The Infamous Lyrics of P. Nutt

I don’t know what it is about Americana that makes us decide a driving vacation is a good vacation.  Maybe it comes from the 50s, when a car was a sign of proper middle class prestige, and everyone had one.  Maybe it’s from further back, from the days when visiting the neighbors took the whole weekend and courtship consisted of rides in carriages and buggies.  Regardless, there’s this family car trip/outing idea we still have that was never a good one.  Personally the only experience with my family that I found was more scary are those egg-things you ride up in to get to the top of the Gateway Arch (Hint: If you don’t know, it’s in Saint Louis).  And the only reason that was more scary is because the enclosed space is even smaller, and it moves in an erratic jerk in multiple dimensions.

So renewed ‘local’ vacation options awake within me a certain dread.  Sure, now I’m confined to an enclosed space with road partners I’ve chosen for myself.  Friends, even.  But somehow these trips can really bring out an ugly streak in certain people.  And the conflagrations we get into about proper directions!  As a side note, I always know where I’m going.  i may not always know where I am, but I ALWAYS know where I’m going.

Back to the story at hand.  To pass the time and keep us sisters from bruising each other too badly on long drives, we had the inevitable games.  We’d do the alphabet game where people always cheated about q and I got stuck at z every time I was ahead and always lost in the end.  We played various I-Spy games and used those little Interstate bingo boards.  Finally, when we were all hot and tired and miserable, the sing-along began.  I can’t remember what the name was of our particular song book was.  I’m pretty sure it involved the work ‘family’, and possibly the word ‘best’.  I may not have had the word ‘car’ in it, but I think in some other way referred to its all-American nature.  It was a great book, but had one slight misfortune – a lack of actual music.  Sure, the WORDS to every known verse of some really popular songs were there.  But if you didn’t already know the tune, it’s only so many letters on a page.

Take the case of ‘Frankie and Johnnie’.  For most of my childhood, I knew she was her man and she done ‘im wrong, but that was about as far as it went.  Without music, the song devolves into rural whining rather than poetry.  Or the case of ‘Goober Peas’.  For the longest time, I couldn’t even get someone to tell me wheat goober peas were.  They weren’t in our encyclopedia or unabridged dictionary.  Even my grandfather couldn’t give that much of a lead – he said goobers were peanuts, so that could be what goober peas are.  So not only did I have no idea what the tune was like, but even the lyrics themselves didn’t make sense.

After a careful search with all the latest technology (i.e., Wikipedia), my long and careful quest is over.  Goober peas are, in fact, boiled peanuts – a waste of a nut if I ever saw one.  And since the song is a confederate one from near the END of the war, certain of the lyrics make much more sense.  Sure, in my white-bread upbringing I probably didn’t think much about Confederate soldiers on more and more meager rations (less and less adequate?) or any of the realities of war.  But at the same time, I probably also wouldn’t have gotten jokes about the relishing joys of bad food when you’re hungry.

Plus, this particular song is just chock-full-o-nut.  First of all, there’s the reference to the whole ‘here’s your mule’ joke (which I also now understand only with the aid of the Wiki).  Evidently some soldiers somewhere stole a trader’s mule and led him on a Blindman’s Bluff chase around the camp by yelling ‘here’s your mule’ from one corner and then another.  It’s better than stone soup!  And then there’s the funnies committed on the oldest extant sheet music, which labels P. Nutt as the composer.  Ha!  For you more snobbery types, the lyricist is listed as A. Pindar (the best known of nine Greek lyric poets who are recognised as ‘in the canon’, though he is perhaps best known because his work is the most well-preserved).

Finally and at long last, I can also listen to the tune (in MIDI format).  Thank you, Gods of Wikipedia, for blessing me with understanding.  Now the only thing I have to complain about is that I’m not as cool as this girl.

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The tooth fairy

Yesterday I had an exciting visit to one of my favorite places – the dentist office.

Now, i know, some of you may be thinking, ‘Look, Stacey’s so cute, she made a funny!’.  But no, really.  I actually really like my dentist and his office.  There are skylights in the patient rooms, green growing things everywhere, and the man is actually funny.  How often does that happen?  He gets excited about explaining your options to you as far as your teeth go, and just generally promotes a good environment for his employees.  Plus, his hygienists don’t have the anguish and rage that some do, so they aren’t vindictive about the pointy things they shove in your mouth.  And since I’m no longer a child, and get to choose the things that do or don’t get shoved into my face, I’m going to choose people with gentle hands.  I love my teeth – the first one I lost I ended up asking the tooth fairy to give back, because I wanted to keep that little baby tooth more than the money.  Things that fall out of your head are important.

