Tuesday, June 30, 2009

A sign that I have no taste

After I finished my bagel this morning, I noticed there were several bite-size pieces of my napkin missing. Assuming the teeth marks are mine, I probably ate 10% of my napkin without realizing it. In my defense, I was seriously multitasking while I ate; the eating was to ward off hunger, not for the pleasure of enjoying good food. So, given that taste is obviously irrelevant to my multitasking eating, I think this means I can eat the cheapest possible food while I'm working. I mean, why spend extra on better food, when I'm paying so little attention to it that I can eat paper and not realize it? Maybe I could even eat the cardboard prop bagel with the spray-foam cream cheese -- the one that's been in the countertop display for the last month -- without noticing. Though, now that I think of it, the prop bagel is probably more expensive than a real bagel. But also probably more filling....

Monday, June 29, 2009

The Humongous Mecha Theory of Foreign Policy

While listening to people discuss the possible use of US military power to somehow solve the electoral crisis in Iran, I invented a new guideline for military force. I call it the Humongous Mecha Theory of Foreign Policy. It's generally acknowledged that the US has the best-equipped, best-trained army on the planet. We've got an unstoppable naval fleet, with dozens of ships that can flatten any coastal or near-coastal city and, via cruise missles or aircraft, even strike targets a thousand miles inland. I mean, really -- picture that. We can park a missile carrier off the coast of New York City, and it can drop ordnance on a specific house in Houston, Texas. We've got aircraft that can outrun bullets. We've got tanks that can accurately hit enemy tanks six miles away. Our technology and training are the best in the world.

Everybody (that is, everybody who plays Mechwarrior or watches Manga) is familiar with a variety of Humongous Mecha: giant mechanized war machines that walk on two huge mechanical legs, armored like tanks and bristling with an array of advanced weaponry and military electronics. They can lay down enormous firepower over long distances and soak amazing amounts of damage; they're the ultimate battlefield weapon of the future. Now, for any potential military engagement, picture that you've got an enormous army of Humongous Mecha. Will they help the situation? If you're fighting a front-line battle against soldiers and tanks and helicopters, yeah! They're the war machine of the future! If your goal is to Blow Stuff Up and Sow Carnage, bring on the MadCats! If your intention is Shock And Awe, go for it!

On the other hand, if your objective is political or social, giant war machines are probably a bad option. They're not the right tool for quelling civil unrest; they're not good for winning hearts and minds. And they're inappropriate for securing voting rights, unless you need to blast some voter suppression attack helicopters.

Thus, the Humongous Mecha Theory of Foreign Policy: if you wouldn't use Humongous Mecha, you probably shouldn't use the US military, either. We've got incredible armed forces. But they're not the right tool for every job. I think our political leaders and pundit class fall too easily under Maslow's Hammer: if all you have is a hammer, everything begins to look like a nail. We spend more on our military than every other country in the world, combined. It'd be silly to do that and never actually use the resulting armed forces. But we never think of spending a non-ridiculous amount on the military; rather, we justify our expenses by looking for places to fight. Plus, it's hard to wield diplomatic or economic pressure well, but Blowing Things Up is fairly straightforward. Not necessarily easy, not necessarily useful, but straightforward.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Botox math

I thought I'd share some numbers about Botox. First, botulinum toxin is the most toxic naturally-occurring protein known. Lethal dosage for humans is roughly 1 nanogram per kilogram of body weight; by contrast, the lethal dosage for potassium cyanide is roughly 8 million nanograms per kilogram. A therapeutic Unit of Botox is defined as the average lethal dose for a mouse, or roughly 50 picograms (that's trillionths of a gram). A typical dosage is 5U per .1 ml. And a typical procedure may involve 60 Units (25 for frown lines, 20 for crow's feet, and 15 for the forehead). Doctor's cost for a Unit is roughly $10 to $15. Doctors perform roughly 4,600,000 Botox procedures a year. So, math:

Raw botulinum toxin costs $200 billion per gram.

Doctors use a total of almost 1500 gallons of diluted Botox a year. Dissolved in this 1500 gallons is .013 grams of raw botulinum toxin, roughly the mass of half a grain of rice.

This would be a lethal dose for over 160,000 175-pound people.

Did I mention I do math when I'm bored?

Friday, June 26, 2009

We have a Cabaret again!

