Take me north, take me home

Every time I revisit my mind fills with memories
Of the sunsets sails and campfires of a childhood so carefree
And Iím blessed to have known and experienced so much
And so fortunate today that the islandís still untouched
And so fortunate today that the islandís still untouched

Mary Gerwin, “The Shores of Les Cheneaux”

The lyrics above are from my auntís song ďThe Shores of Les CheneauxĒ from her new CD of the same name (full lyrics; listen). The song resonates with me and with many others who have histories in these islands of the Michigan U. P., a number of them moved to tears by how well it captures their experience.

This year I could only spend six days there, compared to my usual three to four weeks. Such a short stay reinforces the importance to me of being able to take some time off to go up there in the summer. On this trip I tried to take some photos to illustrate why this native Texan needs to become a Yooper each July. The pictures canít fully convey the cool breezes, cold waters, fresh air, and woody smells that accompanied their taking, but they can at least provide a sample of the visual beauty that has drawn our family back for four generations.

This is my favorite photo from the trip, taken on a sunset ride in our boat. The sunsets here often feature spectacular hues of orange and pink. This one was more subdued, but somehow the Sun, its reflection, and the curl of the wake came together perfectly for this shot. (Large version.)
Continue reading “Take me north, take me home”


Eternal Recurrence: Elementary School Edition


“However, no matter how hungry I get, I won’t be peeing on my food anytime soon.” — Court

Considering that that quote comes from the woman I share eating utensils with, I suppose that should make me happy. My epicurean flatmate broaches the subject in light of new dehydrated foods for soldiers that can be prepared with the addition of very dirty water or, indeed, their own urine. As Richard Riordan says, “That’s nifty.” This is one dining innovation that thankfully won’t be rated on the Court-wishes-she-was-a-food-critic scale.

Conversation about the food’s possibilities led naturally to talk of a related subject: the phenomenon known as “asparagus pee.” Some readers will have no idea what I’m talking about. Others will know exactly what I mean. All of you probably want to stop reading right now. Read on, for the topic turns out to have a rich and fragrant history.

A little research — consisting of Googling the phrase “asparagus urine gene” — reveals that the first known reference to it is in a 1731 book by Queen Anne’s physician in which he notes that “asparagus… affects the urine with a foetid smell (especially if cut when they are white) and therefore have been suspected by some physicians as not friendly to the kidneys; when they are older, and begin to ramify, they lose this quality; but then they are not so agreeable.” By 1866 the Grand Dictionnaire Universel could declare that “tout le monde conna√ģt l’odeur f√©tide qu’elle communique √† l’urine.”

However, publicity in the United States had to wait for Babe Ruth to turn down an offered plate of asparagus at a dinner party with le bon mot, “…asparagus makes my urine smell funny.” Yet only half the guests laughed at his remark. Was the Babe too subtle for them or were they simply unable to understand his reference?

Scientific studies have since revealed that significant parts of the population lack the ability to detect the odor, no matter how extreme (myself included, in case you were wondering, you little freak). This “anosmia” may be genetic and vary across cultures, reaching as high as about ninety percent in an Israeli sample.

Less clear is whether or not the production of the odor is universal. One study found that only half of Brits produce it, whereas nearly eighty-percent of Americans do. People still on the France-bashing kick will be glad to know that the odor appears universally present among French asparagus eaters. Additional studies (and the subjective nature of urine evaluations) raise the possibility that the early studies were flawed and that the trait exists in all humans.

The chemistry behind all of this remains somewhat in doubt. However, it is suggestive that the first reports of the odor occur at roughly the same time as fertilizers containing sulfur were used on asparagus plants. In fact, the substance asparagusic acid — which contains sulfur — has been shown in laboratory tests to have the same effect as eating asparagus. It may be the causal agent, but further studies must be done to show this conclusively.

That is probably more than you ever wanted to know about asparagus pee. If it’s not, you should read this excellent article by Dr. S. C. Mitchell. It’s is the source for almost all of the facts cited in this entry.

Finally, my research into this lovely topic also turned up this, yet another example of the state’s heavy hand putting a creative entrepreneur out of business.


Going U. P., going west

By this time Wednesday morning I will have returned to my favorite summer place, the Les Cheneaux Islands of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. I was worried that this year having a job would force me to miss it for the first time ever, but I’ll be there till the night of the 19th. Internet access and cell phone coverage are both in doubt while I’m in the U. P. I’ll answer emails when I can and hopefully come back with some good pictures.

Two days after returning I’ll be off again for the last of my IHS travels. This time I’ll be at Seattle University for the brand-spanking new Environment and Society Seminar. I’ll be busy almost the entire time I’m there, but will do my best to experience the city. Any tips for coffee shops where I can live it up Frasier Crane style will be much appreciated. I’ll return to D. C. on the 30th, finally to stay in town for more than a couple weeks at a time.



One of the most annoying tasks I have to deal with as a weblogger is the policing of comment spam, the advertisements for health insurance, porn, Cialis, and such that make their way onto my archived entries. Lately Iíve been combating it with a utility called MT-Blacklist. This program uses a blacklist of banned URLs to prevent most spam from ever appearing. When some does sneak through, the blacklist is easy to update and use to clean the archives retroactively.

