Monday, August 24, 2020

At 1,916 words, the article published yesterday was a short one. When we started this helluva hullaballoo in January I was expecting to top out at 800-900 words. After all, I wrote a thousand words a day for a thousand days and that was a massive undertaking. Now I’d be researching, writing *and* celebrating. There was no way I’d stretch out each of these articles to ludicrous lengths, right? Except I have. I broke 5,000 words a couple weeks ago, and the only way I could celebrate was to wake up the next day and keep going. Why do I do this to myself, when a world of distraction awaits? I’m glad I asked, for there is only one logical answer. Madness. This project may indeed be a chronicle of my descent from sanity into whatever lies beneath it. But at least I’m having fun! Plus, there’s all this to enjoy:

Cheap Flight Day

Our plan for this day was to do some initial research in early July, then to track over the course of the summer how much the same flight might have gone up or down. Actually booking a flight would have been a nice capper to the celebration, though the end of August is not typically the time when a teacher can look into starting a vacation. But with this year being so radically different, I simplified our efforts for the day. Now the challenge would be to find a relatively cheap flight, with the “relatively” referring to the average flight in a non-Covid year.

I started with an Edmonton-Vancouver round trip. We have taken this many times, and we have booked it for our kid many more. It’s usually about a $200-$250 proposition, unless we score one of those ultra-cheap airlines with no frills. You know, the ones where you have to physically remove your legs and store them in the overhead compartment because otherwise you won’t fit in your seat. I picked a Monday-Sunday week in September, so we wouldn’t be in the high season (meaning high volumes of travel and high prices), nor would we be dealing with last-minute costs. The cheapest flight on Flighthub: $391.60.

So what if we booked a little later? I reset the parameters to December 21 through January 3, calculating the costs for Abbey to come home for the holidays (though my starting city and destination city were reversed). Cheapest flight: $467.98. Hopefully this drops a little bit before we actually book anything.

I next searched for flights to New York for that same September week. We have found flights from between $475 to about $600 round-trip in the past. I was pleased to see flights as low as $327 round-trip, with numerous options in that price range. Of course, that might be because Canadians aren’t allowed to go vacation in New York right now. So yeah, $327 is great, but it’s not going to happen.

Lastly I checked out flights to Toronto, which often cost just about as much as flights to New York. Why? I have no earthly idea. Travelling by air out of this city stinks. The cheapest flight in September would be $792.35. That is brutal. And if we wanted to head there over Christmas break? $698. Somehow the flights drop in price and become reasonable in this scenario.

My conclusion is that there are few cheap flights to be found right now, and that’s almost certainly because of the weird state of the world. We can celebrate this day a bit more next year perhaps. For now, we’ll stay the hell home.

National Sponge Cake Day

What wondrous things can we learn about sponge cake? That it probably originated in Spain? Okay, that’s not so wondrous. How about the fact that it’s most likely one of the first non-yeasted cakes to hit the world, or that early sponge cakes were more like a cookie than a cake? That’s moderately more interesting. I’m curious about the first sponge cake recipe, which dates back to 1615. It was in a book entitled The English Huswife, Containing the Inward and Outward Virtues Which Ought to Be in a Complete Woman. That sounds like a real page-turner.

This book, which has nothing more to do with sponge cake, but about which I’m still curious, was not quite as sexist as the title may imply. It consists mostly of recipes and home remedies (including the use of “dried stag’s pizzle” for something), and it is implied that women are the folks in the household responsible for these. Any suggestion to the contrary would have been rather out of place in a 1615 text. But it’s more about these items than coaching one’s wife into being a ‘complete woman’. So that’s something. It’s worth noting that only 5-10% of British women were literate when this was published, so that may have hurt sales. But let’s get back to the sponge cake.

There are numerous forms of sponge cake throughout the world. The Chinese make sponge cake that they top with vegetables, so let’s skip right over that. Angel food cake, which we enjoyed (and have celebrated before), is an American invention. Chiffon cake and Boston Cream Pie are also part of the sponge cake family. The Swiss Roll, the Trifle, the Victoria Sponge… they all fall under this heading, and each one of them delivers its own delicious journey.

