Monday, February 23, 2009

Why I stopped playing Word Challenge on facebook

Two words Word Challenge recognized:

Two words it does not recognize:

Now, using the google tool, define:oho, I found that according to wikipedia, Oho is the name of the Japanese era that came after Eiryaku, and before Chōkan. Hardly a word that has entered the English lexicon. However, both the free dictionary and the Scrabble dictionary on the Parker Brothers website define oho as "used to express surprise or mock surprise." Unsurprisingly, there are words I don't know, and others that I wouldn't think of in a word game because they seem less like discreet units of meaning and more like onomatopoeia.

However, I'm totally baffled by the failure to recognize "koan." This is a non-english word that has without a doubt entered the lexicon, at least among literary circles. And given that Word Challenge rightfully names "Poet" as the highest rating, they seem remiss in not including it. Oho!

I'm less surprised and more annoyed by the failure to accept "cunt." If they hadn't accepted "shit" then I would have simply assumed that this game is being marketed to children as well as adults they simply decided to exclude the seven dirty words:

Cocksucker and motherfucker would never appear in Word Challenge because of the 6 letter limit, so I've shortened them simply to "fuck." Since Word Challenge accepted "shit," that narrows the list to five.


As George Carlin noted it's the intention and definition that makes a word dirty, and plenty of words have multiple definitions. They'd almost certainly still include "tits" as a member of the Paridae family of birds (which also includes chickadees), and cock, as a verb. Which leaves:


Since they included "shit" I'm not sure why they'd bother excluding piss, which would leave us with two words, one that we know for sure, that Word Challenge has deemed too dirty to be worthy of inclusion and points in their game.


Still that makes them at least 1/3 less in favor of censorship than Parker Brothers and Scrabble which along with "cunt" would not accept either "shit" or "piss" in their online dictionary.

None of this does anything to explain the failure to include koan, unless perhaps the makers of Playfish find enlightenment obscene.

O.J. would never bother censoring just one or two words from a word game. And further more, O.J. would make sure that the word bank included "koan."

Playfish says that the English dictionary is out of its beta, but perhaps they'll continue to add words...

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Heinz Blue Cheese Dressing

The packaging proudly proclaims "Made with real blue cheese."

Okay, fine, but Heinz' blue cheese dressing is also made with:

Disodium Inosinate, Disodium Guanylate, Propylene Glycol Alginate, Disodium Phosphate, Parsley Granules, Tragacanth Gum, and Polysorbate 20.

Never have I had blogpost with quite so many words that the built in spellchecker did not recognize. In fairness, it totally understands Parsley Granules, however a google search for that phrase yields under 1000 results, so it's clearly not so commonly used. Parsley granules appear to be the same as parsley flakes, ground parsley, and parsley powder, however all of those produce more hits. If it were purely semantics I would have thought that Heinz would choose the most familiar of those phrases, and that's what worries me. What makes them granules? What absurd chemical deconstruction produced this parsley by-product?

Tragacanth I have never seen before. At its roots are two Greek words traga and akantha which mean "goat" and "horn." So it would not be unreasonable to assume that this gum is made from ground goat-horn. Stranger things have been known to make it into foods. I'm sure you could make a competing jell-o product out of goat horn. But according to it's derived from a Middle-eastern legume. This gummifier (that's a funny word) is a proficient remedy of constipation. But that's not all, other plants in the same genus are being studied for their ability to activate telomerase. So it's possible that by guzzling Heinz' blue cheese dressing you may extend your life. That last statement has not been evaluated or approved of by the FDA. And it totally ignores the fact that one serving of this dressing has 43% of your daily saturated fat. Mmm.

The rest of the ingredients at least ring bells as emulsifiers and thickening agents, but the fact that they're so unfamiliar makes Heinz' initial proclamation of realness seem vaguely hinky. Sure the blue cheese may be real, but what about all that other crap?

If O.J. were making blue cheese dressing, he'd find a way to do it without using ingredients no one has ever heard of.

Bonus: Can you identify the beaker of polysorbate 20 in this post's picture?

