Saturday, June 1, 2019

Welcome to the Hobby

Dear Friends,

The Hard Taco song for June is called, "Billion Lines of Code."

We haven't gone completely paperless at work, but the need to preserve physical documents is less each year. In early 2018, I made the decision to do get rid of the oversized and underused file cabinet that came with my office and replace it with this freshwater aquarium.

This action has augmented my social situation in the workplace. Almost daily, a colleague passes my office door, waves, and asks, "How are the fish?" I've learned that if I keep my answer to a single word, the officemate is more likely to ask me again the next day. I value regular interpersonal connections, so I usually just reply, "Great!"

It's not much of a conversation, but before I had the aquarium, nobody ever asked me how my hanging file folders were.

Anyway, as a new pet owner, I hope to interrupt your Me-Time and show you adorable pictures of my fish. You owe me this courtesy for all the times you've made me look at pictures of your kids. (Note that this does not apply to friends who are infertile, or fertile people who are not my friends.)

My fish are like children in so many ways... they do better with lots of space, they swallow anything they can fit in their mouth, and I usually put the dead ones in the conference room wastebasket so don't have to walk all the way to the bathroom.

The first fish I introduced into the tank was the harlequin rasbora, shown below. A great fish for beginners, the harlequin rasbora doesn't give a rat's ass about water parameters. Mine is perfectly happy as long as the pH is under 14, the water is in a liquid state, and I feed her either sometimes or never. The harlequin rasbora can live comfortably in an aquarium filled with vodka, bleach, Visine, or any other clear liquid.

If you can spit in a bowl, you can raise a harlequin rasbora.

The rummy nose tetra was the 2018 winner of "Best Fish Named After a Card Game." Runners-up included the canasta guppy, the contract bridge loach, the crazy eights pleco, and the go fish fish.

I had a lovely dwarf gourami for a while, but she died before I could get a good picture of her. This is a picture of a different dwarf gourami from the label of my fish food canister. All dwarf gouramis look exactly alike, so this is a perfect copy of my dead one.

You might think that all squirrels look alike, or all Canadians, but at least squirrels and Canadians can tell themselves apart from other squirrels and Canadians. Not so with dwarf gouramis. Mine probably saw the fish food canister on the desk next to the aquarium, and thought, "Well crap, that's ME outside of the tank," and stopped breathing. If I ever get another gourami, I'll cover up the label with a picture of a Justin Trudeau, and it won't matter if the gourami thinks it's actually Ryan Gosling.  

I love my invertebrates, too! They may not have a spine, but these jumbo Amano shrimps are the backbone of my cleanup crew. They love nibbling on unsightly algae, decaying plants, and other detritus. If I let them out of the tank the morning after a party, they'll wipe down the countertops and put all the empties in the recycling bin. They're that good. 

This jumbo Amano shrimp knows all the secrets for getting barf stains out of Oriental rugs.

My other favorite invertebrate is the cherry red shrimp. This little guy is so adorable, I can hardly stand it. He's always so busy! And here's the cutest part... do you know what the rows of little shrimp feet are called? Swimmerets. Isn't that just darling?

Don't you just want to pinch his precious little scapherocite and give him a rubby on his abdominal segments? Who's a good neocardinia? You are! 
Unfortunately, there's also a neon tetra in my tank. This haughty son-of-a-bitch acts like he's God's gift to the freshwater habitat because he's named after some noble gas. I seriously cannot deal with this pretentious gill-bag sashaying back and forth all day like he's cock-of-the-walk. Ugh. Look at his self-satisfied little caudal fins and his big stupid eye and tell me you don't want to overfeed this insufferable little schmuck. 

Fuck you, neon tetra. 

With warmest regards,

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

When You Have No Ideas After You Run Out of Your Own Name

Dear Friends,

The Hard Taco song for May, "The Lesion," is the new theme song for our history of medicine-themed board game by the same name.

The late 19th century was a momentous era of medical discovery. Hundreds of new neurologic diseases, syndromes, signs, and reflexes were discovered and described by otherwise brilliant men who lacked the creativity to come up with names for anything other than their own.

Jean-Martin Charcot has 12 medical terms associated with his name, including a joint, a foot, several diseases, two triads, a crystal, and an aneurysm. Joseph Babinski donated his surname to four signs, two reflexes, a test, a rule, and at least six syndromes.

