Thursday, August 17, 2017

Wild Wacky Words: Part Won.

As you may know, I edit stuff good. I edit it gooder than most. Goodest, even.

One of the things you need to watch for in this "biz" are commonly confounded words, words that are usually very close in spelling or pronunciation or both but with totally different meanings. I thought, just for fun, that today and tomorrow I might share some of my favorites. And if it's not educational to you, well, at least it might be a good reminder for me.

πŸ”–Then / Than

We all know this one, but sometimes we err. Then is an adverb (most of the time) used to indicate a latter time in a sequence: So he flew a kite, then he took a long walk off a short pier. Than, on the other hand, is a conjunction (most of the time) used for comparative purposes: I did not take the suggestion to go fly a kite; therefore I am less foolish than he is. I think we remember this from grammar school; when I've spotted it it's usually just a typo.

πŸ”–Stationery / Stationary

I wrote about this earlier in the year, but it bears repeating. Stationery is the stuff you write on; stationary is a state of non-motion, like the $1,000 exercise bike on which you hang clothes.

πŸ”–Lightning / Lightening

I'm surprised this one comes up as much as it does, but I guess it's because the -ing in the noun lightning makes it look like a verb. Lightning is the stuff that will shoot out of the sky and electrocute you; lightening is what happens in a room when you turn on a light. The verb is lighten, so lightening just makes sense.

πŸ”–Wail / Whale

Here's a tricky one because it doesn't really make sense. I'm not addressing the large aquatic mammal here (🐳) but rather the verb whale. Wail we know is a cry or to cry loudly, but it is not to beat on something. If you're Rocky, and you want to go work out on the heavy bag, you would go into the meat locker and whale on a side of beef for a while. Why does whale mean to beat up? Webster's does not know. It may just refer to the size and power of the whale, or perhaps is tied in with the other verb use of whale, as in to hunt whales, a career that took a lot of guts and muscle in the old days.

πŸ”–Raise / Raze

This actually doesn't come up that often, because few people use the word raze. The odd thing is that these homophones are essentially opposites, raise meaning to lift up or build, raze meaning to completely destroy ("razed to the ground" being a common construction ... in construction). Another odd thing is the expression "raising Cain," which uses the sense of conjuring for raise -- of course, to bring up that bedeviled spirit could result in a lot of destruction. And I guess to raze Cain would put the spirit back down. "Razing Cain" could be a good title for a movie, come to think of it. We raised Cain and razed the town so we had to raze Cain and raise the town up again.

πŸ”–Illicit / Elicit

Illicit is an adjective describing something naughty or illegal. (Ill behavior, illegal...illicit!) The verb elicit is to prompt or draw a response. Remember the E in elicit as in evoke. My illicit behavior elicited an unpleasant reaction from the judge.

πŸ”–Jive / Jibe / Gibe

I'm just tired of reading about things jiving with each other. Next thing you know they'll be scatting. Things that are operating in sync -- great minds, roaring engines, PB and J -- jibe, they do not jive. As a verb, jive means to talk in a foolish or lying way, or to play or dance to jive music. Jibe is to be in accord. A jibe can also be a cutting remark, but that's also spelled as gibe. So you can jive someone with jibes but then you won't jibe. 

Bonus tip: No h in sync. I've been seeing a lot of synchs lately -- everything but the kitchen synch.

Tune in tomorrow for more sets of commonly confused words. I'm sure the suspense will be killing you until then (not until than).

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Oui? Yo!

I've been doing product reviews lately because I'm the main shopper in the family and I think about stuff at the store too much. My reviews seem to be well received, though, so I've thought sometimes that I should have just started a food review blog. 

This week I tried a new yogurt by Yoplait called Oui

Neat how they make it look like the flavor is written on the label by hand, isn't it?

But the label is only the second thing we notice about Oui. The first is the fact that it comes in neat little glass jars, like fancy French hotel preserves. When was the last time I saw yogurt packaged this way? How about never? And I'm old enough to remember the cardboard disks on Dannon lids. Oui's lid is a heavy foil; more on that later.

The label says it's French style yogurt, which seems at first like a worthy addition to the Greek and Australian yogurts, the kefirs and quarks, the mix-ins and custard-styles, the almond yogurt and frozen yogurt that we've been consuming. But wait -- isn't French yogurt what we were consuming all along? When the only games in town were outfits like Yoplait and Dannon, two very Frenchy companies? Okay, so maybe that's not so exciting.

But is the Oui exciting? I found it to be very good, rich and creamy, the fruit flavorful and not too sweet. I tried the lemon and blueberry; it also comes in plain, coconut, peach, vanilla, blackberry, and strawberry.

Strangely, I had trouble with the foil lid on the lemon one. It got glued on so tight that it would not peel off the rim. A small knife provided access easily, though.

So it's good, but does the glass pot (as Yoplait calls it) mean it's really pricey? Well, this week Shoprite has it on sale for $1.25 each; regular Yoplait is 89 cents. So, it's definitely more expensive than regular Yoplait, but not as costly as some of the Greek yogurts we're obsessed with now. Anyway, I had coupons, which brought Oui down to typical yogurt price.

I think it would definitely be worth the money if you were including a bunch of them in a big bowl of ice for a fancy breakfast buffet. Or if you were running a hotel, and provided Oui for room service at $5 a pop. At least your guest would get a keepsake votive holder out of it. If they can get the foil off.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

More summer stuff.

