The Good Good Pig

I’m going to talk about the beer/porcupine in this picture at some point, but the first thing I want to talk about today is teen romantic comedy cult classic movies.  I’m not sure about the best order for all those adjectives, but I’m not going to dwell on it because we’ve got a lot of ground to cover. My favorite cult comedy is The Sure Thing, starring John Cusack and Daphne Zuniga, and directed by Rob Reiner.

By the way, I apologize for the long delay between this column and the last one; somewhere along the way, a big problem came up and the column was late because of it.  Actually, the very same thing happened in The Sure Thing.  Cusack’s character in that movie is Walter Gibson aka “Gibby”.  Gibby is a freshman in college and one morning he’s late for English class.  His prof asks him why he’s late and he says: “There was this big problem…and I’m late because of it.”  I liked that excuse, because it’s so vague, so I use it from time to time, just to see if people are paying attention.  I think it made Daphne Zuniga roll her eyes when Cusack used it, but at least it got him on her radar.

Speaking of big problems, there’s a class of math problems called Fermi Problems, named after Italian physicist and Nobel Prize winner Enrico Fermi, who also invented Fermions.  Note that if American physicist, Pulitzer Prize winner and anagramist Dave Barry was writing this column, he would be tempted to rearrange Fermions into “Firm nose”.  I’m going to resist that temptation and just say that a Fermion is a type of elementary particle, which is a particle that falls out of the shoe of an elementary school student.

I’m not sure how the particle would get into the shoe of any elementary school student, since kids in elementary school these days basically have to remain immobile when they go out on the playground.  Life was a lot more exciting when there was a decent probability that somebody would skin their knee, break an arm or Heaven forbid, get a sunburn once in awhile.  Now, the worst thing that can happen at recess is that someone’s phone goes dead when he or she is playing Pokemon Go.  (Pokemon Go can be rearranged to Monk Goop with an E left over, not that it matters.)

But back to Fermi Problems.  A Fermi Problem is a problem in which you have to estimate something when you have limited data to work with.  You have to arrive at your answer by making a series of assumptions and then stringing them all together.

Here’s a pretty typical Fermi Problem: How many border collies are there in Calgary?

And below is a scene from the 1926 teen cult physics movie Pogo Monk, directed by Rob Reiner, in which Enrico Fermi (played by Enrico Fermi) is trying to calculate what would happen to a border collie if it was shot into low Earth orbit at some angle θ relative to that line pointing to about 12:30, if that big circle was a clock.

fermi

 

 

 

 

To answer the Border Collie Fermi Problem (or any Fermi Problem for that matter), it helps if you know a lot of synonyms for the word “guess”.  You’d probably start by taking a guess at the population of Calgary, then multiplying that by your conjecture about how many people in Calgary own a dog, then multiplying that answer by a presumption about how many dog owners have border collies, having assumed that most border collie owners only have one. One is plenty, by the way.

I reckon there are about a million people in Calgary so I’ll start off thinking that thirty percent of them own a dog; that’s 300,000 dogs.  As mentioned, border collies are a handful, so I’ll say only two percent of dog owners have one.  So my estimate is 6000 border collies in Calgary.  That seems high, so then I whack myself on the side of the head and say “I’m an idiot”- at the same time hoping that no sepulchral echo-voice answers back “you’re an idiot”-which would be eerily like what happened in The Grinch, starring Jim Carrey and directed by Ron Howard.

In the photo below, Ron Howard is on the right.

ron-and-grinch

I’m whacking my head because I realize that I actually need to ponder how many households there are in Calgary, and then work from that number.  (Recognize that inside my main Fermi Problem there is this other Baby Fermi Problem-which is to estimate how many households there are in Calgary.) But I’m taking my medication regularly, so I’m able to move past this.  I simply hypothesize that there are 250,000 households in Calgary given a million people; that takes me down to 1500 black and white, high-strung canines descended from Old Hemp, who got some air-time in the last column.  Anyway, 1500 is an estimate I can live with, even if I stop taking my medication.

