March 17, 2011

Nemo theta own: the answers

Last week I posted about some fun a friend and I had with his computer: when we discovered that Windows' speech-recognition system was less than stellar, we decided to sing to Word and see what happened. I posted the results and encouraged you to try and guess what the songs were. Here are the answers:

  1. "Fly Me to the Moon" by Frank Sinatra
  2. "Amazing Grace"
  3. "Supercalifragilisticexpialadocious" from Mary Poppins
  4. "Ring of Fire" by Johnny Cash
  5. "Stairway to Heaven" by Led Zeppelin
  6. "Mad World" by Tears for Fears
  7. "Safety Dance" by Men Without Hats
  8. "All My Loving" by the Beatles
  9. "Danny Boy"
  10. "One More Minute" by "Weird Al" Yankovic

My friend Aaron saw these on Facebook and got the first eight quite quickly. On the other hand, "Danny Boy" was severely obscured by the software, and admittedly "One More Minute" is fairly obscure.

Maybe I'll try this again sometime. Anyone for Shakespeare?

Happy birthday, Dead Ron: part 2

This past Sunday marked the 100th birthday of the late science-fiction author, cult guru, and all-round con artist, L. Ron Hubbard. (I have already posted the first part of this biography; read it first!). Hubbard had been a penny-a-word pulp fiction author, but it was difficult to make ends meet writing lurid science-fiction stories. When he was hard up, Hubbard was known by his friends to have remarked: "If a man really wanted to make a million dollars, the best way to do it would be to start his own religion."

So he did.

Ron the cult leader

Scientology evolved from Dianetics, the self-help therapy that Hubbard had invented in 1950, and for a couple of years had become a major fad. If Dianetics was supposed to address the human mind, then Scientology was for the human soul. According to its doctrine, we are all spiritual creatures called "Thetans" inhabiting physical bodies. Sadly, after eons of traveling from body to body (Scientology teaches the reality of past lives, and its cosmology goes back trillions of years and even greater orders of magnitude), we have forgotten about our true nature as spiritual beings. Through Scientology, we can regain our awareness of ourselves and become "Operating Thetans," possessing all the extraordinary abilities that we have lost, including talking to other forms of life through telepathy, leaving the body at will ("exteriorizing"), and controlling physical reality with thought. Many of Scientology's advanced "sacred scriptures," which Hubbard developed over time, are exercises that are supposed to develop these powers and re-establish the right relationship between the Thetan and the physical world.

The most infamous bit of Scientology teaching is "Operating Thetan III," which describes the so-called "Incident Two." 75 million years ago, the emperor of a Galactic Federation, a despot named Xenu, solved overpopulation on his planet by freezing its inhabitants and shipping them to Earth in spaceships resembling DC-8 aircraft. He dropped them into volcanoes in Hawaii and detonated them with atomic bombs. This disembodied the Thetans (of course!), and Xenu captured them with some kind of electronic device. The Thetans were then restrained and forced to watch movies, which implanted a sort of racial post-hypnotic suggestion that ultimately manifested itself in the form of 20th-century British culture. (For some reason, Hubbard never explains why Xenu couldn't just have shot his excess population.) Some of the Thetans became confused when they were exploded in the volcanoes (naturally!), and instead of finding a body of their own, attached themselves to someone else's. These "Body Thetans" are spiritually detrimental and need to be audited away in order for the Scientologist's spiritual condition to improve.

In short, then, Scientology teaches that you are a spiritual being with god-like powers that don't work because you trapped in a body, stuck with the psychological problems of millions of reincarnations, and infested with the spirits of murdered space aliens.

Dianetics had been successful, but Scientology was all the more so. Hubbard was soon making a quarter million dollars a year. He purchased a mansion in Saint Hill in England, which became his permanent residence as well as Scientology's international headquarters, where Scientologists could come and take courses. No longer writing pulp fiction, Hubbard turned his pen to promoting Scientology, producing such bizarre books as A History of Man and Have You Lived Before This Life?, books so weird they should be regarded as classics of pseudoscience.