Spammers try to get around this in various ways: changing their IP addresses, varying the URLs to which they link, and disguising their comments to appear legitimate. These tactics are generally easy to deal with. Yesterday, though, a spammer tried a clever wrinkle Iíve never seen before. Among the advertising URLs he included a link to my own website. Not reading closely, I added the links en masse to my blacklist, unwittingly adding www.jacobgrier.com to my own list of banned sites! Fortunately, I caught the addition just before running a scan and delete of my archives. Had I not, I would have deleted all of my own comments from recent entries.

Perhaps this spammer is using this tactic purely out of spite for bloggers using MT-Blacklist to thwart his efforts. Perhaps itís intended to further complicate the policing process, discouraging bloggers from even trying to keep up. The approach isnít hard to defeat in its current form, but later incarnations could include links to other common domains. Links to Amazon.com or CNN.com could seed usersí blacklists with false positives, leading it to detect legitimate comments. If the tactic becomes widespread we may soon need an MT-Whitelist, too, to protect them from deletion. In the meantime, MT-Blacklist users should take an extra glance at the URLs they ban.

For a few choice words directed to this particular spammer, click here.


Indispensably useful stuff

Today’s my twenty-second birthday. Or, as is more fitting for the likely means of celebration, the first anniversary of my turning twenty-one.

I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, “Oh dear. It’s my favorite blogger’s birthday and I didn’t get him anything. For shame.” Relieve your conscience with one of these great products that I just can’t live without:

Because my flatmateís decorating is a bit too cheery…

Because Iím lousy at ironing…

Because nobody likes painful nipple abrasion…

Because I canít shower in coffee (no matter how much I want to)…

Because thereís nothing like a tasteful magic effect for picking up the ladies…

Because I already miss the days of Aerobie on the Lawn…

Because Iím tired of the same old burger…

Because I want to make an ironic statement with my lemonade…

Because I have a wicked slice…

Because sometimes I feel a little too big for my britches…

Of course, this is what would really make me happy…


The Queso Crusader awards the GMail account

First of all, let me thank you, Jacob, for granting me this space on your prestigious weblog. I am truly honored that you chose me to award your very first GMail invitation.

But before we begin, I must clarify one thing. It has been suggested that Jacob and I are one and the same person. I assure all of you that this is not the case, and that Jacob is not taking an extra long lunch break to write this blog entry. I, the Queso Crusader, am writing this from my Cantina of Solitude, which is not located anywhere near the center cubicle on the fourth floor of the George Mason Law School in Arlington, VA. Really, itís not.

So now that thatís cleared up, on to the contest entries for the best Queso Crusader and Taco Boy movie title!

Nick: The Fellowship of the Taco. Thanks for getting things started, Nick. That was my favorite of your three entries, yet not of all the entries. Better luck next time!

Mike: Queso Crusader: Say Cheese! Say Cheese? This isnít some buddy flick like Sunshine Cassidy and the Hop-Scotch Kid, Mikey. Taco Boy and I are mortal enemies. Maybe that title would work for me and Dr Pepper ManÖ driving across Texas, dancing with senoritas to the rhythms of the mariachi bands, stopping in Dublin for a case of the good stuff… But not me and that maniacal Taco Boy.

Mike #2: The Quest for the Porcelain God. Not a bad idea, but I find the porcelain god about two hours after every bout with Taco Boy. Iíll give you Second Runner Up.

Moving right along… Qin Lan Xiao says, ďI want a GMail account. Please send me one.Ē Qin, your lack of creativity insults me. Not only am I not giving you the invite, but Iím going to do everything within my power to ensure that you never receive one. Happy Hotmailing, Qin!

ďWrathĒ suggests Queso Crusader: Finding my GMail (Or was that my G-Spot?!) Trust me Wrath, youíd know if it was the latter. Just ask Feta Girl about that night in the Swiss Alps after we finally apprehended the Fondue Fondler… or any of the peasants caught in the resulting avalanche.

Time to wrap this up. An honorable mention goes to Chris Duben for A Man and his Taco. First Runner Up goes to Taco Boy himself. Though it pains me to award him, I canít deny that Queso Crusader: Questionable Alliance would make one hell of a film. Suspense, ethical dilemmas, a final battle with floods of cheese and fire sauce Ė that movie would have it all. Good work, T. B.

And now, First Place and the GMail account invitation go toÖ

David Barzelay, who came up with this series of ten great movie titles:

Queso Crusader: First Blood… And By Blood We Mean Cheese
Queso Crusader 2: This Time It’s Not Just About The Nachos
Queso Crusader Cubed: Chile Con Muerte
Queso Crusader 4: Taco Boy and The Time Machine That Only Transports Mexican Food
Queso Crusader Part 5: With Great Salsa Comes Great Responsibility
Queso Crusader 6: You’re Gonna Have Gas Tomorrow
Queso Crusader 7: Queso Crusader Has An Identity Crisis But Resumes His Role As Vigilante Just In Time To Defeat Yet Another Incarnation Of Taco Boy
Queso Crusader, The Ocho: Taco Boy Goes To Hell
Queso Crusader 9: The Golden Tortilla Of Chichen Itza
Queso Crusader X: Queso Crusader Versus the US Border Patrol

I canít wait for number eight, Mr. Barzelay. A GMail invitation covered in hot, spicy cheese is on its way to your inbox!

