Of Fidgets And Fads Gone By

It’s official: 2017 appears to be the year of the Fidget:

What is it for? The fidget spinner has been framed as just a toy—but also as a stress-relief tool, a classroom menace, a treatment for ADHD, and a possible salve to smartphone addiction, among other things.

Fidget spinners might or might not be any of those things, but at their core they are something more, and something stranger: the perfect material metaphor for everyday life in early 2017, for good and for ill.

* * *

Toys similar to fidget spinners have been around for years, but over the last month or so the current incarnation has reached fever pitch. As with other cultural trends, like Flappy Bird and Pokémon Go, kids adopted the gadgets first. Since the winter, fidget spinners have invaded classrooms, causing teachers to confiscate them as contraband. They’ve become ubiquitous impulse purchases at mobile-phone shops and bodegas. And as I write this, fidget spinners dominate the Amazon.com bestsellers in toys and games.

Of course, it’s not just a toy, there’s science involved:

And every fad has its killjoys:

So, how do they stand up to past fads? As long as we’re making comparisons, behold, the Pet Rock:

So maybe it’s just because we’re easily distracted, or want to be…we look for a simple spin on things in these times. But fidgets are real, and they are there for you. Isn’t that what a good fad is all about?

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Doughnut Day And Other Milestones

First, a history of the doughnut:

Hanson Gregory, an American, claimed to have invented the ring-shaped doughnut in 1847 aboard a lime-trading ship when he was 16 years old. Gregory was dissatisfied with the greasiness of doughnuts twisted into various shapes and with the raw center of regular doughnuts. He claimed to have punched a hole in the center of dough with the ship’s tin pepper box, and to have later taught the technique to his mother.[8] Smithsonian Magazine states that his mother, Elizabeth Gregory, “made a wicked deep-fried dough that cleverly used her son’s spice cargo of nutmeg and cinnamon, along with lemon rind,” and “put hazelnuts or walnuts in the center, where the dough might not cook through”, and called the food ‘doughnuts’.[9]

According to anthropologist Paul R. Mullins, the first cookbook mentioning doughnuts was an 1803 English volume which included doughnuts in an appendix of American recipes. By the mid-19th century, the doughnut looked and tasted like today’s doughnut, and was viewed as a thoroughly American food.[10]

Another theory on their origin came to light in 2013, appearing to predate all previous claims, when a recipe for “dow nuts” was found in a book of recipes and domestic tips written in 1800 by the wife of Baron Thomas Dimsdale,[11] the recipe being given to the dowager Baroness by an acquaintance who transcribed for her the cooking instructions of a local delicacy, the “Hertfordshire nut”.

And, the 50th anniversary of what has been called the Beatles’ definitive album:

During a return flight to London in November, Paul McCartney had an idea for a song involving an Edwardian era military band that would eventually form the impetus of the Sgt. Pepper concept. Sessions for the album began on 24 November in Abbey Road Studio Two with two compositions inspired by their youth, “Strawberry Fields Forever” and “Penny Lane“, but after pressure from EMI, the songs were released as a double A-side single and were not included on the album.

In February 1967, after recording the “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” song, McCartney suggested that the Beatles should release an entire album that would represent a performance by the fictional Sgt. Pepper band. This alter ego group would give them the freedom to experiment musically. During the recording sessions, the band furthered the technological progression they had made with their 1966 album Revolver. Knowing they would not have to perform the tracks live, they adopted an experimental approach to composition and recording on songs such as “With a Little Help from My Friends“, “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” and “A Day in the Life“. Producer George Martin and engineer Geoff Emerick‘s innovative recording of the album included the liberal application of sound shaping signal processing and the use of a 40-piece orchestra performing aleatoric crescendos. Recording was completed on 21 April 1967. The cover, depicting the Beatles posing in front of a tableau of celebrities and historical figures, was designed by the British pop artists Peter Blake and Jann Haworth.

