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Radio Dazed

(Science marches on like a lion... or a lamb. Or something. Anyway, it's spring and a new week and that means a new Secondhand SCIENCE.

Hop on over to learn all about glial cells, and what they have to do with Scooby Doo, training gyms and everyone's favorite mushmouthed Hollywood boxer. It's a champ!)

Friends. Family members. Former coworkers.

(Also, random Googling internet weirdos. In fact, probably mostly that.)

Lend me your ears.

(Actually, don't lend them to me, because I won't be the one talking.

Or rather, I will. But I'm not the one in charge. Of your ears. Or the talking into them.

Look, this has gone sort of sideways here. Let me start over.)

What are you planning on doing tomorrow (Thursday the 26th) at noon?

Uh huh. Okay. Gotcha. Yep, that sounds great.

Now, don't do any of those things you just said.

Instead, tune into BreakThru Radio online and DJ Jess' Biology of the Blog show.

Every week, Jess showcases a weblog and chats with the wild-eyed lunatic behind it -- and this week, that wild-eyed lunatic is me!

"I just wanted to feel better about the ridiculous nonsense I spouted in a public forum, is all."

(I can't actually speak to the lunacy or eye-wilderness of the previous guests. In the shows I've listened to, they've seemed pretty sane and composed. I just wanted to feel better about the ridiculous nonsense I spouted in a public forum, is all.)

The link above may not work until the show actually airs, I think. Which maybe I should have told you somewhere before the link, in case you clicked it right away. But how would that work, anyway? If I put a warning up there, like:

HERE COMES A LINK, BUT FOR THE LOVE OF UNBROKEN ANIMAL CRACKERS, DON'T CLICK ON IT YET!

Then you're totally going to click on it. Probably twice. I know how this works.

Also, I'm not entirely positive that the show airs at noon. But you should maybe cancel all of your plans starting at noon, just to be safe. I know I will. And that's a lot of afternoon sleeping to give up. I'm just saying.

That pretty much covers it. Tomorrow, noonish (probably). Check out DJ Jess for some great tunes and a little Q & A with me on Biology of the Blog.

(Full disclosure: we didn't actually talk about biology; that's just the name of the show. Although we did chat a bit about colonizing Mars.

I mean, not us colonizing Mars, obviously. We're both way too busy for that. She's got radio shows to do every week, and I... well. Those forty-three episodes of the Simpsons sitting on my TiVo aren't going to watch themselves.)

So this has been a mess. But if you thought this post was rambling and tangential and awkward... oh, there's plenty more where that came from. Tune in tomorrow.





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I'm the Guy and I Don't Know Why

(March marches on, and so does science. Namely, Secondhand SCIENCE. This week's wackiness is all about tectonic plates. It's an earth-moving experience. Probably. Check it out.)

There's a troubling development at my office recently. It would seem I've become "the guy" for a thing.

Now, to a point, I'm okay with that. I've been "the guy" for things before. I scrap together little bits of software for people, and cram numbers into databases sometimes. So when one of those stops working or catches someone on fire, then sure -- I'm "the guy" who has to fix it and clean up the mess and rub aloe vera on some poor users' ruined fingers. That's part of the job.

But this is different. This is not my thing, nor a thing I know much of anything about. It's a big scary set of interlocking systems, all talking to each other -- in Swahili, for all I know -- and a couple of other guys built it and babysat it and kept scripts and monitors and pipelines full of aloe running for when things went haywire. For years, they did this, and nobody really knew -- or wanted to know, frankly -- exactly how those particular sausages were being prepared.

Which was fine.

Except now those guys are gone.

(Cost-cutting thing, from what I understand. You could keep the system or keep the people taking care of it. And since the people couldn't remember as much data as the databases or spit pretty numbers into a spreadsheet, the people got the boot. And the system sputters on.

Sometimes.)

With the people who had any practical knowledge of this thing gone, the company turned to the next best thing: someone with no earthly idea how the thing works or which bits of string are glued to which other bits, but who sat down with one of the guys who built it for five minutes before he left to learn one very specific instruction for one tiny corner of the system, in case that bit looks like it's going to crack and fall off some day.

