Thursday, 22 February 2007

ye olde smugness

There are certain things that prove that a person is smug. Personalized number plates. The need to announce that you are saving the environment more than the person you are talking to. But these are very modern things. Smugness has been around for as long as humans have been. Clearly personalised number plates and the environment have only existed in the recent years (unless the Flinstones are to be believed). So what did olden people have?

This problem remained unsolved until yesterday evening, whilst driving home from work. On my route through town I have to stop at a multitude of traffic lights, and as a result, I get many opportunities to let my eyes and mind wander. I spotted an old factory looking building that proudly read across the top "Mitchell Factory Build 1860 AD". Now I'm not having a go at the '& sons' bit, though that may be worthy of a rant at a later point, but instead it’s the inclusion of when the building was built.

As an old building, the date of construction can be seen as a neat piece of interest. But that's because its old. Clearly this hasn't always been the case. For many years, it must have sat there with a date of construction that was just a few years from the current date. At this point, this piece of nostalgia must have served another purpose.

Given that the only use of a date on a building is to impress upon the local landscape just how antiquey it is, the builders must have added this as a sort of rather risky bet. "I believe that this is such a good building, that it will stand up for fifty years or more, and certainly won't get bombed, or earthquaked, or anything accidentally happening to it that is beyond our control. Smugness. Pure, undiluted smugness.

It should be remembered though that there is one redeeming feature of smugness, and that is rubbing in the faces of the smuggers whenever they are proved wrong. This quite often is an opportunity that never arises, so when it does it should be grabbed with both hands.

It is a possible hobby that I advise you to join in with, of every time you see a building that's built date is flaunted and is within the last 50 years, find out who built it, where they live and what their pet hates are. Sooner or later, one of your catalogued buildings will fall. It is then a simple matter of going to their house and spend the weekend shouting something like "HAHAHA YOU STUPID SMUG BASTARD! IT DIDN'T EVEN LAST 50 YEARS! TEACH YOU FOR BEING SO SMUG!". Or at least words to that affect.

Wednesday, 14 February 2007

Further ramblings....poisons

Poisons. Love them or hate them, we all have a secret desire to own some in a bottle with a big skull and cross bones on it (I really hope that at least one of you is nodding at this point, because otherwise I'm turning weirder with age. Just pretend that a number of other people are currently reading this and nodding to the notion of owning poison being cool, and therefore making you the odd one out).

But the discovery of poisons is one that seems rather unlikely in many cases. I doubt that there was a job title of "poison discoverer" in the olden days. What a horrific job that would be. It must take the form of eating just one thing a week, and then spending the week noting consequences.

"Week 4. This week's food: pen lids. I have taken 3 (12g) pen lids, crushed them into a powder and then digested them. Immediate effects were coughing, nose bleed and sneezing (the combination of which has left my lab in a rather pebble-dashed fashion).
-Long term effects: stomach cramps and loss of feeling in every odd numbered toe.
-Conclusion: This should not be given to someone unless it is as an irritant, or if they have particularly high blood pressure around the sinuses."

Of course the main problem with this is that if the poison discoverer was to stumble upon something like cyanide, then there report would not be very useful.

"Week 142. This weeks food: nutty smelling water. I..oh God I can feel my mouth..I AAR MY HEAD MY HEAD ISwfdsaff.dsf.sf....."

Assuming of course that they could write this whilst dieing. Perhaps discovering a dead poison discoverer was rather like striking oil. Clearly the discoverer was dead, so it was up to you to collect the vial sitting next to the corpse, and then sell it to the highest bidder.

Being a poison discoverer therefore is a crap profession, and should be avoided.

But it must also be considered that this archaic methodology can not explain more confusing and complicated poisons. The kind of ones that's recipe goes along the lines of "take one rats tail and add it to broth of tadpole...". This brings a host of questions to mind, but the main two points I will raise here are:

I) How many combinations of parts of animals/fungi/LIDL's value range soup were tried before this one was found to work, and who was fed it?

II) Was someone happening to eat this concoction one day, died, and then someone finds them and says "Oh my God, clearly eating this exact proportions of rat tail, frog spawn and rice crispies forms a poison. It just so happens that I'm writing a book on unusual things to make with rat tails and this is perfect!" instead of saying "well if you insist on eating raw rat tails, what do you expect?!"

Maybe it was all really a way of hedging bets. You really want to kill someone, but you don't have the first clue about poisons. So you make a list of things that you can get that -might- kill them, take a proportion of each, and then mix them all together. But then you have the problem of getting them to eat it. It seems rather pointless to use a poison if you have to beat them unconscious and then force-feed them the slops. Poisoning should be a stealthy thing. You would have to take minute amounts of each of the disgusting things and then liquidate it.

It would seem rather incriminating though to then release a book with details about how someone might go about creating the poison you used. But if OJ has proven anything, its that you can do this, but just be so blatant that people can't question you

Monday, 12 February 2007

Ice, slice and Vanilla Ice.

