Archive for December, 2004
Howdy ho, neighbors. If you haven’t yet, don’t forget to vote for the Jimmies over at RJ’s, and then check back on Sunday night to see who wins!
Today, I’m sure you realize, is New Year’s Eve. Happy New Year! Here are some predictions for you. If you can think of one I missed, as always, email it to me. We’ll have to check back in on December 31, 2005 (if the site/Internet/world/universe still exists then) and see how we did.
1. The MPAA and RIAA will introduce all kinds of viruii into the bittorrent filesharing networks, trying to bring them down once and for all. However, the plan will backfire when the Supreme Court finds their actions illegal, and filesharing is allowed to run freely. By November, the movie and record companies will be as powerless as the airline companies. Or Toys ‘R’ Us.
2. George W. Bush will be arrested for war crimes in a foreign country, probably Canada. It will take the U.S. all of five minutes to move forces in and take over the country, making it the fifty first through fifty sixth states in the Union. Bush will be back in Washington by late afternoon, laughing evilly. On the bright side, the USA’s average I.Q. will double, and health care will get better. Social Security, the environment, and the economy will still be screwed.
3. Lindsay Lohan will realize that she’s being used by America, and announce that she’s taking two years off from acting, singing, and hanging out with Paris Hilton to live in the woods and write a biography of Che Guevara. Jessica Simpson, meanwhile, will say idiotic things on television. Lohan’s album and film career will never be heard from again, Simpson’s next three will top the charts.
4. mikeschramm.com will triple its daily audience. To 6. To get more traffic, Mike will write something funny about Jessica Simpson, and include pics. It won’t work.
5. The Virgin Mary will appear in a Catholic church in Biloxi, Mississippi. She will speak to the congregation, gathered for Easter Sunday, but she will speak in an ancient language that no one in Biloxi, Mississippi can understand. The Pope will be informed, the church will be conscrated and will become a destination for a new generation of pilgrims, converting people to Christianity for years to come. No one, however, will ever know what she actually said to everyone, which was “A grilled cheese sandwich?? $28,000?!”
6. After assembling a terrific team, the Cubs will finally win the World Series, and the whole country will celebrate it. People everywhere will wear blue, and the great buzz and positivity surrounding the team will lead them to repeat again and again, and stay champions all the way through 2008. Then, Jim Hendry will wake up.
7. Christopher Reeve, after appearing to meet his end during the fight with Doomsday, will return good as new, except in a different costume. George Lucas will quickly cast him as General Grevious in the new Star Wars movie, but the movie will still have a terrible title. And suck.
8. id software will release Quake 4, and gamers will love it because you’ll finally be able to use your flashlight and gun at the same time. Unfortunately, they will hate it because the minimum system requirements won’t actually be invented until 2007. Meanwhile, Civ 4 will come out in June, and it will be AWESOME. Man, I can’t wait. Duke Nukem Forever won’t be released.
9. Based on the success of the iPod, Apple will release the iCam, an ingeniously designed and extremely expensive little camera that will make hip and trendy people everywhere feel hip and trendy just for owning it. Unfortunately, most of them will use it to take pictures of crap, and then brag all over the place about how much they spent to take pictures of crap, and how easy it is to take pictures of crap while they’re working out. Apple, meanwhile, will make, literally, tons of money. Steve Jobs will rent a backhoe to get all his money in his garage.
10. Something will happen, and lots of people, mostly the media (and those who trust the media), will declare either triumphantly or morbidly, “Things will never again be the same!” But one year later, we’ll still be living our lives, people will still be being born and dying, and life, crazy and random as it is, will still go on, just as it always has.
Before I begin, you only have like one day to vote for the Jimmies at retardedjimmy.com. Go there, now, and vote! Then come back here and read this:
Since prehistory, man has struggled with all kinds of unanswerable questions. Why are we here? What happens after death? What’s for lunch, and who’s buying? Today’s mikeschramm.com features a question, but it isn’t one of these.
Earlier this year, the rock band U2 released their latest album, “How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb” to great acclaim. Rolling Stone called it “grandiose music by grandiose men,” the LA Times called it “one of the Irish quartet’s essential works,” and I distinctly remember saying “U2 is still alive?”
But even more popular than the album has been the band’s first single “Vertigo” (also the first song on the album). It’s a wildly jumpy song, mixing the Edge’s flying guitar with a Spanglish Bono who can’t seem to stop repeating himself (here are the lyrics, and here’s a link to U2’s website to hear a sample of the song). The most fascinating part of the song, however, comes in the beginning, when Bono counts off the band.
Instead of the normal “1, 2, 3, 4″ which most bands will do, or even “uno, dos, tres, cuatro” which either mariachi or allegedly hip bands do (U2 being the latter), he counts off “uno, dos, tres” and then adds “catorce.”
First, you might think right away that Bono, as rocking and consumer-friendly as he is, messed up. “Cuatro” is four in Spanish, and “catorce” is fourteen. Maybe, hopped up on drugs or life or rock and roll, or whatever he’s hopped up on, he simply made a mistake and said the wrong thing. He’s busy, this Bono guy, talking to the pope or handing out food or whatever it is he does when he’s not in Apple commercials. He doesn’t have time to remember whether things are four or fourteen!
Other than the commercial stuff, Bono seems like a smart guy, though, so that doesn’t seem really likely. Also Brian Eno worked on the album, and there’s no way that guy would let an error get through on his albums. No sir.
So we’re left to wonder why Bono did it. There are a few theories floating around the net (or “Rumors on The Internets,” as our president would like us to call them). I’ve compiled them here for your reading enjoyment.
THE “FOURTEENTH ALBUM THEORY”: Fans of U2 (careful, that’s a screwy message board– I went there so you don’t have to) were quick to point out that “How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb”, or HTDAAB, as the Edge calls it in his sleep, is U2’s fourteenth album, and therefore Bono was simply recognizing the fact that the band has produced many terrific albums, all of them in the 90s, and yet this was their fourteenth overall. The problem with this is, as the message board points out, if you count full albums, U2 really only has 10.
THE “STEVE LILLYWHITE CREDIT”: On that same message board you can see a corallary to the Fourteenth Album Theory. Producer Steve Lillywhite (known also for his work with the Dave Matthews Band) did work on U2’s 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 14th albums. So maybe Bono was just giving a shout out to Lillywhite for his work with the band.
