on a level surface.
Position the slicer over the banana.
Press down on the slicer.
Eat the banana slices. Don’t eat the slicer.
How to eat a blueberry
You will need:
Rinse the blueberry.
Open your mouth.
Place the entire blueberry into your mouth.
Close your mouth, removing any fingers that remain inside.
Gregor Samsa didn’t show up for work this morning.
It’s my first day on the job, and my boss, Kate, is not happy. This Samsa guy is supposed to give a sales presentation at 2:30. He missed this morning’s pre-meeting strategy meeting. His cell phone is going directly to voicemail, which he’s not answering. Kate is getting frantic.
She orders me to go fetch him. My inner goddess rejoices at the prospect of getting out of the office for a while. My inner wallflower cringes. My inner Cocker Spaniel perks up at the word “fetch” but is immediately distracted by my inner squirrel.
Samsa’s parents are in their living room, pounding on his bedroom door. They tell me he’s sick and hasn’t left his room all morning. I explain, loudly, that his job is at stake. The door opens, revealing the most extraordinary man I’ve ever seen.
Gregor leans casually against the doorframe. He’s wearing a coat made of some kind of rigid material. I’d say it was buttoned up, but it has no visible buttons or other fasteners. It’s decorated with an assortment of long, thin appendages that seem to move of their own accord. The overall effect is striking. And then there are his eyes. They’re breathtaking: big and dark and multifaceted, they give the impression that he sees things the rest of us can’t even imagine.
He looks at me with those amazing gorgeous compound eyes. I gaze back at him and wonder whether he can tell that I’m a virgin. My inner HR representative glares at me, walks over to my inner file cabinet, and opens the drawer marked “Harassment Prevention Training Materials.” I pull myself together.
“Greg Samsa? I’m Callie Optera, from the office. I’ve been asked to make sure you get to your meeting on time. But I guess you’re already on your way? Because I see you’re wearing your coat.”
I can’t understand a word of his response. He has a very thick accent. Suddenly, I’m flustered. My face turns 50 shades of red.
As I start to leave, I notice his parents huddled at the far corner of the living room, staring at us, looking horrified. Calling him Greg may have been a little presumptuous, but this seems like an overreaction.
I think about Greg’s accent. It’s odd that he has one and his parents don’t. But then, he doesn’t really look like them either. Maybe he’s adopted.
The meeting starts. Greg isn’t here. Everyone looks at me. My face turns 50 shades of crimson. I text him. No response.
My inner virgin reminds me that it’s been a while since I mentioned I’m a virgin.
I pound on Greg’s apartment door – I should ring the bell, but I’m too angry for that. His mom lets me in just in time to see a girl come out of his bedroom. I feel a flash of jealousy, but it turns out she’s just his sister. My face turns 50 shades of beet red – you know, the colors you see in beets that have been roasted in the oven, not those awful canned beets.
I step into his room. It’s empty. I stand there for a moment, confused, and then, out of the corner of my eye, I see a hint of motion under the bed. Suddenly, it all makes sense. I speak to him, softly: “Oh, Greg, it’ll be all right. Lots of people suffer from depression, or agoraphobia, or whatever this is. We’ll work through it together.” I’ve read enough romance novels to know that pure selfless love can heal even the most tortured soul.
On my way out, I pass Greg’s parents and sister. I ask them how long he’s had this problem and whether he’s ever sought help for it. They tell me he’s been perfectly fine his whole life and that this transformation happened literally overnight. I feel sorry for them – some people just can’t see the truth, even when it’s staring them in the face.
Everyone at work thinks Greg has the flu. I visit him every evening. I turn out the lights and sit on the floor. He crawls out from under the bed and sits next to me, silently, as I tell him about my day. He’s a really good listener.
I sit quietly on the floor in the dark. Greg reaches out and touches my hand. Something stirs inside me, like autumn leaves rustling in the wind. My face turns the colors corresponding to the RGB encodings (206, 0, 0) through (255, 0, 0), inclusive.
