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Aaron Blaschke Rowden

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Laundry Day! [Sep. 21st, 2012|11:07 am]
Aaron Blaschke Rowden
Today's post is a special request. Like most civilized people, I try to wear clothes on a daily basis. As a result, I also have to do laundry on at least a bi-weekly basis. It is a fairly simple process of taking my items of clothing out of the hamper, reading a series of cryptic hieroglyphics, saying the right incantations to Amun-Ra, and then pouring in a reasonable amount of soap and starting the machine. If you think I am joking about the hieroglyphics, you are missing out on a very important part of the laundry ritual. Just look at the tag with the washing instructions for almost any commercially produced article of clothing and you will notice an symbol or series of symbols telling you how to properly wash them. Today I intend to give you the Rosetta Stone to the proper care of textiles. But first I must ask why we use arcane symbols instead of words to indicate proper laundering technique.

The History of Laundry

The modern concept of laundry began in Ancient Egypt. Egyptians were known for using a naturally occurring sodium mixture known as natron to scrub clothing clean. The clothes would then be laid in the sun to dry and be bleached to a dazzling white. Natron was one of the earliest known laundry detergents. Egyptians were also known for their reverence toward cloth and clothing, as evidenced by the care taken in selecting and preserving the linens used to bury their kings. It is therefore only natural that the history of laundering include secrets handed down from the earliest days of Egypt. Originally these secrets were known only to a secretive band of knights who got desperately lost on their way to the crusades, took a right turn on the Sinai Peninsula, and uncovered the great secrets of washing. When they did finally arrive in the Holy Lands with their impeccably clean tunics, they were recognized as men of great learning and established an order that began to rival the power of the Pope. The Pope, being jealous that his own vestments were dingy and had the dreaded "ring around the collar", ordered that these knights be killed, their lands seized by the Church, and in so doing he plunged the whole of the Western World into an era of filth that would persist through the Middle Ages. This purge took place on the morning of Monday September 9th, 1213, and is memorialized by the song "Here We Go Round The Mullberry Bush" which states "this is the way we wash our clothes, all on a Monday morning." During this time Roman clerics became known as "men of the cloth" in an attempt to fill the void left by the destruction of the knights. The events of the

However, unbeknownst to the Pope, the Knights knew their order was doomed and began to teach their secrets to local women who were unlikely to raise suspicion from Church authorities due to their low profile in society. These "washerwomen", as they would come to be known, took on the role of the knights that came before them along with their secret networks. Soon washerwomen and there associated sewing circles became a vast intelligence network, sharing gossip and rummaging through the pockets of their customers to find embarrassing receipts. While officially operating in secret for fear of the Church, the washerwomen soon had kings and bishops as customers and no secrets were beyond their reach. In order to communicate with one another, the washerwomen developed a set of symbols, derived from the Egyptian origin of their craft, and to this day such symbols appear on most items of clothing.

A Guide to the Ancient Symbols of the Washers

Fig. 1: The Wash Bucket

This symbol, known as the Wash Bucket, is the most common symbol associated with the code of the Washers. Nominally, it indicates that a garment may be washed without any particular considerations using hot water and soap. In passing a message, the Washers would use this symbol to indicate that all was right in the realm and political intrigue was at a minimum. In modern usage, the symbol indicates that one is doing well and other Washers need not worry.

Hole in the bucket
Fig. 2: Hole in the Bucket

This one, known as the Hole in the Bucket, or simply The Hole, was an indication that something was happening that others of the Washer's order should be aware of. It is known to have been used to indicate the birth of a bastard child of a nobleman or the arrival of an unexpected emissary from a foreign court. The number of holes in the bucket indicated the level of severity of the situation. For instance, when a rider from Prussia arrived in Portugal without changing his clothes for the entire trip, the local Washer is known to have transmitted a message indicating the garment's state of dirtiness and disrepair by drawing a bucket with five holes. The ship's Washer aboard the last Spanish Armada ship is said to have placed a laundry list in a bottle describing the situation as a bucket with six holes.

Hand wash
Fig. 3: Wash By Hand

This symbol means that a king or nobleman got to second base, but did not seal the deal, with a servant or lady in waiting. It could also indicate that an item of clothing was delicate and must be washed by hand. In later usage it meant that a subject was a delicate one, to be handled in person. On one strange occasion in 1583 this symbol was used to indicate that the 12th Viscount of Montclef had actually come into the washing room and felt up the laundry.

Bleach 1
Fig. 4: The White Pyramid

This symbol draws directly upon the Egyptian mythology of the Washers. For laundry purposes, it indicates that an item of clothing may be bleached. However, in the coded language of Washers it means that a person of noble ancestry has died in the good graces of the local king or lord. The pyramid symbolizes the death of the noble person, as pyramids served as the resting places of kings, and the white color symbolizes the person's stainless reputation in the eyes of the local authority. The connection between this meaning and bleaching is both the cynical notion that many people's crimes were covered up after their death, or "bleached", but also the notion that much like a stain, the person was now removed from the comings and goings of court. Many modern Washers use this symbol as a marking for graves. The top of the obelisk style grave marker is believed to be a direct reference to the White Pyramid.

Bleach 2
Fig. 5: The Unfinished Pyramid

This symbol is derived from the White Pyramid, but it means that a noble person is dying. The laundry instruction indicated by this symbol is for the use of bleach with oxygen. The oxygen symbolizes that the subject under the Unfinished Pyramid is still drawing breath. The lines of the side of the pyramid also indicate that the tomb is not finished being built and represent the ropes and scaffolding used to haul stones onto the unfinished pyramid.

Iron 1
Fig. 6: The Eye of Horus

The Eye of Horus was a common Egyptian symbol. For Washers, it indicated that a superior in her order was overseeing her work. It could either mean she was being considered for a promotion or that she might be disciplined. Either way, the message was the same: smooth out the wrinkles in your current plans and impress people. As a result of this well understood meaning, the symbol also became synonymous with the instruction to iron. While many assume that the shape of the symbol is derived from the shape of the clothes iron, evidence suggests that the iron was actually designed based on the Eye of Horus as a reminder to the Washers that their extra care in their work would not go unnoticed.

Fig. 7: The Failure

Sending this symbol was a signal of defeat for a Washer. It meant that she had failed in an assignment. The punishments for failed Washers were harsh, often including exile or anonymous tips about the Washer's identity to Church authorities. Washers lived in fear of this symbol. The influence of this symbol is still felt by most school children today in the form of the "F" grade. Schools still give "F" as the grade lower than "D" despite the fact that the next letter in the alphabet is actually "E". This is yet another example of the secret influence of the Washers on modern society.

The Failure symbol also has a meaning in the context of laundry. It indicates that a garment must be taken to a professional dry cleaner. Any attempt on the part of the wearer or a Washer to clean the garment will ruin it. It is the bane of all laundry operations.

bow tie
Fig. 8: The Bow Tie Injunction

As time continued and the influence of the Washers grew, new symbols became necessary. In the early Victorian era, the Washers began to admit men into their order. By this time most Washers were not actual laundry workers and the group was more of a social club widely rumored to have members in high levels of government in both Europe and the Americas. Despite these changes, the leaders of the Washers desired to remain true to the organization's purpose as an intelligence network and discouraged its member's from direct interference with the events they were supposed to be observing. This reminder against seeking power for oneself was reduced to the above symbol, which literally meant "do not wear a bow tie with this shirt". The bow tie symbolized pretension to power and was meant to be interpreted as a warning against accumulating too much power and notoriety. This also began the tradition of sewing coded messages directly onto articles of clothing, which persists to this day.
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Enter the Dragon*Con, or The Problem With Atlanta [Sep. 4th, 2012|02:30 pm]
Aaron Blaschke Rowden
I have once again returned from Dragon*Con, my quasi-annual trek to the heart of the geek universe. I had a great time listening to the cast of various iterations of Star Trek talk about their favorite episodes and seeing the amazing costumes that very bored or devoted people worked on for months to wear for four days out of the year. Since I started attending the convention in 2009 I have looked forward to it each August like it was Christmas. There is only one thing I dislike about Dragon*Con (see note 1), and that is the location. Atlanta is not an awful city the way Detroit and Newark are awful, but it has its own brand of sticky and hot weather, bad food, and general disagreeableness. But worst of all, Atlanta is an incredibly dangerous place to be during a natural disaster, like an earthquake, a tornado, or most importantly, a zombie apocalypse.

