Sunday, February 28, 2010

J. D. Salinger

When J. D. Salinger died on January 27th, I was tempted to announce it in a post a la Soupy Sales. But it was front page news so I didn't bother. Today, there is an interesting article in the Post Gazette about the man. So, for anyone who was greatly influenced by the Glass family (like me and the woman who wrote the article) and who normally does not read the Post Gazette, you will not want to miss this.

Saturday, February 27, 2010


1. B & O Railroad
2. Pennsylvania Railroad
3. Reading Railroad

Friday, February 26, 2010


1. Botticelli paints "Birth of Venus"
2. Da Vinci paints "Mona Lisa"
3. Gutenberg prints bible at Mainz

Thursday, February 25, 2010


1. Number of cities with over 1 million people in 2005
2. Number of events in the 2008 Summer Olympics
3. Number of floors in Burj Khalifa (Burj Dubai), world's tallest structure

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Monday, February 22, 2010

Vacation ideas

I've got two great vacation ideas for everyone.

First, there's the longest sled run in the world, known as the Wildkogel Rodelbahn, at Ski Arena Wildkogel in Neukirchen, Austria.

The run is almost 9 miles long and involves an over-4000 foot vertical drop. The really nice thing is that half-way down, you'll find a slopeside tavern, just in case you need a little Dutch courage to get down the rest of the hill. See
Ski Arena Wildkogel.

The second possibility is a place called "Drive a Tank," in Waseca, Minnesota, where you can do just that. For a few hundred dollars, they'll let you drive around a British FV-433 Abbott for an afternoon and fire a few rounds (blanks only, sorry). And for a few extra hundred dollars, they'll let you drive over and crush a car or two. The advertising says that it's great for couples, so I think we have the perfect honeymoon destination for James and Ali. As they say, a couple who drives a battle tank together, stays together. See
Drive A Tank.


American presidents
1. Grover Cleveland
2. James Polk
3. Martin Van Buren

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Humpty Dumpty

What important word is missing from the Humpty Dumpty rhyme?

(Maybe this is an old question, but it's the first time I heard it)


Area of Lakes
1. Caspian Sea
2. Lake Superior
3. Lake Victoria

Friday, February 19, 2010

Silencing John Yoo

Since Johns Hopkins is near and dear to my heart and John Yoo sucks (an understatement), this video is a pretty good.


European diplomacy
1. Congress of Berlin
2. Congress of Paris
3. Congress of Vienna

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Happy Fat Tuesday

Enjoy! We'll be trying the pancakes tonight, let you know how they go.

From Jason Kottke's Blog

"After discovering the recipe for Robie's Buttermilk Flapjacks in a magazine a year or two ago, my wife has been making them for breakfast most Saturdays and they are, no foolin', the best pancakes I've ever eaten. They are fluffy and moist and delicious. Here's what you do.

Combine the dry ingredients in a bowl, whisk, set aside:

2 cups flour
2 tbsp sugar
4 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp fine salt

Combine the wet ingredients in a second bowl, whisk:

2 cups buttermilk
4 tbsp melted butter
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 beaten eggs

Add the wet ingredients to the dry and whisk until just combined. Fry in a pan with butter. Top with maple syrup and devour.

Don't skimp on the ingredients here. Use real butter and real vanilla extract, but especially real maple syrup and real buttermilk. Depending on where you live/shop, actual buttermilk might be difficult to find. The term "buttermilk" formerly referred to the liquid left behind after churning butter but nowadays refers to a cultured milk product not unlike drinkable yogurt. The only real buttermilk we've been able to find (in VT and MA) is Kate's Real Buttermilk; even at the NYC Greenmarket, the best you can find is cultured buttermilk made with whole milk. At least attempt to avoid most grocery store buttermilk; it's made from skim milk with added thickeners and such, basically buttermilk without any richness, which is, like, what's the point? Oh, and no powdered buttermilk messes with the texture too much. The point is, these are buttermilk pancakes and they taste best with the best buttermilk you can get your mitts on."



Early England
1. Compilation of the 'Doomsday book'
2. Norman conquest
3. Thomas Becket murdered

Monday, February 15, 2010

Sunday, February 14, 2010



Distance of planets from the sun
a. Jupiter
b. Saturn
c. Uranus

Saturday, February 13, 2010



U.S. Territory Acquisitions
a. Alaskan Purchase
b. Gadsden Purchase
c. Louisiana Purchase

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Speaking of Kafka

Speaking of Kafka, last year Business Week named Prague's Franz Kafka International the World's Most Alienating Airport due to long delays, bureaucratic employees, and overall oppressive atmosphere. With Ellen's upcoming trip to Prague, this has me more than just a little concerned. Here's the report:

Prague's Franz Kafka International Named World's Most Alienating Airport



Dam height
a. Grand Coulee
b. Hoover
c. Oroville

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Anticipating Valentine's Day

I've come across a few items which I thought appropriate for the holiday dedicated to matters of the heart: Valentine's Day.

