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08.13.2001
A Sad, Sad Thing

Faithful readers may have noticed that the cobwebs have been accumulating around the dear old pocket guide. Fear not, we have not forgotten our public, but are only slowly drowing in work. Fortunately, this burden will soon be taken from us and replaced with a new, different burden that will, with luck, impede us less.



07.15.2001
For Your Eyes Only

Over the next few weeks, the long-forgotten pages of a journal relating the events of your faithful servant's voyage to the United Kingdom at the turn of the last century will make their way to nearby section of this very site. Entries will appear as they are transcribed. Use them not too wisely, but too well.



06.28.2001
Rx

Faithful readers who are planning a road trip this summer (you know who you are) will be distressed to learn that legendary Indianapolis monument Hook's Historical Drugstore Museum has closed its doors forever. Fortunately, the museum, which chronicles the 400-year history of apothecaries in the United States, is not disappearing but moving to a new, vastly expanded location, to include "a soda fountain and emporium, a museum shop, vintage drugstore restorations, a conference center and theater, a library of community pharmacy, conference center and theater, [and] a library of community pharmacy," according to Executive Director Jim Rodgers via Roadside America. Unfortunately, this new, ambitious palace of apothecary delight will not be opening until 2002, so this summer's travelers must remain bereft.

Small consolations: You can become a member of Hook's for only $25 (though larger donations are of course welcome). The benefits include not only the newsletter, certificate of appreciation, and invitation to the national meeting that you might expect, but also the entry of your name into the annual "artifact sweepstakes" -- a tantalizing and mysterious prospect if there ever was one. Philatelists can commemorate both the old site of the Hook's museum and the tradition it celebrates by obtaining a first-day cover of this fine-looking stamp honoring the 1906 Pure Food & Drug Act, which was issued at Hook's Drugstore Museum on the 15th of January, 1998.



06.27.2001
Something Fishy

Some call pearl tapioca "fish eyes," and there is doubtless much overlap between this group of people and those who also find a striking resemblance between tapioca pudding and certain unappetizing bodily fluids. However uncomplimentary the comparison is meant to be, on the other hand, it behooves us to remember that actual fish eyes are themselves considered a delicacy in many parts of the world. While Ray Brumen includes them on his list of Weird and Disgusting Foods, they are certainly no weirder nor more disgusting than "BREAD (USA)" ("Is there any other country where such basic foods are so fundamentally repulsive?" he muses).

Indeed, under certain circumstances, fish eyes may be something of an ideal food. Should you find yourself in a tight spot in the open sea, for example, the fascinating and fact-filled Marine Emergencies section of field manual 55-501 (Marine Crewman's Handbook) reminds us, "Fish eyes also contain a lot of water," a fact that any seaman suffering from dehydration should be happy to know. The Descendants have immortalized the culinary value of fish eyes in their classic "I Like Food":

Juicy burgers, greasy fries
Turkey legs and raw fish eyes
Teenage girls, with ketchup too
Get out of my way, or I'll eat you

Furthermore, to put your budding concerns to rest, Muslims need have no worries about the lawfulness of eating fish eyes:

Allaah has permitted us all the produce of the sea: “Lawful to you is (the pursuit of) water-game and its use for food…” [al-Maa’idah 2:96 – interpretation of the meaning]. The Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) told us that it is halaal (lawful) to eat dead creatures from the sea and dead fish, and no part of the fish was excluded from this permission. Hence we know that all parts of the fish are halaal, including its skin, tail, eyes, etc.

So rejoice in the eyes of the fish!



06.08.2001
How to Hook a Linguist

Once upon a time, a 16-year-old named Jim Theis wrote a Conan-esque short story called "The Eye of Argon." It is widely considered the worst science fiction story ever written. Its badness, indeed, has entered the realm of myth; it is variously said to have won the Worst Story award at "an American Sci-Fi convention" for ten, several, or fifteen years running, depending on whom you ask. It is the only link on the front page of the Bulwer-Lytton contest that does not point to either entries to the contest or references to Bulwer-Lytton himself. Indeed, it is a very bad story, although our soft little heart ached when we learned that Theis had been interviewed about a dozen years after writing the story and mentioned that he (in paraphrase of his untranscribed Hour 25 interview) "was rather hurt that his story, which he wrote out of love (however misplaced) for the Howard genre, was so hooted at. He said he would never write anything again."

