April 27th, 2007

There is an interesting story which I will now reiterate. I heard it at a Friday group meeting at my school, which my co-workers also attend, one of which is my friend, who overheard the story while he was traveling to Seattle by train. It turns out that the person my friend overheard was telling a story about a man that he met in Germany when he – the person in Germany, not my friend – was traveling by train there. This man was traveling from Hamburg to Bremen, according to my friend, when a bedraggled man got on the train at one of the many rural stops at the various hamlets that the train makes in northern Germany. It turned out that this bedraggled man – whose name turns out to be Ute – did not have enough Euros to pay the fare to get all the way to Bremen. So the German man decided to help Ute, and pay for his fare. In return Ute told the man his story.  It turns out that two weeks ago, Ute was mugged while he was on a business trip, alone, in Hamburg, and didn’t have enough money to get back to Bremen, which is where his family lives. His ID was taken from him as well. Ute decided to start walking, and thumb for rides on his way. Unfortunately, hitchhiking is illegal in Germany, and he was picked up by a police car after about six hours. Ute was taken to jail in Hamburg and, as in America, allowed some phone time to arrange for someone to post bail. Since he originally had a cellphone, which was also stolen, he didn’t know any of the phone numbers of his immediate family’s houses or personal cellphones by heart. So, partly out of desperation, partly out of morbid amusement, he dialed in a random string of ten numbers. The phone rang three times, and then an answering machine answered the phone with this message: “Hello, you’ve reached the offices of Erika Strassman. I’m sorry I can’t come to the phone right now, but leave your name and number and I will return your call as soon as possible.” So Ute left his name and an short explanation of what had happened, and went back to his cell.

It turns out that Erika Strassman was an accountant working in Hamburg. She got the message the next day, and surprisingly, showed up at the jail with the bail money. Ute was released, and he immediately explained to her what the situation was, that he was estranged from his family, et al., could he please have some money for the train back to Bremen. And Erika Strassman said to him that getting a homeless man out of jail was one thing, but providing him money to get out of town was another thing altogether, and that she expected her money to be returned after the hearing. Ute pleaded with her and followed her until she threatened to call the police and file a harassment complaint. After that, Ute took off to the train station, which was

Unfortunately, the train that Mark was on pulled into the Coeur D’Alene, Idaho stop right at this critical point, and the German man’s friend, who was listening to the story, which Mark was eavesdropping on, got off the train. Mark thought about asking him to continue the story in his friend’s absence, but decided that it would be impolite. Anyway, when Mark and the German man arrived in Seattle, the German man’s business associate, a woman with dark hair, was waiting at the train station for him. His associate was holding one of those signs with a name penned in magic marker, like a chauffeur waiting for his charge. The sign said Strassman. Mark hung back and started messing around with a nearby vending machine, in order to listen in unobtrusively.

“Erika!” the German man said.

“John,” the woman said. “I was worried. The train’s two hours late.”

At this point the train started moving out of the station, quite loudly, so Mark couldn’t overhear anything else the man and his business associate said. However, Mark found a handful of business cards, no more than six or seven, near where the German man and woman were standing, after they had left. The cards were badly damaged by the rain, as it’s almost always raining in Seattle. They must have dropped them. He decided to take the cards, as proof of his outlandish story, and he gave one to me at Friday’s group meeting.

This is what it said:

John Strassman and Ute Erikkson

What do you make of that? Personally I think that Ute coincidentally ran into Erika’s husband on his trip from Hamburg to Bremen, and they decided to go into business together.  But why two names on one card? That’s kind of unusual. Anyway, it’s an interesting story, so I figured I’d share it. One that I’ll never know the truth of, unless I call the numbers on the card, which I didn’t post here for obvious reasons. Weird.

The Five Paragraph Essay

April 26th, 2007

Linguistic Studies of Common Kitchen Appliances in 21st Century America

Kitchens have been a part of American life since the American Revolution, and perhaps even before then, their use reaching far back into the dawn of history. One aspect of kitchens that is particularly important is the aspect of food. Many types of food need to be heated in order to be enjoyable, and the traditional method of heating food calls for the use of an oven, from the Portuguese ovenere, to cook. Only recently did the microwave come into common household use, and it is this appliance and its use to which we now turn. I mean, come on, what’s the deal with the name? Microwave? It is common knowledge that the prefix micro comes from the Greek micros, meaning small, which has little to do with the use of a microwave. Indeed, Ludwig Wittengstein states, “Words are not defined by reference to the objects or things which they designate in the external world nor by the thoughts, ideas, or mental representations that one might associate with them, but rather by how they are used in effective, ordinary situations.” It follows from this statement that the term “microwave” is flawed, because it does not accurately describe its function, but rather a scientific peculiarity that is simply a means to an end. It will be obvious to the careful reader that the proper term for microwave is “bake”-rowave, because 1) come on, we’re not making things smaller here, 2) I mean, come on, 3) come on, we’re baking things here. It is to this analysis that we now turn.

