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Literally, the Only Thing I'm Writing About Today

(The science buzz over at Secondhand SCIENCE this week is all about nucleation.

If you like ice, champagne or beer -- that's separately, not all together at once, weirdo -- then nucleation should be on your radar. And maybe in your glass. Bottoms up, science-lover.)

Being overly literal -- like, literally literal -- is annoying as hell. Certain figures of speech or inconsistent usages make your cerebellum twitch, like a lab monkey with a forebrain electrode.

Or a lab monkey with mild OCD who takes things too literally. Probably that also works, if you're not into torturing primates for the sake of science. Or humor. So, good for you.

The thing about being literal and also an introvert is that you wind up mostly only annoying yourself. You twitch, and you want to complain -- but that involves interacting with other humans, and who wants that, really? Other humans are probably the ones who made you twitch in the first place with their un-literal illogical nonsense, so you tend to keep your twitching -- and your bitching -- to yourself.


It turns out you can be literal and an introvert and have a website. Which turns out to be a nice outlet for the weird non-literal things that no one else notices or cares about, but keep you awake at night twitching and muttering to no one in particular. Things, for instance, like these:

1. Pepsi made with "real sugar"

I like Pepsi. And I know what they're trying to do here. But it's wrong. Literally wrong.

Sugar is a carbohydrate, and there are many kinds. The three sugars we mostly shove in our foodholes are glucose, fructose and sucrose -- the last of which is made of one each of the first two chemically glommed together.

(Yeah, that's right, "chemically glommed". It's a technical term. I know sciency stuff. Shaddup.)

All of these things are sugars. "Real" sugars. Pepsi is trying to say -- without actually saying it, for some obtusely roundabout reason -- that they're not using high fructose corn syrup. But the main ingredients of corn syrup are glucose and fructose (i.e., sugars), while cane sugar is largely composed of sucrose (also sugar), which breaks down into glucose and fructose (still sugars).

I'm not going to touch the "cane sugar versus HFCS" health debate with a ten-foot cotton candy-covered pole. This is purely about semantics. Cane sugar is "real sugar". And corn syrup is "real sugar". They're not the same chemically, but they're both sugar. "Real" sugar.

If Pepsi wants to say they only use "cane sugar", then do it. "Real sugar" doesn't mean the thing they think it means. Twitch.

2. Most of Buzzfeed

We all know that click-bait headlines are click-baity. As an occasional article writer, there's some pressure to craft these monstrosities myself. But I don't. Because I twitch.

Which is probably the stuff I'm writing is nowhere near as popular as Buzzfeed. But I just can't do it. It's not about authorly "integrity", exactly. It's more about not having an epileptic fit at the keyboard, over writing (real, recent, Buzzfeed) headlines like these:

21 London Street Foods That Will Change Your Life

By... giving me diabetes? From London? I don't remotely understand.

Calvin Harris' Ice Bucket Challenge Will Make Your Ovaries Explode

I'm fairly certain it won't. I'm still contemplating personal growth by Hyde Street dosa. But my ovaries are safe as houses in the meantime.

"Also, I've seen the English Patient, and a mouth spider's got nothing on that."

This Woman Keeps a Spider in Her Mouth and It's the Worst Thing You'll Ever See

This is already untrue if the woman also keeps the spider in literally any other orifice she owns. And it's the internet, so: probably. Also, I've seen the English Patient, and a mouth spider's got nothing on that. Not to mention my ovaries may have just exploded, and that was no picnic to watch.

Basically, screw Buzzfeed. And the clickbait, misleading, twitch-inducing, wildly popular headlines they rode in on.

3. This sign in my wife's parking garage

Which of these things is *twitch* like the other?"Which of these things is *twitch* like the other?"

Great, a checklist. I'll follow that.

Compensating for missing letters -- how do those come off, anyway; does somebody sandblast the door on the way to their Honda? -- steps 2-4 make perfect sense:

My doors are locked, check.

My windows are up. My sunroof is... uh, "up", sure. And my "convertible" -- which I assume is probably located near my recently-exploded ovaries -- is also "up", to the best of my knowledge. ("Closed" would be better. But I'll live with "up".)

