The Infestation

Written because Mom requested it. She never specified non-fiction!

The Infestation

My sponsor stood up. “I’d like to introduce a friend of mine: Doctor Power.” There was polite applause as I walked to the front of the room.

Oddly, it’s less nerve-wracking to speak in front of an audience if they’re all wearing masks. “I’ve thought long and hard about what my first act of counterheroism should be. Although I’d like to branch out into other areas eventually, I’m a botanist by trade, and so my first plan is a simple one. I am currently breeding a variety of dandelion adapted for the climate of central Florida. Additionally, it will have the hardiness necessary to out-compete St. Augustine Grass. (As you know, St. Augustine Grass is notoriously weed-resistant, which...”

I acknowledged a raised hand from an angular red-and-black mask. “Isn’t this a little bit … small-scale?”

“I’ll admit it’s not very flashy, but it has long term potential. Your ‘doom robot’ might kill a few citizens, but that’ll just make room for more population growth. A regional invasive species infestation has the potential to last forever! It symbolizes loss of control! And then the frustration! Pesticides!”

“But daisies—”

“Dandelions! Not daisies! And this is even if Super Super doesn’t fly up and smash your robot when—”

A frog mask interrupted. “Super Super is a ringer! She’ll move to one of the Northeastern metro conferences in eighteen months, at most.”

Another mask: “That is bush league thinking! Super Super in an opportunity for us to show just how important the Southern and Central Florida Counterheroic Guild is!”

There was a long period of arguing before the conversation got back on track.

Captain Carnage delivered the final verdict. “It’s not the place of the Counterheroic Guild to pre-authorize acts of counterheroism. Doctor Power may design and deploy daffodils—”


“—dandelions, and we’ll judge whether such an act merits inclusion after it has been completed. Perhaps the results will surprise us! Doctor Power, do your worst.”

The doom robot was sabotaged; it wound up picking up its creator and taking him straight to the police. Captain Carnage turned out to be a faker; her bombings had been nothing but special effects and having friends who worked at the newspaper. Linar the Destroyer fought Super Super on top of a tall building and fell to his death, but a jury acquitted Super Super of all charges. Melrock’s poison gas got switched for glitter. There aren’t enough of us to have meetings anymore, so I never got a chance to be formally inducted into the Guild.

I stand alone atop a hill in a city park, and look at all the white puffs of dandelion seed heads. It occurs to me that I should learn how to do an evil laugh.

I’m practicing how to do a “MUHAHA” that doesn’t sound fake, when I see Super Super fly in over the palm trees. She lands on top of a swingset, runs along it with her arms out, and tumbles off it and onto the base of my hill. She picks a dandelion, skips up the hill, and sits down near me.

Her voice sounds vaguely familiar. “I always liked daffodils.” She blows away all the seeds with one puff.

“You mean dandelions.”

“Dandelions, right. Well, I gotta fly. Don’t get into any trouble!”

She leaps into the air and flies north.

I won't title this post "HUMAN SACRIFICE", because that would be unsettling.

After Germany, I made a brief stopover in a little town in Massachusetts, and saw some good friends there, and the house in which I theoretically live.

I know some pretty sane-seeming people who claim to be from California1, so I tended to believe it existed. But, then again, unless you paid careful attention, you might get the impression, just from people talking about it, that "nowhere" was a specific (and also very strange) place. So I wasn't totally sure.

But I had enough faith in California to pack up four month's worth of stuff into baggage and (finally) get my room nice and clean for its new occupant. Packing for leaving the next day was going pretty well until I got a phone call from a number I didn't recognize. It turned out to be the driver, sent by the relocation company, calling from the airport, wondering where I was. Well, it wasn't California. But then again, what is California?

It was a question I pondered that night. Never does California seem more unreal than when it's the place you forgot to go to. Imagine being part of some kind of UFO cult and oversleeping the date and time of the projected arrival of the aliens. You immediately try to call your fellow cult members, but they're not picking up. You assume that it's because they're now on another plane of existence without you, but a tiny part of the back of your mind is telling you that they're actually just sitting at home, with an immense burning desire to not talk about the UFO that didn't show up.