Come on, we’re not making things smaller here. Do you call your freezer a Biggifer? No? Why the fuck not? Oh yeah, that’s right, because it makes things colder, not larger. You just got told. Indeed, when interviewing local residents of Missoula, Montana, the author was hard pressed to find anyone who knew exactly “what the fuck [was] going on,” to quote James Mitchell, the owner of a local eatery, the Fried & Died. When pressed further, Mr. Mitchell exclaimed, “Well now’n I think about it, microwave don’t make one lick a sense. You’re not shrinkin’ things, you’re cookin’ em. I mean – Damn, son! – I mean call it a cookerwave, I don’t give two shits, but don’t come misrepresentin’ your product as some kinda magical shrinkifier! That just ain’t civil.” Following a poll that was conducted in Texas in 1995, 68% of the population polled admitted that the term “microwave” does not “accurately refer to its function,” and that they would find it “confusing” when going shopping for a product that bakes things. I mean, shit.

I mean, come on. A recent phone interview with the Governor of Mississippi, Haley Barbour, revealed a societal divide as to just what the fuck’s going on. A selection from the interview follows:

Z: I mean, come on. Microwave?

Barbour: For serious. Last time I checked, you call a spade a damn spade.

Z: A spade? Like a gardening implement?

Barbour: Damn straight. Cause you spay shit with it, am I right? I never microed [sic] anything in my life. Sure baked shit, though. I mean, come on.

Thomas Edison was possibly the greatest namer of modern times, christening the names of the light bulb, the cat, and the granola bar in a series of highly regarded coups in the 1920s (the original non-Wittengsteinian names being “tungsten device”, “sharp glowing eyes thing”, and “chunko grain”, respectively). After Edison’s death in the Japanese-American camps during World War II, Dwight Eisenhower rose through the ranks to fill his shoes, being elected president of the National Naming Committee in 1946. During his watchful time on the NNC, useful devices such as the can-opener (whatchamacallit), sugar (white-o-mite), and foxes (dog cats) were given their appropriate dues and functional recognition. But come on, Dwight, seriously. Microwave?

Come on, we’re baking things here. Arthur Jenkin’s well-known studies of heat release done from 2002-2005 are an effective measuring stick regarding the “micro” wave’s true abilities. In 2002, he compared the efficacies of the oven, toaster oven, and microwave, and found that both temporally and spatially the microwave was more efficient and useful as a kitchen appliance, and he was quick to recommend that “microwaves be nominated for the 2006 It Just Works award post-haste.” Yet Jenkins appended a conditional statement to his glowing comments: “Keep in mind, consumers, that the qualitative differences between microwaves, ovens, and toaster ovens are indeed infinitesimal. Be warned: We’re not making things smaller, here. We’re baking things here. This is just idle speculation, but we can’t help but be like WTF when it comes to the name of the microwave. Whoever invented that is a douche.” Douche, indeed.

It is clear that the time of the “microwave” is drawing to a close. It has been exhaustively shown that not only are things not being made smaller here, but also come on, and furthermore things are being baked here. It is the purpose of this document to call into question the specious procedure of naming kitchen appliances, and the disastrous effect it has had on the collective American psyche. The FDA’s hands must no longer be tied: rigorous inspections of the NNC’s naming requirements must be overseen by a government committee in order to put into place strict guidelines and rules, to keep shit from being all fucked up. Perhaps this issue can be summed up best by Grover Cleveland, founder and first president of the NNC, who said, “I have only one thing to do, and that is to do right.” Aw damn. That’s right. Just call it a damn bakerowave.

It’s notoriously hard to stay on topic during a given conversation. For example, I’ll start talking to a friend – quite vehemently mind you – about the ills of common society or insert tragically misunderstood topic here. And then they’ll misunderstand me. Note the gender neutral pronoun “they” which refers to “a friend” in the previous sentence. I believe that’s called an antecedent. Not that I’m particularly picky about grammar. I mean the sentence before this one isn’t even a full sentence, and this sentence is both unnecessarily colloquial and self-referential. But certain things I do dislike, such as the awkward he/she construction when referring to a person or golem of indeterminate gender. And the point here is that they as a means of covering up their either real or perceived misunderstanding will often launch into a new, wholly unrelated discussion about something that happened to them recently, or they’ll simply nod in acquiescence and move on to a series of complaints about things that piss them off. Which reminds me of another grammatical issue. It looks like “this.” Today’s title, “The thing about “the thing about X”.”, is an example of my preferred punctual (as in referring to punctuation) construction, which also occurs in this sentence. Consider it civil disobedience of the highest degree. “Yes,” he claims. “I’ve had it up to here with your grammatical “shenanigans”.” See? The punctuation goes outside of the quotation marks, unless it’s part of the quote. It makes sense to me, perfect logic, but the Grammarians of America refuse to bow to logic. As always.

I mean, come on, et al.

Today I ate a sandwich. I made it on ciabatta bread, and it consisted of orange bell pepper, broccoli sprouts, hummus, oregano, sharp cheddar, and balsamic vinaigrette.

Tomorrow I will also eat a sandwich.

Types of error:

  1. Human error – sometimes I eat dessert before the sandwich.
  2. Systemic error – all desserts are eaten before all sandwiches.
  3. Social gaffe – I don’t even know what a sandwich is.
  4. Approximation error – I cut one too many pieces of cheese for my sandwich, as it is six inches long and I have cut seven one-inch pieces of cheese.
  5. Design error – the sandwich is missing bread.
  6. Baseball error – I dropped the sandwich.