These Chairs Offend Me

Descending from the ridiculous to the even more ridiculous, consider:


With my squirrel-level ability to focus and Golden Retriever capacity for distraction, I have been driven nuts for, I dunno, a couple decades by the chairs shown above, a set of which infests the lovely Lady Chapel at a local church.

You must be joking, I hear, from way over here, your generous brains thinking a little too loudly. Could there be anything more innocuous than these bland church chairs? He must be kidding.

Image result for Peet's coffee chairs
For comparison, here is a perfectly bland and functional chair, spotted at a Peet’s Coffee. It does not offend.

You wish.

For a couple decades now, whenever we go to this church, I think to myself EVERY SINGLE TIME ‘what dumb chairs. What a waste of perfectly good wood. They’re so doomed.”  Then my tiny brain, which should be directed at, oh, say, the Mass or God or something along those lines, is instead imagining how I would have designed those chairs, or what could be done to fix them, until somebody launches into a agnus or rings a bell or otherwise brings my attention back to what I’m supposedly doing. For about 0.75 seconds. Then it’s back to chairs.

Why do these chairs so offend? That would take an entire blog post to expla – Oh.

Let me count the ways:

  1. The seat frames are squares of boards joined with finger joints – sturdy enough, but structurally independent of the legs.
  2. the front legs are two straight board simply bolted to the seat. The bolts and maybe some glue are the only thing holding them on.
  3. The back legs are two longer straight boards joined to a curved and padded plywood seat back and also simply bolted onto the seat frame.
  4. All legs are set perfectly perpendicular to the seat and floor.

And? Well, within short order once put into use, those leg joints are going to loosen up, especially the back ones. If you look at the Peet’s chair pictured above, you can note that the back legs are *curved*, integrated into the seat frame, and set at a slightly less than right angle both to the floor and seat. The back leans away to a similar degree.

If you do something crazy in that Peet’s chair, like sitting in it or – heaven forbid! – leaning back in it, the legs are designed to absorb that kind of stress: they are not perfect little levers to transfer all the force of your sitting or leaning directly into the single point where a bolt attaches them to the seat frame. The legs are designed, in other words, to incorporate best chair design practices from at least the last 1,000 years or so of people building chairs.

The church chairs – wow, profound metaphor time! – are built as if all that history never happened, that we clearly superior moderns don’t need to pay no mind to those old dead guys and their perfectly functional chairs.

Front legs. Oh, the humanity!

The front legs suffer the same flaw: perfectly straight up and down and simply bolted on. Front leg get less of the leaning/sitting/sliding stress than the back legs, but they get some, and over time, loosen up as well.

When one sits in these chairs, there is a wobble ranging from disconcerting to scary.  Many of the chairs have been ‘repaired’.  (I didn’t get pictures. A somewhat crazed-looking old guy with a phone camera taking pictures of chairs in the chapel while the little old ladies are trying to pray: a talk with Father, or possible Officer, O’Reilly gets more likely by the minute.) The repairs are obvious and obviously doomed (not that I blame the repairman – worth a shot): drill a hole or two and stick a couple more bolts through, lather on some more glue, or both.

Ugly. And doomed – such repairs simply invite additional structural failure, and make splitting the wood more likely. I’ve never witnessed some poor soul sitting on the ground in the wreckage of one of these chairs, but I’d be surprised if it had not happened more than once.

For the defense: as designed, these chairs have lasted (with repairs) about 2 decades. How bad can they be? Also, although I’ve never seen them stacked, it’s possible they were designed to be stacking chairs and what I perceive as flaws are there to allow better stacking.

I answer that plenty of stacking chairs aren’t this bad. Further, stacking chairs offend all sound liturgical sentiment: in the same way that paper missilettes embody the ‘disposable Word of God’ sentiment, stacking chairs convey a ‘we haven’t made up our minds what this church building is really *for*’ concept.

How would I have fixed this design?