Pre-season football has begun, college students are packing up for school, a lot of county fairs and carnivals have moved on leaving only a whiff of fried dough and corn dogs, but summer isn't over, not by a long shot. Here are some photos to help you keep thinking those summery thoughts. 

Below we have a slightly blurry frog. It was taken in rather a hurry because the baby dog, Nipper, wanted to make friends with it. As that might have resulted in catastrophic injury to the frog, I figured we'd best move on quickly. Strange that this frog was sitting in short grass, as in the summer the reptile population generally must stick to the tall stuff. 

It's been so wet this summer (as I've complained again and again) that the frog was just as comfy in the short grass, at least until we came along. I met a snake a couple of days later in a similar lawn spot, but he slunk away before I get the phone out, sly chap.

Here's a... oh, I don't know. Pretty.

The bird shot below is actually a few weeks old, but what summer picture group is complete without a fat li'l robin? Honestly, the robins around here are so fat, if Robin had been like one of these, Batman would have started him on Weight Watchers before he started the anti-crime training.

Here's an early fall leaf, one I think that may have been affected by the mold problem I mentioned a few weeks back. All I can say is, if Jimi Hendrix used a leaf motif for an album cover, he would have started with this one.

Finally, what would July be without this display in your local supermarket?

Yes, a friend who knows how ballistic I get about early seasonal candy wanted me to know that the Halloween candy was up on July 29 in our local supermarket. What kills me is that, aside from horrible candy corn and circus peanuts, not a single one of these sacks of candy is unavailable in non-Halloween form. You can get packs of bite-size Milky Way, M&M's, Reese's, all of them year-round. But no, some people I guess will only buy holiday-themed candy. Maybe they think there's no calories in them. 

Anyway, I guess as long as there's Halloween-themed candy it's still summer, right? If it were autumn we'd have Christmas candy. One day they'll get too far ahead and give us Easter candy in summer, and it'll look like leftovers. Then we'll get the last laugh! Ha ha!

Monday, August 14, 2017

Eclipse no.

We're a week out from the big event, the first total solar eclipse to sweep the United States since 1918.

And I could be more excited.

But I won't be.

There are two things going on that make me less than mad with eclipse-related glee:

Map: Up here in New York, we're going to see relatively little moon-mobbing action. It'll be about a 0.75 magnitude eclipse, which will look like someone took a bite out of a solar Scooter Pie. Time has a neat feature showing what the eclipse will look like in your zip code, which from here is: not much. It wouldn't likely suffice to keep King Arthur from burning Hank Morgan at the stake.

Weather: I've heard that, as a rule of thumb, you should deduct 10% accuracy for every day out of a forecast -- so, for example, for the fifth day of your weatherman's five-day forecast, assume he only has a 50% chance of nailing it. That said, as of today, our forecast for Monday, August 21, calls for possible thunderstorms, and being that this is the coolest, wettest summer in New York I can recall, I think it's probably on the nose.

What I'm really looking forward to is the next U.S. total solar eclipse, and we won't have to wait 99 years for it. It's going to fall on April 8, 2024, and this one will be flying right over the northeast. It won't appear directly over my house, but it would be a short drive to where it will.

Of course it's also going to be New York in April, which means:

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Miso confused.

I'm a picky eater, I know, and I don't care for sushi. I've tried several kinds and the flavor is always okay, but the texture bothers me. My wife pokes fun at me, although the texture of polenta makes her gag. I'm just saying.

The other thing I don't care for at the Japanese restaurant is miso soup. 

Just a taste thing; its flavors to me are pretty bland, except for the ones that are bad. So I just get something else when there's a choice.

But sometimes there's not.

The best Japanese restaurant around here always gives you miso soup as part of a standard dinner order (a dish such as teriyaki, for example), along with a sad little salad and white rice. I like the homemade dressing on the sad salad, and the rice is good. But I don't care for miso soup, and especially not theirs. And no one else around the house wants it either.

This gets me into Seinfeldian territory. I'm certain one of the 180 episodes of the sitcom Seinfeld must have dealt with such a topic, although I don't recall an exact parallel.

The way I see it, I am faced with 6 choices:

1) Order the dinner and throw out the soup, violating a Key principle to not waste food. (The Depression never really ended in our house.)

2) Order the dinner and force myself to eat the soup I do not like, to avoid violating the Key principle.

3) Tell them not to include the soup, and get mad that they don't give me a discount since I didn't get the soup.

4) Demand that they give me clear soup instead, which they will not do because there is a language barrier and I do not anticipate the concept will be as clear as clear soup over the phone.

5) Try to give the soup to a local bum, except this is a small suburban town with a minuscule bum population. They're hard to find. Soup gets cold fast.

6) Order something a la carte that does not come with soup, which at this restaurant means yakitori and similar things or sushi. You can make a meal of sushi, but I won't; harder to make a meal of yakitori. Besides, I wanted the teriyaki.

My inner Seinfeld won't let this issue go, but I just don't have a solution. On the show this would be a story thread that would ultimately lead to an embarrassing situation with my wacky friends, so I figure I shouldn't pursue it too far. I just know I would be George.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

My stomach! Mylanta!