In 1953, the Hubbard Association of Scientologists was converted into a full-blown religion: the Church of Scientology. Its executives began describing themselves as "ministers." Some even took to wearing clerical collars.

Soon, the new "church" began to have run-ins with the authorities. At the height of the Cold War, with nuclear hysteria running high, Hubbard had invented a vitamin supplement he called "Dianazene," which he claimed would "run out radiation" and even cancer. This caught the attention of the Food and Drug Administration, which raided a Scientology property in Washington and seized its supply of Dianazene. In 1963, the FDA again raided the Church of Scientology of Washington, seizing a number of e-meters which it claimed were misleadingly labeled. Eventually they were returned, on the condition that a label be affixed disclaiming any medical or diagnostic function. The IRS began to investigate the tax-exempt status of the Church. A Board of Inquiry in Australia excoriated the doctrines and practices of the Church and effectively banned Scientology: "Scientology is evil; its techniques evil; its practice a serious threat to the community . l. . and its adherents sadly deluded and often mentally ill," read their report. As for Hubbard himself, the Board questioned his sanity.

Because of the perceived "persecution" of his religion, Hubbard became paranoid, seeing a massive conspiracy arrayed against Scientology, including the government and the psychiatric profession, which he had hated ever since they had dismissed Dianetics as quackery. To defend the Church against these attacks, he instituted a system of "ethics," meaning a witch-hunt against anything that might call any word of his into question. Scientologists were interrogated on the e-meter, asked if they had ever had any negative thoughts about Hubbard. Offenders might be declared "suppressive persons," that is, enemies of Scientology, and expelled. Church faithful were instructed to "disconnect" from family or friends who opposed Scientology. The infamous "Fair Game" policy declared that suppressive persons could be dealt with by any means necessary, including dirty tricks, lying, or lawsuits, with no disciplinary measures taken. It became policy to discredit and destroy anyone who opposed the Church publicly - especially in the courts, which Hubbard said could be used very effectively to harass critics. The Church has never shaken this reputation for being a lawsuit-happy organization.

Ron the "Commodore"

In 1967, to get away from the various conspiracies that were out to get him - and the occasional government agency that probably was - Hubbard took to the seas again. The Church had acquired a small fleet of three oceangoing yachts. Hubbard "promoted" himself to the rank of Commodore and set sail in command of his personal toy navy, crewed by a new, elite group of Scientologists known as the Sea Organization. The Sea Org toured the Mediterranean, promoting Scientology and offering courses aboard ship. Hubbard had a group of young girls clad in short shorts, the Commodore's Messenger Org, that catered to his every need. Despite being away from the persecution of land-based bureaucracy, Hubbard's paranoia continued to increase. For example, if he smelled soap on his clean laundry, he would fly into a rage and accuse everyone of trying to kill him. He instituted a new system of discipline, assigning offenders to a condition of "liability." They had to wear a dirty rag around their arm, run everywhere, do menial labour, and live on inferior food and limited sleep. After a storm severely damaged the Royal Scotman, Hubbard's flagship, he assigned the entire boat to liability: not only did the crew have to wear the dirty rags, but a dirty tarpaulin was tied around her funnel as well! Soon, more drastic disciplinary measures were developed: "overboarding," which is exactly what it sounds like. In Corfu, Hubbard and the Scientologists were expelled after the local authorities became convinced they were attempting to take the island over. In Morocco, the Church became entangled in local politics when they began training the secret police to use an e-meter to spot suversives. In France, the Church was indicted for fraud, and there was a real chance that Hubbard might be arrested and extradited. And in Lisbon, rumours circulated that the Royal Scotman (now named the Apollo, one of Hubbard's attempts to ingratiate himself with the Greeks on Corfu) was a CIA spy ship, sparking a riot that damaged or destroyed a good deal of the Scientologists' personal property. Meanwhile, in Great Britain, the government banned Scientology students from entering the United Kingdom and declared Hubbard an undesirable alien.