First, Atlanta, despite being named for two oceans (the city was originally called Atlantica-Pacifica and later shortened to Atlanta), has no water. Actually, I should rephrase that. Atlanta has no bodies of water. Water is plentiful in the form of humidity, but for some reason it never seems to condense and pool up on the ground. There is technically a river, the Chattahoochee, that runs through the far northern part of the Atlanta Metro Area, but the city was deliberately built as far from the water as possible. Why? It is not clear, but today Atlanta, which rests on the heights far from the river's valley, pumps so much water out of the river that oyster farms downstream are running out of water.

What does Atlanta's water infrastructure have to do with a zombie outbreak? Well I don't know about your city, but if Atlanta is anything like most towns, the department of water and power is unlikely to keep the whole pumping system going while the rest of society collapses around them. And even if they wanted to, odds are they are now zombies, so unless they happen to be dyslexic and are shambling about moaning "drains!" it is unlikely they will be maintaining a citywide plumbing system. So Atlanta, sitting high above its only water source, would be unable to get water if the pumps stopped. This is not just a problem with not being able to turn on a faucet to get water, but rather anyone in search of potable water would need to climb across the landscape, down onto the floodplains of the Chattahoochee, gather water, and then climb all the way back up. I hope you are good at running uphill while carrying enough water to not only replace your normal water loss, but also compensate for the water lost through climbing and being chased by zombies. That is a lot of water.

Atlanta does get rain, so perhaps you could collect water in rain barrels. This has the advantage of not needing to climb onto a flood plain, but it puts you at the mercy of the weather, which if current trends are to be believed is not getting rainier. The U.S. Drought Monitor currently lists the Atlanta Metro Area as suffering severe to exceptional drought. Even in good years Atlanta experiences dry springs and falls, so you had best have a way of reliably purifying and storing that water, lest it become a breeding ground for disease carrying mosquitoes.

In addition to having a curious shortage of ground water, Atlanta is also exceptionally hot and humid. The city has 40 days out of each year that are above 90 degrees F, and the average daytime high temperature in July is 89 degrees. Keeping in mind that a zombie situation is unlikely to include the air conditioning that makes Atlanta liveable today, you will spend a good amount of time sweating, i.e. losing water. Given all these factors, it seems likely that one would eventually succumb to dehydration.

Normally dehydration is quickly remedied by drinking water and resting, but as noted above drinking and resting seem to be mutually exclusive aims in zombie Atlanta. It is likely that dehydration would worsen before it got better. And eventually the symptoms of dehydration manifest as slowed mental function, tingling limbs, and loss of muscle control. One does not need to lose very much water to start to exhibit these symptoms, so it is conceivable that in the course of a particularly hot day or by the end of a prolonged escape from the murderous hordes, you could be a disgusting, clammy, shambling creature of limited mental function. Wait, why does that description sound familiar? Oh, right, zombies!

What do you think the odds are that other survivors are going to correctly guess that your rapidly deteriorating condition is due to simple dehydration as opposed to the world ending horror that causes the same symptoms? Chances are they won't let you get close enough to them to make the case. You will likely get pumped full of buckshot, or if it is far enough along in the scenario, a makeshift crossbow bolt, and frankly there is nothing worse for dehydration that bleeding. Your blood pressure is already going to be near terminally low, and the loss of blood from even a glancing blow from a weapon could prove fatal under the circumstances.

Of course as every casual football watcher knows, water does not replace electrolytes. Hence Gatorade and other sports drinks are favored by athletes looking to stave off muscle failure due to the loss of sodium through sweating. At a basic level, this can be accomplished by mixing a small amount of salt into water and salted drinks are actually quite popular in very hot places like India. However when you are on the run from zombies and barely able to stay hydrated enough to keep running, finding and drinking salt is probably going to get more and more difficult as time goes on. The human body needs between .5 to 2.4 grams of salt every day depending on activity levels. Currently this is not an issue because we mine and produce salt, but when the supply lines are cut and the grocery stores are being held by armed biker gangs, salt will be at a premium. Here again Atlanta is at a disadvantage. Unlike many cities along the Eastern Seaboard, Atlanta isn't near the ocean. Unlike Boston, New York, or even Newark, Atlanta has no salt water from which salt could be fairly easily extracted. Atlanta would have to rely on available supplies, which are likely to become inaccessible and eventually run out, or the survivors would need to rely on much more complicated and cumbersome methods of extracting salts from other living things, or each survivor would need to eat an incredible amount of food.

Actually, each survivor would likely need to eat several thousand calories per day in order to keep up the energy needed to run, climb, and resist zombies. While the average sedentary people need no more than 2000-2200 calories to keep their hearts beating and weight stable, athletes, distance hikers, and other active people need a lot more. And calories are hard to come by in cities crawling with zombies. Most people currently in a city are blissfully unaware that it requires supply lines that stretch around the globe to keep a city fed. Cities generally produce little to no food. Traditionally, cities were surrounded by farm land and the population of the city exchanged money for food grown near by. But urbanization and urban sprawl have boosted the populations within cities and destroyed the food production capacity of the surrounding areas. A city like Atlanta would experience food shortages in as little as four days if the supply lines to the city were cut. Of course this effect might be lessened by the fact that most of the city's residents will now crave brains, and frankly that might be a positive development given the dismal state of Atlanta's culinary culture (hint: fried Coca-Cola should not be the city's delicacy). But even assuming you could extend the useful life of the food supply within the city by a factor of ten, you would still be looking at just over a month of food. Someone would have to grow food, and that would require standing still, in open fields and orchards, somewhere near water. Atlanta lacks open fields (except stadia, but crops hate astroturf), and water is barely attainable for drinking, let alone for mass irrigation. Considering the effects of hoarding and spoilage, it seems that waiting out the end of the world in Atlanta would be a thirsty and hungry thing to do.

And how long would you need to stay in Atlanta anyway? It seems clear that anyone in Atlanta at the start of a zombie incident would have about a month to get out before lack of supply would kill them. However, getting out of Atlanta is a more difficult task than it would initially appear. Atlanta is not just a city center, but rather a large metropolitan area with over 5 million people. The City of Atlanta proper has 500,000 people on its own. This means that in order to move into the country side you would first need to fight your way through a city center with a zombie population about on par with the current population of Luxembourg, but with the Luxembourgian urbanity and wealth replaced with a desire to eat your brain, followed by a fight in the suburbs with a population the size of Ireland. And unlike the Irish, zombies are rarely shambling up to you to ask if you want to get a drink and sing dirty songs.

