Sparing (part 4 as far as I can tell)

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So I sort of have this assignment. In it I’m supposed to write (or, as I prefer to interpret it, think about writing) fifteen hundred words of instruction on a topic of my choice; I’m supposed to share my ‘expertise’ and practice writing at the same time. I immediately thought back to the ease with which Uncle Duke wrote fifteen thousand words on snorkeling:

Uncle Duke: “Well, I got good and wired last night and the words just poured out.”
Yawn (reading): “Glipper. Pptple pi zip. Xxplt copa lipzz.”
Uncle Duke: “What?! Let me see that!”
Yawn (still reading): “Pxxt? Noob. Phlap-slabble. Kppt salmokk! Lippy. Gorpler.”

 — ‘Doonesbury’s Greatest Hits‘, G.B. Trudeau, 1978

Now, it’s not entirely on topic (at least, not that I can tell) but he did write fifteen thousand words with obvious ease and successfully predicted an annoying but widespread cultural phenomenon at the same time. I’m intimidated by his uberness.

But I was talking about expertise. Sort of.

While I don’t have a whole lot of ‘expertise’ just lying around, I do know a few things. I’m nothing like an expert (I don’t even own the T-shirt) but I could talk about configuring sendmail. After all, there are few things as satisfying as booting up your first mail server. Unfortunately, though, that’s a little dull (but just a little) so maybe I shouldn’t bother.

I could drone on write about how one does did Hamidon raids but that’s already been done and besides, Hamidon has been dead and buried (well, not really ‘buried’, but definitely dead) for over two years. Scratch that one too.

Picking a topic is harder than I thought.

I know — I could cheat and copy something from my thesis.  Werdpress (deliberately misspelled so don’t bother correcting me) would even render it correctly. (Well, some of it.) And the subtleties of the de Sitter metric are nothing if not sublime. And with one equation being worth a thousand words (or so they say) my fifteen hundred words would be done before you can say ‘line element.’ (Heck, using that formula, Chapter Two is slightly longer than A la recherche du temps perdu, but without the fairy cake or underlying narrative.)

I thought about that and even looked for it but it’s on a CD somewhere and I can’t find it right now. (A pity — it’s gripping. Would I lie to you?)

I was still without a topic, unless ‘How to find a missing CD’ counts as a topic. Even I don’t think it does.

So I mentally wrote off this assignment until a couple of days later when I was talking to a young lady named after a pseudocarp (she’s mentioned briefly here). We talked about this and that and, it being December in Canada and all, the subject of snow came up. And so did
the subject of writing your name in it.

Now that’s a topic. It’s seasonal, there’s a musical score and heck, it’s in keeping with some of the existing themes for this blog. I was sold.

Ms. Fragaria even said that she had a friend that could do it. Heck, that meant that I could touch on the assignment that I hadn’t bothered to do. It was PERFECT.

Except. Except it’s been done — there’s a pile of unnecessarily graphic videos on youtube, there are instructional web pages all over the place and Ms. F’s friend, well, I was intimidated by her uberness too.

So it was back to the drawing board — or at least back to the text file where I scribble ideas for stories that I might someday write. And there was this one… H’m. It might count as instructional. Of course, you’d have to interpret ‘How to cast aspersions without trash talking’ as ‘instructional’…

It’s a subject that’s interesting to me (well, a little) because, while I absolutely hate trash talk, there are situations that call for mild, thoughtful (dare I say witty) invective. Something a little more Juvenalian than Horatian.

It happened at the curling club.

We’re currently approaching the halfway mark of the curling season. One of my teams is slowly (very slowly) climbing out of the basement; the other is heading for it at high speed. Not that long ago, though, it was a new season — a blank sheet of ice full of promise.

Now, the first game of the season in any sport can be a little tricky. In hockey, there’s always the worry that you might have forgotten to put all your equipment back in your bag when you emptied it to wash things over the summer. (You did wash everything, didn’t you?)  Plus there’s the ever-present risk of a coronary.

In curling, it’s a little different. Before a game, each player has a little ritual. It usually includes some amount of stretching and ends with a practice slide. Before the first game of the season it’s the same, only more so; stepping onto a sheet of ice for the first time risks both injury and comedy. The first slide of the season can be… entertaining. Usually for the wrong reasons.

