Sometimes, The Wheel is on Fire

Sometimes, The Wheel is on Fire

Monday, May 16, 2016

Winners of the Science Haiku Contest!

It took a week, but I have now judged all the entries to my haiku contest scientifically. By which I mean I studied them under a microscope, heated them to a boil, compared them against a control group of other haiku, and then threw out the results due to bias.

Thanks to everyone who entered! All your haiku (except the one my dad wrote) were such monumental creations that it was tough to pick the winners. So, in the end I let a nicotine-addicted monkey do that for me.

I shall now unveil my findings, soon to be sent off to a scientific journal. Probably the one I keep in the bookcase in my office. (But hey, if you haven't done so already, make sure to check out all the electrifying entries.)

Not Entirely Honorable Mention
My brother-in-law, Tom, may know a thing or two about nuclear energy, but I believe we may disagree on how many syllables it has.

Ernesto P. Santiago had a lovely haiku... that had nothing to do with science. Alas, including a living creature does not make it biology.

And as for Emilia's? She was clearly pandering.

Honorable Mention

I'd accuse Marian Allen of pandering as well, but I'm not sure she knows I have a cat named Schrödinger.
My tuna is gone
And yet it is not eaten.
Damn Schrodinger's cat!

My 5-year-old nephew, Solomon, outdid his mom's 5 entries. (Note: There's not one shred of scientific proof that I have a completely legitimate bias against her poetry.)
Mars: a hot planet
Because of all its red sand
So says Solomon.

Rena's entry recalls one of my fondest memories of high school chemistry (although ours was done with cesium).
Sodium metal
Is serene in glycerin.
Explodes with water

And Sam Cook nearly took a prize with this one, mostly because of all the big words.
The phenomenon
of quantum entanglement
questions everything

First Place - Humorous

Instead, Sam won with this one. Getting popular culture, "science," and one team's 107 years of futility all into 17 syllables? Well done, sir.
Back to the Future
was wrong about time travel.
The Cubs never win.

First Place - Traditional

Keith A. Simmonds not only got some great prose into this entry, but it was also one of the few in which each line could be read as a separate phrase (as traditional haiku do), rather than breaking up a longer phrase to fit the 5-7-5 scheme. That combo netted him the win.
The ozone layer…
a furnace of desires
sears the heart of man

And that will bring my 7th annual haiku contest to a close. Sam and Keith, if you'll please write me at, I can send the Amazon gift cards your way.

Thanks again to everyone who entered, shared, and/or re-tweeted this contest! Let's do it all again next year!

One piece of advice
For future haiku contests:
Wear safety goggles.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Haiku Contest: Science!

*** The contest has ended. View the winners. ***

Congratulations! You’ve unearthed my 7th annual haiku contest!

We've previously performed experiments on ninja, pirates, robots, space, the ocean, and heroes & villains. But now it's time to document the natural world properly: in the form of science haiku!

Here’s how you do it:
Write seventeen syllables.
Eureka! You’re done.

Simply follow standard haiku structure (5 syllables, then 7, then 5 again) and make it have something to do with science. However you interpret the theme is entirely up to you.

To enter, write your haiku in the comments section below. Two or three lucky winners will receive $25 million in gold bullion $25 Amazon gift cards.

I will be selecting the best haiku in each of two categories:
  • Humorous/Creative
  • Traditional (i.e. eloquent, evocative, etc.)
In addition, I may also reward a third entry. I won’t know for sure until I’ve completed my findings.

The deadline to submit a haiku is this Saturday, May 7 at 5:00pm (Eastern Time). Official "rules" are below.