I have removed my valuables. (It's possible I was asked to "re-love" my valuables. But come on -- I already call them valuables; what more do you want? I'm going with my interpretation.)

The point is, all of these items can be taken as instructions, (more or less) literally. Then there's the first item:

"Lights on"

I'm literal. It's a good thing I'm not the one parking in this garage, or I'd be buying a new battery every week. My wife, she's normal; she can handle it. Me, I'd be putting some AC Delco rep's kid through college.

And twitching, all the way.

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Nine-and-a-Half Reasons I'm Not Invited to the Next Party

(Heyo! The science we "out droppin', son" this week over at Secondhand SCIENCE is all about those freaky critters who light themselves up like Christmas trees.

Wanna know how the fireflies fire? Then check out the words about biolumenescence over there. Plus something new tomorrow. New and sciency -- that'd light anyone up! Have a gander.)

People who don't know me well think I'm quiet. I don't say a lot in crowds or around people I don't know well -- and that's generally better for everyone involved, whether they know it or not. We'll get to that.

People who know me a little better often tell me I should talk more. They're surprised -- because I'm "quiet" -- to find that I have a knack for seeing relationships between things that others might not, and recognizing patterns, and (usually) making jokes out of these kinds of observations. Some people seem to enjoy them. And they tell me I should engage more often.

The people who know me best don't say any such things. Because they know the reason I don't talk to many people is that I'm not very good at it, probably because my brain is too busy thinking about patterns and relationships to worry about whoever it is I'm talking to. So I'm prone to blurt things out that might be interesting or funny because they're quirkily relevant somehow -- but not to the person I'm talking to.

I tend to forget that last bit, because my brain doesn't have the capacity to do its pattern-searching business and consider the context of the conversation and remember all the lyrics to R.E.M. albums from twenty-five years ago.

Something had to go. My brain made a choice.

And now I have to live with it. Like I did last week, when my wife and I were out at a perfectly lovely party thrown by a couple we know. It was a small affair -- just a handful of people eating, drinking and chatting. Most of us knew each other fairly well, but the missus and I at one point found ourselves talking with a woman we'd met just a couple of times before. Nice woman. Very pleasant woman. Also, very pregnant woman.

She was talking about her plans for the kid and the delivery, and mentioned the hospital she'd be using -- and that triggered a match. Somewhere deep in my head a box got checked -- I knew someone who'd used that very same hospital for her delivery a few years ago. I'd been a bit adrift in the conversation, as the women talked about baby rooms and maternity leave and motherly glows and all sorts of other things I know nothing about. But here -- finally -- was something I could contribute; an anecdote perfectly germane to the situation. And hey, come to think of it, it's kind of a funny story...

So I proceeded to tell this woman -- this very pregnant woman who I don't know very well -- about this other once-pregnant woman who showed up to her hospital one day for some sort of pregnant-lady mid-term tune-up, and was told: "yeah, you probably shouldn't leave or the baby might fall out."

The woman at the party looked a little shocked at this. That was great! I took it to mean I'd made the story intro sufficiently interesting -- you've got to hook 'em in the first three sentences, you know -- so I storytellered on:

"The docs at this hospital -- hey, and it's the same one you're using! -- put this lady on immediate bed rest, right there, after the appointment. So she went in for a checkup and spent nine-and-a-half weeks lying in a hospital bed, holding the baby in."

"It's like going to the nurse for a band-aid, and she takes out a kidney."

The party woman's eyes got wider.

"I know, right? Nine-and-a-half weeks, just like the movie! Bet they cut that scene from the film, eh? 'Just live here at the hospital on your back for two months. Trust us; we're doctors!' It's like going to the nurse for a band-aid, and she takes out a kidney."

The lady at the party looked fully aghast now. My wife wasn't far behind; she was at maybe eighty percent aghast, or eighty-five. Pretty aghast, sure -- but clearly not quite at the level of this other lady.

It dawned on me that perhaps what amounts to a hospital horror story starting with a pregnancy checkup for a woman late in her second trimester might not -- despite the clear similarities -- be the sort of thing an expectant mother using the same hospital would want to hear, especially if she had a pregnancy checkup looming in the near future.