Earlier this week we covered the return of Hydrox, which has come back after being gone since 1999. Today we have a look at something you might take if you eat too many cookies, or too much anything else -- Mylanta.

ta da
Perhaps your family, like mine, took to Mylanta for the agita of life and the irritations of the stomach lining caused by outsiders and one another. It was introduced in 1961, the first antacid to contain gas-busting simethicone, along with aluminum hydroxide and magnesium hydroxide. Some antacids are designed to treat diarrhea, which you probably don't want if your stomach upset has not cause diarrhea or you'll be constipated (e.g., Pepto-Bismol). Somewhere along the way Mylanta was recommended by a family doctor, and the rest was history.

Until 2010, when Mylanta disappeared!!!!!


What happened was, someone suddenly discovered that Mylanta had an undisclosed ingredient -- alcohol. Less than 1 percent. It was under 2 proof. But it was not labeled that way, and so it faced an enormous recall, at a time when parent company Johnson & Johnson was already dealing with bad retail news. Apparently this caused them to run away like the knights in Monty Python and the Holy Grail and pull Mylanta from the market for years. We were left in a weird place where store brands (like this from CVS) were packaged in imitation of a product that no longer existed.

But they've brought it back now, and you'll be glad to know that the label now has benzyl alcohol as its top inactive ingredient. It tastes the same as it always did, which is pretty good for a medicine but not exactly a milk shake -- although it now also comes in vanilla-caramel flavor too. Which is probably also not exactly a milk shake. And, I figure if you drink 15 gallons of it, you might get a buzz, so it's got that going for it.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Batman’s Day Planner.

5:00 a.m.     Return home.

9:00 a.m.     Wake; check in with Lucius. Need $450,000 in small bills for the new BtMobile. Don’t mention BtMobile.

9:30 a.m.     Check stocks. Trade as needed. Make a quick mill.

9:35 a.m.     Call Arkham. Anyone else out lately? Do NOT let them hit you up for donations again.

10:00 a.m.  Call Qi Jing about secret landing pad for BtPlne. Probably have mission in Shanghai and need clearance. Don’t mention BtPlne.

10:15 a.m.   Reorder Batarangs.

10:30 a.m.  Breakfast. Remember to talk to Alfred about mending speargun hole in BtSuit. OK to mention BtSuit.

10:40 a.m.  Read abstracts in all monthly science journals. Got to keep up with this stuff, B.

11:00 a.m.  Workout---Jujitsu, boxing, karate, defendu, weights, rowing, Pilates, random punching, rings, trampoline, BtLine swinging, elliptical, capoeira, and light aerobics. Squeeze in some gaja-rohana if there's time; you never know when a case might involve an elephant. Hold off on savate until ankle a little better.

3:00 p.m.    Lunch. Check messages. Nigma on outside; may be riddles. 

3:30 p.m.    Clark supposed to call. May fly in. (What’s he want now? Don’t commit.)

4:00 p.m.    Brood.

6:00 p.m.    Go over plans for new exploding BtDarts. Will be sweet if they work. Who to manufacture? See if Murray is available. If not, make appt to go punch him.

6:30 p.m.    Meet Vicki. (Make sure to go to Club Gotham---Bob on the stick tonight, so he’ll make your drinks look like booze.)

7:30 p.m.    Sundown. Act drunk; split.

8:00 p.m.    Patrol from rooftops. May rain---make sure to wear Sur-Grip BtBoots.

9:30 p.m.    Stop by Croc's place; if anyone is there, punch him.

10:30 p.m.  Swing by James’s place to let him know about Dent. See if he’s heard anything about Crane or Nigma. Don’t get your hopes up.

11:00 p.m.  Return call to Justice League. Remind them: Will not be available for monthly business meeting. Do NOT let them hit you up for donations again. If nothing going on, return to patrol.

11:30 p.m.   Pay a call on Crime Alley. If anyone is there, punch him. He will know why.

12:00 a.m.  Dinner. Grab something from Iceberg Lounge. If Cobblepot is there, punch him. He’s overdue for a punch.

12:30 a.m.  Take out BtMobile for patrol. NB: Ignore check engine light. Just needs new gas cap. 

2:00 a.m.   Pudding break!

4:30 a.m.   Head back to Stately Wayne. Film crew from America’s Castles is due at six. Keep them from BtCave. Alfred on hand, but you may have to punch someone. Don’t mention BtCave.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Poetical Fred.

[Another entry from my previous defunct blog -- apologies for the rerun.]

People ask me all the time, "Fred, you'ze is such a frickin' genius writer--where d'yeh get all your idears?"

And I say, "Thanks, but I don't live in the city anymore and I no longer speak your native tongue."

Actually, I say that the best ideas just show up on their own, unexpected,  like termites. In many cases actual geniuses were inspired to write famous books because one thing came to them, a line or image. C. S. Lewis one day had an image of a faun under a lamppost, and all the Narnia books sprang from that first idea. His friend J. R. R. Tolkien was just working one day when he wrote, "In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit."

Of course, Lewis and Tolkien brought lifetimes of thought and information to all that followed. In my case, I just slap it down and pray.

But really, inspiration can come from anywhere and seems to come from nowhere--the word means "to breathe in." You never know where it will strike.

Here's an example: The other day I was wrestling with some cords and other computer detritus, when I found an old mouse I could not place. I asked Mrs. Key, who said, "I think that's the mouse that came from the Dell." And poof! Inspiration for a nursery rhyme.

