Peculiar Science 5

The November/December Popular Science jumps into the Best of What’s New by seeing the road ahead through very foggy glasses inside a Uber vehicle on autopilot. The Uber wizard who claims on page 14 “If we can drive in Pittsburgh, we can drive anywhere” is invited to drop one of his driverless autos on a Wisconsin rural road during an ice storm or blizzard this winter to do some slipping and sliding with little moving and grooving.

The question “Should I replace my laptop with a tablet?” is posted but not answered on page 16. Those readers confused by the diagram and remarks might be better off by skipping that page, taking two tablets at bedtime, and calling the next morning to cancel their subscription.

The creator of Little Bits profiled on pages 26 and 28 believes her building blocks which snap together for high-tech DIY projects will “empower kids very early on to feel they are change-makers.” Because so many high school graduates are unemployed or marking time behind counters in menial jobs, society would be better off if we could teach them how to make change.

The head astronomer in the quest for finding a habitable planet is quoted twice in the same paragraph on page 30 as counting on chance even more than science: “if we’re lucky…” and “We have to be lucky…” Maybe we don’t need more artificial intelligence in outer space but more people out in the fields looking for four-leaf clovers.

Beginning on page 35 the cloudy spotlight shines on the Best of What’s New. Needle-free dentistry will soon take the form of squirts in the nostril which will numb that side of the face before the dentist starts drilling away. The process may be less painful but is apt to lead to more post-nasal dripping.

Readers should be numbed in order to believe the McLaren 570S is a “drivable Super Car” with a price tag of $184,900 or that they will snap at the bait of a $6,000 Canon camera just because it’s touted as a “fast-snapping 4K.”

The lugs who grab on to the shoe sole that “won’t slip on ice” may still fall down and go boom if they look up at the new Supersonic aircraft being developed and wonder why the descendants of the extinct Concorde haven’t learned the noisy lesson of that dinosaur.(Golfers who wonder what happened to those behemoths might be leery of paying $350  for the aircraft grade club shown on page 61 “which gives faster swings and distance to drives.” The shafts of the Estwings hammers made out of aircraft-grade aluminum shown on pages 68 and 69 might give pause to those with a hankering for heavy hitting.)

Baseball players who swing another kind of club and want to slug like Hammering Hank are now being advised to wield a hunk of wood like Barrelhouse Bunyan by wielding an axe bat at the plate. The MLB hitting coach who sees no downside to this contoured handled hunk of ash may alter his opinion when the first team to adopt it for all players on the team changes their nickname to the Blue Oxes.

The house paint that kills disease touted on page 70 is likely to drawn cynical responses similar to this one from coughers and sneezers at this time of the year as they battle their first winter colds: “That’s great. Now my walls are healthier than I am.”

Grand Winner of the best in Engineering is the Swiss government after  the opening of the Gotthard Base Tunnel through the Alps which involved sixteen years of moving over 1 million tons of rock so train travelers can travel from Zurich to Milan in 3½ hours instead of 4 hours as in the past. Some of those rocks must have landed on the heads of the editors if they think spending 16 years to save 30 minutes is grand.

The same editors who find that “artificial log fumes in theme parks are so yesteryear” turn their clocks back beyond yesteryear with a two-page story devoted to building a record player powered by the wind. Anyone who believes that contraption will generate enough energy to play a 45 RPM record is invited to share the same room with the person shown playing tic-tac-toe in a room-size computer. Aren’t computers that took up all sides of a room so very, very yesteryear?

The eye-catching callout at the top of the cover is “We Fact-Check Your Bad Ideas” which is precisely done as promised on the last page of the issue, page 114. The question remains “Who is checking the bad ideas on the first 113 pages?”



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Foul Play

There is hope for all those loyal fans who have left a stadium muttering such sentiments as “They really smelled up the joint” after witnessing woeful performances by their favorite teams. My solution: petition to have the name of the team changed to a creature befitting such odoriferous performances. After being squashed week after week and stinking to high heaven, the choice is obvious: the Dead Skunks.