Anyways, the UFO came back for another pass the next day, and took me to San Jose Airport. In the terminal, there was totally some dude busking with a guitar, inside the terminal area. Questions this raises: Is he, like, some kind of official vendor? Or, if not, wouldn't he have to have a boarding pass to enter the secured area? Was he, like, traveling with his guitar, and he thought "Well, I've got some time to kill, why don't I busk for a spell?"? Our flight seemed to be the only one arriving around that time. I was expecting the airport to be busier, but maybe California only exists in a sort of casual way, as a hobby or something.

From What is California?

While I was waiting for the bus to take the train to Mountain View, the flight attendants from our flight walked past us. A plane flew overhead, and one of them must have stopped to look at it, because I heard one of them say "It's just an airplane, George.". Clearly George got into the flight attendanting business for the right reason.

A warning sign on the bus read "Do not stand in designated area", but judging by the posture of faceless warning sign person, the illustrator clearly had interpreted that as "Do not chill in the designated area".

And then I took the Caltrain to Mountain View, which involved being on a train! That was great.

And then I started to write an LJ entry, but it got kind of bogged down in the middle, so I waited until I forgot about its existence.

And then I finished writing a story to submit to the second Machine of Death anthology, well over an hour before the deadline. 

Collapse )

1There was originally a digression about tense and English here, but all that's left is a vestigial link to a completely irrelevant but awesome Dinosaur Comic.

Still in Germany

Okay, that last post was actually kinda structured. Take a look at this one instead!

So, I went to the station to take a bus to the Universität. Local transportation is provided by a series of bus lines, except for line 1, a tram system. It's just like playing Traffic Giant, although I suppose it's not entirely unlike OpenTTD. Our badges also serve as transportation passes. The mechanism for this is unclear; they're not mechanically readable in any way, all they have is the logo of the local transit authority small in the corner. Except that, since we can't pick up our badges before getting the university, they thoughtfully sent us a PDF with a sample badge with the name "Holger Hermanns" labeled "SAMPLE BADGE" (except in German), which we could print out and use instead. The bus driver did not appear to be phased by this gaping security hole, and let the waiting conference attendees on the bus.

Then a lot of stuff happened. Unfortunately, most of it was people talking to each other about computer science. I'm sending daily wall-of-text reports to my advisor in an attempt to not forget everything that happens here, but I'm not so sure that he's that deeply interested. I just hope that, if he sets up a filter to automatically junk my emails, he turns it off after I get back. If you're reading this because you like having large quantities of text, I can CC you.

But Europe has my back; they know how to keep things interesting, and they do it by putting the beginning of Daylight Saving Time on the second day of the conference, right when the jet lag brigade was just starting to get a hang of what local time was. But that trick only works on boring, predictable people! I jet lag in reverse. I had gone to bed around 7pm and woken up around midnight the previous night (omitted from the story of my arrival, because (a) sleeping is boring, and (b) failing to sleeping is boring). So springing forward didn't phase me at all; it just provided a nice soft landing, which is why I was back on schedule the next day. (Does that make sense? I can't tell.)

The next day consisted of more sitting and hearing people talk about computer science, briefly interrupted by other people sitting while I talked to them about computer science. You would have been thrilled by my presentation, assuming that you have strong opinions about programming language syntax.

The next day, instead of sitting in a workshop and listening to people talk, I sat in a conference and listened to people talk. But it was in the same room, mostly:

From Springtime for Boston (and Germany)

Some of the talks have been good, and some of them have made me worried for the future of human knowledge. If they gave an award for the most-mumbled paper, there would be quite a lot of competition for the top spot among type theorists.

The Saarland Economic Promotion Corporation has hopefully provided food and drink and invites us to "invest in Saarland" (that is, they did so with, I assume, a hopeful attitude). If computer scientists had any influence on industry, I'm pretty sure that stamping out C++ would take higher priority than investing or divesting Saarland.

Doublemint from the United States is way stronger than it is here, and comes in better packaging. Just a warning.

Hi, I'm in Germany!

The problem I have with traveling alone is that I don't have anyone around to talk at. I've come up with a radical idea to solve it, though. I'll use my LJ as a record of the things that happen as they happen. A sort of "live" "journal", if you will. On account of certain time constraints, my writing may be more disjointed than usual. I did pick one grammatical tense and stick to it, though. (This is something of a problem I have.)