In other words, me. "The guy".

In fairness, I'm not the only "guy". Other people learned little snippets of this monster from the builders, and they're "the guys" and "the girls" for those pieces, and probably all sorts of surrounding bits they have no idea about. But not being alone in this really doesn't help that much.

Basically, this is like that old parable where a bunch of blind people -- or blindfolded, maybe, if this particular parable author was uncharacteristically generous about infirmities in the story -- wander around feeling up an elephant.

"The tusk-toucher is magically the resident expert on tusks, horns, fangs, spikes, ivory, ebony, piano tuning and Beethoven's Fifth."

(I'm noting here that if you're unfamiliar with this parable, the above description probably gives you a way kinkier impression of it than is really warranted.

Noting it, but not changing it. Because some Bollywood skin flick director will be all over that, and I want credit for the idea. But if you need the actual elephant story details, Wikipedia's your huckleberry.)

Only our situation is a little different. Whoever touched the tail is now assumed to have encyclopedic knowledge of all things elephant ass. The tusk-toucher is magically the resident expert on tusks, horns, fangs, spikes, ivory, ebony, piano tuning and Beethoven's Fifth.

I don't have it the worst. I only brushed a wrinkly leg, figuratively speaking, but now I'm fielding questions about pants pressing, Oil of Olay and grandma gams.

Again, figuratively.

Still, these are questions I can't answer. I'm looking at one corner of a giant black box covered in buttons and switches, and I know the one I can push to make a gumball come out. If you want a jelly bean, I can't help you. If you're looking for surf and turf, you'll be sorely disappointed with what I know. And if you need your hair extinguished and a nice aloe vera shampoo, then I'm probably no help at all.

So it's unfortunate. The only thing worse than being "the guy" for a thing is being "the guy" for a thing you really aren't especially "the guy" for. And the people coming to me for help aren't getting anywhere, either. Because I can only give them the same answer:

"Go ask elephant-ass guy. Maybe he knows something."

But probably not. Dude's blind, so Dumbo's probably sat on him by now. I'm just saying, it's a mess.





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Local Incapacity

(Spring forward -- into Secondhand SCIENCE.

This week's nonsense dives into Alu elements. It'll get you ready for a genetics test -- and spring training. Play science!)

I'm being driven into the arms of a monster.

And not a fun monster, either. Like Grover or Mojo Jojo or Kang.

(In fairness, I never found Kang all that appealing.)

No, in this case I'm being driven -- thrust, really -- into the hairy, wartified arms of one of modern society's most hideous and notorious monsters:

Comcast

For the entire lifespan of this site -- nearly twelve years now; and boy, it doesn't seem like a day more than eleven and a half -- the internet onramp via which I fling nonsense onto it has been provided by DSL.

Antiquated technology, I know. Slow. Copper line-limited. Quaint. But at the time I had it set up -- we're talking year 2000 ancient history here, people -- it was fully state of the art.

Way back then, it was all the shit to have in-home DSL. We privileged few would trade notes on our Beanie Babies on Usenet groups by the glow of our gaslight lamps and GIT OFFA MY LAWN ALREADY!

Anyway.

At the time, cable and DSL interwebbery were fairly comparable, speedwise. As in, both were punk-ass slow, like a snail on Valium with a charley horse. But DSL was yours -- all yours! -- while cable connections were shared with your bandwidth-hogging, vid-pirating, porn-grubbing filthy neighbors.

I don't know if my neighbors at the time did all that stuff, mind you. I'm just quoting the DSL ads.

I tried getting DSL installed through Verizon. But they turned out to be a bunch of incompetent syphilitic donkey-humping lying jackholes -- no ads here; this one's from experience -- and they jerked me around in not-the-fun-way for three months and got me nowhere. As Verizons do.

So I turned to a company called Speakeasy. They weren't a monolithic mega-corporate utilityco; just a medium-sized ISP on the West Coast that offered services in my area. Good reviews. Snazzy name. I gave them a shot. And I had DSL installed in less than three days.