But back to the dentist office –  on this particular occasion, I had that bane of dental patients everywhere, the New Hygienist.  Always they’re nice, sweet, chipper ladies who you think are graceful and couth until their fingers get into your mouths, at which point you promise whatever they ask to lessen the pain.  But even that went surprisingly well.  Instead of asking me in-depth questions while her fingers are all tangled up in my mouth, she casually described how she got into the dental industry, which she now loves.  Even though she knows it’s weird, there’s something satisfying about making things clean – a fascination I find much more comforting than other reasons people might give for being in the field.  Plus, she was also a nighttime grinder, so we had a fabulous discussion about the paranoia involved with dreams where your teeth fall out or wiggle around loosely in your gums.  There’s a reason some people brush more frequently than others.

So despite the fact that I have a cavity and have to go back for a final visit, it’s a pleasing place.  If I have to trust a tooth fairy to keep my nostalgic old chompers safe, this would be the one.

Spacey Stacey

I’m typing this mostly by feel, so I apologize for any typos in advance.

Today I had my eye exam before I start up school again in the fall.  It’s not that i have some great fear that my eyes are going to pot.  It’s only a minor paranoia, a little like the dreams people can have about their teeth rotting out of thier heads.  More on that later.  Anyway, it’s something I’ve been thinking about, in part because I’m afraid my eyes are getting worse.  Things far away have been a little blurrier recently.  And soon I may actually have to read things on a blackboard or at a distance.  I want to be prepared for that eventuality, just in case.

So I went in, and had all the tests done.  Verdict is: I probably don’t need glasses.  The doctor said I’m slightly nearsighted, and that he ‘could’ improve my vision.  But he also cautioned me that I probably didn’t need glasses, and could potentially damage my eyesight by using them when I don’t really need to.  He also mentioned that I could be noticing changes in my vision because of my job.  Staring at a computer screen all day is evidently not that good for the eyes.  The good doctor explained it as a muscle relaxation malfunction.  By excersizing the focus of my eyes for a long period of ime to see at close range, my muscles around the eye are tightening into specific positions.  Eventually my ability to relac those same muscles becomes less since they’re locked in place for long periods of the day.  He recommended simply taking some time, just a minute ot two, to look away from the computer screen, off into the distance, and consciously relac and resy my eyes for a moment.  This could cause my vision to actually improve, and may mean that even in a lage clasrrom I wouldn’t need glasses to see clearly at a distance.  Seemed like a good and reasonably idea, so I’ll try it.

It also got me started thinking about my family and the reason why I haven’t needed glasses in the past.  I’m an avid reader from a family of readers.  I love writing as well.  When I was a kid, my dad would have to confiscate my novels to get me to go to sleep (now that I’m an adult, I just stay up all night if I’m in the thrall of a really good one).  On car rides, in dimly lit places, across distances short and small, I’ve strained my eyes to read throughout my life.  Both my parents and my sisters all have glasses which they require to function on a daily basis.  It’s obviously not just good genes that have saved me from completely wrecking my eyesight.  It’s equally obviously not good habits.  The only thing I’ve been able to come up with thus far (sparked by the good doctor’s comments on how to relive my potential eye strain) is that I’m a space cadet.

I am an extrememly philospophical person.  I like pondering the big questions ( or even the little questions) in great detail.  My mind wanders twisty little back passages, and I often get lost in them, unwilling to focus again on the world around me.  For this reason – for my lost expressions, for my occasional random comments, and for my lack of awareness at certain times, I was nicknamed ‘Spacey Stacey’ by my family.  But now that I think about it, every time I was lost in my own little world, my eyes were unfocused.  Every time I took a minute or several to ask just WHY we have belly buttons, my eyes were glazed and looking off somewhere beyond the horizon.  All that blind looking really stretches your vision.

SO yes, sometimes I don’t remember the details of a converstion two seconds after it’s finished.  Sometimes when you speak to me, you have to repeat yourself four or five times to get a response. Sometimes my irritating and completely nonsensical questions are hard to take.  Sometimes you’re probably going to get upset with me for not properly focusing on teh Matter At Hand.  But i think, despite all this, I’ve really been focusing where i was supposed to be focusing all along.

PS – I looked at myself in the mirror and my eyes are FREAKY.  I tried to get a good shot on my cell phone, but no luck.  You’ll have to make do with this:

0527091419a

Use what we got.

Cuttlefish are awesome. If you didn’t know how awesome before, I recommend this TED:

As you can see, these aquatic animals are pretty cool.  Not that I wish I was one, or that I have any great desire to change my skin pigmentation at will.  Truthfully, most of my bad hair days come from having only half flathead and half ‘fro. Adding color to the mix doesn’t seem wise. But there are things about my own body I’d like to control better – like my flailing limbs, my ability to stand, and my general athleticism. The cuttlefish is one up on me in this.