And then of course there are ice cubes. Not that this is really any continuation of a theme or category, but I think that there is at least some sort of link between fridges and ice (though not ice and pickling).

Ice came about when there was too much cold and not enough water. The cold overwhelmed the water until it became solid and larger. This is known as ice. There is also dry ice, black ice and Vanilla Ice; and I intend to cover these in due course.

Ice (the ice we are discussing here, if you can call this a discussion), is categorised in to 4 main sizes: Ice caps, ice bergs, ice cubes and slush puppy. There are sub-categories, but I think I only have time to bore you with the general species for today. You will note that the first 2 have been invented by nature, where as the second 2 where invented by the Romans and Kellogg’s respectively.

I like ice cubes. It seems that though many shapes have been toyed with, such as the pub favourite "O" shape, and the rising starlet the "pillow", but the cube has weathered the competition and is still the most expected shape to be seen by anyone who has recently received a drink with some ice in it.

I would like to sidetrack at this point and announce a bugbear of mine. Its the term "ice and a slice". This is not acceptable, and certainly not acceptable in its question form ("ice and a slice?"). To begin the correct phrase would be "would you like some ice and a slice?", which is still rather abbreviated. The popular shortened term is technically asking for if you would like an ice and a slice. "An ice" is not a unit of measurement, and assumptions would lead a novice to believe that they will receive an ice cube in their drink, not the minor collapse of a multi-story igloo that is deemed acceptable in bars.

As I have stated at the beginning of this particular ramble, there are only 4 measurements of ice. "An ice" is not one of them. It would be like going to a restaurant and asking for "a beef" with a side of "a potato" and "a ketchup". Clearly this would lead to anything from ascended eyebrows, to outright mockery. And yet when the tables are turned, and it is the barman that is asking, it is deemed ok. And I haven't even mentioned the use of a adjective as a noun.

Yes I haven't forgotten. "A slice" is not technically a noun. You can just about get away with using it in the sentence "I can see a slice" but it leaves you listening for the following word. I can not believe that barmen across the country hate their customers enough to stop talking to them in full sentences. No where else in the economic, customer facing world has this level of apathy been employed. If a car mechanic asked you if you need "air and bares" instead of asking if they can check your tyres would lead to most of us staring rather blankly and waiting for an explanation. And no, rhyming is not an excuse for stupidity and laziness (take note Vanilla Ice).

Tuesday, 6 February 2007


Of course the other way of keeping things from going off is by pickling. Not to say that this, along with refrigerating are the only two ways to preserve food, just that these are the two I am willing to discuss before having to re-categorise this blog as 'One man's exploration into the world of not throwing up as a result of buying meat and then not eating it for about a week.' (This clearly is a working title, and maybe a snappier heading is required to capture today's youth. Or maybe just a snappier topic).

Pickling, as the name suggests, has little or nothing to do with pickles. They were merely the first thing that got pickled and therefore coined the phrase. This does seem like a little backwards, as if Lord Wellington's classic invention would instead be called the 'Foot', the vacuum cleaner called the 'Dusty Floor', or the sandwich called the 'I'm quite hungry, but I'd rather just have a snack. No not crisps and I can't eat chocolate, I'll have just have to make do with pickled pickles'. As you can tell, my penchant for snappy titles is what has got me so far in life.

But I fear that I'm rambling off topic. Not to say that this isn't the point of this little exercise, but merely its nice to have a theme to the whole piece.

Pickled items are stored by leaving them in something so acidic that nothing except humans would be stupid enough to try and eat it. Its rather like being worried that your housemates are going to eat your juicy steak, but they are more susceptible to arsenic than you are, so you put just enough arsenic on the steak so that only you would survive. The end result of this is about the same as with pickling. Nothing else would dare touch it, but the food is so bad now that it almost seems not to be worth it (unless you really didn't like your housemates).

Pickling was invented by Lord Pic, whose noted inventions also include the pic axe, the piccolo and Al Picino (I figured you wouldn't believe me after the first one, so why bother being realistic?). After trying keep his pickles safe from prying mouths by suspending them from the roof of his kitchen, they unfortunately slipped from their moorings and dropped into an unlabeled jam jar. The shockwave of which caused the lid to seal tight on them and it fell in a dark, cool cupboard. Later it was found and eaten by a rather ravenous Lord Pic, who had hanged his entire catering staff for pickle theft (a most heinous crime), and since almost starved to death.

I'd like to think that the process of pickling had such an exciting birth. Certainly, the next time someone asks you if you know how pickling came about, you will probably remember the above anecdote, though not the real history. This is because history is dull. Very, very dull. Despite all the hundreds of murders, wars and country renamings, we fail to remember any of them. So perhaps an alternative is required.