Ron the unindicted co-conspirator

For a while in 1972-73, Hubbard lay low secretly in New York, having left ship to avoid the threat of extradition. His paranoia began to reach new lows. He believed that a very secret international conspiracy existed to attack him and Scientology. He called this cabal the "Tenyaka Memorial," claiming it was run by a group of former Nazis. Thanks to the Freedom of Information Act, he knew that the government had a lot of files on Scientology, mostly negative. He concocted a plan, code-named "Operation Snow White," to infiltrate government offices and launder the files, thus foiling the Tenyaka Memorial. The idea was to get Scientologists employed in key positions in various government agencies, where they would have access to Scientology files and be able to steal or destroy anything that painted the Church in a poor light. The scope of this espionage plot was huge, spanning more than 100 government agencies in 30 countries, including the IRS, FBI, American Medical and Psychiatric Associations, and the RCMP. The operation was carried out by the Guardian's Office, a department of the Church tasked with protecting Scientology's interests. Mary Sue Hubbard was in charge of the GO.

The threat of extradition was soon lifted, and Hubbard returned to the Apollo. However, by about 1975, he had apparently had enough of the sea life again. The Church secretly purchased property in Clearwater, Florida, in the name of two fictitious corporations. This real estate was to become the Church's land base. Understandably, the people of Clearwater were less than thrilled that their town was secretly being bought out by a notorious cult. Then mayor Gabriel Cazares, who had pried a little too deeply into the identity of the shadow corporations buying land, was targeted for Fair Game: the church went so far as to attempt to frame Cazares by implicating him in a hit-and-run accident in Washington, D.C. The driver was a Scientologist posing as a reporter, and the "victim" was a key operative in Operation Snow White.

This operative, Michael Meisner, was the one who blew the whistle on Operation Snow White. Meisner had been working in the IRS and nearly caught by the FBI. He had been living in hiding in Los Angeles, but becoming more and more anxious, until finally he contacted the FBI and cooperated with the grand jury that indicted that was investigating Operation Snow White. Eleven high-ranking Scientologists were indicted and convicted, including Mary Sue Hubbard. Ron himself was named an unindicted co-conspirator, but was not tried. While Mary Sue went to jail, Hubbard went into hiding. She never saw him again.

By this time, Hubbard was living anonymously in a trailer in California, his location and identity known only to a select few trusted associates. With little else to do, he returned to writing fiction. His "comeback" was 1981's Battlefield Earth, an 800-plus-page doorstop about an alien invasion of Earth in the year 3000, and the resistance movement led by an Earthling named Johnny Goodboy Tyler to reclaim the planet. The red-haired, musclebound hero on the dust jacket bore a not-too-coincidental resemblance to Hubbard. The story itself contains a thinly veiled attack against Scientology's archenemy, the psychiatric profession. The book became a bestseller under dubious circumstances: it is believed that the Church itself bought huge numbers of copies. Bookstores reported receiving boxes of the book with price tags from other bookstores already affixed.

However, only a few years later, Hubbard outdid even this ponderous potboiler with his final work, the ten-volume "satire" Mission Earth. If Battlefield Earth was a doorstop, then the collected tomes of Mission Earth would derail a train. It is, to be generous, about eight volumes too long. The story is of an alien mission to Earth to save the planet from self-destruction, but which is deliberately set up to fail by an evil agency within the alien government, to further its own agenda to acquire power. Whereas the social criticism of Battlefield Earth was fairly subtle (relatively speaking), the "satire" of Mission Earth was about as subtle as being clobbered with a sack filled with ten cinderblocks. Essentially it is an extended rant against all of Hubbard's and Scientology's perceived enemies, and a veritable apologia for Operation Snow White. The novel was so different from what Hubbard had written previously, that some of his author friends suggested it was not really his own work. However, Robert Vaughn Young, the former Scientologist and close Hubbard associate who had edited the series, said that it was genuinely Hubbard's work. His own contributions consisted primarily of choosing the best breaks between volumes, suggesting the overall narrative device of a computer-translated confession by the story's chief antagonist, and writing the essay on satire that served as the book's preface.

