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Charlie Hatton
Brookline, MA

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A Corn of Plenty

(Gobble-gobble-gobble up the science! The Secondhand SCIENCE, that is. You might be slowed down right now by an overdose of tryptophan and pumpkin pastries, but a fast radio burst is always speedy. It’s right there in the name! Check it out.)

I’m thankful for many things these days. But one of them, on a lazy post-Thanksgiving Friday, is a project Jenn Dlugos and I have been working on this year, Magicland.

I’ve mentioned Magicland before, so I’ll suffice it to say that it’s many things. A website. A Facebook page. A fictional family-run theme park in southwestern Toledo, Ohio. And a proud production of Drinkstorm Studios.

But mostly (for now), it’s a webseries. It’s been recognized in area video and comedy festivals, including the Boston Comedy Festival — and in December will be a part of The Online Film Festival (#TOFF).

We recently finished shooting the first season, and the first seven episodes are available now. That includes the latest episode, just in time for Thanksgiving — the making of park owner Jake Skinkerelli’s ad spot for Magicland’s famous corn dogs. And I’m especially thankful for that, because I’m going to link it below and go back to my food coma.

Maybe there’s something to this Thanksgiving holiday, after all. Happy turkey day, skinkerteers.

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Wii Have Ourselves a Wii-ner

(Science comes first! As in, Secondhand SCIENCE, and this week’s post all about junk DNA. Are you more junk than you thunk, or is “junk” a bunch of bunk? Go find out!)

For the next week, I have a Wii.

I’m not really sure that’s a good thing. Or anything, at this point. Getting a Wii was a big deal, like, eight years ago. My parents have a Wii. For that matter, so does my grandmother. It’s not exactly “cutting edge” at this point.

Still, it’s a Wii. And if I choose, I could have quite a bit of quality time with it. We borrowed it from friends to help us entertain a house guest staying with us next week. Our guest is a Wii fan. We’re 100% Wii-less. So we got the loaner.

But our house guest keeps an “old-school” schedule. Early to bed, and early to rise. From what I gather, our guest will hit the sack by 8pm most nights. Which means the missus and I can Wii-Wii-Wii all night long together.

Or, you know, until 9:30, when she usually tuckers out. But then! I could be up for five, six, seven hours more. I could Wii the bejeesus out of this thing, if I’m feeling it.

That begs the obvious question: am I feeling it? I’ve dipped my toe into Wii-dom in the past. It’s possible there’s a balloon-headed Mii of my general description sitting on my parents’ device, a leftover from Christmas visits past. I like the Wii — its advanced age and general the-kids-are-so-over-this-thing uncoolness notwithstanding. I’ve Wii’ed. I’ll Wii again. But. Will I binge-Wii this week?

That’s a trickier question.

Any Wii-ing this week is harmless fun, of course. Assuming we use the wrist strap, and don’t gank an old-person hip, of course. But what if we get hooked?

Where by “we”, I mean “me”, since my wife is generally fairly resistant to the siren call of self-testing and mettle-proving via video games.

(Apart from a wildly uncharacteristic Candy Crush obsession a few months ago. We don’t talk about that. We don’t fully understand what happened there.)

The risk is, I could easily get Wii-hooked — at the same time I’m destroying any achievement levels or streaks my buddy had with his Mii. We played one “test game” of bowling to make sure the game was hooked up properly, and at the end, it asked me what the hell had happened to me. Or rather, him. It’s no picnic when you think you’ve rolled a decent game, and your console pops up to say:

“It appears you’ve recently suffered a catastrophic loss of motor skills, or possibly an amputation. Should we recalibrate to accomodate your current feeble state?”

I may be a doof, but I don’t need that kind of attitude from computer-based assistants. I don’t get this kind of shit from Clippy.

“I don’t get this kind of shit from Clippy.”

Clearly, my first in-home Wii experience was something short of “inspiring”. Which might be for the best. Do I really want to get locked into this thing, buy one of my own, snake six more wires behind the television, and turn my living room into a virtual jai alai court, or whatever the latest game is?

Like, especially when there’s beer in the fridge, right this minute, that’s stubbornly not drinking itself?

I guess time — seven days, specifically — will tell. Maybe I’ll come out of this week a Wii-ful man. Or maybe I’ll pack it up afterwards, give it back with nary a regret and think no more about Wii-ing here at home. Either way, though, one thing is for sure:

This guy whose Mii I’m playing will never get his bowling average back up. I see why the smartassed thing asked me about amputations now. Jesus.

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Blue Suede SHUTIT!

(If you like science so much, why don’t you marry it? Or just read about it, over at Secondhand SCIENCE! That’ll save you the cost of a ring, and a caterer for the reception!

This week, we’re doing some ketone learning. Like what ketones have to do — or very much do not have to do — with subway buskers, Star Wars beasties and horrifying novelty cookie flavors. Fun!)

Context is pretty important.

