My Son, The Eel

In my junior year of high school, I took the Occupational Aptitude Test designed to reveal which professional fields I was well suited for. I didn’t have much faith in these exams, and had even less when my results came back. My highest score was for “zoology” where I scored an impressive 95%; my weakest subject was the one I only scored 14% on, and, somehow, it was “animal sciences.”*

I’ve never really understood how I was able to pull off this feat. But based on The Squirrelly’s six month checkup, I’d beginning to suspect that my ability to score all over the chart might have a genetic component.

Let’s do the numbers

  • Length: 28 inches. That puts him in the 90th percentile! If this continues into adulthood, he will be well over 6 feet in height!
  • Weight: 16 1/2 lbs, the 30th percentile. So, we’re lookin’ at a tall, scrawny athletically trim guy.
  • Head circumference: Another 16 1/2, this time in inches. Which puts him in the — 5th percentile? Duh-wha?! So: tall, slender, and, not unlike his dad, unable to hold more than a single thought in his head at any given time.

The doctor assures us that his current stats will likely have no correlation to his adult dimensions. But in the meantime we’re gonna switch from “The Squirrelly” to “The Lamprey” and start renting him out as a chimneysweep.

He also has two teeth now, a fact he’s happy to remind us of whenever we let our fingers wander too close to his maw. Frankly, I’m finding the advent of teeth to be a little disquieting. I mean, it’s weird enough watching the stuff he was born with get bigger, but now he’s generating entirely new body parts? Great — now there’s even more baby to take care of. The only upside is that it has me wondering if, as we keep extending the average lifespan, we’ll someday discover that the human body grows still more appendages somewhere down the line. I’m rooting for wings at 140.

[Aside! Now that everyone who isn’t the parent of a tottler has gotten bored and stopped reading, I can plug these two great children’s CDs: “You are my Flower” and “You Are My Sunshine” by Elizabeth Mitchell. Check out and click “listen.” I’m fond of “Freight Train.”]

We’ve also started feeding him solid foods, although I guess “feeding” is something of a misnomer since it implies that some of the rice cereal actually goes down his gullet. As I move the gruel towards his cryhole, The Squirrelly likes to “help” by opening and closing his mouth at random intervals and wildly waving his arms around in an attempt to grab the spoon, all of which makes the process about as easy as threading a needle during a downpour while riding a roller coaster drunk. Fortunately, the approximately 1200 hours I spent playing Zaxxon as a teen left me uniquely qualified to tackle this challenge. Weird how that high school occupational test failed to pick up on this aptitude

* A second test claimed it would reveal the specific occupation the test taker would excel in. My #1 recommendation was for “model.” This was a written exam, obviously.

Headline News


"George Bush was not honest about his flossing" claim dentists in explosive new ad

Research Day: I Get Questions

I do not typically take requests for Research Day, but I’ve recently been asked an assortment of interest-piquing questions in a variety of situations, and I might as well get them all with one fell swoop.

Question asked by The Queen during a commute: Why does this minivan in front of us have a spoiler? This question was already tackled over at Answer bag, a pretty neat website I just-this-second discovered. In short, the function of a spoiler on the back of a race car is the same as it is on an airplane wing: air exerts pressure upon it, thereby creating a downward force on the vehicle. For a racecar this is good, because it presses the back tires onto the pavement and provides more traction, but given that most street vehicles (a) weigh considerably more than a racecar, (b) go considerably slower than a racecar, and (c) have front-wheel drive, the spoilers you see on the freeway are strictly for show.

Question posed by my mother over dinner: I was once on a plane that got delayed, and the captain said it was ‘because the tarmac is too hot for takeoff’. Was he just making that up? Research Day typically falls on the 15th of the month, but this one got pushed back two weeks while I tried to track down any evidence of truth to the “too hot to take off” claim. When I came up empty, I tossed the query over to the Seattle Public Library Ask A Librarian service. They responded three days later saying, essentially, they had found nothing. All of which makes me think that this particular pilot was full of what my dear departed grandfather would have called “baloney slices.” But if any readers know otherwise, leave a comment.