THE “JOHN RITTER TRIBUTE”: Yet another theory has to do with, of all things, Three’s Company. On the show, the late John Ritter’s character jokingly tests a microphone by saying, as Bono does, “Uno, dos, tres… catorce!” Apparently, it was very funny, which doesn’t necessarily answer the question why an Irish rock star is paying tribute to a deceased sitcom actor, but instead raises the question of how anyone could find Three’s Company funny.
THE “MULTIPLE MISPROUNCIATION”: A few people have noted that not only is “catorce” prounounced strangely, but “uno, dos” and “tres” don’t even come out of the track very clearly. This has led to speculation that maybe instead of saying “1, 2, 3, 14″ in Spanish, maybe Bono was trying to say “once, doce, trece, catorce” which is “11, 12, 13, 14″ in Spanish, and would clearly be a very hip and happening thing for a rock star to do. Not very clever or interesting, though.
THE “SCRIPTURAL REFERENCE I”: There are two variations of this theory. The first says that Bono was referencing John 1:14, John 2:14, and John 3:14, though the theory doesn’t really explain how he referenced John instead of Matthew or Luke, but no matter. Here’s the three verses:
John 1:14: The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only,who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.
John 2:14: In the temple courts he found men selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money.
John 3:14: Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up.
Apparently the verses speak of Jesus, then money, and then Jesus again, which proponents of this theory alledge is how U2’s spritual thinking has gone throughout the years.
THE “SCRIPTURAL REFERENCE II”: But the best one comes from a guy who calls himself BarbariansatBay, who says instead of three different chapters, the verses are John 2: 3-14 (say it out loud: “One” sounds like “John”). He then goes into a long discourse on how “Vertigo” mirrors the scriptural passage, explaining how Bono is really a believer in a nightclub looking for God in the darkness and finding only a girl with red nails, which stands for blood on the cross. I love it. This is totally it.
I did try to contact Bono himself, through the support area of U2.com. As of presstime, all they had returned to me was the following:
Thank you for contacting us, we will get back to you as soon as we can.
I’ll keep you posted. Meanwhile, if you have something else, send it here.
I’m willing to go on record as saying that BBQ Chicken Pizza is the best invention of the last 10 years. You can have your iPods, your Segways, and your Linux, I’m keeping my pizza. Actually, I think BBQ Chicken Pizza was invented more than 10 years ago, so that sentence makes no sense. Never mind! On with the pizza!
Today’s edition is a little different, because unlike the other two things I’ve made, I kind of made this recipe up myself. But I’ve made it a few times now, and each time it’s tasted great, so although it’s simple, it works. We gonna need:
1 boneless, skinless chicken breast
1/2 tablespoon oil (vegetable, olive, or I use peanut)
1/2 minced garlic
1/4 cup BBQ sauce (Kraft makes a Honey Garlic flavor one that works awesome with the garlic)
1/2 cup shredded mozzarella cheese (more or less to size and taste)
a pinch of oregano
a pinch of basil
pizza crust *
*For the crust, feel free to use one of those Boboli premade pizza crusts– I have, and they work fine. If you want to be really hardcore (and I’ve done this, so I am), you can make up some bread dough and use that as crust, just add a little olive oil instead of all that honey. Don’t feel bad using Boboli, though, because it’s much, much easier.
First off, you gotta get that chicken cooked. Once thawed, cut it up into tiny pieces. Then, heat up a skillet to medium, and add the oil and garlic, heat until the garlic sizzles, and then add the chicken.
I guess you could actually mariade the chicken in BBQ sauce and grill it, but I like sauteeing much better. The chicken sizzles in the oil, and, as you stir it around with a wooden spoon, aroma (and usually a few drops of oil) jumps out all over the place. While it’s sizzling, throw in the oregano and basil to add some punch to the taste.
Meanwhile, get your crust ready. Smooth (or lay, if you got Boboli) it out on the pizza pan, and spread the BBQ sauce around evenly. Technically, you’re supposed to use a pizza stone, because it cooks the pizza much more evenly, but, especially with Boboli, you won’t have too much trouble just using a regular round sheet. The only thing you really need to watch out for is to keep the toppings sort of to the edges– too much in the center, and it won’t cook through properly.
By the time you’ve spread around the sauce, the chicken should be cooked through pretty well– it will get heated later in the oven, but just to be safe, you should make sure it’s cooked now in the skillet. Once it’s done, turn down the heat, and add just a touch of BBQ sauce to the skillet. Let the chicken cook in that for a minute or two, to add the BBQ flavor to the meat.
Back to the crust. Lay the mozza cheese on it. You can pretend you’re a pizza shop owner in New York, and say stuff to your roommate like “You-a wanna pizza?” and “It’s-a me, Mario!” Also, feel free to sing “That’s Amore” at extremely high volume. I did.
Chicken cooked and marinated? At this point I usually have to drain a little oil from the skillet to make sure it doesn’t end up on the pizza. A little oil with the chicken is fine, but too much and it makes everything soggy. Then, lay the chicken evenly on the pizza (keep thin in the middle), top with a little more cheese.
Finally, toss in a preheated oven and wait for it to finish. Boboli, which I used tonight, says 450 degrees for 10 minutes, but you’d have to cook longer if you were using homemade dough. As a guide, cook it until the dough browns and the cheese is completely melted. Watch that center, because that’s where it’s going to take the longest to cook through.
Pull it out, and you’ll usually have to let it cool for 10-15 minutes, otherwise the cheese and sauce will be everywhere. Cut however you want, and enjoy! “When the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie, that’s amore!”
“I Require Sustenance” runs every Wednesday on mikeschramm.com. If you have a recipe you’d like me to try, or would even like to guest blog it, send an email.
I’m sitting in front of my computer in my apartment. And I have nothing to write about. Nothing, nothing, nothing, nothing, nothing. Nothing.
I decide to go for a walk. I grab my coat and hat, put on and zip up, and cruise down the stairwell out onto the street.
Usually my walks take me down a few sidestreets, past an old church that I particularly like. But today, on a whim, I turn towards the main street, about two blocks away.