Official "Rules":
  1. To enter, post science-themed haiku in the comments section below. Multiple submissions are allowed, but if you submit more than five (5) entries, you'll have introduced too many elements and they will become unstable. Thus, excess entries will be disposed of safely and efficiently.
  2. Standard haiku rules apply. To qualify, each entry must be a three-line poem, the first line containing exactly 5 syllables, the second line 7 syllables, and the third line 5 syllables. If you miscount, your results will not be repeatable. And since I won’t be able to repeat it, your entry will not win.
  3. The contest is open until Saturday, May 7, 2016 at 5:00pm, Eastern Time. If your entry arrives after the deadline, I will assume you’ve failed in your attempt to bend time. Failed experiments are not yet ready for public consumption and will be rendered invalid.
  4. Entries must be in English. (i.e. Using Japanese kanji will not help you win for best traditional haiku.) If, after careful examination, I cannot understand your entry, I will deem it purely theoretical and remove it from consideration.
  5. Anonymous entries will not win. In the sciences, attaching your name gives something credibility. If you can’t grasp the gravity of this, your entries will be unceremoniously dropped.
  6. Prizes will be awarded in each of two (2) categories: Humorous/Creative and Traditional. A third prize may be awarded depending on how I react to certain variables.
    • First place winners will each receive a $25 Amazon gift card.
    • An indeterminate number of Honorable Mentions will receive both mention and honor. Not necessarily in that order.
  7. I will act as sole judge, and select the winning haiku based on the aforementioned criteria, as well as other criteria I make up as I go along. All decisions are final, and will not be changed under any circumstances. Unless you can give me some sort of superpower. Though they may evolve.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

The Streaking Writer

Last week, I worked on my novel seven straight days. This may not seem overly impressive — especially considering I wrote a blog post every day in January — but believe me, it is.

The reason is quite simple: I'd never done it before.

Yep, even when I first started writing it years ago during NaNoWriMo,1 and worked on it almost every day for that first month, I never managed seven straight.

Four days? Sure. Five? Piece of cake.2 But the full week has always eluded me.

One factor has been my refusal to begin writing if I have less than an hour to spare. I used to think I couldn't get into a real rhythm otherwise, so anything less would be a waste.

Then last week happened. I only did a full hour two of the days, and on two others I barely wrote for fifteen minutes. Yet each day I made progress in the story, and that sense of accomplishment kept me feeling great throughout the week.

I admit I didn't make much progress, however. Those seven days netted me a scant half a chapter. Then again, it is the final chapter, so perhaps I can cut myself some slack. It takes time to figure out how to tie everything up and complete all the character arcs without it feeling forced.

Besides, you know what they say about slow and steady.3

So I'll keep plugging away. I don't know if I'll go another seven straight anytime soon, but since I'm no longer waiting for that hour-long block of time, I will be writing more often.

And from that, only good things can happen.4

1 If I told you exactly how long ago I started the novel, with you knowing it's not yet finished, you'd be embarrassed for me. And I don't want that. See, I'm doing this for you.
2 That's right, my reward for writing five straight days is a slice of cake. A huge slice of cake. The ensuing sugar hangover renders me pretty much useless on day six.
3 You get last picked at dodge ball.
4 Unless you're one of my characters. Mwahahahaha!

Monday, April 18, 2016

Me and My Doppelgänger

This is a little random, but I felt like sharing.

Back in elementary school, around 3rd or 4th grade, my friend Mark started calling me "Mahoney." He said I looked like Officer Mahoney from the Police Academy movies, played by Steve Guttenberg.

Guttenberg was seemingly everywhere in the mid-to-late 80s, starring in two Cocoons, 3 Men and a Baby, four Police Academies, and a stint with Johnny 5. I never thought I looked like him myself. And apparently no one else thought too much of the comparison (or no one else thought too much of the Police Academy movies), since the nickname never caught on. Soon enough, it was forgotten.

Fast forward to my mid-20s. I'm out at a bar with two friends, sitting at a table on the patio. A guy at the next table knocks into my arm, and when he turns to apologize I recognize him. Nick. We'd been classmates from about 5th grade on--friends for a year or two, then acquaintances the rest of the way.

Also, he's plastered.

He tells his friends I'm the smartest guy he's ever known, then starts rambling on about how he's really good at Jeopardy. How he can get many of the answers--only in the first round, though, not in Double Jeopardy, those are way too hard--when he stops mid-sentence, points at me, and yells.

"Steve Guttenberg! You're Steve Guttenberg!"

Yes, he was drunk. But two people picking the same doppelgänger for me fifteen years apart can't just be a coincidence, can it? Nick wasn't there for the nickname conversations. And I looked a bit different at 24 than I did at 9. For one thing, I had a goatee. At that point, to my knowledge, Guttenberg had never sported one.

Fast forward to today. A quick Google image search turns up just such a photograph. And yeah, now I see the resemblance. Hot damn, I am Steve Guttenberg.

There but for a full head of hair go I.