Both have a rich history, shrouded in legend. Both doughnuts and the Beatles come in many different varieties, although for my own part Sergeant Pepper, like the Beatles’ other later albums, feels incomplete, as if they somehow ran out of room (which they literally did for some songs that were later included on Magical Mystery Tour.) It’s as if they knew they’d reached a turning point in their careers, so along with wanting to show the world that they were no longer just mop-topped pop singers but serious musicians in their own right, they wanted to put out their best work before time ran out, which unfortunately for the band it soon would.

Of course, both doughnuts and the Beatles are eternal…

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What’s In A Word?

So Donald Trump set the Internet ablaze with his creation of a new word:

The trouble began, as it so often does, on Twitter, in the early minutes of Wednesday morning. Mr. Trump had something to say. Kind of.

“Despite the constant negative press covfefe,” the Twitter post began, at 12:06 a.m., from @realDonaldTrump, the irrepressible internal monologue of his presidency.

And that was that.

A minute passed. Then another. Then five.

Surely he would delete the message.

Ten. Twenty. It was nearly 12:30 a.m.

Continue reading the main story

 
 

Forty minutes. An hour. The questions mounted.

Had the president’s lawyers, so eager to curb his stream-of-consciousness missives, tackled the commander in chief under the cover of night?

Perhaps, some worried aloud, Mr. Trump had experienced a medical episode a quarter of the way through his 140 characters.

Or maybe he had simply gazed upon his work, paused and thought: “Yes. Nailed it.”

No one at the White House could immediately be reached for comment overnight.

In the end, it didn’t mean what you thought it did:

Mr. Alnaemi said the word “covfefe” was “something meaningless” in Arabic, a language that Mr. Trump, who campaigned on a pledge to ban Muslims from the United States, has never publicly claimed to speak.

There is no standardized method for rendering Arabic words in Latin script, but the professor said if Mr. Trump had wanted to write “I will stand up” in Arabic he would have written something like “saqef” or “sawfa aqef.”

“Honestly when I heard that some writers thought Trump was speaking Arabic I said to myself, ‘Wow, they know Arabic more than I do,’” Mr. Alnaemi, who was born and raised in Iraq, said. “Because I cannot think of a word that would mean the equivalent of ‘covfefe.’”

Like many new words, it seems to have taken on a life of its own. It’s an all-purpose word, good for all occasions. And it continues a linguistic tradition:

According to the “Oxford English Dictionary”, there are at least 350 words in English dictionaries (most of them thankfully quite obscure) that owe their existence purely to typographical errors or other misrenderings.

There are many more words, often in quite common use, that have arisen over time due to mishearings (e.g. shamefaced from the original shamefast, penthouse from pentice, sweetheart from sweetard, buttonhole from button-hold, etc).

Mrs. Mapalprop, a character in Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s 1775 play “The Rivals”, was famous for her “malapropisms” like illiterate, reprehend, etc, but these never gained common currency. Likewise, it seems unlikely that “Bushisms” (named for US President Bush’s unfortunate tendency to mangle the language) like misunderestimate, or Sarah Palin’s refudiate will ever become part of the everyday language, although there are many who would argue that they deserve to.

Many misused words (as opposed to newly-coined words) have, for better or worse, become so widely used in their new context that they may be considered to be generally accepted, particularly in the USA, although many strict grammarians insist on their distinctness (e.g. alternate to mean alternative, momentarily to mean presently, disinterested to mean uninterested, i.e. to mean e.g., flaunt to mean flout, historic to mean historical, imply to mean infer, etc).

So, what’s in a word? Maybe it really does mean what you think it means-then again, maybe not…

 

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Slow Ride

There’s apparently a new phenomenon sweeping Norway:

It began with the broadcast of a train journey from the coastal city of Bergen to the capital, Oslo. The formula was simple: put a few cameras on a train and watch the scenery go by — for seven hours.

Rune Moklebust and Thomas Hellum are the brains behind the whole thing.

“Did you know where this journey would lead, how successful it would be?” asked Doane.

“No idea at all,” said Moklebust. “It’s normally one of those ideas you get late night after a couple of beers in the bar, and when you wake up the next day, Ahh, it’s not a good idea after all.”