I’m scared that I can’t get a single word written. This is the same neighborhood Lewis Carroll lived in when he was my age, when he wrote “Alice In Wonderland.” Studs Terkel turned out chapters and chapters about people who live on Division St., just a few blocks north of here. Hundreds and hundreds of writers live here, and I imagine all of them churning out word after word, hundreds of monkeys on hundreds of typewriters and all of them producing, creating, spilling language out onto the page, or screen, or whatever else people write on nowadays. I can’t get anything on any of it.
I’m getting angry. I walk faster. I lurch towards the main road, now just a block away, and fix my vision on the cars rushing across my field of view. It seems as if I’m not moving towards the intersection, but the intersection is moving towards me, jerking up and down, sliding towards me as I walk in place.
I’m moving pretty quickly now. I’m leaning forward, still walking, but steadily driving faster and faster. I remember when I was on the track in high school, and the coach said that if we wanted to run really fast, we had to push off of the ground we stood on. With every step, we had to stomp our feet hard on the ground, punch through the pavement, and push ourselves forward. I was a crappy runner, but now I punch the pavement with every step. I’m pushing something, harder and harder.
By the time I hit the street, I’m really moving. The light is red as I step to the curb, but I’m moving so fast already. I’m falling out into the street, and I throw out my foot in an effort to stop myself on a step that isn’t there.
Except that it is there. My foot stops on something invisible, a step I can’t see, just off the curb above the street. I’m still moving, so I lift my other foot off the curb and land it on the next step up, and before I can register what’s happening, I’m climbing invisible stairs up above the street.
I hear gasps and brakes below, but continue up my improbable stairway. I hit every step until they start to feel like jello, and then eventually merge into each other, still supporting me, but squishy and slippery. Instead of climbing stairs, I’m just peddling my feet in midair, but I’m still moving up. Up, up, up, up, up.
And soon I stop moving my feet, and discover I’m still going up, still rising, the city now far below me. Up, up, up. Up. Up. Up. Up.
Hi, folks. It’s Monday. Feels like it, too.
1. A copy of “The Joy of Cooking”
2. Ten bottles of room temperature bottled water (NOT Evian)
3. “Bird by Bird,” by Anne Lamott
4. A pound of candy
5. Four votive candles with matches
6. A ukulele
7. Gift cards to Olive Garden and Target
8. Bottle of echinacea capsules
9. Ten bars of Ivory Soap
10. “Worst Case Scenario Card” Game, Cooking Version
11. “One (6) clean large bath towels”
12. A submarine sandwich
Given: 1, 3, 6, 7, 10
Required: 2, 5, 8, 9, 11 (see whole list here)
Both: 4, 12
So what did you get for Christmas/Hanukah/Kwanzaa/Festivus/Saturday? Send me email and let me know, and I’ll post everyone’s list here. Seriously, I want to know. Why are you laughing at me like that?
I didn’t come up with much to write about today, but don’t worry because I’ll more than make up for it tomorrow. Just in time for Christmas, I’ll blow… your… mind. Blown! Your mind! Tomorrow!
Those of you who are regular readers of this tome (that’s what I like to call mikeschramm.com, a “tome”) will have noticed that I don’t talk about my work that much. There are two reasons for this.
1) I want to make it hard for stalkers to find me. By not mentioning the exact name of my workplace (I have always called it “the bookstore where I work”), they won’t be able to easily find me during the day, when I’m at work. Under cover of night, however, they can still find me pretty easily. I’m working on this.
2) I like my job, but there are times when I may feel the need to mention certain negative things about it, things which the company I work for or even my coworkers may not like to know. This website being a public place, I find it easier to just keep my comments to myself.
However I do work in a retail store, and this weekend being the biggest retail weekend of the year, something has come to my attention which I cannot ignore, which I cannot remain silent on. I mean to offend noone, but I must make my position known on this issue. The issue is this:
If you don’t know me, please do not use my name.
I know, I know, we’re asked to wear nametags, and so it’s posted right there on my person, “MIKE,” bright and shiny and there for everyone to see. And you may be tempted, looking for a book after a long day of shopping elsewhere, to try to grow some quick familiarity with me, the person standing between you and your tome. (say it– “tome.” isn’t that a neat word?) So let’s say: you see me, walk over, and instead of asking if I can help you politely, say something like:
“Mike! Mike, can you help me? I really need your help, Mike. I need to find a book, Mike, and I think you’re my guy.”
(this is an actual quote, spoken to me by a woman I had never met before)
But let me promise you, saying my name randomly won’t breed familiarity between us. It actually will have the opposite effect. I don’t appreciate someone using my name freely when I don’t know theirs, and while I would never not help a customer for any reason, the effect will definitely stun me for a few seconds, and that few seconds will span between now and the time you have your book in your hands. If you hadn’t used my name, you’d have your book that much sooner.
Now, just like every rule, there are exceptions. You may use my name when speaking to someone else:
“A really helpful and handsome guy, Mike, totally helped me find my book upstairs. Also, I am a beautiful young woman. Here is my number. Give it to Mike, please. Mike Schramm.”
And I’m not really biased with the way you use it, either:
“Mike was a jerk to me upstairs, and he couldn’t find my tome. Could you please fire Mike? I am a bitter and lonely person who seeks companionship from retail employees and takes out my aggression on their managers when they are helping other customers and are too busy to help five people at a time. So fire him. Mike Schramm.”
At which point I would be fired. Didn’t use my name with me, though, so everything is A-OK swell number one.
In conclusion, please don’t use my name unless we have met and I know yours. I’m willing to wear my nametag, if only to let you know that I work there, and I’m even willing to let you know my name. You can secretly prize it, take it home, mull it over, even chant it throughout the night if you like. But if we’ve never met, even if it’s right there on my nametag, please don’t call me by it.
Unless you are a beautiful young woman who wants to give me your number. Then, call me anything you want. Please. Call me!
So I got a chance to talk with Susan Werner today. Not only was she very nice to me, but she’s probably the most intelligent musical performer I’ve ever met. Check back tomorrow for a link to the story I wrote about her, but go see her site right now!
It’s Wednesday, which means I share a recipe with you, attempt to make it, and tell you how it went. I like to call it
When I was a kid, my mom made all kinds of cookies for Christmas, mostly of some good German Lutheran variety. We had the pferfernusse (molasses with nuts), the lebkuchen (honey cookies), and springerlies. She even had a few old german rolling pins that printed scenes of Martin Luther posting theses on church doors (and generally annoying everyone in the Catholic church) on cookies when you rolled them out. She made loads of cookies, and gave them to friends, family members, took them to church luncheons and sent them with me to school.