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Going Once, Going Twice...

What do you know, the old house sold. For real this time and everything. We have a few minor repairs to do, but come the end of April we will have finally attained the American dream.

You know: a single mortgage.

Not only is this great news for our bank accounts, but it's also a boon for my novel. Because without the distraction of the second house, I can now focus more on
spending time with my son
reading the books on my nightstand
creating breathtaking photographs
eating ice cream
painting rooms in the new house
coming up with an April Fools prank
making a dent in my Netflix list
sleeping in
exercising more
avoiding doing the dishes
constructing raised-bed gardens
improving my fantasy baseball team
getting the band back together
watching cat videos
honing my improvisation skills
eating even more ice cream
redesigning my blog
spoiling my wife rotten
trying out more local restaurants
inventing new methods of procrastination
playing board and card games
unpacking boxes remaining from our move
listing a bunch of things and crossing them out


Sunday, March 13, 2016

It Was the Best of Times, Etc. Etc.

Last Saturday, I did five straight hours of improv. Although, by "straight," I mean "there were short breaks in between." (That's right, I did five there were short breaks in between hours of improv. I'm a very good writer.) It was the most improv I'd done in one stint, but afterward I didn't feel mentally or physically drained. What I felt was confused.

I had fun overall, and some of the sets went really well. But so many of my scenes were slow, dull, and awkward. I did scenes with other improvisers I normally have a strong rapport with, and they dragged. Painfully so.

Most of my ideas went nowhere, and repeatedly improvisers had to jump in from the back line to save things. There were also multiple scenes where I stood there adding absolutely nothing as the action went on around me. For much of the afternoon, I was the most utterly out-of-place and useless I had ever been on an improv stage.

...until the very next night.

On Sunday night my troupe had a performance. And I added not one iota of value. Okay, that's an exaggeration; I added exactly one iota: my very last line got some laughs. But the rest of the time I was on a different wavelength from the other members of my team, and I contributed nothing. Everything I said fell flat. I spent much of our final set hugging the back line, uncompelled to join the fray. I may be a seasoned improviser, but my work that night was bland and unpalatable.

Luckily, the rest of my troupe was too busy putting on a stellar show, so they didn't notice my absence. Or at least, they were kind enough not to say anything about it.


But improv wasn't the only thing going on last weekend. On Saturday, we had six showings at our old house, some no more than 15 minutes apart. Six. Even though it's been on the market since June.

Oh yeah, and we got an offer. (Huzzah!)

We're not in full-on celebration mode yet, of course (Huzzah?!), since we know how the last two went. But we feel pretty good about this one. For one thing, the buyer doesn't have an FHA loan. Perhaps third time will indeed be the charm.

Fingers crossed. And just to be safe, I'm crossing the streams, too.


But improv and realty weren't the only things going on last weekend. I was also, apparently, in the beginning stages of the flu. (Huzzah!) (Which, in retrospect, helps to explain my inept improv performances.)

I've never had a flu shot as an adult, in part because I'd never before gotten the flu, at least as far as I can remember. Well, that streak's toast.

But let me tell you, when it's 80 degrees out in early March in New England, and the sun is beating down on you, and you're wrapping your winter coat more tightly around you and shivering non-stop...

Yeah. Good times.

Monday, February 22, 2016

That's the Way the Snow Blows

The snowblower. If you recall, the first time I ever tried using it, it wouldn't start. At the time, I chose not to name the manufacturer or where I purchased it, so as not to disparage a company without cause.

Well, now I know the whole story.

The 7 to 10 days to repair took 13. Of course, they didn't notify me of the delay; I had to call them. And because of the delay, it was another week before I could pick it up. (My neighbor with the pickup truck was out of town.)

The problem, according to the repair center? The unit was overfilled with oil.

I should have guessed. After all, I didn't put a single drop in it.

The snowblower came with oil when I bought it, added by the store's staff. They also loaded it into our SUV on its side, leaking oil into our vehicle. I'm not sure which mistake truly caused the issue, or if it was a tag-team effort. Either way, it's now clear which of the players was the culprit:

Troy-Bilt makes quality snowblowers.

Lowe's staff ruins them.1

1 Yes, I realize our experience may well have been a single, isolated instance. But the above holds true for 100% of the snowblowers I have purchased there, so I stand by my statement.