Rather than pumping in the same popular songs like “Eye of the Tiger” and “Welcome to the Jungle” heard at other athletic contests to encourage enthusiasm, every turnover or boneheaded play by the Dead Skunks would be followed by strains of Loudon Wainwright’s anthem to deceased polecats. Instead of a wave spreading through the stands, all the fans would stand at once, pretend to be rolling down a window with one hand, hold their noses with the other, and then collapse back into their seats as if in a communal swoon.

Cheerleaders garbed in black leotards with white stripes will not have to improvise fancy cadences to shout before every blunder because Loudon provided the most succinct bleat this side of a Bronx cheer: “C’mon, stink!” When they get their wish, the cavorting cuties will break out with their no fight song that is more catchy than any eligible receiver on the field: “Eureka! Eureka! You really, really reeka!”

Diehard fans who remain in the middle of the road about such a change would be allowed to faint dead away as long as they did it thataway on specified concrete slabs under the bleachers but only on moonlit nights when they could be surrounded by former mascots now rendered inert: cat, dog, toad frog, rabbit, and raccoon.

Any inept coach would be immune from criticism because he would have a ready reply to questions after the other team’s captain boasts “Our defense is ranked #1” by simply quoting Hamlet: “My offense is rank.”

Of course, there may be objections by members of city councils who will invoke local ordinances prohibiting such a change in nomenclature. Wealthy owners of franchises can probably overcome this bump in the road by moving the team to a new location, build an enclosed effluvium on the site of a plant formerly used to manufacture glue, and call the new but not improved team the Old Factory Dead Skunks.


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Something Wicked This Way Stumbles

What lit my fire while reading the account of Jim Morrison’s short life in Tod Benoit’s informative book Where Are They Buried? is the revelation that in June 1970 Morrison married Patricia Kennealy, described by Benoit as “a practicing witch.”

Just where and what does a witch practice before she sets up her Ouija board shingle outside a clapboard shack teeming with bats and spiders?

I picture a witch academy in a dark, dark forest full of black-garbed klutzes being trained by hook-nosed hags cloned from Margaret Hamilton’s DNA.  Over there is a coven by the oven getting ready to cook Hansel burgers. Nearby are the Arachnid Kids complaining about toil and trouble while running around on the double.  Oafs Third Grade are consigned to the corral area where they are working on swinging their spindly legs over brooms without losing their balance. Wavering before hazy mirrors in the No Fun House are wispy figures smudging concoctions squeezed from thighs of newt and toes of frogs on their faces to get the bilious shade of green that meets the approval of their teacher. In the frozen caves newbies can be found sticking fingers in the icy waters of Styx just before they plop them up and down the spines of their victims. In the studio building chagrined charges are being castigated by their mentors for the weakness of their cackles, one teacher’s bellow overpowering the other voices: “You’ll never get rid of the dunce cap and earn your witch hat. Can’t you get it right? You’re supposed to be casting spells, not spelling c-a-s-t-s!”

On a plateau above the chaos the head witch shakes a head (not her own, just one grabbed from a fence post) and wonders aloud if this group will be ever be ready by Halloween. “These things are really rank and gross in or out of nature. Maggie, my weird sister out West, had the right idea. Oh that this too, too wicked flesh would melt my claws and end up in a pile of goo.”


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Peculiar Science 4

The left side of the masthead of the September/October Popular Science poses the query “Ever sat in a room full of geniuses?” That room was undoubtedly too full to admit the people listed on the right side of the page who are associated with that periodical.

On the Hit List page we take one step back to get somewhat off track with a device called Freewrite which allows a keyboarder to “Tap away without distraction on a digital typewriter” before uploading to the cloud. Staffers who believe this is simpler than making a Word document have their heads in some cloud. Or perhaps the puck shown on that page which translates knocks into commands has already bounced off their noggins. Staffers reeling from the school of hard knocks can smell their way to the fabric test in the lab to try on a shirt that keeps sweat close to the skin. “Dizzy, meet Stinky.”