God, I hate Verizon. Did I mention they cut service on my regular phone line, while they were Abbott-and-Costello-ing their way through not installing the DSL line? Assholes.

(And yes, at the time we also had a landline. Because it was the Middle Ages, we all wore sabertooth tiger skins and worked on discovering fire in the basements of our caves, and I've already told you: My lawn. Git offa it.)

For ten years, Speakeasy treated me right. I moved -- twice -- and the second call I made each time was to my trusty ISP to have a line run and service moved over.

(The first call is for pizza. Always. You've got to have pizza on moving day.)

Five years ago, I got a scare. Speakeasy was being taken over by some big company with a name right out of Office Space: MegaPath. I didn't know these people. I don't like my bytes and packets being manhandled by strangers. I even looked into cable packages for internet -- but not FiOS, because in all honesty, screw Verizon with a grappling hook backwards, please.

"From the reviews I've read online, the only thing keeping angry mobs of townspeople from storming Comcast's offices is the high price of pitchforks at Home Depot."

But I got some emails, from the Speakeasy people. They said it was okay. MegaPath is cool, they're friends of ours, and everything's going to work out. So I stuck around, and for the most part, they were right. People around me had faster connections, maybe. But I had a dedicated line running into my living room, shared with no one, it nearly always worked -- and on the rare occasion I had to call for something, it was quick, painless and instantly resolved.

I hear the same isn't quite universally true of Comcast. From the reviews I've read online, the only thing keeping angry mobs of townspeople from storming Comcast's offices is the high price of pitchforks at Home Depot.

But I didn't have to worry about that with Speakeasy, or with MegaPath. A little bandwidth always is better than more bandwidth sometimes, I told myself.

(Also, with SpeakPath or whatever they started calling themselves, I got a static IP address. That means I could run a server of my own, from my very own home office.

I never actually did that, really. Once or twice, to move some files around pre-Google Drive. And I might have spent six hours once figuring out how to demo a homemade web site for a half-hour meeting.

The point is, I could have run my own server, any time I wanted. I had the power. Not the need, perhaps. Nor the patience. Nor the resolve, adequate infrastructure nor adequate hardware. But the power, you see. The power is what matters. For twelve idle years. Apparently.

Shaddup.)

So when MegaEasy passed my account along again this winter to yet a third company, I wasn't concerned. My DSL would now be served by a shadowy Orwellian entity known as Global Capacity, which sounds much more like a marketing bullet point than a company in its own right. But I assumed things would chug along, more or less the same. And MegaPath's emails assured me it would be so; the friend of my friend said his friend would be all right.

He lied. The friend of my friend's friend is an idiot.

(Which is not a saying you hear too often, but I suspect it's true an awful lot of the time.)

Global Capacity officially took over -- meaning accepted my money for their services -- in late February. And to be fair, I didn't really notice anything different.

Until this Wednesday morning, when the connection crapped out.

I called Wednesday evening, and the tech rep said there was some sort of failure in an office in New York, which was apparently affecting their whole New England operation. Everyone in New York and Massachusetts, at least, was out of luck, but the problem would be fixed the next day. Sometime.

Not exactly "scrambling" to get the issue solved, it seemed. But I assumed there were other factors at work. They're Global Capacity, after all. Maybe all of their technical staff were busy fighting network outages on the Iberian peninsula, or snaking transcontinental cables to the Pacific Rim.

I gave them the benefit of the doubt, and patiently waited Thursday for service to return.

On Friday, I waited less patiently.

Today, I gave up, cancelled service -- or lack thereof -- and called the evil-but-not-as-evil-in-my-eyes-as-Verizon empire of Comcast and told them to come and extract my soul activate cable internet. Because more bandwidth sometimes is better than less bandwidth not at all for four days. I hope.

In the meantime, I learned what I could about this "Global Capacity" I'd been foisted off on, and given the two words in their company name, I'm fairly convinced they're neither -- at least when it comes to residential networking.

For one thing, the tech guy told me on the phone that around 150 people -- that's less than 200, in at least two states -- were affected by this outage. I don't know what sort of "capacity" that suggests, but it's probably less than the number of active Bronies in the same square mileage. That's not a pretty picture.