I had thought ahead a little and had come out the previous week to take ‘the first slide’ with no audience; no one else had, so the other seven guys were all a little… tentative. On ‘our’ team (I was just a spare), the second took his practice slide (he was fine) then positioned himself to critique everyone that followed.

A brief aside: this game was in the ‘old guys’ league so everyone on both teams was on the high side of fifty. In particular, our second was is eighty-seven. This is actually relevant because…

The other skip — at least twenty years younger than our second — took his practice slide. He was a little wobbly but otherwise fine so our second said loudly

“Not bad for an old man.”

His (the opposing skip) reaction was entertaining. He had successfully made ‘the first slide’ and had been praised by his opposition. Or had he? Had he just been complimented or had he just been insulted? He couldn’t tell and I could see that not knowing bugged him.

Now that’s the right way to trash talk someone. (The people I play video games with could learn a thing or two.) I acknowledged his (our second) uberosity but was not, for a change, intimidated by it.

And we won the game.


Breaking (glass)

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Why is it that when you’re trying to do something quickly and efficiently you lose the ability to type? (What, that doesn’t happen to you? What are you, some kind of weirdo?)

I have white coat syndrome. In a bad way.

So it was with some trepidation that I walked into the local (it’s just down the street) hospital and looked for the radiology department. Of course, there are no signs that say where the radiology department actually is. Worse, the ‘information’ desk was empty except for a sign that said that there was no one there. Helpful, that.

But that wasn’t the worst part.

It was 7:30 at night so the place was much quieter than usual. ‘Empty’ hospitals are creepier than busy ones. But that wasn’t the worst part either.

I found the radiology department and the nice lady at the desk who wasn’t wearing a white coat asked me the same questions that the nice lady on the phone asked me two days ago. She gave me a form to fill out. The form had the same questions on it. I filled it out without whining or complaining, though. (Well, not very much.) I made my way to the waiting room where there wasn’t a copy of the October 2013 issue of Cosmo. The MRI tech (again, not wearing a white coat) came in and took my form, looked it over and then asked me the same questions again.

Yet again, that wasn’t the worst part.

She told me to undress, then ushered me into a cold room and told me to lie on the specially chilled table. That wasn’t the worst part. She clamped my head into a cage, strapped headphones to my head and asked which radio station I’d like to listen to. I told her. She went away and turned on a different one.

That wasn’t the worst part either.

After ten minutes of a giant magnet screaming in my ear (both of them, actually), she came back into the room, adjusted my ‘gown‘ (that wasn’t the worst part) and proceeded to empty a comic-opera syringe (“This won’t hurt a bit.”  Laugh laugh, joke joke.) into my arm. I was tired and slightly nauseous from playing hockey and I really, really don’t like needles but that wasn’t the worst part.

After that it was back in the magnet (OF DOOM) for more thumping, screaming and vibrating. At about the halfway mark the wrong radio station actually played music that I liked. Unfortunately, the headphones were the lowest-fidelity ones on the face of the planet so it took almost twenty seconds to tell what the music was.

And that was the worst part.



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Ben asks

What’s the most elaborate, complicated meal you’ve ever cooked?


Once upon a time, I lived in a house with five other people. Being moderately adept at mathematics, I can say that that means that there were six of us. Six (nominally) adult males. Six tidiness-impaired individuals, six individuals highly resistant to direction and organization and six… healthy appetites. The appetites are important because….

Despite the intrinsic resistance to organization of the undergraduate male, we had some rules.

A few.

In particular, we had six (really eight, but some of them were small) jobs that we decided had to be done every week. So we had a schedule and it rotated so that everyone had to clean the upstairs bathroom but only once every month and a half. And, there being six of us and six nights in a week (we decided Sundays didn’t count), everyone had to cook dinner once a week.

Cooking for six adult (ish) males can be a little tricky (due to volume) but not too tricky (they’ll eat almost anything, after all). It’s made trickier by the inevitability that in any group of six people — let alone six males in that age range in that time period — there will be some that are not overly gifted in the kitchen. One guy, for example, had to be convinced that things like onions and garlic were not the work of the devil and could be useful additions to some dishes. (It took about a year.) Another guy had a dish that he liked to prepare that he called “chef’s revenge.” (Often the people tasked with shopping — one of the eight six jobs on the schedule — would ‘forget’ to buy him the right ingredients. Damn.)

