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Charlie Hatton
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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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Camera Incompetenta

(Hey, you know what's a science thing? The exosphere, that's what's a science thing.

And as of this week, it's also a Secondhand SCIENCE thing. So that's nice. Have a looksee.)

I'm not a good picture taker.

Usually, that means that I'm not good at remembering to take pictures. It just doesn't occur to me, in the face of some awe-inspiring spectacle, to yank out a camera and start snapping. In a lot of ways, this makes me a terrible tourist.

It makes me a tremendous candidate to be visited by a UFO, probably. Those things don't like any sort of photographic evidence. But as a tourist, I don't often bring back any slideshow-worthy pics.

Come to think of it, that probably makes me an excellent tourist. But my family does complain when I go somewhere interesting that they don't get to see any of it.

So when my wife and I left for Greece two weeks ago, I promised to come back with actual photographs of the places we was visiting. And indeed, I took nearly two hundred pictures -- more than a dozen per day, on average. Now that I've returned, I've uploaded them all to Google pictures. And I've discovered something:

"My pictures are worth approximately two words apiece. And one of them is 'meh'"
I'm not a good picture taker.

I mean, I'm not a terrible picture taker. I don't portrait when I ought to be landscaping. My thumb and other body parts are usually -- usually -- not hanging over the lens when I shoot. I don't own, use, or condone the existence of a selfie pole.

(Seriously. Your souvlaki belongs on a stick, people. Not your Sony Cyber-Shot. Get your shit together already.)

Anyway, I thought maybe I had taken some decent photos. Then I uploaded, and the sentient robot overlords at Google turned on some sort of "auto-edit" feature, and adjusted every single snapshot on the server. This digital doohickey fiddled with contrast and colors and all sorts of other photographical things I don't understand very well. It all felt sort of... violate-y, frankly. Like Google shoved its F-stop right up my aperture. Or something.

But worse? Every single picture it futzed with, which was every single one of them? Better.

Compared to the Googlified versions, all my pics are dull and flat and gray. Yawn, the Parthenon. Ancient Mycenean ruins, snore. Oh, the whitewashed rooftops of Santorini, ho hum. My pictures are worth approximately two words apiece. And one of them is "meh".

Meanwhile, the magic Google ones are postcard-perfect. They pop. They're cropped. I've been airbrushed out of most of them, somehow, and they're ridiculously attractive. It's infuriating.

Just don't tell my family. They don't need to know Google is the one taking all the good vacation pics.

For that matter, don't tell my wife. Or next time she'll take Google on vacation and leave me at home, sitting in my underpants on the couch for two weeks,

And nobody is taking pictures of that. Thank goodness.





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Greece Is Indeed the Word

(Science marches on -- even when it's Secondhand SCIENCE. Stop over and learn all about gene drives.

Or scarves. Or astronaut fashion. Or raining men. It gets a little weird. Check it out.)

I'm a week into a two-week trip to Greece, about which I'm sure I'll have more to say later. For the moment, though, there are six thousand years' worth of ruins that aren't going to trudge through themselves, and a spanakopita calling to me from a taverna down the street.

Of course, it's calling to me in Greek, which I don't understand, so maybe it's saying "Don't eat me! Don't eat me!". That would be truly unfortunate for it when I finally get over there. I hope its tears are delicious.

Anyway, in lieu of actual writing, here's an ecard -- just like the ones we used to know. Stin ygeia mas!





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Nobody Here But Us Vacationeers

(Which is the bestest quantum mechanical exclusion principle?

That's right! The Pauli exclusion principle. Read all about it, and other scientifical oddities, over at Secondhand SCIENCE. It's a pip.)

Working in a small company is kind of weird sometimes.

I've always avoided big companies, because it seems too easy to get lost in the shuffle. If you've got nine thousand people doing the same thing, then I figure you either end up redundant or way, way specialized. Neither of those seem good.

"I don't want to build some application fourteen other people already built, probably better. And cheaper. And with a coordinated color scheme more pleasing to the eye."

For instance, I'm a programmer. I don't want to build some application fourteen other people already built, probably better. And cheaper. And with a coordinated color scheme more pleasing to the eye. Also, I don't want to be stuck at my desk, only allowed to use the 'J' and 'Z' keys on the keyboard, because the good coders have all the other ones covered already.

I'm pretty sure that's how big companies work. Also, in my world, all the business travel is done on those old galley ships where the slaves row everyone back and forth. I'd be in the back. And probably only allowed to use the downstroke. Big companies suck.

Still, there are tradeoffs to small groups. I learned that in college. My school had less than a thousand people enrolled, and less people in my class than I graduated with in high school. On top of that, I picked a wildly unpopular major, so by senior year I was taking most classes with the same six people.