The nice thing about flying across the Atlantic, as opposed to flying along the East Coast, is that, thanks to the time zone change, the flight in one direction is effectively so long, it basically has to be a red-eye, leaving in the afternoon, and the flight in the other direction is so effectively short that it can leave in the afternoon and still arrive at a decent time in the evening.

I'd eaten a decent amount before I left home, but still, by the time I made it to the gate, I was starving. Christine lent me a cyberpunk book, which I tried to read, but it took me something like three minutes to understand the first sentence.

When you consider it in the abstract, the fact that people can go thirty days without food and survive suggests that one could vastly simplify a week-and-a-half trip by deciding to not eat until one gets back, maintaining a safety factor of over 2. In practice, I spent one hour taking a train and a bus, and then had to scarf down the miscellaneous food in my backpack, lest I faint walking down the jetway.

My flight to Montreal was delayed by weather (Boston doesn't let a little thing like the vernal equinox get in the way of snowing on us), but I guess a lot of people were making my connection to Frankfurt, so they held up the plane for us.

The Montreal-to-Frankfurt leg was in a Boeing 777-300. I had forgotten how spacious wide-body jets feel, with two aisles and lots and lots of overhead space. I was pretty excited about the two meals, let me tell you. But while airlines support a wide variety of dietary requirements, "large portions" is not one of them.

After they fed us once, it was time to sleep. Unfortunately, the seats did not tilt back very far, and I wasn't able to find a bodily position which I could convince my subconscious did not require active control to maintain. (Is that grammatical? I didn't get any sleep, so I can't tell.) I suppose that at least one such position must exist in any situation. Maybe I should've just gone limp and taken it from there.

I would describe the Frankfurt airport and its train terminal as having a "used future" feel. Which is to say that it's full of sets of automated sliding glass doors, some of them curved, with lots of stainless steel and white tile, but nothing appears to have been cleaned in the last six months. Actually, there was one dude in a sweater meticulously cleaning the area inside the yellow rectangle that contains the smokers on the train platform. So I guess there's that.

While I waited for the train at the platform, I watched a train sit in the station for about fifteen minutes, with one of the pantographs occasionally going up or down, as though there was some kind of argument going on in the cab about whether today was a two-pantograph day or a one-pantograph day. Eventually, it bounced the pantograph one last time and wandered off.

What is Germany like? It's a very detailed model train set, built to 1:1 scale. Lots of moving parts! Realistic people!

I took two ICEs from Frankfurt to Saarbrüken; the ride wasn't as smooth or as fast as maglev or being in orbit, but it felt pretty close. On the train, I saw a family with three kids, who were happily playing with Duplo and Marashurokovhatever dolls at the table that their seats faced. There's some old quip about there being two kinds of travel — first class, and with children — but I argue that the two kinds of travel are the ones with train and the ones with suffering.

For getting from the Saarbrüken station to the hotel, I had a hastily-sketched map of walking directions, but they only involved two streets, so what could go wrong? Well, it turns out that they have as many fewer street signs than Boston as Boston has fewer than a sane city, namely none. Furthermore, one of the streets in my directions did not, given quite reasonable margins for imprecision as regards distance on my "map", exist.

Instead of street signs, Saarbrüken has an innovative system, where they just put up a couple signs pointing in the exact direction of the place that you want to go, allowing you to determine its position with a great deal of accuracy. This sounds like a great system, except that they make sure that these signs are always located such that they point into the middle of an insurmountable and very wide obstacle. So I did a lot of walking. Eventually, I turned back, and decided that the only plausible pathway was through a dark and forbidding sidewalk, completely enclosed (left, right and above) by abandoned office space covered with graffiti.

The passageway was short, and ended in a brief bit of sunlight that supported a few plants. Also, it turned out that the passagway wasn't dark and forbidding at all! What was really dark and forbidding was the tunnel up ahead. I stayed in the sunlight for a few moments (like that was gonna protect me), peering into the tunnel, assessing the situation. There was some kind of line of weak fluorescent lights overhead, and the tunnel stretched on for a good long ways before its slight rise obscured the exit (or, who knows, another good long ways, or maybe a doom fortress). Thanks to all my video game training, I'm able to identify a couple places that could conceal an ambush.