One night it was my turn to cook. I knew this. No problem. I had this. That week I had decided to make a dish created by an American humorist in around 1960. I had made it before, it was fairly quick, fairly easy, scaled conveniently and everyone (well, everyone in that group) liked it. Win for everyone. I gave the assigned shoppers the ingredients that I’d need and waited for my day by doing other things like going to class, doing assignments and ridiculing med students. Eventually Der Tag arrived. I went home and started slicing onions.

The first crack in my carefully constructed facade of calm came from the guy that lived downstairs in the front room. Could his girlfriend come for dinner?

Now, this wasn’t all that unusual. Some of the guys had girlfriends. Sometimes they came to dinner. And let’s face it — none of the girlfriends ate all that much. (Certainly not compared to the walking stomachs that inhabited the house.) No, the addition of a girlfriend wasn’t a problem; it meant setting another place at the table but that’s all. No problem.

A little while later another guy (or it could have been the same one — this is one of the details that I don’t remember and it doesn’t really matter anyway) came into the kitchen and said that his sister was in town and could she come to dinner?

That was, of course, a slightly different kettle of fish. For one thing, I didn’t know this sister. Did she have a dainty girlfriend-like appetite? Would she be hungry after a day on the road? Heck, would she even like grayish sludge? And no matter what the answers to these questions were, she did represent a second extra person at the table; perhaps it would be prudent to extend the recipe a little.

We had a can of cash over the sink for situations like this. And we lived a short walk from a supermarket that isn’t there any more. I  snagged a roomie (an electrical engineer if that matters — engineers are often detail-oriented people and he wasn’t doing anything right then anyway) and sent him to the supermarket that isn’t there anymore to get some more ingredients, mostly protein and ballast (#4). End of crisis.

It got worse.

By the time the engineer came back with the supplies I had set another place at the table. Things were going okay when the roomie-with-the-sister came in and counted the place settings. He looked unhappy.

“Didn’t I tell you my sister was coming?”

“You did. That’s her place right there.”

“Well, yeah, but she’s bringing her husband and two children.”

I panicked. Three extra mouths? How could he have forgotten to mention that? Three extra mouths? The kids were a huge wildcard — I didn’t even know how old they were — but another guy? Guys eat a lot. I definitely didn’t have enough food and there wasn’t time to send the engineer back to the supermarket that isn’t there anymore. I had two options. The first of these was to lie on the kitchen floor, scream and kick my feet. The second option — the one I decided to take — was to go through every cupboard in the house and examine every single foodstuff I found. For each one I asked myself a single question: “Would it be a disaster if I added this to the pot?”

A lot of things wound up going into that pot.

After dinner the sister came up to me and said “I’m told you made dinner.”

Uh-oh. I remember thinking that she probably thought that I’d poisoned her kids — I had been told they had no food allergies, honest — so she was going to have to kill me. I wondered if I could make it to the back door before she got to the knife block. (No cleaver though. The comic potential of a cleaver in that sort of scene cannot be overstated.)

I counted the steps to the door while I faced the music. “I did.”

She smiled. (She smiled?  What was she, some kind of psycho? But wait, she was talking…) “That was really good. I was wondering if I could have the recipe.”

So I did what anyone in my situation would have done. I said “No.”

She was taken aback. Apparently you don’t often get told “no” when you ask your host (me? a host? doom!) for a recipe. Clearly I was some sort of culinary snob. But I wasn’t — it’s just that I had almost no idea what was in that pot and even less idea in what proportions.

Is it any wonder that, thirty years later, I still don’t like the sobriquet ‘host’?


Abandoning (another travelogue)

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About seven hundred years ago, an Italian fountain (?) had a vision. In his vision he was lost in a forest and attacked by wild animals. Fortunately for him, though, he was rescued by a dead poet and soon after they encountered a famous gate, over which was inscribed

Lasciate ogne speranza, voi ch’intrate

Since I don’t read medieval Italian (or any other kind for that matter) I looked for a translation. The always-helpful Project Gutenberg tells me that it translates as

All hope abandon, ye who enter here.

Beyond the gate Dante found Hell. That’s one interpretation — I think that it’s also possible that he somehow got a glimpse of the modern travel experience and just assumed it was Hell.

The boiling blood, of course, was his idea.