Acrophobiacs will likely not be fond of taking the 870-foot bungee jump off the world’s longest and tallest glass bridge spanning China’s Zhangjiajie Grand Canyon. 25 is the spotlighted number of volunteers who repeatedly tested the cracked glass panels to test their durability. No number is given for the coerced testers whose haunting screams of “Eeeeeeyowww!” still echo throughout the area on certain eerie nights.

One item in the Next section really belongs in the Old News department, viz. “studies suggest the seafloor holds more trash than what floats on the surface.” Didn’t those scientists ever watch Godzilla?

The idea of injecting gel implants under the vocal membranes of entertainers comes too late to help Joe Cocker and Crusher Lisowski. Just where these implants are coming from is not explained, although I suspect any exotic dancers interviewed by the media have been warned to keep it under their tassels.

The very remote possibility of a very remote asteroid reaching earth remains a far, far distant threat, yet the alarmists continue to fret. Now we are being alerted to the danger of 101955 Bennu flying within 185,000 miles of our planet in 2135. This year NASA is going to launch a spacecraft to rendezvous with Ben in 2018 in hopes of finding out more about this very distant hunk of rock. Memo to the walking dead in 119 years: don’t wake me when it’s over us.

Immediately following this pursuit of something way out there is the cover story of the most social man on this planet, Mark Zuckerberg, who is also thinking far ahead with a safe prediction because few humans currently living will be around in 84 years to see if it comes true: “We can manage all diseases by the end of the century.” If his prediction is accurate, millions of people under the age of 20 now will be alive in that 22nd century. Memo to those centenarians in 2100: Don’t roll over me and Beethoven in your wheelchairs.

Zuck’s promotion of virtual reality certainly opens wide horizons for the future, although not all aspects of this concept seem that new such as “connecting even more frequently with people through a technology that tricks your mind into thinking it’s somewhere else, without actually having to be there.” Abbott and Costello were doing that routine 70 years ago without the help of Oculus.

To be fair, any innovator who is pledging most of his fortune toward the goals of advancing human potential and promoting equality and education should be admired rather than mocked. Also to be lauded in this issue is director Werner Herzog for his statement that reliance on the Internet is not a healthy thing and his advice “to read every day and develop critical and conceptual thinking.” When a writer, while interviewing a computer mastermind, considers the potentialities of the Internet by asking, “Will it be profound? Will it make us better citizens or more-realized human beings?,” one can almost believe the magazine is probing close to the heart of what matters in this brave new world.

But then sense gives way to a stream of nonsense such as reporting on a chef who cooked a paella made out of food waste for 5,000 people in Washington, D.C., a place famous for waste, and how an engineer helped the owners building the new 49ers stadium determine how many servers would be needed to get hot dogs to customers. (Wouldn’t it be more logical to determine how to get forward passes into the hands of wide receivers?). One candidate for the “Oh, Really?” department is research which “suggests that being fed, caffeinated, and well-rested can each boost brain flexibility.” In the next issue we can probably expect this startling revelation: “Extending the arm and opening the fingers of the hand is an efficient way to pick up a pencil.”







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Fie Def

Now that students from kindergartners to collegians are back in classrooms for the fall semester, it is time to post some definitions, explanations, or applications for those who are finding the meaning of life easier than the meaning of all the tech terms and acronyms we encounter in our cyber world:

Avatar: Said when offering someone a cigarette

Big Data: Character in a hip version of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof

Botnet: Device for catching bots

Broadband: Female combo

CDN: Brief farewell when there isn’t time for “Be Seeing You”

Cross-Browser: Angry shopper tired of telling clerks “I’m just looking”

CSS: Female sibling (Similar to BRO) Description of tasty treat eaten in three bites

Dial-Up: Soap on the top tray in the shower

Digital Footprint: Tracks left by people walking on their hands

E-mail bankruptcy: Sending blank messages when nothing says it all

Emoticon: Have just a little bit of e

Extranet: Illegal strategy used by inept goalies

Gamification: Diversionary tactic of wearing short dresses and crossing shapely legs

