Monday, September 23, 2013

History of the Feather Duster

Disclaimer: This is not about the history of all Feather Dusters.  This is the history of a particular feather duster.  If you are looking for the history of all feather dusters, you should go to this link.

Let's see. The year was 1986. That was the year that Chernobyl blew up.  We found out about the Iran Contra affair. "Out of Africa" won the Oscar for best picture.  And oh yeah, that was the year that I went to Army basic training.

I showed up at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri on a Greyhound Bus with a bunch of other young guys. None of us knew what we were getting into, but we were all trying to act brave and act like there was nothing the Army could do to us.  The first couple of days were pretty easy.  Short haircuts.  Bags of uniforms and Army guy stuff.  Learning how to march in a straight line.  All pretty easy.  My buddies and I were starting to think that all of the horror stories we had heard about Army basic training were just a bunch of hooey. Of course we hadn't even reported to our training unit yet.  We were just at the reception station.  But what did we know?

On the third day, we lined up in front of our barracks and waited for the cattle truck to come and pick us up to take us to our training unit.  For those of you who have never experienced a cattle truck, it is an eighteen wheel trailer with rudimentary benches and metal monkey bars welded into the inside so that you had something to hang on to.  The truck that showed up for us was rated for about 50 people.  We instead stuffed in about 100 people along with two large duffle bags each.  The drill sergeant who rode along with us was very nice.  He told us that he was happy to meet us.  He told us all about the nice building that we would be living in.  He really made us feel comfortable even though there were one hundred young men stuffed into a space designed for fifty. We noticed though that as our trip continued, the very nice drill sergeant became more and more gruff and more and more agitated.

By the time we pulled up in front of our training unit, that very nice drill sergeant was now a very angry sounding drill sergeant.  And the worst part was that apparently he had a bunch of drill sergeant buddies and they seemed even more angry than he was.  One of my fellow recruits tripped while climbing down out of the cattle truck and by this point we were so scared that each and every one of us walked right across his back in an effort to comply with the drill sergeants demands.  He wasn't hurt mind you because the large duffle bag strapped across his back provided lots of cushion.

We all ran to the front of the barracks and got in line whilst the very angry drill sergeant and his very angry drill sergeant buddies proceeded to tell us how very displeased they were by our performance.  And to drive the point home we got the opportunity to do some mandatory physical fitness training exercises.  For those of you who have never participated in army calisthenics in the middle of summer in Missouri, think hot yoga but not as relaxing.

So after the mandatory physical fitness training, we then had a shake down inspection.  This is where you dump everything out of your duffle bags onto the ground and then pick up one item at a time so that a) the drill sergeant knows that you have those things that you are supposed to have and b) so that the drill sergeant knows that you don't have any things that you are not supposed to have.  There was an entire list of contraband items.  Some of the contraband items were common sense things including knives, guns, drugs, alcohol, etc.  So after putting all of the required things in our bags, the drill sergeants then came around and inspected all of the remaining items to decide if the recruits would be allowed to keep them or not.  Personal letters and family photos were allowed.  Adult magazines were not allowed.

I'm sure that the drill sergeants had done the shake down inspections a hundred times and probably thought that they had seen everything.  There was one item though that seem to have them perplexed.  It was a feather duster.  Yes, I had to get to the feather duster eventually.

One of my 18 year old army recruit buddies brought a feather duster with him to basic training.  When we asked him about it afterwards, he stated that he only wanted to make sure that he passed the barracks inspections, and he was sure that the feather duster was exactly the tool that would help him accomplish this task. But on that day in the middle of the summer in the middle of Missouri, everything came to a stop because of the feather duster.  Those drill sergeants who could crawl through the mud with a knife between their teeth and take out a enemy sentry in the middle of the night were perplexed by the private with a feather duster.  What kind of 18 year old young man even owns a feather duster?

