Hot Chicken Takeover

IMG_5027There’s a new sensation drawing throngs of diners to the North Market.  Called Hot Chicken Takeover, it appears on Thursdays in an otherwise unused space on the second floor, deftly serves thousands of hungry Columbusites eager to savor some delectable yardbird, then vanishes again until the next weekend approaches.

Yesterday when the Ex-Neighbor and I arrived the check HCT out the line was already long, and a look of bug-eyed chickenlust was on the face of every would-be patron.  A friendly worker handed us a menu, and the E-N and I scanned it as the line moved along.  We quickly decided on our choices — both featuring waffles — as the tantalizing scent of fried chicken hung heavy in the air and workers called out the names of people whose orders were ready.  In the meantime, some lucky souls were seated at long tables covered with red and white-checked table, already attacking their food with frenzied glee.

IMG_5028I got the thigh and leg combo; the E-N went for a chicken breast.  We both chose waffles over bread (which costs a bit extra) and selected the “hot” flavor (HCT has four seasoning options, with “hot” being second behind a mouth-burning level described on the menu only with a curse word) and took our seats.  After a few minutes of pleasant conversation, our styrofoam containers of crunchy goodness arrived, and we dug in.  The chicken smelled wonderful and tasted better than excellent — piping hot, juicy, with tons of flavor and a rising, accumulative heat level that left me greedily sucking my fingers and nibbling on bones searching for final scraps of meat until the E-N discreetly advised me, with just a hint of embarrassment, that I needed to wipe my face and start acting my age.  The spicy chicken goes perfectly with the sweetness a waffle and syrup, and the mac and cheese side dish, which is light and bright and not leaden with cheese, is a fine complement.

When we left a sign advised that HCT had sold out of two of its options, and by the end of the lunch hour it was all gone.  No surprise there!  When a place that serves fried chicken this good pops up — even if only in a mysterious, only-on-some-days, end-of-the-week way — it’s going to be ridiculously popular.  Now we know why.

Uncle Mack And The Woodworking Trip

They say that every story has a moral.  The moral of this story is:  make sure, upon pain of potential death or horrible disfigurement, that you use the right equipment — mechanical, and human, too.

It was the early ’80s, when Kish and I lived in the D.C. area and Uncle Mack and Aunt Corinne had a suburban spread out in Reston, Virginia.  One of his former law partners had decided he no longer could use some woodworking equipment and had asked Uncle Mack if he wanted it.  Uncle Mack — always avidly searching for some new hobby or interest — responded with an enthusiastic yes.  The price of the equipment was a drive to this fellow’s retirement home on the Maryland eastern shore to pick up the devices and drive them away, and Uncle Mack asked if I would give him a hand.  Being an ever-dutiful nephew, I said yes.

I drove out to Reston on a wet Saturday.  Uncle Mack had somehow obtained an actual delivery van to use — a wise decision for which I have been forever grateful, because I probably wouldn’t be here to tell the tale otherwise — and we set off.

After a long drive through D.C. ‘burbs and over Chesapeake Bay bridges we arrived at the guy’s house and went to his woodshop.  Calling it a “woodshop” really doesn’t do it justice, because he had every known piece of equipment that could be used to cut, shape, bevel, or sand wood — from stand-up metal equipment like band saws and mitre saws, lathes and belt sanders, to grinders and hand tools for detail work — as well as a supply of raw lumber.

Uncle Mack’s eyes took on a glint, and I could see that he was envisioning making fine wooden birdhouses, beautifully finished wooden bowls, lovely moldings, and entire rooms of sturdy yet delicate furniture with Amish-quality craftsmanship.  He wanted it all.  At one point I remember him looking longingly at a thin piece of wood with the retiree.  They agreed it was a really nice piece of wood.  “Cherry, eh?” Uncle Mack said.  “Sure, I can use that.”  It was indeed a terrific piece of lumber that might be turned into a bannister or a baseball bat.  It was added to the delivery pile.