We kept it simple with sponge cake, strawberries and whipped cream. The good stuff. No damn vegetables.

Internaut Day

For the second time this month we celebrate the creation of the World Wide Web. WWW Day was last week; this time it’s a bit more of an official commemoration. Or so I thought. August 23 actually has no prominent place in the birth of the web, it’s just the day that was decided for this celebration. But the people at CERN are posting about it on their site, so I assumed it was somewhat official.

It’s not.

But that’s okay, this entire project exists because of the World Wide Web, so we’ll toss another day on the pile to celebrate it. And instead of recapping the history (which we did in a criminally brief way last week), let’s have a look at the world’s widest web’s very first webpage, pictured above. That was it. Some text and some hyperlinks, which were sufficient to demonstrate the potential of this technology. It’s only a few small steps from a “How Can I Help?” link to “Click here to see singles in your area.”

The links on that page – and I should be clear that this is a reconstruction of the first webpage and not the actual first webpage… kind of like how they tore down the Cavern Club in Liverpool and rebuilt it a block away – still work. It’s a great way to see the credits reel on who created humankind’s biggest present addiction, and a fascinating insight behind the curtain of its creation.

I was also a bit intrigued by the Frequently Asked Questions link. There are five questions, by the way, including one that offers a lengthy answer on how to ‘search’ for new content in a much more complicated way than “google it”. But the notion of Frequently Asked Questions – I was positive I hadn’t heard of this before the internet. Could it be possible that it was invented for the world’s first webpage?

Of course not, Marty, don’t be a schmuck. But this was the FAQ’s coming-out party. There were Q&A style documents dating back to the origin of documents, of course, but actually calling them Frequently Asked Questions is an internet thing. Specifically it dates back to the early 1980s and the early attempts to develop ‘netiquette’ for the growing ARPANET. It actually originated courtesy of Eugene Miya of NASA to make finding answers easier for recipients of their mailing list. So by the time that lonely little webpage above showed up, it was a thing in tech circles, but not to the world in general.

Not that the above website was a big thing to the world in general. But this is where the mighty ball started rollin’.

Hug Your Sweetheart Day

With no specific origin to this day, and with the day being essentially a repeat of numerous other hugging days this year, we indulged by simply indulging. We hugged. We do that a lot. But it’s nice when doing so can notch another bit of mirth into 2020’s already jam-packed mirth book.

One site, perhaps believing its readers may have trouble grasping the subtle nuances of this day, actually provided a link to a number of different “types of hug” you could try for this day. I’m not joking. Here are 20 different types of hugs and their meanings, all popped into order for your light reading. Christine, the author of that page, appears to be rather passionate about hugging, but she forgot a few of my favourites.

There’s the bro-hug, which often one-armed (the other arms may clasp together at the hands first), and features two solid, manly pats on the back. One or both huggers is welcome to utter, “no homo” if this is something they are really concerned about. There’s the I-can’t-stand-up-because-I’m-too-drunk hug, which we’ve all taken part in at some point in our lives. And of course the classic golden retriever hug, in which Liberty, our #3 canine research assistant, suddenly remembers we exist and celebrates by popping up to a standing position, resting her paws on our shoulders.

Hugs are divine. Hug early and hug often.

Valentino Day

On what would have been his 125th birthday (sadly, he never made it past 31), we celebrate the life and legacy of Rodolfo Alfonso Raffaello Piero Filibert Guglielmi de Valentina D’Antonguolla, a man whose parents really wanted to test how small the fonts could go on a kid’s birth certificate. We know him best as Rudolph Valentino, the first true sex-symbol of Hollywood cinema, unless you’re the type who’d be into Fatty Arbuckle. We won’t judge.

Correction: This is another day of celebrating the man’s death and not his birth, which doesn’t really make sense to me. Still, he’d have been 125 this year; that’s kind of cool.

Valentino came from Italy through Ellis Island in 1913. He worked as a bus boy in New York and lived on the streets for a while. He became involved – perhaps romantically; we’ll never truly know – with a Chilean heiress who was very much married. The scandal killed Valentino’s aspiring dancing career and he headed out west.