But much to their surprise, there was a green light from their bosses at Norway’s public broadcaster NRK2.

“We actually like it being a bit strange and a bit crazy, because then it’s more fun,” said Moklebust.

Of course, there can be problems:

The non-stop transmission, entitled  Reinflytting: Minutt for Minutt, was meant to culminate on April 28, with the animals swimming from the mainland to the island. 

But the reindeer started their journey later than expected and took a longer route. On the day of what was supposed to be the last broadcast, the 31-member production crew didn’t see any signs of movement. So NRK decided to put the transmission on hold for now, according to Aftenposten.

Slow TV was a surprising sensation in 2009 when NRK aired Bergensbanen minutt for minutt, a 7.5-hour train journey across the southern part of Norway, from Bergen to Oslo. 

The documentary drew an impressive 1.2 million viewers when it aired.

So what is it about this that makes it so popular? Are we entering a phase where the pace of life is so fast that we literally feel the need to slow down?

watch paint dry

Of course maybe we’re just really bored with all of our online distractions-and in fact we may be turning away from them. So where do we go, when we want to take it slow in the 21st century?

There may be more to this, as well:

In 2015, the Publishers Association found that digital content sales had fallen from £563m in 2014 to £554m, while physical book sales HAD increased from £2.74bn to £2.76bn. The Bookseller also discovered a similar result, finding in its own report about the five biggest general trade publishers in the UK – Penguin Random House, Hachette, HarperCollins, Pan Macmillan and Simon & Schuster – that their ebook sales collectively fell 2.4% in 2015.

The shift was attributed to the explosion in adult colouring books, as well as a year of high-profile fiction releases, including The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins and Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee. “Readers take a pleasure in a physical book that does not translate well on to digital,” the Publishers Association report read.

But Nielsen’s survey of 2016 attributed the increase in print sales to children’s fiction and to younger generations preferring physical books to e-readers. A 2013 survey by the youth research agency Voxburner found that 62% of 16- to 24-year-olds preferred print books to ebooks. The most popular reason given was: “I like to hold the product.” While Nielsen found that 50% of all fiction sales were in ebook format, only 4% of children’s fiction was digital.

So slow down, stop and smell the roses, etc.

 

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RIP Family Member

Ronald Edward Canary passed away over the weekend.

1940-2017

 

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Easter Yeggs

It’s Easter-the official start of Spring, with warmer weather (and allergies). Easter brings with it the yearly traditions of a rabbit trying to deliver eggs:

And of course, the rabbit’s counterpart:

Ultimately, though, Easter is about…zombies?

At any rate, happy Easter!

 

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In Praise Of…Spam?

Spam, that pre-processed meat that was born during World War Two, is getting some new love:

When most people think about Spam, the phrase “gourmet cooking” doesn’t come to mind. The processed pork-meat product looks about as unappetizing as the phrase “commodity meat” sounds, and as Marination’s Kamala Saxton told Esquire, “it doesn’t check any of the boxes of ethically sourced, local, healthy, or organic.” In other words, Spam would seem a really bad fit for modern foodie culture.

Or is it? Chefs across the country are reintroducing Spam to American palettes, often in recipes that call for pork. Saxton’s food truck, for example, makes Spam sliders that won over customers because “the combination of the saltiness of the Spam on a Hawaiian sweet roll with the combination of our slaw” was too good to resist.

At Dale Talde’s Brooklyn restaurant, he serves a version of shrimp and grits made with smoked Spam as a tribute to his mother’s Filipino-American cooking. Spam is even Top Chef-approved, as recent champion Brooke Williamson serves Spam musubi at her L.A. eatery, Da Kikokiko.

So what is Spam?