Only the first volume of Mission Earth was published during Hubbard's lifetime. On January 24, 1986, L. Ron Hubbard died following a stroke. Bizarre right to the end, his death was announced to Scientologists by saying he had promoted himself to admiral, dropped his body, and continued his research into the mind from a higher plane of existence.

Ron and me

I became aware of L. Ron Hubbard as a teenager - as an avid science-fiction reader, I had read Battlefield Earth and enjoyed it somewhat, and also all the volumes of Mission Earth as they were published, apart from the first few that were already in print by the time I found them on the library shelves. Meanwhile, I had also become aware of the Church of Scientology through various media stories I had read or heard on the radio. However, I'd never made the connection between Hubbard and Scientology.

That changed with the publication of Bare-faced Messiah, an unauthorized biography of Hubbard by Russell Miller, published in 1987. I read a story in the paper about the Church attempting to stop its publication, and Miller's subsequent vindication in the courts. It turned out that the true story of L. Ron Hubbard was more fascinating than anything he had made up about himself. A few years later, I acquired my own hardcover copy of Bare-faced Messiah. The newspaper clipping is still folded into its front cover.

In honour of Hubbard's 100th birthday, in the coming weeks I will be reading Mission Earth for the first time since my teens. As I go, I will blog reviews and analyses of each volume. This will not, I hope, kill this blog once and for all.

Let the first meeting of the L. Ron Hubbard Literary Appreciation Society come to order!

For more information (and a disclaimer)

Lest anyone mistakenly think that my fascination with Hubbard the man translates somehow into a favourable opinion of the religion he founded: that is emphatically not the case. When I was still in university, I created a Web page about Scientology which, though it hasn't been updated since 2001 and is woefully behind on current events, still accurately reflects my opinion of the Church. My preferred nickname for Scientology is "the criminal cult" - which happens to be literally true in Canada, thanks to the organization's conviction for its involvement in Operation Snow White.


Many good books have been written about the history of Scientology and Hubbard. A number of these have been put online. The "Big Three" are considered to be:

  • Bare-faced Messiah by Russell Miller, which I consulted extensively while preparing this and my previous post.
  • A Piece of Blue Sky by Jon Atack. Atack, a former Scientologist, concentrates more on Scientology itself than Hubbard personally, and his own experiences within the cult. Like Bare-faced Messiah, the Church challenged this book in court, but was defeated (only a single sentence was required to be expunged from the UK edition).
  • L. Ron Hubbard: Messiah or Madman? by Bent Corydon. This book was effectively co-authored by L. Ron Hubbard Jr., Hubbard's estranged son by his first wife, who had since assumed the name Ronald DeWolf. He had been a Scientologist in the early days before their falling out.

Operation Clambake has been a clearinghouse of information about Scientology for 15 years - and, unlike my own site, is still active.

March 13, 2011

Happy birthday, Dead Ron

Today is the 100th birthday of L. Ron Hubbard, pulp-fiction author turned cult leader. At least, it might have been, had he lived this long, instead of turning to a life of fraud and crime, going into hiding, and living out the last few years of his life as an ill-groomed, low-budget Howard Hughes before dying of a stroke on January 26, 1986 with his circulatory system pumped full of psychiatric drugs.

(Coincidentally, January 24 of this year was also the 25th anniversary of his death. While I have always enjoyed celebrating Dead Ron Day with a pint and a reading from Russell Miller's biography Bare-Faced Messiah, the milestone escaped me until it was too far gone to deal with in a timely manner. Stupid math.)