He begins to massage my shoulders. And my upper back. And my lower back. Simultaneously. How is this possible? I think about asking him, but I don’t want to ruin the moment. My feelings are more intense now, like leaves being thrown around by a leaf-blower at full blast.
Greg touches me in ways I’ve never been touched before. He runs his mandibles playfully across my left shoulder. He strokes my face gently with his antennae. Greg has mandibles, says my inner Greek chorus, and antennae. I don’t care. Inwardly, I feel like a pile of leaves caught in the chaotic turbulence of leaf-blowers aimed in opposite directions by a pair of hostile neighbors, each trying to blow his own leaves into the other’s yard. The feeling grows even stronger as Greg makes his way towards more intimate areas. When he reaches my special lady place, I shatter into a million pieces, like a pumpkin frozen in liquid nitrogen and dropped from the roof of a tall building on Halloween.
Greg’s parents glare at me as I leave. I wonder whether they can tell I’m not a virgin. My face turns 50 shades of scarlet. My inner dermatologist prescribes a cream for my rosacea.
I found my true calling in life at the 13th World Conference on Earthquake Engineering in Vancouver, British Columbia, in 2004.
I consider most work-related travel a chore, but this trip was different. The conference was the final event of a high-profile project I’d been immersed in for years. It was an opportunity to show off some work I was truly proud of. And it was three blocks away from the Five Senses Bakery, home of the Chocolate Sparkle Cookie.
I first encountered the Chocolate Sparkle Cookie in 2002, when I saw an unusual recipe in the Los Angeles Times. I decided to try it. The first bite of the first cookie of the first batch changed my life forever.
If you’ve ever had a Chocolate Sparkle Cookie, you know what I’m talking about. If not – well, I’ll try to explain. I was once like you. I thought I knew how good a cookie could be. I was wrong. The Chocolate Sparkle Cookie was better than that. It was impossibly good. It was rich and soft and chocolaty. If chocolate intensity were measured on a scale of 1 to 10, this cookie’s intensity would be infinity. If cookies were cars, the Chocolate Sparkle Cookie would be the DeLorean from Back to the Future. If cookies were amphibians, the Chocolate Sparkle Cookie would be the kind of frog that grants wishes.
The LA Times credited the recipe to the Five Senses Bakery. I vowed that I would go there one day. Two years later, I was sent to a conference three blocks away. It was fate.
I landed in Vancouver late on a Saturday night. The Canadian immigration officer seemed unusually suspicious. He kept asking about the reason for my trip. I told him I was attending an earthquake engineering conference. I didn’t say that this was my pilgrimage to the birthplace of the Chocolate Sparkle Cookie. I think he could tell I was hiding something.
Sunday morning, I walked to the Five Senses Bakery – and discovered it was closed on Sundays. I was depressed. I went back at the crack of dawn on Monday – and found that it was closed for “British Columbia Day.” I’d never even heard of this holiday. I was despondent. I went to bed early Monday night. Outside my window, I heard fireworks. It was like they were mocking me, celebrating a holiday that separated me from the one thing I loved more than anything else in the world. I fell into deep despair.
I managed to drag myself out of bed and to the bakery Tuesday morning. It was open! My heart filled with joy. I handed my empty backpack to the woman behind the counter and asked her to fill it with Chocolate Sparkle Cookies. I wound up with three dozen, which was all they had.
I practically inhaled the first cookie. I took my time with the second. It had the same intense chocolate flavor as the ones I made at home, but the texture was a little smoother, a little more melt-in-your-mouth. The recipe calls for ground almonds in place of flour; the bakery must have ground their almonds more finely than mine. Or maybe they used magic fairy dust instead.
I shared the rest of the cookies with my colleagues back at the conference. As I looked at each person’s face as they took that first bite, I realized that introducing people to these cookies was the most rewarding thing I’d ever done. That’s when it hit me: I was born to be a choco-vangelist.