The drill sergeants were convinced that no good could come from the feather duster.  So they made the private take the feather duster to the First Sergeant's office and had him ask the First Sergeant if it was OK for him to keep the feather duster.  The First Sergeant said, "No" and that he didn't believe that any red blooded young man had any legitimate need of a feather duster.  And then he had the young soldier do some more mandatory physical fitness training for being dumb enough to take a feather duster with him to basic training.

Most soldiers in basic training end up with some sort of nickname from their drill sergeants.  Sometimes it is the place where they are from like "Montana" or "Cincinnati."  Sometimes the nickname denotes a physical characteristic like "Tubby" or "Bean Pole".  And sometimes the nickname that you get on the first day and keep for the rest of your time at basic training is "Feather Duster."

So, this is a cautionary tale for any young men and women who are heading off to do their initial training in one of the armed services.  Do not take any special cleaning equipment with you.  No lemon pledge.  No dyson vacuum cleaners.  And last, but certainly not least, no feather dusters.  I promise you that you do not want to take a feather duster with you to basic training.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Ceiling Patterns

Have you ever noticed that when you stare a the ceiling for a while that patterns start to emerge?  Not that I do this very often mind you, but every once in a while, I take a break and lay on the bed and just let my mind wonder.  And just when my mind hits that relaxed idle state, all of a sudden the ceiling pattern looks exactly like my great Aunt Catherine.

It's kind of like laying in a hammock in the back yard and  looking at Clouds.  Sooner or later those clouds will start looking like elephants or trains or even Abraham Lincoln.  The psychological term for this is Pareidolia which is the phenomenon involving a vague and random stimulus (often an image or sound) being perceived as significant, a form of apophenia. Common examples include seeing images of animals or faces in clouds, the man in the moon or the Moon rabbit, and hearing hidden messages on records when played in reverse.

 One famous case of this is the so called face of man on Mars image.


In 1976, NASA's Viking 1 spacecraft was circling the planet, snapping photos of possible landing sites for its sister ship Viking 2, when it spotted the shadowy likeness of a human face. An enormous head nearly two miles from end to end seemed to be staring back at the cameras from a region of the Red Planet called Cydonia. For decades, scientists and conspiracy theorists debated whether or not the face of man on Mars was definitive proof that intelligent life had once lived on the red planet.

25 years later, the mystery was finally solved.  The Mars Global Surveyor took a photograph of the exact same region.  Instead of a face, the image showed an eroded hilltop.

So there you have it.  Whether we are looking at pattern on the ceiling or clouds or faces on Mars, the human mind is wired to turn those patterns into something it can comprehend.  Carl Sagan hypothesized that as a survival technique, human beings are "hard-wired" from birth to identify the human face. This allows people to use only minimal details to recognize faces from a distance and in poor visibility but can also lead them to interpret random images or patterns of light and shade as being faces. The evolutionary advantages of being able to discern friend from foe with split-second accuracy are numerous; prehistoric (and even modern) men and women who accidentally identify an enemy as a friend could face deadly consequences for this mistake. This is only one among many evolutionary pressures responsible for the development of the facial recognition capability of modern humans.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Pretzel Buns

Disclaimer - This post is about the proliferation of pretzel buns in US restaurants.
If you are looking to purchase pretzel buns, this is the link you are looking for.

If you would like to learn about the history of the pretzel, go here.

Have you ever noticed that certain foods in restaurants tend to crop up as a fad?  Prior to the last month or two, I had never heard of nor had I imagined eating a sandwich on a pretzel.  Now I can't surf the TV Channels without running into a commercial that doesn't feature a sandwich on a pretzel bun.  It's like the head buyers in all of the restaurants went to some kind of trade show and latched onto the pretzel bun as the next big thing.  This year the guy at the pretzel bun booth must have made a pretty big splash because he convinced nearly every restaurant in the United States that they had to add pretzel buns to their menu.