"Oh. Monday morning, you say? Uh... I'm sure it'll be fine."

But at least you're not late in the second trimester. Right? You're probably in a different situation altogether. I mean, what are the odds?

"Twenty-six weeks? Oh, so that's... late in the second trimester. Right."

Well, on the plus side, that other lady's baby was just fine. And I'm sure your checkup will go smoothly. I bet it'll be done in an hour, hour and a half, tops. That hospital is, like, so good, and the doctors totally have medical degrees and this other thing was just a one-time deal, I'm sure, and good golly, look at the time -- honey, we should really go now so we can get home to do that thing... oh, you know, that reallyimportantthing, and hey, you, good luck with the baby, it'll be so great and you'll probably barely be in labor and just shoot him right out and god I'm still saying things, so bye -- and say bye to your husband, and maybe don't mention that we talked about nine-and-a-half weeks -- the story or the movie, I think, in this case, is best, and oh, now my wife is pulling me toward the front door so we should go, good to see everyone -- byeeeeeee.

And this is why I don't talk to people. Especially people I don't know well. And especially pregnant women I don't know well. And especially ESPECIALLY pregnant women I don't know well, when the topic is hospitals, childbirth or sexy Kim Basinger movies.

It sounds pretty specific, I know. But you'd be surprised how often it comes up.

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Man's Only, Probably Untasty, Friend

Yo, scienteers! Check out this week's Secondhand SCIENCE post, all about ionic liquids. Don't worry, it's not as complicated as it sounds.

Well, actually, it probably is. But the parts I understand are pretty simple. So there's that.)

I like animals. Not just the delicious ones, but some of the other ones are good, too. Like bobcats. And rhinos. And the white-tailed ptarmigan.

Come to think of it, those might be delicious, too. I shouldn't knock what I've never tasted slow-roasted with barbecue sauce.

Anyway, animals are pretty cool, and I like taking care of the ones that I can bond with in some way.

Where now "bonding" doesn't mean "pan-searing with garlic". That joke's done. We're moving on.

Problem is, I can't always tell whether or not I'm bonding with an animal, or whether it thinks I'm just part of the furniture, or a tree or possibly a very odd-shaped hairy rock that sometimes eats Chee-tos in its underpants while watching reruns of Top Gear.

"There's nothing you can say to a banana slug, for instance, that's going to make a lick of difference in its behavior."

Maybe they have rocks like that in some forests. I don't know. I haven't had a chance to visit many forests, because -- as implied above -- I have a very busy schedule.

Now, some animals you're clearly not going to bond with. There's nothing you can say to a banana slug, for instance, that's going to make a lick of difference in its behavior. Likewise, training grasshoppers is a phenomenal waste of time. It doesn't matter if you use positive reinforcement, negative reinforcement, choke collars, clicker training or tiny little electric cattle prods. Grasshoppers gonna hop. And they don't give a damn what you think about it.

Clearly, for an animal to provide some sort of companionship, you've got to shimmy further up the evolutionary ladder. The question is, how far?

Some people keep lizards. I don't see that helping anyone, really. Having a conversation with any animal that sticks it tongue out so much would be like a never-ending interview with Miley Cyrus. Pass.

I had a snake once. It's pretty much the same. So, interviewing Miley Cyrus with no legs, I guess. That's not really an improvement.

Then there are birds. That's where things start to get blurry for me. I birdsat a parakeet a couple of weeks ago, and there were times -- mostly when it was sitting on my head, chirping at me like we were in some sort of avian Ratatouille movie -- when I thought we were actually communicating.

(Just for the record, the bird version of Ratatouille is Cockatouille. In case you were wondering.)

Other times, I wasn't so sure. The bird would come over and peep at me and peck at my finger. So I'd try to feed it a raisin, or one of those Chee-tos from between the couch cushions, and it would peep and peck at my finger. I gave it fresh water. Peep 'n' peck. I opened the front door and told it fly and be free. Peep peep, peck peck.

Finally, I thought we were getting somewhere when it hopped on my hand and shimmied up my arm, as if to tell me something important. Then it took a shit on my sleeve, flew back to its cage and peeped at me again. So either it doesn't like my choice in casual wear, or I don't know what the hell birds want.