This week, Garrison Keillor in his "Writer's Almanac" is observing Valentine's Day with love letters from the literary world.

Earlier this week, the writer was Franz Kafka. Born in Prague (Ellen pay attention), Kafka is thought of as a neurotic, but as Keillor points out, he wrote a great many love letters to Felice Bauer, a Berlin woman to whom he was engaged for five years.

In the autumn of 1912, wrote to her:

"Fraulein Felice!

I am now going to ask you a favour which sounds quite crazy, and which I should regard as such, were I the one to receive the letter. It is also the very greatest test that even the kindest person could be put to. Well this is it:

Write to me only once a week, so that your letter arrives on Sunday — for I cannot endure your daily letters, I am incapable of enduring them.

For instance, I answer one of your letters, then lie in bed in apparent calm, but my heart beats through my entire body and is conscious only of you.

I belong to you; there is really no other way of expressing it, and that is not strong enough. But for this very reason I don't want to know what you are wearing; it confuses me so much that I cannot deal with life; and that's why I don't want to know that you are fond of me. If I did, how could I, fool that I am, go on sitting in my office, or here at home, instead of leaping onto a train with my eyes shut and opening them only when I am with you?"

And a week after that, he wrote to her:

"Dearest, what have I done that makes you torment me so? No letter again today, neither by the first mail nor the second. You do make me suffer! While one written word from you could make me happy! ... If I am to go on living at all, I cannot go on vainly waiting for news of you, as I have done these last few interminable days ...


And then, I found another website for Valentine's Day which featured the best breakup songs. I don't know if this one's the best but it's way up there:



American Technoloy
a. Bessemer patents his process using a converter to make steel
b. Drake drills the first oil well in Titusville, Pennsylvania
b. Goodyear discovers the process of vulcanizaton

Tuesday, February 9, 2010


Except once for Ted and once for Myk, there have been no guesses in comments. I'm assuming that people are guessing but not recording, which, not only is fine, but reasonable in that this is just supposed to be a diversion, which may spark further interest once in a while. So I think a better format is to give the answers in the first comment when the question is posted. So there will be no one-week delay. By then you have forgotten your answers anyway. By the way, as Myk pointed out, these are not really meant to be a test of knowledge--more like a parlor game. You may have a good idea about one or more of the items, but luck, or lucky reasoning is most likely needed. Here's an easy one to get started with the new format:


a. First
b. Penultimate
c. Ultimate

Monday, February 8, 2010

NYT Math Series

The second installment, Rock Groups, is out for the math series which threatens to explain math "From the basics to the baffling."

Improv Everywhere in a L.A. food court

One of the benefits of the Web is that you can serendipitously find something while looking for something else. I suspect many have seen this but for those who haven't:

Pretty Cool Commercial



Height of famous tourist attractions
a. The Eiffel Tower
b. The Great Pyramid of Giza
c. St. Peter's Basilica

Sunday, February 7, 2010

A Question

As blogs become the new email, I'll ask this question here. It is mainly directed at Peter H. but any replies are welcome. How do you paste a video from YouTube, directly into a post on the blog?

For most technical questions, my answer is usually, 'Look it up on the Web.' and that is a good answer. However, my (half hearted) research has led me to create an account on YouTube, which I did, but still no luck pasting, even though my account does (somewhat) recognize this blog. (Somewhat in the sense that it comes up when I select a blog, but nothing seems to change.)


Electricity just arrived so I owe two days worth.


Colors of the rainbow
a. green
b. red
c. yellow


Ancient history
a. Peloponnesian Wars
b. Persian War
c. Punic Wars

I will post the answers for last Sunday in the comments.

Human Hair Loss

I’ve read a few watershed books over the years that seriously changed the way I thought about things. One of these – which I read way back in my sophomore year of high school – was Desmond Morris' The Naked Ape.

The book made a splash in its day mostly because it argued that, despite our high-falutin' opinion of ourselves, much of human behavior can be explained away as just updated versions of fairly undignified primate habits.

One of the issues addressed by the book is the question of why Homo sapiens became hairless. "There are 193 living species of monkeys and apes," wrote Morris. "192 of them are covered with hair. The exception is a naked ape self-named Homo sapiens." Beyond that, there are very few mammals of any stripe without hair and, when that rare occurrence happens, it’s due to an adaptation to a unique environment, like naked mole rats who live entirely underground or the totally aquatic whales and dolphins.

Morris theorizes that we are hairless to facilitate an increased sensation and intimacy from mutual touching, which strengthens pair-bonding. According to Morris, we humans are a type of hyper-sexualized ape. Men and women are so attracted to each other that they end up staying together for long periods of time.