And maybe the company is "global", in some respect. But the info I could find suggests they employ maybe a couple hundred people in total -- fewer than one for every country a truly "global" company would serve. Maybe they put sent one guy over the border to Canada with a walkie-talkie to qualify as international, but otherwise I'm not seeing it.

Likewise, I've retracted my optimistic views on where their technical resources might be spending their time during this outage. I'm less convinced they're solving other problems; it's more likely they just couldn't afford overnight shipping for the new networking part at Amazon.

So within a week or so, this site's going Comcast. You shouldn't notice any difference -- apart from more bitching, possibly, over the state of my local internet connection. But it's possible any "soul" present in these pages is soon to be sucked out. Probably during a three-hour phone call on hold with Comcast tech support.

It's been a good run. But the internet's a bitch, yo.





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Perfectly Rational Fridge-a-phobia

(This week's Secondhand SCIENCE saga is all about radioisotopes. It sounds like some itchy disease you'd get from listening to NPR. But no. It's another thing entirely. Go see.)

I've never been drugged in my sleep, kidnapped and whisked off to another location that's a near-exact replica of my home.

Well. Not so far as I know, anyway. Though I have wondered who keeps getting crumbs all over my couch, which I usually notice soon after I've eaten dinner on it.

I'll keep an eye on that.

In the meantime, I assume my kidnap-slash-disorient scenario hasn't ever happened. To me. Probably.

But I did buy a new refrigerator recently. And it's pretty much the same thing. Everything seems normal, but something's a little... off.

It wasn't that way right away with the new fridge. No, at first, it was waaaaay the hell off, because it sat, half-dismantled, in my living room for three weeks. Because math. Or hinges. Or narrower-than-regulation Victorian era doorways or some shit like that. I don't know. And I don't really care.

What I do know is that one day some large men from the appliance store came back and, for all I know, opened a goddamned wormhole in my living room and shoved the fridge through it into the kitchen. Or maybe they miniaturized it with a shrink ray and recombobulated it in the next room.

Or they learned how to measure a doorway.

Something. But when they left, the new refrigerator was sitting nice and neat in a cozy corner of the kitchen. And no rifts in the fabric of spacetime near my crumb-covered sofa have opened up in the meantime, so it counts as a "win".

So now there's a fridge back in place, and restocked with milk and beer and sandwich pickles and a three year old nearly-full jar of capers that no one remembers using or buying, but don't throw those out because as soon as you do, you'll need a bunch of capers for something.

"It's an odd feeling, like accidentally using someone else's phone or discovering your underpants are on backward."

Like, I don't know, inducing vomiting, maybe. Or playing a game of tiny soft marbles. How should I know what you do in your kitchen?

The point is, everything is back where it should be, and things are back to almost-normal. But they're also... different. It's an odd feeling, like accidentally using someone else's phone or discovering your underpants are on backward. All the regular stuff is in the fridge, and the fridge is more or less where a fridge used to be. But nothing is exactly right.

Take the sodas, for instance. Two liter bottles go on the door. They've always been on the door. I've lived in this condo for six years, and it's been exclusively a sodas-on-the-fridge-door experience. But no. The sodas don't fit in this fridge door. Now sodas are middle shelf. You reach for a fridge-door bottle of soda in this fridge, and you get a handful of Newman's Own Italian dressing. You don't want a glass of that with your pizza. Or with your anything else.

For that matter, the whole orientation is different. The old fridge, a built-in that came with the place -- because there was no good way to get it out, I'm guessing -- was a righty-fridge, lefty-freezer model. All the coldest stuff was in the left hand door. Ice cream. Microwave burritos. Vodka. Penguins. Anything you wanted to keep extra-cold.

But no more. New fridge isn't lefty-righty; it's uppy-downy. The freezer is a big-ass drawer on the bottom you pull out, like from some kind of bedroom dresser. Only instead of old sweaters and backup swimsuits, you pull frozen peas and Otter Pops out of it.

Maybe that's not odd to you. Maybe you've gone uppy-downy with your fridge for years. Or maybe you keep your bathing suits in the freezer. Again, your kitchen. How am I to know?