The Mouse that Came Down from the Dell

by Frederick Key

The mouse that came down from the dell
Went along to the manor house farm
A chicken he met by the well
Gave mousey some cause for alarm.

“There’s a cat in the caretaker’s shed
Patrols every inch of this barrow.
If she sees one gray hair on your head,
Then surely your spleen she will harrow.”

“I’ve come much too far to turn 'round,
Over forest and meadow and fen,
And I can dash without making a sound,”
Said the mouse to this notable hen.

“What on earth brought you so far from home?”
Asked the chicken with quizzical eye.
“The sight of our dumb rooster’s comb?
Or a crumb of the cook’s lousy pie?”

“It’s love that give flight to my feet,
And impels my poor heart to set sail.
The mouse Genevieve is so sweet,
And I am here chasing her tail.”

“If you must,” said the hen as she sighed,
“Off you go, then, to find and apprise her.
Long before Genevieve is your bride,
You shall be a small cat appetizer.”

Shot the mouse to the house, like a gust,
Where he knew Genevieve, with her mobs,
Hung around seeking pizza pie crusts,
Like a big bunch of freeloading slobs.

But halfway along came the cat,
Full of fury and razor and spit,
The mouse took a look and with that,
Took a quick powder, lickety-split.

The mouse traveled back to his dell,
Sweating hard from his quixotic stunts.
Upon his sad romance he’d dwell
For his whole life (of seventeen monts).

Moral: A girl is only a girl, but a rapacious predator makes you sit up and take notice.

See? Genius, or what? Huh?

Sorry; I can't understand your native tongue either.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Bringing back the classics.

For a long time it was that weird Earth-2 cookie... the Oreo that Dad would bring home when he had to go to the store and didn't remember what Oreos were called... My friends, I present to you, the original chocolate sandwich cookie, the one and only...

The Hydrox had quite a checkered history. The name seems to be an indicator of that chemical compound known as dihydrogen monoxide, and in fact it was. Wikipedia says its creators were looking for a name that promoted purity and goodness, and what's better than hydrogen and oxygen? It's not generally known that the Hydrox predated the very similar Oreo, and by a considerable margin; the Hydrox cookie came on the market in 1908, and Mr. Sandwich-Come-Lately Oreo in 1912.

If you haven't heard that the Hydrox cookie is back, you may have some questions.

Q: Did it go somewhere?

A: It sure did. Sunshine Biscuits, the company that made Hydrox for almost 90 years, went toes-up in 1996 when it was bought by Keebler, which was then bought by Kellogg. Some of its products, like Cheez-It crackers, are still made by Kellogg, but the Hydrox cookie breathed its last in 1999.

Q: So, you ate, like, 18-year-old cookies?

A: No, silly imaginary person! Hydrox is back! Leaf Brands, an outfit dedicated to reviving defunct but popular products, has brought the Hydrox back to life. As always for food products, fighting its way onto supermarket shelves has been a problem, but Walmarts are carrying them. I got my pack as an Amazon add-on.

Q: What's the Hydrox like?

A: Hydrox is one of those cookies that inspire powerful loyalty in some people, so reviewing it is a delicate matter. I am a natural supporter of the underdog, but even more I am a supporter of truth and rightness, and if the underdog is wrong, he's got to get his butt kicked. And it's all opinion anyway.

And my opinion is... the Oreo is better.

Now, hear me out, Hydrox fans! The Hydrox is a very, very good cookie, and I can understand why some would prefer it. It's exactly as Leaf describes it: crunchier cookie, less sweet filling, darker chocolate. I actually prefer the filling in the Hydrox, which is a little thicker than that in the standard Oreo, and tastes of sugar, not corn syrup. (Hydrox does not contain that evil HFCS; Oreo does.) I just find that the chocolate part is a bit chalky and doesn't have as much flavor as the Oreo. That's the whole basis of my preference, and it is a preference only. God knows I'd eat my weight in Hydrox if they were free and I could still wear my pants afterward.

That's my take on the whole thing; I would still buy Hydrox, but most people will probably always think of it as a second-rate Oreo, which is totally unfair. If you have fond memories of Hydrox, or are curious about it, or just want to root for the underdog, or just would shove any cookie in your face like me, go try a package and let me know what you think.

Monday, August 7, 2017

A bumper crop o' bugs.

Yessir, I reckon '17'll go down as a bumper crop o' bugs. 

As you know, I have strong feelings about insects and other bugs, and thus my feelings here are mixed. On the one hand, the gnats in spring were off the charts -- less so now. Skeeters have covered me with welts. I had a death match with an Evil Queen. On the other hand, our July evenings were lit up by fireflies in quantities that boggled me, like the first time you see the stars in the desert night sky. (Or so I'm told -- City Boy.)

And, during my lawn mowing hell job, I had a ride-along -- this kooky dragonfly kept flying by, landing on the lawn mower, keeping me company for a couple of rows, then taking off again. I felt like he was rooting me on, giving me moral support. 

"You can do it!"

On one of our many wet mornings, I found this bee hanging out on the porch rail like a roommate you find on the sofa watching TV, having closed the bar and slogged home about the time you were getting up to go to work.

"uuuhhh... hey, dude..."
But that's not fair to the bumblebee. As I say, it was wet, and bees can't fly when they're wet. I was reminded of a story my wife at told me about a coworker, an older woman who was babysitting a flock of grandchildren when they found a wet bee.