Of course, I understand. What's not to like about a pretzel with all of it's warm, delicious, yummieness? But I am going to have to deduct points for originality.  In the last hour, I have seen pretzel buns at Ruby Tuesday, Wendy's, Dunkin Donuts, and Sonics.

Are you hungry for a pretzel bun sandwich yet?  Here is another commercial for you.

Seeing all of these pretzel buns made me wonder if all of the restaurants purchase their buns from the same supplier?

A little research leads me to believe that there are multiple vendors who sell pretzel buns including.

If you are interested in making your own pretzel buns, here is a recipe for you.


  • 1 cup warm water (105°F to 115°F) 
  • 1 (1/4-ounce) envelope active dry yeast (2 1/4 teaspoons) 
  • Vegetable oil 
  • 2 3/4 cups bread flour, plus more for dusting the work surface 
  • 1 tablespoon granulated sugar 
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more for sprinkling 
  • 6 cups water 
  • 1/4 cup baking soda 

 INSTRUCTIONS Place the warm water in the bowl of a stand mixer and sprinkle the yeast on top. Set aside to rest until the mixture bubbles, about 5 minutes. (If the mixture does not bubble, either the liquid was not at the correct temperature or the yeast is old.) Meanwhile, coat a large mixing bowl with a thin layer of vegetable oil and set aside. Place the flour, sugar, and measured salt in a large bowl and whisk briefly to break up any lumps and combine. Once the yeast is ready, fit the bowl on the mixer, attach a dough hook, and dump in the flour mixture. Mix on the lowest setting until the dough comes together, then increase to medium speed and mix until the dough is elastic and smooth, about 8 minutes. Form the dough into a ball, place in the oiled mixing bowl, and turn the dough to coat in oil. Cover with a clean, damp dishtowel and let rest in a warm place until the dough doubles in size, about 30 to 35 minutes. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper, coat the paper with vegetable oil, and set aside. Once the dough has risen, punch it down and knead it on a floured, dry surface just until it becomes smooth and springs back when poked, about 1 minute. Divide the dough into 8 pieces and form into oblong rolls. Place the rolls on the baking sheet and cut 4 (2-inch) diagonal slashes across the top of each. Cover with a damp towel and let the dough rise in a warm place until almost doubled in volume, about 15 to 20 minutes. Meanwhile, heat the oven to 425°F and bring the 6 cups of water to a boil in a large saucepan over high heat. Once the rolls have risen, stir the baking soda into the boiling water (the water will foam up slightly). Boil two or three rolls for 2 minutes per side. Using a slotted spoon, remove the rolls, drain, and place on the baking sheet, cut side up. Sprinkle well with salt and repeat with the remaining rolls. Once all the rolls are ready, place in the oven and bake until golden brown, about 10 to 12 minutes. Serve hot.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Slow Boat To China

The title of my story is a head nod to "(I'd Like to Get You on a) Slow Boat to China" which was a song by Frank Loesser, published in 1948 and performed by a number of other entertainers over the years. Technically, my story is not about about a slow boat to China but rather a slow boat from China which while similar, is in actuality, an entirely different thing.

In the off chance that you came here looking for information about the Slow Boat To China, here is the link you are looking for.  I only make that disclaimer, because I had a crazy adventure with a post a few years ago about putting a bug in your ear.

So back to my story.  I recently ordered a couple of disco light bulbs in preparation for my Halloween Decorations.  The Lights I ordered are the Generic RGB Crystal Ball Effect Light E27 LED Rotating Stage Lighting For Disco DJ Party.

These lights are inexpensive and they received good reviews.  They are exactly what I was looking for to spice up my Halloween decor.  The only thing I failed to read in the fine print is that these lights ship from China. Now I know what most of you are probably thinking right now.  Everything comes from China. While I may concede that point, most of the things we purchase do make their own way across the Ocean and we just have to get them the last few miles.  These lights however are traveling the whole way from China because I yelled, "olly olly in come free".

Currently the lights are sitting in Shenzhen, China.

