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An explosion was heard in rural Sussex over the weekend

Been on a bean streak lately. You know, dried beans, soak ’em overnight, cook ’em with fatback. It’s probably a variety of homesickness; I come from a bean eating people.

When I went away to college, I had to call my mother and ask her, “when we have a bowl of beans…what exactly kind of beans are those?” At the time, my ignorance embarrassed me, but turns out it’s not such a dumb question. There are many varieties of small white bean, and recipes play fast and loose with the definitions.

The one I was looking for was probably the navy bean, which is called that because we stuffed American sailors full of them in the late 19th, early 20th. And I know that’s true, because I’ve just reached the point in Norman Rockwell’s autobiography where he joins the navy, and he describes desperately painting portraits if the officers to ingratiate himself and escape the endless beans in the regular mess. Poor bastards.

Those beans are called haricot beans here and they are the base bean for Heinz baked beans. Yup, hard to believe those vile neon orange fuckers are made out of the innocent white navy bean, but it’s true.

One of our local markets put a bunch of beans on the reduced rack — the more exotic varieties just weren’t selling, I guess — so I have some new and wonderful beans to try. I’m especially looking forward to adzuki beans, which are little read beans used in desserts in the East.

Why I thought you might like to spend the weekend here talking about beans, I couldn’t say, but allow me to recommend the Bean Institute‘s quarterly newsletter if the conversation runs dry. Good weekend, beaners!

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February 28, 2014 — 10:45 pm
Comments: 45

For your delectation, a whole lotta suck

Anorak has a feature on the 13 worst recordings of the 1960s, and they illustrate it with this album cover of Mrs Miller (that one. Up there. At the top of this post).

Any mention of Mrs Miller lights up a whole row of braincells, a bright line of musical suckery from Florence Foster Jenkins to Wing.

Thanks to a link Oceania provided (I know, I know), I can inform you that for under twenty bucks, Wing will phone you up at your appointed time and place and sing to you. I realize people of good musical taste shrink from this sort of thing, but fuck it — I’m a banjo player. I listened to samples of Wing’s catalog the other night until I laughed like Muttley.

If you’ve ever wondered what happened to William Hung, he’s now a crime scene investigator for the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. So, living the CSI: dream, bitchez.

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February 27, 2014 — 11:31 pm
Comments: 15

My ladybits need this

Ladies and gentlemen, Viktor Yanukovich’s gold-encrusted bidet. You know, the ex-president of Ukraine who just did a runner.

I was a little uncomfortable with protestors raiding his house, but it turns out his official salary was less than $22,500 a year and — holy cow, you should see this place.

They’re dredging papers out of his personal lake that help document the corruption, and corruption it certainly is. He’s been in government since 1996, and before that he was regional head of a trucking company for twenty years, and before that he was a petty criminal, apparently. The ex-prosecutor-general Viktor Pshonka has skipped town, too, leaving a lavish palace behind.

Gold. Encrusted. Bidet. It’s a pity you can’t buy good taste.

p.s. Not, let’s be frank, that our lot are much better. There’s no possible way a legislator can rack up millions in office that doesn’t involve something very crooked and wrong.

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February 26, 2014 — 11:45 pm
Comments: 12

*sulk*

A tree fell on me today. It wasn’t a very big tree, and I was whaling away on it with a hammer and a masonry chisel at the time, so it had justification. Still. When a tree falls on one, one feels one has the right to sulk.

So I’m sulking.

And drinking.

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February 25, 2014 — 11:34 pm
Comments: 20

+1 fang damage

Somehow I’ve been a geek and a gameplayer all these years without getting sucked into a Magic: The Gathering type collectible card game. Welp, I’ve done it now — I’ve been playing Blizzard’s Hearthstone, which is currently in free beta (and it had better stay free to play, because I’m enjoying it, but not enough to pay money for it).

If you have no effing idea what I’m talking about, these are strategy card games based around fantasy (and sometimes scifi) type themes. I suppose they’re derivative of the old pencil-and-paper type D&D games (which I also never got sucked into). They’re easy to play and hard to play well. If you hit the link above, you can see a video example of gameplay. Though, if you have no effing idea what I’m talking about, you probably could not possibly care less. And that’s okay.

Anyhoo, the part that I don’t get is the appeal of rare or legendary cards. People pay big bucks for rare cards with unusual attributes (this is possible to do with both physical cards and virtual ones). I mean, I can understand wanting them as works of art, but not for gameplay. What’s the fun of a strategy game, if everyone doesn’t have access to the same deck?

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February 24, 2014 — 11:52 pm
Comments: 12

All them nekkid ladies

Did you see, somebody over here might have cracked the Voynich manuscript? If that doesn’t ring a bell, you’d probably know it if you saw it — it’s one of those perennial old mysteries at the heart of Ripley’s Believe it or Not and such like.

It’s a manuscript from the early 1400’s in a completely unique and undecipherable language. Lots of cryptographers and linguists have had a go at working it out, without any success what-so-ever. The pictures are mostly of plants that were contemporary herbal remedies, so it’s thought to be a pharmacopeia of some kind. But then there are other illustrations, like these naked ladies and things that look like astronomic (or astrologic) charts.