So you will need to plan your escape carefully and make a single coordinated effort to move all of your people to safety without being eaten by Zombie Ireland. Perhaps you could arrange to have some distraction draw the undead monsters to one side of the city while you and several survivors escape along another route. That can't be too hard, right? Zombies are stupid, so they can't be very good at tactics. But the question is, what street should you draw your foe down while you escape? Obviously it will need to be a broad thoroughfare so the most number of zombies can crowd in and away from other streets. You instruct your most trusted ally to travel a certain route and lure the zombies away to Peachtree Avenue. Or was it Peachtree Drive? Did you know that Atlanta has 71 public rights-of-way with the word "peachtree" in the name? This includes seven that have no other words than lane, street, circle, drive, way, avenue, or a directional marker to distinguish them. How good are you at finding things without a GPS? Do you think you will have time to read the small print on signs? Also, these streets intersect each other. Why? Because Atlanta is a huge fan of Abbott and Costello and wants you to be eaten by zombies.

Fig. 1: Heaven help you if you need an ambulance to find you here.

So you hope your trusted agent is leading the zombies away from you, and has not accidentally wandered onto the wrong street of the same name, but it is not so bad because if the zombies do decide to come after you, you would be able to smell their rotting flesh before they got to you. Zombie stench is like a warning siren letting you know something undead is approaching. Funny, now that you mention it, I can smell them. Holy cow THE ZOMBIES ARE COMING!! RUN!!

You run some distance before you notice that the smell isn't going away. This is because Atlanta smells like a rotting corpse. In fairness to the city of Atlanta, I say this based only on my experiences attending a science fiction convention where the closest many get to hygiene is a New Jersey shower (see note 2), so it is possible that Atlanta only smells like the undead four days out of the year, but somehow I doubt that is true. All cities smell terrible, which is why people from cities go other places to breathe "fresh air". Atlanta produces garbage, including food waste, sweat, other bodily fluids, and is subject to the natural pressures of decay. Even with a functioning waste disposal system, Atlanta's blend of heat and stagnantly moist air quickly converts garbage and hobo encampments into an inescapable reminder that you are currently standing in a city whose only readily demonstrable culture is visible under a microscope. This is true of Boston, New York and many other cities, but unlike northern cities, Atlanta rarely gets cold enough to arrest the growth of the bacteria that produce the noxious smells that seem to permeate the city. This ultimately means that your nose will be of little value in detecting zombies unless you are great at distinguishing the smell of a trash can full of rotting sandwich meats from the smell of rotting people.

It also stands to reason that Atlanta would be a place with a lot of zombies. In the zombie disease scenario (i.e. The Walking Dead), Atlanta, with its dense population and great breeding conditions for microbes would probably be hit pretty hard. In a Romero zombie situation where the zombies actually rise up from the grave, Atlanta likely has much to offer. The land where Atlanta sits was once a Native American meeting ground, but was depopulated during the Native American removal from Georgia. Depopulation is rarely used as a euphemism for buying everyone a condo near the beach, so it is safe to say that the body count under Atlanta rose steadily from 1802-1825 while the process was carried out. Atlanta was also the target of many invasion attempts during the Civil War, including a five week siege. And of course Atlanta is best known for being burned to the ground by General Sherman. All told, nearly 70,000 military personnel died in Atlanta during the course of a four month period from May-September 1864. While there is likely some overlap, Atlanta's Oakland Cemetery has 70,000 bodies in it and is just one of many cemeteries in Atlanta. Let's just say that in an end of the world scenario, the zombies are getting reinforcements before you do.

Well, you got lost on your way out of the city and you were flanked because you couldn't smell the replacement zombies coming at you from the other side. You are thirsty and hungry and it might be time for a dramatic last stand of humanity against the embodiment of our secret fear that deep down we are just mindless consuming animals. You pour out the contents of a can of gasoline you somehow acquired, dramatically light the last cigarette in a pack you have been carrying since you said it would be your last one the morning of the incident, and just as you are about done with it the first zombies begin to approach. After you flick the cigarette butt into the gasoline, the street erupts into a wall of flame and the zombies begin to catch fire as they approach. Everyone knows fire is the best tool to subdue zombies and it looks like your literal firewall has given you a chance to fight them off.

It turns out that fire is not only good at destroying zombies, but also great at destroying the city of Atlanta. In addition to the famous burning of the city by Sherman's troops in 1864, the city was significantly burned in 1917 in an event that is called the Great Fire of Atlanta. It must have been pretty great to get that name since the last city-wide fire inspired them to adopt the phoenix as the city emblem. Even assuming that the city is no longer built strictly out of tinder and oily rags as it seems to have been in the past, the current severe drought and lack of fire prevention would most likely mean that the city would be apt to catch fire when flaming zombies started wandering around it. Unfortunately, this would likely trap any remaining survivors in the destruction. It is possible that they would burn to death and perhaps thereby avoid a fate as zombies, but in all likelihood they would be injured but not killed and the zombies would be able to catch them. It would probably be a spectacular fire, but unfortunately no one would be around to commemorate it and give it a name as anyone left in the city would likely be in the final stages of being turned into a zombie. So yes, you got your dramatic last stand and the city lies in ruins, but that won't stop zombie Atlanta. After all, the city's crest is devoted to rising up from the ashes. Heck, even the city motto is "Resurgens", which is Latin for "Resurrecting".

Wait, what? Atlanta's motto is actually about rising from the dead? I think I got this all wrong. Atlanta has already prepared to be the best place to be in a zombie apocalypse. It just assumed you would be a zombie.

Note 1: This is a lie. I also dislike standing in line and paying $3 for bottled water.
Note 2: Apparently this term is not as widely understood as I thought. The New Jersey shower consists of spraying oneself with an entire can of Axe Body Spray. This can be done in addition to or in lieu of bathing.
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Adventures In Spam Episode 7 [Mar. 22nd, 2012|10:44 pm]
Aaron Blaschke Rowden
Tomorrow is my birthday and this means I am going to post something easy to write and enjoyable to all. Also, Cracked.com recently ran an article too similar to something I was working on for this post for me to avoid accusations of plagiarism, so I bring you my most popular filler piece. For anyone just tuning in, this is the part where I willfully misinterpret the meaning of spam subject lines despite the hard work the spammers put into writing them.

1. Invest in a walk-in tub

I am pretty sure that a walk-in tub is a shower. Additionally, how is this an investment? Are walk-in tubs actually expected to appreciate in value? Is mildew valuable? Perhaps we are moving to the mold standard.

2. View Photos of Millionaires Near You

I can get behind this one. If there is one thing the 99% needs, it is photos of successful job creators to inspire them. Besides, if they spend all their time looking at pictures of rich people, they will know who to throw tomatoes at while they are occupying things.

Alternate response: Mitt, the caucuses are over here. You can stop campaigning.

Mitt Romney, formerly known as D.J. R. Money, posing with the likeness of his favorite robot clone.


I took an accounting class in law school and even worked in a financial office for a couple of years, so I know that when you put a number in parentheses that makes it a negative number. So yes, Department of Education, I get it. I owe you a ton of money, but do you really need to try to take it from me by tricking me? I mean, you should know that I went to college for seven years and would not be so easily fooled because you paid for it!

4. Get a grip on your arthritis

But not too tight, or if the weather is cold. And it probably helps if you take a Tylenol before you try.

5. Max-Gentleman Enlargement*Pills

As what one might describe as a Max-Gentleman, I can assure you I do not need to be enlarged. Much like my hero, William Howard Taft, I am already quite large and feel that any further enhancements to my largeness would be in poor taste when there are so many in the world who have yet to achieve this level of largeness, and others still who are mired in smallness.

So, on behalf of Max-Gentlemen everywhere, I appreciate the offer, but really, I will practice some humility and leave some largeness for others.

