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weirdness

Rant: Lots of Supermarkets

Twenty-odd years ago I remember reading a compendium of “real-world” ghost anecdotes. They weren’t stories, just individual reports from ordinary people who were not looking for ghosts but ran into them anyway. One of my favorites was a report from a widow in England who saw her recently deceased husband on the staircase every night for a week. The man looked happy, but said nothing until his final appearance, when he spoke one sentence: “There are lots of supermarkets where I live.” Then he winked out and she never saw him again.

Well. I can think of a lot of better things to tell your grieving spouse when you appear to them postmortem:

  • I’m all right.
  • I love you.
  • I forgive you.
  • God is good.
  • There is $10,000 in hundreds stuffed inside the living room couch.

But…lots of supermarkets in heaven? That is so unutterably weird that it lends credence to the report. Why would the widow make something like that up?

Maybe she didn’t. My experience here in Phoenix for the last month and a half suggests that it may not be so weird after all. Work with me here: Until six weeks ago, Carol and I lived on the slopes of Cheyenne Mountain near a town of about 400,000 people. Colorado Springs is not a small town, but we still had to drive 75 miles to Denver for certain things, like The Container Store and any useful bookstore that wasn’t Barnes & Noble. Today we live in America’s 6th largest city (instead of its 41st largest city) and if you toss in suburbs like Mesa and Scottsdale, the metro area has four and a half million residents.

Nor are we way out on the fringes of things, like we were when we lived in Cave Creek in the 1990s. We’re right down in the thick of it all, three blocks from tony Scottsdale and a little over a mile from the Kierland neighborhood, where the primary occupation is spending money by the livingroom couchful.

The amount of retail here is staggering, as is the number and sheer diversity of restaurants. I didn’t know that Mexican Asian food was a thing, but it is, albeit what sort of thing I’m not yet sure. (When I decide to find out, well, it’s just a few miles down Scottsdale Road.) Driving around the area, Carol and I go into a sort of Stendhal syndrome trance at times, boggling at the nose-to-tail storefronts and shopping centers within a couple of miles of us. It’s not like we’re hicks from the sticks; Colorado Springs is hardly the sticks. But we’ve never seen anything even remotely like it.

There is a supermarket called Fry’s Marketplace a few miles from us that is about twice the size of any other supermarket I’ve ever been in. They have a wine bar, a sushi bar, a substantial wine section (something we didn’t get in Colorado due to corrupt politics) and plenty of stuff that may or may not be appropriate for selling in grocery stores, like…livingroom couches. (Eminently stuffable ones, too.) Outside there’s covered parking and a car wash. Oh, and valet parking if you don’t want to walk in from the far corners of the lot.

Now…what if we were hicks from the sticks?

I wager that we’d pass out in astonishment. Yes, I know, we all get lectured a lot about how we shouldn’t obsess on material goods. So who’s obsessing? I think I come out better on this score than a lot of people; granted that I hoard variable capacitors and never met a radio tube I didn’t like, absent the occasional gassy 6AL5. Read this twice: There is a huge difference between wanting everything you see and seeing everything you want. I don’t want all that much, but I appreciate being able to get things that I do want, weird or uncommon though they might be.

I can empathize with that poor old dead guy in England somewhere. Perhaps he lived all his life in a village in Cornwall, and ate the same things all the time because the same things were all there were in his village. Maybe he was poor. Maybe he just got damned sick and tired of bubble and squeak. He knew the world was a richer place somewhere, but his own circumstances didn’t allow him to get there.

Then his heart gives out, and wham! God drops him out in front of some heavenly Fry’s Marketplace, where your credit cards have no limit and you never have to pay them off. (Maybe he met Boris Yeltsin there.) Good food, lots of it, and never the same thing twice? That could be all the heaven some people might want. I think I understand why he came back to tell his wife about it.

So. Like most people, my collection of loathings has swelled as I’ve passed through middle age. I don’t like green vegetables, and haven’t now for 63 years and change. Along the way I’ve picked up loathings for certain philosophies and people, like Marxism, Communism, and the sort of virtue-signaling wealthy socialistic urban elitist busybodies who buy $59 titanium pancake flippers and then wear torn jeans to show their solidarity with the working poor.

Far worse are the people who assume that their way is the right way, and that if I don’t see things their way, well, I’m a [something]-ist and deserve to be re-educated in the gulag of their choice.

Choice, heh. Choice is a good word. Freedom means choice. Choice does not mean overconsuming. Choice means being free to consume what I want, and not what some worthless meddling government apparatchik thinks I should want. I walked into Fry’s Marketplace. It was a wonderland. I walked out with a smile on my face and a bag of gemstone potatoes under my arm. That, my friends, is America.

Slander it at your peril, and ideally somewhere out of earshot of the rest of us.

The Mysterious Electric Sword

Electric Sword 500 Wide.jpg

90% of the held mail that came in while we were in Phoenix was junk mail, mostly catalogs and postcards from place like Bath Fitter. 9% was real mail, most of it (alas) bills. 1% was…weird. And cool.

One of my readers, Guy Ricklin, sent me something he bought at a garage sale years ago for a dollar because it looked like an electric sword. He asked me if I wanted it, and I said, Sure! So there it was, in and among the shoe, pet supplies, and gardening catalogs. And yup, it looks like an electric sword. A shortsword, more precisely, as the “blade” is 14 inches long. The blade part is formed sheet aluminum with the resistance element inside. The handle is some stiff black sheet material (cardboard soaked in Bakelite?) folded over, with the cord running between the two halves.