I learned that day that old woodworking equipment is heavy.  The stand-up devices were made of metal from top to bottom and weighed approximately 200 pounds apiece, with narrow bases and wide table tops and sharp edges.  We huffed and puffed and wrangled them into the delivery van, but — how to store them to prevent damage during the drive back?  We had no clue, and no cloth wraps.  So we simply placed them upright in the back of the van, moving them next to each other cheek by jowl, until the rear of the van was jammed with metal, power tools, planks, boards, and blocks.  The  van sagged with the weight, and the retiree’s woodshop was denuded.  He looked wistful about it, but his wife appeared to be delighted.

After thank-yous and farewells, we started back, with Uncle Mack at the wheel of the overloaded van.  As we approached one intersection, moving at a pretty good clip, the car in front of us stopped suddenly and Uncle Mack jammed on the brakes.  We felt the momentum shift in the rear of the van and then heard staccato banging back there.  The next thing I knew there was a loud whang! from right behind me and I felt the metal shield that separated the passenger compartment from the storage area shiver with a strong impact at about my neck line.  After the sudden stop that poorly stored stand-up woodworking equipment, with all its razor-sharp saws and points and metal edges had come hurtling forward and toppled like metal dominoes, and only the metal guard had saved me from being beheaded by the edge of a falling band saw.  When we realized what had happened we both breathed a sigh of relief, then burst into laughter.

We finally got back to Uncle Mack’s house, and reasoned that we should drive the van into his back yard so we could move the heavy equipment directly through his walk-out basement to the inner basement that would be his shop.  When we drove the overloaded van into the back yard it promptly sank axle-deep in the soft ground.  We unloaded the van, tracking mud through Aunt Corinne’s beautiful basement, until the woodshop was crammed full, then tried without success to rock the van out of its deep muddy ruts, coating the backyard with mud droplets as we did so.  Finally we gave up and I drove home, grateful to have survived the experience.

I don’t think Uncle Mack ever used any of the woodworking equipment, or that fine piece of cherry wood.

There’s Gold In Them Thar Poop

The members of the American Chemical Society must be very curious people.  For example, a presentation at the most recent national meeting of the ACS addressed the prospects for recovery of gold, silver, copper, vanadium, palladium, and other precious metals that are found in . . . human waste.

According to a BBC report, the ACS presentation concluded, through a study that must have been incredibly disgusting to conduct, that gold is found in waste from American sewage treatment plants at the same levels found in a minimal mineral deposit. A prior study had found that the waste from 1 million Americans includes about $13 million in rare metals, and scientists are evaluating whether an extraction process using certain leaches could be applied to the solid waste produced by waste water treatment plans to see whether the rare metals could be pulled out, presumably cleaned up, and then sold.

The concept of extracting metals from solid waste is similar to the notion of “mining” metals from landfills and waste dumps.  Some experts estimate that landfills contain billions of dollars in metals, if they could just figure out an economical way to separate the metals from the disposable diapers and other vile items that have American landfills filled to the brim.  Already some “landfill mining” operations are underway.

Metals, if improperly disposed of, can be environmentally damaging, so I’m all in favor of any process that results in more complete recycling — even if it means sifting through smelly tons of human waste.  The BBC story about the ACS presentation left unanswered my central question about this issue, however:  how in the world does gold and vanadium get into the human digestive system, and its end product, in the first place?

Cactus Fail

IMG_5006What happens when you introduce a desert climate plant, like a cactus, to a climate like Columbus, where you are going to get cold, wet winters?

Apparently, this.  It’s an ugly, withered, collapse of a once-proud plant.

All of which reminds me — I’m looking forward to doing some gardening this year, with a new yard, new flower beds, and new challenges.

Scrutinizing The Search Engines

How do search engines work, exactly?  When you type in your poorly worded, off the top of your head inquiry, how do they sift through mountains of data and come up with responsive information — and then rank that information, to boot?

Staffers at the Federal Trade Commission looked at Google and concluded that Google skews its search results to favor its own services and offerings at the expense of its rivals.  Among other things, the report concluded that Google modified its ranking criteria so that Google options fared better and that Google “scraped” content — whatever that means — from other websites as part of its effort to favor Google offerings.

IMG_4976I suppose I should be irate about the notion of Google jimmying search results in its favor, but it’s hard to get too exercised about it.  I really don’t care about how the rankings are determined or presented, nor do I want to get into the boring details of search algorithms.  How many people automatically click on the top option their search produces?  I don’t.  I’m perfectly happy to skip the sites that have paid for priority and the cached options and scroll through until I find what I’m looking for.