This was one of those times when it would really help to know what genre your life is. On the one hand, it's probably totally safe to walk through a pedestrian tunnel. On the other hand, this is exactly how horror movies start.

Anyways, the other side of the tunnel met a totally unremarkable street, and I soon found my hotel and checked in. I had been walking around for about fifty minutes at this point. I went to my room, looked out the window, and saw...

From Springtime for Boston (and Germany)

...the train station. If only I'd looked up and back when I got off the train, I'd've figured out that the other exit from the train station basically leads straight to the hotel.

Anyways, I showered and felt super much better. I went to the mall and dithered forever, before getting a power adapter (as an aside, don't US plugs and outlets look so much better than everyone else's (except for the New Zealand plugs, those are cool)?) and ate some "Gäng Thai Tofu" for lunch, which I selected on the basis of knowing at least 2/3 of the words in its name. It was really really good. They say that hunger is the best sauce, but spicy coconut milk certainly doesn't hurt.

Okay, breakfast is about to start, so I'm going to skip part of the story.

And then I left to go have breakfast.

Spell my name with a "ℙ". Or a ⌨.

Reading debates on Language Log and inserting curly brackets into a BibTeX file so that proper names in paper titles didn't get automatically lowercased got me thinking about the exciting topic of orthographic privilege!

Unless you're a the artist formerly known as "the artist formerly known as 'Prince'", you probably think that there are some restrictions to what people can adopt for names. Not legal restrictions, but the purpose of a name is to be a convenient way to refer to a thing, and if something is sufficiently grammatically inconvenient, it ceases to be a name.

You may ask whether I'm qualified to discuss this issue. Let me ask this of you: is there anything a person in a sweater vest is unqualified to discuss?

From Octembruary

(1) The Canadian poet bill bissett, like E. E. Cummings, doesn't captialize his name, except that E. E. Cummings actually did capitalize his name! We've been sold a lie! Disregarding of our now-meaningless English classes, can Mr. bissett insist on lowercasedness?

(1.1) If yes, can someone further insist that their name is only lowercase, so it cannot correctly be placed at the beginning of a sentence at all? (Keep in mind that we have to rephrase sentences around constraints like this already.)

(1.1.1) Or could someone claim that their name, when placed at the beginning of a sentence, remains lowercase, confusing the heck out of anyone attempting to read such a sentence?

(1.2) What about Sheila ffolliott, who bears a name that has been passed through the generations in lowercase, possibly as the result of a typographical error many years ago? (Keep in mind language is pretty much completely made up of historical accidents.)

(1.3) Can you add capitalization in the middle of a name? If McGill is okay, are names without a historical justification, like McNinja okay?

(1.3.1) Do the capital letters have to be at syllable boundaries? Is AaaaaAAaaaAAAaaAAAAaAAAAA!!! – A Reckless Disregard for Gravity (ignoring (for now) the punctuation issues) an acceptable name? Did you know that that game is set in Boston? Did you know that Boston has a bunch of random office blocks floating in the air?

(2) Is Malki ! a real name?

(2.1) Does it help that an exclamation mark is pronouncable by tone of voice? Assuming capitalization isn't an issue, is _why okay?

(2.2) What about !!!? Do names have to contain at least some letters?

(2.3) And what do you think of Spın̈al Tap, whose name contains a letter used in Malagasy, and other, less popular, languages?

(2.3.1) Does the answer change given that the people who came up with the name were probably unaware that it was a real letter?

( Or is it a real letter? Sure, it looks like one, but those dots are probably supposed to be an umlaut, not a diaeresis, which mean different things, despite looking the same.

( Is it really okay for a rock band name that doesn't start with "The" to not contain at least one punctuation mark, umlaut, misspelling, or weird capitalization issue?

(2.4) Or i ♥ huckabees? The heart isn't even a letter of any kind.

(2.5) Or what about Nineteen63?

(2.5.1) Or Hen3ry, in which the 3 is silent?