Pair bonding was necessary for several reasons. For one, it permitted a division of labor between parents so that one could care for a long-term dependent juvenile and rely on the other to regularly bring home the bacon for both of them. It also reduced competition for mates and promoted cooperation within the tribe, which was required for a successful hunt.

I must say, I found this all pretty intriguing as a 16-year old guy: we lost our hair as a kind of sex aid to help bring men and women closer together. Somehow, that made the world seem like a better place. And, I’ve accepted Morris' explanation over the years – perhaps it was the romantic in me – even while recognizing that he was hardly the foremost authority on the issue.

Well, the cover story in the February issue of Scientific American is an article by Penn State’s own Nina G. Jablonski, "The Naked Truth." She proposes another explanation for the loss of our fur: to keep cool.

We lost our hair while simultaneously developing an extraordinary number of eccrine sweat glands, which produce a particularly watery and easily evaporated sweat. Other mammals have a more oily sweat which coats the hair and cools the animal but does not dissipate heat.

As climate change turned the jungles into savannahs, our ancestors had to travel ever longer distances in search of food and water. At the same time, probably also because of food shortages, hominids began to incorporate meat into their diets. Unlike plants, animals are moving targets and require the expenditure of even more energy in order to eat. Projectile weapons like spears had not yet appeared on the scene and early hominids were not fast enough to catch their prey. The only reliable way to kill it would have been to run it down to exhaustion over a long distance, usually in the heat of the day.

This persistence hunting, however, created a serious risk of overheating. To reduce this risk, hominids developed both an increased sweating ability and the loss of hair to promote evaporation. As Jablonski points out, according to a recent paper in Sports Medicine, "our cooling system is so superior that in a marathon on a hot day, a human could outcompete a horse."

This is one more piece of evidence that humans were designed for endurance running. This is who we are. Hey, if you’re not out on the roads regularly, you are denying your own humanity.

So, between Morris and Jablonski, who’s right? Did we lose our hair so that we could become better lovers or better runners? (There's a third possiblility rejected by Jablonski in her article that says that our hair loss was to make us better swimmers.) I honestly like both Morris' and Jablonski's explanations. Stevie Wonder sings “I was made to love” but Springsteen reminds us, “Baby, we were born to run.”

Friday, February 5, 2010

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Superbowl Week

Best Hair in the NFL? Obviously being in the Superbowl is more important than Head and Shoulders in order to win best hair, Sorry Troy.


Miscellaneous (at least 100 years apart)
a. First chocolate factory in Germany
b. First roller skating rink in London
c. Tea first drunk in England

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Mr. Abdulmutallab

I have a friend who likes to send me emails with links to columns by conservative commentators. Most of these are from Lately, he has sent me a number of columns filled with a lot of sound and fury about how this administration is jeopardizing national security by being soft on terrorism and refusing to use harsh interrogation techniques on terrorist suspects, particularly Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab. The narrative of the Christmas bomber story in all these articles goes like this: Abdulmutallab was read his Miranda rights and then "lawyered up," and we gave up our one opportunity to get any information out of him.

Well, it turns out the the narrative wasn't accurate. Abdulmutallab never clammed up. And he began to be particularly helpful several weeks ago when members of his family flown in from Nigeria persuaded him to cooperate. Once his family arrived in the U.S. on Jan. 17, Abdulmutallab began providing valuable information. Just this last week 10 arrests were made in Malaysia based at least in part on his information. Terror Suspect Has Provided Intelligence, Officials Say. I don't really know this, but I wonder how willingly the family would have co-operated had their son just spent the last two months being waterboarded.

One reflection here is that maybe the pundits should keep quiet until they know what they're talking about.

But, also, this episode raises another more troubling question. Why is it that the answer to every political issue for the Right is brutality? Whether it's the "let then eat cake" attitude toward the uninsured and underinsured, the unwillingness to lift a finger for the recession victims (but we'll take the tax breaks!) or the feverish desire to see harsh interrogation techniques meted out, the policy answer for conservatives is always and everywhere: what's the most inhumane thing we can do here? The Right must look back on the German occupation of Poland with sighs of envy.


European Geography
a. Hungary
b. Slovakia
c. Poland

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Stuff White People Like

Stuff White People Like, I think is the book Uncle Bill mentioned when discussing assists during our skate at Panther Hollow. Here is Christian Lander's blog to supplement the book with new entries.

Destroying the Definitional Argument against Gay Marriage

Crying Fowl about Marriage
by John Corvino
First published at on January 29, 2010

Opponents of marriage equality have recently been shifting somewhat away from the “bad for children” argument in favor of what we might call the “definitional” argument: same-sex “marriage” is not really marriage, and thus legalizing it would amount to a kind of lie or counterfeit.

As National Organization for Marriage (NOM) president Maggie Gallagher puts it: “Politicians can pass a bill saying a chicken is a duck and that doesn't make it true. Truth matters.”