Remember the quote "If we do not remember history we are doomed to repeat it" ? I remember it because its what our secondary school teacher told us to try and make us pay attention. An amusing thought, that if we didn't learn about the war of the roses we may accidentally incite civil war in the playground after some pompous so-and-so declares that they are chosen by God to rule over the playground. However, after hearing about what actually happened, some spotty book worm decided to go out in the playground and shout the same claim. He was promptly proved wrong by several larger boys.

Well my theory is this. Why bother learning what actually happened and instead just remember the moral? Instead of long winded passages about how economic stresses caused German extremist movements to gain an advantage in early 20th century Germany, instead tell the story of the Peanut and the Pickle.

The peanut had everything, including a comfy shell, but alas the poor pickle did not. The pickle realised that he wanted a nice shell, and that its tan hue would contrast well with its ghostly white apparel. So the pickle bought a tarmac flattening vehicle and with the help of some well placed string, drove over the peanut and, whilst laughing manically, crushed the poor peanut. After climbing down, the pickle saw that it had crushed the peanut and its lovely shell. The pickle realised that its overuse of pressure had broken not only his enemy, but any chance of getting what it wanted. The pickle cut itself so that it would cry. Sobbing loudly, the pickle reached for a nearby party-popper and blew its head off.

I would have remembered that story from History. I would also have tried blowing the top off of a pickle through the use of party-poppers. An interesting notion though.

Monday, 5 February 2007

The Omni-Bowl

Invention: The Omni-Bowl

This was something I came up with about 5 years ago, whilst discussing goldfish memory.

The product relies on the notion that goldfish (and I assume fish in general), have a very short attention span. 3 seconds to be exact.

Now this, along with the average swimming speed of a gold fish can be used to work out the maximum distance a goldfish can travel before their memory "resets".

Goldfish speed (m/s) X 3 (seconds) = Goldfish Travel Distance or GTD (m).

Now imagine that a goldfish could travel along a tube that was exactly that length. By the time that the goldfish has finished travelling, they will have forgotten what the beginning looks like. With this in mind I present to you...

the Omni-Bowl!

The omni-bowls ingenious design is either a hoop (the "Doughnut "), or a figure of eight (the "Omni"). The length of the course is a little over the GTD, thus allowing the fish infinite pleasure in exploring what it will think is a never ending tunnel.

The "Doughnut "

This is the base model. The shape leaves a hole in the middle to add the water pump, foliage and general scenery. It is best to have it fairly see-through, so that the fish may be visible from anywhere.

The "Omni"

This is the advanced bowl. A tube that forms a figure of eight. this allows the bowl to be smaller than the doughnut bowl. It has two areas that allow for adding the filter and plants etc..

In both cases, the middle sections are peppered with small holes, to allow water, but not fish, into the middle sections.

There is also the option of motivating the fish to swim laps rather than just floating by adding a current to the loop. This could be done with a small, protected propeller.

Friday, 2 February 2007

Ramblings of a mad man

Fridges are a weird invention. They seem to be the lazy cousin of the freezer, as if someone tried to invent a cooling device and did 'quite well'. But this 2-2 of cooling equipment hasn't seemed to stop all of us owning one (or two in my case).

Keeping things 'mildly cool' seems to be a necessity of food storage, but this must only be a serendipitous discovery. Someone who used to live in Scotland in 50BC migrated to warmer climates of the south and found that their weekly shop to Tescos (or whatever the BC equivalent was), meant that they could no longer eat meat on the sixth day.

Logic would then assume this person to have made the connection between temperature and throwing up after eating dinner and decided that the best thing to do to stop it happening again would be to mildly cool the food.

This seems like a rather large leap of faith. Most people might stop eating the certain product, move back up north or fast every sixth day (maybe starting a new, dogmatic religion in the process). But instead the person dug a hole in their cave wall (anachronism anyone?), and stuffed the food in there. Perhaps this was not to cool the food, but instead to keep it out of sight from the naughty vomit pixies. In either case, they then tried to eat the food again and found that it was quite nice, if not a little chilly.
Eureka! they must have shouted. And shouted loudly enough for their neighbours to hear them. Wandering over, Mrs. Marsbury from No. 3, enquires about the cry of euphoria.
"What's going on... Oh my gods! You're eating food on the sixth day, are you mad?!".
"No! I've hidden my food in a hole all week. Its fine!"

Now it would seem like Mrs. Marsbury has about 3 sane responses here.
1. "What on earth possessed you to do something so random and expect it to work?"
2. "Is that why I heard scratching between our walls all last week?"
3. "I'm leaving now. and I don't just mean out of here, I mean out of the neighbourhood. Don't follow me."

But instead, Mrs. Marsbury, or rather Janet (you know enough about her to be on first name terms by now), chose secret answer number 4. It is an option that thankfully she knew about and actually chose it over the first 3 options.
"Could you make me one?"

And so the refridgerator was born. From there it was merely a matter of time and product evolution before it was painted white, used cfcs and had shelves that you can never quite stack foods in without crushing the orange juice in the side compartment.

Riv 'Two Fridges' Milar.