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Coming Hit-tractions

('Tis the season, all right. The season for Secondhand SCIENCE. [To be fair, that's every season.]

This week, the buzz is about Z-DNA. Is that how z-ebras get their stripes? Or Z-orro his skinny mustache? Z-oom on over and find out.)

Last week, I talked about a certain pumpkin log that became a costar of a short comedy film I've been working on. Or rather, three different pumpkin logs playing the same character in various scenes.

"We've got ten people in this movie, and somehow the pastry is the only one who gets stunt doubles."

(We've got ten people in this movie, and somehow the pastry is the only one who gets stunt doubles.

On the other hand, the pastry is the only one who's been in the main character's mouth -- as far as I know -- so I guess fair is fair.)

Obviously, your interest is piqued now. As far as I know.

So, good news, then. It'll be a few weeks before the film is edited and dubbed and letterboxed and blessed by a priest of Baal, or however the hell it is films get released -- but right now, this very moment, you can dig in and learn more over at our fancy new Facebook page for: The Hit.

So far, we've got a few behind the scenes shots and production stills -- including yes, one of the infamously delicious pumpkin roll. There'll be more of that coming soon -- much, much more pumpkin roll, I'm afraid -- along with news, info and eventually the big official release.

Or a postcard from Armageddon, if that Baal priest gets too frisky.

Either way, stay tuned. As for me, it's holiday travel time tomorrow, so I'm off to pack. It's candy canes and Santasaurus sweaters for me next week.

And pumpkin logs, naturally. They're not just for Hollywood close-ups any more.





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A Gluten for Punishment

(It's science time! That's Secondhand SCIENCE time to you.

This week, we're learning [if you can call it that, which you mostly can't] about nanoparticles. Like carbonite, maybe, if that's a real thing. Or Ariana Grande. It gets a little weird. Go see.)

I don't like making people uncomfortable.

(Except for the times when I do, which is mostly all of the times. But for the sake of argument, let's assume I don't.)

Problem is, sometimes there's no good way to not make someone uncomfortable. I had one of those, a few weekends ago.

You may know (or may not) that I was involved in a short comedy film shoot over the past month or so. My friend Jenn and I wrote the script, and decided we liked it enough to give filming it a shot.

"I might as well decide I'm going to invent a perpetual motion machine made of used popsicle sticks and powered by Tinkerbell farts."

Which means absolutely nothing, for me to decide such a thing. I might as well decide I'm going to invent a perpetual motion machine made of used popsicle sticks and powered by Tinkerbell farts. Luckily, Jenn knows how these things work and has a ton of past experience, practical knowledge and helpful contacts.

(For the filming. Not the fairy-fart machine. Trust me -- I asked.)

So we put a schedule together, and planned to shoot over a couple of weekends in November. We used my condo, her car, a local pub and assorted locations in Rhode Island. But before shooting, we had to put all of the pieces together, like the props. Jenn acquired a Santasaurus sweater, four dozen urine specimen bottles and two Boy Scout uniforms. I found a velour track suit, a laser pointer and a banner for the (nonexistent) West Chelsea Charity Arts and Crafts Fair. Meanwhile, our designer rolled out the graphics, both printed and digital: a mafia-themed cupcake company logo. "Got chlamydia?" pamphlets. Dick Aficionado magazine.

(By the way, if that last paragraph doesn't make you want to see this movie ASAP, then I don't know what the hell we're doing here. I'm just saying.)

Clearly, all of these things made our mail carriers very uncomfortable, along with a couple of Kinkos employees making copies of whatever unholy thing we had to xerox. These people, we didn't care so much about. They see weird shit every day.

But when it was nearly time to start shooting, I was tasked with picking up the last set of props. One of the characters we'd written is a big fan -- no, a big fan, really -- of pastries. Doughnuts and cupcakes and bear claws, oh my. You name it (and preferably, glaze it) and he's into it. That's his "thing".

Naturally, the actor who signed on to play the part -- hilariously, by the way -- has a gluten sensitivity. So we couldn't actually feed him all those rich sugary pastries, or we'd kill him. Which isn't really supposed to come up until near the end of the film, and anyway, that's what we bought the (disabled) handgun for.