Hashtag: Label used in delis and restaurants for yesterday’s meat leftovers

Hypertext: Tall Lone State cowboy

i Cloud: Political clarification

j query: Simplified way of asking where Jason is

Kickstarter: Benching ineffective star athlete

Mashup: Sloppy way of playing Mr. Potato Head

Meme: Usual method of tuning up before singing

Meta Search Engine: Report of uneventful date with person holding a loco motive

Netiquette: Proper behavior for the tennis court

Outlier: Unabashed prevaricator

Paradigm: Two of dese, none of does



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Yours Coolly, Sammy Drake

In 1959 Sarah Vaughan musically convinced listeners that her lover was a “Smooth Operator” whose kisses could make toenails curl, thrilling her to the point where she asked for mercy from Mr. Percy and unashamedly admitted “I like it like that.” While Sarah certainly was entitled to her opinion, I suggest a smoother operator can be found in the person of Sammy Drake during the investigation of the “Cui Bono Matter” by Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar in February 1956. Drake, played by Sam Edwards, talked in a slick, rhyming style that predated the Kookie jive-talking craze by two years. Sammy gave every indication that, in a duel of words, he would have knocked the comb-carrying hipster into the alley nearest 77 Sunset Strip.

Even in 1956 listeners could find name rhymes in Delbert Barker’s “No Good, Robin Hood” which contained a number of warnings to any rivals for his girl’s affections, including “Too bad, Galahad” and “Bad Break, Rattlesnake.” Nearly 20 years later Paul Simon named names among the 50 ways to depart from a loved one, including tips for Gus to hop on a bus, Jack to slip out the back, and Lee to drop off the key.

But those happened to be names read off song sheets with musical accompaniment in no particular context. What made Drake’s rhymes in dialogue distinctive is they sounded like spontaneous replies to queries posed by the shrewd insurance investigator. When Johnny Dollar (Bob Bailey) tossed soft curves toward Sammy, the smooth operator of the Sleepy Hollow Roadhouse responded with a handful of catchy responses: “What’s the pitch, Mitch?” “You’re outta luck, Chuck.” “What did you say your name was, Buzz?” “Let’s relax, Max.” “So what comes next, Tex?”

Drake, not the primary suspect in the case, definitely served as the most memorable character in that five-episode mystery involving an accidental shooting which may have been murder. Cui Bono (“Who benefits?”) has an easy answer: anyone who listens to this well-crafted series

And, I might add, anyone who comes in contact with me because I have armed myself with a batch of Drake Takes to fit a variety of situations.

At the farmer’s market: “Hand me a cuke, Luke.”

At the gas station: “I’ve had my fill, Bill.”

At the hat shop: “Let’s see your best lid, Sid.”

On the beach: “Great tan, Nan.”

To an usher at the ballpark: “Where’s this aisle, Lyle?”

To a cabbie: “Here’s the toll, Joel.”

At the yard waste disposal site: “Where goes the crud, Bud?”

To any flagman who waves me down: “What’s the beef, Leif?”

To the constant lane changer: “Quit your swerving, Irving.”

At the racetrack payoff window: “Make with the green, Dean.”

To someone who asks what I am going to do with my winnings: “In the bank, Hank.”

To a snob at a party: “Get off your high horse, Doris.”

To someone leaving the party early: “Where you goin’, Owen?”

To a neighbor with a woeful lawn: “Get some new sod, Tod.”

To an author at a book signing event: “Keen story, Laurie.”

To a postal clerk weighing a parcel: “What’s the freight, Nate?”

To someone wearing a sporty shirt: “Some tartan, Martin.”

At a lunch counter: “Spin me a malt, Walt.”

To a persistent salesman: “Why should I buy it, Wyatt?”

To the cook at a pig roast: “Sever it, Everett.”

To a local near Cave of the Mounds: “Which way’s the hole, Lowell?”