Apart from James Dean, no actor has become such a massive heartbreaker with such a short career. Valentino’s big break came in 1921, five years before his death. He starred in The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (a delightful romp) and in The Sheik. He was an action-adventure superstar. Then one August day he collapsed in a Manhattan hotel. He was diagnosed with appendicitis, but it was actually perforated ulcers that mimicked appendicitis symptoms – something they now call Valentino’s Syndrome, not that this little snippet of fame helped him much. He died a few days later, on August 23, 94 years ago.

Roughly 100,000 people filled the streets of New York for his funeral. Another huge service took place when his body was moved back to the west coast. And that’s where it stayed, entombed at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery, where horror movies are frequently shown to the masses on the crypt wall.

It’s not so much a celebration (as stated before, we prefer celebrating birth days to death days), but Valentino’s funeral was the first of its kind, and arguably the most impactful. Never before had a film star been so beloved and so deeply mourned. The man made history in life and in death. Not bad.

National Maryland Day

Off we go once more on our journey around the United States, attempting to sample just a bit of the local food as we pass through. Would this be way more fun if we were doing this in person? Absolutely. It would also be way more expensive, would necessitate us taking a year off from work and life, and couldn’t possibly happen appropriately in this pandemic situation. But we’ll revisit this idea next Thursday for National Lottery Day. If that day works out well, we’ll see what 2021 may bring.

The Old Line State (it’s a Revolutionary War thing) was founded as a refuge for persecuted Catholics who were getting the hell out of England. The government passed an Act Concerning Religion in 1649, which declared punishment for anyone who reproached someone else because of their religion. It wasn’t merely an effort to create a pro-Catholic place, but a place where religious tolerance was the order of the day. It didn’t reach utopian levels, of course, but the effort was nice.

Maryland was a pro-slave state at the start of the Civil War, but it opted to purge that insanity rather than secede. Maryland had graciously donated land for the creation of Washington DC a few decades earlier, so it would have been awkward if they’d joined the Confederacy. I mean, it was probably awkward for every state that joined the Confederacy, but that’s a musing for another day. Maryland has been an important locale for industry since industry was a thing, and a key port location, as we all learned in season 2 of The Wire.

Some interesting people called Maryland their first home, such as Toni Braxton from Severn, Ric Ocasek from Baltimore, Divine from Baltimore, The Hoff from Baltimore, Richard “Toby Ziegler” Schiff from Bethesda, Frank Zappa from Baltimore, Adam Duritz from Baltimore, John Astin from Baltimore, Anna Faris from Baltimore, Judah Friedlander from Gaithersburg, Parker Posey from Baltimore, Matthew Weiner from Baltimore, and of course our favourite radio sidekick, Robin Quivers from Baltimore.

We sampled a delicious dessert courtesy of our team baker (hi, Mom!) – the Berger Cookie. These can be traced back to German immigrant Henry Berger, who opened up a bakery in East Baltimore back in 1835. These little cookies are dipped in a delightful chocolate frosting, and have been called distant cousins to the black & white cookies that are a part of New York lore. They were an absolute treat, and a perfect way to pay tribute to a state I’ve never been to.

I’ve got this day off from work, but of course that just means we have more time to dive into a heap of fun:

  • National Peach Pie Day. We celebrated this a little early, so that’s an easy one.
  • National Waffle Day. We love waffles, and have some terrific fresh berries ready to go. So another easy one.
  • Nostalgia Night. This is actually a Uruguay thing (who knew?) but we are happy to embrace some nostalgia tonight.
  • International Strange Music Day. Might make for an interesting time writing today’s article.
  • Can Opener Day. Wow. This one is pretty deep.
  • National Knife Day. So we’ll be wandering around our kitchen, celebrating stuff in our drawers today. Neat.
  • Pluto Demoted Day. Well this is just sad.
  • William Wilberforce Day. We may or may not learn who William Wilberforce was.
  • Vesuvius Day. One of the mountains we promise never to piss off.
  • Shooting Star Day. That would be fortuitous if we can spot one of these tonight.
  • Weather Complaint Day. Which is also known as ‘almost every day’ in Edmonton.

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