He may also be one up on me in big-screen televisions as well.  Evidently the way a cuttlefish changes colors is by membrane distancing.  Think of it like a light table, or a window, where a colored piece of paper covers the glass.  If you put a white piece of paper right on top, you can still see the color through it pretty strongly.  If you lift the white paper slowly, the further you get away, the less color you see, until all you can see is white.  That’s what a cuttlefish does, on a large scale and with multiple layers (and without a light source on the inside).  Eventually such substances will be used in television screens and probably as colored electronic paper, all because of a color-changing swimmer that we might not have learned from in the past, even though we wondered at him.

Another place we might have learned more readily from is our own past.  Take cathedrals – they are pretty awesome, but most of the time we think that we’ve learned all we can from them, technologically speaking.  Most cathedral builders operated on the ‘you broke it, you bought it’ principle.  If the building came crashing down while being constructed, the builder was probably dead inside.  Balanced with that was the constant pressure to make the next one bigger, grander, and better.  There was a constant testing process to see what could withstand nature and the elements, and the price of failure was high.

We don’t have that anymore.  We’ve freed ourselves from the rigor of masonry building materials and the solid facade, and learned to anticipate the vagaries of nature with various codes and rules.  Supposedly this makes our buildings safer, but it may not have made us wiser.  We don’t have to take the surrounding environment into account, so by and large, we don’t.  There’s this highly prevalent view about reflective glass and how it doesn’t intrude into the skyscape of a city – which it might not, visually for some humans.  I’m not so sure what a goose would think about a new glass ‘scraper along a traditional migration route, or how a bat might perceive such a surface.  In general, the environment of such buildings is about control of the surroundings, not adaptation to it.  According to John Ochsendorf, adaptive is something traditional construction had to be.  I think there’s a lesson there, about what we know, or think we know, and how best to truly use it.

Hooray! Scratch Day!

There are times that working at the Oven Glove just makes me smile. Today is one of those days, as I look forward to one of MIT Media Lab’s widest celebrations: Scratch Day. Just what is Scratch, that it deserves its own celebratory day? It’s a computer program for kids to create their own programs – specifically to create games, stories, animations, or other interactive pieces. These can be shared and further built upon online. The whole idea is to be interactive, collaborative, and expanding across the globe – which the program has done, as seen from the user-created events being held in various countries to celebrate the program’s second anniversary. Most events are totally open to the public and free, extending the creative zone to people who might not have experienced it before.

Personally I am not familiar with Scratch. I’ve looked at a few of the programs online, and plan to check out a few more when i go home. I might even try my hand at creating something small, just for fun. But the real interest for me in programs like this is something that MIT really excels at – making specific scientific knowledge available. The beauty of Scratch is that it’s a building-block system. You don’t need prior knowledge, you just learn as you go. And that learning gets you hooked on what else might be available out there – the work of different people, creative collaboration on artistic projects, or maybe even an interest in programming, in what goes into the software itself to make it work. making technology available to a broad audience is MIT’s driving mission – making it available for use with our creative impulses, to my mind, goes above and beyond.

I think it’s awesome. I still like LEGOs, and this is like communal LEGO-building online, plus a learning component. But what else would you expect from the guy who’s head of MIT’s Lifelong Kindergarten group?

Fried Moose Balls and Ant-chilada

I would like to consider my culinary tastes as ‘diverse’ and my own inclination as ‘willing to try anything once’, but sometimes, I just have no desire to try.  There’s such a thing as taking food diversity too far.  I have no desire to subsist on unripe berries and the inner bark of trees, but it probably could be done.  And although I find the idea of a Roadkill Cook-off interesting, I have no real desire for moose balls or groundhog gravy.  I’d probably try them once, but the article doesn’t make me want to rush off to North Carolina at the moment.  In addition, I feel quite a bit of hesitation about something like the scorpion stir-fry.  I mean, I’ve done ants and crickets and lots of kinds of grubs just to try them out, but the idea of putting something that has a sting in my mouth just doesn’t appeal.  I mean, you could probably eat small pieces of sea glass since it’s been dulled by the waves, but that doesn’t really appeal either.

I guess I’ll continue to confine my ‘economic collapse food miserliness’ to sandwiches instead.  But I will leave you with a photo.  If it elicits a mouth-watering response, you may want to get yourself checked out.

scorpion

Yum.

Balsa!

During my years as a wee little architecture student, I became very familiar with this type of wood.  It’s very lightweight, almost foamy, and much easier to manipulate, bend, and even twist.  It can be very useful in model building for those reasons, but it also is easily damaged.  Oftentimes despite your best intentions it can end up looking less than crisp.