Charcot demonstrates a classic case of the Charcot's sign in a patient with Charcot's syndrome to a roomful of admirers, who were known as the Great White Charcs.
You might not use math every day, but it's hard to have a conversation without using any eponyms, medical or otherwise. Here are some favorites:

The Guppy - Named for the British naturalist Robert Guppy who discovered the small fish while skinny-dipping in Trinidad in 1866. Colleagues noted that Guppy was pretty much naked all the time, which is how he came to be known as a "naturalist."

Braille and Morse Code - Louis Braille and Samuel Morse engaged in a much-publicized race to discover the best use for the most fashionable new invention of 1830, the dot.

The Caesar salad - The main ingredients, Romaine, Worcestershire, Dijon, and Parmesan, were all regions in Europe where Julius Caesar owned rental properties.

The Apgar Score - The method to quickly summarize the health of the newborn was named for New York anesthesiologist Virginia Apgar, whose last name became a convenient acronym for a friendly competition among hospital staff. Doctors and nurses would give themselves points for refraining from subjecting whiny newborns to Asphyxiation, Pummeling, Garroting, Arsenic poisoning, and Radiation exposure.

The Petri Dish - Julius Richard Petri was trying to make molds for Jell-O shots, when one of his Jell-O shots grew mold. And the rest is history.

Shrapnel - Let me just go back to Petri for a second. The phrase, "the rest is history" is a  cliché. Obviously, history did not start at that moment. That was rotten writing, and you deserve better from me. Anyway, Henry Shrapnel was a British artillery officer who found a more efficient way to mutilate people. Everything that happened before, during, and after that moment is history. 

The Teddy Bear - To prepare for foreign policy meetings, hairy-backed Theodore Roosevelt would barricade himself in the West Wing and pose for boudoir photos in the one-piece satin lingerie that now bears his name.

The Leotard - French engineer Jules Leotard developed the first self-propelled ice resurfacer, but a mix-up at the patent office left Leotard's name on the product license filed by acrobat and costume designer Frank Zamboni.

The Jacuzzi - The ghost of Italian inventor Candido Jacuzzi spends most of the afterlife haunting hotel owners who falsely advertise in-room Jacuzzis, when what they really offer is off-brand hot tub time machines. 

The Stairwell - Named for the popular Game of Thrones character Stairwell Tarly.

With warmest regards, 

Monday, April 1, 2019

Current Events 1918-2008

Dear Friends,   

The Hard Taco song for April is called "Sloppy." This song will allow you to channel your inner pigeon and bob your head quasi-rhythmically.

I've been spending the weekend with some relatives, so I took the opportunity to outsource this month's Hard Taco Digest to them. Each of them was asked to write a poem about something from the news the year he or she was born. Here are those poems, in reverse chronological order.

by Malcolm London (son)

You did it!
You launched Falcon 1 without any delay.
You showed NASA that you can do it yourself
But I hope you find room on your trophy shelf.

by Shaina Wolkenberg (niece)

Walking along the sidewalk
Backwards because the snow
Only made it across one block
Because of the blizzards we all know.

Through Denver and Chicago
Then Kansas gets a blow
From a tornado spinning fastly
2007, here we go. 

2005 Haikus
 by Scarlett London (daughter)

Hurricanes are bad
Katrina was terrible
Lots of people died

Many people fled
They did not want to perish
In the hurricane

It was very sad
Because lots of people died
In the hurricane

Lots of lives were lost
In hurricane Katrina
They were very sad

The hurricane struck
People sprinted for their lives
To escape the storm

It was very sad
When the hurricane happened
Because there was death

Dogs and humans died
In that nasty hurricane
Most everyone's dead

It was very big
It was category five
It was scary, too

Lots of pets perished
The owners were very sad
Then the owners died

Everybody died
In hurricane Katrina
It was quite quite sad

by Lauren London (lead singer)

COD WARS! The conflict scarcely known
Just who could own sweet abalone.

In North Atlantic waters cold,
Did Iceland stalk her coasts, so bold.
But British schooners also claim'd
those famous fisheries untam'd. 
Oh! Fishers brandishing their spears,
Jeering temper'd trawlers' leers.
Thrice the parties met in ire!
With fish a-floppin' to acquire.
Just smell the mighty drying pile
of pescatorial carcass vile.
Thrice did Iceland get its wish
Oh, fate befalling chips and fish!
But peace in '76 returned,
And Celtics each their cod have earned. 

by Nina Schwartz (mother-in-law)