(2.6) Hey, what about What the heck, guys? What made you think that name sounded good? That's almost as bad as 1-800

(3) Can Donald Knuth insist that ΤΕΧ has the "Ε" in its name nudged downward and leftward? (It's definitely not a logotype, incidentally; you can tell because if use the \TeX command in ΤΕΧ or LAΤΕΧ, you get the name in whatever the current typeface is.)

(3.1) Furthermore, can Knuth insist that his typesetting program is actually spelled Tau Epsilon Chi, even though everyone writes it using the Latin characters that look just like the Greek characters (in upper case, anyhow)?

(4) How about color? Is ColorForth okay? Or House of Leaves? How are we supposed to talk about them on a green or red or blue background?

(5) Are one-character names, like R and N Okay?

(5.1) Can something have a zero-character name? That is, is  okay? (Hint: no)

(6) Okay, what about ? Can someone just make up an unpronounceable symbol and use it as their name?

(6.1) In order to write the previous item, I had to convert a large version of " " to a vector image and outset it in order to make it appear bold. I guess that's not a question, I just wanted to point out the lengths I go to to maintain my typographical conventions.

(6.1.1) I also want to point out that I deleted a perfectly relevant digression about the difference between copyright and trademark law from the previous item. You're welcome!

(7) How about the world's largest air-insulated Van de Graaff generator? Is that a cool phrase or what?

(8) Did you know that they sold Dr. Pepper freezepops? They do!

On vanity and freezepops and stuff

At our local grocery store, there are some perfectly normal shopping baskets, and also some larger green ones that have two different handles. One allows you to operate it as a normal basket (see Figure 1); the other allows you to pull it behind you on its little castered wheels, like a tiny strange shopping cart (see Figure 2). I've noticed that male shoppers almost always carry those baskets rather than wheel them.

Yesterday, I was out shopping, preparing to make some excellent fried rice, carrying a green basket. I like to monitor how much my basket is weighing, since I need to carry everything home. Looking at the pasta, I conclude that my basket is too heavy, and I need to divest myself of the box of freezepops and one of my bags of Vidalia onions. I have a brief conversation with myself about the nature of vanity, and transform my basket into wheel mode.

About fifteen seconds pass without incident. Then another shopper comes up to me and asks me if this strange basket that I'm shopping with is my own basket. But he has a sort of strong Indian accent, so it takes a bit of back-and-forth before I'm able to understand and explain that baskets like these are available up front, near the other baskets.

Today, I went back to the store, and bought shoe polish for the first time in my life, and cut my thumb on the lid of the can.

I'm not sure what the moral of this story is.

Answer to the quiz: Without acting as an agent of the US government, there are two ways to violate the Constitution. The first way is by owning a slave (forbidden by the 13th amendment), and the second is to cross state lines in violation of beverage control laws (forbidden by the 21st amendment) Just think of it! If you get to work right now, you can violate the Constitution in under an hour! If you live in Rhode Island.

I later realized that the bat incident basically consisted of me being separated from my computer for about 24 hours, and thinking "This would make a great LJ entry". Then I realized, "Oh great, I've lived yet another XKCD strip."

Question: does it bother anyone else that the freezepops and onions are in exactly the same position in both diagrams, despite the fact that switching modes would have jostled them around?

Correction: last entry, I used the word "nonplussed" to describe someone whose professional demeanor was unaffected by being asked a somewhat bizarre question. It turns out that I had the definition exactly backwards. I apologize for not describing him as "non-nonplussed".

Clarification: my fried rice recipe in no way involves freezepops.

Let me tell you about my bat!

So, one Saturday, I was sitting in my room, innocently browsing the Web ("There's nothing innocent about browsing the web!" —Jake), when I see a brown blur in the corner of my eye. It's the bat signal! It indicates that a bat is flying around my room in circles.

I run out of my room, closing the door behind me. Then I go through Derek's window to get to the porch, open my porch door from the outside, and wait for the bat to fly out.

No, wait, that's what would have happened if I had made a bat plan ahead of time.