But by far my favorite out of all the Christmas cookies was sugar cookies. Not only were they tasty (basically sugar and butter covered in frosting made of sugar), I loved rolling out the dough, cutting the cookies out, and then later, frosting and decorating each one. I loved that we made some in the shapes of cat, some in the shapes of snowmen, and even some in the shapes of angels. I liked those best, actually, because I took great pleasure in breaking off the angel’s arms and eating them, then wings, then finally breaking off and eating the angel’s head. I had an interesting childhood.
But it has brewed in me an appreciation for not only tradition and nostalgia, but eating a lot of sugar and butter at Christmas time. To make cookies, I took a recipe from an old church Ladies’ Fellowship cookbook my mother has passed on to me. We’re going to need:
1 cup sugar
1 cup margarine (I told you it was mostly sugar and butter)
3 tablespoons sour milk (see below)
1 teaspoon baking soda
3 3/4 cups flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
And the recipe gives instructions to make icing, but I just bought a thing of regular vanilla cake frosting. No big.
First, cream together the sugar and margarine. This led to problems right away, because I had no idea that “cream” was a verb. I assumed it meant something like mix, so I stuck two sticks of butter and a cup of sugar in a bowl and stirred real hard. Looked like chunky sugar. At this point, even my roommate started expressing doubt about this way this might end, but I forged ahead anyway.
Next, I had to make up the sour milk. My mother has written on the side of the recipe, “1/2 cup sweet milk and 1 1/2 tsp vinegar or lemon juice. Let sit for 15 min. And clean your room!” (Ok, so I made that last part up) I don’t know what sweet milk is, so I just used milk, but apparently this is how you really make artificially soured milk! I scoured the internet for the science on this, and came up empty. There must be some innate knowledge in cooks that passes through the ages without explanation, and I think I found part of it.
And, while letting the milk sour, I beat two eggs and mixed them in. My mixture was starting to look less powdery and more runny. A good thing? Not yet sure.
After the requisite 15 minutes, I threw the baking soda into the sour milk, causing a little fizzing to start. This reaction, as opposed to the sour milk setup, is well documented scientifically. In fact, later when the dough for the cookies was chilling, I mixed up a little more baking soda and vinegar just to watch the stuff blow up. As I said, I had an interesting childhood.
And while we’re at it, toss the baking soda/milk into the mix and throw in the vanilla for good measure. Mix, as they say in Canada, well.
Then I grabbed another bowl. I think this stuff made me even use more dishes than the bread last week. Put the salt in the flour, mix it up, and then add the flour into the main mix a little at a time. At this point, the narrator of the recipe gets serious, and sternly warns against adding it any more than a little at a time: “(your [sic] don’t want it to go all over the kitchen).” I conjure visions of some poor woman trying to work out the recipe, accidentally throwing in all the flour at the same time, and poof! YOUR GO IT ALL OVER THE KITCHEN!
And as I add each spoonful of flour, the dough starts to take shape. It goes from runny yellow mess to thicker yellow mess, finally to solid tan mix and then to solid tan lump. Pretty soon, I’m mixing an actual loaf of sugary dough, and I put the stuff down, and take a deep breath. It worked.
Chill in refridgerator if possible, says the recipe writer (I can see her cleaning up flour). My mother makes one more note on the page, and it’s under this instruction. It says “imp,” which I remember (she told me) means important. It’s very important that I chill this dough. Again, why this is, I’m not sure, but the sour milk worked out, and so I know better than to mess with the Knowledge of the Almighty Cooks. Don’t mess with the Knowledge, man. Just don’t.
So I throw it in the fridge and go watch “24″ for two hours.
When I come back, the next step in the book consists of two words: “Roll thin.” I would be totally confused, if I hadn’t made these as a kid. I remember lots of flour everywhere, so I clear the kitchen counter and put flour everywhere I see. Then, I pour the dough onto the couter, grab my new rolling pin ($7.95, Sur La Table) and roll to my heart’s content (thin means 1/4 in. thick, my mother told me). Once I’ve got the dough rolled out, I grab the cookie cutters I’ve nabbed from Mom’s collection.
I make a few angels just for me, and then punch out some snowmen and a few cats. There’s a heart, so I do that. Then I get creative– after watching “24″ all night I’m not thinking of much else, so I make a 24 and then reverse it to make a 42. I think about spelling out “mikeschramm.com” in sugar cookie dough, but, after measuring the effort/reward balance of it, I decide against.
I grease up a cookie sheet with butter, throw my cutout dough on there, and bake at 350 degrees for 8 minutes.
A few minutes later, I’m pulling warm, perfectly cooked sugar cookies out of the oven and putting them on a plate to cool. One of the first out is an angel. I last for about two more minutes, but can’t help myself. The poor guy’s head is the first to go.
“I Require Sustenance” runs every Wednesday on mikeschramm.com. If you have a recipe you’d like me to try, or would even like to guest blog it, send an email.
Hi everybody! Unlike some other blogs, which will remain nameless because I can only think of one of them, mikeschramm.com will be with you all throughout the holidays! Except for January 1st, 2005, on which we will post, but it probably won’t be until we wake up in the morning. Or afternoon. Things may be hazy. But we will be here, so make sure you’re here too.
Here’s a look at the coming week:
Tomorrow: In this second, heartfelt edition of “I Require Sustenance,” Mike will make sugar cookies just like his mom used to make them. Except probably burnt.
Thursday: I’m not sure yet, but something good. At least something.
Friday: The thing that I promised last Friday is finally ready to be posted, and it will be my Christmas gift to you! I tried to find a pink iPod but they were all out.
Today, your fate was in the hands of my co-workers. I had two ideas of things to post, so I gave them the titles of each and let them pick one. So if you don’t like it, it’s their fault, not mine. They thought “Why I Won’t See The New ‘Phantom of the Opera’ Movie” sounded boring, so instead you get:
Reiny the Reindeer
Rein Deerington III, Esq.