Sometimes, however, crisp edges don’t matter as much.  Say, for example, when you’re constructing a giant raft to be used on the ocean.  Sure, we’re all excited about Kon-Tiki, but I’m not sure how accurate that particular journey was as an experiment.  I prefer the idea of exploring ancient skills to that of proving they could be used to accomplish a particular historically significant task.  If we know there were ancient balsa wood rafts, let’s see what their properties are – stability in high water, maneuverability, resistance to swamping.  Hopefully that’s what this group is going to be doing over the summer – after all, the use of technology, whether old or new, is what MIT is all about.  What really has most validity to us now is learning about how balsa was used in the past and manipulating that use for the future.  Whether or not the Polynesians really were Peruvians first is interesting, but to my mind, secondary.

A large lump of Spectacle.

I listen to Pandora.  When I listen to Pandora, I discover music that I normally would not have discovered.  I find things that, perhaps, my friends do not like.  Most of all, I find stuff that has all kinds of associations and connections that I am totally unaware of, living the sheltered and musically-awkward life that I do.  So when Suzanne said “I’m going to the Fischerspooner concert, you should come”, my reply was “Oooh, I love their music!  Sure!”  The fact that no one else had heard of them didn’t really impact me at all.  Of course, it also didn’t alert me to the type of show I was in for.

I’ll now have to go back and take a look at all their videos on Youtube once I’m no longer at work.   But there is one question that no video, website, or Wikipedia article can answer that I have after seeing them in concert.  After one particular number, Casey Spooner apologized to the audience (because he thought the performance of it was crap). When one of the dancers (yes, they have dancers, male and females mostly wearing basically nothing) spun around and almost whacked the mic out of his hand later in the show, I thought he was going to beat her with it onstage.  The glare was heavy.  So is he really a Prima Donna?  Or is it all just a part of the show?

I can certainly say that this is the first concert I’ve ever attended where the music genuine didn’t matter.  It was there.  I definitely heard it and danced around to it.  But really, I would have been just as happy with the show if it had been done in complete silence.  True, that would’ve made it a good deal creepier and the microphone  might have seemed out of place, but I would’ve felt my $25 was worth that alone.  But I guess moving mirrors, continual on-stage costume changes, large projection and small monitor videos, a variety of wigs and wags, and really thick eyebrows everywhere is what you get from a performance artist-turned-musician.  I loved it.

Beacause trains are cool.

My roots are rural.  I grew up in the Midwest.  My father’s father was a train engineer, as his father was before him.  My grandfather builds, repairs, and shows antique engines.  These are the deep-digging elements of my life, and yet I am rarely aware of them.  It’s not good for a growing tree to expose its roots repeatedly in a short period of time.  Generally I leave them covered, and they support and secure me, but once in awhile I’m tempted to wiggle my buried toes, as it were.

That’s what sparked my heart in this article about railfans.  There’s something poetic about the movement of freight trains through the countryside.  The sound, the vibration and rhythm, are something of a siren call to our history, to the formation of the United States, to our memory of a simpler, though still vigorous, time.  I love the image of it.  People paint pictures and sing songs and write poems and stories about it.  There’s something there.   So why haven’t I ever ridden a long-distance passenger train in the US?  Why don’t we have easy, fast, reliable cross-country service?  Are the States really that broad?  Are we holding onto the nostalgia of slower frieght trains to tight?  Or do trains only hold our fond memories, not our current trends?  The last I would hope is not true.

Ok, I admit it, I’m dumb.

There are times when it’s just necessary for me to fess up.  This morning was one of them.

I was doing my typical tour of the Oven Glove homepage, which today was featuring this article.  I don’t know about you, but the fourth dimension and our perception of it is fascinating to me.  The idea of measuring it and recording something about what it might mean in a new way way super-awesome-cool.  That’s probably why this particular exhibit won several awards in the competition it was developed as a part of.  So when the article gave a DIY link, I was very excited.  Hooray, code!  Now I’ll be able to go home and set it up on my own computer, as the set-up looks simple – computer with camera, and this program I now have the code to.

Alas, no.  Upon delving just a little bit further, I discovered the link lead to several PDE files.  I don’t know about you, but I have no idea what a PDE is.  Sadly, my semester of Basic programming in high school didn’t give me the tools I needed to chum it with the right kind of MIT geeks for that.  When I asked my alumni contact about PDE files and how to actually use one to make my magic video clock, he was just as stumped.  So basically I need someone to come shimmy-do my computer into compliance for this awesome display.  Otherwise, I’ll be forced to hit up the MIT Museum again before I leave to check out at least this one exhibit.

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