Hubbard the man has fascinated me for years, because the actual details of his life are every bit as oddball as the stuff he made up.

Ron the teenager

Lafayette Ron Hubbard was born March 13, 1911 in Tilden, Nebraska. His official biographies typically exaggerate the details of his youth, as they do most of his life. It is claimed, for example, that he was made a blood-brother of the Blackfoot Indian tribe (for no apparent reason, and in any case the Blackfeet have no such rite) and that his uncle owned a ranch a quarter the size of Montana (he was a veterinarian, not a rancher, and he owned an acre of land and a few farm animals). He claimed to have traveled extensively in the Far East absorbing Oriental wisdom from sages and priests. In fact, his father was a Navy officer, who was stationed in Guam for a time, and Hubbard did have occasion as a teen to see some of China while visiting his parents in 1928. At the time he didn't seem so impressed with Chinese sagacity: his diaries remarked that the Great Wall would have made a decent roller coaster, and that "the trouble with China is, there are too many chinks there."

Ron the dropout

After high school, Hubbard enrolled in the engineering program at George Washington University. After two years, he dropped out because of poor marks, due to his preference for gliding, sailing, and writing tales of adventure about himself over studying. This didn't stop him later from claiming to be an engineer - and a nuclear physicist, based on his taking a single course in atomic and molecular physics, in which he earned an F.

Ron the hack storywriter

However, by this time Hubbard felt he had found his niche: writing stories for the pulp magazines. He was a prolific author in multiple genres: Western, crime, adventure, and of course science fiction. He was one of the most prolific authors of the so-called "Golden Age of Science Fiction," beginning in the late 1930s. (Martin Gardner wrote, in Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science, that for a time in his career Hubbard increased his productivity by using a modified typewriter with extra keys for common words, and typing onto a continuous roll of paper to avoid having to change sheets.) He was a friend of John W. Campbell Jr., the legendary editor of Astounding magazine and chief architect of the Golden Age. His association with Campbell would become important later in his life.

During this time, Hubbard wrote some works that are now considered classics of the SF and fantasy genre: Fear, Typewriter in the Sky, and The Final Blackout. But despite his genuine accomplishments in his writing career, Hubbard was still not above exaggerating the details, claiming also to have become a Hollywood screenwriting legend who revived the careers of both Karloff and Lugosi. His screenwriting credit comprises a single serial, The Secret of Treasure Island. He wrote a novel, titled Excalibur, that he claimed would revolutionize the world, and that it was so mind-blowing its first few readers went out of their minds. It never found a publisher.

Ron the "war hero"

In 1941, Hubbard was commissioned as a lieutenant junior grade of the U.S. Naval Reserve. When the U.S. entered World War II, he served in both the Atlantic and pacific. He would later claim to have been the first casualty returned to the United States from the Pacific theatre, and to have been a highly decorated war hero. In fact, he was not wounded in action, and never earned a Purple Heart or any other decoration apart from the routine service medals awarded to every serviceman.

After his commission, Hubbard was initially assigned to a post in public relations, where he attempted to sell navy stories to magazines, unsuccessfully, so the Navy assigned him instead to intelligence. After Pearl Harbour, he was sent to the Philippines, but annoyed his senior officers so much that he was sent back to the States before he even arrived. After a short stint censoring cables, he was put in command of the refit of the USS YP-422, a fishing trawler being converted to a harbour-patrol gunboat in Massachusetts. He was relieved of this command before the boat ever left the shipyard, because he got into an altercation with another officer.

Next, Hubbard was transferred to the Pacific, where he was put in command of the USS PC-815, a submarine chaser. On the boat's shakedown cruise, he claimed to have encountered two Japanese submarines lurking off the coast of Oregon, which, with the aid of observation balloons and a few other ships, he engaged over two days, bombarding the supposed subs with dozens of depth charges. The sub never existed; Hubbard and his crew had spent two days fighting a known magnetic deposit.