So please, try these cookies. Don’t worry. I won’t judge you. I’m not some crazy cookie fundamentalist. I accept the fact that some people don’t appreciate the Cookie. I don’t hate these people; I pity them. My niece likes my sister’s black-bottom cupcakes better than the Cookie. Can you believe that? I admit, those cupcakes are really good – they’re responsible for at least six of the eight pounds I gained over Thanksgiving – but they don’t compare to the Cookie. Cookie-impaired people like my niece deserve our tolerance.
But tolerance has its limits. Some people refuse to even try the Cookie. Like my ex-friend Steve, who made some lame excuse about the almonds triggering his severe nut allergy. How is this a problem? He carries an epi-pen and lives five minutes away from a hospital. A near-death experience is a small price to pay for the bliss of the Cookie.
Sorry, I seem to have gone off on a tangent. To answer your question: yes, 7:15 is a little early, and I apologize for waking you. But I work during the week, and Sunday mornings are the only time I’m free to go door-to-door, so I like to get an early start.
So please, try a Chocolate Sparkle Cookie. It’ll change your life.
Chocolate Sparkle Cookies were created by Thomas Haas at the Sen5es Bakery in Vancouver. They and he have since moved to Thomas Haas Chocolates & Patisserie. The recipe can be found here — I follow it exactly as written except that I don’t sprinkle it with powdered sugar at the end.
I listen to a lot of podcasts, and The Infinite Monkey Cage is one of my favorites. Driving to and from work is a little less unbearable when your show is on. On behalf of everyone who’s alive today because your blend of science and humor prevented me from dozing off and crashing into them: thank you.
I was, however, disappointed by your response to ongoing criticism that your program’s title promotes inhumane monkey husbandry practices. Your assertion that an infinite monkey cage would be “roomy” is misleading at best. An infinite cage might be roomy, or it might not. An infinitely tall cylindrical cage would feel pretty cramped if it were only as wide as the monkey inside it. The monkey’s movements would be limited to climbing and spinning. While monkeys are avid climbers, I believe most would find such an environment claustrophobic.
You might think that an infinitely long, infinitely wide cage would have to be better. It wouldn’t. It all depends on the cage-height-to-monkey-height ratio. A nine-inch-long Geoffroy’s tamarin, for example, wouldn’t be happy in an 8.75” high cage. He’d have more freedom to travel, but he’d be forced to maintain an unnaturally stooped posture, leading inevitably to back, neck, and/or hip pain. A veterinarian wouldn’t be able to squeeze into the cage to treat him; your only recourse would be to toss in some ibuprofen-laced bananas and hope for the best. The prognosis would be bleak: monkeys almost never comply with this treatment plan, because ibuprofen-laced bananas taste terrible.
A cage that extends infinitely far in all three dimensions would be roomy – but a solitary monkey in such a cage would be lonely. Monkeys are social animals and can’t handle that kind of isolation, even if you give them iPads and show them how to use Facebook. The obvious solution would be to add an infinite number of monkeys for company, but you’d need to get the density right. If each monkey were a thousand miles from its nearest neighbor, you’d wind up with a desolate cage populated by infinitely many melancholy monkeys. On the other hand, if they were packed in too tightly, the monkeys would begin to get on each other’s nerves. They’d gossip and call each other names, and soon you’d have an all-out infinite monkey brawl on your hands.
Maybe you should start with a finite number of monkeys. That’s all you’d be able to afford anyway, after blowing your budget on cage construction and amenities like gravity, air, and monkey food. If you put a bunch of monkeys in a cage that extends infinitely in all dimensions, then in theory they’d be able to spread out to a comfortable density. But be careful – monkeys can travel only so fast, so if you put too many monkeys too close together, the ones in the center will die of old age before they ever get to experience roominess.
I don’t mean to lecture you. I’m just concerned that some of your more impressionable listeners might take your remarks at face value and wind up constructing poorly-designed, inhumane monkey cages. Perhaps you should consider changing the name of your show to something more socially responsible, like The Sustainable Monkey Habitat.
