Friday, December 03, 2010

Stuff on My Cat('s Mind)

I know I've wondered, as I've watched my cat walk from his food bowl to the front window and stare mournfully down at the rainy street - what exactly is on his mind?

I'll tell you what: CAT STRATEGY.

I know. A lot of people assume that cats don't think about much other than eating and sleeping. X-ray pictures like the one below might lead you to agree with that. But I'm hoping to forever alter the way that you think about feline cognition!

The central problem with crude tools like the X-ray is that they can't detect the ruthless efficiency of the feline brain. An X-ray can't show you that cats are capable of complex thought processes whose richness and variety surpass even those of the most highly trained and herring-motivated dolphin.

How? Simple: Cats use 99% of their brain 100% of the time. Contrast that with humans, who use - what, like maybe 10% when we're at our best? Sure, our brains are big, but are you really using all that gray matter to post status updates on Facebook?

Pictures like the one below dramatically demonstrate what I'm talking about.

No, I didn't just make those numbers up. What's above represents a mere snapshot of findings from a new PET Scan study our research team performed on a human and a feline volunteer. During the experiment in question, subjects were invited to think as deeply as possible about the most pressing issues facing them today while we measured their brain activity.

We found that the human subject not only resisted the experiment, but jabbered on and on in what could best be described as stream-of-consciousness thought:

Meanwhile, with the aid of a professional pet psychic, the research team was able to ascertain that the cat in question was internally engaging in fields of inquiry that ranged from the geopolitical to the sartorial.

Anyway, I think I've given away enough for now. Look for near-term publication of results in a respected scientific journal - I'm thinking Science or Nature, though I'm definitely anticipating some kind of bidding war.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Turkey Tales

I would conservatively estimate that my husband and I have a collective 6 hours of cooking experience that mainly involves frozen pigs in a blanket. Despite that, we've thrown caution to the wind and invited my parents to our house for Thanksgiving this year. I'm pretty sure this was a serious mistake from a culinary perspective. 

Because the very idea of cooking a turkey seems incredibly, horribly daunting, we decided that the best approach would be to do a small test turkey a week in advance. Not a full-on giant gobbler - but a goblet, if you will. Just something to give us the confidence we need when Thursday rolls around.

When in doubt, I turn to my pantheon of hero-gods for help. I only have three of them (in no particular order):
Don't let the small size of this pantheon fool you. I've found that - without fail - one of them has insight into the tremendous challenges I face each day. And once again, one of them was perfectly suited to the task.  