"Grandmaaaa! We have to save the beeeeee!" (I'm paraphrasing, but not by much.)

"Okay, well, we have to dry it off. Gently blow on it and help it get dry."

I just love to think of these three little kids blowing on the bumblebee. It did fly away, I'm told; either the impromptu blow-drying was successful or it got annoyed by being blasted with Pop-Tart breath.

I just let mine dry off naturally. Once it sobered up it was on its way.

So like it or not, we've had a bumper crop of bugs. Which makes me wonder: Why bumper crop? Webster's tells us that as an adjective, bumper means unusually large, but only uses it in the crop context. Why not a bumper load of laundry? A bumper pile of work? A bumper stack of pancakes? Use bumper in a different way today and report back on how people reacted.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Take without food.

A dear member of my family is facing a medical condition. Nothing life-threatening; treatable, in fact, by one simple pill each day. 

But therein lies the problem. 

This pill must be taken on an empty stomach. Moreover, the stomach must remain empty for a period of an hour after taking. It's advised that she take it in the morning, staying upright to keep the pill in the stomach, eating nothing and drinking only water for that first hour. 

No breakfast? No problem -- she doesn't eat breakfast. 

No coffee for an hour?


This has proven to be a real challenge for her. I don't think she'd mind me saying: She is devoted to coffee. To have to wait for an hour before getting recharged by the nectar of the gods is cruel. 

I guess this pill is one of those guys who has got to have the whole beach to himself. He does not play well with others. 

I completely sympathize with my beloved relation. I know she had been trying to get treatment for some time, and is not about to jeopardize her health now.

But coffee is medicinal as well. For her sake I hope they come out with a version of this pill that can be mixed into coffee. That'd be awesome.

Friday, August 4, 2017

Snickers satis-fights.

Since I had the worst chocolate ever in yesterday's entry, I thought I'd mention a new and delicious chocolate today, one that inevitably will cause fights.

The new Snickers & Hazelnut bar is terrific, if you like Snickers and if (and that's a large, macho if) you like hazelnuts.

This has become quite the thing, because people who like hazelnuts like them, but people who dislike them HATE them. Why?

In a word: Coffee.

When I was a wee tot, hazelnuts attracted no strong feelings. Brazil nuts were more likely to set brother against brother than hazelnuts. The first time I remember tasting one was in a chocolate candy, and I thought it was great. But that was before hazelnut coffee became a thing.

At one point in the 1980s, flavored coffees became huge across this great land of ours. Many flavors were tried, everything from amaretto to chocolate to orange to mint to sardine (maybe not so much the sardine), but two came to rule the field: vanilla and hazelnut. And hazelnut coffee, unlike vanilla, is extremely pungent.

I don't know why nut scents travel so far, but they do. Anyone who's been in a big city at yuletide when vendors are roasting chestnuts, or been near a nut-roasting place in the mall, knows that you can smell that stuff for half a mile. It's so potent that many people with peanut or nut allergies fear that they can get an allergic reaction from the odor. Fortunately, as Nemours tells us, "allergic reactions just from breathing in small particles of nuts or peanuts are rare because the food needs to be digested to cause a reaction. Most foods with peanuts in them don't allow enough of the protein to escape into the air to cause a reaction. And just the smell of foods containing peanuts won't produce a reaction because the scent does not contain the protein. In very rare cases when people do react to airborne particles, it's usually in an enclosed area (like a restaurant) where lots of peanuts are being cracked from their shells. The person inhales and then swallows the protein, which can lead to a reaction when the protein gets digested." Still, I would expect that the strong nut or peanut smell is disconcerting for those who suffer dangerous allergic reactions.

The backlash against flavored coffees seemed to begin in stores like the A&P and fine coffee establishments where beans were fresh-ground on the premises. Just as a garlic bagel makes all the other bagels in a bag into garlic bagels, so too would a pound of hazelnut coffee beans turn every bean run through the grinder afterward into hazelnut coffee. Hazelnut lovers became the lepers of the coffee world. If it weren't for the invention of the Keurig pod, I think violence might have broken out.

But the Keurig did not magically appear in offices overnight. Which meant that hazelnut fans who used shared coffee facilities once again wore a target on their backs. Because even if you had a dedicated Mr. Coffee for those Hazel Nuts (as I imagine they called themselves), the room would invariably smell like hazelnut coffee.

My wife hates hazelnuts because years ago some idiot burned a pot of hazelnut coffee in her office, leaving the pot on with a little on the bottom and reducing the hazelnut java to a goopy, oily, smoky mess. They almost had to evacuate to get away from the stink. Since then she's hated hazelnuts, hazelnut coffee, and everyone who drinks hazelnut coffee.

I didn't work at that office. I still like hazelnuts, and I really enjoyed this Snickers. I'm not a fan of flavored coffees, though, although I don't feel like throwing punches over them.

But if your garlic bagel gets in the same bag with my cinnamon raisin, things are gonna get fisty.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Blarg Wars.

You probably wouldn't guess that I bought this at Walmart because of my interest in the overreach of the regulatory state, child safety, and international commerce, but I did.

Indeed, a chocolate egg with a toy inside was precisely the issue addressed on several occasions by Mark Steyn, who was unable to bring Kinder Surprise eggs to America over the Canadian border because of the menace posed by having the toy inside the egg. The United States government, or rather the agency to which they have ceded sovereignty (as in so many things), was afraid that a child would bite into the Kinder egg and choke on the toy. This puzzled me, as the package already explains what the Kinder Surprise is, and that the toy is not appropriate for children young enough to do such a thing, but that's the way it goes.