No, I didn’t plug it in. What am I, nuts? (I was tempted.) I did measure the resistance at 217 ohms, which across a 120V line would draw 0.552 amps, and dissipate 66 watts. That’s a certain amount of heat, but not a huge amount of heat.

One side of the aluminum blade (shown above) is formed and curved. The other side is completely flat and polished smooth. I’ve looked online and found nothing remotely like it. I’m guessing that you’re supposed to rub the polished flat side over something. Laundry? Hair? Pasta? Gingerbread? I sniffed it, and as you might expect of Ye Olde Elecktrickle Stuffe, the whiff of Bakelite overpowers anything that it might have been used on in its long-gone heyday.

So what is it? You tell me. Really. Guy and I and probably a number of other curious people would very much like to know.

Odd Lots

Odd Lots

Odd Lots

Odd Lots

Odd Lots

Odd Lots

  • Ars has the best article I’ve yet seen on the recent ruling in the Apple ebook price fixing trial. Insight: Publishers get less under agency than they do under wholesale, but they’re willing to accept it to keep control of pricing. Book publishing is a freaky business. This may not work out as planned for the publishers.
  • Also from Ars: Weird search terms that brought readers to the Ars site. I used to publish these too, but I don’t get as many as I once did. Web search has always been a freaky business. I guess the freakiness just wanders around.
  • The sunspot cycle still struggles. Cycle 24 will be freaky, and weak–even with our modern tendency to count spots that could not be detected a hundred years ago.
  • Not news, but still freaky if you think about it: The Air Force tried building a flying saucer in 1956. The aliens are still laughing at us.
  • Actually, the best flying saucers are all triangles. In the greater UFO freakshow, these are by far my favorites.
  • There’s a quirk in the insurance industry that will allow young people to opt out of the ACA and still get health insurance–while paying much less they would buying traditional health policies under ACA. Life insurance policies often allow for accelerated payouts of benefits while the insured is still alive. My insight: Such a policy would be a way to finesse limited enrollment windows by paying for catastrophic care until enrollment opens again. (Which would be no more than ten months max.) And you thought publishing was a freaky business.
  • We thought we knew how muscles work. We were wrong. Human biology is always freakier than we thought.
  • As is washing your hair–in space.
  • Streaming is the ultimate end of the DRM debate. Music, movies, sure. Could one stream an ebook? Of course. Would people accept such a system, or would they freak out? Well, we thought DRM for serial content was dead, too. (Book publishers have become much more aggressive against piracy lately. More tomorrow.)
  • And finally, if you want freaky, consider the humble cicada killer, which vomits on its own head to keep from frying in the summer. We had them living under our driveway in Baltimore. I didn’t know what they were and they scared us a little until I called the county ag agent, who said, “They’re cicada killers, but don’t worry. They’re harmless.” I immediately called Carol at work to give her the good news. The receptionist at the clinic wrote down: “Jeff called. The things living under your driveway are psychotic killers, but don’t worry. They’re harmless.”

Odd Lots

Odd Lots

  • Carol and I are now home from Chicago, still bumping into walls but doing better. If you haven’t heard from me in a couple of weeks that’s why.
  • Chicago burned on October 8, 1871. The cow did it, right? Well, there were a lot of other serious fires around the American midwest that same night. Tucking my ears into my tinfoil hat here: What if a cluster of biggish small meteorites hit the country that night, sparking fires wherever they fell? The more Russian dashcam videos I see, the less outrageous I think the idea is. (Thanks to Michele Marek for the link.)
  • And for people who say that the Russians seem to attract meteorites, look at this. I’d say The Curse of the Splat People has been laid upon northern new Mexico.
  • Why am I so fascinated by the Neanderthals? Aside from the fact that I may well have a Neanderthal-ish skull and ribcage, it’s hard to beat our big-brained, musclebound brothers for idea triggers. I had never considered Taki’s startling question: Would they vote Republican? Or would they just tear your arm off for asking? (Thanks to Bruce Baker for the link.)
  • Search Google Patents for Edward F. Marwick, and you will find 205 different patents filed by my very own late high school physics teacher. He told us about a few of them (like this one) in 1969. We thought he was kidding. The man was a damned good physics teacher, and he thought big.
  • Bill Beaty posted a comment on Contra for my September 7, 2011 entry describing a very simple solid-state equivalent using an MPF102 and a 9V battery. A full description is on his site, and it’s worth seeing if you have an unscratched itch for a half-hour project.
  • I think I aggregated the Steampunk Workshop before, but it’s worth mentioning again. Beautiful stuff, startling craftsmanship. Like this Mac Mini mod. Wow. (Thanks to Bill Cherepy for pointing it out.)
  • Carol and I had to cancel our entry of Dash and Jack in the big Rocky Mountain Cluster dog show for obvious reasons, but one of our Bichon Club members posted a wonderful video of her seven-year-old son Adam showing their puppy, Ruby. Ruby and Adam got a blue ribbon. The kid is amazing. Sheesh, when I was that age I was still throwing mushrooms at my sister at the dinner table.
  • I guess this was inevitable, at least in Washington State and/or Colorado. I suppose the research is useful. (Thanks to Frank Glover for the link.)