Sunday, March 11, 2018

Raising Standards

I heard a McDonald's ad on the radio the other day that focused on the new quarter-pounder burger that is cooked right after you order it. Specifically, this on-the-spot cooking with fresh beef makes for a 'hotter, juicier burger', which certainly sounds nice. However, a disclaimer at the end of the ad adds 'hotter and juicier compared to previous quarter-pounder', which really changes everything because I've eaten pieces of cardboard that were hotter and juicier than a McDonald's quarter-pounder.

Now, this isn't to say I don't enjoy McDonald's food, but affordability is their big selling point in my eyes. Will a juicier burger cost more? If so, who will be taking the cost? In a similar vein, I've been irritated recently by a tagline in Food Line radio ads: 'Raising Our Standards Without Raising Our Prices'. Does that mean they're paying their employees less, or have they found cheaper sources that are somehow higher quality? In a situation like this, I'd prefer they keep their standards low.

I've enjoyed having music on the radio while driving around, but I'm still looking for an alternative because listening to ads that are blatantly deceptive gets tiring after a while.

Friday, March 9, 2018

Theater Luxury

One thing I've enjoyed about working in pest control is the chance to see things I wouldn't come across in my free time. I got to go back behind the pins at a bowling alley and see the whole mechanism that sets up pins and returns balls, and just a few days before that I went on the roof of a mall, a vast expanse of flat roofing punctuated by ventilation shafts.

Today, I went to a theater, and everything was fairly familiar until I reached the second-level boxes. This was clearly where top patrons of the arts got to sit-- just outside the entrance on this level was an exclusive lounge full of paintings and tasteful furniture. When I opened the door to the first box, I found myself in a small dressing room complete with a place to sit, a coat-rack, and a table with a few programs and a bowl of mints. From this room, another door opened onto the box itself, an ideal location both to see and be seen. With any luck, my future life will involve going to the theater every now and then, but I can't see myself ever being in a position to occupy a theater box with its own dressing room. I considered trying a mint while I was there, but I thought that would be unprofessional.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Elevator vs Stairs

Most of today's high-rise buildings offer a choice between an elevator and stairs. Sometimes, the choice is clear; if there's a fire, you need to take the stairs, and if you're in a wheelchair, you probably need to take the elevator. For me personally, having to go up more than three stories is about the point where I'll take the elevator unless I'm actively looking for exercise.

In the past, I've had fun racing down stairs to see if I could get to the ground floor faster than friends in an elevator. For a fair contest, you begin at the fourth or fifth floor and start running as soon as the elevator-summoning button is pressed. The next level of challenge, of course, is to race an elevator up, but I haven't gotten there yet.

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Historical Prose

In my mind, reading history is like eating whole-grain bread; it's not always as appetizing as other sorts of reading, but it feels healthy and with enough exposure you can get used to it. To begin my forays into history, I got some books about ancient Rome. It's not a bad starting point because there are so many works not only by modern historians, but also by contemporaries, dealing with the two big questions of the Roman empire: what made Rome great, and what made Rome stop being great? Of course, the great historians themselves put it much more eloquently. Polybius, a 2nd century B.C. Greek politician who was himself conquered by the Romans, says the following:

"For the extraordinary nature of the events I decided to write about is in itself enough to interest everyone, young or old, in my work, and make them want to read it. After all, is there anyone on earth who is so narrow-minded or uninquisitive that he could fail to want to know how and thanks to what political system almost the entire known world was conquered and brought under a single empire, the empire of the Romans, in less than fifty-three years-- and unprecedented event? Or again, is there anyone who is so passionately attached to some other marvel or matter that he could consider it more important than knowing about this?

The content of history, then, is enough to recommend its investigation, but I have also found myself enjoying the style in which these histories are written. Long sentences organized by commas and semicolons bring together a variety of ideas and create a logical flow that can be very satisfying to follow, even if it does take reading some passages more than once. Also, as with most things, practice makes it easier. The following sentence from Gibbon's history gives an verbal flourish to plain facts that is like spreading honey on your whole-grain toast.

"Nor was the legion destitute of what, in modern language, would be styled a train of artillery. It consisted in ten military engines of the largest, and fifty-five of a smaller size; but all of which, either in an oblique or horizontal manner, discharged stones and darts with irresistible violence."