I don't think this Star Wars Milk Chocolate & Surprise had any connection to the Kinder people, but I gathered it would be subject to the same rules. So, I wondered, since it obviously had a toy and a chocolate egg, would the toy be inside the egg, signally a reversal of policy and freedom for the Kinder Surprise? Let's find out!


The toy comes next to the egg, which I guess is okay, but there seems to be some disconnect in the whole purpose of even having a hollow chocolate egg with a toy. But all right, it's clear that U.S. policy toward choking hazards in chocolate is unchanged. Let those kids in Canada choke all they want; we defend our own!

So let's have a look at this thing.

Okay! We've got... I don't actually know who that legless chap is. Someone with a bendy stick. I thought it was supposed to be Kylo Ren; is it? Scrawny fellow with compensation issues? Maybe.

All right, let's just eat the chocolate and call it a day.

You will not believe this. I could not believe it myself. The chocolate that came with this egg was the most vile, inedible excuse for chocolate I have ever tasted. I've had lousy holiday-themed chocolate, crummy third-world Santas, cheap hollow bunnies, crappy gelt coins, all of it, and of even the worst of it I could say, well, you put a little PB on it and you have a passable Reese's. Not this. This was horrible. For the first time in my life life I threw away chocolate, people. I am 100% serious about this. First time ever. It was ghastly.

I'm not the only one who thinks so. Reviewers on Amazon hated this chocolate. "After one small bite I had to throw the rest away." "Imagine soaking your chocolate egg in gasoline."

It seems to have come from a galaxy far, far away where they comply with U.S. rules but have never tasted chocolate. It could not have come from Kinder or Kinder's parent company Ferrero SpA, which makes some excellent chocolate candy.

Well, the box did promise a surprise, and I guess I have to concede they were right. First chocolate in my life I could not eat. Wow.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Road rip!


You never like to see this. Even if the road in question is one you must use, one you've been yelling at the town council or state roads commission to fix because of its cavernous, axle-busting potholes, you still die a little inside when you see road work signs. Because if it's a road you take, you know that for the duration of the work you will be inconvenienced.

Roads are funny things. Kingdoms that could build them could become empires. The Romans may not have been the nicest guys in the ancient world, but they sure could build roads. Even most libertarians agree that, for the sake of commerce and freedom of movement, roads are a legitimate government enterprise. We need them, and we're willing to pay taxes and tolls to maintain them.

When the road being fixed is the one outside your house it can be worse than a change of route. It can be a minefield of tire-popping fun and an obstacle course of flagmen every time you have to run out. This sign popped up last week on my street. Monday at about 6:15 a.m. the trucks started rolling in.

What did I expect? Oiled road. What the hell is that?

You may know, but I did not. According to the Straight Dope, this is a necessary maintenance wherein the top layer of road is crunched up and a layer of sealant (not really oil) that helps bind the new surface applied later. If what I've seen of this kind of work in these parts was an indication, we'd have a greasy, pebbly road for several weeks, and then another sign would go up and we'd have blacktop.

Here was the street as of 6:32 Monday morning:

As of Monday evening... it was exactly the same. They started up the street, about half a mile away, and we didn't see them on our end until Tuesday.

Tuesday morning a fellow came bopping down the center of the road with a little wheeled measuring device and a spray gun that made skinny lines. I was outside with the big dog, who went into an uncharacteristic barking frenzy. "All dogs hate this thing," the man told me, gesturing with the paint blaster. We would later have a lot more canine objections -- the little dog was terrified of the steamrollers. Even inside the house, not seeing them. It was the sound that made him nuts. When he did get a look at them it didn't help.

By 3:06 Tuesday afternoon:

Ahhh. That smooth, silky blacktop. You want to just lie down on it and luxuriate in its pure dark richness. Bad idea, though, as there's nothing like fresh blacktop to make drivers think they are in car commercials and hit the gas.

Later I realized that they never did chop up the old pavement and leave us for weeks with an oiled, rocky surface. And I hate when the road is like that. But they just laid the new surface right over the old surface. Does that mean that this a half-assed job? That the new surface won't adhere properly? Did we get gypped? Should we have demanded they leave the road in diabolical condition for a few weeks to make for a better road in the long run?

Well, at least it looks nice right now. My wife says I should have slipped the crew a few bucks, have them do our driveway. My luck I would have been arrested on the spot for bribing a government worker.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

AUGH! ust

August has never been my favorite month. I'm not sure that it's anyone's favorite. Maybe if you traditionally go to the lake house in August, or to Disney, or your birthday falls in August and you make it a big wingding, or the state fair comes along and you live for that, or you like sunstroke, then you'd love August the most.

When you're a kid, you can at least console yourself that it's not school time yet. Sure, your family went on vacation in July, and the Fourth is over, and the weather is uncomfortable, and you're bored, and all the movies you were looking forward to have opened and gone, and you had a fight with your friend, and your other friend went on a stupid trip to stupid Hershey without you, and you spent all your money... it's still better than school.

Of course it's worse when you're an adult. No time off and commuting through blazing sun to go to work, except for those days when you get thunderstorms and show up drenched. Or maybe you work outside, and get to enjoy the weather all damn day.