That's a recipe for disaster, right there. With six people, you can't hide. You can't skip a class and hope nobody notices. You can't sit in the back and nap through the boring crap. There's six people -- there is no back. We could've had class at a freaking booth at an Outback Steakhouse.

Given what they usually served in the school cafeteria, I almost wish we had. Lunch Lady Clara does not understand what a "blooming onion" entails. Trust me.

A small company is a little like those tiny classes. There's no fading into the background or napping the afternoon away in a stall in the mens' room. People would notice.

Also, there's only one stall in the mens' room. So people would also form a very long line. And possibly make an extremely unfortunate mess.

The point is, in a small place everybody knows pretty much what everyone else is doing -- and what they're about to do. I don't talk to a lot of people on a daily basis -- usually, I'm too busy banging on my 'J' and 'Z' keys and waiting in line for the bathroom stall. But I told a couple of people I'd be on vacation for the next couple of weeks. And today, everyone seemed to know about it.

That's not a bad thing. It's kind of nice to be told "bon voyage" by the boss. And the boss' boss. And the boss' boss' boss. And the HR lady and the CEO and the comptroller and the security guard. And maybe the lady who comes in to clean in the evenings. It's possible she said "barf in the garage", instead. We have a complicated relationship.

So anyway, I'll be out of the country for a couple of weeks. Hopefully, I'll be updating things around here, but either way I should return with plenty of stories about a remote and exotic foreign land. And maybe an island. Maybe some mens' rooms. Who knows?

In the meantime: bon voyage. And happy weekend. From me -- and everyone in my office. Probably.





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Do No Farm

(Yo, science nerds! For this week's ridiculous sciencyness, head over to Secondhand Science to read all about convergent evolution. It's not just for cartoon squirrels and Mario and Luigi any more!)

If there's a disadvantage to being a smartass -- and no one's saying there is; I'm just hypothesizing if -- it's that you can't really turn it off. Even when you're not being a smartass, you're being a smartass.

Or people assume you're being a smartass, which has more or less the same effect. Namely, you get punished for being a smartass. And that hurts -- on those rare and unexpected occasions when you're not, in fact, being an actual smartass.

(I'm reminded of a quote by wise man and donut connoisseur Homer J. Simpson:

"I don't mind being called a liar when I am lying, or when I'm about to lie, or just finished lying. But not. When I'm telling. The truth!"

I don't lie quite so often. But apply the sentiment to smartassery, and it fits.

Also, donuts are pretty great. Shut up.)

Recently, I suspect I was deemed to be a smartass, and now I'm being punished. But I didn't mean to be a smartass. I was only trying to improve my diet, and also help a lady with her omelets. I haven't been in this much trouble over food since I added tabasco to my grandpa's applesauce. Here's the background on what happened:

Last summer, I joined one of those "farm share" deals, where people who know which end of a hoe to use grow a bunch of vegetables, and sell them to us useless post-modern types whose survival skills extend about as far as using Javascript to flash "SOS" on a web page.

This particular "CSA" -- which I just learned stands for "Community Supported Agriculture", and not "Crate Stuffed with Asparagus", as I previously thought -- turned out to be very convenient. A few others in my company joined in, so every week the farm folks would deliver our boxes of veggies right to the office. No picking up at some farm stand out in the boonies, or tracking down Haystack Slim on the back forty to get my share. Show up at work, and boom -- box of greens. Easy.

It stayed that way through summer and fall, so I signed up for the winter share. And no one else did. The whole company is allergic to kohlrabi or some shit like that, I guess. But with just one box, the farm stopped delivering to our door. So I picked my veggies up at a site more or less on my commute home from work. Not as convenient, but still a long way from Haystack's back forty.

"I got 99 first-world problems, but a CSA ain't one."

(Although to be fair, he's now down to a "back thirty-two". They don't call him "Slim" for nothing, you know.)

I opted out of the late winter and spring sessions -- trudging through a foot of snow to pick up three pounds of celery root I don't want got a little old, but when summer rolled around this year, I hopped back in. I hoped I wasn't the only one, and happily my company got their culinary shit back together, a few employees signed up, and we got deliveries at the office again. And there was much rejoicing. I got 99 first-world problems, but a CSA ain't one.

At least, it wasn't. Or ain'tn't, I guess. For a while.

When signups rolled around, some people only wanted to dip a toe back in the farm pool. That meant buying an "egg share", for a dozen eggs every week. But you could only get an egg share with a veggie deal, for some reason. So I let a lady -- an executive lady, it turns out, a real VIP in our company -- piggyback on my greens to get her eggs. But we only came to this arrangement after I'd signed up. And that's where the fun started.