Update: Several readers suggested that the pilot wasn’t saying the hot tarmac itself prevented take-off, but that the hot weather necessitated more tarmac that the airport had available. In the words of Allan: “As temperature goes up air becomes less dense, so wings generate less lift and thus airplanes require more runway to take off.” Two articles on the subject can be found at’s Ask The Pilot column and Why airplanes like cool days better. Thanks, y’all.

Coworker’s musing during Seattle’s recent heat wave: When we have a hot day in Seattle, I wonder why it stays warm until, like, 2:00 or 3:00 in the morning, whereas, in D.C. for instance, it starts to cool down right after the sun sets?: To get an answer, I wrote my local TV station’s meteorology department. Here’s what Scott Sistek, the KOMO Weather Producer had to say:

When it’s 90 or more during the day, it’s because we have an offshore wind blowing from the east. As the air comes down the western slopes of the Cascades, it sinks and warms. Overnight, that constant breeze sinking and warming has been known to hold up our overnight temperatures, whereas in the flat east, they don’t have that problem (Although on warm humid days there, the humidity seems to make it feel a lot warmer at night than here).

Thanks, Scott. Wow, I thought you guys just reported the weather — I never realized you actually produced it.

Question left on my answering machine by a friend I’ve had since the third grade: Is there a word that means ‘to be buried alive’?: I posted this query to the discuss forum of http://www.file- ummmm I mean a website I heard might maybe exist. Anyway, within moments someone replied with with the word vivisepulture which was also the winning word in the 1996 National Spelling Bee. (Actually, the word itself didn’t win, some freakishly intelligent kid did.) Thanks guy from, um, some website!

Random email from some guy: Saw your website with the “I don’t want to grow up…Toys R Us” words. Do you have the soundclip of that or any suggestion as to where to find it? Here you go, Squirt.

The Bad Review Revue

Alien vs. Predator: “Take a wretched premise. Imagine the worst picture that could be made from it. Then imagine something even worse. That’s Alien vs. Predator.” — Mick LaSella, SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE

The Brown Bunny: “An excruciatingly embarrassing display of ego and ineptitude.” — Jim Fusilli, WALL STREET JOURNAL

Suspect Zero: “It’s not easy to make a thriller that’s both incredibly convoluted and intensely boring, but director E. Elias Merhige scores on both counts.” — Ethan Alter, TV Guide

Yu-Gi-Oh!: “A shabby, joyless, 90-minute slab of advertainment.” — M. E. Russellt, PORTLAND OREGONIAN

Superbabies: “So bad there will be drinking games set around viewing it someday.” — Michael O’Sullivan, WASHINGTON POST

Sugar Substitute

How to watch boy-band Townsend’s video:

  • Go to here.
  • Wait while the page loads up, which will take forever because everyone on teh intarweb is currently hitting it.
  • Get bored, wander off in search of coffee.
  • Return five minutes later to find a handful of queasy-looking coworkers crammed into your office and watching the now-playing video.
  • Try to stammer out an explanation as your workmates slowly turn to you with looks of unmitigated horror.

100 Demeter Dash

With the Olympics in Athens this year, I think the organizers missed a golden opportunity to incorporate some Greek mythological events into the games. Like maybe the synchronized swimmers could sing hypnotic songs and lure passing sailors to a watery grave. Or the weightlifters would have to clean King Augean’s stables — I’d totally watch that on TV.

America would totally kick ass in the Eternal Uphill Boulder Push.

Update: Paul from funkwit writes, “Great idea, Matthew … but I bet the female archery competitors wouldn’t go for it.”

How Democracy Works

Hello, and welcome to the last 70 days before the US Presidential Election! For those of you new to the process, here’s how things will unfold between now and November 2nd:

  • 95% of the electorate has performed their civic duty by paying attention to the candidates and issues surrounding the upcoming election, and therefore know who they are going to vote for. Because these people are responsible citizens of the republic, no one gives a rat’s ass about them (except insofar as they can be shaken down for money).
  • Monies collected from the 95% will be spent on the 5% who have so far been too apathetic to learn about said candidates/issues.
  • The money can’t be given to the 5% directly (as this would constitute bribery), so it will instead be given to television networks.
  • The networks utilize the public broadcast spectrum, so hypothetically the money will go right back to the people who contributed it, except it won’t, because the government licensed the airwaves to the networks on the condition that they operate “in the public interest,” which apparently involves taking millions of dollars to air ads that obfuscate the issues and misrepresent the candidates.
  • On November 2, the 5% of undecided voters will decide not to vote after all when they get drawn into an episode of some terrible sitcom that will be cancelled midseason after one of the aforementioned television networks realizes that it has squandered the millions of dollars they received for showing the ads funded by the 95% of people who paid attention.