For those of you who, like me, are complete and total turkey novices, let me warn you about a LOT of motherf-ing details that you have no reason to know about and that few recipes or evil parents choose to inform you about. Also, if you're like me, sometimes you don't really read recipes in advance and sometimes you call evil parents partway through the cooking process, when faced with an emergency and it's already too late.
  • Bird Size. Off we went to purchase said turkey. I didn't realize they made them in different weights, so that was our first discovery. The smallest one we could find was 12 pounds, which seemed big to me, but I have no point of reference other than my parents' obese cat, who weighs about 13 pounds. Not that I would cook him or anything, but he seems large enough to feed a family of 3 for a week.
  • Thawing time. I guess it makes logical sense that somehing twice the size of my head that's frozen in a solid block would take two days to thaw, and even then still be 0 degrees Kelvin inside, but its rare that my plans incorporate an element of logic. We gleefully brought home our bird home, thinking we'd cook it that night ... and then read the label on the side: "thaw in refrigerator for 1-2 days". Um.
  • Brining location. So we read the recipe carefully after we brought the bird home. I knew we'd have to brine it, but it hadn't occurred to me that I didn't have a vessel large enough to hold it + 2 gallons of brine. Alton helpfully suggests a 5-gallon bucket. I have one of those, but I've used it for mopping the bathroom floor, so that didn't really seem sanitary. After discovering that none of our cooking pots were big enough to hold it either, in a flash of inspiration we settled on a cooler.
  • Difficutly of removing the gross stuff inside. I kind of knew there might be something called "giblets" involved, and although I still don't know what those are, I was really afraid that I was going to have to perform horrid surgery to get them out. However, Butterball is pretty nice. Well, kind of nice. There are no directions or descriptions on the packaging, but they helpfully clean the bird in advance and put all these organs in a little bag that you can easily pull out at one end of the bird. HOWEVER, then I noticed that there's this weird metal wire holding the drumsticks down. I couldn't really see inside the turkey and kind of wondered how someone might stuff it, given that there's no apparent inner cavity. I also kind of didn't want to deal with it, and thought "Well, maybe I'm supposed to remove the wire," and I pulled and pulled, but it appeared so deeply embedded that it may have been part of the bird in life. So I stopped and called my husband to tell him I think I removed the giblets. After asking a few questions, he said he didn't think I had and to wait until he got home because he didn't think I was really trying to remove the wire. I got annoyed and hung up and started to ignore him and put the bird in the brine, but then thought better of it. Thank god I did, because when he came home, he managed to get the wire out (though I was smugly satisfied by how difficult he found it). And then he extracts this HORRIBLE LONG RED FROZEN TWISTED THING - possibly a "giblet" - that's stuck inside the bird. I think you're supposed to make gravy with it, but I refused to touch it.  
So we got through all of that and brined the turkey for a day. Then it came time to cook it. You start by roasting it at 500 degrees for 30 min, then sticking a thermometer in, turning the oven down to 350, and roasting for another 2 hours. My husband handled things at the 30-minute mark. An hour later, we were watching Three Sheets when suddenly the smoke alarm started going off.

He ran over the the oven, opened it up, and said, "F**K. F**K. I ruined it. It's ruined." I may or may not have been napping and ran over and tried to force him to tell me what happened. Also, I looked at the bird, which appeared to have been cooked with a blowtorch. The ends of the drumsticks were black, the skin was brown and crispy, and the wingtips were charred. After some back and forth and strong resistance to my factfinding mission, we clarified that, yes, he had forgotten to turn the oven down at 30 minutes and had just stuck the thermometer in. The turkey had now been roasting in a 500-degree oven for about an hour and a half.

Fortunately, around this time the thermometer alarm went off, signalling that the inner temperature of the turkey breast had reached a safe 161 degrees F. So we cooked it a little longer for good measure and then took it out.

Frankly, it was pretty good, even if a little dryish and blackened in parts. See? My hero-gods never let me down!

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The Death Spiral

I haven’t been posting a lot recently, which I know is pretty sad for all three and a half of my readers. I am counting myself in that total, by the way, but I wasn't sure I could really count my cat as a reader just because he has his own profile on Facebook. I know he'd read me if he weren't so busy with Farmville though, so he's the half. MRRRROOOWWWW!

Whatever. I’ve been pretty busy lately, and I don’t deal well with things like “stuff I have to do” and “work”.

I liken this type of unwanted responsibility to a lightning bolt hitting an airplane. In these situations, I have a kind of a mental autopilot that takes over and directs my behavior. Unfortunately, I don’t think my autopilot realizes that it’s supposed to be helpful rather than destructive. So my life becomes an out-of-body experience in which I watch myself do increasingly stupid things that I’m powerless to stop.

Sometimes - like today - I do get caught in the death spiral. Which ends up being a good thing - at least blog-posting-wise, but a bad thing in terms of, say, career progression. Most days, though I manage to wrest back control somewhere during the viewing of bad TV (though strangely never early enough to prevent the spending of money) and do whatever dreaded thing it is that I've been avoiding. Sad, really!

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Eyewitness Account

For those of you unfamiliar with it, Screen on the Green is DC’s foremost opportunity to illegally drink alcohol on the Mall. And there’s a movie, which is nice too.