So now you know what a Fermi Problem is. But you’re still in the dark about when in tarnation you should write the word “three” and when you should write the digit “3”.  This is a different type of problem, one that I threatened to talk about as I was finishing off the column about Superman’s Water Pik.  Or was it Superman’s Memory Crystals?  I forget which.

The person in this next photo is none other than E.B. White, Pulitzer Prize winning columnist for The New Yorker, animal lover, children’s book author and also co-author of The Elements of Style.  Just FYI, The Elements of Style is not a book about what not to wear.  It’s a book about what not to write.

eb-white

Various sources including White himself agree that you should spell out numerals when they denote numbers less than 100.  This would include numerals like three, fifty-two and ninety-six.  Therefore, a numeral like two thousand and sixteen should actually be written as 2016, AS LONG AS THAT NUMERAL DOESN`T START A SENTENCE.

So you should write “Two thousand border collies competed at the last All-Australian Sheep Herding Open held in 2015, in Iceland” but you shouldn’t write “2000 border collies were recently shot into low Earth orbit”, even if that’s true.

But what about the sentence: “2015 was a good year for Icelandic sheep-herders.” ?

That sentence is OK, because both E.B. White and the Associated Press Stylebook say you can start a sentence with a numeral when that numeral signifies a year.You also don’t have to stop and wonder why in hell the All-Australian Sheep Herding Open would be held in Iceland if you skirt around the whole issue like I did.

You can spend as much time as you want researching all this in more detail, and look up the distinction between a number and a numeral while you’re at it.  Personally, I need to move on now to talk about a large pig named Christopher Hogwood.

good-good-pig

“The Good Good Pig” is the biography of Christopher, who starts out as a runty piglet just like that other famous-but-fictional pig Wilbur.  Whereas Wilbur was adopted by a small girl named Fern, Christopher was adopted by author, New Hampshire resident, and itinerant animal lover Sy Montgomery and her husband Howard. (Howard is also an author and also resides in New Hampshire, in case you were wondering.)

Christopher comes to enjoy an increasingly-intimate relationship with Sy, Howard and the Earth’s gravitational field, over the course of his fourteen peaceful years, eventually attaining an impressive weight of 752 pounds.  And like Wilbur, Christopher eventually dies of natural causes, surrounded by many loving admirers, and lots of spiders.

If you already know who E.B. White is, I think you should read The Good Good Pig right away.  If you have already read The Good Good Pig, I think you should read Charlotte’s Web right away.  If you have already read Charlotte’s Web, you should re-read it.  I cry at the end every time I read it, and my kids always make fun of me for it; I don’t care.

But let’s get back to Christopher.  Sy Montgomery has this to say: “As Christopher’s girth increased, so did our doubts about who was in charge at our house.  Not only was Chris destined to vastly outweigh us, but we faced a growing realization that our pig was dangerously, possibly diabolically, brilliant.” Frankly, I find the concept of a diabolically brilliant, 752-pound animal just a tad unsettling.

In addition to his formidable brainpower, Christopher also developed a formidable appetite for beer.  Howard gave him a swig of Rolling Rock one hot summer day in his (Christopher’s) piglet-hood, soundly reasoning: “After all, what is beer but liquid grain?”  Christopher demonstrated the truth of that statement by polishing off the Rolling Rock, then a Corona and then a Genesee Cream Ale, burping loudly and then proceeding to gain another 700 or so pounds.

Later in life, he became friends with a Border Collie named Tess.  (I swear on Ron Howard’s driver’s license that I am not making that up.)  Christopher also joined A.A. and the Libertarian Party, in no particular order.  The Libertarian tendency was verified by Dick Amidon, the Montgomery’s family friend, former chief of staff for the Speaker of the New Hampshire House of Representatives and a Republican-turned-Libertarian.

Holding forth on Christopher’s political leanings, Dick said, “If there’s ever been an example of a Libertarian pig, that’s Christopher.  He’s his own person; he doesn’t want overregulation-all the things that Libertarians look for.  He’s a free spirit.”