Joseph McCarthy, or "Tail-Gunner Joe"
Demagogue, liar, and everyone's foe
Started the Red Scare by claiming to know
A who's who of commies. It just wasn't so.
He stated the U.S. Department of State
Was harboring pinkos, in fact, quite a spate
Said he had a paper, right there in his hand
And the House forced some good guys to take the stand.
Charlie Chaplin, Helen Keller, Fred Zinnemann, Pete Seeger
All came under their gavel eager
He finally earned censure in 1954
And we thought the the big lie had been killed evermore.

by Bob Schwartz (father-in-law)

78s are breakable
45s are stackable
We make that change
In 1949

Song would have more runtime
But for music, not a fun time
Pop tunes a drag
In 1949

U.S. leaves Korea
Stalin says, "We'll see ya."
The boys come home
In 1949

Mao says, "I rule China."
Gives Chaing Kai Shek a shinah
So he takes Taiwan 
In 1949

Russia tests its big tomato
The U.S.A. and pals form NATO
It's two armed camps
In 1949

Then George Orwell has a vision
Sees the future with precision
Guns kill folks but lies kill even more
His book is his prediction
It isn't only fiction
Suddenly it's 1984.

by Carol Wulfson (aunt-in-law)

The most amazing news
Was the ending of diaspora for all o the Jews
And even though we were celebrating
Different wars were gestating
Why is there never peace?

by Roberta Wine London (mother)

It is post World War Two and and the babies are a boom.
The year is 1948,  and peace can't come too soon.
With the Soviets West Berlin a blockading
And the musical South Pacific Broadwaying
TVs now number over a million sets
Velcro is invented, and 33 rpm records....but not yet cassettes.
Polio is affecting kids more and more
Famous people born thIs year : James Taylor, Andrew Lloyd Weber and Al Gore.
The game of Scrabble is invented by a guy named Brunot
And Porshe is founded...but not Pugeot.
The bikini is finding a body of support hardcore,
And there were earthquakes in Turkmenistan and Ecuador.
The UN is busy with post War insights
Including The World Health Organization and the Declaration of Human Rights.
Soldiers back from the War are making up for lost time
Harry Truman is President during the birth of Roberta Wine.

Thelma Gordon (grandmother-in-law)

Spanish Flu...

With warmest regards,

Friday, March 1, 2019

The Five Finger Discount

Dear Friends,

There are five words in the title of this month's Hard Taco song, "Blood Is Thicker Than Chlorine." The song is in 5/4 time, which means it has five beats per measure. This makes it easy to dance to, as long as you have two-and-a-half legs.

In honor of all of this five-ness, I also wrote this poem/numerological prophesy:


Five are the lines on a musical staff
The composer composes a score on
Five are the oceans, and five the Great Lakes
Five are the protons in boron

Five are the Jacksons, and five the Maroons
Five are the number of bandages
You'll need to attend to a starfish's wounds
After twisting off all its appendages

Five are the letters that make the word Harry
So five points for Gryffindor! (Potter's house)
Five are the Spice Girls from Sporty to Scary
And Vonnegut's favorite slaughterhouse

Five are the senses and stages of grief
And the biblical booklets of Moses
Five are the types of Chanel you can dab
On your five little fingers or toes-es

The five-second rule can apply to all five
Of the food groups, which I find incredible
Five seconds turns something dropped on the floor 
From delicious and pure to inedible

All zip codes consist of five numbers, my friends 
From the five New York boroughs to rural Maine
"Precarious" has all five vowels, and also
Describes the fifth class of a hurricane

Five are the cents in a Jefferson nickel
The five-dollar bill has Abe Lincoln
So come and take five
And slap me high five
And raise up a fifth and start drinkin'

With warmest regards,

Friday, February 1, 2019

Auto. Correct.

Dear Friends,

Autological is a word or phrase that describes itself, such as polysyllabic, English, staccato, buzzword, fifteen-letteredor mispelled

That Hard Taco song for February, “Impressive,” has an autological title. It is impressive! 

Several songs in the Hard Taco back catalog have autological titles, as well. I recommend listening to Worth the While, or at least Not Really a Bear. Those are certainly more pleasant than UglyEveryday Mess, and Not Illegal But Frowned Upon. Occasionally, I’m in the mood for Moderate Rock, but sometimes, I don’t want to hear Idiots Who Think They’re Happy, so I just play Something Else. They can’t all be winners, I guess, but I heard That’s the Way it Goes.

Autological is one of many English words with the Greek prefix auto-, meaning self. A plane on autopilot flies itself. This allows the human pilot to lock the cabin door and treat himself to autoerotic asphyxiation until it’s time to land.

biography (left) is written by a dispassionate historian and is thus more likely to acknowledge someone’s huge ugly head than a sugar-coated autobiography (right). 