I’m so glad we’re exporting American-style democracy to the rest of the world.

Oh and hey, people of Washington State. Right now, according to most polls, Kerry is leading by 11 points. So, Republicans, I need a favor: next time a pollster asks who you are going to vote for, say Kerry. You don’t have to actually vote for the guy, just say you’re going to. Or we need about 30 points-worth of Democrats to say they are going to vote for Bush, that works too. What’s important is that we get a vast majority to say they are going to go one way or the other, so we can get Washington out of “Swing State” category and the campaigns will stop blanketing us with ads. Because if I have to see one more commercial with Bush trying to look smirkily compassionate or Kerry trying to look stoically enthusiastic, I swear I’m going to write-in vote “Ben Dover.”

Tricks Of The Trade

The Tricks Of The Trade article is now running at The Morning News.

A huge “thank you” to the hundreds (!!) of people who responded to my call for occupational secrets. Narrowing it down to 30 was tough, and I hope to post all the suggestions here in the near future. Again, sorry about the lack of names in the piece — since 75% of the ones I chose were submitted as “Anonymous” we decided to run them all unsigned. I also shortened some, and, since they were all submitted in different tenses (past, present, subjunctive) and persons (first-, second- and third-person), I reworded most for uniformity of voice — I hope no one is irritated by my heavy editorial hand. (Is it obvious how guilty I feel for altering your submissions?)

By the by, someone started a Metafilter thread on this topic, and more great tricks are being posted over there.

Again, thanks to everyone who wrote in. I have the best readers ever.

What Do You Want From Me, Blood?

I donated blood today. I’d love to say that I give blood out of a selfless desire to help the needy — and, in fact, I do say when I’m trying impress girls — but the truth is that I hate giving blood, and do it as infrequently as possible. I’d never give blood if the bloodbank guys weren’t so persistent, pursuing like a relentless cyborg sent from the future to hunt down hapless victims, extract their bodily fluids, and then treat them to cranberry juice and sugar cookies.

The problem is that I have AB- blood, which is about as common as a good Ben Stiller movie. I think one in 200 people have it, maybe one in 500, something like that. I couldn’t fall into the top .5% for intelligence or attractiveness or wealth, it had to be freakin’ platelets.

So the bloodbank if forever calling to breathlessly warn me that my blood type is in “very low supply.” And I know that I should just say, “Duh! Plutonium is in very low supply too, that’s how rarity works. And who cares if you don’t have any AB- blood — no one can take it anyway. You’re about as likely to pump a pint of my blood into an accident victim as a quart of yoghurt.”

But instead I solemnly swear to visit my local bloodbank and donate. And one time out of every dozen I’ll actually follow through.

Just blood, though. There’s no way I’m ever going to donate plasma. I don’t see why I should get stuck with a needle just so some rich guy can have a fancy-screened TV.

Guitar Pick

We discuss childrearing.

The Queen: The Squirrelly really loves that music class we go to.

Me: Oh?

Q: Yeah. The teacher plays guitar, and he loves guitar. She even gives lessons to kids, starting at age four, so we might want to sign him up for those when he gets older. I’m thinking he should play guitar or violin. Except violin is kind of geeky. So guitar, then.

M: Whoa! Whoa, whoa, whoa. He’s only six months old, let’s not get all life-plannie, here.

Q: I’m not being life-plannie.

M: I just watched you narrow his choice of musical instruments down to two and then eliminate half.

Q: Kids who play guitar are cool.

M: Granted, but we’re gonna let our kid play whatever he wants to play.

Q: Oh, of course. I’ll just make sure he wants to play guitar.