Oh dear. Well, nonetheless, Adam Cadre wrote an immensely amusing MiSTing of "The Eye of Argon," by which we were duly amused. We were so amused that we went on to use it as the primary text under examination in our recent paper on narrative and semantics, which many of our loyal readers know will be presented at the International Cognitive Linguistics Conference this summer. What even our most loyal readers probably do not know, however, is just how dry and unamusing such material can be made with sufficient effort. Keep in mind that the following abstract will appear in the conference program, where, furthermore, we hope that it will strike our fellow conference attendees as genuinely beguiling:

Meaning construction relies upon building frames whose elements and relations are often linked across mental spaces. As the data of Coulson and Kutas (1998) suggest and as Coulson (2001) describes in greater detail, language users evaluate their representations in an ongoing fashion, shifting and blending frames when new information suggests the need to reanalyze.
Frames related to expression itself are frequently invoked in domains ranging from high literature to everyday expression. Utterances in one mode are frequently framed as if they are in another—a speaking person may recite or paraphrase a written passage, while a history book may quote or paraphrase a spoken utterance, but the mimetic quality of either will always be, to greater or lesser extent, approximate. Cross-modal insets of this sort are vulnerable to semantic conflict triggered not by multiple specifications of the same referent, but by ambiguities regarding the modal status of the referring linguistic elements themselves, as specified by non-local conceptual structures. In this paper, I will examine ways in which narrative-level structures operate as a system of constraints on meaning construction and local semantic shifts regarding the modality of utterances identified as "belonging" to a given level of narration, as well as the extent to which local semantic resolutions are and are not propagated to the top-level representation of the general narrative situation attributed to the text.
As my laboratory for examining these patterns of frame-shifting, I will discuss a selection of writings that make especially prominent and creative use of such shifts, fan-written fiction devoted to the television show Mystery Science Theater 3000.

The proper response is to feel a breathless anticipation for the thirty-minute talk, a sense that you absolutely must see this talk, this unprecedentedly fascinating talk. Feel free to begin at any time.



06.01.2001
No external eyes

There are moles, and then there are mole rats. Mole rats are not moles, as you know; they are also not rats. There are thirty-seven species of rodents called mole rats, not one of which is a rat. Some star in movies, while others, according to an abstract by Mark Blackham, University of Toronto, from the 1998 ASOR Annual Meeting, interfere with the archeological record ("The burrowing activity of this animal affects the sedimentation, soil formation, and stratigraphy of archaeological sites. It also greatly affects the spatial distribution and preservation of artifacts, faunal material and botanical material.")

Marsupial moles are also not moles, although they too burrow under ground and have no external eyes. They are quite rare, so finding one can be quite an occasion for excitement. No one is quite certain of the current state of the Southern Marsupial Mole, or Itjaritjari, population, so travelers are urged to keep an eye out for tracks when journeying through Central Australia. The first Australian Marsupial Mole (a separate species) to be captured by scientists, in 1998, inspired a suitable flurry of attention.

The press release describes the discovery like so: "The mole was found last week at Punmu Community, north of Rudall National Park, in Western Australia, after an extensive search throughout the desert sands of Central Australia." This sounds like an account of the time the third-graders' hamster escaped, but the creature did get its moment of fame, if a brief one: the scientists made their little treasure available "for viewing, photography and television footage at only one session, because of their concerns about stress to the animal." The record does not indicate whether it obtained a press secretary to handle further inquiries.

Golden moles, the most delightful of all African insectivores, are not true moles either. In fact, recent genetic testing seems to indicate that, despite all appearance to the contrary, they are probably more closely related to elephants and aardvarks than to ordinary moles. These creatures spend most of their time buried in sand or crouching atop it and looking for all the world like little furry stones.

Like true moles and marsupial moles, they have only vestigial eyes, covered with skin and fur; all rely on their extremely sensitive noses, loaded with a combination of vibrissae and the sensory receptors called Eimer's Organs (the Chthulu-esque Star-Nosed Mole is particularly well-equipped with the latter). Moles and marsupial moles also have very sensitive tails, but golden moles are tailless--hamsters to their gerbils, as it were--which, while it puts them at something of a sensory disadvantage, does also make them all the more endearingly rock-like. As it happens, they are also reportedly perfect pets (aside from the unfortunate fact that most species are currently on the endagered list), solitary but relaxed and well-behaved in captivity. I want one; don't you want one, too? Golden moles: the pet rock of the new millenium.