The lesson soaked into my brain a few years ago, and I think it’s necessary to keep in mind if you want to have perspective on… well, anything, really. Nothing exists in a vacuum, and when you try to look at something as though it did exist in a vacuum, it doesn’t mean anything.

Douglas Adams pointed this out very nicely, when he confidently reported that the ultimate answer is 42.

Yeah, okay. But what the hell was the question?

(Nobody knows. Except maybe the mice, and they’re not squeaking.)

Now, saying that context is important is just another way of saying you don’t believe in absolutes. And I’ve already said that, so I won’t rehash the philosophical ramifications of this way of thinking. Instead, I’ll just complain about how rarely context seems to be taken into account, even when what it’s telling you is patently obvious.

This applies not just to people, but also the computers and software and gizmos that people create. Like a Fitbit. More specifically, like my Fitbit, on Wednesday morning.

First, I’ll give you some context. I have to tell you about the context, because you’re not nestled in my pocket for eighteen hours a day to see it for yourself.

(At least, I hope you’re not. Or we both have a lot of explaining to do to quite a few people. Like my wife. And my pants.)

The Fitbit, however, is along for the ride through pretty much all my waking hours, and should — should! — thus be familiar with what I’m about to tell you:

I’m fairly lazy.

This should come as little surprise to most anyone who knows me well. I’m not terminally lazy, much, on most non-weekend days. And I’d prefer to walk than drive, when it’s feasible. And I play the occasional fat old man sport, like softball or bowling or complaining about the kids today. But generally speaking, I don’t mind lounging. Sitting is nice. Being horizontal, even more so. I’m not running marathons, just because “the road is there“, you know?

The Fitbit is aware of this. I do sometimes hit my ten thousand step daily goal — and sometimes, I do not. Some days, it’s more like seven thousand. Some Sundays, more like five.

(NFL Sundays, maybe four and a half. The Red Zone network is seven straight hours of game time, commercial-free. I’m lucky if I make it up to pee while that circus is going on.)

I’ve had the Fitbit for over a year now, so it’s pretty clear on my usual schedule, and the steps (literally) I’m willing to take for fitness. Seven or eight thousand a day, on average — and preferably starting at noon. The Fitbit knows. Or it should. But that doesn’t seem to be the case.

Maybe I’d walked the distance Elvis’ hips had cumulatively gyrated all those years. Could be. I don’t know things.”

On Wednesday morning, I woke up as usual and shuffled bleary-eyed to my phone, to see what I’d missed in the sleeping time. One of the first emails I saw was from Fitbit, congratulating me on earning my first “Blue Suede Shoes” badge.

Great, I thought. The company periodically calculates that you’ve walked the length of the Great Wall of China, or as far as Alpha Centauri and back or whatever, and sends out badge emails to commemorate the milestone. I wasn’t sure why a pair of suede shoes qualified, but maybe it was just a clever name. Maybe I’d walked the distance Elvis’ hips had cumulatively gyrated all those years. Could be. I don’t know things.

But then I saw this was a daily badge, issued to honor some personal achievement set in a single calendar day. I thought back to Tuesday. I remembered, like, fourteen steps all day. I drove to work. I hid under my desk all day, crying in the fetal position as usual. Then I drove home and watched nine hours of the Simpsons, because it’s always on now. It’s a beautiful time to be alive. But I didn’t set any distance records that day.

I read further, and found that the BSS badge wasn’t issued for Tuesday accomplishments, anyway, but Wednesday’s. And it celebrated a daily total of sixty thousand steps. In one day! That’s, like, thirty miles. And it was a quarter til eleven in the morning. My question, at this point: whaaaaaa?

Eventually, I pieced together the problem. I sleep with a fan on, because I like the noise. And the cool air. And the whooshing feeling, like you’re one of the people in those old Peppermint Patty commercials or something.

I keep the Fitbit on my dresser, with my wallet and keys and extraneous pocket lint. But I don’t always see exactly where I’m putting things, and on Tuesday night, the Fitbit wound up sitting perched atop my wallet. Somewhat unstably, evidently. Best I can figure, the wind from the fan blew the device back and forth all night, racking up “steps” the whole time. From the time I turned in, around 2am, until I woke up, it had recorded constant and rapid movement and credited me with walking — or running — all those steps. Before noon.

Like, seriously?

This is where “context” is important. I’ve never walked sixty thousand steps since I’ve had that silly doodad in my pocket. I’ve never even cracked twenty — probably in my life. I was chased — mildly chased, but still — by a small bear on a hiking vacation in Montana a couple of years ago, and I doubt I walked twenty thousand steps that day.

Also, even if I did? Before noon: zero. If humans were meant to be active before twelve thirty in the afternoon, then Taco Tuesdays would start at nine AM. I’m just saying.

For my Fitbit — a near-constant companion for the last eighteen months, and a device built specifically to track how I’m exercising — to believe that I was busting my walking hump for seven hours straight during prime sleeping time is ludicrous. It should know better.

And don’t tell me maybe it thought I was sleepwalking. Because fine, maybe that’s a way to slip a few extra steps on the odometer. But we’re talking about sixty thousand steps. That’s not sleepwalking, that’s sleep-Bataan death marching.

