stop

The mass of bikers, cyclists, and bicycle commuters approaches the intersection of Beacon and Kirkland. On the other side are two cops, recognizable from a distance if you know what they look like. The front of the pack slows down and then stops as the light turns red. Several people break off to the side–passing on the right–and through the signal.

The cops across the street yell for them to stop, once they have officially broken the law.

The rest of us start up again. “Stupid kids,” someone mutters to me on my left. I look over at her and she smiles. “They have to learn to trust the rest of us. The folly of youth.”

statistics

This is about rape.

“Okay, I’m just going to say it, I’m worried she’s going to get raped.”

There is a moment of silence and then agreement.

“I mean, statistically speaking, she is more likely to get raped than anything else.”

More agreement.

“It’s really disgusting that that’s what we’re worried about, you know. That her actions are ones we think will get her raped. Even those words ‘get her raped.’ That’s really messed up.”

“Someone will rape her and use her actions as an excuse.”

“Yeah.”

figurehead

Brendan Eich, inventor of Java script and new CEO of Mozilla, donated to Prop 8. Mozillans have asked him to step down. He made a statement about the the public response to his new position.

Mozilla claims that Firefox has 450 million users. To give you an idea about the (arguably) open source software market from an end user perspective, that’s about half the number of people who use Android. Ubuntu claims as much as 20 million users. Wikipedia has 21 million users. I’d go as far to say that Firefox is kind of a big deal, and possibly one of the most common pieces of free software in the world from the end-user perspective.

The new CEO of a 450 million user free software projected donated money to ban gay marriage. He now represents my community to the world.

confirmation

When filling out a spreadsheet of “skills” potentially relevant to the 2014 Mystery Hunt, I wrote: No, seriously. I know like all the words to a bunch of Taylor Swift songs.

Cut to hunt when someone makes an idle comment to which I say: Oh, that’s “Mean.” It’s like my favorite Taylor Swift song.

That’s why “Mean” is my favorite Taylor Swift song. That video. Seriously. Banjo, mandolin, fiddle.

Banjo.

I get pulled to the next room to a big sheet on the wall and asked to highlight the lyrics, mixed up, sometimes one letter at a time, with Alice in Wonderland.

Easy as eating pancakes, I say.

Except, it’s not. This has nothing to do with there being a twist, but rather someone else reading them out loud from a webpage. It was hard for me to balance singing the song in my head while someone else was reading the words–slightly mangled by a fan’s transcription–slightly faster than the song goes. Plus, people wanted confirmation. They didn’t trust my knowledge while there was a way to confirm on the internet.

My role in the puzzle was entirely pointless. I was not only redundant, but a bottle neck for the process.

For a long time, it was considered impossible to run a mile in under five minutes. Times were kept to the second, and the five minute mile was broken in the late 1800s. In 1999, Hicham El Guerrouj did it in 3:43.13, 1.26 seconds faster than the previous record holder. Hicham wore shoes and clothes completely incomparable to those of his forefathers. He had a better understanding of aerodynamics and how the body moves. Where to strike his foot.

Puzzle writers are also competing for times. There is a sweet spot of hunt length, and a balance of difficulty of puzzles and number of puzzles is sought to create this. When early hunts were solved too quickly, a puzzle was famously written in Linear A (citation needed), and all relevant books checked out of the school library. It was solved, rather quickly, by participants tracking down a professor with the relevant knowledge. Poor guy.

The year reverse image search arrived changed how a whole category of puzzles are solved. Being able to quickly identify photos is useful, but if your person who can do that isn’t around yet (or speaks slower than the person searching), you can work your way through a page of unknown celebrities anyway. One year, a Boston location puzzle (travel around the city, see things) was solved by at least one team using Google Maps. My knowledge of Taylor Swift lyrics was quickly trumped by someone with a laptop and a working wireless card.

preparations

“So, we need like fifteen-thousand calories a day.”

“What?”

“Four people, medium load, winter. Maybe more like eighteen because it’s winter?”

“Eighteen thousand calories? How do you even consume that many?

“What? Three to five thousand?”

“Yeah.”

A pause. “Butter.”

nostalgia

Walking across the row of seats, trying to get as close to the center as possible, a familiar and nearly lost feeling of visual confusion creates a lack of balance. The next row down is too low, the tops of the seats don’t reach my ankles. We sit down and lean back, look around, test our seats and position in the dome.

The IMAX screen goes from a grey blue to a brighter blue, the voice starts explaining how the theater works. If you start feeling uncomfortable or disoriented, it says, look away. The lights on the screen darken and the lights behind it go up, showing off a full surround sound system in front, behind, below, and above us. They demonstrate its capabilities, calling it a test, a calibration. Rain fills the room and I grin uncontrollably, giddy. I am ten again.

cliques

“What was her name?”

“Cora, right?”

“Barnacle! Nora Barnacle!”

“Yeah. Well, he wrote her these letters and they are the grossest thing ever.”

“Oh geeze, yeah. I’ve never seen anything as disgusting.”

“Have you been on the internet?”

“Yeah, and this is the worst thing I’ve ever seen.”

“I just read James Joyce’s letters to his lover. Have you seen those before?”

“No. Are they any good? I never made it through Ulysses. Liked Dubliners though.”

“Once you get past the poop, it’s pretty hot.”

“Eh, I’ve seen worse on the internet.”

“Oh, man! Are you talking about the Joyce-Barnacle letters? I love those!”

metric

I sit at the table deciding whether to use Earth Balance or butter on my vegan waffle.

You see, I’m lactose intolerant. I’m also soy intolerant. However, soy-free EB doesn’t contain soy, and butter doesn’t contain lactose. We compare the nutritional value of the two containers:

Earth Balance Butter
Serving size 14 oz. 14 oz.
Fat 11g 11g
Sodium 110mg 110mg
Vitamin E 10% 0%
Vitamin A 0% 10%

The difference is vitamin A or vitamin E. The butter contains cream, whirled and processed until only the milkfats are left. EB contains: Palm oil, canola oil, safflower, flax, and olive oil. Water, salt, natural flavor, pea protein, sunflower lecithin, lactic acid, and annatto for color. The butter comes from Pennsylvania. The palm oil in EB comes from Brazil and Malaysia.

Palm oil is actually this whole issue. Much (85%) of the world’s palm oil comes from Indonesia and Malaysia. It is also from Brazil, Columbia, New Guinea, Ghana, Borneo, and Sumatra. Plantations are sites of burned rainforests, destroyed for palm oil agriculture. Animals that are threatened, endangered, and critically endangered due to this profess include: Asian elephants, tigers, Sumatran rhinoceros and Sumatran orangutans. (The Orangutan Project)

But! EB doesn’t get their palm oil from those sources, so it’s all cool, right?

The question between Pennsylvania Butter and Global Earth Balance rapidly becomes more complicated once it moves beyond the fauna v. flora debate of sourcing. If we look at our scope beyond the daily life and relative suffering of a Pennsylvania cow and a Malaysian tree, the tree definitely has the better deal. We start looking at environmental effects–grass and orangutans, dairy farm workers and field hands, pollutants, CO2 production rates, the ability for me to pick which is better (or, let’s be honest, less bad) gets overwhelmed by internal debates of environmentalism, globalization, and moral economics. Nutrition (which should be my highest priority because taking care of myself ought to be my base metric for what I do (even though it’s not) is not an issue since the two substances are, basically, nutritionally identical.

I stop looking at the stick of butter and tub of earth balance and do the most reasonable, rational thing I can think of: douse my pancakes in Michigan maple syrup.