So the day before shooting, I found myself walking into a local gluten-free bakery, looking for treats that would both look good on camera and keep our actor off a hospital gurney. A very nice lady at the counter offered to help, and I walked out of there a few minutes later with a flourless mini cake, a half-dozen cupcakes and a large heavy gluten-free pumpkin roll.

(The last of which would ultimately become a featured co-star of the film. Based on all the work he put in, we probably should have paid the pumpkin log a union rate.

But instead, we ate him. Or smeared him on some sheets. I'll get back to that.)

The lady didn't ask a lot of questions; I went on my merry way and we filmed some great scenes that first weekend. But when the next weekend of shooting rolled around, we needed more goodies -- did I mention this character really loves pastries? -- so I went back to the same shop for another run.

The same lady was there, and looked a little puzzled when she recognized me. I'd taken a lot of merchandise home just last week. That could have been for a party, sure -- but why would I be back so soon? And why was I now ordering another big batch of cupcakes, another pumpkin log -- and another half-log, besides?

I could almost hear her wheels turning. "Is this freak coming in every week? Is this my life now? Where did I go wrong?" But she smiled sweetly when I approached the counter, and rang me up as before. As breezily as I imagine she could muster, she asked:

"Oh, you're back -- got another party or something?"

And there was no way at that point to not make her uncomfortable. I could have lied and said "yes" -- but then I'd have probably offered more details to make the lie seem believable, and told her I was having a bunch of gluten-hating eight-year-olds come over to my van or something. I don't lie well on the spot. I need prep time to cross the t's in a mistruth. And I wasn't ready.

I could have just said, "no" and left it at that. But then she'd wonder what the hell I was doing with all her baked goods. With no other information to go on, she might think I was hoarding them for some glutenless apocalypse, or building some kind of flourless Frankenstein's monster.

That didn't seem right. I thought maybe telling her the truth would put her mind at ease. Then I thought about the truth, in the context of the scenes we were shooting, and how that would sound:

"Nah, the first batch was for a guy to snuggle with in my guest bed. And these are mostly to smear on his face while he's sitting in my friend's Yaris in an empty parking lot somewhere."

All of which is true. But none of which would make the lady more comfortable. Or, perhaps, keep her from calling the police on me.

So I just smiled, and shrugged, and took my cupcakes and pumpkin logs away. I could see her eyebrows knitted up with curiosity, and I know she was a little uncomfortable. But hey, I did the best I could. Cupcake lady, what you don't know probably won't hurt you.

But for the record, everything was delicious. I can't wait to see how tasty it looks on film.





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Phone-y Baloney Part II

(I've got science that jingle-jangle-jingles. Secondhand SCIENCE, that is. This week, we're talkin' 'bout splice junctions. Turns out your DNA is like cable TV. Hopefully, yours are in HD.)

(ETA: When I wrote the post below, I hadn't realized I'd used the "Phone-y Baloney" title before for a post. But I did -- just over two years ago, when I wrote about the ordeal of buying the phone that below I describe dying.

Mediocre minds think the exact same thing every two years, evidently. Freakay.)

My phone died last week.

Actually, it didn't die so much as it developed some sort of selective amnesia. Before last week, it remembered that it had a SIM card nestled snugly in its internal socket. And then it forgot. The SIM card didn't go anywhere. The phone didn't get dropped on its head or anything. It just lost track, and wandered around the house asking, "Where's my SIM card? Anyone seen my SIM card?"

It was kind of sad, actually. Like old aunt Rita searching high and low for her eyeglasses, when they're pushed up on her forehead the whole time. Unfortunately, you can't reboot Rita and make sure her firmware is up to date. (Hint: It isn't.) But you can try that with a phone, and if it doesn't work -- as it didn't for me -- then it's time to buy a new phone.

Also, you might try supergluing Aunt Rita's glasses onto her nose. I'm just trying to help.