The one true real Max-Gentleman

6. Improve your skills with a Degree in Criminal Justice

This ad sounds like it is targeted to someone who is already doing work in criminal justice, has some skills, but has no formal training in the field. Perhaps a vigilante, who hunts down evildoers by the cover of darkness. In fact, this message seems to be accusing me of being Batman. Well, I am here to set the record straight. I am not Batman. Batman is a dangerous vigilante. I am just a blogger. But I must run now because I am the blogger the internet deserves, but not the one it needs right now.

I'll just let Robin deal with the comments about how this blog is getting repetitive and all the Russian phishers.
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Renaissance Man [Jan. 18th, 2012|10:52 pm]
Aaron Blaschke Rowden
... Oh. You're still here. Ummm... Wow. I would have thought you might have wandered off by now, but clearly you are the type who also sits through all of the credits and the movies hoping there will be extra content at the end. Well your faith is about to be rewarded. It time for yet another installment of Adventures in SPAM.

Just kidding. I wrote a real post. Enjoy!

It may surprise some of my readers to know that I am not great at arts and crafts. "How can that be?" you ask. "You were once the master painter for a theater company. Isn't that art, or at least crafts?" Well, it turns out that if you are reasonably genial, try hard, and are good at changing the topic of conversation, you can be really bad at something for years before anyone actually notices it or points it out.

If my elementary school had given grades in art based on skill, I am relatively certain I would have managed a D+, but as most art related grades in school seem to be based on not ingesting glue, I managed to earn solid A's thanks mostly to my natural distaste for the school's plebeian glue. To this day I will only consume a 1978 vintage Elmers, and frankly even that is contingent on the right food pairing. And like all privileged snobs, I was inexplicably rewarded with symbols of societal approval for being inhumanly picky.

As a result of this bizarre form of social promotion, I found myself with no real skills in the area of crafting. Normally I would not be bothered by this as crafting had for most of my life been something done in one's spare time and I owned a television. However the past few years have seen the rise of a movement seeking to popularize making things for one's self. While this flies in the face of decades of common wisdom telling us to let people halfway across the world make things for us, it seems that the do-it-yourselfers are starting to win and, in due time, everyone will be crafting. Some have even started calling this period in history The Crafting Renaissance.

Calling this the Crafting Renaissance puts me in an awkward position. I was rather used to the "buying cheap goods from foreign countries while letting my hands atrophy renaissance". Now everyone I know is into crafting some quality goods from raw materials. I feel like someone in Fifteenth Century Italy who woke up one day to discover that not only was he the only person on his block not sculpting or making frescoes, he was the only person on his block who wasn't amazing at it. So while everyone else basically makes St. Peter's Basilica out of lambs wool or locally harvested corn husks, I just try not to accidentally lose a limb by walking too close to someone carving The Pieta out of ice with a chainsaw.

Finally, I decided enough was enough and that I too would learn to craft. After realizing that most crafts require multiple tools and expensive materials that can only be acquired by going to stores full of insufferable hipsters and "enthusiasts" who make Branch Davidians seem noncommittal,I decided to attempt knitting since I could borrow everything I needed from my sister, who I have never actually seen knit anything.

Knitting is everywhere these days, which surprises me because we have machines that do it faster and better. Hand knitting is, as far as I am concerned, like doing a math problem by hand. It is good to know how to in case society collapses, but until that happens I am going to use a calculator to do my taxes. That said, as 2012 has begun and we may be moving rapidly and inexorably toward the day when knitting and hand looms are the only ways of producing textiles, it is a reasonable skill to acquire.

The first step to knitting is called "casting on." It is called this because one of your knitting needles had damned well be a magic wand capable of casting actual spells if you want to accomplish this. Otherwise, you will quickly discover that the knitting needle was a device designed by the lowest bidder. Although you will spend most of your time focusing on the top 6 millimeters of the needles, you will be required to attempt to find an appropriate place for the other eight inches of needle. Hint: tangled in the extra yarn is not a good place. Neither is somehow intertwined with all of your fingers. This extra needle space is probably necessary for something, but you never get to figure out what because if you take your eyes off the tips of the needle for even a second to assess the situation, you will somehow manage to slip the wrong loop off the wrong thing and have to start over.

After an hour of casting on, I had made 30 loops, each of which corresponds to a stitch in the knitting process. That was two minutes to create each stitch, which is an amazingly long time to do something that my arthritic great grandmother was apparently capable of doing with relative into her 90s. Given the difficulty I had creating stitches on purpose, one must be able to guess how shocked I was after I knitted two rows and discovered that I had somehow managed to add two stitches in the process. I didn't even know it was possible to add stitches, and yet somehow my project (which is apparently the technical term for an unidentifiable tangle of yarn with chop sticks sticking out of it) was getting wider. I tried to correct this by removing a stitch, but that just caused a lot of things to unravel. Apparently there is no way of fixing mistakes in knitting, which makes it less of a hobby and more of an extension of several areas of life that one might take on a hobby to get away from.

I have also found that knitting is a great way of learning things about yarn. In fact, knitting is the only way of learning things about yarn. The most important lesson about yarn is that it always moves in the manner which is least helpful to accomplishing your goal. For instance, if you want to gently slide a loop of yarn off the end of the left hand needle to complete a stitch, the yarn will tie itself into a timber hitch and cling like the needle is the last life raft off the Titanic. If however you have just neatly looped that same yarn around the right hand needle, the yarn will suddenly lose the physical property of friction and slide off the needle, traveling several inches to do so. And it is not just the yarn that is being worked with the needles that seems to see the least useful place to be and go for it. The rest of the yarn is slowly unwinding itself while you focus on your work and slithering around the room looking for all manner of objects to wrap around and barring that, it is just tying itself into the Gordian Knot.

Ultimately I knitted four rows of approximately 30 stitches, meaning that I wrestled with yarn 120 times. I managed in that time to produce a piece of cloth as wide as my pinky finger. I also manages to untangle the yarn from my the legs of my coffee table about seven times. After that I decided it was time to take to the internet and let you all know that my knitting project is on par with Michelangelo's painting of the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Or is like it in so far as it will take four years and the constant urging of the Pope for me to complete it.
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Mars Ain't the Kind of Place to Raise Your Kids [Aug. 23rd, 2011|08:09 pm]
Aaron Blaschke Rowden
So in about ten days I will be heading down to Atlanta, GA for Dragon*Con, which is a science fiction convention. In preparation for this event I have been re-watching Star Trek: The Next Generation, which happens to be my favorite of the Star Trek franchises. Watching the series for the sixth or so time, I have had the opportunity to notice things about the universe of Star Trek that would probably annoy the hell out of me if I had to live there. So here are my Eight Things About Life on the Starship Enterprise That Would Make Me Insane.

8. Communicators Are Pretty Obnoxious

The communicator in the original Star Trek series was a handheld device that was for all practical purposes a cellphone without any sort of texting capability. For the most part it was used by away teams to communicate with the ship. Fair enough. I could live with that.

But in The Next Generation (TNG) the communicator is something far more sinister. The communicator becomes the badge that all Starfleet personnel wear on their uniforms. In addition to the frightening locator function that apparently anyone can use to find you just by asking the computer, the badge is terribly obnoxious. Unlike a cell phone that rings when you are called and gives you the option to take a call, the communicator lets out a high pitched chirp and then the party attempting to reach you simply starts talking and can hear anything in voice range of your badge. Think about how awful that would be. Your boss could call you during a romantic dinner or even while you are asleep and any momentary hesitation or complaint would be immediately transmitted back. In several episodes of TNG this is exactly what happens and no one is ever happy about it.