  1. Integrate the legs into the seat frame, so that stresses are distributed over multiple wood-to-wood contacts (you know, like how every decent wooden chair has been designed for centuries).
Image result for chair joints
A Sam Maloof joint joining the rear leg of a chair to the seat. Functional and beautiful – everything the Chairs That Shall Not Be Named lack! One needn’t go to this level of art, although Maloof cut and fitted these legs mostly using a table saw, a router and a rasp. Just do it like everyone has been doing it for centuries.

2. Curve the back legs so that in the inevitable event that somebody leans back in the chair, the stress is better distributed.

Chair back legs
A lame drawing illustrating the point. Yes, I’m a LITTLE COMPULSIVE. Why do you ask?

Deep breaths. Exhale. Ah, all better now.




Y’all probably thought I was making this up, right? You thought my efforts to popularize ‘throwing down the boodog’ as an idiom for vigorous partying was just some random emission from my overheated brain.

Well, well, well – here’s a little video, from some Mongolian university no less, that will show you just how wrong you are! (Or probably or possibly wrong, to cover all the bases.)


(Darn it! Can’t get the video to start at the #6 at 3:44 in, which is boodog. So skip ahead if that’s all you want to see.)

Boodog (which I admit I am disappointed to learn is pronounced more like ‘buhdig’ than BOO-DOG! Mongolians don’t know the opportunity they’ve let slip away here) is in fact what any solid Mongolian throws down at a party. Just watch the video!

That is all. Except I ate a bunch of gator bits (that’s what the sign near the dish called it) with a slightly spicy sauce here at this convention I’m attending in St. Petersburg, FL. I had them with a nice Merlot, if you must know.  And yes, it did taste somewhat like slightly chewy chicken. So I would myself have some boodog if anyone were throwing some down in my presence. I’m that kind of guy.

Merry Christmas! 

May God bless you and yours with good cheer and peace on this holy day! 

Preparing a feast for 35-odd people (insert obligatory in laws joke here) and, having been on my feet for pretty much 3 days straight of shopping, prepping and cooking (40 lbs of pork butt and about 60-70 ciabatta rolls for pulled pork sandwiches, among other things), taking a break before rallying once more into the breach. 

Something like that. 

So, midnight mass, then Home to put the pork in the oven and bake the last couple batches of rolls, and in bed by 3:00. My beloved, who is part vampire or at least can get by on remarkably small amounts of sleep, maybe came to bed later – I wouldn’t know, as I was out cold and she was already up by the time I woke. 

We made coffee and tea, and the 8 of us – 4 kids, g-ma, aunt Clare in from Baltimore, my wife and I – gathered round the table to see what we got in our stockings.

My beloved commanded that I take pictures. She wasn’t any more specific. 

A rag I grabbed to wipe up some coffee I’d spilt on my laptop and shirt. It’s kind of like shorthand for all of Dickens
A close up of the water picture immediately in front of me. What may at first appear to be a lack of focus is, instead, an ironic existential cry of terminal ennui. That’s my story.
Still life with butter knives.

Some people are so hard to please.

Science! Zombie Ants & Rain

1. As readers of this blog no doubt recall, I have a deep and abiding interest in Nature, especially when it’s behaving in a blood-curdling, utterly horrifying way, such that it would make a slasher movie writer blanch. For purely scientific reasons, of course. Check here and here to whet your purely scientific curiosity.

Off hand, I don’t know what unspeakable horrors the innocent-looking carpenter ants have committed to deserve this, but check this out:

“How the Zombie Fungus Takes Over Ants’ Bodies to Control Their Minds.” As in:

Attacks of the Brain-Controlling Parasites | WIRED
This is a dead carpenter ant clinging to a leaf. That thing on its head is the fruiting body of a fungus. Said fungus infected the ant, took over its body, had it climb up high enough to maximize fungal growth and spore dispersion. Over an ant trail. It then converted ant-flesh to fungus and released its spores. The cycle repeats.