Schramm (and, for that matter, Michael)
Rudolph (later reconsidered)
Well, Time announced its annual “Person of the Year” award. For those of you who care, that’s formerly “Persons of the Year”, ‘Planet of the Year” (Earth, 1988, but Venus was sooo close), and, back in the Dark Ages, “Man of the Year”. Pick a freaking noun, Time.
And guess who won.
Boy are we here at mikeschramm.com excited about that. Yes, we really are. Really. Super excited.
Hey look! Here’s some propaganda!
Adolf Hitler (1938)
Joseph Stalin (1939, 1942)
Nikita Khruschev (1957)
Richard Nixon (1971, 1972)
Deng Xiaoping (1978)
Ayatollah Khomeini (1979)
George H.W. Bush (1990)
George W. Bush (2000 and now, 2004)
Well, all week I promised something amazing in this space today, but certain circumstances have come to pass, and unfortunately, I’m unable to post what I planned to post at this time. Is that vague enough for you? I’m sorry I didn’t get it out in time. I’ll end up running it next week, so stay tuned.
In the meantime, I have this:
Q: Dear Real Life Scientist, my name is Timmy and I am in the first grade. My mommy says that Santa brings gifts to all the children all over the world on Christmas, and he flies around on reindeer in a sleigh. Can reindeer really fly?
-Timmy B., Newark, NJ
Dr. James R. Hawthorne, Ph.D., Professor of Biology at Walker University: Ah, yes, Timmy, you’re referring to Santa Claus, that jolly old elf who lives at the North Pole and delivers presents to children every year. He has a factory full of elves who make toys year round, and on Christmas, he flies in a beautiful sleigh to deliver toys and gifts to all the nice children in the world. Many say he is the embodiment of love and generosity in the hearts of men around the world.
Unfortunately, Timmy, Santa doesn’t exist. There is no record of anyone ever living at the North Pole, and even if there was, he wouldn’t be able to survive the horrible conditions there. There are many species of life on the planet, and many species of reindeer, but none of them can or ever will be able to fly. That would have to be some form of magic, and scientifically, magic isn’t possible. Ever.
Q: Dear Real-Life Scientist, My daddy says Santa delivers gifts to every kid in the world in one night. How does Santa travel so fast?
-Elisabeth M., Omaha, NE
Dr. Hawthorne: Again, Elisabeth, there is no Santa Claus. He simply doesn’t exist. Even if he did, as you suggest, the mere factor and function of his yearly trip would not only attempt to defy the laws of physics, but probably tear apart his sleigh in a burst of horrible fire from the air resistance. But it doesn’t, because he’s not real.
The truth is, Santa Claus is just a figment made up by your parents. There’s no way Santa could deliver presents to every child in one night– what’s much more likely, scientifically, is that your parents are buying presents without your knowledge, and placing them under the tree while you sleep. Think about it– didn’t they read that letter to Santa that you sent to him? When you went to see Santa at the mall, weren’t they standing just to the side, trying to hear you tell him what you wanted? No, Elisabeth, Santa Claus isn’t real– he’s just a myth, perpetuated in order to let your parents lie to you and do things behind your back. Lots of biological species have rituals between the young and old members, this one is just much more heinous and unnecessary.
Q: Dear Real-Life Scientist: I went to a Thanksgiving parade a week ago, and we saw Santa! But then I wondered how he was in my parade and the Macy’s parade on the same day. How can Santa be in two places at once?
-Brandon F., Atlanta, GA
Dr. Hawthorne: You’re a pretty independent thinker, Brandon, and you’re almost to the right conclusion: That Santa Claus isn’t real at all. Lots of people will dress up as Santa, but like the Easter Bunny, Uncle Sam, and Buddha, he just doesn’t exist. Your parents and teachers have told you time and time again that a jolly old man comes down your chimney every year, and you’ve seen him on television, in movies, on Coca-Cola cans, but time and time again, scientific studies have proven that they’re all lying to you.
Santa Claus isn’t real, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer isn’t real (a reindeer with a red nose was shot and killed in Alaska, but after a particularly intense autopsy, was found to be only a genetic mutation), and Frosty the Snowman definitely isn’t real (ice crystals have never displayed lifelike behavior in any circumstances). Scientifically, everything you’ve been told about all of them is a lie, kids.
That’s all for this edition of A Real-Life Scientist Answers Your Questions! Merry Christmas, everybody!!
Ahoy hoy, lads and lassies.
Today begins a new feature on mikeschramm.com! Basically, not only do I likes me a regular routine, but I’m running out of things to write about, and so I’m starting up a few regular features on the site. Of course, it is my site, so if they get boring, I’ll give them up and move on to something else. I can do whatever I want! You’re in my world now, grandma!
This one is called “I Require Sustenance,” and it will run every Wednesday. I’m very interested in cooking, but I’m not necessarily a great cook. What I’ll do is pick a recipe, and every Tuesday night I will try to make that recipe. Then, on Wednesday, I’ll share the recipe and the results (good or bad) with you. Kind of like a cooking show, only in text, and I may screw up. Actually, I’ll probably screw up quite a bit. I’ll definitely go through the whole recipe, though, so if you’d like to cook along with me, feel free, and if you want to, you could even send me a recipe or two for a future installment.
And we’ll begin with that commonest of recipes:
I took this recipe directly from Chicago blog Gaper’s Block’s excellent cooking series, “One Good Meal.” Brian Sobolak has been writing up a series of bread recipes, and he started with this one for regular white bread. As he says, I think everybody should eventually make homemade bread (sans bread machine or mix) at least once in their life. My Dad likes to tell the storyof a woman at work who bragged about her daughter’s cooking, until he found out that the daughter’s great achivement had been to make cookies from premade cookie dough. Sad, people. Get in that kitchen and bake something!
To start, we’ll need:
- 2 envelopes active dry yeast
- 2 cups warm water
- 1/4 cup honey
- 3 tablespoons butter
- 1 teaspoon melted butter
- 2 tablespoons salt
- 6 to 7 cups flour
He lists 2 envelopes dry yeast, which I thought was a lot, but I figure you can’t go wrong if you follow the recipe. The water has to be warm, so I tried putting two cups in a small bowl and then putting it in the microwave, but I spilled everywhere. I shrugged and put the water into a pot and went ahead and got it to just barely boiling on the stove.