I want to like it, but usually I spend the entire time alternating between freaking out about insects that hop onto our blanket and sneezing uncontrollably because I’m sitting in the grass.

Unfortunately, my husband loves it, so he gets cranky every time I manage to wheedle my way out of it. This past Monday, as part of some misguided attempt to be a good wife, I agreed to go. Also, they were playing Twelve Angry Men, which I hadn’t seen since high school social studies class. The same teacher also had us watch Anatomy of a Murder because he had been an extra in a ballroom dancing scene. When he screened that one for us, he leapt up during the crucial second when the top of his head appeared on the screen and shouted, “Look! I had hair then!”

But I digress. On Monday, about 60% of the way through the movie, I just happened to look up at the sky.
“Um, what the f**k is that?” I asked my husband.
He looked up and said, “I don’t know! Wait. WHAT THE F**K IS THAT?!”
The people in front of us looked up too and said pretty much the same thing.

Then we all went back to watching the movie, because it was at kind of a good part. We had to wait until it was over to compare notes, so it’s possible a little something got lost, but here's ...  

It’s hard to imagine how we could have had such different experiences, but we were both pretty insistent. I’m usually good at googling, but searches of “UFO+DC+screen on the green” and “UFO+DC+alien abduction” didn’t turn up the right sort of stuff.
So after all that research, the best explanation I can come up with is that my husband and everyone else were probably abducted by the aliens and had their memories replaced with obviously ridiculous substitute images.
I guess the aliens somehow forgot me, but I’m kind of small, so it’s understandable. Also, I think that they may have already decided that when they land and establish alien hegemony, they want to install me as their puppet dictator, and are thus hoping to keep my mind kind of fresh.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Emails I Send to Myself with the Subject "Harumph"

"Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover."

- Mark Twain

Invention of the Day

Sometimes it’s hard to be a woman. Especially when you’re expected to listen to other women talk about giving birth. I’m pretty sure men are never subjected to these stories, and it’s really unfair.

If there’s one thing that mothers and pregnant women love, it’s sharing horrifying stories in which they try to one-up each other in describing the various bodily functions and issues involved in pregnancy.

I remember going to a wedding once where the bride was pregnant, and almost all of her female friends were either recent mothers or about to give birth. I learned a lot at the pre-wedding ladies’ brunch. In fact, I learned so much that lost my appetite.

After that experience, I decided that the only way that I would be willing to have children of my own would be if science intervened. It was the beginning of an idea - one that just requires some minor R&D to make it happen.

But before I get to that, let me just address one common criticism. I know there are some people who think that it’s all magic and rainbows to carry a child. A few people I’ve run this past may have made comments like “cold” and “inhuman”. Well, I bet they said those things about the telephone and email. And I ask – how many of you have even met all 865 of your Facebook “friends”?

It's high time we redefine everything. Let's start with the womb. We’ve had years to endure v 1.0. Let’s make the next version with the users in mind.

I see a lot of benefits.

First and foremost, it’s never been fair that women have had to give up their favorite things for 9 months. Life may be nasty, brutish, and short, but being able to eat soft cheese whenever you want makes it a little more bearable.

The pain of labor may be fleeting, but the weight gain can last.

With the External Womb, you’ll never put on a pound and can even lose weight right up until your “delivery” date!

Based on my very rudimentary understanding, there are a lot of tests and doctor’s appointments involved in pregnancy. With The External Womb, you don’t have to deal with any of that.
Who needs an ultrasound when you can see the baby with your own two eyes?!

I understand that older siblings sometimes have a difficult time adjusting when a new baby arrives. With The External Womb, you can ease that transition by making your baby part of the family before he or she is even born.

Finally, a lot of parents to-be do silly things, like reading the classics to their babies in the womb. I mean - is there something that The Odyssey is going to teach your baby about life in the modern world?

With The External Womb, you can do a lot better than that.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Next Blog Roulette

I rarely decide to play because the "Next Blog" function so often disappoints.