Now after reading all this, many of you may be seized by a powerful urge to move to New Hampshire.  If so, I suggest you get in touch with realtor Mark Warden, the owner of Porcupine Real Estate in Manchester, NH.  Mr. Warden’s firm does about 90 percent of its business with Libertarians who want to move to New Hampshire as part of the Free State Project.  You can read the article entitled “Why Libertarians Are (Still) Plotting to Take Over New Hampshire” here:

http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2016/02/libertarians-new-hampshire-free-state

statue

 

The picture depicts Mr. Warden standing in front of the New Hampshire State Capitol building.  Or maybe it’s Thomas Jefferson.  I forget.  Anyway, in the article, Mr. Warden says, “A lot of my clients want to be self-sufficient—whether that’s living off the grid and growing their own food, wanting to shoot border collies into space, hunt on their own property, or being able to raise pigs and chickens without zoning laws interfering…We speak the same language.”

I think I made up that part about the border collies. And maybe the part about Thomas Jefferson.  But you should still read Madison’s article after you finish packing and reading Charlotte’s Web.

I learned many interesting things about Libertarians from that article, such as the fact that they have adopted the porcupine (also known as the “quill pig”) as their mascot because it is “a peaceful creature that defends itself when attacked.”  And according to Critter Control, who have been “protecting people, property and wildlife in New Hampshire since 1983” (http://nh.crittercontrol.com/services/porcupine/) there are lots of porcupines in New Hampshire.

I want to finish now, but before I go, I want to share with you a couple of pictures taken from the promo piece for Tom Hanks’ new movie: “Quill Pig at Large.”

The first picture depicts a New Hampshire porcupine, bearing a faint resemblance to Enrico Fermi, frowning with concentration and thinking seriously about emigrating to the Valley of 1000 Hills, Botha’s Hill, Kwazulu Natal, South Africa, home of the Porcupine Quill Micro Brewery and Deli.

quill-pig-at-large

The second photo (below) is an unretouched image of a heat exchanger situated on the wall of the Porcupine Quill Micro Brewery and Deli.

heat-exchanger

 

 

 

I have absolutely no idea why Tom Hanks thought you would want to see a picture of their heat exchanger, but I hear their food is fabulous.

The beer is good too.

quills-beer-bottle

Toilet Seat Lore

Well, it looks like I’m cranking these things out somewhat less often than I’d like to, but echoing the immortal words of John Cusack explaining to his prof why he was late to class in The Sure Thing (1985): “Well you see there was this problem and I’m late because of it.”

The problem is that a few weeks ago we woke up one morning and decided to adopt a seven year old border collie named Mickey. Everything you read about border collies says they need to have a job, so Mickey’s job is to play fetch 23 hours a day and look at me reproachfully the rest of the time.

So between Mickey and the treadmill, there’s not a lot of spare time these days. Plus, I didn’t have anything worth writing about until last week when we had visitors from head office, aka The Mothership. For the sake of argument, I’ll call one of the visitors Lisa Kearns (not her real name). “Lisa” was relaying to one of the people I share an office with what a great stay she had had in the Hotel Elan (otherwise known as the Hotel Elan), “a unique, business-friendly boutique hotel in Calgary, located uptown just off vibrant 17th Avenue SW.”

hotel-elanI wasn’t sure what a boutique hotel is so I Googled it.

A boutique hotel is “a small stylish hotel, typically situated in a fashionable urban location.” I read a few more entries and found a pearl of wisdom from Kobrun Vidisdottir, of Reykjavík, Iceland.

According to her, a boutique hotel is “an accommodation that makes their guests feel happy and contented while staying there, makes them feel extraordinary, makes them to realize that they should revert soon and makes them to recognize that this hotel is worth discussing with others.”

I followed most of what Kobrun was trying to say, but I got stuck at the part where she starting talking about reverting. Reverting to what? Her maiden name? Windows 7? Human form? Then I figured out she meant return soon. Which reminds me, I should return to the theme of this column, which is supposed to be about toilets. But remind me to tell you a little bit more about Reykjavík in a minute.

Anyway, “Lisa” was going on about the heated and lighted toilet seat in her hotel room, which in her words “changed my life.” I asked her if her life routinely involved sitting on ice-cold toilet seats and she said no, the heated seat was just a particularly pleasant experience. Plus the underside of the seat was ringed with LEDs, which emitted a pleasing blue light.

