D-Day Sausages

In D-Day, Stephen Ambrose describes extensively the preparations for Operation Overlord.  My favorite passage so far (from page 153) describes preparations taken within assembly areas (called “sausages” — read the book if you need to know why) immediately before the invasion:

Condoms were issued, by the millions.  Some were blown up into balloons or filled with water and tossed around, but most were put to more practical, if unintended, use.  The infantrymen put them over the muzzles of their M-1 rifles; the rubbers would keep out sand and water and would not have to be removed before the weapons were fired.  Hundreds of men put their watches in condoms and tied them off; unfortunately, the condoms were not large enough to hold wallets.

It’s a Small World After All

I’ve mentioned before that one of my favorite musicians is Kayla Ringelheim — who, by the way, has two new songs you should first hear on her site and then buy on iTunes (total cost: $2.00; total value: priceless).

I’ve also mentioned before that one of my favorite poets is Sarah Kay — who, by the way, has a new (to me) poem called Peacocks you should watch online.

I occasionally search YouTube and Google for new performances from some of my favorite artists (including these two), and I do often find new content there.  I’m wholeheartedly in favor of paying for the work any artist labors to create, but I’ve also learned that new music from local artists (in particular) tends to appear on YouTube long before it’s available to purchase anywhere.

In the process, I also occasionally find sites that mention a performer’s name in some other context, without offering any glimpse into recent or upcoming performances.  For example, a search for Ms. Ringelheim some months ago found a page at Brown University describing some group where she was a member.  That’s interesting to people at Brown, but when looking for new music (as opposed to… what’s that word… “stalking”) it’s not especially helpful.

Then I searched for Ms. Kay this evening and the very same page turned up.  This got my attention.

It turns out to belong to an a cappella group called The Higher Keys.  First of all, they admitted two of my all-time favorite performers as members, so I’m impressed with their standards.  Second, the samples from the group’s 2005 CD (the most recent recording listed) includes an a cappella version of Friend Like Me from the Disney movie Aladdin.  I’m now really tempted to see if I can still buy a copy just for that.

Let’s all take a moment to be impressed at the coincidences implicit in all these events.

Butlers of the Information Age

The service Ask Sunday charges a monthly fee to perform routine tasks for subscribers.  For example, you might ask them (by e-mail, phone, fax, or website) to make a reservation at a particular restaurant, or to call local stores to find where a particular product is in stock.  Really, you can ask for anything that can be completed in 20 to 30 minutes.  Other suggestions from their site:

Update/Cancel Subscriptions: Figure out how to update the mailing address for my Business Week subscription.

Phone-in Purchases: Call J.Crew and order me the Cotton cable crewneck sweater in faded black.

Administrative: Contact American Airlines and see that I get frequent flyer credit for my flight last week. I forgot to add my AAdvantage number at the airport.

Lost Luggage: I just landed in Dubai from Emirates flight EK202 and my luggage didn’t turn up. Please contact the lost luggage department and help me track it down.

Store Hours: How late is the Crate and Barrel open on West North Avenue in Chicago?

It’s an interesting idea.  Each small task we need to do takes only a few minutes, but collectively those tasks can take hours.  Sunday’s basic plan costs $37 per month for up to 15 requests, so if each request takes 20 minutes you’re valuing your time at or above $7.40 per hour.

I’m not about to subscribe, but services like this make our world interesting.

I’ve Lost My Phone Number; Can I Have Yours?

Quoth Danielle Radcliffe, who portrays Harry Potter in the Paramount films:

I’d like to issue a public invitation to the Obamas that if their daughters would like a private tour of the “Harry Potter” set, I would be honored to be their personal tour guide.

(From the Names page of this morning’s Boston Globe.)

In related news, a colleague of mine found herself in line at Dunkin Donuts yesterday morning, where a strange man tapped her on the shoulder and initiated this exchange:

Strange Man:  Would you like a breakfast sandwich?
Colleague: What?

Strange Man: Would you like a breakfast sandwich?
Colleague: …

Strange Man: I have a coupon!
Colleague:  No, thank you.

Strange Man: So you don’t eat breakfast!  How about lunch?  Can I get your number?

The question we must all be asking deep down is: are there women somewhere on the world who, upon hearing that line, agree to a date?