View Larger Map

I have no idea how long these lights will take to travel from China to Alabama, but I'm sure they will have quite an adventure. Luckily I ordered these lights well in advance of when I actually needed them.  So if anyone reading this post is currently on a slow boat from China, please say hello to my new disco lights for me.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Halloween Preparations

OK, it is about that time of year.  I need to start working on my preparation for Halloween.

Don't mind me, but I'm going to use this blog for my personal Halloween checklist. If I forget anything critical, please leave me a comment.  

OK, first I need some goodies for the little ghoulies and ghosties.
    ☑Cheap Plastic Toys from China 
         ☑Monsters on parachutes
         ☑Halloween Bubbles
    ♼Pack up bags

Next, I need the decorations

    ♼Spider webs
    ♼Graveyard Scene
    ♼Killer in Window with strobe light
    ♼Fog Machine
    ♼Light Show Components from Light O Rama
       ♼Lots of orange lights
       ♼Lots of purple lights
       ♼New disco lights
    ♼Spooky Playlist Synchronized to Lights

Here is the layout for the graveyard scene

This layout has a total of 32 light channels 

Then I need to keep track of how many trick or treaters come around.

Here are my stats from previous years.

In 2012 we had a total of 71 Trick or Treaters. Most of them can between 6:15 and 7:15.  This year's Halloween is on a Thursday night. I should be able to top that number.

OK, that is the plan so far.  Let me know if I am forgetting anything.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Zombies Run

So, one moment you are minding your own business and then all of a sudden you are being chased by zombies.  I don't care how much of a couch potato you are, when you are being chased by zombies, you pick up the pace.  That is the premise behind Zombies Run, an interactive running app for your iPhone or Android.  In the story, you are Runner 5. Hundreds of lives are counting on you. You've got to help your base rebuild from the ruins of civilization by collecting critical supplies while avoiding roving zombie hordes. Can you save them and learn the truth about the zombie apocalypse?

I've spent lots of money on crazy things over the years including gym memberships, workout equipment, special shoes and special clothes.  I even bought one of those thing that provided an electric shock to your gut.  Now that was crazy!  Having tried so many other schemes to convince myself to get up off of the couch, having zombies chase me doesn't seem so crazy now does it?  So I spent $3.99 on the Zombies Run App.  

I've been using it for a week now and I can tell you that if nothing else, I've gotten up off the couch to go running more often with the app than without the app.  Will that keep me going after the novelty wears off?  I don't know, but I will keep you informed.

So what exactly goes on in the Zombies Run App.  First you enter a little information about yourself.  Your weight, and how long do you want your missions to last.  The choices are 30 and 60 minutes.  Next you have to download the missions.  Each mission is an audio file that plays intermittently while you are running. As you may have surmised, the Audio is something like, "Hey, there are Zombies chasing you."  Does that sound cheesy to you?  You would be surprised how easily you can convince yourself that zombies are chasing you with the stereo audio of zombie moans and footsteps while running at night.

The program also has an element where you can collect supplies and build a base with the points you earn. This adds a little extra encouragement to go the distance.

My review: I give Zombies Run 4 out of 5 stars.  It is easily worth $4.  My only deduction is that the mission files won't load over my wifi network.  If I can find a way to fix that, I will boost this app up to 5 stars.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Signs, Signs, Everywhere Signs

Blocking out the scenery, breaking my mind, do this, don't do that, can't you read the signs......

So the local greenway has been under construction literally for a decade.  Sometime a year goes by and no one shows up do to any construction.  No sweat.  The local residents just use the one mile or so that is mostly done.  And the neighborhood kids use the greenway to walk to the elementary school.  It's very convenient.  5 minute walk vs 30 minute bus ride.  But apparently there is going to be some small amount of construction taking place soon because these signs showed up.  Mary and I were going to chance walking on the greenway anyway, but we didn't have any bail money with us and I am too pretty to go to jail.