Of course, my phone had just gone off contract. Which is nice, I guess, that I didn't have anything left to pay on it. But I only had a month or two to get used to not paying for it, before it went kaput. I'm a little surprised it didn't self-destruct the day immediately after it was paid. I guess they figure that would be too obvious.

Anyway, the phone went south. I decided I'd be smart about finding a replacement. I'd study reviews and specs and special features. I'd wait for a sale, or take advantage of some holiday-season deal. My research would be thorough, rational and comprehensive.

Then I spent a day without a working phone.

And then I bolted to a store and bought the first phone I saw that looked pretty and recognized a SIM card. Because what's the point of living if you can't tweet from the bathroom or play Two Dots while you're stuck in traffic?

So I've got a new phone, and I've spent several days setting it up. Downloading all the apps I had. Copying over my old files. Setting "Bang the Drum All Day" as the ringtone when my boss calls. The usual.

The worst part of setting up a new phone is remembering all the passwords for apps and sites that were set on the old phone, and which you therefore haven't thought about for two years (and a month). I'm not especially bright, so I forgot all of these passwords. Which was mostly just aggravating, but I almost locked myself in an endless loop of incompetence. To wit:

My new phone runs Android, and I forgot my Google password. So I reset it.

When you reset your Google password, Big G sends a text to your phone to confirm.

My phone wasn't set up yet and the old phone was off wandering the streets in its pajamas or something, so I couldn't get a text.

Google said fine, I'll send an email to your backup account, and we'll go from there.

Only my backup email account is with Yahoo, which is an enormous pain in the ass, so I have all that mail forward to my Gmail account...

...which requires a Google login, and I forgot my Google password.

Like I said, I'm not especially bright. But at least I know my SIM card is plugged in.

Eventually, I got it all sorted out and now I've got a new phone. So it's all good.

For another two years and four weeks, which this phone will inevitably break in half, explode or break into its component molecules and float off into the ether. And then we'll go through the process all over again. Death, taxes and broken paid-off phones. Them's the breaks.





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Blackerer Friday

(You want the science? You. Want. The Science? YOU CAN'T HANDLE THE SCIENCE!

No, wait. You totally can. Especially when it's Secondhand SCIENCE. Check out a few good words about capillary action. It's more fun than a Cuban Code Red!)

I learned something yesterday: you can't avoid Black Friday.

I'm not a shopper. There's nothing about the shopping experience I enjoy -- especially on "big" shopping days. And Black Friday -- the day after Thanksgiving, and the first day stores can really lay on the Christmastime schmaltz without the entire nation collectively rolling their eyes -- is the biggest shopping day of all, at least in the U.S.

(Which means the biggest of all, anywhere, right? I mean, who's outshopping the spend-frenzied, Christmas-crazed, spangle-wearing fuck-yeah-Murricans?

The French? Please. Germans? Nein. And it's not like China's known for shopping sprees. They're too busy making all the stuff that gets shipped out for everyone else to buy.)

The point is, I'm not a shopping fan. From the yawning parking lots to the cheesy ads to the packs of strangers made wider by heavy coats, stuffed bags and three helpings of Grandma's family-secret green bean casserole.

(By the way, granny: the recipe's right there on the back of the cream of mushroom soup can. You're not fooling anyone, sister.)

"But at least online shopping doesn't smell like sweaty down jackets and stale Cinnabon."

So I don't shop on Black Friday -- or any other day, when I can help it. And this year, I went a step further. I decided that I wouldn't spend any money whatsoever, all day long. On principle. As a personal boycott. Also, to save up for Cyber Monday.

(Not really. But at least online shopping doesn't smell like sweaty down jackets and stale Cinnabon.

At least, mine doesn't. And if yours does, you should probably think about getting a new laptop. Or a new living room.)

Normally, "unspending" on a holiday Friday would be pretty simple. Leave bed, find couch, find Simpsons marathon, repeat as needed. But yesterday was a bit different. I'll be out of the office on Monday, so I "traded" days, and volunteered to work Friday instead.