05.30.2001
Look out! It's getting away!

You probably feel quite attached to your little Cessna Skyhawk, your Hughes Flying Boat (better known as the Spruce Goose), or Saab Gripen. If so, you should be sure to take the proper precautions to prevent it from up and blowing away one blustery afternoon. We do not recommend fabricating your own tie-downs out of whatever rope is readily available, based on the case of John Pierce v. the City of Belle Fourche, SD. In that instance, tie-downs of the aforementioned sort snapped while the airport manager was at a three-day conference, allowing the plane to blow off the causeway and tumble over the parking area, incurring thousands of dollars of damage. As the appellate court decision points out, in the beautiful deadpan that the very best Findings of Fact can achieve:

It is foreseeable that the wind will blow in South Dakota and that when the wind blows, unsecured airplanes will be damaged. City provided tie-down rings and tie-down ropes for its patrons to secure their airplanes from wind damage. When wind warnings were in effect, the airport manager would double-tie parked airplanes. If City did not foresee wind damage, tie-downs and double-tying would not be necessary.

So how best to secure your own dear aircraft when it is foreseeable that the wind will blow? If you're making cold-weather runs in an Artic-equipped plane like this Fokker Super Universal, you could follow the example of 1920s rescue pilots Doc Oaks and T.M. (“Pat”) Reid and freeze the landing skis to the surface ice. Alternately, you could get soft fabric wing covers, which provide moderate protection against ice formation as well as disrupting the airflow over the wing. However, in our perfectly uninformed opinion, if you happen to have an airplane of the larger and more unruly persuasion, you should instead consider the heavy-duty Fitzhook tie-down system. Why? Well, it does appear to be a secure and easy-to-use setup, but its primary advantage is, of course, its name. Not only does it call to mind fishhooks, Fitzgeralds, and a boxer named Fitz throwing a right hook, it neatly ties this volume of Your Pocket Guide with the very first, and how could we possibly resist that?

In any case, whether you spring for the Fitzhook or no, please do remember to buckle your aircraft down, or you may find yourself wandering through the untamed jungle in search of your lost plane. If you're particularly unlucky, a thick-lipped savage will snatch it away before you find it, knowing full well that with such a wonderful item, he could even have as many as a dozen wives! Then you'll be sorry, oh yes, and Tarzan will scorn you for your lack of foresight. Imagine the shame.



05.23.2001
Just one other thing
A girl I hadn't seen in fifteen years recognized me after a shave and told me that she thought we could make beautiful music together, and I said, 'Baby, I have a tin ear' and she said, 'Shit, I have a glass eye and a bum leg." So we went to her place and I found she was running guns to Africa and selling Avon products without a license, so I borrowed a car to go to the beach and meet new friends.

Nowadays, most "glass eyes" are made of acrylic polymer, and ever more advanced materials and engineering are involved in the manufacture of the very latest, most technologically advanced artificial optical components, but it is still possible to obtain ocular prosthetics made of genuine glass.

Early glass eyes were both fragile and uncomfortable, as the technology for neither glassmaking nor eye-fitting was entirely up to the task. (They are now made of cryolite glass, which holds a particularly fine, smooth surface.) Nonetheless, European glass blowers did very well by the eye business, and kept their techniques a closely guarded secret. When World War II and associated boycotts threatened the supply of artificial eyes to Allied nations--Germany by then having inherited the Venetian mantle as the primary producer of glass eyes--American Optical Co. ocularist Fritz W. Jardon developed a plastic substitute, which has since been refined in innumerable ways.

The most significant advances since Jardon's work have concerned the fitting and seating of the eye. While once prostheses were fitted by trying stock eyes in the socket in search of the least uncomfortable fit--true comfort being a thoroughly unattainable ideal--custom-made prostheses are now the rule. An impression is taken of the socket using alginate gel, a material similar to that used in dental casting. Neither do prosthetic eyes slip directly into the empty socket as once they did; instead, the artificial eye is used in conjunction with an orbital implant that fills the socket. Since the early 1980s, when Dr. Arthur Perry developed an extraordinarily bio-compatable implant made of marine coral, doctors have been able to provide a relatively complication-free, reliable way to achieve remarkably lifelike movement.

The look of the eye itself, whether acrylic or glass, requires painstaking hand-painting to match the color and quality of the iris in its natural mate. It is perhaps unsurprising, therefore, that the industry is filled with rather offbeat, artsy family businesses. As one ocularist writes lovingly of the rising generation, they have "already begun a pre-teen informal indoctrination to the profession of ocularistry by taking additional art courses during their grammar and high school summer vacations, and also by osmosis." A true marriage of art and science, is it not?







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