Lacking a bat plan, I resolve the bat panic by dashing out of the bat room. Then I head upstairs to ask Christine for her bat advice. She comes down with me and points out my bat error: the living room is now batty. Some consternation ensues; she dashes through the living to find a broom in the kitchen, and we try to formulate (by yelling across bat-occupied territory) a plan as the bat flies around in a circle in a threatening manner. I open my room's outside door, and, before we can think of a way to proceed (in other words, eventually), the bat flies into my room. We slam the door, establishing a bat quarantine. Given that door is pretty big for a bat (and the bat-preferred level of light is available outside, not inside), we head down the porch for a case of the victory giggles, and Christine has a victory smoke. Christine says that bats, as majestic as they are in the distance against the Texas sunset eating insects, turn out to be a whole different experience when they are flying at your head. I have to guess that she's right. After thirty minutes of victory relish, Christine boldly enters my room, examines it, and declares it to be non-bat. We go to bed.

At 3am, possibly awakened by the ominous background music, I open my eyes and see the bat signal. After a couple more occurrences, it becomes clear that I am not having a bat dream. Fortunately, my door is right next to my head, the way that I sleep (would you believe that it took me months to realize that I should sleep with my completely-blanket-enclosed feet next to the poorly-insulated window, and my exposed head towards the interior of the house?), so I summon some bat courage, and dash out, slamming the door behind me as if I knew what I was doing.

Now I just need to wake up Derek to follow the aforementioned plan— oh, bats! I suddenly recall a rabies story from a Halloween episode of This American Life. After the story, Ira Glass stated, in a suitably awed voice, that bat bites can be delivered without awakening their subject or leaving a bat mark, and it is therefore necessary to consider any bat sleeping experience (not to be confused with a sleeping bat experience) to be a rabies problem. So now I have a rabies problem. I wake up Derek to search online for some rabies advice. This advice includes washing the rabid bat wound, which is potentially my entire body, so I borrow a towel and run off to the shower and scrub myself like crazy. The shower has the side effect of diminishing my rabies panic. It may work on other kinds of panic, too, but I have not yet tested this. I attempt to call the insurance company nurse hotline to find out an appropriate course of rabies action, but all I learn is that their hold music repeats in significantly less time than eighty rabies minutes.

To tide you over during the hold music, here's a neat jungle math building at Florida Tech.

From You May Already Be In Winter!

After another attempt to get through, they give me some solid rabies direction: call my doctor. I do this, though it first requires dredging the concept of a pager out of my memory to figure out why I am being asked by an automated system to leave a numeric message, as I am unable to express anything rabies-related using only numbers. The on-call doctor is surprisingly cheerful at 6am (though, it must be said, she had probably gotten to sleep in a non-bat house), and even tries to give me directions to the nearest emergency room, but is foiled by the absolute foaming-at-the-mouth battiness that is the layout of the Boston road system. I choose instead to go to the topologically-nearest rabies action center, Mass General Hospital, conveniently located right on the Red Line. She also points out that, while time may not be entirely of the essence, hospitals tend to be a lot less busy early in the morning. Anyways, I don't really have anything else to do, seeing as I am not able to function very well without room access.

I boldly rush into my room to grab my wallet (containing my T pass), socks, underwear, and shoes. But my clothes are too far through bat-controlled territory, so I borrow emergency rabies clothes and reading material from Derek, and go to MGH. When I arrive, I make the classic hospital newbie mistake of walking up to the guy at the front desk, briefly describing my rabies issue, and pointing down at the ER, and saying "Should I go over there, then?". But he's seen it all; he's nonplussed (whatever that means); he just approves of my course of action.

I check in, and within half an hour receive a rabies shot from a rabies nurse, actually a regular nurse. It takes an hour or two for them to acquire the other part of the rabies management package, rabies immune globulin, but when they do so, it looks like an ordinary clear liquid in syringes, and not the least bit glob-like. Rabies prevention technology has taken great leaps since the old days of rabies, and the shots are not particularly painful. I am grateful for the march of rabies progress. Wait, no, that's exactly not what I meant. I'm kept under rabies vaccine observation briefly until they determine I have no rabies vaccine ill effects. I consider calling my mother and telling her that I'm in an ER and wearing someone else's clothing, but the rabies has so far not destroyed my common sense, and I choose to deliver the message at a more reasonable hour, preceded by the qualification that the situation is not actually as bad as it sounds.