But then sometimes you strike solid gold ...

Thursday, July 15, 2010

How To Be Interesting

There’s a lot of advice out there on how to be more interesting. The problem I’ve found with most of it is that it’s too difficult to implement. You’ll see stuff like “talk about topics that are interesting to people.” Yeah, but that sounds like effort, and everybody knows effort is lame.

Or you’ll get “helpful” tips like “make eye contact.” Well, gorillas rarely make eye contact – unless they want to rip you limb from limb – and they’re one of the most-visited animals at the zoo. And you know why? Because gorillas purposely cultivate a sense of mystery. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

I decided to put my bachelor’s degree in psychology to the test, did the hard work and distilled a sea of Internet wisdom down to five principles. I’ve also provided some tips and examples of how you can put these principles in action TODAY.

So. Do you want others want to be around you? Do you want others want to be you? Here goes …

Friday, May 07, 2010

Threat Level Orange!

I am definitely a social phobic.

My fiancĂ© refuses to believe this – meaning he either is blinded by love for me or I hide it well through a complicated set of compensation and protective measures. Probably the former.

I’ve never been too nervous about public speaking or giving presentations. However, situations that involve unscripted interaction with actual humans (i.e., 89% of daily life) fill me with a anything from mild fear to abject terror.

It’s often difficult to explain exactly HOW scary social situations can be to those of you who gleefully walk up to strangers and begin chatting like old friends.

However, I’ve found that most people can empathize with being afraid of things that present actual, physical threats.

Therefore, to bridge the communication gap, I have created some helpful side-by-side scenarios that compare social situations with physical threats that would objectively inspire the same level of fear in any reasonable person.

To make it both EVEN CLEARER and EVEN MORE COMPLEX, I’ve also tacked on a threat-based, color-coded system, adapted from the Department of Homeland Security scheme that we ignore every day. This will help you understand the protective measures a social phobic like myself will often apply.

Time for the scenarios:

Fine. Not so bad. Now we begin to get wary ...

Feel the heightened sense of fear ...

Raw terror ...

Based on recent experience, I would place this nearly at the top of the scale:

Sometimes, it's wisest just to give up:

Thursday, May 06, 2010


It's a sad, sad day when I'm trying my hardest to focus on a task I need to finish but in the past hour have gotten heavily distracted by googling pictures of hyenas.

And by discovering that this pops up at the top of the page when you google "kitten."

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Raptor: A Love Story

Even with my vast expertise in shopping, at times I become obsessed with non-practical purchases.

But this is not one of those times.

It began with an auto show I went to at the Convention Center this winter with my fiance and his brother.

I’d never been to an auto show, but I always thought that people who went to them enjoyed big American pickup trucks, NASCAR, chewing tobacco, ketchup, and deviled ham. Often at the same time.

(Please note: Perhaps I should have thought about this more carefully, as my central beliefs include the following:
  • Deviled ham is delicious on soft white bread with the crusts cut off
  • It will eventually be revealed that Biblical references to “manna” are code for “ketchup”
Anyway, without the benefit of introspection, and because my fiance's brother was paying, I went in.

I was less than thrilled to discover that the entire upper floor was American cars. I may have been whining about why there weren’t any Audis when I saw it.

The Ford F-150 Raptor SVT.

It was bright orange, and I was in love. I struggled past the pack of men to sit inside.

Right then (or possibly after googling) I knew. I would need it in Tuxedo Black, and definitely in the 6.2 L version, as the 5.4 L would be unacceptably slow for my purposes.

Like any good romance, this one seems a bit star-crossed at first blush, particularly by arguments about practicality.

So ... consider this the definitive response to those who question me.

No, haters. I don’t live in a desert or even within 100 miles of an unpaved road, and no, I don’t race trucks in Baja. But whatever. I might someday.

To further my case, I offer you a sampling of uses relevant to my daily life.