This couple with the locator function means that privacy is pretty much impossible on the Enterprise. Furthermore, the comm. badge also allows the transporter operators to beam people around by locking onto their signal. What if you annoy the transportation chief or he goes rogue? You could find yourself two meters outside of the ship dying in space because of your communicator. Say what you will about the iPhone, at least there isn't an app for THAT yet! And if you are thinking that this wouldn't happen because Starfleet is an elite military organization that has safeguards against grudge holding officers consider the following:

7. Starfleet Never Seems to Punish Its Officers for Anything

Starfleet officers dress smartly, act smartly, shoot straight and have an uncontrollable desire for insubordination. Pretty much every major character on the show has committed some act of total insubordination and yet only one character I can think of was ever actually punished for it.

Here is a partial list of beloved characters and their transgressions:

Commander Riker- Disobeyed an order from an Admiral to rescue Picard from the borg.

Lt. Worf- Leaves the Enterprise without permission to kill Duras, a pretender to the office of Chancellor of the Klingon Empire.

Lt. Commander Data- Disobeys an order while in command of a ship in a convoy under Picard's supervision.

Ensign Ro- Disobeys superior officers at every turn. Eventually defects to the Bajoran Maquis terrorist group.

Wesley Crusher- Helped cover up the death of a classmate at the academy.

Captain Picard- Participated in a mutiny against Starfleet Command. Frequent violations of the Prime Directive, which will be discussed later.

Of these officers only Ensign Ro was ever actually demoted or disciplined for her insubordination and even that was only after her actions led to the deaths of eight people. She served fewer than 4 years in a Starfleet run prison and received another commission to serve on the Enterprise.

This would be awful if one were serving on such a ship. I imagine that like all military organizations Starfleet developed their chain of command and rules for good reasons. If the other officers and crew can't count on people to follow them, there would be chaos. And while chaos can be fun, for the number of times that the crew of the Enterprise comes under attack in the average mission, it seems like having junior officers disobeying orders as they see fit would be really dangerous. Furthermore, those rules probably would help to reduce the likelihood of personal conflicts creating workplace problems, but since apparently you have to off eight people for Starfleet to consider removing you from your post, I would be concerned that an upset crew member might actually hurt me.

6. The Enterprise Has the Population of a Really Small Town

I live in a small town surrounded by small towns. My town has a little over 6000 people. It is nowhere in the grand scheme of things and one could easily run out of things to do and people to talk to. The Enterprise has a total population of about 1000 people. Running out of things to do and people to talk to would take no time at all. Additionally, gossip would take almost no time to get around and there is always the possibility that one would not be very popular. It is not like you can just make new friends and once you start making enemies there is nowhere to escape to.

And even if you are popular and cool, you still might want to go out every now and then. There is nowhere to go on the Enterprise. If I want to get out of my small town, I can drive to Portland or Boston and be there in a matter of hours. The Enterprise is usually days if not weeks from the nearest Star Base, and who knows how far from anything actually interesting. But at least you are still doing cool space exploring stuff, right?

5. Most of the Jobs on the Enterprise Seem Really Mundane

While the senior officer clique on the Enterprise gets to do cool stuff like explore alien worlds and meet interesting lifeforms, most of the crew seems to work in windowless rooms working on computers. This means that their jobs are not much different than cubicle work in the 21st century, just more dangerous due to circumstances beyond anyone's control. By comparison to being one of the legion of engineering galley slaves following Geordi's commands for no apparent reason, being a red shirt on an away mission actually sounds kind of appealing. The risk of death is about the same, but at least you get to go outside once in a while.

4. Your Kids Have to go to School on the Ship

Apparently one of the major advances of the Enterprise-D, the ship in TNG, is its ability to accommodate the children of couples serving on board the ship together. I am inclined to agree with Captain Picard that this is a terrible idea. In addition to the ever present threat of the Romulans blowing the ship up or it being sucked into a blackhole, having children on the ship is awful because it also means those kids have to go to school on the ship.

This seems like a pretty minor issue at first glance but the way it plays out in the show makes it clear that this is very annoying. Imagine if you were serving aboard an aircraft carrier in the middle of the Persian Gulf. You are discussing security protocols with the ship's captain when all of a sudden your child's 1st grade teacher calls you on your complete not ignorable cell phone and insists that a parent/teacher conference is in order. This is not only embarrassing, but obviously interferes with the safety of the ship. However this exact scenario plays out all the time on the Enterprise. It is like they hired the teachers on the ship without explaining to them what the ship is supposed to be doing. There is no situation dire enough that they think twice about interrupting to tell you that your kid sucks at finger painting and ate some paste.

3. The Holodeck Seems to be Used for Porn A Lot

The holodeck is an amazing innovation of TNG. The original series had no such device. It is basically a room that does really good virtual reality simulations of pretty much anything. And some members of the crew write really cool programs and games, such as Worf's combat simulators and Data's Sherlock Holmes stories. But for every cool and innovative program there seem to be 20 or so of programs created by nebbish lieutenants and as one might imagine they all seem to be porn. Furthermore, this is not just a logical extension of how technology is used in the real world, i.e. the Internet. The characters in the show frequently imply that the holodeck might be used for such a purpose. Geordi is known among the crew for his penchant for falling for holodeck created women and even Commander Riker, the bearer of Kirk's legacy as the galaxy's most sought after male, attempted to use the holodeck... inappropriately on at least one occasion. While what people do on their own time in their own places does not usually cause me any concern, the series never makes it clear how often the holodeck is cleaned and since they appear to be public facilities with no locks, there is always the possibility one might walk in on some interesting simulations by accident.

2. Synthohol

Starfleet wants their officers alert while they plot mutiny at their tedious jobs and so they discourage the consumption of real alcohol, preferring instead to serve the crew synthohol. Synthohol is described as being similar to alcohol except that it lacks most of the fun effects of real booze like the possibility of any level of drunkenness beyond slightly buzzed (and even that is somehow reversible on command). One can never get drunk enough to sing along to Journey or drunk dial someone on their god-awful communicator, or jokingly beam a lampshade onto someone's head. Those simple joys are lost forever in the sober world of Starfleet. Unless you happen to know anyone outside of the ship in which case alcohol is very easy to get. Also, it can be replicated on demand in every room on the ship. Why does synthohol even exist?

1. The Prime Directive

The Prime Directive is Starfleet's number one rule. In its basic form, it states that Starfleet personnel cannot interfere with the natural development of any society nor can Starfleet share technology with any world that has not yet developed faster than light travel.

This is a rule that no one ever seems to mention until about three minutes before they intend to violate it. And usually it is being violated for really good reasons, such as preventing genocide or saving lives from natural disasters. In fact there is, to my knowledge, no episode in which the Prime Directive is mentioned in terms of the number of lives saved by following it. Also, nothing bad ever seems to happen when it is violated. So the natural question is why have it? Nothing would bother me more than having to pretend to follow a rule that I only have to observe in the breach.

So as much as I would love to go explore the stars, I have to conclude that as much as I admire the principles of Starfleet, the Enterprise would not be a good place for me.
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Shave and a Haircut, Two Bits [Aug. 14th, 2011|12:32 am]
Aaron Blaschke Rowden
It has been two months since my last haircut and my hair is once again starting to get unacceptably long. My understanding is that normal people like to get their hair cut to remedy such situations, but as you loyal reader may have gathered I am unlike normal people in this respect. I hate getting my hair cut. The thing is I don't particularly like wearing my hair long and once I get my hair cut I usually like how it looks. I just find the process of getting a hair cut to be torture. To illustrate my deep concerns about this procedure I will walk you through my subjective understanding of the hair cutting process.