To make a long story short, I feel that a bit of history has made a wholesome addition to my reading routine. In other news, I still don't eat whole-grain bread.

Friday, March 2, 2018

Generic Cereal

When I first started grocery shopping on my own, one of the things that surprised me most was how expensive most cereal was; you could shell out four dollars for a box that empties surprisingly quickly, especially if you have a big bowl.

From the ingredients, you wouldn't think cereal has a reason to be expensive, and the existence of generic cereals bears this point out. All the major cereal brands have been imitated at about half the price, and the sweetness of saving money balances any taste difference in my mind. The most extremely generic cereal I've had is Tesco Everyday Value Cornflakes, costing a staggering 31 pence for a 500g box. Either the UK government subsidizes basic foodstuffs or Kellogg's is printing money with their $3.99 cornflake option.

To top it all off, I find the names of generic cereals very endearing. Toasty-Os and Fruity-Os top the list of my favorite cereal names, followed by the lengthy names describing the shape and material of well-known brands (chocolate rice clumps and so on). There's always more to say on the topic of generics, but for now I'm off to enjoy a bowl of Honey Nut Toasted Oats Cereal.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Bedtime Habits

It's said that a nighttime routine helps you get to sleep faster since your body will begin to recognize the patterns around bedtime and act accordingly. I'm fortunate to generally fall asleep fairly quickly, but a few pre-sleep habits I've gotten into coincide with some of the quickest falling-asleep times I've ever measured.

I start thinking about bed approximately half an hour before I get into it. Once I get up to brush my teeth, the nighttime routine is past the point of no return. After brushing, I change into pajamas and check that the doors are locked and the stove is off. Finally--and this is important--I take a drink of water or two. Sometimes it almost feels like a mild compulsion, and if I wait more than thirty seconds or so between drinking water and getting into bed, I feel like taking another drink to keep the pattern fresh. With all this complete, I can turn off the lights, turn on my alarms and an audiobook (listening to something keeps me from thinking overmuch), and go to sleep.

I very much look forward to lying in bed and drifting off, so to get this feeling more often, a new element has been added to my nighttime routine: I wake up after about two hours and get to enjoy being groggy for a few minutes and falling asleep all over again.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Mosquito Swatting

It's said that some early European explorers of northern Canada were driven insane by the inescapable swarms of biting flies and mosquitoes. During my summer in the Yukon, we were better equipped than these explorers could have been, but learning to live with the clouds of flying insects was still an ordeal. Mosquitoes were the main issue in the valley we inhabited. They have many ways of identifying potential targets; for example, they are attracted to carbon dioxide, so unless you can hold your breath indefinitely, there's no good way to hide from them.

If you're moving fast, mosquitoes will have a hard time landing on you, and wind also provides a welcome relief from flying insects. Surprisingly, climbing trees will get you away from all but the most determined mosquitoes, so I suppose they must prefer to hang out near the ground. In general, we used wearable bug nets to keep biting to a minimum; even then, the buzzing cloud that surrounds your head can test the limits of one's patience.

For the first couple weeks, I would swat at mosquitoes, but past a certain point manual control seems pointless. With hundreds of mosquitoes in the air around you, it doesn't make sense to spend your energy going after individuals. That being said, we did have an unofficial competition at camp to see who could get the most mosquitoes with one swat. While I was sitting in the woods watching squirrel territories, I would keep an eye out for groups of four mosquitoes or more that had landed on me close together, usually on my knees where the dark material had attracted them. Over the weeks, I was excited to announce my milestones as I got five mosquitoes at once (a sort of rolling swipe) and then six mosquitoes at once (a fingers-spread swat on the knee). There were a few moments where I might have gotten more, but only numbers that could be verified by mosquito bodies or marks on the hand were counted.

Ultimately, seven mosquitoes at once was my record, which I am pretty happy with. A few weeks later, a grad student managed to take out ten mosquitoes with one swat, and nobody came close to that afterward. The days grew colder near the end of summer and the swarms of mosquitoes thinned out. Perhaps one day I'll again be in an environment where ten or more mosquitoes might land on a hand-sized portion of myself; until then, I must be content to bide my time and train.