For me, it's weird. And oddly, weirder than when I'm somewhere completely different. When I'm in someone else's house, rummaging through their fridge -- as one does -- I just assume things are going to be in odd places. That's half the fun of it. You put your butter there? Why is the jelly on the condiment shelf? What kind of monster are you, anyway?

But in my kitchen, I should know what to expect. And let's face it, I need to know what to expect. Most of the time I open the thing, I'm half-asleep because it's:

a. three in the morning, because I've stayed up doing something stupid like complaining about refrigerators for fourteen hundred words, and I need a glass of water before bed -- or milk, or Hidden Valley Ranch Low-Fat Thousand Island, thank you very much; or

2. seven in the morning, because I'm up for some godforsaken early meeting at work, and I need a dozen eggs or a wheel of cheese or one of those delicious frozen penguins in me to make it through the nightmare.

If I can't autopilot my way through these scenarios, then I'm in big trouble. And I'm in big trouble over here. I went for ice cubes yesterday, and wound up with three squirts of mustard in my glass. What I thought was jelly for my toast was actually sriracha for my sinuses -- and don't even ask me what I just sucked on that was in no way an Otter Pop. I threw it in the trash before I could make a positive I.D.

Eventually, I'll get used to the new fridge layout -- the wacky spot where the tall bottles go, the basement chest of frozen drawers and the weirdo cubbyhole just big enough for a bottle of Worcestershire sauce, like that's a thing you'd bother to designate a special place for. Honestly, this fridge. I don't even.

So yeah, I'll adapt. If I make it that long. In the meantime, there's a fair chance I'll chug something gnarly that was in an unexpected spot, or chew through a glass jar because it's sitting where we used to keep the leftover pizza. What I'm saying is, if I die in the next few weeks, I'm sure I know who the murderer is, and I can give you a clue up front:

It was the refrigerator. In the kitchen. And probably with that stupid-ass jar of capers.





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Soon, I'll Say the Darnedest Things

(Hope over to Secondhand SCIENCE for this week's nonsense, and learn about the zinc finger. I promise it's the least frightening finger I'll ever describe to you.

Unless you have a phobia about metal-binding proteins. Or frogs. Or formalwear made from garbage. Then you're on your own.)

I can be socially awkward. This should come as no surprise to anyone who's ever been within thirty-five feet of me in public. It can be a burden, and embarrassing -- but I've finally figured out my problem. And better, how to solve it.

You see, I've discovered my particular brand of awkwardness doesn't stem from having nothing to say. Some people have that; a loss for words -- blanking out in conversation, or shying away entirely -- but that's not exactly my pathology.

Because I have things to say. Oh, I've got plenty of things to say.

They're just not socially appropriate things to say.

And that's the crux of it. I'm a smartass, I don't like small talk and I take most things people say at face value. And the problem with that -- insofar as there's a "problem" with being totally efficient and awesome in conversation -- is that nobody wants to hear the reactions that come most naturally to me.

Okay, I suppose that is a "problem". Assuming I ever want to interview for a job or meet new friends or order a cone at the local ice cream shop. Which I do.

(Wellll. Two out of three. In the summer. At best.)

"Statements like these are the conversational equivalent of rice cakes."

Anyway, where I falter is when some friendly socially-forward goober wanders over for a conversation and says something like:

"Sure is cold today."

Or:

"Thank god it's Friday, amirite?"

Or my favorite:

"You got a haircut."

I have responses for all of these statements. Not that they require responses, semantically, because two of them aren't questions and the middle one is really rhetorical, but I've tried not responding to these sorts of things, and the speakers tend to look at me expectantly, with raised brows and drooly chins, until one of us breaks the impasse and walks away.

(It's always me. They never walk away. Why do they never walk away?)

(Don't answer that; it's rhetorical. Which I'll tell you up front, because that's what people ought to do; what the hell is wrong with society?)

Ahem. Sorry. I got a little caught up in my pathology. Please forgive.