I have said before — more than once — that I hate travel. Bad things happen when you travel. Bad things happen when you get ready to travel. Heck, bad things happen when you even think about travel. We recently tested these statements when we dipped a toe into Phlegethon: old friends of ours (TV and LM from ‘Wedding‘) were planning an excursion to a tropical island hideaway when they had a momentary lapse of reason and invited Ms. Rose and I to join them. Tropical islands are nice. They also mean Travel.


Our interaction with the travel ‘experience’ started tentatively, almost playfully.

Our local airport is small. How small is it? Well, it’s so small that it pretty much only has one — you name it and there’s probably just one: One carrier. One security line. One pre-security bathroom. One post-security bathroom. One departure lounge (on the plus side, at one time it was full of interesting aviation art). One non-departure lounge (no art, but it has, um, beams). One gate. And so on.

Because of this, after we had checked in it didn’t take long for the nice lady from the check-in desk to chase us down.  Apparently they had discovered that the plane was full. (How they managed not to discover this earlier is a mystery to me — after all, the plane only holds 19 people; even I can count that high.) Because of this discovery they had to send the nice lady running through the terminal with a fistful of updated boarding passes. Her message was simple: delicate blossoms of femininity like Ms. Rose were to sit at the back of the plane while bloated monstrosities like myself were to sit at the front. I was so entertained by the nice lady running through the terminal that I almost let the implied weight criticism slide. Almost.

And they took down all the art in the departure lounge. :-(

The flight itself was uneventful except for the conversation the guy in 1A had with the co-pilot:
“I can fly the plane if you want.”
“Are you a pilot?”
“No, but I play video games.”

They decided not to take him up on his generous offer. Probably a good thing — he totally didn’t have the right hat.

The second leg of our trip was a trans-continental one: Five and a half hours in a confined, germ-filled metal tube. Five and a half hours sitting motionless and worrying about blood clots. Five and a half hours with two nearby babies prepped and ready to scream at the top of their tiny but incredibly healthy lungs. (Fortunately, one of them didn’t. Much.)

Eventually we arrived, met up with TV and LM and started to plan for the next leg of the journey. That leg involved a ferry ride, a thirty-four kilometer drive and another six hours flirting with deep vein thrombosis. Piece of cake.

Except things were going a little too well; we were about due for that “bad things happen when you even think about travel” thing to happen. In particular, two unnecessarily cunning canines figured out that Something Was Up and decided to ‘help.’

The official plan was to drop them off at a local (-ish) canine boardinghouse the night before the ferry ride; it was thought that doing so would significantly reduce any last-minute ‘excitement.’ Of course, within minutes of being dropped off, the slightly disabled canine — the one with ONLY ONE HIP — jumped a fence and escaped, his partner in crime right on his heels. (Do dogs even have heels?) Their landlady promptly labelled them ‘troublemakers’ and evicted them forthwith.

Miss T and Mr. G

The instigator (right) and his co-conspirator.

Cue the excitement.

Not only was there excitement, Plans had to change — in particular, the thirty-four kilometer drive had to quadruple in length. And of course the ferry was late, there were massive, never-ending traffic jams, there were broken-down vehicles in the WORST POSSIBLE PLACES and there were several “you can’t get there from here” moments. The icing on the cake happened after we had ejected our brace of smirking canines, after we had driven from one end of the city to the other (twice), when we were mere minutes from our final destination — so close that we could see it. Nothing could stop us.

That’s when we were hit by a Honda Civic.

After the traditional accident song and dance we were running a little short on time but, as mentioned, we were basically AT our destination and there were no obvious injuries so off we went. After all, nothing could stop us, right?

Except perhaps the airline — they did try. Despite them we made the plane (although we did have to have a conversation with another nice lady). And of course the screaming baby also made the plane. The screaming baby always makes the plane.

On the way home, well, things were no better but were at least different. We were supposed to arrive in Vancouver at 8:32. It didn’t happen. In actuality, we arrived a couple of minutes after 9. That was a problem, but not, by itself, a disaster. Problem was, they wouldn’t let us off the plane. It wasn’t just us, though — they wouldn’t let anyone off the plane: the bridge thingy was broken and apparently our only option was to wait for the maintenance folks to come and fix it.

That was a disaster.

So we missed our connection and entered that entertaining but stressful realm of zombie passengers waiting for a Flight With Room. “We can put you on standby for the flight that leaves in three hours” said the nice lady named Maria. Trouble is, the carrier constantly massively overbooks that flight so it was likely that some (many?  most?) of the zombies would be left behind.