Here are a few last-minute tips for anyone planning to view today’s eclipse:
1. Don’t stare directly at the Sun. Staring is rude. The Sun has been around for billions of years, and without it, none of us would be here. Show a little respect.
2. Don’t look at the Sun through sunglasses. The Sun receives no compensation from the sunglass industry for the use of its name. The Sun believes this is unfair. The Sun filed a lawsuit. The Sun lost. The Sun is still bitter. A pair of sunglasses pointed at the Sun is like a slap in the Sun’s face.
3. Don’t look at the Sun through those 3-d glasses you got when you saw Avatar a couple years ago. 3-d glasses make two-dimensional images appear three-dimensional. The Sun is already three-dimensional. Who knows how many dimensions it would appear to be if you looked at it through 3-d glasses? I’m guessing four, four and a half, or nine. That’s too many for your tiny human brain to process. It would explode, the way computers always did on the original Star Trek TV series whenever anyone asked them to solve simple logic puzzles.
5. Consider using a pin and a large cardboard box to make a pinhole projector. But – and I cannot stress the importance of this enough – remember to use the pin to poke a hole in the box, not in your eye.
6. Consider using your fingers as a pinhole projector. Hold your hands so that your fingers overlap at right angles and the spaces between them form pinholes. But resist the temptation to make shadow figures with your fingers. You’ll get distracted and miss the whole eclipse.
I hope this helps make today’s eclipse a safe and enjoyable experience. If you have any favorite eclipse-viewing tips of your own, please leave them in the comments.
Facebook is testing a new feature that lets users “highlight” their important posts, making them more likely (but not guaranteed) to appear in their friends’ feeds. This is a fantastic idea. I can’t begin to count how many of my status updates have failed to get even a single comment or like. The only possible explanation is that people aren’t seeing them; this new feature would fix that.
Highlighting is a premium service; this price list includes some additional options that I’m sure they’re working on:
Your post is more likely to appear in your friends’ feeds and to stay visible longer.
$2 / post
Your post is guaranteed to appear in all your friends’ feeds. Friends who have not yet liked or commented on your post will be presented with a popup window inviting them to do so.
$3 / post
All the benefits of super highlighting, plus Facebook will send each of your friends an email and text message notifying them of your post.
$4 / post
All the benefits of ultra highlighting, plus Facebook will send each of your friends a series of reminder email and text messages until they comment on or like your post.
$5 / post
Facebook will create a fictitious “friend” for you who will post flattering comments and likes to your status updates, photos, and links at random intervals.
$6 / Imaginary Friend™ / month; 10% discount on orders of more than 4.
Imaginary Friend™ Wall Posts
One of your Imaginary Friends™ will post a message of your choosing to your wall. Popular selections include “You look great! Have you lost weight?” or “I know you don’t want anyone to know it’s your birthday, but HAPPY BIRTHDAY!!!”.
$4 / post; only available to people who have at least one Imaginary Friend™.
If you highlight a lot of posts, this could get a little costly. I looked at my own timeline to figure out how much I’ll wind up spending on this feature. I started by circling the updates that are so important that they practically cry out to be highlighted:
Only about a dozen of the updates I post each day are super-important, and I think I could probably get by with just the basic highlighting. So for just $24 / day — about what I spend on my daily half-dozen coffees at Starbucks — I can make sure my friends are somewhat less likely to miss my most significant news. Thank you, Facebook; this is just what I (and my friends) needed.
I’m going to be moving this blog to a new server, probably around May 26. If you use an RSS reader, have the site bookmarked, or come in through a static html link (like a blogroll), , or if you do NOT have a wordpress.com account, then you shouldn’t notice any difference. But this blog will no longer be available through the wordpress.com reader, nor will it be sent via mail to people who signed up using wordpress.com accounts after the move, so if that applies to you, please switch to one of the other methods. Please, please switch. This blog will be a sad and lonely place if you don’t come with me. But, you know, no pressure.
Like many people, I get a number of free products to review. Sadly, that number is zero, so when I decided I wanted to try the Acme Chrono-Jump Personal Time Travel Device, I knew I’d have to buy one myself.