I get home, and then Jake shows up, on his way to the West Coast, and we have a good time, even if we are handicapped by lack of access to my room. Jake, it turns out, is a bat expert. You might say .... a bat man? He gives me some pointers on bat hiding places, and assures me that there's not a high chance I was going to experience rabies death. I enter my room, and do a bat sweep with my new bat knowledge. The bat's apparent absence is discussed, and the conclusion is that my room, not being home to many bat-tasty insects, would not capture a bat attention long, and the bat probably left the way it came. Exactly what bat path my room has is not clear, but bats are wily creatures, and small bats are known for slipping between adjacent atoms. After Jake leaves, I reclaim my room, and sit down at my computer. Those of you who have been paying attention (obviously not me at this point) know what is going to bat happen.

Pop quiz! The U.S. Constitution mainly serves to restrict the power of the government, but there are two constitutional amendments which it is possible to violate without holding public office as a private citizen (not a politician, police officer, or soldier, etc.). One of them should be fairly obvious if you think about it for a moment. The other will probably surprise you, given what you already probably know about it. What are they?

I run out of my room, slamming the door, like a bat room quarantine expert. When I cautiously reopen the door, I discover a critical bat mistake has been made: the creature has come to rest and forgotten to turn invisible. Not only will I now be able to identify my adversary in a bat line-up, but it's now just possible to tie him up and leave a note for the police. But by "tie up", I mean "carefully capture in some kind of Whole Foods biodegradable salad box", and by "police", I mean "animal control", and by "just", I mean "after a great deal of cautious advancement interspersed with quick retreats to reconsider strategy". And by "him", I mean "him or her", because I obviously don't want to get all bat gender-normative.

I do so, and, twenty-three hours after the bat saga began, I have a second, better-substantiated declaration of bat victory. ("over-bat victory", not "victory of bat".) I label the box

Live bat:
Do not open
unless you want a bat

Then they test the bat, and it turns out to not be rabid. So I've just totally wasted your time. Sorry!

Extremely specific things I enjoy:

Playing a version of Black Shades (where you run around beating up or shooting would-be assasins in slow motion) that I've modified slightly for balance and realism while listening to 1963.

"Johnny, don't point that gun at meeeee"

"There's so many ways our lives have changed"

"Oh, Johnny, won't you listen to me?"

"He told me to close my eyes
my gift would be a great surprise"

"I just want you to be mine
I don't want this world to shine
I don't want this bridge to burn"

Also: Ruggles!

NASA Probe Discovers Life in Massachusetts

HOUSTON, TX — Officials from NASA announced that the Squanto Rover has uncovered proof of bacteria living on the surface of Massachusetts.

"This is truly astonishing," said Dr. Sam Venerri, NASA Chief Scientist, "Although water has been known to exist in Massachusetts for some time, at least in the form of ice, we have long thought that the cold conditions and long periods of darkness would not support life."  The axial tilt of Massachusetts drastically diminishes the direct sunlight it receives, and temperatures can drop as low as -12°C.  Severe storms, called 'noreasters' by scientists, can bring hurricane-force winds and flooding.

Dr. Venerri said that the discovery has broad implications for biological research. "The bacteria we discovered are extremophiles by definition, but they are surprisingly similar to life as we know it.  They have DNA, ribosomes, cytoplasm; all these basic building blocks are hardier than we thought. Studying how they survive in this new environment will help us understand the life in our own backyard.  Many have said that colonizing Massachusetts is an impossible dream because of its lack of useful mineral resources and the cold, but I believe that a permanent colony of perhaps a dozen scientists is possible in a decade's time."

Artist's rendition of the harsh conditions Massachusetts astronauts may face.
A manned mission to Massachusetts has already captured the imagination of the public, and President Obama reiterated commitment to funding it.  "Even in these difficult economic times, the spirit of exploration pulls the American people to new horizons.  Astronauts will leave Cape Canaveral for Massachusetts as early as March, depending on gas prices, and how long it takes to load up the van."

As for the existence of intelligent life, Dr. Venerri says that it is too early to do anything but speculate.  "But if you want my opinion," he joked, "nothing worthy of being called 'intelligent' would want to live there."

(This has been another test of the End of September automatic crossposter. You can read it there.)