Up to now, one of the leading theories was that the whole thing was a fake, perhaps by Voynich himself — the antiquities dealer who turned it up in 1912. There are characteristics — like doubled and tripled words — that are very unlanguage-like. The fact that nobody could crack a word of it probably pissed everybody off, too. But that always struck me as extremely unlikely — writing out 250 pages of nonsense, using proper ancient materials, and drawings and calligraphy appropriate to the age, without once breaking character? Nah.

According to the BBC article, the ‘breakthrough’ was some kind of statistical analysis of the word patterns, which sounds very boring. Cue learned men huffing and pooh-poohing.

But the Daily Mail’s version sounds much more interesting (*shakes fist at Daily Mail*). They interviewed Bax, the scientist, who said he’d taken the known Arabic words for some of the herbs illustrated and managed to find them near the appropriate illustration. He says he has decoded Juniper, Taurus, Coriander, Centaurea, Chiron, Hellebore Nigella Sativa, Kesar and Cotton. That’s better.

If you’re interested, the Wikipedia rundown on the thing is as good as any.

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February 22, 2014 — 12:10 am
Comments: 11

Chiphenge

Artist makes middling sculptures out of chips and peas. These were commissioned by the Potato Council in honor of Chip Week 2014, which I somehow missed. Again.

Actually, this lady will make any sculpture out of any food. Or non-food items. Or, whatever. Please, just give her something to do already.

The peas in question are mushy peas, which are — yes — peas that have been mushed. It’s a *little* (but not much) more complicated than that. You take marrowfat peas — big peas that have been allowed to dry in the field instead of being picked young in the pod — soak them overnight in water and baking soda, and cook them down to a paste with a pinch of salt and sugar.

Yeah, fuck it, mushed up peas. They aren’t bad. They don’t taste bad. They just taste…pointless.

Still, they make pretty good mortar in chip sculpture. I guess.

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February 20, 2014 — 11:42 pm
Comments: 28

And then there’s this…

So I missed this at Christmas, somehow: The Stinky Candle Company. It’s a startup in suburban Chicago that specializes in candles with…unusual fragrances. Gasoline, car exhaust, body odor (if I lit a candle that smelled like gasoline, I bet I’d run around in circles going, “omigod, omigod, omigod!” until somebody threw a bucket of water over me).

I often wonder what becomes of a company like this, built entirely around a novelty idea. Once the novelty goes, what’s its staying power?

I think they see that coming, though. Not all of the candles are truly stinky. There are…I’d say neutral-to-arguably-pleasant smells like dill pickles, leather, wood, number two pencils and fireworks. And there are some distinctly nice scented ones like fast food, chicken, wine, coconut or blueberries. Whether these things truly smell like those things, I couldn’t say.

Luca Turin says that the people who create scents for household products like candles, detergent or (especially) foodstuffs have the hardest job in the scent industry. That’s because their stuff has to be non-toxic, cheap, available in bulk and pleasant to smell. That’s a lot to ask of a chemical.

If I haven’t already, let me recommend Turin’s book The Secret of Scent: Adventures in Perfume and the Science of Smell. I’m not even all that into smells, and I found this a really interesting read.

And no, that’s not because civet cats are mustelids, like weasels. They are, in fact, viverrids, like mongooses.

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February 19, 2014 — 11:24 pm
Comments: 11

Giant Pooh clogs Scottish sewer

You know when I’m recycling cheap jokes from the Anorak, I’m trying to fob you off with the very best. (Bonus: article at the link briefly explains the phenomenon of “poophoria”).

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February 18, 2014 — 11:06 pm
Comments: 8

George and Abraham, sittin’ in a tree…

When I did that “George Washington’s dentures” post last week, I totally forgot we celebrate the big guy’s birthday today.

This bit of high Victorian kitsch is called “The Apotheosis.” Gosh, our great grandparents were weird, weren’t they?

I read a lot of hundred year old books. This is partly because I like them and more than partly because I’m too cheap to pay for Kindle books that are still in copyright. Anyway, I always say: if you want to understand a particular time period, don’t read books about the era, read books from the era. And, frankly, a hundred years is about as far as you can go back before the syntax gets all scratchy and hard. Well, two hundred, maybe.

Anyway, I can’t help being struck by how unimaginable they would find our times. Not technologically — some of them did a pretty good job guessing where science might take us (in fact, if anything, they were overly optimistic) — but socially, ye gods. How everything has changed.

Then the next exercise is to try to imagine what it is about our times that our grandchildren will find amazing, silly or obviously flat wrong. We can’t, of course. We’re too much of our own time to see it. It’s like trying to stick your elbow in your ear.

What the science fiction guys do is extrapolate trends out in a straight line. But that’s not how social history works. Not consistently, anyway. Some things trend and some things swing back and forth and we’re lousy at guessing which will do what.

And then there’s Bigfoot. It’s only since I’ve moved over here I’ve come to a sense of how much the two World Wars smashed up the place. The society, I mean — they recovered from the property damage pretty quickly. I don’t think the Black Death rattled people the way the 20th Century did, in total.

Speaking of Yersinia pestis — does anybody else have that itchy feeling that we are way, way overdue for that next plague or comet or rain of frogs?

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February 17, 2014 — 11:16 pm
Comments: 19