Only a few days later, Hubbard blundered again. He unintentionally steamed the PC-815 out of San Diego and into Mexican waters, where his crew practiced firing the ship's guns in the direction of the Coronados Islands, provoking an official complaint from the Mexican government, As a result, Hubbard was again relieved of command and assigned a desk job in San Diego.

Rather than try to do actual work, Hubbard immediately complained of a series of fictitious illnesses (and one real one, an ulcer) and spent his time in the hospital. He told his family that he was recovering from war wounds.

In 1944, Hubbard had one more chance to see action at sea, as the navigation officer of an amphibious cargo ship, the USS Algol. Life aboard this ship during its shakedown cruise was completely uneventful, and Hubbard applied (and was accepted) to the School of Military Government at Princeton. It seems that by this time, he was weary of the sea. The day before he left, he reported to the officer on duty that he had found a Molotov cocktail concealed in some cargo on the dock that was to be loaded onto the Algol. Why he was skulking around the cargo, or how the "saboteurs" expected an unlit Molotov cocktail to do any damage, was never investigated. Hubbard would later claim that his time aboard the Algol was the inspiration for the Henry Fonda movie Mister Roberts.

Hubbard finished the war in Princeton, attending Naval Training School, meeting with a group of science-fiction authors in Philadelphia organized by Robert A. Heinlein to brainstorm ways to counter kamikaze attacks, and spending time in hospital with a variety of minor and made-up ailments. He was released from active duty in 1946 as a lieutenant second grade. (The Navy routinely promoted him to lieutenant commander about a year later, and Hubbard resigned his commission in 1950.) According to Hubbard himself, he had spent the war being constantly bombed, blown up, shelled, shot, sunk, crippled, and blinded. Meanwhile, his last ship, the Algol, saw action in the Philippines and Okinawa, earning itself two battle stars. Ron was a pretend war hero, because he had squandered the chance to become a real one.

Ron the Satanist

After the war, Hubbard hit some difficulties. He had been married since 1933, but the marriage was on the rocks. His wife, Polly, refused to move with their two children to accompany him in California. Hubbard, electing to remain in California, moved in August 1945 into the rooming house of Jack Parsons, a rocket scientist and co-founder of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Parsons was also a notorious occultist, a follower of Aleister Crowley. Together, Hubbard and Parsons experimented with occult sex magic rituals intended to invoke Babalon, the "Mother of Abominations." Meanwhile, Hubbard also became involved with Parsons' girlfriend, Sara Northrup. This did not stop the three of them from forming a business partnership for selling yachts. Parsons suspected that Hubbard was swindling him, and that he was going to steal his money, his yacht, and Sara, and go on a world cruise. Legal action followed, and the partnership was dissolved. In August 1946, Sara Northrup became Hubbard's second wife. She did not know that he was still legally married to his first. Nor did Polly realize he had married again: she filed for divorce on grounds of desertion in 1947.

Ron the pop psychologist

Hubbard and Sara had little money, so he took up writing again as a means of support, along with attempting to persuade the Navy to increase his disability pension because of yet more invented ailments.

In 1949, after Hubbard's name hadn't been seen on a byline in some time, rumours began to circulate that he had developed a new groundbreaking philosophy, a "science of the mind." Hints were dropped by John W. Campbell about something big. Finally, the May 1950 issue of Astounding included an article by Hubbard titled "Dianetics: An Introduction to a New Science." This was followed up by a full-length book, Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health.