When the Chrono-Jump arrived (a year and a half ago or last Tuesday, depending on how you count), I did all the things you’d expect: I dropped in on famous historic events, took a peek at what’s in store for the future (I won’t reveal any specifics, but you might want to stock up on those little plastic thingies they put in pizza boxes to keep the cheese from getting stuck to the lid), and even tried to change a few things from my past. Each trip sent me into a nightmarish spiral of attempts to correct whatever horrible mistake I’d made the previous time around, more or less like every time-travel story you’ve ever read or seen on TV. (Are butterflies attracted to time machines, or what? I’ve never stepped on one while living in the present, but for some reason they’re always getting underfoot in the past). So I got a little burned out.
I was going to write a negative review and take it back to the store, but the warranty had expired, so I decided to look for smaller-scale, safer, more practical applications. I’m glad I did. Here are some of the things I use my time machine for today:
1. Any time I forget something, I just pop back in time, call my younger self on the phone and ask where I parked my car, or when I last saw my next-door neighbor alive, or whatever else it is I’ve forgotten. The only problem might be that it can be a little annoying; any time I sign up for a new website, for example, five or six older versions of me show up asking for the password. Also, sometimes I forget how long it’s been since I remembered the thing I’ve forgotten.
2. I use it to make better choices at restaurants. I just wait until all the entrees have arrived and then go back in time and order the one that looks best. I am, of course, very careful to always order last, so that people who know what I’m doing don’t copy my order and create one of those annoying time paradoxes.
3. I hooked the time machine into my alarm clock, so now instead of a snooze button, I have a “go back four hours and get more sleep” button. It’s amazing.
4. Before I had the Chrono-Jump, if I wanted a baked potato, I’d have to either wait an hour for it to cook, or microwave it and deal with that awful microwaved-potato skin, or try to figure out one of those hybrid oven / microwave potato-cooking recipes. But now I’ve hooked the time machine into my oven, so I can just put the potato in and set the timer to start cooking an hour ago.
So there you have it. I wouldn’t recommend the Chrono-Jump to someone who’s looking to have adventures or change their past, but it’s the best alarm clock I’ve ever had. Four stars out of five.
Themed days of the week (Caturday, Wordless Wednesday, etc.) seem to work well for other blogs, so I’ve decided to adopt that strategy to add some much-needed structure to this blog. From now on, I’ll be posting according to this schedule:
Maggot Mondays: Some of my most popular posts have been about insects, so as a special treat, Monday posts will be chock-full of high-resolution photos of everyone’s favorite fly larvae. Read Maggot Monday posts over breakfast for the perfect start to your week.
Terrible Tuesdays: Tuesday posts will be just awful — meandering, pointless diatribes full of spelling and grammar errors. Just thinking about them makes me cringe. But if you can force yourself to read through them, they’ll make the rest of the week — and, really, the rest of your life — seem so much better in comparison.
Washing-Machine Wednesdays: Each Wednesday, I’ll post a detailed account of every load of laundry I’ve done in the past week and an inventory of the dirty clothes I still need to wash. Wednesdays will also feature lint trap art and, of course, the weekly mismatched sock round-up.
Thunder Thursdays: Okay, I admit it — I stole the name Thunder Thursday from Kitten Thunder, which features a different guest cat every week. My Thunder Thursday posts will be similar, but with a twist — instead of just focusing on a guest cat by itself, I’ll explain in detail why my own cats are better. For the ultimate personalized blog-reading experience, send me a picture of your cat, and I’ll devote a Thursday post to pointing out its flaws.
Forgetful Fridays: Each Friday, I’ll post a few questions about some minor detail about your life; for example, I might ask who your first-grade teacher was, what street you lived on as a child, your first pet’s name, your social security number, the name of your bank, or your credit card number. Join in and show off your awesome memory skills!
Self-Referential Sundays: Sundays on this blog are all about writing about this blog; for example, I might describe my blogging schedule or announce the grand opening of the Unlikely Explanations Store.