Escape from Database Island

This is unnerving:

[bobbojones@desktop app]$ grep -R mysql_real_ * | wc -l
[bobbojones@desktop app]$ find . | xargs wc -l | tail -n 1
   19199 total

In nearly 20,000 lines of code, the function mysql_real_escape_string() is called only 20 times.  I estimate, very conservatively, that there are over 300 distinct queries in that code base.

I’m really hoping someone thought they’d be cute and wrap mysql_real_escape_string() inside some other function.

Dr. Referral and Mrs. Hyde

I love our health insurance system.  In order to visit a specialist, I must first get a referral from my Primary Care Physician.  Many insured Americans will be familiar with this song and dance.

It’s clearly meant to model traditional doctor-patient interactions.  If my doctor diagnosed a heart problem he felt unqualified to treat, he’d refer me to a cardiologist.  If he diagnosed a digestive problem, he’d choose instead a good gastroenterologist.  He treats general illnesses, and recommends specialists to treat specialized illnesses.

In this case, I’ve diagnosed my problem without his assistance: I have poor eyesight.  I know I should be careful performing self diagnoses even in the Internet era, but I’m confident about this one.  You can check my work.  First, I removed my glasses and then counted how many events made me say “ouch!” in the following two minute period.  I then replaced my glasses and repeated the test.  (Let’s just say it was a smaller number and leave it at that.)

Now, I know I need to see an ophthalmologist.  You know I need to see an ophthalmologist.  My doctor would know I need to see an ophthalmologist.  My insurance company knows I need to see an ophthalmologist.  Some people reading this post will now even know how to correctly spell ophthalmologist!  Yet if I just went to an ophthalmologist, I’d have to pay the entire cost of the visit.

So instead I make a phone call.  I do not call my doctor.  I do not call my insurance company.  I call my doctor’s receptionist, Mrs. McMeaneyPants III (that’s the name on her birth certificate, I think), and ask for a referral.  She (reluctantly) fills out a form.

I have never — not once — even met my doctor, since I have not had any general health problems since signing up for this plan.  Moreover, because Mrs. McMeaneyPants outright refused to let me fill out a patient history for his office to have on file in case I ever do need to see him, there’s no real record of me as a patient there.

I really feel like this is the medical equivalent to investing illicit funds in an off-shore holding company.

Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist Sometimes

I stumbled onto an article in the New York Post on the identify of The Waiter from the blog Waiter Rant (which I’ve mentioned before).  Among other things, it says:

And profiling diners based on age, sex and race is still rampant in the industry. “I try not to fall into that trap,” says Dublanica. “I’ve had waiters say to me, ‘this group doesn’t tip well’ – whatever. I don’t believe that. The people who have given me the worst tips of my life have been white Anglo-Saxon males.”

Anybody else think the only difference between “this group doesn’t tip well” and “white Anglo-Saxon males have given me the worst tips of my life” is that the latter names a specific group?

Can I PLEASE Give You Money?

From LensCrafters’ Frequently Asked Questions page:

Q. Can I buy glasses without a prescription in the lenses?
A. Yes, we call them plano lenses. You can get them with the same great options as prescription lenses, including hip tints and anti-reflective and scratch resistant coatings. Don’t forego a great fashion accessory just because you have good vision.

Really?  That’s asked frequently, is it?  People who want to buy $200 glasses just so they can wear glasses?

On Hot Dogs and Frosting

Years ago, a group of people sat down in a meeting where someone asked, “How much frosting goes on a cake?”  Someone then answered, “sixteen ounces, of course!”  And now every single time I bake a cake I have slightly too little frosting.

Everyone’s so focused on the incorrect ratio of hot dogs to hot dog buns that the frosting to cake ratio has gone almost entirely unnoticed by mainstream complainers.

It’s time to put an end to this.  Betty Crocker, Pillsbury, Duncan Hines, and the other makers of fine cake mixes and frostings need to reevaluate how much frosting belongs in a can.

(This message paid for by America’s committee for frosting re-regulation .)

Things To Do With Cranberries

I’ve gotten strange results from Peapod searches in the past.  Today, I needed to order new fabric softener sheets so I searched for “Bounce.”

The brand shows up correctly under “Looking for a brand?”

Then under “Looking for a category?” I had this (and only this) result:

Produce Cranberries

I think they’ve just invented the worst sport in history!