I should say, also, that I have tried to make bread before. I made some beer bread earlier this year, and a month or so ago I made pizza crust using a bread recipe. Neither of those, however, ever actually rose, and while the beer bread may not have been supposed to, I think the pizza crust was. I chose to make bread today mostly because I’m not actually sure of my breadbaking abilities. But I am of the opinion that they’re leaning to the lower end of the scale.
Water heated (not boiling), I poured it into a nice mixing bowl I bought the other day. To that, I added the 1/4 cup honey, the butter and salt.
And then the yeast.
I think this is where I’ve had my bread problems. Beer bread didn’t use yeast, but the pizza crust did, and when I added it then, it just didn’t seem very alive. The way I understand it (obviously I haven’t attended Yeast University) is that there’s supposed to be little animals in there chewing on the sugar and salt and such, and churning out gasses and bready smells. But when I added the yeast, all I got was a muddy mix of water and butter. I did get a bit of smell, though, so I didn’t worry too much.
Let the yeast sit there for a few minutes. I took this time to put on some light music, namely the Polyphonic Spree’s album. This seems to me like bread making music. I would also have accepted Damien Rice, not because it’s good for bread, but because I got it the other day.
Now comes my favorite part. You put in about three cups of flour and start churning the thing up like it insulted your mother. The spoon I used this time was a little too small for me to get really comfortable, but I love how the dough kinds of eats up the flour as you put it in. With the spoon pulling in and out of the ever growing glob, it’s like an alien monster hungry for more! more! More!!
You can’t give this thing too much flour. Brad says add a tablespoon at a time, but I scooped it in there half a cup every 30 seconds. The stuff just sucks it up, and soon you go from a mushy mess to a round ball of dough. By the time it stops sticking to the spoon, the sides of the bowl, and anything else you’ve let it get it’s slimy hands on, you’re ready to get kneady.
I like the kneading, too, but a little less, if only because it’s much messier. I remember that my mother used to have a big board that she put her bread together on– she sprinkled flour over the whole thing and kneaded huge amounts of dough at a time, then when she was done, she took the board away, washed it off, and left the counter clean. Not so in my apartment: I grab flour, pour it all over my kitchen counter, spoon the dough-to-be out of the mixing bowl, and start pushing the stuff together like it’s a stress ball.
I follow the “geek method” of kneading, which is this: Slap the dough on the table and spread it out with both your hands going away from you, creating an equilateral triangle (60 degrees at each corner). If necessary, lay some flour in the center, and then flip one end of the triangle over on to another, creating a right angle triangle (90 degrees at the right angle, then 60 degrees at the meeting ends and 30 at the folded one). Then fold the folded end in towards the opposite one, turn it so to the tip is facing you, and push the whole thing out again to make another equilateral triangle. This way, in your head, you can build a Sierpinski Triangle! Geeky, I know, but if it was cool, they’d call it the “cool method.”
So by now you should have added the original 3 cups of flour, 3 more cups in mixing, and probably another cup or two in kneading. Your dough should be pretty doughy, and not very sticky at all. Not like my dough. My dough is actually still very sticky, but I’m so busy thinking about triangles and geekiness, I don’t even really notice. I knead for about 15 minutes, and then put the bread back into the mixing bowl, cover it with a damp paper towel, and toss the whole thing into the unlit oven to rise.
Let the dough rise for about 45 minutes. I went and played the Arc the Lad game for PS2, which I wasn’t really impressed with. But I did get it for free from Blockbuster by trading in a few crappy DVDs, so I got no complaints.
45 minutes later, I pull out my bread, only to see it hasn’t risen at all. Wellll crap. Ok well maybe it rose a little bit, but I’m imagining a bubble of bread, a behemoth of dough that could feed a small country. I think I did something wrong already.
Not to mention that every bread recipe I’ve ever seen extolls the great joy and pleasure of “punching down the dough.” This is something I’ve never done, because I don’t think I’ve ever made bread right. The idea is that once your bread rises, you’re supposed to punch the air out of your dough with a fist, and doing this releases not only a satisfying sound (plop? never heard it), but also puts you on the train to smellville, where you’ll experience smells never before experienced in your kitchen.
Expecting greatness, I make a fist, swing back, and come down to knock the air out of my dough like it was a fat guy messing with my girlfriend at a bar. Instead, all I get is a fist covered with dough. Apparently, not only does my dough not have any air in it, it’s still sticky. Soon, I’ve got half risen dough covering both hands, and every time I try to pull it off, more sticks to me.
At this point in Brad’s recipe, you’re supposed to split the dough into two and save for later. Cursing, I manage to split the dough into three– 1/3 of it ends up in the ziploc bag I’ve procured to freeze the leftover dough in, another 1/6 ends up all over my hands and arms from me trying to desperately shove sticky dough into the bag, and the rest sits in the mixing bowl. I was supposed to “punch down the dough!” I feel like the jerk in the middle of Karate Kid who threatens and then throws a punch at Ralph Macchio, only to find that he’s messing with a ninja-in-training.
Sheesh. I zip the baggie, shove it in the fridge, wash my hands, and decide to forge ahead anyway. Butter a breadpan, put the dough in it, and preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Brad also jokes that you can slit the top of the loaf however you’d like it– I’m boring, and I just put one cut right down the center. Next time I’ll have to write my name or something.
Oven preheated, put the pan in and bake for 35-45 minutes. More Arc the Lad. Actually, I think as I get some time in playing the game, the battle system isn’t too bad. The voicework is lacking, though.
35 minutes later, the smell of fresh baked bread wafts through my apartment. I pull out the loaf to find out that everything is fine– it hasn’t quite risen as much as it should, but I did actually get some rising action out of it. Cool for 10 minutes, and then, since I buttered the pan, the loaf slids right out of there.
I grab a breadknife, cut a slice, and layer it with peanut butter. Terrific! I could use some practice on making sure the dough is ready, but other than that, the great tasting loaf of bread on my table means the first outing of I Require Sustenance is a success!
Have a recipe for me to try next time? Send it here!
I forgot to mention that I posted a review of Sid Meier’s Pirates at RJ’s the other day. I tried something new with it, and I like the way it worked out. Also, we need lots more votes over there, so go over there and vote for the Jimmies. Work that funky magic, boo.