Here are some other things to which you can apply the prefix auto-.











With warmest regards,

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Nine Movies in Ten Sentences

Dear Friends,
The Hard Taco song for January, “Pando,” is about my love for the largest and oldest living thing on the planet, Pando. Pando looks like a forest of aspens, but he Is actually a single organism with a network of underground roots throughout 106 acres in Utah.

Countdown Stories
Lauren and I have a homegrown road trip game we do with the kids. We try to tell the synopsis of a popular story in exactly 10 lines, with each line one word shorter than the last. The first line is 10 words, the second 9 words, etc., and we have to finish the story by time we get down to the final 1-word sentence.

Here are some Countdown Story retellings of some of my favorite classic movies.

Historically speaking, merpeople and humans don’t hang out very much.
“History my ass,” Ariel says, rescuing hunky unconscious guy.
She swaps her voice for... what’s that? Legs.
Calypso music, we discover, is quite romantic.
The prince learns a valuable lesson:
Never trust hotties named Vanessa.
The ship shanks Ursula
Making witch kebab.
Teenage wedding?

Luke grudgingly befriends a hermit. They overpay a glorified cabbie.
The hermit disintegrates, but the princess with Cinnabon earmuffs
Fits Luke with a size small orange uniform.
Some X-shaped spaceships attack a moon-shaped base.
A disembodied voice tells Luke,  “Relax.
Turn off that targeting computer.
Envision murdering womp rats.”
Thanks, dead hermit.
Thanks, cabbie.

A mopey beauty, whose soulmate allegedly perished, goes horseback riding.
Three guys with different accents and BMIs kidnap her.
She shoves her masked rescuer into a chasm.
A fanged capybara gnaws on his shoulder.
Suction cups leave him mostly dead.
Who will stop this wedding?
The unintelligible rhyming giant?
Either mustachioed protagonist?
Fred Savage?

Bilbo goes sightseeing with Gandalf’s little buddies whose names rhyme.
Though small, Bilbo outsmarts trolls, goblins, spiders, and elves
Plus, a shriveled riddler with dissociative identity disorder.
The dwarves covet jewelry above meaningful relationships.
So, as it happens, do dragons
And pretty much everyone else.
Hobbits have hairy feet,
But they’re sweethearts.
Where to?

Professor Jones is on sabbatical, doing fieldwork in South America.
Is getting tenure really worth tarantulas, boulders, and blowguns?
And when will he finish his big grant?
Never, with the Nazis constantly scooping him.
The academic world is ridiculously cutthroat
It’s literally publish or perish
And during the Depression
Funding is tight.
Aw, crap.

Forrest has short hair, loves God, and joins the army.
He does not embrace the excesses of the 1960s.
Jenny, however, represents everything wrong about liberal counterculture
She’s promiscuous. She’s anti-war. She uses drugs.
The lesson is hippies get AIDS.
Obviously, it’s all conservative propaganda.
Gump even wears a
Red trucker hat.
Forrest Trump.

Doc’s time machine requires stolen plutonium to generate 1.21 gigawatts
Libyans in a Volkswagen Microbus want their plutonium back.
Marty escapes to 1955 and coaches his parents,
Preventing them from becoming alcoholic loser dorks.
He teaches Chuck Berry rock music,
Then harnesses lightning to return,
Producing flaming tire tracks.
Now where’s Doc?
Uh oh...

A paleontologist, paleobotanist, and chaos theorist ride a customized Jeep
It’s storming when Messy Fat Guy unleashes some dinosaurs
Who devour Samuel Jackson, except for one arm.
Aren’t they hungry enough for both arms?
Dinosaurs spit on Messy Fat Guy
Before ravaging him off camera
That’s what he deserves
Because he’s evil.
Pure evil.

Balding psychiatrist and his wife have been growing apart recently
Because (spoiler alert) he kicked the bucket last year.
Everyone who ever died in Philadelphia harasses Cole.
He’s lucky he doesn’t live in Beijing.
Fortunately, he (spoiler alert) learns something.
I saw Haley Joel Osment
On Buzzfeed last week.
He’s no longer
(Spoiler alert)

Mikey’s searching for One-Eyed Willy, which is not a euphemism.
Mouth speaks Spanish, Chunk Hebrew, and Data broken English.
They disarm booby traps thanks to piano lessons.
Once, Chunk feigned puking off a balcony.
Mikey uses his inhaler too often.
Mama Fratelli makes Corey Feldman
Spit out the pearls.
Sloth love Chunk
Chunk reciprocates.
With warmest regards,