In many ways, that was nice. No one -- literally no one, so far as I saw -- was there. So there were no distractions, no meetings, no fire drills, no pop-ins, and no one yelling at me for riding my rolling chair down the long hallway shouting, "I'm on top of the world!"

Presumably, they'll see the footage from the security cams. So I am not looking forward to Tuesday.

But my primary goal was to spend no money and experience no shopping, and that was a bit of a minefield. First of all, I needed to eat. No problem; I made a sandwich at home and took it with me. I was out of soda, so all I had to drink with it was apple cider vinegar and a half bottle of ranch dressing, but I made do.

That's what "on principle" is about, after all. Eating terrible meals and sacrificing any shred of personal enjoyment.

My bigger problem was actually getting to the office. I drive, and I have a parking spot -- but it's not at the office building. It's down the street. In a mall.

Because the universe hates me. We knew that.

To avoid the mall -- the crammed-full parking, the holiday jingles, the hordes of wild-eyed bargain hunters -- I decided to forgo my usual space altogether. Money spent or not, trying to park and walk through that nightmare (twice!) would ruin the entire point of a Black Friday boycott. And it would make me hungry for Cinnabon. No good can come from that.

So I cruised past the mall, drove the few blocks to my office and found a spot -- so many open spots! I bypassed the mall completely, spent zero money, ate my awful homemade sandwich and washed it down with Hidden Valley, and I worked. Mission accomplished.

Or so I thought. Until I went back down a few hours later, and found the ticket on my car. Because even though Black Friday is a "holiday", it's not a holiday-holiday, and the cops are still roaming about, jolly as punch to ding you with a fifty dollar ticket for parking out of the way where no one is, because everybody's at the freaking stupid mall, jackass.

Ho ho ho.

So anyway, I didn't shop. I went to work. And I still spent money, which will let some meter maid have a merrier Christmas buying coal or dirt or little childrens' souls or whatever they exchange for the holidays. Black Friday, indeed.





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Lights! Camera! Pumpkin Log!

(Hey, kids -- it's time for a double-dose of science. And not just science, but Secondhand SCIENCE.

Since last we danced, we've learned about enantiomers and quantum fluctuation. Double whammy. Science whammy. Double SCIENCE. Mind blown.)

In case anyone's noticed my absence here for the past couple of weeks -- and don't worry; no one has -- I've got what I consider a fairly reasonable excuse: I'm shooting a movie.

Well. That's not exactly true. Other people are actually shooting the movie. Like, competent people who definitely aren't me and who know how to work a boom mic and light a scene and which end of the camera to look through. All of which is terribly useful when you want to shoot a movie. Or so I understand.

I did co-write the script, though, with my good friend Jenn. She makes movies -- or watches other people make movies, though I suspect it's often both -- on a fairly regular basis, but this is my first real "shoot", from a vantage point somewhere behind the camera. Or in the next room. Or ordering lunch. As one does, when the competent adults are making movies nearby.

"It's gonna be a helluva weekend."

(In fairness, I did participate in another of Jenn's projects a couple of years ago, Viral Video. But I only acted in that. I can't take any credit for anything that happened beforehand leading to the production of that gem.

Nor can I be held legally responsible. I checked. So that's nice.)

I'm co-doing other things for this movie, besides writing -- but since I've never been involved in a shoot, I don't know what they are, exactly. One might be producing. Or directing. One is definitely lunch-ordering. And I'm holding out for co-head-gaffering. I'll have to ask Jenn.

Unless that would be co-depending. I'm pretty sure we have people for that already.

Anyway. I think this is going to be a really fantastic, funny film. But we're still shooting it, so there's a lot left to do. And several lunches to order. One guy is gluten-free, and we've got some vegetarians. So it's hard work, people.

In the meantime, the production has had it's fair share of surprises. Like the pumpkin log, which was never in the script, but has somehow become a crucial star of the show. Soon enough, it'll have its own trailer and probably a makeup artist for when its icing gets smushed.

Or the milk crate/hot seat of an apparently tiny mafia client-slash-victim. Tequila shot dessert rounds. Easily-exhausted attack kitties. Emergency window treatment repair. And the grim subtle joy at the thought of a Toledo Two-Hander.