The subheading piles on thus: “The infamous parasite’s methods are more complex and more sinister than anyone suspected.”

Image result for count rugen
I’m sure you’ve discovered my deep and abiding interest in ants.

Okee-dokee, then. So Nature has produced, via, one supposes, the tender ministrations of Natural Selection, funguses that infect ants’ – oh, let’s just go there, cut to the chase – YOUR body, paralyze your mind so that you are reduced to a mute witness to your own long, horrid and painful destruction, causes you to shamble about for its own purposes – then devours you from the inside out, reducing your soft, Western-raised flesh to its own offspring – and then causes your body to sprout hideous protrusions to release them so that they may do the same to your loved ones. Got that?

More or less. I may have extrapolated a little. You  probably have nothing to worry about. For now. Sleep tight.

Here’s how the folks at the Atlantic put it:

When the fungus infects a carpenter ant, it grows through the insect’s body, draining it of nutrients and hijacking its mind. Over the course of a week, it compels the ant to leave the safety of its nest and ascend a nearby plant stem. It stops the ant at a height of 25 centimeters—a zone with precisely the right temperature and humidity for the fungus to grow. It forces the ant to permanently lock its mandibles around a leaf. Eventually, it sends a long stalk through the ant’s head, growing into a bulbous capsule full of spores. And because the ant typically climbs a leaf that overhangs its colony’s foraging trails, the fungal spores rain down onto its sisters below, zombifying them in turn.

For the sake of brevity, we will let pass the question of if ants have minds in any meaningful sense (It is part of the modern project to insist that minds and brains are the same thing. The insistence is instantiated via pretending there isn’t any question.). The reason these poor ants are back in the news (how are they ever off the news, BTW? Why aren’t there 24×7 cable and YouTube channels devoted to this? Has Capitalism let me down *again*?!?) is that there also exists in Nature the kind of researchers who will a) devote their lives to the study of this fungus; b) gather infected ant bodies in the jungle; c) cut these bodies up into 50-micron thick slices; and d) study said slices under electron microscopes until they have some idea exactly how the fungus works its evil magic.

Turns out:

Whenever Hughes or anyone else discusses the zombie-ant fungus, they always talk about it as a single entity, which corrupts and subverts a host. But you could also think of the fungus as a colony, much like the ants it targets. Individual microscopic cells begin life alone but eventually come to cooperate, fusing into a superorganism. Together, these brainless cells can commandeer the brain of a much larger creature.

But surprisingly, they can do that without ever physically touching the brain itself. Hughes’s team found that fungal cells infiltrate the ant’s entire body, including its head, but they leave its brain untouched. There are other parasites that manipulate their hosts without destroying their brains, says Kelly Weinersmithfrom Rice University. For example, one flatworm forms a carpet-like layer over the brain of the California killifish, leaving the brain intact while forcing the fish to behave erratically and draw the attention of birds—the flatworm’s next host. “But manipulation of ants by Ophiocordyceps is so exquisitely precise that it is perhaps surprising that the fungus doesn’t invade the brain of its host,” Weinersmith says.

In retrospect, that makes sense. “If such parasites were merely invading and destroying neuronal tissue, I don’t think the manipulated behaviors that we observe would be as compelling as they are,” says Charissa de Bekker from the University of Central Florida. “Something much more intricate must be going on.” She notes that the fungus secretes a wide range of chemicals that could influence the brain from afar.

So what we have here is a hostile takeover of a uniquely malevolent kind. Enemy forces invading a host’s body and using that body like a walkie-talkie to communicate with each other and influence the brain from afar. Hughes thinks the fungus might also exert more direct control over the ant’s muscles, literally controlling them “as a puppeteer controls as a marionette doll.” Once an infection is underway, he says, the neurons in the ant’s body—the ones that give its brain control over its muscles—start to die. Hughes suspects that the fungus takes over. It effectively cuts the ant’s limbs off from its brain and inserts itself in place, releasing chemicals that force the muscles there to contract. If this is right, then the ant ends its life as a prisoner in its own body. Its brain is still in the driver’s seat, but the fungus has the wheel.