Thanks to everyone else for playing. I have to run. I hear that Feta Girl could use a hand rounding up Gavin and the Gordita Gang…


Gmail invitation giveaway

I have a much sought after GMail invitation to hand out. That’s one gigabyte of webmail, yo. I could just give it to the first person who asks for it, but that’s no fun at all. So instead it will be awarded to whoever comes up with the best answer to this question:

If Hollywood ever makes a blockbuster movie about the Queso Crusader and his arch nemesis Taco Boy, what should it be called?

Leave your entries by hitting the comment button below. I’ll forward them to the Cantina of Solitude, where the Queso Crusader himself will review them and announce a winner. I’ll give you till noon (Eastern) on Thursday. And since this is a fairly low traffic weblog, you have a good shot at winning even if you come up with something lame like Queso Crusader: The Movie.

[7/8/04: Contest closed! Winner announced!]


Independence Day photos

My parents gave me my choice of a reasonably priced digital camera as a graduation gift. A few weeks ago I decided on this model from Kodak that comes with 10x optical zoom. I’ve been wanting to try it out and last night’s display of ephemeral, distant, fast-moving flashes of light was a great chance to put the camera through its paces.

Here are my favorites from the night. The first four were taken from the Georgetown shore of the Potomac, overlooking the Kennedy Center. The last is the city at night as seen from the Key Bridge.

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Celebrity look-alike day

Last night I attended my first D. C. Blogorama since starting a weblog of my own, organized by James Joyner of Outside the Beltway fame. Also in attendance were ďMBĒ from The Mud and the Blood and the Beer and Mark from Mark the Pundit, who notes that I look ďa lot like Jon Stewart.Ē This is a nice change from the Ray Romano comparison I hear so often, but Iíll let you be the judge:


I think Ray wins out on this one, if you can call that winning, but Mark does have an eye for celebrity look-alikes. Hereís his comparison of game show host/radio personality Wink Martindale and Senator Bill Nelson:


Striking, isnít it? Whatís most amusing is that all of the photos on the incredibly spiffy Winkís World have ďsampleĒ written all over them so that fans canít print them out from the Web instead of buying them. Now I like Wink as much as the next guy,* but is Wink Martindale photo piracy really a major issue? Are people illegally downloading the photos to adorn their shrines to the Holy Trinity of Wink, Monty Hall, and Casey Kasem? Does anyone actually pay $10 plus $3 shipping and handling to buy them on the open market? And when will Wink finally launch his own clothing line?

Finally, one more celebrity look-alike: Brian Kieffer discovers how to make your very own Saddam Hussein. [Via The Agitator.]

*Unless the next guy happens to be Amazon reviewer Doo Doo Brown, who gives Martindaleís autobiography Winking at Life five stars and Immanuel Kantís Critique of Pure Reason only one. If heís the next guy, I need to move over a few steps.


Storm battles Fire on Staten Island

No, it’s not the plot of X-Men III. It was the sporting event of the summer and it happened two weeks ago when professional cricket arrived in the United States: the New York Fire was extinguished by the New Jersey Storm in the 20-over pre-season match.

Alas, the crowds were sparse at this historic event. Just over 150 fans attended, despite free admission. Add to that the lack of recognition from the ICC, the excessive organ music, and the loss of right-hand batsman Darren Ganga and it’s apparent that America Pro Cricket, LLC didn’t bat a sixer here.

Yet with the pitch cleared, the final wicket fallen, and the trombley officially jogged, I can’t help but feel that the event was not, as they say, “an utter croft.” After all, we did get to see star Indian one-dayer Ajay Jadeja before he puts down his bat, pads, flannels, and droms for the last time. And watching Nikhil Chopra step back from the crease to score eighteen was a treat even for the uninitiated.

While I am happy that this great sport is finally making its way into the U. S., as a purist I’m a bit worried about some of the alterations (no, corruptions!) the APC has made to render the game acceptable to American tastes. Twenty overs limits matches to a mere three hours, while a change equivalent to baseball’s designated hitter provision lets one bowler from each side avoid going to bat. What next, eliminating leg-before-wicket, the off-corners rule, and flying the binge? What would Henry Blofeld say to that?

So I guess one can’t have everything. At least my city has its own team, the D. C. Forward, so I may be able to catch a few matches in person.

Thanks to Tim Boyd (of course!) for sending me the update. If you, too, would like to become a learned cricket devotee, check out Tim’s lucid guide from The Slant. You’ll be out of the corridor of uncertainty faster than a whistling seamer. Heck, you may even be able to write about the sport as if you had some idea what it was about, without having to make up half the words like I just did.