August in a nutshell:


Traditionally in the American newspaper game August was the Silly Season, because nothing much was going on and newspapers filled space with stories of bizarre happenings. People started to act crazy with the heat, so there were lots of bizarre happenings to report. Of course, thanks to the Internet and our sick, sad culture, every season is silly season now.

In C.M. Kornbluth's 1950 story "The Silly Season," Martians successfully invade the earth at this time of year because all reports of weird events are written off as goofy, nutty things people are saying because they've gone loopy in the summer heat. I always think of that story around this time of year.

Keep watching the skies. After all, if every season is now silly, the invasion could come anytime.

Actually, judging by many of the people I see around town and on the Internet, the Martians landed some time ago.

So enjoy your August, whether you have to work or go back to school before Labor Day (as in some sorry, benighted precincts) or not. If the summer is too hot, that lovely autumn air will feel that much better.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Review of dwarf attributes.

magnificent 7

Downside: Over-optimism.
Upside: Positive attitude.

Downside: Not clear what attribute is. Seems to require spectacles.
Upside: Might be knowledge, perhaps a doctorate.

Downside: Difficulty expressing needs, feelings.
Upside: Some people find it charming.

Downside: Negative attitude makes everyday life more difficult.
Upside: Teenagers and the elderly identify with you.

Downside: Total incompetence.
Upside: Babylike charm.

Downside: Annoying to others; perpetual state of poor health.
Upside: Better than being Itchy or Snotty.

Downside: Incapable of remaining awake to perform functions.
Upside: None.


It is not generally known that the Seven Dwarves of Disney fame were actually representatives of seven larger and more specialized tribes, brought together in the house in the woods for their mining expertise. Here's a list of the tribes and their original members. 

Doc, Prof, Teach, Smarts. Physician, Engineer, Specialist
Happy, Loopy, Wacky, Merry, Silly, Cheerful, Hysterical
Sleepy, Drowsy, Woozy, Snorri, Groggy, Lazy, Drunk
Sneezy, Itchy, Headachey, Spotty, Feverish, Sickie, Rashy
Grumpy, Grouchy, Surly, Crusty, Testy, Nasty, Antisocialy
Bashful, Shy, Introverted, Maladjusted, Wary, Scaredy, Agoraphobe
Dopey, Stupid, Idiot, Clown, Ding-Dong, Dummy, Moron

Sunday, July 30, 2017

The Queen.

The queen sat in her palace
As her subjects gathered near
Her plans for subjugation
Of all the land to hear

As morning sun first slivered
Through the sky to call the day
Sent forth the queen her soldiers
To seek and find and slay

One by one they left the palace
With but two things on their minds
To build upon the structure
And to strike all they might find

She smiled as she watched them
Armed as they took flight
Happy for their cruelty
And eager for their fight

How great the royal family!
How great her castle vast!
How greater soon it would become
The epoch it would last!

All would fall beneath her sway!
Resistance soon would fall!
All would fear her army
And her shadow cover all!

I saw the wasps fly from the hole
I went to get the Raid
The wicked subterraneans
I well and truly sprayed

At last I took a hefty brick
And laid it on the room
And sealed the queen of all her fief
Within her poisoned tomb.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Keep your eye on the ball.

Nipper, the baby dog, loves to chase his toys in the backyard. Every morning, sun, rain, snow, hail, fog, whatever, you can find me throwing or kicking balls around the place for the little guy to chase. He has a lot of bounce in the morning, and we have to help him work it off. Happy puppy!

I've noticed that one of his balls has disappeared without trace, though. It was a squeaky plastic ball with nubby spikes, much like this one:

It wasn't Nipper's favorite, because he had crunched it too hard and killed its squeak. But he still liked it. And one morning it had vanished. 

Where could it be?

Our yard's not fenced, but we don't get other dogs taking shortcuts. We get a neighbor cat from time to time, but they like their own toys, and this ball's kind of big for a cat. We get plenty of deer, but I don't see them show any interest in anything but my rolling field of salad (grass) (and weeds). Never seen a racoon here.

So what could have taken the ball? 

Here are some artist's renderings of our prime suspects. If you see any of these alleged varmints, please alert our Crimestoppers hotline via frederick_key at That is all. 


Friday, July 28, 2017

Look smart in print II.

Earlier this month I wrote a piece with some tips about writing in English to help my readers look like -- in the words of William Wordsworth -- "big ol' smarty pants." Even in an age where the average Internet troll writing something like

u can suk my weenr u asphole

can potentially reach more readers than Wordsworth did in his lifetime (and find a college professor who will defend him as a superior poet to Wordsworth for doing so), it pays to look smart when you write. Or at least it prevents paying for looking dumb. 

my pen is mitier tehn teh sord

Here's seven more tips to help you produce prose that won't get the grammar police after you.

1. Even though increasing the power of an engine may make it seem super, the phrase is souped up, not suped up. (Hyphenate it as an adjective: a souped-up AMC Pacer). It seems weird -- we know via Campbell's that soup is good food, but really? And the answer is, yeah. "Soup" was slang for performance-enhancing drugs used to illegally fix horse races, according to various sources including (and if you can't trust them for language lessons, whom can you trust?). There is some controversy about the origin, but regardless, put that O in souped. Just like the Ford Pinto -- can't spell souped without an O! 