(Note how we switch back to talking about brains without even pumping the breaks? That’s how moderns ‘win’ arguments – by pretending they don’t exist. But I digress…)

This article is so judgemental! The fungus is not ‘sinister’ or ‘malevolent’ or any other of the many harsh terms applied to it by the Atlantic writer. It’s just doing it’s thing – to ants we’d promptly wash away with bleach and rags if they set foot in our houses. Yet, here we are, all high and mighty! It’s stuff like this that separates the *real* nature lovers from squeamish posers!

Image result for captain picard
Captain Jean-Luc Picard: Doctor, the sperm whale on Earth devours millions of cuttlefish as it roams the oceans. It is not evil; it is feeding. The same may be true of the Entity.
Dr. Kila Marr: That would be small comfort for those who have died to feed it. We’re not talking about cuttlefish; we’re talking about people!
Captain Jean-Luc Picard: I would argue that the Crystalline Entity has as much right to be here as we do. 
Dr. Kila Marr:  Well then, step the hell right up to the front of the lunch line, Captain Cuttlefish! Don’t let me and my unevolved survival instincts slow you down. (mumbles: Pompous ass…)*

*may not be the canonical version of that dialogue. But it should be.

2. Finally got some rain. Over an inch and a half in the last 24 hours, which in California nearly qualifies as a epic storm. All in, for the season we’re a couple inches into our supposed average of around 17 inches. Good start.

For my part, I’m predicting another 1862 event, as discussed briefly here by Michael Flynn. Why? Well, why not? First, I heard somewhere that weather years, just like daily weather, tend to travel in packs – the best predictor of tomorrow’s weather is today’s weather; the best predictor of next year’s weather is this year’s weather. If it’s cold and rainy today, it’s more than likely to be cold and rainy tomorrow, and so on.

Thus, since the 2016-2017 California rainy season was EPIC! I’m going with predicting the 2017-2018 season will be MEGA EPIC!! Why let the Bible-thumper End Times dudes have all the fun? Seriously, let’s hope not, as California’s infrastructure, especially the dams, irrigation canals, water systems and aging levees (you knew California has a LOT of levees, right? No?) are in no way ready for it, and would probably be destroyed. So, no, let’s not – except I want to be on record having predicted it, just in case. Consistency, hobgoblins, and all that.

How it works: every few hundred years, the educated guesses go, that whole atmospheric river thing starts dipping into its major stash of steroids, and you get, using the 1861-1862 season for example, 43 straight days of pounding rain spread across the entire state. You get 250% of the snowpack, and many feet of rain on the western slopes of the Sierra. The Central Valley, into which ALL the rivers coming out of the western slopes of the Sierra drain, and which, in turn drains ONLY out the Sacramento River Delta into San Francisco Bay, turns into a giant lake. Over the century and a half since 1862, miles and miles of levees have been built in the delta, turning hundreds of square miles of wetlands into farmland – much of which is below river level, and all of which is below flood level.

Meanwhile, many urban water systems have been built along the river and delta – the one my house gets its water from, for example – that, should the river flood and the old, poorly maintained levees break, would be washed away, clogged up, or, when the flood water recedes, flooded with the salt water that is what makes up the bulk of the San Francisco Bay Estuary and which is currently held back from reaching the drinking water supply by those same levees. And SoCal gets a huge portion of its water via aqueducts that are fed, ultimately, from the dams in the Sierra – which are not likely to survive a megastorm.

Ugly. Just like the drivers this morning who honked at me, first because I did not close the two car length gap that opened up on the light change with sufficient alacrity, second because I had the temerity to change lanes into the space the honker had let open up in front of him – the nerve! Californians do not, alas, respond well to the traffic jams these early storm inevitably create.