The first thing about most salons, parlors, shops, and even the occasional shoppe in which I get a hair cut that I notice is the smell. Actually perhaps smell isn't really an accurate term. Smell is part of it, but the smell is just a warning sign that for the next 30 minutes to an hour I will be reliving the Battle of Ypres. As a sufferer of asthma and allergies, it does not take a lot to make my sinuses turn on the gas attack response and hair places always seem to have recently been the target of some sort of mustard gas raid. I try to sit calmly in the waiting room, but soon my nose begins to run. I pick up a copy of the most depressing magazine (which usually turns out to be Golf Weekly because apparently hairstylists don't get The Economist) so I can pretend I am crying over the humanitarian crisis at The Masters this year instead of just crying for no reason. Of course this plan lasts about three minutes before my eyes become too irritated to look at words anymore and I have no choice but to recite Wilfred Owen poems and wonder whether the stylist has an epi-pen or knows how to use one. People have told me in the past that the smell in shop is sodium thioglycolate, a chemical associated with perms, but I am still of the opinion that the UN should be imposing sanctions on any place that smells like that.

Of course the mucus membrane destroying gas is only the first part of the carnival of horror that is the average salon. It is not until I get to sit in "the chair" that I really start to hate everything that is happening to me. Let's start with the chair itself. It is one of only two chairs you might ever sit in that the owner calls "the chair". The other is of course the electric chair. This is the only service I regularly engage with that shares any common vocabulary with execution. I never bring my car in for a tune up and get asked "can you pull it up to the gallows?" I never find myself at the dentist being asked to hop on up to the guillotine. But the barber/stylist is always asking me to get into "the chair".

The next inconvenience is luckily quite avoidable if I go to a barber shop and not a salon or parlor of any type. However if I happen to be getting my hair styled, I will be placed in the awkward position of the stylist wanting to wash my hair. Putting aside the fact that a person who spends much of their day touching the heads of other people whose lice/skin disease status I cannot vouch for now wants to run their fingers through my hair, the washing process is awful. The method for washing hair in a salon would be a war crime if I did it to an Al-Qaeda militant in Guantanamo Bay. My first objection is the part where the chair suddenly reclines and my neck now lying in what seems to be some sort of yoke cut into a stone sink. That part just hurts because as physics would demonstrate, a human neck is not well suited to supporting the full weight of the head on just one point. That however is not the worst of it. For the next several minutes a complete stranger will water board me. There is nothing I can do to stop this once it starts. If I try to move my head out of the rapidly filling sink, the stylist will just put her hand firmly on my forehead, and of course due to aforementioned sink yoke all of the pressure in this struggle is directed to the one vertebra in contact with the sink, so eventually I will lose the struggle out of fear of breaking my own neck. And simply asking to be let up is not an option as most stylists seem to feel that the riot hose they borrowed from the circa 1963 Montgomery Police Department and are now using to fill the sink needs to be aimed somewhere in the middle of my face so that it can cause a steady stream of water to enter my nose and mouth while somehow failing to actually drown me.

In case you think I am taking this too far, the similarities between this and "enhanced interrogation" become clear about 2 minutes into the "shampooing" when the stylist, out of nowhere, begins asking me personal questions. "What do you do for work?" "How many people are in your family?" and other basic census questions seem to be of genuine interest to the person currently holding my head in a sink full of chemical laced water. But this also comes to an end just in time for the final battle of the actual haircut.

Just so everyone knows, I am not afraid of getting my haircut. I sometimes can get friends who are good at cutting hair to do so in my kitchen and I have no complaints. However getting a haircut at any hair cutting business leads to the following problem: the person holding a very sharp blade to my head wants to talk. Moreover, they want to carry on a conversation with me while they try to cut hairs, shape sideburns, and otherwise sling blades around the part of me that I least want gashed open. I am a decent conversationalist, I believe, but I am also an animated person when I talk. I move my arms, I fidget, and I do a variety of things with my face that, while expressive, probably cause my face and scalp to move a lot. For this reason I do not talk while I am getting my haircut. My silence seems to put off the stylists who tell me "you are being so quiet, it is making me nervous." I reply by, I believe reasonably, explaining my above objections to talking while I am being barbered. This does not seem to make anyone feel better and the last stylist to whom I explained this actually seemed to get more desperate to make me talk the longer the haircut went. By the end of the average haircut I am feeding more misinformation than a burned secret agent just so I can get out of the salon with the stylist going Van Gogh on my ear out of nervousness. I think last time I actually made up government contacts and troop movement data in hopes that I might not lose my nose.

Once the haircut is over things seem to start getting better. The stylist dries my head with the most effective hairdryer I have ever seen, brushes the back of my neck with what seems to be one of the things the umpire uses to clean home plate at a baseball game, and before I know it the Abu Ghraib style black plastic smock I have been wrapped in has been removed and I am free to go. So I think.

The drive home starts well and I take a moment to admire my new haircut in the review mirror while stopped at a traffic light. I might even run a hand across the newly cut bristles to see how they feel. This is my undoing. As soon as I do this, seemingly millions of just cut hair pieces fall onto me and, most annoyingly, down the back of my shirt. It does not take long before this begins itching and burn unceasingly. And since I am driving, my options are fairly limited as to how to remedy the situation until I get home. By the time I get home, the hair seems to have magically multiplied and taught its progeny how to tear at my skin for maximum annoyance. This continues until I strip off what has now essentially become a hair shirt from my torso as well as my other clothes, and take a shower to wash away what I am at this point sure are fire ants. I then also need to shampoo my hair so that I can get the remaining loose hairs out and fix the problem for good. When all this is done, I realize I have destroyed the style I just paid for and, not being a sadistic weirdo, I will be unable to recreate it nearly as well as the stylist. "Well," I think to myself "I will just let it grow out and it will look okay."
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Sugar, Sugar [Apr. 26th, 2011|03:32 pm]
Aaron Blaschke Rowden
Easter Sunday has come and gone, but I am willing to bet that most people still have Easter candy lying around and things that once seemed like really good ideas are now far less exciting. However, I would like to take this time to guide you through the left over Easter candy and point out what it all means.

I will start with the most ubiquitous of Easter treats, the jelly bean. Jelly beans are part Christian morality play and part Jack and the Beanstalk. First of all, congratulations,despite living in a culture that requires children to memorize the inexplicable lesson do not trade your money for magic beans, you have done just that. And the giant from the Jack story, you know what he was supposed to represent? Diabetes.

I will grind your bones to make my bread! I will also cause blindness and you might lose a foot!

As to the message of Christian morality the jelly bean represents, here it goes. Each jelly bean represents a choice we make in life. Every choice has a consequence, represented by the highly variable flavor quality of different colored jelly beans. Some enjoyment of jelly bean flavors is subjective. Like red more than green? Who cares? But the whole system is bounded by two absolutes. The objectively best jelly bean is of course purple and the worst is, and always will be black.

The purple is the best because purple is the one color that we also think of as a flavor (if you say orange is the same, you are not allowed to read here anymore). Seriously, when you see purple candy or Kool-Aid, you don't think "Awesome, that will taste like grapes!" It won't. It will taste like purple and you like it that way. I don't think it is a coincidence that purple is the color the Catholic Church uses to symbolize times of repentance and atonement. Purple is hardwired in as the right and holy choice, whether it is purple candy or priestly vestments.

Black jelly beans on the other hand are sin and all that is terrible in the world. Black is the color of death, smog, oil spills, and Nazis. But every year millions of so-called candies of this color go out into Easter baskets everywhere and people eat them. No one likes them and they know that they taste like stale liquorice at best, but everyone gives the black jelly bean a go every year. Why? Because like sin, black jelly beans are tempting, even when we know they are an abomination. Don't get me wrong, I am not saying black jelly beans represent sin. I am saying they are sin in small candy form. Eating just one black jelly bean undoes baptism. Every time you eat one of these, the effect reverberates back in time and the Romans whip Jesus an extra time. And you know it as soon as you taste one.