I mean, I know what some of them want: to be delicious. But that's mostly just chickens, and the occasional Peking-style waterfowl. Other birds, I don't really "get", you know?

Then you get into the small mammals and rodents. Or as my wife calls them, "poop factories". She says all those furry little critters do is eat and poop it back out.

I talked to her about getting a gerbil once. "Poop factory." Okay, how about a guinea pig? "Poop factory." Hey, hon, my little old aunt Priscilla asked if she could spend the weekend with us. "Poop factory! Poop factory! Poop factory!"

To be fair, she's kind of right. If Priscilla's off her meds, you'd better hope she's in Depends.

Bigger animals are better, though I suppose it's still hard to communicate with some of them. Moose are pretty inscrutable, for instance. You never know when polar bears are hungry, or just pissed off and cold. And cats. Lord, don't get me started on those persnickety bastards.

So I guess what I'm saying is -- I like dogs. Dogs are pretty great. You pet them and they like it, and if you're patient enough you can make one sit for you, or lie down, or open the fridge and fetch you a Sierra Nevada. I don't see cats doing that. Or parakeets. Or banana slugs. How long would that even take? Days. Who wants that?

In conclusion, dogs are awesome. The rest of the animal kingdom, most of the time, if you're trying to relate or bond or have a heartfelt discussion about The Catcher in the Rye? Forget it. None of those other animals are any help at all.

Which is probably why some of them are delicious. I'm just saying.

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I've Got Two Tickets to... Uh, Yeah

(This week's Secondhand SCIENCE whut-whut is all about gravitational lensing. You wanna bend some starlight? Then you'll need a black hole or a galaxy or a certain singer's badonkadonk. Check it out.)

Things are a little hectic this week, with a current events sketch show tomorrow to prep for, and some writing deadlines looming on the horizon. Or in some cases, looming directly over my shoulder.

"Deadline breath smells like old garlic and fear, by the way."

Deadline breath smells like old garlic and fear, by the way. Not a good time.

So, in lieu of anything substantive word-wise, please to be enjoying this clip of our Always on Deck sketch group, shaking our collective thang at the Best of Boston Sketch Festival at ImprovBoston a few nights ago. It's ten minutes of paradise.

Okay, maybe not "paradise", exactly. Poughkeepsie? Plattsburgh? Peoria?

Yeah. Peoria sounds about right. We're ten minutes of Peoria. Come and get it, sunshine.

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The Glasses Menagerie

(Hey, look! News and stuff and crap to read!:

This week's Secondhand SCIENCE rap is all about DNA methylation. It's got bunny suits. A tenuous tie-in to the Simpsons, in honor of the episode marathon running this week. And no actual rapping. It's all there. Check it out.

Also! If you're Boston-based -- or just a Massophile -- you might enjoy some of my recent spew over on Pick a topic. You got books and museums and Fenway and beer and "Ahts" and more beer. Because always beer.

Finally! Friday night is sketch night. Come see our sketch team Always on Deck in the Best of Boston Fest at ImprovBoston. Ten pm. Be there, polar bear.

Okay, that's it. Back to the regularly-scheduled idiocy.)

Some questions can be answered with a simple thought experiment. Questions like, "Would habanero ice cream be totally delicious?" (yes) and "Should you tell Ronda Rousey she throws like a girl?" (no, no you should not)

Other questions, though seemingly simple, require careful experimentation to adequately answer. Here's one of them now:

"How many stupid pairs of sunglasses do I need to own to prevent myself from having to walk around in the glaring sunlight squinting like an idiot?"

"You've thought-experimented the shit out of this thing, and you've got a solution."

For many people, the answer to this question would be "one". I am not one of those people.

For other people, maybe the answer is "two". As in, one pair and a backup pair in case of emergency. I'm not one of these people, either. My entire life is a case of emergency.

"Aha," you might say, you dogged genius, you. You've thought-experimented the shit out of this thing, and you've got a solution. Maybe it's this:

One pair of sunglasses for every place where you spend a lot of time, so you'll always have one handy.

That's a great answer. Very well thought-out. And flexible for any situation. Examine your life, and solve for 'n'.