The thesis of Dianetics is that all of man's problems (aberrations) stem from traumatic engrams, or memory imprints. Engrams are recorded in the subconscious "reactive mind" when the victim is unconscious and subjected to pain. Later, part of the engram is cued by a similar experience, and the other parts of the engram are re-enacted as mental or physical problems such as kleptomania or asthma. The cure for engrams is a therapy called auditing, in which the patient, or "preclear," is asked questions that are supposed to help him recall engrams hidden in the reactive mind, and transfer them into the conscious memory bank of the analytical mind, supposedly the part of the brain that does all the thinking and computing. It becomes a normal memory and causes no further harm. (Later, Hubbard invented a device to make auditing easier and more "scientific": the e-meter, a sort of crude lie detector built out of a circuit intended to measure electrical resistance.) The goal of Dianetics auditing is to produce a Clear: someone who is rid of his engrams and no longer troubled by them. Hubbard claimed that Clears were free of mental and physical aberrations and could exhibit such abilities as freedom from sickness, as well as improved vision, memory, and intelligence.

Despite being ignored or savaged by the press and the medical community, Dianetics was an instant bestseller. Science-fiction fans began auditing each other, and notable SF personalities such as Campbell, Theodore Sturgeon, and A. E. van Vogt became disciples. The Hubbard Dianetics Research Foundation opened in New Jersey along with a number of branches.

However, it wasn't long before the cracks started to show. The vaunted benefits of Dianetics failed to show: the supposed first Clear, presented in Los Angeles, couldn't even remember the colour of Hubbard's tie when his back was turned. Leaders in the Dianetics community had personality clashes. By the following summer, the Foundation was closed. However, Dianetics was reprieved when a millionaire named Don Purcell agreed to bankroll a new Foundation in Wichita. Purcell and Hubbard soon had a falling out. Moreover, the Wichita Foundation was held liable for the debts of the original New Jersey one, and went bankrupt in 1952. Hubbard established a "Hubbard College" elsewhere in Wichita to continue to promote Dianetics while he and Purcell fought in court over intellectual property rights.

Meanwhile, Hubbard's second marriage was also failing: Sara filed for divorce in 1951 citing bigamy as well as physical and psychological abuse. She settled with Hubbard and gained custody of their daughter (whose paternity Hubbard would later deny) in return for retracting all the terrible things she had said about him. Following the divorce, Hubbard married for the third time, to a staff member named Mary Sue Whipp. She was 18; he was 39.

With the ongoing dispute over Dianetics in the courts, Hubbard decided to respin the therapy as a spiritual discipline. He rebranded it under a new name: Scientology.

To be continued . . .

March 11, 2011

Soup of the evening, beautiful soup

I hate thaws. For the third time in a month, Ottawa is in the middle of an onslaught of warm and wet: melting snow coupled with rain. The result, unfortunately, is a wettish basement, thanks to runoff water filling up a window well and seeping into the house.

I've been unable to make a grocery run for a couple of days because I had to stay home and make sure that a sump pump we've installed in the well operates properly, and so for last night's dinner, I kind of had to scrounge and improvise. Actually, it turned out all right, and I thought I'd share the result.

Scott's Hastily Thrown Together Vegetable Teryaki Soup

Serves: 1, adequately.

  • 2 cups chicken broth
  • 1/4 Spanish onion, sliced
  • 1 cup baby carrots
  • 1/2 cup rice vermicelli
  • 1 egg
  • Parsley, red pepper flakes, powdered ginger, and teryaki sauce to taste
  1. Put the chicken broth in the pot and bring it to a boil.
  2. Meanwhile, slice/dice the onions and carrots however you want.
  3. Prepare the rice noodles in a separate pot, and strain when they're done.
  4. Add the vegetables to the broth. (You might want to give the carrots a head start, since they will take longer to cook; otherwise, by the time they're done, the onions might have liquified!)
  5. Season the broth with the parsley, red pepper, and ginger.
  6. Let the soup simmer until the vegetables are cooked through.
  7. Add a few dashes of teryaki sauce for colour and flavour.
  8. Toss in the cooked rise noodles, and give the soup a stir.
  9. Break the egg into the soup. Leave it long enough for the whites to set before serving.