2. Speaking of sports, if something is a lock, it's a shoo-in, not a shoe-in. Think of it as shooing in a golf ball on the lip of the cup ("Come on, ball, roll in!") or starting a race five feet from the finish line. A shoe-in would be, I dunno, a hippie protest where everyone piles up their stinky ol' moccasins. 

3. If you're shimmying up a pole, you may be dancing in a gentleman's club frequented by gentlemen of a loose nature (not looking at you, Stiiv) (necessarily). You shinny up and down ropes and poles -- not really ladders, as the shinny is the classic crossed-ankle maneuver they tried to teach me in gym class while I hung there like a fat piΓ±ata. A shimmy is a dance move. I can't do that either. 

4. A vise is the tool that squeezes stuff; a vice is the sinful thing that you should stop doing. (Still not looking at you, Stiiv.) (Maybe a glance.) I always laugh when text says something like the hero felt he was caught in a vice grip. Oh, naughty hero!

5. Your ancestor is a relative in a direct line who came before you; a descendant is your progeny, descended from you. This has only become a problem in the last few years, and I have no idea why. Suddenly I see sentences like "What will our ancestors say when they inherit our polluted world?" And I think, "Not much, because they're dead." 

6. Onto is one word -- except when it's not. You can leap onto a desk if you've ever been voted "most limber boy," but most of us would prefer not to try if we want to hold on to our dignity. Onto is the preposition, on to uses on as part of the verbal phrase (as in grab on, hang on, etc.). Is there an easy way to tell the difference? Why, yes there is! The Chicago Manual of Style puts it this way: "One trick is to mentally say 'up' before on: if the sentence still makes sense, then onto is probably the right choice." You can leap up onto a desk, but you can't hold up on to your dignity or anything else. To complicate matters, into does not quite follow the same rules. We'll leave that for another time and hold on to our sanity.

7. Okay, it's time to finally attack the lay / lie / laid / lain thing. Lie is what you do (in the present tense), lay is what you do to something else. (Stiiv, I'm warning you, get your mind out of the gutter.) So you lay your book on the desk and lie down on the sofa. The main confusion occurs because lay is the past tense of lie, while laid is the past tense of lay! So yesterday you laid your book on the desk and lay down on the sofa. If you can remember that you have 95% of the lay/lie thing licked. Lain is not needed very often; it is the past participle of lie, as in this from Housman:

Oh I have been to Ludlow fair
And left my necktie God knows where,
And carried half way home, or near,
Pints and quarts of Ludlow beer:
Then the world seemed none so bad,
And I myself a sterling lad;
And down in lovely muck I've lain,
Happy till I woke again. 

But as I say, most of the time it's just: I lie down now, I lay down yesterday, I lay the brick down on an egg, I laid the brick on an egg yesterday. Future tense is just like the present: I will lie down when I get home; I will lay the brick on some eggs.

Merriam-Webster has chickened out on this whole lay/lie thing, crawling under the blanket and saying that lay "has been used intransitively in the sense of 'lie' ⟨lay down for a quick nap⟩ since the 14th century" and it's only recently (meaning since 1700) that anyone said lay can only be used in the intransitive sense to lay an egg. Well, Webster, you know what they didn't have in the 14th century? Dictionaries. And you know why we have dictionaries? To bring order and understanding to a chaotic world. Do you want to render yourself useless, Webster? Do you want chaos and ignorance to become the order of the day again? 

I thought not. Compose yourself, Webster; you're becoming a complete mess.

Thursday, July 27, 2017


To Mom and Dad, without whose cooperation this author would not have been possible.

To L.B.Q., who would be humiliated to be associated with this lousy book were I to spell out "Linda Belinda Quigley," which is her name

To ME! I did all the work! Me! Me! Me!

To Alice, although I will regret having made this dedication to her if she finds out about Gertrude

To Professor Flugelhorrn---toldya I could write! Kiss my ass!

To my readers---suckahs!

To Agatha Christie, from whom I shamelessly stole characters, situations, incidents, plots, and plot twists

To Jean Spludge, without whom none of this would have been possible

To Mummy and Popsy, whose trust fund enabled my life of leisure so I could play at working in publishing while making the necessary connections to publish this slab of garbage. Popsy's college friend Rupert Coggs at Random House helped too. Thanks also to great-great-great-grandfather Ulysses, whose heartless exploitation of the masses made our fortune, which is why I support socialism out of guilt but will never part with a nickel of my own, so don't ask me.

To my ex, Alice, who's going to get all the dough from this book anyway so she might as well have this page too

To IBM, for inventing the PC. I could never have done this on a typewriter. No spellcheck on the Smith-Corona.

To my cat, Miss Phoebe Suckling Pig, because I hate every human being on earth

To ME! Although my ghost writer, Jean Spludge, did all the work. ME anyway!

To the paper manufacturers of the world---if not for your tireless efforts and reasonable prices, crap like this would never see the light of day

To Jim Beam and Mr. Coffee, without whose cooperation this book could not have been written

To my extremely effective lawyer, Max. He knows why.

To Jean: The check is in the mail

To my new mistress, Peaches (suck it, Gertrude!)

To the reviewers: I know where you all live

To Charles Dickens, who, although he didn't play basketball like me, also published a couple of books, like I have now about my career and stuff, so I guess that makes us equal

To my dainty little fingers, who worked so hard 

To ME! ME! ME! ME! ME! Because ME!