And that's just the first half, give or take. In the morning, we're making magic -- or some magic-resembling facsimile -- happen again. It's gonna be a helluva weekend.





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No Business Like Show(er) Business

(If she 'blinded you with science', chances are it wasn't Secondhand SCIENCE. That's never hurt anyone's eyes. Much.

This week, the topic is gravity. How does it work, what is it made of, why is it so weird? And what does it have to do with microwave burritos?

Probably nothing. But go see for yourself.)

Yesterday, I attended a baby shower. This was my first -- and, if the rest of life goes as planned, my last. I'm not sure I "enjoyed" the experience, exactly. But I did learn a lot.

First, it was a brunch. I don't do a lot of brunching, personally, but I gather the concept was dreamed up just as an excuse to eat eggs at two in the afternoon. I can get behind that -- and I did. Some of the ladies there ordered salads. Amateurs.

"I went in expecting Oshkosk B'Gosh, and instead found Willy Wonka."

Also, while "baby" is in the name, there wasn't a lot of talk about the actual baby itself. The event seemed, more than anything, to be a forum for discussions of breastfeeding. For three solid hours, at least half the conversations between the eight people present concerned women's boobs and what might come out of them. I haven't heard that much constant chatter about breasts since...

Well. I was in a fraternity. So it's not like it's never happened. But it's been a while. And it never involved spinach omelets.

I also learned that the brunchtime eggs -- or salad; I mean, who does that? -- are really just a prelude to the main baby shower consumable: sugar. This party had everything -- chocolates, cupcakes, regular cake, you name it. I went in expecting Oshkosk B'Gosh, and instead found Willy Wonka.

I think I figured out what all the sweets are for. If the social function of a baby shower is to roundtable all things boob milk, then maybe the practical goal is to dump enough sugar down the pregnant lady's throat to shoot the baby out the other end.

Unfortunately in this case, the lady had already had the baby a few weeks early. Happily, the baby is fine -- and we had a lot of leftover desserts. So everybody's happy. And full of energy. And possibly diabetic.

How did I wind up in the middle of this maelstrom of maternity? My wife is a longtime friend of the new mother, and we two couples often do things together. Sometimes those are fun and enjoyable things -- and sometimes, they're things that the ladies have picked out. Like ballets. Or recitals. Or holiday chorales.

I know, right? We love our wives, like, a lot. Obviously.

Given these occasional atrocities, the husband and I have made a pact: "no man left behind". If the wives are attending some artsy something-or-other, and one of us guys gets roped in, then the other will tag along, too. For moral support. And to sneak beer in. Possibly to help plan an escape. Whatever's necessary.

So when the new dad committed to attending the baby soiree, I got called in, too. And thank goodness. Even together, way at the end of the table, we were awash in a sea of estrogen, breast milk and cream cheese icing.

Some of that was figurative. And some of that was literal. I don't want to talk about it.

I can't imagine how one of us alone would have fared. So I'm glad I went -- and I did learn a lot about these mysterious and troubling events.

Also, I ate eggs after lunchtime. Which is nice.





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Taxi-mum Overdrive

(Soak up some science! This week's ridiculous barely-explanation of scientifical somethings over at Secondhand SCIENCE is all about ubiquitin.

It's the almost-everywhere molecule you probably never knew you were pumping out all the time. Give it a gander.)

Back to the recent trip my wife and I took to Greece: we had two extremely harrowing experiences in the back of the same taxi cab. One psychological, the other social. And neither involved weaving through heavy traffic at insane rates of speed.

"If we'd been going to the Souvlaki Hotel in Tzatzikitown, we might have been able to understand each other properly."

(Which is odd. Because all of our other harrowing experiences in Greek cabs involved that. A lot.)

This was not that, though. This was a case on our last full day of vacation where we needed a place to sleep before the long flight home the next day. We were flying into the Athens airport that night after a short side trip, and flying out from the same airport in the morning. We had no more time for sightseeing, so we'd booked a room in a hotel advertised as being close to the airport. Easy in, easy out, with a few hours' shuteye in the middle. Perfect.