It's also wrong. At least for me.

I spend significant time in three places: my home, my car and my office. I own four pairs of sunglasses -- cheap, shittily-made ugly-ass sunglasses, sure, but sunglasses, nonetheless. And I never seem to have a stupid pair in the right place when the sun comes out.

Which is, like, every single goddamned day. Seriously, sun. Take a nap some afternoon. Earth can survive without you for ten minutes. Little breathing room, is all I'm asking.

The point is, the sun is bright. And I, evidently, am not. I drove home tonight with the white-hot wrath of the sun's radiation searing holes in my retinas because none of my idiot sunglasses was at my desk. Or in the car. Or in my pocket.

Once I got home, sure. I practically tripped over all the stupid sunglasses lying around here. With a bottle of aspirin and a half dozen condoms, I could run a frigging CVS out of my bedroom with the rack's worth of flimsy sunglasses in there. But they weren't where I needed them. And now I probably have eyeball cancer.

So I still don't know the answer to my question. But I know two things I'm doing tomorrow: shoving three pairs of shades into my pants when I leave, so I can leave a trail of the things behind me wherever I go. And?

I'm buying more shitty sunglasses. Maybe when I have a pair for every deliciously-charred nerve ending on my retinas, I'll be able to find one when I need it.

But probably not. Like I said, I'm not all that bright.

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Polly Wanna Freaking Give Me a Hint Over Here?

(Science marches on -- even when it's Secondhand SCIENCE. This week, the big scientific deal is swarm robotics. Go check it out -- or I'll send a horde of Roombas to your house and make you.

Not really. Plus if you live upstairs, Roomba goons are sort of useless as enforcers.

Meanwhile, if you dig East Coast sketch comedy, you can catch me with:


My wife's boss is on vacation. For some people, this might be a chance to slack off a bit. "When the cat's away", and so on.

But that's not how it worked out. Not by a long shot. With her boss out of town, not only is my wife doing more work -- but so am I. This is because when the boss left, she also left something with us: her pet parakeet.

That means we're birdsitting. My wife and I are sitting. A bird.

Now, I said it was work -- and it is, but not in the way I expected. I've never sat a bird before, so I had no idea. There's almost nothing to do. It doesn't eat much; it only needs water once a day or so. And it's got a bunch of toys and mirrors and swings in its cage to peck at. So there's nothing physical to do, really.

No. With birdsitting -- with this bird, at least -- all the work is emotional. Because I want the damned bird to be happy. And I have no idea what the hell it wants.

I'm not entirely dumb when it comes to animals. We had a dog for years, and I feel like I was pretty tuned in to her constant wild-assed whims. I could tell when she wanted to go for a walk (all the time). I could detect when she wanted to nap on the couch (all the time). And I clued in right away when she wanted a treat (all the goddamned time, and twice on Tuesdays).

"I also know when cats are pissy, when spiders are feeling hairy and disgusting, and when hamsters are in the mood to snurfle their noses and poop on newspaper."

And it's not just dogs. I also know when cats are pissy, when spiders are feeling hairy and disgusting, and when hamsters are in the mood to snurfle their noses and poop on newspaper. You could say I'm something of an animal whisperer.

But not when it comes to this freaking bird.

It's a nice bird; don't get me wrong. It chirps sometimes when I walk past its cage. If I stick my finger between the bars of the cage, it often hops over and bites it.

Lovingly, it bites it. Not viciously. When my wife's boss and her daughters brought the parakeet over, they told us that this "beaking" is a sign of affection -- and not, say, anger or hunger. Or rabies.

Then they showed us how it works. Because we didn't especially believe them.

But it does work, and the bird hasn't drawn blood yet, so I'd say we're marginally accepted into its flock. But that doesn't change my initial issue, namely: I don't know what the damned thing wants.

I'd like to be nice to the bird. It's been nice -- in its own way, apparently -- to me, so I want to return the favor. But short of pecking at its toes or regurgitating a nice worm into its beak, I'm stumped as to how that gets accomplished.

Sometimes the bird chirps when I'm not in the room, which I take as an invitation to investigate. When I do, it sometimes pecks -- lovingly! -- at my finger, and it sometimes shimmies across its perch to the very far side of the cage, as if I have the budgie cooties. I don't know what any of this means.

