Monday, January 30, 2006

Weasel Words

Looking through my dusty old unabridged Dictionary (1970), I noticed an odd phenomenon. It seems that old-time dictionary illustrators loved the family Mustelidae, which includeds ferrets, skunks, and otters. Dictionaries usually have one or two illustrations per page, probably just to break up the text. For some reasons, my dictionary has 9 picture of family Mustelidae: Badger, Ermine, Ferret, Mink, Muskrat, Sable, Skunk, Weasel, Wolverine, and Marten.

Why so many weasels? My guess is that they are fun to draw. Most of them are sleek furry critters with long sinuous bodies. Back in the old days, before “fur was dead”, members of this family were famous for their contribution to the garment industry.

Not every dictionary follows this pattern. Notably, some abridged versions of the Merriam-Webster have no Mustelidae at all. Microsoft’s Encarta Dictionary has its own favorite: marsupials. The sparsely illustrated Encarta features pictures of the Wombat, Koala, Tasmanian devil, Wallaby, and Platypus.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

A Traditional Mexican Recipe for Carp

Catch 1 large carp – preferably in the 14-20 pound range. Encase the carp in a thick shell of fresh cow dung. Dig a shallow pit, placing the carp in the bottom, and build a large fire on top of it. Allow the fire to burn overnight.

In the morning the dung will have hardened into a blackened shell. The shell can be broken and peeled away, removing the skin and scales. The carp is still inedible, but the dung tastes much better.

Thursday, January 26, 2006


Are you unattractive?
Do you have trouble making friends?
Do small children run away when they see you?
You may have a medical condition called "turpis", commonly known as ugliness syndrome. In the past cosmetic surgery was the only option. Today doctors have more tools available to make your life better.

While there is no cure for ugliness, studies have shown that early diagnosis and treatment can help with the symptoms.

The way we feel about ourselves has a lot to do with the way others see us. Studies show that people with a pleasant personality and a cheerful outlook on life are six times more likely to be considered "attractive". Beauty is only skin deep, but ugliness goes all the way to the bone.

Talk to your doctor today. Find out if STIGMATOR® is right for you.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Gas Guzzler of the Year

Can't afford to gas up your Hummer H2 or the Dodge Ram 1500? Actually, at 8 MPG, the Hummer is thrifty compared to what movie star John Travolta takes to work. Travolta, a licensed jet pilot, commutes home for weekends in his personal Gulfstream II jet. While there's no EPA rating on the Gulfstream, it gets about 0.8 MPG. It's not as bad as it seems - those are nautical miles (6076 feet). And with a 4800 gallon fuel tank he can get from Florida to Hollywood on a single tank.



On weekends, Mr. Travolta really goes wild. He off-roads in his Boeing 707, which tops off at 24,450 gallons and gets a stunning 0.2 MPG. If Mr. Travolta is worried about saving gas he could carpool with 100 of his friends. That would bring fuel economy up to reasonable 20 MPG per person.

Click HERE to find out more about John Travolta and his jets.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Optimist or pessimist?

A Cardiff University psychologist has calculated
that January 24th is the worst day of the year.

You may have seen this story in the news recently. It's been picked up by the BBC, China Daily, and the Sun - just to name a few. Oddly enough, the BBC has run the same story twice: once for optimists, once for pessimists.

See "Cheer up for year's happiest day",and "I don't like Monday 24 January".

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Why a duck?

Every wild creature is a marvel of nature's plan - perfectly adapted to fit into its environmental niche. Some animals, however, are funnier than others.

The most comedic of all creatures is the duck. This is of course a sweeping generalization. Ducks (Anatinae) are the largest and most diverse family of waterfowl. They range from the majestic shoveler (Spatula clypata) to the diminutive Pintail (Anas acuta).

What makes ducks funny?
Ducks waddle on two legs.
Ducks have a big flat bill.
Ducks have big floppy feet.
Ducks lay eggs.
Ducks quack.

For centuries humorists from William Shakespeare to Mark Twain have understood that ducks are funny. Ducks played an important part in the early development of film comedy. As early as 1929 (Coconuts), the Marx Brothers were asking the question "Why a Duck?". They went on to further develop this theme in the classic movie Duck Soup (1933). Even today, it's no coincidence that a multinational insurance corporation like Aflac would choose a duck for a mascot. Ducks aren't just funny, they're also upbeat and unselfconsciously likeable.

In second place among humorous creatures is the beaver (Castor canadensis). Beavers have most of the humorous attributes of ducks, except the bill. Beavers also have flat tails and big front teeth, giving them a dopey expression. Why aren't beavers as funny? Maybe because the beaver has a long tragic history of persecution. For years the entire economy of Canada was based on the exploitation of beavers. Countless beavers died because of frivolous of European fashion.

The platypus? One could argue that the platypus is a cross between the duck and beaver, with the awkwardness of both. The platypus even lays eggs! Some creationists, in fact, argue that the platypus is so unique that it must be evidence of God's design. How could mere evolution have designed such an unlikely creature? Scientists make the opposite argument, how could an omniscient creator have designed the platypus? Theological arguments aside, the platypus is not funny - the platypus is strange and disturbing. See "Creationism and the Platypus".


What about penguins you ask? Yes, penguins waddle, but penguins are suave, debonair, and they live on glaciers. Additionally, they have great family values. Penguins are a paradigm of grace in the face of adversity. See "March of the Penguins".

Monkeys? Natural comedians with a great sense of humor, but they are not funny in and of themselves. They clown around, but we know it's because of low self esteem; they are desperately reaching out for attention

So, why a duck? Now you know.


Saturday, January 21, 2006

Healthcare cost


Two bottles containing identical brand-name medication. The one on the right was purchased in Toledo Spain and cost a total of €3.60 (about $4.50 US). The price was printed on the box.

The one on the left was a refill bought in Raleigh, North Carolina, USA. I have no idea what it cost the insurance company, but I had a $30.00 co-pay.

A friend explained to me that Spanish medication is subsidized, and the major cost of pharmaceuticals is research, not manufacturing. I'm sure he's right. Even so, I know when I'm paying too much.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Silly acronyms

Have you ever wondered about the ubiquitous acronym WWW? It's a pain to pronounce - most English speakers say “double u, double u, double u.” When people say it real fast it sounds like “dub-dub-dub”. A lot of southerners draw it out and say “dub-yuh dub-yuh dub-yuh”. It's faster to say “World Wide Web”. It's odd that an abbreviation can take longer to say then the original.

Here's my proposal: Since “W” is really a double “U”, we should really say “six U”, two short easy syllables. Keyboard makers could replace that little tilde (~) thingy which nobody uses with "www". Think of how much time we could save each day.

My local public radio public station is WUNC, which has a web site www.wunc.org. I think they should call it “Nine-U-NC”, or “UUUUUUUUUNC”. The World Wide Web Consortium has a website www.www.org. Oddly enough, this URL redirects you to www.w3.org.
 
© 2008 Raoul Rubin