We collected our bags after the flight in and hopped a taxi outside. Our cabbie spoke very little English, and we spoke even less Greek. If we'd been going to the Souvlaki Hotel in Tzatzikitown, we might have been able to understand each other properly. But we weren't. And we didn't.

Instead, we called out our destination, the cabbie nodded, and we took off into the night.

A few minutes later, we approached a nice big hotel in the middle of nowhere, obviously built to support people coming and going to the airport.

We passed that hotel. We didn't even slow down.

Over the next fifteen minutes, we wound into and out of several neighborhoods. Many of these featured hotels, motels, hideaways, stopovers, lodges, sleeping huts or hostels.

We passed them all. And we began to worry. The hotel was supposed to be just a mile or two from the airport, and the cabbie showed no signs of slowing down any time soon. So we struck up a friendly conversation:

"Um... we're going to the Metro Hotel, right?"

"Yah, yah. Metro. Is little while."

That seemed wrong. We should have been there already; this was supposed to be a quick jaunt to the closest suitable room. Now it seemed like this guy was whisking us all over the Pelopennese. I decided to say something to this effect to my wife:

"It seems like this guy is whisking us all over the Pelopennese."

"Actually, I think it's a woman."

I spent another ten minutes trying to figure out whether she was right. To this day, I honestly don't know. Apparently, we were riding with the "Pat" of the Athenian taxicab crew.

Meanwhile, we'd cruised another ten miles from the airport, and all sorts of thoughts ran through our minds -- and got fiercely whispered back and forth across the back seat of the cab. Were we being run around the block for money? Was there a different Metro Hotel in Bulgaria we were speeding toward? Was this man/woman kidnapping us, for nefarious madman/madwoman purposes?

We tried again to exchange information with the driver, with limited success. He (or she) insisted we were heading for the Metro Hotel. We were firm that it should be only a couple of miles from the airport, while the cabbie estimated it at around six kilometers.

Wait. Six kilometers? We're way further than that already.

No. Sixty kilometers. Another fifteen minutes, maybe. Sit tight, tourists.

As ignorant Americans, my wife and I conferred for a bit and decided that no, sixty kilometers was not the same distance as one or two miles, probably. Neither of us are metricologists. But it seemed unlikely.

So we were pretty worried. At best, we were in for another half hour ride -- and who knows how many Euros -- to get back to the airport neighborhood and a warm bed. At worst... well, I don't know what they put in moussaka, exactly. But I was starting to wonder whether it could conceivably be us.

For another tense couple of minutes, we quibbled back and forth with the cabbie, who insisted we were heading where we'd said we wanted to go. Meanwhile, we worried that "Metro Hotel" was some local code word for gullible tourists, or maybe the nickname for some foreign slave trader's holding pen. Truly, we were fully harrowed.

Finally, we found a number and my wife called the hotel. She explained we were in a cab, and -- so far as we knew -- careening fast toward the border with Albania, destined for who knew what grisly fate. So we checked our facts. You're near the Athens airport, right?

"Yes, indeed. Very close."

Great. So how far should the cab ride be from the terminal?

"Oh, around sixty kilometers."

Ah.

So the real issue here was the loose -- meaning loooooose -- interpretation of "close to the airport" provided by a hotel probably desperately looking for customers three weeks after high season. And the issue was not, in fact, the perfectly honest, helpful and reasonable cabbie who we'd basically accused of us-napping for the last fifteen minutes.

Also harrowing. The final ten minutes of that trip were spent in embarrassed silence in the back seat -- while the driver probably tried to come up with ways to crash just the back half of the cab, and leave us bleeding in the street. Awkward.

I don't remember what we tipped for that cab ride, exactly. But it was huge. I was just happy the guy/lady didn't punch me in the groin when we got out, soon after, outside the lobby of the very nice, but very much not "close to the airport" Metro Hotel.

So yeah. I can be an idiot in pretty much any country on the planet. I'm pretty sure I knew that already.





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