Including us — we could have gotten one of us on the plane but it wasn’t clear that Splitting Up was a good strategy. I mean, it never is in horror movies. (Fortunately, the guy flying to Chile who had a valid ticket that the carrier wasn’t willing to honor got on.) “Well” said the other nice lady at the other service desk “you can try standby again on the flight that leaves in two hours or we can get you on the one in that leaves in four and a half if we act now.”  “We’ll take the sure thing” we said and ran off to look for a hotel in Toronto — anything close to the airport with a shuttle.

We found one (got the last room in a ‘Halloween sale’ whatever that is) so it was only a matter of waiting. (And eating — the doughnut I had at lunch was the high point of the entire day. Apparently the doughnut chain mentioned in ‘Meeting‘ sends their best doughnuts to YVR. Interesting, if inexplicable.)

So we waited. And waited. And waited some more. And then sat with another screaming baby for four thousand kilometers until we arrived in Toronto sometime after 1:30 (AM) and had to find the one pillar in the place with the hotel shuttle. We went to the ground floor (I assumed that shuttles would arrive on the ground floor) to look for ‘our’ waiting area and… it wasn’t there. We found an airport employee (they’re a little thin on the ground at 2AM; an empty airport is somehow even more depressing than a full one) and he directed us to the other ground floor (who knew?) where we found a crowd. They were waiting for… the same shuttle — apparently lots of people took advantage of the Halloween sale.

By 3AM we were in bed. Fortunately, the clocks went back an hour that night so we had four whole hours of sleep before the alarm went off. After a quick stop at the caffeine store in the lobby (this hotel had it all) it was back on the shuttle and back to the airport by 7AM.

Things were a little busier than they had been six hours earlier. In particular, the check-in line was just over a hundred meters long — it snaked through the cattle chute, down a hallway, around a corner and down another hallway. Of the ten check-in desks, two were open. (Now where have I seen this before?) After making it through that lineup, the security line was only slightly better.

And during this, what music were they playing? Not Brian Eno, but Carole King.

I’ll say one thing about airports: they definitely know how to create a mood.

On the other hand, sometimes it’s actually worth it.

View from 10,000

Ten thousand feet up Mauna Kea.


Legend has it that a goddess lives in that hole (Halemaʻumaʻu).

Pololu valley lookout

I was too damned lazy to walk down to the beach.



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On Wednesday Ben told me to talk about Monday. It was, in some ways, a fairly typical Monday.

The first thing I did (well, aside from turning off the alarm, grimacing at the unraked leaves in the back yard (EVERY SINGLE ONE clearly visible in the morning light) and stumbling groggily to the shower) was select the tie-dye shirt most likely to make my skip retch. (I had got The Call to spare; apparently he had called everyone better — or at least less annoying — on the spares list.) (Oh, and it worked. He did retch, but it might just have been my shotmaking; I can’t be totally sure.) Despite my attitude, ‘skill’ and wardrobe, we handed a defeat to a team that hadn’t lost a game all season. (Our lead was a shriner – even though he left his fez at home, that’s probably what put us over the top. I don’t think I helped matters much when I started throwing shots while lying on my back with my head in my armpit.)

After the game I destroyed a few (sixteen — only six hundred ninety-seven to go) resonators, then headed home and sliced chorizo.

Well, and other things.

Then came hockey. (Monday is, after all, hockey day.) Unlike that other time there was no Significant Music, just more than the usual number of, um, ‘aggressive’ drivers who collectively ensured that I arrived at the arena in plenty of time to have a discussion about the ritualistic inbreeding of graduate students with a goalie who has the same name as my brother-in-law. The game went pretty well — I didn’t score or even threaten to but we had three people on the bench (my favorite) which kept the celebratory barfing at bay.

After the game, after the shower, after the inevitable search for a missing elbow pad, I stumbled out of the more-than-slightly fetid change room, almost flattening several nice ladies in the process, and lurched toward an empty spot where I could sit, shiver and check my email.

There wasn’t much — just a last-minute crisis involving a gamer — so I stood up, grabbed my bag and headed for the door that led into the part of the building that was actually heated. At the door was a young gentleman, probably six years old or so. As I approached he opened the door and held it for me.

Not being totally without social graces I nodded to him and said thank you.

“Thank you” I said.

He beamed and replied “You’re welcome, old man.”

Well, that wasn’t typical.