Sunday, February 15, 2009


Swag with Swagger:
Second Run had a circus theme going on at its table. A roll of the dice could win you several prices, including peanuts, and in my case a little bag of caramel corn. Puerto Del Sol was giving away beer cozies, and alligator clips with magnets (a double whammy). The Macguffin had several types of swag, including magnets, and a nift pen/highlighter combo. Wichita State University had the best temporary tattoos and were also giving nifty post-it note book tabs. Finally Oxford Magazine was giving away back scratchers.

Other common forms of swag:

Postcards: Probably the least utilitarian swag available. Yes, I know, you could potentially send these postcards, however nearly everyone I think would be interested in receiving a postcard featuring the cover of a literary magazine was at AWP, and if they wanted that particular image, they probably took it. Now if each postcard were postage paid, that would greatly increase the likelihood that I'd send one. On the other hand, while I love swag and I was also on the look out for new literary journals to submit to I was also reticent to pick up too many flimsy photo-copied submission guidelines. Most of the postcards listed their journal's website, so at least they're sturdy and informative.

Bookmarks: Second only to postcards in blandness. A bookmark at a bookfair? Big surprise. Also, who uses bookmarks anyway? I usually remember the page, or stuff a random piece of tissue in there, or with mass market paperbacks I'll tab a corner. In all fairness, many of the tables with bookmarks also had other forms of swag.

Totebags: Most commonly offered by MFA programs, which were giving them out for free, while literary journals were giving them away with purchases. I think there's really a limit to how many tote-bags a person needs, particularly since everyone started the conference with an AWP 2009 tote. I mainly appreciated the totes as another bag for swag.

Stickers: When I was younger stickers were a big thrill and I used to wear them, or display them on my school notebooks. The problem with wearing a sticker is that you can pretty much only wear it once.

Pens: Again not so exciting, but extremely high on utility. I'm in a constant state of using and losing pens, so getting them for free is fine by me.

Magnets: High on utility and exposure. All the magnets I picked up at AWP are sure to find a place on my fridge.

Temporary Tatoo: This one is curious. In the 90s I used to apply tatoos from Zebra Stripe Gum despite the fact that those tatoos were in no way cool. The tatoos at AWP were amusing, but I'm not sure if I'll actually wear any of them. Furthermore, very few of them took the tattoo concept very far. I would have like to have find literary journals incorporating their logos or names in tramp stamps or perhaps with a little barbed-wire. But the idea is fun. Maybe they'll make their way onto my body during the summer.

Copies of journals: Apparently at past AWP bookfairs free copies were much more common. Maybe it's a sign of the financial times that nearly every booth was selling them, albeit at a discount. And also, journals with humongous endowments or plenty of funding, like Poetry Magazine couldn't give copies away fast enough. Poetry Magazine was also giving out CDs, DVDs, postcards, and bookmarks. They were not giving out temporary tatoos.

A Garland of Buttons

Buttons were one of the most common forms of swag available at the AWP bookfair. I chose to garland my AWP lanyard with buttons. By the final day the whole lanyard was covered and some of the buttons, particularly the square ones were starting to chafe against my neck. But it was a very convenient way to collect them, with I think considerably less risk than having them as pin and pointed booby-traps in a pocket. My favorite button was made my Red Hen Press. Curiously, it features a hen, but no a red one. The person manning the Red Hen Press table was so impressed with my garland that he gave me a bonus-button. Pabst Blue Ribbon does not have they're own literary journal, but I know they've provided liquid support to many a writer.

Since some include no text I frankly have no idea what they represent, but they still look cool.

Back from AWP with Bags of Swag

The next posts will include exhaustively cataloged photographs of all the swag I snagged and bagged at AWP, but before those I'd like to make few shout-outs.

First, many thanks to my hosts, t & r, founders of budding literary journal Artifice Magazine. Without their support it's possible that none of this swag would have been collected. Also, they're fun to hang out with. Thanks guys.

Second, I must agree with t & r, Salt Hill Journal easily had the most beautiful literary magazine I saw at the book fair. Salt Hill prepare yourself for wave after wave of my submissions. As you can see, their website is also very nice. However, on the downside, they were not giving any of their hotness away, nor did they seem to be offering any swag.