Two super amazing things coming up this week. Tomorrow: a new feature!, and Friday: another new feature! I promise both will be fun and interesting. And fun. Did I mention interesting?
But today, it’s…
The Secret of the Silver Monkey!
It is 1901, the beginning of the modern century, and with every approaching year, new technologies arise to advance the cause of human civilisation! But with them come the remnants of an older time, villians and mysteries of the otherwordly and supernatural! Against these dark forces must arise new heroes, shining examples of the human ability for knowledge and learning, beacons of reason and science against the darkness of history. The best of these is PROFESSOR INTELLIGENT, who, along with his assistant TIMMY, is constantly challenged to defend the good against the evil, the best against the worse, the reasonable against the unreasonable!
Our story begins in the eastern wing of the National Gallery in London’s Trafalgar Square, at the center of the modern culture. It is late at night, and the Professor and Timmy have been wakened by a desperate message from INSPECTOR MILLIBANK, the chief of the London Police. They were called to the gallery due to the most urgent of needs, and now the moonlight filters through the buildings skylights as they make their way through the darkened halls. At the easternmost end of the wing, the Professor and Timmy find a lighted door, and as they enter, they see the Inspector looking at a museum display case.
The case is empty!
As he walks through the door, the Professor (who is nursing a headache from the consumption of too much brandy earlier in the evening) barks, “What’s the meaning of all of this?”
“Professor!” cries the Inspector. “Thank goodness you’ve arrived! And Timmy! I daresay we’ll need all your help on this case, Professor! It’s quite a mystery!”
“Right, a mystery and all that. Not so loud.” The Professor rubs his head and wonders if he should have taken a brandy shot before leaving for the museum. “What’s wrong?”
The Inspector is aghast. “It’s the Silver Monkey! It’s missing!”
“The Silver Monkey!” exclaims Timmy excitedly. “The Silver Monkey of St. Antonio? Carved in silver with a single red gem in its forehead, it was a relic of the Spanish conquistadores, and rumored to bring eternal life to anyone who was able to figure out its secret! No one ever did, and I thought it had been returned to Spain and was hidden away there!”
“Quite so!” answers Inspector Millibank. “It was brought to London not five years ago, by way of an agreement with the King of Spain. But now, Professor, it’s gone missing! You have to find it!”
The Professor sighs again. “Are you sure it was here? It’s totally in the last place you look. What’s that over there?”
“Ah!” shouts the Inspector. “There it is!” He moves to pick it up, and sure enough, the Silver Monkey has been found! The Inspector picks it up, and thanks the Professor profusely for his help. The Professor shrugs it off, tells him to quiet down, and limps off to a corner to find somewhere to sit down so the room stops spinning.
However, Timmy is first to notice something is amiss! It seems the gem from the monkey’s forehead is gone!
“Where did the Professor go off to?” the Inspector wonders aloud. From behind an ancient African hunting mask, the Professor’s voice hoarsely answers that he’s still listening. “Professor, we have to find the gem! It could be that someone is after the monkey’s secret!”
“And look, Inspector,” says Timmy, holding the monkey upwards at an angle. “There’s an empty cavity where the gem was being held! And there’s something inside!” Timmy shakes the monkey upside down, until a round gold object falls to the floor! The Inspector picks it up and gasps! It is a gold French coin scarred with a knife on both sides! The calling card of the EVIL DR. VILE!
“Professor!” the Inspector yells again, his voice now hoarse from all the frantic shouting. “We should have known Dr. Vile was behind this all along! He must be after the Secret of the Silver Monkey.” And from behind the African mask, the Inspector is answered with heavy snoring!
After the Professor is awakened, the intrepid do-gooders rush across town to the evil lair of Dr. Vile, hidden underneath the London Bridge. Quickly, the Inspector and a small police force rush in, with Timmy and a half-awake Professor following behind. They are greeted with a gruesome sight– a mad laboratory, full of potions and steaming formulas and strange modern devices. In the center of the room is Dr. Vile himself, strapped to a strange metal table. A newfangled lightbulb (not yet lit) is hung above him, with a focusing lens that appears to aim the beam through a bit of cheesecloth, and into.. THE GEM OF THE SILVER MONKEY! Upon the entrance of our heroes, Dr. Vile lets out a villanous laugh and tells his visitors to hold where they are!
“Hold where you are!” the dark villian sneers from his table. “I have laid explosives over the whole bridge!” He motions to a set of switches on a panel next to him. “One step further, and I’ll blow this whole half of London to little English bits!”
The Inspector calls his men to hold and angrily turns to the evil Doctor. “You won’t get away with this, Vile!”
The Professor, in his intelligence, appears not to be paying any attention, and visibly sways back and forth behind the coppers. Seeing a set of potions on a table, he stumbles his way over and starts inspecting them.
Dr. Vile laughs at the Inspector and his men. “That’s Vilè, you fools! It’s French! Anyway, I’ve already gotten away with it! As soon as I hit this switch, this concentrated electric light above me will focus through the cheesecloth into the Silver Monkey’s gem, and I will be granted eternal life! And there’s nothing you can do about it!” And with that, he lets out another maniacal laugh.
“You got any cough syrup?” yells the Professor from the nearby table where he’s browsing awkwardly through the various potions and liquids. “Nyquil? Dayquil? Hell, I’ll even take a Jolt at this point. Man my head is killing me…”
“Professor Intelligent!” screams the Dr. upon hearing his old foe. “So glad you could join us, and witness my final triumph!”
“Right, whatever,” answers the Professor. He fumbles through a few more potions, and then accidentally knocks one of them on the floor with a crash. “Ah, crap. Sorry about that. Way to go, Intelligent.” He begins to walk towards the table Vile is tied to. “No, don’t get up, I’ll clean it up. My bad.”
Vile is furious. “What are you doing?!? Do you want to get us all killed?! I’ve got the whole place wired, I’ll blow us up if you come any closer!” The Inspector panics and turns his men back towards the door, pulling Timmy along with him, who watches the whole exchange with wide eyes and earnest respect for his mentor.
“Calm down, Frenchie, I just need something to clean that mess up. This’ll do.” The Professor finishes his walk towards the device the Dr. is strapped into, finds the cheesecloth, and pulls out from inbetween the gem and the light, then walks back to the spilled liquid mess. “No big. I’ll get it right back to you.”