Obviously, those lyrical lines leave me open for stinging retorts such as “You’re a knave, Dave” and “Take a hike, Mike.” Like many of the claimants Johnny Dollar encountered, I am willing to take a chance. It will be worth the risk if just one person tells me “I like it like that, Pat.”







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Young at Art

A number of letters to the editor of the Maine Antique Digest have responded to reports in that publication regarding the cancellation of several long-established shows. In the August issue, a letter from a subscriber in Arizona who defends the next generation of collectors begins with the statement “I’m amazed at the amount of stereotyping used when describing younger collectors,” yet in the next paragraphs he purports to speak for the entire younger population by grouping them together: “Millennials don’t have the time or desire to attend a show, they don’t have the time or desire to sit through an entire auction either online or in person…A millennial makes virtually all types of transactions electronically…” His advice to dealers wanting to attract younger adults: use social media and text often. Otherwise, things look bleak from his viewpoint in Phoenix: “Ten years from now auctions and shows will be ghost towns.”

Let us reason together as we consider the matters of time and desire among the young and restless. Antique shows are held all over the country, not just in large metropolitan areas, often within moderate traveling distance of just about everyone, and these events are almost always held on a weekend. If millennials are pressed for time on a Saturday or Sunday to drive less than 150 miles to attend a show at which they can actually see and touch objects, learn from knowledgeable dealers and build relationships with actual human beings face to face, what are they doing on those days? Binge-watching episodes of the first seasons of The Walking Dead and Game of Thrones? Programming robots or flying drones around the living room? Seeking the Boulevard of Broken Dreams in the mosh pit at a Green Day concert? Lining up to see the premiere of the latest “must see” Hollywood blockbuster? Hunting for cosplay outfits? Priorities, priorities. Collectors of all ages soon discover the wisdom of these words: “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”

Reproductions and charlatans thrive on the Internet. Vetted dealers who attend shows have nurtured friendships with customers and other exhibitors, and therefore have reputations to uphold. Collectors also learn quickly that vendors at shows are more willing to negotiate prices with an eager and informed “cash and carry” customer who will likely be a caring custodian of an antique or collectible than they are to dicker with an impersonal browser visiting the dealer’s website. Regardless of how many times the cutting edge of virtual reality is sharpened, there is no substitute for the actual reality of holding a desired object in one’s hands.

By their very nature, antiques tend to be fragile or bulky, and usually travel much better from exhibition floor to customer vehicle than through the vagaries of delivery systems. Just a few examples of such antiques frequently seen at shows: pottery, wall mirrors, tables, phonographs, cupboards, Tiffany lamps, mantel and grandfather clocks, art glass, oriental rugs, paintings, crystal, slot machines, marble sculptures, advertising signs, and lawn statues. Wouldn’t a customer feel more comfortable leaving an expo center with a horse and sulky weathervane purchased from a congenial dealer specializing in folk art than buying a similar item from an unknown online vendor and trusting that party to carefully wrap and insure an oversized package that could arrive looking like a copper pig that got poked by Pokémon?

Regarding the issue of the time required to bid at auctions versus the immediacy of seeing and buying it right away from a dealer’s site, millennials wanting to start a political or superhero collection might ask the question: Who should I trust more for a Civil War campaign banner or vintage Superman figure? The “buy it now” online dealer whose descriptions include lines like “Got this at an estate sale” and “Worn a bit but great condition for its age” or Ted Hake, author of numerous guides on political memorabilia and character collectibles, who for the last 49 years has been conducting auctions and issuing catalogs in which each item is shown and described in 100-400 words? Winning bidders receive certificates of authenticity signed by Ted Hake. The novice who places an impulsive order from Buy It Now Buster may be disappointed with the purchase and discover too late that time saved turns out to be money wasted.

If Hake’s Americana and Collectibles is still active in ten years, I believe that young collectors will be placing bids and their trust in what Ted has wrought. If I am alive in 2026, I will still be attending antique shows, even if they are held in ghost towns. Any young collectors I see along the way are welcome to ride with me, providing they are not running with the crowd or walking with the dead.



















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