There is the obvious:
The less obvious but just as critical ...
And then there’s always my favorite ...

Friday, April 30, 2010

Doubling Down

Owning a tivo has its pros and cons. on the plus side, no commercials! On the other hand, I had to hear about the KFC Double Down from a friend.

When I got the news, I had all the expected reactions:

I pointed out to my fiance last night that KFC must have tried to invent the most outrageous thing they could while still making sure it had some semblance of food. And that presented us with a challenge. So I asked him if he could come up with something EVEN worse.

At first he didn't really get the spirit of my question and started suggesting unprintable things.

"No", I interrupted - "you have to make it something that you could actually sell as food."

“Okay,” he replied. And thought silently for a second. We both tried to imagine something that you could bring home from 7-11 and eat cold the next morning.

“I know!" he said. "Take a chicken breast, coat it in a thick layer of mayonnaise, and wrap it in a parchment bag!”

He even named it, so I've included some theoretical advertising here:

Note the intentional lack of branding. Look: all I’m saying is - Popeye's, I'm looking at you. And since I've gone to the trouble of making the case for it here, I expect to receive the lion's share of the profits.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

My Favorite Thing Ever (Today)

Most of the time, my iPhone apps are like my (imaginary) children - I love them all equally for their own unique and beautiful features - or at least I tell them that while secretly thinking that Grocery iQ is just a little smarter than HopStop, who is way cuter than CheapGas!+.

However, as my time has become mildly more unpredictable over the last few weeks, only one of these little beasts has come to my rescue. Though I've managed to reach my perilously advanced age without having a full-on nervous breakdown, I have always been a chronically disorganized, wildly procrastinatorial (yeah, whatever, spell-check), list-making addict.

About two years ago, I briefly fell in love with a book called Getting Things Done, mainly because of its central method for creating super-awesome to-do lists. It was like the heavens had opened up and Jesus himself stepped out and handed me this book and said, "I know you've been looking for that special way to make everyone think you're even more insane and OCD than you actually are. Here. Your prayers are answered." For the next couple of weeks, I kept my giant, ballooning to-do lists on paper.

Then I got sick of that, because it was kind of embarassing to finish something at work, pull out a fat notebook, and cross something out as my cubicle-neighbor nosily peered over and asked, "What's THAT you're doing?" Who wants to admit they keep a maniacal Unabomer-esque journal to catalogue their daily tasks? So I figured out a better, more suitably secretive way.

That's right. I created a maniacal series of online Unabomer-esque Excel spreadsheet journals each week. I even added features enabling me to track my tasks and how long they had been left un-done. Then I ran reports from the data in them.

I'm not sure what that accomplished other than making me feel incredibly guilty about the fact that I typically only finished 47% of my assigned tasks in an average week. However, it did enable me to very privately track and update my to-do lists, as long as I had my computer and internet access.

The problem came when either I was in a meeting without my computer (PANIC ... I JUST FINISHED THAT TASK AND I CAN'T CHECK IT OFF WHAT IF I FORGET AND IT STAYS ON THERE FOREVER OR I FORGET I DID IT AND I DO IT AGAIN ARGDFHHHHDKFJDKFJ) or when I wasn't able to access the Internet. Also, the spreadsheet, like most solutions I come up with, was a voracious time-devouring monster to manage, partly because I even used it to identify probable time each task would take, make calendar appointments, and then over-engineer my entire life, including the number of hours I could sleep each day. The fact that I kept this up for eight full months is a testament to my insanity.

Then one day, as I was blearily calculating that I somehow had to finish 165.5 hours of activities the week of January 10, not inluding sleep or bathroom breaks, Jesus spoke to me again - this time through the iPhone. I think he said something like, "You're a psychotic control freak. Download the Home & Work app immediately and drop this idiocy before you start compulsively checking the stove, pulling out your hair, and reciting prime numbers." And the rest, my friends, has been beautiful, simplified, magical to-do list history.