The point is this: Statements like these are the conversational equivalent of rice cakes. If you want to have them in private, that's your self-hating prerogative -- but don't drag other people into your nightmare. Munch your semantically null sentiments off in a corner somewhere, and come back when there's something substantial to say.

That's the dream. It's never going to happen. And I'm the dick for dreaming it. Fine.

It turns out, I'm also the dick for responding in the way that comes naturally. Like to the "cold today" quip, what I'd like to reply is:

"Actually, it's much colder on the surface of Neptune, where your flapping lips would freeze together and shatter and we wouldn't have to have this inane conversation. So no. It's actually not quite cold enough."

Or to "TGIF":

"According to most religious texts, the various gods seem to favor either Saturday or Sunday as holy days, so you'd get the most out of thanking your deity of choice for one of those. Also, since Friday is not the weekend, I'm stuck here at work listening to you regurgitate slogans you read off a coffee mug, so whatever deity you worship, I hope he, she, it or they cast you into the abyss, snake pit or lake of fire that's used by your magic sky person, animal totem or transcendent pot-bellied vagrant to eternally torment the souls of unbelievers, heretics, baby slappers and people who turn left from an optional turn lane without using their signals."

Those sorts of responses, I've come to learn, are "not appropriate".

I disagree, of course. The responses are completely appropriate to the statements; they're just not conducive to remaining an employed, married, non-incarcerated, (marginally) respected member of society. Which is also kind of important.

So I can't say the things I want to say, a lot of the time. I also can't say the things that I'm supposed to say -- "it's dang chilly, brutha!" or "all them hairs got cut!" or "only thing better'n Friday is Huuuuuump Day, baby!" -- because I just can't.

For one thing, it kills me a little bit on the inside. And also the outside, where I'm sure my look of abject horror shines through like an endoscopy scope peeking up out the throat of Edvard Munch's Scream.

But mostly, replying in the usual way never seems to end the conversation. It just encourages more of the same -- "was it hot enough fer ya yesterday?" -- and nobody wants that, particularly if there are any sharp pointy objects in the vicinity.

Hence my awkwardness for four-plus decades. My instincts are wrong. Social convention is way wrong. So I've always been stuck.

Until now.

Now I've figured it out. I don't have to be a jerk (other peoples' label; not mine), nor do I have to be a soulless slave to societal convention lacking creative gumption enough to try to share genuine personal thoughts and feelings (okay, that label's mine). I can choose a third way:

Word of the day.

That's my new plan. Every day, I'll pick a word. A fun word. Nothing mean or meaningful or relevant; just something fun to say. Like "persimmon". Or "Sasquatch". Or "mumbletypeg". And when I'm in one of those stuck moments, caught between expectation and excoriation, I'll say the word.

Nothing else. Just "peccadilloes". Or "alabaster". Or "lollygag".

And then I'll nod, as though I've said something perfectly reasonable, and see what happens next. Probably a "what?" Or a frown. Or more small talk, since that seems to be the "go-to" for a lot of people. And that's okay. Any of those will simply get a smile and a repeat of the day's word. Whether it's "applejack". Or "dirigible". Or "onomatopoeia".

And that'll keep me sane. (-Er.) Also married, non-incarcerated, and slightly-but-maybe-not-completely-less respected.

Employed, I'm not so sure about. Maybe it's best I don't unveil my new plan on a Friday. Because TGIF, baby. T. G. I. F. Apparently.





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Oh, the Wearing Outside is Frightful

(This week in Secondhand SCIENCE silliness: ionizing radiation. It's the most fun you can have without an electron.*

* Don't go having fun without an electron, kids. What would your grandmother think? Lord.)

With a winter like ours in New England -- relentless blizzards, subzero wind chills, snowdrifts the size of albino brontosauruses -- you eventually start asking yourself some important questions. Questions like:

Will the yard ever thaw again, or should I start charging neighborhood kids two bucks a pop to ice skate on it?

Can I claim snow blindness on workers' comp, to get out of trudging through waist-high Siberian slop to the office every day?

If I trip face-first into a snowbank and play it off as though I'm making a snow angel, will anyone actually believe me? And will the bus I'm waiting for leave without me in disgust?