All in all, it turned out very well - not bad at all for something made with the odds and ends I had on hand. The carrots were done to perfection, the peppers and ginger added a bit of bite, and the teryaki sauce gave it some sweetness and saltiness. I was inspired by a can of Campbell's "Teryaki Beef Noodle and Vegetable" that I picked up last week, and thought I could do something similar. If I could improve it, it would be by adding some meat, or perhaps using fresh parsley, pepper, and ginger instead of dried (This wouldn't change the steps much, except to put the parsley in at the end instead of the beginning.)

(For 10 Crusty Bonus PointsTM, name the source of the post title.)

March 09, 2011

Nemo theta own

I was at a friend's place last night, and we discovered that his Windows 7 laptop has speech recognition built into the operating system.

In itself, this isn't new. I believe Windows XP had this capability available, and Apple OS X has always had voice recognition at least for navigation, if not for dictation. And voice dictation was built into OS/2 Warp 4 in 1996, although it was pretty unreliable and needed a top-of-the line PC of the day to operate.

It surprised me that 15 years later, although you no longer need a bleeding-edge computer to use it, the technology doesn't seem to have gotten much better.

After getting a little frustrated trying to use the software to do something vaguely real-world (e.g. dictating a letter), we decided to have some fun and sing to the computer. This was much more fun, because we could basically just sing the lyrics naturally and not worry too much about being understood.

Here is the gobbledygook that came out of crooning 10 songs into the mike. Some of them are more obvious than others, to say the least. Can you guess what each song was? (Hint: Say the sounds out loud and listen for recognizable patterns, rather than concentrating too hard on the actual words on the screen.)

  1. Fly an aide to the Moon let me play among the stars let me see one spraying is like gone to the zoo ma as in other wounds: I’m an allusion sick baby kiss Maine
  2. Amazing grady’s of sweep those the owned that sues the rents by the Iowa and swell as long as the now owns the OS bland the Nile high as soon
  3. Super televangelist against the halitosis even though the senate is something quite atrocious if you say it loud enough these are only some precocious super televangelist against the halitosis
  4. Loans a burn and saying and it may ICS of fiery rating by loaned by while desire a cell into the ring of fire on a slough in to a button ring of fire and I went down down down the flames when the ectf added Barnes burns blooms the rating of fire the rating of via
  5. There’s an ad who Schoen all the glitz is is go out and she’s body eight and a stairway to have the wins she gets so there she knows if the store is ironic moons with the words she can get what she came Feuer
  6. Only around me of some manner phase is one of the places warn the faces bright and early for that and the raises going nowhere and going nowhere in and then I find that kind of funny I find it kind of said screens in which I’m dying of the past and have them and I find it hard to tell you I find it hard to say when people run in circles it’s a very very the move
  7. We condense if we want to weaken leave us ends Bia in the zoo sandstone Bentsen is they don’t dance well there no friends of mine and I say we can go where we want to play so they will never signed in the connect like we come from out of this worldly through one side be high and we condense we can then say everything’s edit control we condense we can dance we’re doing it pulled a poll
  8. Close your eyes and Otis soon to a mob rom is to rename then the holloway’s be true new and then while humble way Ahmed home every day and I’ll send a mile of moving to new
  9. Wooed any boon of the time it’s the time it’s the home and from glinted land and down the mountain’s the aid those summers gone and all those laws that the reunion to zoom to zoom must code and a host of a but calm the back land summers and the men who hoe when does that newsflash then why was no new two is I’ll be then & shy and the inch a new mood any below the code any below the AL and love you so
  10. When I lose better and be the goat of the myth of Bia and that you found a brand new that the use science and then I’m not you the name so would pool doing and the mood of my Rolodex and to lower all you have picked Susan two who and add button down the Ma Alsop where we used to have known this week as this reminds me of you who are

Have fun. I'll post the answers in a couple of days.