The search engine world is a black box to most of us non-techies, but there seems to be a lot of games being played, by everyone.  How often have you done a software update on your computer and found that your default search engine option has mysteriously changed from Google to, say, Yahoo as part of the process?  That’s happened to me, and I assume that Yahoo has paid for that modification, figuring that most people won’t go through the hassle of changing the default back to Google or Yelp or whatever it was before.  And most people won’t.

The reality is, most of us don’t care which search engine gets used, or how the search engine produces its results, or whether those results are faithfully based on objective criteria.  We just want to get instantaneous answers to our questions.  I’m more interested in how Google comes up with those funky substitutes for the letters in its name that recognize special occasions, like today’s colorful flower-based nod to the official beginning of spring.

The Wrath Of Mr. Pappano

Yesterday I saw a short man with black glasses and thick, Coke bottle-type lenses walking down the street.  A chill ran up my spine, because he looked like Mr. Pappano.

I’m not sure that is how his name was spelled, but Mr. Pappano was the first gym teacher I remember having.  There wasn’t gym in kindergarten, or first grade — just class, lunch, and recess.  But by fourth grade the school authorities decided we needed some kind of organized, healthy physical activity, supervised by an interested adult teacher.

Mr. Pappano fit the bill.  He was a small, swarthy guy who always wore a gray t-shirt and whistle and apparently felt that tumbling was a crucial part of child development.  It was as if the kids in our class were being groomed for slots in a circus act . . . or maybe the school had spent a lot on tumbling mats and decided they had to get their money’s worth.  In any case, we’d troop into the gym, see the dirty gray mats on the hardwood floor — and I would groan, because I was the worst tumbler in school.

You started with the “log roll,” where you would lie on your side and then roll forward.  That, I could do.  In fact, I may have been the best log roller in the continental United States.  But once I was asked to move to more advanced forms of tumbling — like the head-over heels forward roll, somersaults, handstands, round-offs — I sucked.  I was a fat, unathletic kid whose center of gravity just seemed to be in the wrong place, and I was perpetually unable to do what other kids seemingly could do with ease.

This made Mr. Pappano mad.  In fact, it infuriated him.  He would blow his shrill whistle, his eyes would bulge behind those magnifying glass lenses, his neck muscles would stand out, and spittle would fly from his red face as he berated me for not even trying.  Then he would proudly do the tumbling maneuver himself, to show me how easy it was.  Of course, I was aware that others could do it, so watching a fully grown adult who may have been genetically bred for tumbling wasn’t exactly the most successful teaching method.  Instead, Mr. Pappano’s deft motivational techniques just made me associate gym class with personal humiliation and hate it all the more.  The first blast of his whistle provoked a Pavlovian retreat to my personal happy place until gym class was blessedly over.

I hadn’t thought of Mr. Pappano in years, and I kind of wish it had stayed that way.  We’ve all got those embarrassing memories looked deep in our subconscious, ready to somersault out, unbidden, at the sight of a stranger.

Dubious Branding

Today I noticed that one of the businesses I pass on my walk to work has a logo that consists of “T&A” over a stately Greek column.  The “T” stands for a person’s last name, and the “A” stands for “Associates” — so there’s a legitimate reason for the “T&A.”

IMG_4955Still . . . T&A?  It’s memorable, I’ll give it that.  Any red-blooded American male is not likely to forget that name.  Of course, whether they associate the name with this particular business, or with something else, is another matter.

Obviously, the brand is fraught with lots of baggage and is, well, easily misconstrued.  For example, let’s suppose, hypothetically, that this specific company wanted to hold a holiday party to thank their clients for another successful year.  How many clients are going to want to get an invitation to the “T&A party,” especially if the invitation is delivered to their home address?  Who wants their secretary to see a calendar entry for “T&A meeting,” or have someone overhear them talking about “T&A”?  Do they answer their phone “T&A.  How may we help you?”  Do their marketing brochures say “If you need help, call for T&A”?

You’d think someone, somewhere, sometime, would have suggested that “Big T Associates” might be more suitable.