The next Easter candy to be examined is the chocolate rabbit. This has nothing to do with any Christian message at all. The chocolate rabbit was designed by tribal elders back in when Europe was a collection of tribes and being able to trust the others in your tribe was important. The rabbit allows you to easily identify which children in your village are going to grow up to be sociopaths. You see, anything in the shape of a living thing, even if it is obviously inanimate, has the tendency to inspire a sense of compassion in people. The chocolate rabbit is no exception. This will not mean that people won't eat it as it is made of delicious chocolate, but they will do so in a way that would cause the least suffering to a real animal, namely head first (assuming you eat live animals. More on that later). On the other hand, someone who does not consider this, or worse yet enjoys the idea that they are causing their chocolate rabbit to suffer will start with the feet. Those are the people who will become a liability to the tribe. You should set them adrift on an ice flow, which is totally possible in Maine at Easter.

Finally, we must look at everyone's favorite Easter treat, the Peep. Peeps are like marshmallows, but somehow worse for you. If you have ever wanted to know what it is like to eat a live baby bird but did not want to be nominated for the Charlie Manson Award for Distinguished Citizenship by your local civic organization, Peeps provide the next best facsimile.

This guy wins every year in the category of Best Crudely Drawn Forehead Swastika but everyone knows these awards are just political.

Seriously, short of actually moving a Peep might as well be a real baby bird. It is adorable, although in a kind of way that makes you wonder how. It tastes, and I know this sounds weird but bear with me, fluffy. Not just that it has a fluffy texture, which it does, but I am pretty sure that there are fluffiness taste buds in my mouth that only become active while eating a Peep. I imagine that this is what feathers would taste like.

Additionally, Peeps are also coated with some sort of hard as diamonds granulated sugar that never seems to dissolve. After you are done with the fluffy part, you have to deal with the sugar/sand. My only conclusion is that this stuff is actually made from ground up beak, just to add to the authenticity of the illusion that you are eating a baby chicken.

So now take a look at that left over Easter candy. Not nearly as appetizing now as it once was, huh? Happy Easter!
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Pope Trivia [Apr. 3rd, 2011|11:28 pm]
Aaron Blaschke Rowden
I find the office of Pope fascinating. There have been two popes in my lifetime and I have seen both of them, and I read about popes and the papacy a lot. So naturally I would eventually come to the point of posting something here about popes. I present to you my list of the five most badass popes.

1. St. Siricius (384-399)

St. Siricius woke up one morning and asked the entirety of Christianity "Who's your daddy?" He then immediately adopted the title Papa, or as we say in English, Pope. That's right, prior to St. Siricius the Holy Father wed to the Mother Church was just the Holy Guy that the Mother Church was seeing pretty steadily. To put it another way, this would be the equivalent of being the first king to say "I am tired of being called 'that guy with the spiky gold hat. I will call myself by some other word."

But St. Siricius did not just stop at being every Catholic's new dad. He also decided to prove that he was a cool pope. He did this by protesting the verdict of a witchcraft trial carried out by Emperor Magnus Maximus, which is Latin for King Super Big. And keep in mind that this was before the whole "the Church is the law" thing. That guy was emperor of Rome, the same superstate that until 313, a mere 71 years before Siricius crowned himself World's Number 1 Dad, had been actively torturing and killing Christians en masse.

2. Leo the Great (440-461)

Pope Leo I earned his nickname "The Great" by doing something that seems, in hindsight, more like attempted suicide than I am sure the Vatican would be comfortable admitting. In 452, when the Huns were on the verge of sacking Rome, Leo, along with two other Roman officials, met Attila the Hun face to face and politely asked him to leave. Yes, this is the same Attila the Hun that people mention any time they want to conjure images of raging barbarians and Genghis Khan is busy. What did the pope do to convince Attila to just turn back without any of his trademark murder and destruction? Well sources differ.

The least pro-pope sources claim that he appealed to Attila's sense of economics by bribing him and then begged for mercy. Even if this is true, it is still pretty impressive that the guy could even form words while talking to Attila the Hun. Other sources claim that Leo skillfully negotiated the retreat with the help of the Saints and then promised Attila that he would make one of his descendants the king of a place called Hungary, which incidentally didn't exist yet. This version of the story is favored by Hungarians who like to believe that their country is the love child of Attila and the Pope.

3. Leo III (795-816)

Much like his predecessor Leo the Great, Leo III believed that the Pope could and should be in the business of making people kings of places, however he decided to take this one step further and state that in order to hold the best kingdom you had to have the blessing of the pope. He then proceeded to establish a little kingdom known as the Holy Roman Empire and to name Charlemagne as its king, effectively announcing that the Roman Empire was back and the new Emperor was French.

Anyone who has studied history is well aware of the works of Charlemagne, who was, not coincidentally, King of the Frankish Tribes before he was Holy Roman Emperor. And it is no secret that popes have had a part in the appointment of kings for a very long time. However Leo III, unlike many power playing pontiffs, was not a nobleman by birth. In fact Leo started out as a commoner and worked his way up to the top. The guy who granted Charlemagne his power was a self made man who despite the minimal upward mobility in dark ages Europe managed to climb the ladder farther than anyone else ever.

4. Formosus (891-896, 897)

You may not be aware of this, but the actual seat of papal power is not St. Peter's Basilica, which is the large church that many mistakenly believe is the entirety of the Vatican City, but rather the Cathedral of St. John Lateran. For many, this revelation is like discovering that the real capital of the U.S. is actually Wichita, but seasoned pope watchers will recognize Lateran as the location of some important councils and events. This is because the chair or cathedra that the pope uses for official stuff is located there.

Most popes sit in this chair a mere handful of times in their lives, but it seems only one has managed to occupy it after their lives. Formosus is that one.

In a bizarre event known as the Cadaver Synod, Formosus, who had been dead for several months, was exhumed, dressed in papal vestments and placed in the papal throne at St. John Lateran. Interestingly, this elaborate show was not put on to honor Formosus, but rather so that Pope Stephen VII could put him on trial for a variety of offenses, including illegally elevating bishops, including Stephen himself. The corpse was represented by a deacon who gave answers on the body's behalf. When the trial was concluded and Formosus found guilty and his titles revoked, he was stripped of is vestments, his benediction fingers removed, and he was buried. However he was then dug up again, weighted and thrown into the Tiber River. His body washed up on shore and reportedly started performing miracles. At this point Stephen lost support and was quickly overthrown, imprisoned and subsequently murdered. In 898 Formosus was restored by a decree of yet another Synod. He was once again dressed up and reburied with the other popes in the Basilica.

All in all, it appears that the most exciting year in Pope Formosus' life was the one immediately after he died.

5. John XXI (1276-1277)

John XXI was a rare type of person in the middle ages. In addition to being a pope, he was also a scientist and physician. To put this in perspective, the trial of Galileo took place nearly 350 years after John XXI, and it is not hard to imagine that the Church's views on science were not any more advanced in 1276 than they were in 1640 and yet there was a scientist pope who had a personal laboratory built in the papal palace at Viterbo. It turns out that this new lab, which was shoddily built, would be his undoing.

Apparently John XXi liked to be close to his work and slept in the new addition. One night the entire thing collapsed, mortally wounding him. At least that is the official Vatican story. I choose to believe that John XXI actually managed to open up a portal into a new dimension and is currently jumping from time to time putting right what once went wrong. And naturally I am not alone in this belief (or part of it anyway). It turns out that people were not thrilled to learn that the pope was also a mad scientist after his death and began spreading rumors that he was a magician (like Harry Potter, not David Copperfield) and that God had knocked the building down on top of him.
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It's Been One Week Since You Looked at Me [Mar. 22nd, 2011|10:28 pm]
Aaron Blaschke Rowden
Happy One Week Since My Last Post everyone!