Now this is important because everyone knows that if you wake up in the middle of the night and turn on a yellow or orange light, it will immediately shut down your melatonin. Everyone  also knows that the last thing you want to do is sit on an ice-cold toilet seat and shut down your melatonin when all you really want to do is take a pee and go back to sleep. But I guess it’s this kind of thing that separates a normal hotel from a boutique hotel. It’s still sort of surreal though, like going to the bathroom in 2176 AD.

Speaking of going to the bathroom in 2176 AD, Calgary happens to have a few choice, futuristic, public washrooms strategically located about the city. I had the chance to use one a few years ago, but to refresh my memory about the entire experience, I paid a visit to one near my house, at the Tuscany LRT station. (My house is not at the Tuscany LRT station; the futuristic public washroom is at the Tuscany LRT station.)

toilets-1

For starters, it’s pretty futuristic-looking. You approach the door, push a button, the door slides open and you find yourself in a little room with a lot of stainless steel including a stainless-steel toilet, with no toilet seat.

first-button

You push another button (“Toilet Seat”) which triggers a bunch of disturbing mechanical noises. A panel in the wall slides open and a toilet seat deploys from behind the panel, spraying liquid in the process. (I am not making any of this up.) You half-expect that some robot arms with metallic claws will appear, seize your eyelids and pry them open, like in “A Clockwork Orange.” A mellifluous robotic voice guides you through the whole process, accompanied by a stirring rendition of “The Ride of the Valkryies.” (kidding)

second-buttonYou go to the bathroom, and if you can’t figure out how to flush, there are instructions to help. Once you wash your hands, the toilet seat folds back into its nook, the panel slides back down and you’re good to go. (I thought you went.)

third-button

But say you’re still sitting down or just remaining immobile for some reason (shock probably). The mellifluous robotic voice comes back on and tells you that you have about 20 seconds until the cubicle door opens, unless you start moving around soon. If you don’t move around, the voice starts counting down. Seriously.

I actually filmed this whole thing and you can check it out here:

(Futuristic Public Washroom video clip)

My son Ty got quite panicky once, when the mellifluous robotic voice announced the countdown while he was still working on Step 2 or whatever. He leaped up from his perch and began waving his arms madly, until he gained the precious seconds he needed to finish his business.

The whole setup is just so weird that I fully expected to emerge from that washroom to find myself catapulted two or three centuries past 2176 AD and face to face with a Dalek or else “Robot” from Lost in Space. “Danger, Will Robinson! Danger!”

verdarobbyThere is another high-end toilet (intended for household use although I’m sure a boutique hotel somewhere has one), which automatically deploys a menacing-looking probe from somewhere in the bowels (pun intended) of the toilet bowl. The probe emits a gentle spray of water which you direct with a complicated remote control. But since I can barely use my TV remote, I probably won’t buy one of those washing probe-equipped commodes, even if I could afford one. I’m saving up for a time machine.

Last but not least, if you happen to have to go potty in O’Hare Airport in Chicago, brace yourself. When you’re in the cubicle, you press a button on an apparatus situated on the back of the toilet. You hear mechanical noises and then a protective plastic sleeve shoots out and envelopes the toilet seat. You do what you went in for, then get up and after more mechanical whirring noises, the sleeve disappears into the apparatus behind the toilet seat.

My only question is: what happens to the sleeve you sat on? Do they just toss it, or is it sent back around for the next unsuspecting victim? I know, I probably shouldn’t worry about these things, but I just can’t help it. Call me a Luddite, but I just think things are getting way too complicated here in 2015.

I think I’ll move to Reykjavík. Quoting here from Randburg.com (whatever that is) about the downtown area: “The old city center is atmospheric and relaxed. Many excellent cafes, bars and restaurants are located there and there are also many shops, including stores specializing in traditional souvenirs and stocking a good selection of merchandise, including crafts, replicas of Viking artifacts, ceramics, jewelry, playing cards, books, calendars, sheepskin products – and Iceland’s famous wool products. “

Sounds great. I’m fresh out of Viking artifacts, so I’ll definitely check it out.  But I bet the toilet seats are freezing.