Years ago, I worked for the American Cabaret Theatre. It was horrific, in ways it's probably not wise or legal to talk about even now. Back in those days, they did big not-very-original original musical-revue theater with some very good performers under some truly horrible management. My last gig with them was on New Year's Eve 1995, and I swore I'd never work for them again. They couldn't afford me, by definition; if they had called and wanted me to work, and they actually agreed to the outrageous fee I named, I would've raised the fee until they couldn't afford it, or until I couldn't afford to turn it down.

Since then, the American Cabaret Theatre has been through two changes of management and a change of venue. And, most importantly, a change of style. They're now The Cabaret, and they're doing actual cabaret-style shows: a cabaret singer, a small band, a small stage, an intimate space, subdued lighting, a well-stocked bar. It's now co-managed by Shannon Forsell, who I worked with in the ACT days; she's one of my favorite singers in town, and she's working hard to turn the Cabaret around, to reinvent it as a true cabaret-style company. So I did a show for them tonight, and it was great. Brenda Williams -- another of my favorite singers -- did two sets, just under two hours of music, and she was everything a cabaret singer should be. And the venue, the Connoisseur Room, is as close to a perfect venue for this kind of performance as you'll find anywhere.

So, in short: if cabaret shows interest you, Indy now has an actual cabaret! In every important aspect, it's no longer the American Cabaret Theatre we knew and abhorred. It's a new creation, and they do wonderful shows in the perfect setting. Shannon and Trina are doing something great downtown, bringing something new and cool to the city, so go see their shows and support them.

And, might I suggest, it's an ideal activity for a date: dim lighting, romantic atmosphere, good music, snacky food....

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Today's Schadenfreude

One of the biggest low-grade irritations in people's lives are people who believe The Rules don't apply to them. Society works because people generally follow The Rules: we're generally nice to strangers, we follow traffic laws, we wait our turn in lines. But, a lot of the rules are enforced only socially. So if you're sociopathic enough, you can break them and come out ahead more often than not. Some kinds of sociopath get in the habit of believing that rules in general don't apply to them. But some rules are enforced by a higher standard than social norms -- they're enforced by physics. And if you habitually assume the rules don't apply to you, you may not stop to differentiate which rules are social and which are physics.

I mention this because I watched a guy in a conversion van pull into a parking garage today as I was biking in to work. The hanging bar that says "CLEARANCE: 6'6" " bumped over the top of his van, but this was apparently one of those rules that didn't apply to him. He also didn't believe the sign that said "SPEED LIMIT ON RAMP: 10 MPH" applied to him either. Combine these, and picture what happened when he hit the pinch point at the bottom of the ramp. I really wish I would've taken a picture....

Friday, June 19, 2009

Indy by bike: Dorman Street

Indianapolis is full of fun little nooks where cars can't go. When I next travel them, I'll take some pictures so you non-cyclists can see what you're missing. For now, here's one I drive through every few days on my way home. Just north of Michigan Street, Dorman Street used to be a throughway (as shown on the old Google Maps picture here). It's since turned into a cul-de-sac, with a footbridge spanning the creek. It's a nice, quiet spot in a decent neighborhood, and the property owner hasn't seemed to mind if I hop off the bike and read for a while near the end of the bridge. A picture (click on them for the full-size version on my Flickr page):

Dorman Street Footbridge by you.

Friday, June 12, 2009


I've got a quadruple-shot latte sitting on the desk in front of me. I wasn't really planning on four shots of espresso; I just ordered a large latte with an extra shot, and I didn't realize that a large already has three in it. But it's a happy accident, because I'm going to need the caffeine to stay awake until I'm done with work. I've had a bunch of late nights this week, and I've been sleeping poorly. It's partially scheduling -- I've been busy, and at odd hours, and it's messing with my sleep schedule. We had houseguests last night, which kept me up late and woke me early. We had a serious storm Wednesday night, and the thunder kept waking me in the middle of the night. And Tuesday, I worked from 10am to 2:30am, followed by a late-night run to Waffle House. Tonight, I'm done at 9, at which time I go home and collapse into bed for (hopefully) ten hours of (ideally) uninterrupted sleep.

The incomplete novel is also partially to blame for my poor sleep; right before I drift off to sleep, my brain will lock onto some odd writing problem I'm having and thrash it around for a few hours instead of letting me sleep. It's not obviously productive time; I don't finish a late-night insomniac brainstorming session with problems solved (or, at least not consciously solved). The irony isn't lost on me that after a sleepless night, I'm generally too tired to write much the next day....