I listen to the radio a lot and I have come to the conclusion that unlike t.v. ads, which are generally either for products you have heard of or are laughably poorly produced, radio ads exist solely for the purpose of confusing people as to the difference between legitimate products and the things that are normally advertised in the back of comic books. Yes, there are all the late night t.v. commercials for various herbal "enhancements", etc., but they generally do not air during respectable day time programming and tend to show their hand. Radio is a wild west of advertising; a libertarian dog-fight of untested products trying to part fools with their money.

Of course there is one very serious heavyweight contender that seems to be going for the, well, gold in this fight and that is Gold Line. Gold Line has been made famous for advertising its view that everyone, living or dead, should own gold. Coincidentally Gold Line has tons of gold lying around cluttering up the office and they want to get rid of it.

Gold Line makes it very easy for you to get some of this nuisance metal for yourself. You can call them or even use their website to get gold. Of course it will cost you something. $1800 an ounce to be precise. Now this is a pretty gutsy move for a website that also quotes the actual price of gold on its homepage as nearly $400 lower than what they are asking. Okay, so maybe their motive isn't that they are trying to find their desks under their surplus gold and need you to help them take it off their hands, but I can assure you that this motive makes more sense than the one they advertise.

Every Gold Line ad I have ever heard is predicated on the theory that the U.S. Dollar is in immediate danger of losing all of its value. All of it. And in order to not starve to death, you, the savvy investor, will need to have a lot of gold lying around to make gold soup and gold bread. Luckily, Gold Line is here to help. In exchange for your soon to be worthless cash, they will send you gold.

I think I missed something. If gold is about to become the only hedge against selling oneself into slavery for a cup of shoe leather broth, why would anyone sell it for something they claim will soon be worthless? They are also pretty specific that the trade needs to be for money, not some other soon to be worthless good like unrefrigerated mayonnaise, or my sworn affidavits from Barry Bonds. I don't understand this rule if it is all going to be worthless soon anyway. And of course, it still doesn't answer the question of why anyone would want a soon to be worthless commodity in exchange for the world's oldest and most widely accepted currency if everything really is about to collapse.

Then I learned another secret. They don't necessarily send you gold for cash. While some of your gold investment can be shipped to you directly, thus ensuring that your postman will know what house to raid in the coming apocalypse, a certain class of investment called "stored bullion" is stored for you in a facility somewhere. That arrangement is just great if you believe that auditors and federal bank regulators will still exist when you want to trade that gold for land, milled corn, and potentially a few wives, however if you are already betting against the U.S. Dollar, I am not certain why you have such faith in the governmental and banking systems that oversee that same dollar. Just a hunch, but those people are probably going to stop coming to work when their paycheck is worthless and angry mobs have camped out in front of their offices.

I am glad I got that out of my system. It has been bothering me for a while since I actually do think owning metals can be a fun and profitable experience, but Gold Line is just trying to play on people's fear of uncertainty, not their unbridled greed like a truly responsible brokerage would.
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While My Guitar Gently Weeps [Mar. 15th, 2011|04:26 pm]
Aaron Blaschke Rowden
Some time ago I rekindled my on again, off again relationship with Beatles Rock Band. I have always loved the Beatles and even as an adult and young professional the opportunity to pretend that I am playing on-stage with John, Paul, George, and Ringo is too good to pass up. However no matter how cool I feel pretending that I am the fifth Beatle, it does not change the fact that I cannot sing, I am unable to understand rhythm well enough to play drums and I have the hand-eye coordination of a toddler, making guitar a frustrating task that is more likely to cause me to fall over than make music. And so I play bass. In the Rock Band world I am Paul McCartney with laryngitis.

However I have also never owned a gaming console, and so my enjoyment of this game is entirely dependent on being around other people who own it. And so when I get the chance, I play bass for a really long time. It is awesome. It is even more awesome when we play the same songs over and over again to try to get some sort of trophy that had nothing to do with awesome bass talent, so I really learn a few songs. I will of course not remember them when I try to play again in a few months.

One thing that makes Rock Band a really awesome party game is that it has stuff for up to six people to do and even if you are not playing, unless your friends are just terrible the music is fun and the amount of intoxicated singing is not really much more than at a normal party. I think there should be more party games like Rock Band and so I present my suggestions for party games:

1. Juke Box Hero

So we've all been to bars with jukeboxes and everyone likes the old timey Fonz feel they get from using one, but up to now jukeboxes have lacked organized competition. Don't get me wrong, there is plenty of informal competition in the world of juking as anyone who has ever attempted to use a jukebox in a strange bar can attest, but so far no one has kept score and frankly that is a shame. To remedy this, I propose Jukebox Hero. The point of the game will be to play through your play list first, or to accomplish some goal like playing through an entire concept album uninterrupted. Players can earn coins by winning standard bar games, like betting on trivia, drinking really fast or a shocking amount, or just plain old bar fighting for quarters. The more coins you have, the better your chances of winning.

Fun Fact: You are not legally allowed to print the word jukebox on the internet without including this picture.

2. Bob Dylan Rock Band

Rock Band, in most of its incarnations, is an awesome game. However, unless one of your friends is a really good singer or a prolific drunkard, finding someone willing to do vocals can sometimes pose a challenge. Usual objections such as "I can't sing" or "I don't know the words/English language" or "I had my vocal cords surgically removed" no longer hold water. Bob Dylan Rock Band is truly the people's game. The multi-talented Mr. Dylan recorded music with literally no care to basics such as pitch, classical theory of music, or English syntax and therefore no one has an excuse not to sing like a recording legend. Additionally, the singer can always break into an unpracticed harmonica solo any time they really can't figure out what they are supposed to do. I know that there are some Bob Dylan songs available for Rock Band and they are among my favorites to perform. Because I can.

He doesn't look like he knows what he is supposed to be doing, so I doubt he has many expectations for you.

3. Marching Band

Another common and well placed objection to the Rock Band format is that it can only really accommodate up to six people at a time, and for those of us who have more than five friends, this is awkward at best. How do you decide who gets to play and how often you have to rotate parts so someone isn't stuck playing bass the entire night? Marching Band Hero solves that problem by having more instrumental parts than you can possibly fill among your party guests. Allowing for up to 76 trombones, 110 cornets, and more reed and percussion instruments than you can count. Of course this game has a limited selection of music, mostly patriotic tunes and military anthems, but no one will be left out. Comes with a free War Bond.

You do not have enough friends to warrant an aerial photo. No one does.

4. Chant Hero

The Guitar Hero games and their progeny have brought back to public notice musical acts and songs that had begun to fade from collective memory. It is time to apply this resurrection power to a musical phenomenon that many have forgotten ever had a hold over this country: Gregorian Chant. This centuries old musical form had long been the province of monks, making public appearances only in particularly boring church related sequences of movies and t.v. But in 1998 the United States could not get enough of Chant, an album of one hour of Gregorian monks doing what they do best. The album went triple platinum in the US and sold six million copies world wide. If the American music gaming audience can rekindle a fondness for Barracuda, surely catchy songs such as Ave Mundi Spes Maria and Media Vita In Morte Sumus deserve a second chance to capture our imaginations. Besides, haven't you always found yourself drunkenly reciting Verbum Caro Factum Est in the cab on the way home anyway?

This guy knows what I'm talking about!
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