I emailed the farm to make the change, and received a response from a person -- we'll call that person "Patty" -- who told me to go to their website, log in and add the eggs.

So I went to their website. I logged into their website. There was nowhere to add an egg share. I emailed Patty back to get alternate instructions.

Patty replied, telling me precisely which page and section the link was under.

I went to the page and looked at the section. No link was under there, or anywhere, so I took a screenshot, emailed back and basically shrugged over the internet. Maybe Patty, farm goods administrator, sees a link there. But I, lowly vegetable monkey, do not.

Patty replied, telling me that Patty would take care of it. Patty would make sure the eggs were added before the first delivery, in about a month.

Three days short of a month later, I logged into the website, saw no egg share, and hadn't heard from Patty. Thinking maybe Patty was some sort of intern -- associate farmhand? cow milker spotter? -- who'd forgotten or gone rogue, I sent a note to the main farm email, saying Patty had been in touch, but she'd apparently dropped the ball.

I got a response, rather quickly. It was from Patty. Patty said that Patty would definitely take care of it (good). Patty further said that Patty was the owner of the farm, actually (oh... sorry). And further, that Patty was emphatically not a "she" (ouch).

It's possible I should have known some of that. They do send a newsletter every week with the produce. But I get about as far as the endive salad recipe in those things before I get bored and throw them away. So I didn't mean to upset Patty. But I can see where she might be a little sensitive at this point.

Sorry, he. He might be sensitive. Yikes.

Still, the farm (finally) added the eggs. My veggies were delivered every week -- probably spat on, but that's still "organic", right? -- and VIP lady got her eggs. Everything was great, all summer long, and I didn't have to worry about accidentally poking the Patty bear.

Until fall.

A few weeks ago, I signed up for the fall share, with the VIPs eggs on rider -- and no one else did. Down to one box again, the farm -- meaning, Patty -- emailed to ask if I would pick up my stuff at the other place again. I groused a little. I pouted. It's possible I called Patty "she" again -- completely unintentionally, of course -- but I agreed to make the drive.

And that's when Patty got her his revenge.

Last week was the first for fall, so I schlepped over to the pickup spot, and found... no box. There were boxes for other people, and eggs, but nothing with my name on it. The delivery person had left a list, and I wasn't on that, either. So I called the farm -- and got Patty, naturally -- to ask, whassup?

"Oh! I'm sorry. It looks like we accidentally sent your box to Belmont. Is that somewhere you can get to?"

In fact, it was not. The pickup spot I was at is, give or take, on my way home. Belmont, on the other hand, is, give or take, on my way to Canada. Assuming I ever drove to Canada from work on a Tuesday evening in September, and why would I do that? It's not even maple syrup season, for crissakes.

Patty apologized, and promised to make up for it this week with a "full share" box this week, the size up from the one I usually get. Double the produce for double the trouble. That was a bit of a worry -- with just the wife and I at home, we struggle to get through a "small share" every week. But it seemed fair, so I emailed the VIP lady that her eggs were 86'ed and called it a night.

And Patty, evidently, set about plotting his next move.

This week, I showed up -- and indeed, there was a double-big box waiting with my name on it. And an extra-sized -- 18 rather than 12 -- carton of eggs. That was great.

Until I checked the other boxes, and also found my usual small share box, and another carton of eggs. I now had roughly twelve pounds of vegetables and enough eggs to choke Cool Hand Luke. The only bright side is that they weren't delivered to frigging Belmont, with three gallons of milk and a crate of fresh cow pies.

I lugged everything to my car, drove it home and stuffed the fridge top to bottom with veggies. Now I can't get to anything without a stalk of celery or some leafy-assed lettuce smacking me in the face. And when I dropped three dozen eggs off for the VIP, she looked at me like I had two heads -- and one of them was a Napa cabbage.

"How am I supposed to use all of these?"

I don't know, man. Omelets for dinner? Garbage can lid frittatas? Thirty pounds of custard?

I got my own problems over here. Like how to get rid of fourteen acorn squash in a week without inviting a local Wampanoag tribe over for an early Thanksgiving.

And also, picking out some sort of apology card for Patty. Because otherwise, who knows what in the hell I'm getting from the farm next week? No boxes? Six boxes? A pissed-off goat riding a tractor? Could be anything.

I guess it's what I get for being a smartass -- even when I'm not trying to be a smartass. If I could turn it off, maybe I wouldn't be overrun with organic free-range heirloom potatoes or whatever other shit is slowly starting to rot in the kitchen right now. Either that, or I should start reading the newsletters I get in email very, very carefully.

Nah, screw that. I'd rather deal with the veggie guy. Bring it on, Patty.





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