Important questions, all. But the most pressing one I've found is not one I expected. It's more of a wardrobe query, and it's this:

When does a thing stop being "clean", exactly?

Let me preface my thoughts on this by saying it's not a question that usually comes up. A worn garment is a dirty garment -- a filthy, unclean, shameful lump of cloth to be hidden away from polite society until such time as it's been laundered, fluffed and, depending on your fabric softener brand, made to smell like a thousand old ladies buried in a rose garden.

"The rule is clear. I might bend it occasionally, when push comes to salsa stain, but I've never questioned the rule."

In other words, worn equals dirty -- with a few exceptions. Weekend sweatpants, for instance. A hoodie slipped on just to make a beer run. Gently lived-in jeans on a desperate Friday morning, when the only clean options are tuxedo pants and a neon pair of Speedos.

The rule is clear. I might bend it occasionally, when push comes to salsa stain, but I've never questioned the rule. It's the rule.

That was before the four snowmen of the Blizzapocalypse blew through, shitting sleet on our heads like New England had collectively signed up for some sort of climatological ice bucket challenge. Now the rule isn't so clear. For instance:

All week, I wore four shirts. The average forecast was fourteen degrees below absolute zero, or something equally ridiculous, with a seventy percent chance of slipping on icy sidewalks and falling ass-backwards into a snow bank. So I layered. I started with a T-shirt, then a long-sleeved T, then a heavier long-sleever and then a sweatshirt or rugby or whatever I thought I could get away with wearing to the office that wasn't lined with fur or the cozy warming blubber of baby seals.

These shirts were all different, every day. But by mid-week, I started asking: are some of these things still "clean", by some reasonable definition?

Like, clearly, not the T-shirt. That thing is rubbing up against pits and hair and tucked into pants and became dirty -- really, truly dirty -- roughly three seconds after I put it on. The T is not clean. Nobody's saying that.

Ditto the outer shirt. While its experience is perhaps less... suffocated, it's out there in the elements, sleeves flapping, touching people and walls and probably rogue globs of salsa, so it's definitely not clean, either. It's seen things, man. And it's probably filthy.

But what about the shirt under that? Existentially speaking, is it clean? It's not exposed to the world. It's not touching me. It's got a two-shirt buffer from me, to soak up any scents or liquids or anything else a disgusting human might ooze throughout the day. So, what's its status? Clean? Dirty? Can I wear it again without washing it? If I do, can I tell anyone? Is this even a sane question? And if it is, should I write about it in a public place, exposing my madness to the world at large?

Clearly, the answer to at least one of those questions is "yes". Sadly for us all. But that doesn't answer my original question, which is whether some of those "sandwich" shirts in the in-between layers are clean. Or "clean", which would be close enough, because I lived in a dorm room for four years and heaven knows we didn't come anywhere close to "clean" -- or even ""clean"" -- the entire time.

It's not just the shirts, though. Oh, no. We're not in "layer your torso and be done with it" territory here. This is time to gird all the body parts, which means extra insulation all over -- which means further conundrums vis a vis personal hygiene and doing fourteen loads of laundry every week.

Seriously. Sandwich shirts are easy, by the time you start asking yourself whether you can recycle the middle pair of three socks into your wardrobe. Or whether any of four pairs of boxers were safe enough from your junk to make it back into rotation.

So yeah, this winter is tough. The shoveling we can handle, and the driving and the freezing and the roofs collapsing under two tons of white stuff. But the wardrobe planning?

Shit. Make it spring already, would ya?





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Juuuuust a Fridge Outside

(Steal yourself some time to check out this week's Secondhand SCIENCE screed on kleptoplasty. It's got chlorophyll. And corn.

Also cannibals, chipmunk nuts and some chick in a bologna suit. As all good science should. Check it out.)

I was never all that good at math. I mean, I can add, and multiply smallish numbers together and convert inches to millimeters, if you give me a few minutes. And a quiet room to think about it. Also, a calculator.