To follow: Many photos of swag.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Reading Just Became Sexy Again

At least if you equate sexy with svelte technology. The new Kindle 2 is sure to appeal to anyone who has ever dreamed of running an oil-slicked ipod across their naked body, and perhaps also to those who are tired of lugging several heavy books along with them on vacations. Kindle 2 will weigh in at just over 10 ounces, heavier than some individual books, but possibly lighter than the book it's displaying, one of my favorites of last year, The Story of Edgar Sawtelle.

Kindle 2 is just over 1/3 of an inch thick and has a 25% longer battery life. Text should also be sharper, and the processor was given a minor boost. It is expected to ship February 24th at the price of $359.

So, is Kindle 2 posed to eliminate paper books entirely? I don't think Sven Birkerts needs to worry too much about this one, though I'm sure it will attract more consumers than the original. No matter how sleek and sexy digital readers become they still won't provide the full range of sensations that I crave when I read a book in paper.

And while buying books on Kindle is a little cheaper than buying them in print, the initial $359 investment is more than a little off-putting, especially in this economy.

When digital downloads are offered at $5 per book, or Amazon institutes a Rhapsody-esque digital subscription/library package that allows me to "check-out" an unlimited number of books each month for $20, or less, then I think they'll really have a killer app... At least until Apple releases their tablet and starts offering books on iTunes.

Misadventures in Adcopy

From the bottom of my box of Kleenex:

Kiss calm, cool and collected goodbye!
Don't be bashful. Don't be shy. It's time to unabashedly let it out!
So be messy.
Blow it loud and blow it proud.

Wait, kleenex are still marketed mainly for nose-blowing right? Because a guy could get a little confused by the implication of these words. Also,"it's time to unabashedly let it out," is trademarked. Seriously, they couldn't do any better than a clunky mid-sentence adverb?

Tomorrow is a shopping day, so there may be more analysis of adcopy in the near future.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Escolar featured on Top Chef

Escolar is a beautiful, lusciously rich fish, often served as "super white tuna" at sushi restaurants. Other recipes online will identify Escolar as Sea Bass, Cod, or Bluefin, when in fact Escolar is the much less fancy sounding "Snake Mackerel."

Two years ago my local Hy-Vee had a shipment of Escolar (labeled as Escolar) for the first time. The men at the meat counter were unable to tell me anything about it, and at the time I had never heard of it, but it was new, so I brought a 1/2 pound home.

The smoothness of the Escolar is unparalleled. This is because the Escolar cannot digest some of the esters which are a natural part of its diet, which leads to the meat having up to and sometimes over a 20% oil content. The meat is nearly melt in your mouth creamy.

There's just one problem which Top Chef failed to mention. The oil content of the meat is largely composed of "wax esters," and many humans can't digest them. This can lead in some individuals to keriorrhoea a foulness that I refuse to describe in this blog (though I will link to it).

So, it was more than a little surprising to me that Top Chef had Escolar as part of one of its six featured dishes, and failed to make any disclaimer. Statistically it would not be surprising if at least one of the contestants had a little trouble later that evening.

Theoretically these effects can be ameliorated if the fish is grilled, whereas the effects are worse when the fish is raw, or as on Top Chef, poached or baked. However, it's possible that the quantities were small enough so that contestants only suffered from some surprising gas. Ewww. Thanks Top Chef.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

What I deem important

Let's review the list released on Monday of GOP leaders' objections to "wasteful spending" in the Senate version of the approximately 900 billion dollar stimulus.

Here's a handful of the items they consider wasteful:

• $75 million for "smoking cessation activities."
• $125 million for the Washington sewer system.
• $400 million for the Centers for Disease Control to screen and prevent STD's.
• $200 million for public computer centers at community colleges.
• $600 million to buy hybrid vehicles for federal employees.
• $500 million for flood reduction projects on the Mississippi River.
• $150 million for Smithsonian museum facilities.

I haven't been able to find more specific information on the complaints, so it's possible that they have concerns about the allocation or amount. Maybe they even think that we should be dedicating more money to certain things. We spend billions each year on health problems caused by smoking, maybe they want to double, or triple the amount for smoking cessation.