The definitional argument isn’t new, although its resurgence is telling. Unlike the “bad for children” argument, it’s immune from empirical testing: it’s a conceptual point, not an empirical one.

Suppose we grant for argument’s sake that marriage has been male-female pretty much forever. (For now, I’m putting aside anthropological evidence of same-sex unions in history, as well as the great diversity of marriage forms even within the male-female paradigm.) All that would follow is that this is how marriage HAS BEEN. It would not follow that marriage cannot become something else.

At this point opponents are likely to retort that changing marriage in this way would be bad because [insert parade of horrible consequences here]. But if they do, they’ve in effect conceded the impotence of the definitional argument. The definitional argument is supposed to be IN ADDITION TO the consequentialist arguments, not a proxy for them. Otherwise, we could just stay focused on the consequentialist arguments.

What Gallagher and her cohorts are contending is that EVEN IF we were to take the consequentialist arguments off the table, there will still be the problem that same-sex marriage promotes a lie, much like calling a chicken a duck.

Let’s pause to consider a seemingly silly question: apart from consequences, what’s the problem with calling a chicken a duck—or more precisely, with using the word “chicken” to refer to both chickens and ducks?

If I go to the grocer and ask for a chicken and unwittingly come home with a (fattier and less healthful) duck, that’s a problem. But (1) same-sex marriage poses no similar problem: no one worries about walking his bride down the aisle, lifting her veil, and discovering “Damn! You’re a dude!” And (2) such problems are still in the realm of consequences.

If there’s an inherent problem with using the word “chicken” to refer to both chickens and ducks, it’s that doing so would obscure a real difference in nature. Whatever we call them—indeed, whether we name them at all—chickens and ducks are distinct creatures.

Something similar would occur if we used the word “silver” to refer to both silver and platinum. Even if no one noticed and no one cared, the underlying realities would be different.

That might begin to get at what marriage-equality opponents mean when they claim that same sex marriage involves “a lie about human nature” (Gallagher’s words). But if it does, then their argument is weak on at least two counts.

First, one can acknowledge a difference between two things while still adopting a blanket term that covers them both. Both chickens and ducks are fowl; both silver and platinum are precious metals.

So even if same-sex and opposite-sex relationships differ in some fundamental way, there’s nothing to prevent us from using the term “marriage” to cover relationships of both sorts—especially if we have compelling reasons for doing so (for example, that marriage equality would make life better for millions of gay people and wouldn’t take anything away from straight people).

The second and deeper problem is that both the chicken/duck example and the silver/platinum example involve what philosophers call “natural kinds”—categories that “carve nature at the joints,” as it were. By contrast, marriage is quintessentially a social, or artifactual, kind: it’s something that humans create.

(One might retort that God created marriage. That rejoinder won’t help marriage-equality opponents attempting to provide a constitutionally valid reason against secular marriage equality. But it might help explain why they sometimes treat marriage as if it were a fixed object in nature.)

Like “baseball,” “art,” “war,” and “government”—to take a random list—and unlike “chicken” or “silver,” the word “marriage” refers to something that humans arrange and can rearrange. Indeed, they HAVE rearranged it. Polygamy was once the norm; wives were the legal property of their husbands; mutual romantic interest was the exception rather than the rule.

Of course it doesn’t follow that any and all rearrangements are advisable. We could change baseball so that it has four outs per inning. Doing so might or might not improve the game. But saying “that’s not really baseball!” is hardly a compelling argument against the change (any more than it was against changing the designated-hitter rule).

So too with the claim “that’s not really marriage.” Maybe that’s not what marriage WAS. But should it be now?

Betwixt - 2/2/2010

Distance between New York and ...
a. Naples, Italy
b. Oslo, Norway
c. Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Myk's comment got me thinking and I think he's on to something. I'd like to modify the game--an old tradition. You get 1 point for high, 1 point for low, and 1 point for 'Mr. In Between'. Note that this allows you (3 chances) to score 1 point for partial success or 3 points for total success. There is no in between.

Monday, February 1, 2010

The Language of Nature

Richard Feynman once said, "To those who do not know mathematics it is difficult to get across a real feeling as to the beauty, the deepest beauty, of nature ...If you want to learn about nature, to appreciate nature, it is necessary to understand the language that she speaks in." An educated person has always been able to boast of his or her lack of knowledge of mathematics and still be considered educated. I'm not sure that is a good thing, now or especially in the future.

To that aim, there is a new feature in the NY Times, called From Fish to Infinity which hopefully will be an interesting, useful and educational resource. It looks promising as it starts off with a clip from the greatest TV show ever.

Betwixt - 2/1/2010

Birth of Religious Leaders
a. Buddha (Siddhartha Guatama)
b. Zoroaster (Zarathustra)
c. Confucius (K'ung Ch'iu)