Basically, I'm cool with any sort of math you might need to do to calculate baseball statistics -- because honestly, what other point is there of learning math at all? Sure, astronauts should know a little trig, and math teachers should maybe watch Good Will Hunting at some point, but otherwise it's just piling on. The final college math exam should just be figuring out the batting averages and ERAs for every schmo on the Minnesota Twins, and congratulations, you're ready for an office job.

(This has the added benefit of getting someone, anyone, to pay attention to the Twins for a couple of hours. Those guys are like the Cleveland Indians, without the Major League love.)

I say all of this to admit that I'm no Benoit Mandelbrot when it comes to mathematicals, but I've recently learned that I'm also not the worst when it comes to numbers, either. Because that trophy belongs to home appliance installers.

"We scoped out brands and features and which in-door ice makers would make cubes in naughty shapes for parties."

My wife and I recently bought a new refrigerator. We scoped out brands and features and which in-door ice makers would make cubes in naughty shapes for parties.

(Answer: none of them. You're missing an market here, fridge peddlers.)

Once we had our favorite models in mind, we moved on to the very most important spec of all: width. Because you can pick out the most spectacular refrigerator of all -- it can deep-freeze your Ben and Jerry's, email when you're low on milk and squeeze boob cubes into your Tom Collinses all day. But if it won't fit in the kitchen, you're shit outta luck. And also outta milk, and that appears to be Cherry Garcia dripping all over your linoleum. Aw.

We didn't make that mistake. There are a couple of ways into our kitchen -- the condo layout is sort of a Mobius strip -- but the biggest available doorway is thirty inches wide. That's thirty. Three. Oh.

Like I said, I'm not much with the maths. But I got out an abacus and a few sheets of paper, and I figured out that to get through a thirty-inch doorway, we'd need to buy a fridge that had a maximum width of less than thirty inches.

(I know, I know -- nobody came here expecting word problems. This isn't the SAT. But bear with me. There's only one more bit of math. Promise.)

So we did just that. We picked out a model that claimed to be, minus the removable door and brackets, less than thirty inches wide. Not by a lot. Let's face it -- a six-inch wide fridge isn't helping much of anyone. You could store uncooked spaghetti in there -- standing up, not longways, obviously -- and that's about it. Maybe pencils. Or a single row of hot dogs.

Clearly, we wanted something wider. So the fridge we selected was on the higher end of what's feasible: twenty-nine and one-half inches. A tight fit, to be sure. But physically possible. Shoved through on a dolly, there'd be a whole gaping quarter-inch chasm on each side as buffer. Easy. Like tossing those hot dogs down a hallway. Or something.

So we ordered the refrigerator, set up a delivery and on the date a couple of guys came and wheeled it into our living room, next to that thirty-inch doorway. They removed the door and some other fiddly equipment, dollied it over and said...

"Uh oh."

Turns out, there are flanges -- or flangey-type metalish things; my applied engineering is about as good as my math -- sticking out of the fridge cavity, by about an inch. Which, added to the twenty-nine and one-half inches advertised in width, is apparently too big to fit through the door. Or so the guys told me. And then showed me on a calculator. And Texas Instruments don't lie.

We then dipped into a fascinating discussion on semantics, and whether the "bracketless" designation in the spec sheet also implied "flangeless" -- or "flangey-type metalish thingless". Also, we debated the nature of the phrase "less than thirty inches", and found our philosophies on the matter to be, shall we say, less than compatible.

Which is odd, because that's pretty basic math. I know it's math, because there are numbers involved. And I'm sure it's basic, because it's something I've actually learned. If it were rocket science, it would involve Greek letters and derivatives of things, and I'd get a headache thinking about it. But I don't. Until I talked to the installers.

So. Now we have a second appointment with the home appliance people, who maybe this time will send a mathematician on the crew. Or at least, someone armed with a goddamned flange remover. In the meantime, we have a perfectly lovely, full-featured, doorless and flange-protruding refrigerator disassembled next to our living room couch. It's not keeping our Chunky Monkey frozen, and my hot dogs and spaghetti are scandalously room temperature.

All I know is, when this thing gets in there, it had better make the naughtiest ice cubes the world has ever seen. Somebody owes me.





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