Frou Frou Office Snack Update: Seaweed

Sanity, as much as is ever found in the La-La land of tech, has prevailed. The late and lamentable Virtue-Signal ™ brand snacks dissected here and here have been burned through, and a brief chat with the office manager has discovered that they will not be being reordered. (She did mention that each species is available separately and much cheaper via Amazon, if there’s a particular kind anybody liked. Not going there myself, unless there’s some sort of delayed addiction coded into the Blueberry/Vanilla/Kale skeet that causes cocaine-level withdrawal symptoms – I almost wouldn’t put it past the hippies that make these abominations. But I digress…)

Turns out the seaweed snacks I’d seen previously had not, in fact, been a part of that particular order, but some had migrated, somehow, to the snack-food Serengeti that was the Cardboard Box of Virtue Snacks, from whence they were consumed – before I got to try them. In the name of Science! and all.

Well, well – a fresh snack shipment came in today from CostCo, which included:


The open package to the left is Ocean’s Halo Maui Onion flavored seaweed. First up for testing.

The operative word here is weed, as in a plant that’s in the way of whatever you’re really doing. But Science! must march on!

As a kid, went to the beach a lot (1), as it was 20 minutes away and I was a kid with older siblings dying to use that fresh driver’s license at any occasion. There were even Whittier to Huntington Beach buses one could catch, but we rarely did that. Instead, I and a bunch of kids from the neighborhood would just pile into the back of our old powder blue station wagon – older sis who was driving and her friends usually got the seats. We were sliding loose in a way that would horrify modern safety-niks as we drove down the 605 singing along with the radio as loud as we could. (Somehow, we all reached adulthood anyway.)

I mention this because the smell of the seaweed when I first open the package reminds me of the areas of the beach we would avoid. The areas where seaweed had washed ashore.

Seaweed was gross! Stank, covered with little flies, and would get tangled on your feet. Eat it? I think not!

But for Science! my love:

It’s – OK. The good parts are that it can curb your salt jones at only 20 calories a box. On the downside, it tastes like seaweed.

So far, I’ve eaten the Maui Onion sheets, and have tasted a couple of the Sea Salt offering. Seems an acquired taste. I think I could acquire it (love sushi rolls, and they have this exact stuff in them often as not…)

Further updates as events warrant.

  1. Such that, as an adult, I’m on way too familiar terms with my dermatologist, who regularly gazes, pokes and prods and has cut chunks – once, and alarmingly large chunk – of ME off my body.

Virtue-Signalling Snack Food Update

I can totally feel your breathless curiosity even from here: well? What high-end frou-frou snacks did your coworkers eat over the last 2 weeks, and which did they shun?

As of Friday morning:


ALL the Blueberry (13th listed ingredient) Vanilla (16th) Kale (15th) LivBars done got et! As did ALL the seaweed snacks (I didn’t even get to try them! Boohoo!). So what are the 7 items above that fell, somehow, even below those ‘hand made’ ‘organic’ ‘GMO-free’ etc. goodies?

  1. Three (3) Grab the Gold pucks. These really are pucks. I’ve even eaten a couple. Apart from being sugar calorie bombs (as granola-based items strongly tend to be), they were pretty good.  Verdict: These are worse than seaweed and kale? My coworkers are sadly mistaken. IMG_4178
  2.  Two (2) Go Raw Sprouted Watermelon seeds. OK, this one I kind of understand. Have not tried them myself. IMG_4179
  3. One (1) Beans.  This, too does not passeth understanding. IMG_4181
  4. One (1) Sweet & Salty Kettle Corn – huh? (yea, it’s sideway – so sue me.)IMG_4182

So, there you are. The LivBars and seaweed did last to near the end, then, somehow, were more appealing to my coworkers than kettle corn and collapsed-star level dense granola pucks.

Further study is required.