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Yet another thing I love about my wife

I worked a long day yesterday; since the departure of my part-time assistant (and the budget-cutting decision to not replace him), I've had a few of these, since I'm now expected to cover every performance and event myself. Yesterday I was at work at 10:30am for a performance, and was there until our second function of the day ended, around 2:30am. Laura called on the way home and asked when I'd be home, and I told her I was too wired from working to go to bed right away, so I was going to do some grocery shopping on the way home. She said that she had just finished a book, and also wouldn't be able to sleep for a while, so I stopped at home and picked her up so we could spend some time together. We did our shopping, then went to Waffle House (the only restaurant on our side of town that's still open at 3am) and had breakfast/dinner and talked until 4:30am, at which point we went home and napped before having to be awake this morning. We're a bit sleepy today, but it's worth it; I'm glad we got to spend some time together, and I'm glad we got to unwind after our long workdays by sitting in an otherwise-empty diner and talking over coffee.

We don't do this often, but I'm glad she's up for an occasional late-night, low-key adventure....

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Shrinking the Bookstore

American consumers tend to develop an internal Bullshit Detector. It's a bit like a Geiger counter, ticking an alert in the presence of marketing hooey. My detector was set wildly clacking away this afternoon when I visited Borders Books downtown. They're rearranging the first floor and adding a few comfy couches -- and losing, I estimate, over two hundred feet of shelf space in the process. What got me was the signage: "In Order To Serve You Better...". There were other words after these first six, but I couldn't concentrate on them over the staccato sounds of my Bullshit Detector on high alert. Because I can just imagine all the ways in which cutting their stock by over a thousand volumes in my preferred genre is Serving Me Better. Not to mention all the ways in which radically reduced shelf space will Serve my eventual writing career Better.

And, a sign that they're not Serving Me Better: I was looking for two books, neither of which is particularly obscure, and they didn't have either on the shelf. I'm looking forward to hearing Borders officers complain about lagging sales, with confused expressions on corporate leaders' faces, unable to understand why people are buying fewer books. Maybe they'll try to blame The Economy, or The Internet....

Gruel & Porridge

Some of my favorite breakfast and snack foods are of the Porridge Family: cream of wheat, oatmeal, grits, and the like. They're yummy, quick to prepare, and easy to clean up. They taste the same whether you make them in the microwave or on the stovetop. And they're a socially-acceptable vehicle for consuming brown sugar. Laura, on the other hand, is skeeved out by the porridge group. Not only doesn't she eat them, it even bothers her a little watching me eat them. It's mostly a consistency thing; the vaguely gloppy, slimy texture messes with her sense of order.

This isn't a problem I suffer from; the texture of my food doesn't bother me at all. Case in point: when Laura was working late last week, I conducted a grits experiment. They're better when they're a bit lumpy, so I reasoned that maybe they'd be good if you spread them thickly on waxed paper, let them dry a bit, and cut them into bars, which you could then eat with butter and brown sugar. (You see the lengths to which I'll go, to procrastinate working on the novel.) The grits experiment was extremely Not Good. But the point is, I did the experiment. I didn't mention this to Laura; just the thought of it would probably induce retching....

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Grease and Dough

I have an idea for a restaurant. I don't want to start it myself, but I wish someone else would; it fills a need, unlike most new restaurants, and I could see it being wildly popular. The name of the restaurant: Fair Food. The entire menu would consist of food normally only found at county fairs and church festivals: funnel cakes, elephant ears, lemon shake-ups, corn dogs, sno-cones, cotton candy, and the like. As far as I know, there is no restaurant in Indy, or anywhere else, that serves this kind of food. Sure, you can occasionally find a single menu item of fair food at some restaurants (the Ram Brewery downtown has funnel cakes on their dessert menu), and you'll see sno-cone stands sometimes in the summer. But I don't know of a year-round, one-stop shop for midway food, and I think the world needs such a restaurant.

I suspect this kind of place would make a fortune; if you charged fair prices -- that is, not equitable prices, but the prices you pay at the county fair -- your profit margin would be enormous. And your capital outlay to start such a restaurant would be relatively minimal; almost everything would be cooked in the same vat of hot grease. And, in county-fair tradition, you'd only change your grease once a season.

I'm thinking about this right now, because I really want an elephant ear, and maybe some rib meat on a bun....