Normally, I wouldn’t be so worked up about this sad-sack stroll-o-meter going haywire. But that’s a hell of an impressive badge I didn’t earn — and a hugely higher bar than the ones I have. Now the Fitbit’s going to be referencing my lone impressive “accomplishment”, and berating me for not climbing that (Kilimanjaro-sized) mountain again:

“Hey, why don’t you walk sixty thousand steps like that day last week?”
“Remember that time you walked sixty thousand steps? Like, where did that go?”
“Yo, lardass. Those sixty thousand steps ain’t walking themselves today. Chop chop.”

I don’t need that kind of pressure. Nor the monumental lack of context needed to believe I’m capable of walking sixty thousand steps in a morning. Or a week. Or without a chauffeur, nine cheeseburgers and a total skeletal muscle transfusion. And now every decent milestone I might ever hit will pale in comparison to this “blue suede” boondoggle.

And all for the want of a little bit of context. Or one line of simple code:

if < noon && steps.detected, SNOOZE ONE HOUR

I mean, that’s my strategy when I wake up in the morning. I’m sure it would apply here, too. After all, it’s a pretty solid plan. Even if the context is just a little bit different.

(See what I did there, Fitbit? Bite me.)

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Apparently, I Will NOT Be Assimilated

(You know Sceondhand SCIENCE is always hard at work, but science can’t always keep up. And what do you get when science is lazy? It’s called quiescence, and it’s this week’s nonsense. Go see.)

(Also, more Magicland news! Come out tomorrow to see our webseries sizzle reel showing in the Boston Comedy Festival at Davis Square Theater. And November 19th in SCATV’s Rough Cut screening. And in The Online Film Festival all December! Come grab some magic!)

So, I’m trying to completely turn my life over to Google. I’m really trying here. I am. But I’m just not getting cooperation from the other side.

I mean, I’ve done my part. I’ve got a Googly phone. I switched over to use their Googlepants Music Player, or whatever it’s called. That took effort. I transferred songs. Remade playlists. Cancelled all my other music subscriptions.

And lemme tell you, Spotify nearly cried when I left. I got, like, six emails from them. I half expected them to hang out outisde my window, holding up a boom box playing my last pre-breakup “weekly mix”.

Or In Your Eyes. Never discount the classics.

Anyway, I’ve held up my “minion” end of the bargain. I even grabbed one of those newfangled Googlicious home wifi routers, because it’s supposed to do cool crap in the background, like switch channels and kick off intruders and upload our credit card numbers to the Skynet cloud, probably.

Mostly I just wanted something more between me and the slimy-assed Comcast cable connection snaking into the living room. That big pile of wet naps didn’t feel like enough.

What I’m saying is, I’ve done it all. Big Googs said buy a Chromecast; I bought a Chromecast. We needed a new thermostat, and they bought Nest — so I did, too. All these little bits and apps and doodads and sophisticated surveillance devices. I put them in place as the Mountain View masters said, and do these things talk to each other?

No. No, they do not.

I don’t mind — clearly, I don’t — giving up a little tiny bit of all my personal privacy and data security and memories of a pre-cyborgian existence. Those things are all nice, sure. But, I don’t know, YOLO? Right? Probably?


It’s a little miffing that these things don’t share some sort of uber-Google AI that watches over the house and anticipates our every need and is occasionally afraid it can’t open the pod bay doors. That’s a problem. But the worse thing is, none of these Googlified gizmos listen to me, either.

I mean, Google Voice is a thing that exists. I’ve set it up, trained it with my voice and everything. But when I’m sitting in the car with my phone and want to hear a different song or have the car in front of me incinerated so I can get to work faster, and I say, “Okay, Google“, Google says…


So I say again, “Okay, Google!” Nada.

Okay, GOO-gle?

No things.

That’s no way to treat a loyal minion. You could at least cue up a tune or serve up directions while you’re sucking all the useful data out of my life. That’s just common courtesy.

Maybe I should see if Spotify is around for a cup of coffee. She never heated my house or ‘casted videos to my TV or anything. But I always felt like she was listening, you know? Sigh.

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Magical Mystery Mazin’

(Halloween may be about punkins and zombies and shoveling candy into your sugarhole. But today, it’s also about love. Or rather, Love.

Or rather-rather, Love wave, which isn’t a love thing or a candy thing, but it is a science thing. Secondhand SCIENCE, that is. Spooky.)

So, it’s Halloween. I could probably come up with something or other appropriate for the holiday. Something spooky, or zombie-infested or involving “resting witch face” or something.

But that sounds hard.

And anyway, some friends and I already made something Halloween-related. It’s the latest episode of our Magicland webseries, and we made it in a corn maze. How Halloween is that?

I guess what I’m saying is, I’ve done all I’m doing for this stinkin’ holiday. Have fun eating sugar lumps in your ratty-pizza costumes or whatever. Here’s the video:

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