Spam was introduced by Hormel in 1937. Ken Daigneau, brother of a company executive, won a $100 prize that year in a competition to name the new item.[3]Hormel claims that the meaning of the name “is known by only a small circle of former Hormel Foods executives”, but popular beliefs are that the name is an abbreviation of “spiced ham”, “spare meat”, or “shoulders of pork and ham”.[7] Another popular explanation is that Spam is an acronym standing for “Specially Processed American Meat” or “Specially Processed Army Meat”.[8]

The difficulty of delivering fresh meat to the front during World War II saw Spam become a ubiquitous part of the U.S. soldier’s diet. It became variously referred to as “ham that didn’t pass its physical”, “meatloaf without basic training”,[1] and “Special Army Meat”. Over 150 million pounds of Spam were purchased by the military before the war’s end.[9]

During World War II and the occupations which followed, Spam was introduced into Guam, Hawaii, Okinawa, the Philippines, and other islands in the Pacific. Immediately absorbed into native diets, it has become a unique part of the history and effects of U.S. influence in the Pacific.[10]

As a consequence of World War II rationing and the Lend-Lease Act, Spam also gained prominence in the United Kingdom. British prime minister during the 1980s Margaret Thatcher later referred to it as a “wartime delicacy”.[11][12] In addition to increasing production for the U.K., Hormel expanded Spam output as part of Allied aid to the similarly beleaguered Soviet Union.[13] Nikita Khrushchev declared: “Without Spam we wouldn’t have been able to feed our army”.[14] Throughout the war, countries ravaged by the conflict and faced with strict food rations came to appreciate Spam.[15]

Spam was one of the first foods made popular by the war:

Canned ham was a reasonably successful Hormel product, but Jay Hormel wanted to get some use out of an underutilized cut of meat — pork shoulders. At first, Spam was made entirely of shoulder meat. Hormel introduced the ham/shoulder blend later. Actor Kenneth Daigneau coined the Spam name in a naming contest at a New Year’s Eve party [source: Wyman]. Hormel claims that the word is a blend of the words “spiced ham,” though Spam lovers and haters have suggested many other meanings and acronyms over the decades. On May 11, 1937, Spam was officially born when Hormel registered a trademark for the name.

By prominently featuring the brand name on the packaging and spending lavishly on advertising, Hormel succeeded in making Spam a household product in the United States. However, it was World War II that cemented Spam’s reputation in its home country and introduced the product to consumers around the world. Before the United States entered the war, Spam and other foods were shipped to Allied countries as part of the lend-lease program. When U.S. soldiers went to Europe and the Pacific, they carried Spam in their K-rations [source: Wyman]. Or did they?

Most of the Spam eaten by soldiers was actually government meat that was canned by Hormel and other companies that were under contract to the military. Only a few soldiers received genuine Spam [source: Wyman]. Nevertheless, to the soldiers it was Spam that they came to know and hate. They felt like they had Spam for every meal and ran out of ways to prepare it. The universal dislike — they wrote songs about how much they hated the stuff — probably had less to do with the actual taste of Spam than with how often they were forced to eat it.

Regardless of their opinion on Spam during the war, soldiers who returned to the United States when the war was over brought a taste for Spam with them. With the aid of an advertising blitz, Spam sales increased after the war [source: Wyman].

Of course, Spam has been maligned since then:

Internet geeks didn’t help its reputation:

Apparently, the first people to make the connection between repetitive SPAM and repetitive email were enormous geeks, by which we mean to say they were players in “multi-user dungeons,” or very early predecessors of games like World of Warcraft. Brad Templeton, who has done meticulous research on the topic, writes: “The term spamming got used to apply to a few different behaviors. One was to flood the computer with too much data to crash it. Another was to “˜spam the database’ by having a program create a huge number of objects, rather then creating them by hand. And the term was sometimes used to mean simply flooding a chat session with a bunch of text inserted by a program (commonly called a “˜bot’ today) or just by inserting a file instead of your own real time typing output. When the ability to input a whole file to the chat system was implemented, people would annoy others by dumping the words to the Monty Python SPAM Song. Another report describes indirectly a person simply typing “˜spam, spam…’ in a Multi User Domain with a keyboard macro until being thrown off around 1985.”

But now, perhaps, it’s time to give the little canned meat that could some props. So dig in!

Some vintage Spam recipes.

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