Other times, it'll peep when I'm in the room, and I'll peep back. Purely to be polite, mind you. Nobody likes to be ignored. And the bird's response is to keep peeping. Or to shut up. Or to climb to the swing at the top of its cage and turn its back in what I take to be a meaningful and less-than-pleased way. Maybe my peeps are incompatible. I don't know. None of this makes sense.

Whenever I can, I try letting the bird out of the cage. And once or twice, it's hopped onto my hand, up my arm through the open cage door and sat on my shoulder. And, probably, pooped on my shoulder, just to be confusing. But it's come out.

Mostly, though, it doesn't even acknowledge an open cage. I swing the door wide, exclaiming "be free!" But it just sits there, becaged. Or pecks at my hand. Or pokes savagely at a toy mirror in a way that's both highly meaningful and impossible for me to interpret.

Fine. I don't know bird behavior. Outside Tweety and Big Bird, I've never really had any experience with avian preferences, so it's to be expected. But all animals like treats, I figured. The dog did. I do. Probably Snuffleupagus does. It's unanimous. So I tried bonding with the bird through food.

That meant finding something it especially likes. Which so far, appears to be nothing.

Raisins? No. Lettuce? Nope. Sunflower seeds? Pshaw. Blueberries? As if. Cool Ranch Doritos?

(Okay, I didn't actually offer the bird Cool Ranch Doritos. Those can't possibly be good for it.

Also, I ate them all on the way out of the kitchen. Carting all that other food back and forth made me hungry. What, am I made of stone?)

So we've got the bird for another ten days or so. I hope it's happy, but how the hell can you tell? It's got birdseed and water and it pecks randomly at various appendages it can reach -- lovingly, always lovingly! -- but I still don't know what it wants. Or where it wants it. Or whether it's secretly planning to peck out my eyes at the earliest opportunity.

My conclusion? Birds are hard, man. The dog was a slobbery little need-hog, but at least you knew where you stood. Cats hate everybody, and most other little critters are dumb-as-rocks little furry food-pellet-to-shit-pellet converters.

This bird is different. It doesn't love. It doesn't hate. It doesn't seem to do anything for more than twelve seconds at a time, and then its mood has changed to something else entirely. It's like watching a teeny little feathered schizophrenic, and wondering if your soft tissues are safe and what the hell you're going to do with that big-ass box of raisins you bought for it.

So yeah. Work. This bird had better open up soon, or I'm gonna resort to Snausages and chew toys to make the damned thing love us. It's worked before, you know. Get with the program, birdbrain.

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Magnet Videos, How Do They Work?

(It's nearly time for another round of Secondhand SCIENCE, but there's still time to see last Sunday's scintillating take on sublimation.

Okay, technically there's always time to see it, assuming the internet continues to exist and the checks to my bandwidth provider don't bounce. Still.

Also, if such things interest you, my contributions for are in full swing. If you love renting, or Boston, or both, or neither, you should totally check it out.)

"Like how everyone finishes New Years' resolutions before the calendar rolls again, or how we always poop between grande burritos."

This week's check-in is a little on the late side, because I wanted to include a link to the video of our sketch comedy group Always on Deck's performance at the Magnet Theater in New York last month.

That's because we have another show coming up next weekend, and it seemed like a good idea to wrap up everything to do with the last set before making another trip. Like how everyone finishes New Years' resolutions before the calendar rolls again, or how we always poop between grande burritos.

The analogies, they can be uncomfortably appropriate.

At any rate, I managed to find some software to finagle the original video file. And then I spent a bunch of brain cells learning how to perform said finagling. And a bit of time uploading copies in various formats to six different places before remembering that YouTube is a thing that exists to make interwebbing easier for vidiots like me.

But most importantly, I resisted the urge to add transition effects with star wipes. It was close. But you're welcome.

Anyway, here's the video. A few of us went and got rather silly in Manhattan on July 6th, and we're looking forward to doing it again -- where "it" is still silly, but entirely new material -- on August 24th. Come see. I promise I won't star wipe you.

Unless you really ask me nicely.

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