“No!!!” screams Vile, and flips the switch on the panel. In his rage, however, he flips the wrong switch, and instead of the bridge exploding, the concentrated light above him is turned on. Without the cheesecloth in place, however, the light passing through the gem is too bright, and a flare of red bursts throughout the laboratory!
When the Inspector returns inside with Timmy and his men, he finds the Professor finished cleaning up his mess, and the table Vile was laying on empty!
Timmy is first inside, and is thrilled upon finding the Professor in his normal condition. “You did it, Professor! Dr. Vile is gone!”
“Yes,” agrees the Inspector happily, “the villian has been defeated, and the gem has been returned to the hands of good! What a blessing England has with you in her country, Professor Intelligent!”
“Right,” says the Professor. “God, it’s late, but I’m totally starving. Anybody want to hit up IHOP?”
But what has really happened to Dr. Vile? Is the secret of the Silver Monkey completely solved? And will the Professor make it to IHOP?
Stay tuned for more of Professor Intelligent’s Thrilling Tales of Thrills!
I’m not sure if you’ve noticed, but Christmas is only two weeks away. In just a matter of days, I’ll be waking up early Christmas morning, rubbing the sleep from my eyes, looking outside to see if there’s snow on the ground, and then running to the tree to find the beautiful presents you’ve left for me. And so help me God, I better not get coal again, you jerk.
Every year it’s the same thing, I wake up to find nothing but empty floor under my tanenbaum. When I check the stocking, all I ever get is a lump of black coal. I don’t even have a freaking stove, Santa! What’s the deal? You think it’s funny to run around and give raw materials to children on Christmas morning? We’ll see how funny you think it is when I sue your red-suited ass for reckless endangerment, or lead poisoning! Maybe I’ll burn the stuff, and get you booked for pollution. Then we’ll see how much you can shake that belly like a bowl full of jelly, Santa. Talk to the Congressional Committee on Natural Resources, elf!
And don’t give me that crap about being naughty. Sure, I’ve done some things this year that I’m not proud of, Santa, but believe me when I tell you that that little dog deserved it! And who leaves a pie to cool on a widowsill? Someone who doesn’t want a pie anymore, that’s who! If my workplace didn’t want me to steal staplers, they wouldn’t leave them sitting around, and if kicking random people in the shins makes me happy, then I should be allowed to do it! It’s not like it hurts anybody. Permanently. Well, anybody important.
But so what if I’ve been naughty anyway, Claus? This whole naughty/nice list thing is against the spirit of Christmas! You’re supposed to give nice gifts! Specifically to me! You and Jesus can run along and have your little Christmas card party with your manger and your candles, as long as you do your job, which is to make sure the latest in toys and home electronics are under my tree when I wake up December 25!
So I mean it, Santa. There better not be coal in my stocking again this year. I know where you live– I saw it in that Rudolph special on TV. If there’s any carbon waiting in my sock come Christmas morning, I’ll make you pay, St. Nick. I’ll show up at the North Pole with a gift of my own– a punch in your jolly old face!
Happy Friday again, people. I don’t know about you, but I’m glad it’s here. It’s been a crazy week.
Last night, for example, I pretty unwisely stayed up until five o’clock in the morning playing my new obsession, Sid Meier’s Pirates. The game’s great– you play as a pirate, and do everything from raiding enemy ships to swordfighting, to dancing with governor’s daughters, to working for the man (England, Spain, France, or the Dutch). It’s interactive piratey goodness, and I’m hooked.
Which got me thinking, pirates are really underrated in their usefulness. I mean sure, everybody knows a good pirate joke, and they’re good for a tale of mystery and treasure hunting or so, but have you ever thought of putting pirates to work in real life?
I have. Meet Dan. He’s a regular schmoe, working for a living and trying to get along with his girl. His life is pretty mundane. Here’s Dan at work:
BOSS: Dan! I want that report on my desk by 4:30! Fax this letter! And where’s my coffee?!?
DAN: Yes, sir.
Pretty dull, right? But let’s give Dan a pirate, and see what happens:
BOSS: Dan! I want that report– wait, what the hell’s this?!?
CAPTAIN BLACK JACK BLACKBEARD: Arrrr, ye ugly landlubber! Get yer own report! I’d ruther tumble with a trio of narwhals afore’n I’d serve the likes of you! And Dan here is more than worth his weight in productivity, so treat him with some bloody respect! Arrrrrrr, matey!
DAN: That’s right! Take that, boss! I’m going for a smoke break!
CAPTAIN BLACK JACK: Aye, Dan! Yo ho, yo ho, blow the man down!
See there? Dan’s life is ten times better, simply because there’s a pirate around. And not just his business life– a good pirate can help your love life, too. Dan’s been interested in Stacy, the local Starbucks barista, for a while, but hasn’t ever worked up the courage to talk to her. Let’s see what happens:
STACY: Hey, Dan.
DAN: Oh, hey Stacy. Ummmm… Tall soy mocha? And a chocolate chip cookie.
STACY: You got it.
Oh, man, Dan, you really blew it that time. What he really needs, of course, is a pirate. Let’s give him one.
STACY: Hey, Dan. Oh my God, why is there a pira–
CAP’N MAD DOG REDBEARD MCGRAW: YARRRRRR, Mates! I’ve just slung in from three months at sea and the boys’n I require some sustenance of the wenchin’ kind! This fine filly’ll do!! (lifts a screaming Stacy over his shoulder and heads for the door) Dan, grab the soy mochas and Old Captain Starbuck’s buried treasure of biscotti!! Yaaarrr!
DAN: Ahoy Cap’n! A pirate’s life for me!
Look at that, he got the girl and the biscotti. Yes, folks, a pirate is what everyone needs! Some jerk on the train won’t stop yelling inconsiderately into his cell phone? Sic a pirate on him! Cop pulling you over for speeding when you’re late for work? Have a pirate raid his patrol car! Yes, a pirate is the solution to all of life’s problems.
And that’s why I’ve started my own company, Rent-a-Pirate. For an incredibly small fee, you too can have your very own pirate. And, odds are, he’ll enjoy pillaging your life so much, he’ll stay around for free! Don’t wait! Call 1-800-SCURVY1 now, and avast ye, matey!
mikeschramm.com is cc 2004-2006 Mike Schramm.