If only that were the case. As it stands it seems Republican leadership is against human waste management, std prevention, flood prevention, and museums.

The biggest earmarks they object to:
• $6 billion to turn federal buildings into "green" buildings.
• $2 billion earmark to re-start FutureGen, a near-zero emissions coal power plant in Illinois that the Department of Energy defunded last year because it said the project was inefficient.
• $1.4 billion for rural waste disposal programs.
• $1 billion for the 2010 Census, which has a projected cost overrun of $3 billion.
• $1.2 billion for "youth activities," including youth summer job programs.
• $850 million for Amtrak.

I think it would be fantastic if federal buildings were greened, but even I'm surprised by the price tag. This is the biggest item on the list, and I wonder how far down the line of federal buildings they plan on going. Is this just for buildings in Washington, or would this also cover greening for the Johnson County Courthouse?

I'm also willing to admit that the earmark for FutureGen is a little suspect. It's based in Illinois, the only state specific earmark on this list. And it was defunded. However, I support it in theory. Maybe this would be better included in another stimulus package or Act more clearly focused on green energy and alternative fuel.

I'd like to support Amtrak, but before I do that they'd have to convince me that Amtrak is accessible. If there was an Amtrack station within 30 minutes of where I live that could take me to Chicago and beyond that would be great, but the closest Amtrak station is an hour and half away, and I doubt that 850 million dollars will be enough to open many new locations, if the allocation is for that anyway. Now if they were trying to create a national public railway in order to create more jobs and provide affordable and accessible transportation I'd be all over that.

The rest of the big and small ticket items on this list are a pretty good indicator of why I'm not a Republican, and I hope some would be mystifying even to conservatives. I mean, c'mon. We're talking about a 900 billion dollar package. These were really the most damning instances of pork-barrel spending Republicans could find? We're talking about less than 2% of the total package, with most of these for essential human services or money saving green energy initiatives.

For more on this issue check out these sites:

The Wonk Room
Paul Krugman: Bad Faith Economics

I tried to find an alternate take on a conservative blog, but all I found were 100 different sites with the same message: Make the Bush tax cuts permanent.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Put the tinfoil hats away

I was just reading this blogpost from and I found that the crazies are still out in force. Take a look at this post from the comments section:

31 January 2009, 11:45 EST (#)

Snopes covered this issue in October of 2008, but that hasn't stopped the conspiracy nutjobs from claiming that Snopes is somehow "in on it," and I have to admit that I can see how a crazy person might be distrustful of the Snopes post, which focuses on interpretation of the constitution, rather than just doing a little work to prove that Obama's birth certificate is valid.

Fortunately did their own rumor-busting on 11/1/08, including my favorite passage:
In fact, the conspiracy would need to be even deeper than our colleagues realized. In late July, a researcher looking to dig up dirt on Obama instead found a birth announcement that had been published in the Honolulu Advertiser on Sunday, Aug. 13, 1961.

The announcement was posted by a pro-Hillary Clinton blogger who grudgingly concluded that Obama "likely" was born Aug. 4, 1961 in Honolulu.

Of course, it's distantly possible that Obama's grandparents may have planted the announcement just in case their grandson needed to prove his U.S. citizenship in order to run for president someday. We suggest that those who choose to go down that path should first equip themselves with a high-quality tinfoil hat. The evidence is clear: Barack Obama was born in the U.S.A.

Personally I think Jerome Corsi should issue a public apology for his initial propagation of this blatant BS, and FOX News for giving him a soap box, and then doing nothing to investigate or correct his comments. Obviously that's not going to happen. I'm just equal parts saddened and aggravated that a vocal minority still feels that this is open to debate.

For a flurry of clueless posts by other ideologues and nutjobs check out the comments at Jumping in Pools. Especially disturbing is the fact that the blogger even noted that it was a piece of satire (leaving aside how effective it may be) before posting it. But many of the commenters missed that note, and seem eager to jump on the bandwagon of a piece posted on a blog that features Joe's Babe of the Week.

More debunking at