• 600 Philip K. Dick book covers to keep you awake at night

    dickIf there's ever been a writer whose covers should not be used to judge their books, it's Philip K. Dick. His works are usually classified as a science fiction, but to me, he's a cyberpunk physicist, a time-traveling gnostic, and a prescient speed freak. He's also responsible for a slew of Hollywood films like Bladerunner and Total Recall, and the list goes on. I'm a fan of his, and that, of course, makes me a Dickhead.

    (more…)

  • Dr. Chase's Receipt Book: delightfully awful medical nonsense

    "Why are you putting an onion in the oven? It's 10:30," my husband questioned me the other evening. "I'm fighting off a cold," I explained. "It's a cure from George Washington*, and I've got to eat it with my feet soaking in hot water, so can you help me find a bucket?" "You've been reading that book again," he said, sighed, and left before I could ask him if we had any turpentine lying around.

    By "that book" he meant my Dr. Chase's Third, Last and Complete Receipt Book and Household Physician. Published in 1888, it has a marvelous collection of old timey diseases and cures, many of them involving mustard plasters, turpentine, or opium. Some of the therapies are innocuous, some are quite alarming. I'm fairly sure an egg white and turpentine enema will not cure appendicitis. Not to worry though, the good doctor has included an illustration showing exactly where the appendix is if you decide to take it out. And you might have to, because medical professionals were far, few, and not very good back then. For instance, Dr. Chase opens the medical section of his book with a phrenology chart.

    Dr. Chase's Third, Last and Complete Receipt Book is much more than your great grandmother's WebMD, it is a book of tips and advice on every aspect of Life. In fact, the full name of the book is Dr. Chase's Third, Last and Complete Receipt Book and Household Physician, or Practical Knowledge for the People, From the Life-Long Observations of the Author embracing the Choicest, Most Valuable and Entirely New Receipts in Every Department of Medicine, Mechanical, and Household Economy; including a Treatise on The Diseases of Woman and Children, in fact the Book for the Million, with Remarks and Explanations which adapt it to the Every-Day Wants of the People, Arranged in Departments and most Copiously Indexed.

    Ahem.

    In 1888, receipts meant a written note, or recipe, and basically what the Doctor had done was collect notes and letters from people around the country, and print a 19th Century Hints from Heloise. The cooking section has six types of plum pudding in it. The household section has recipes for dyes, and glues, and what not, and they all involve chemicals you get from your druggist, which is a funny word to say in these modern times.

    There are also sections on raising cows, raising chickens, raising children, bee keeping, keeping a budget, keeping your complexion young, interest tables, planting tables, table manners…you get the idea. It was just the ticket for the aspiring homesteader. In fact, Dr. Chase's TLC was so popular among immigrants moving West, he opened his own steam-driven printing house and started publishing them in German to meet the demand.

    1888 was also the year the first edition of the Oxford English Dictionary was printed. While that was an example of research, clarity, and order, Dr. Chase's TLC is a mess. Even with an index, I'm not sure how people found all the information buried away in it. That's why I suggest wandering through its pages. Recently I learned how to survive the malarial district of Indiana, how to sex an egg, and frogs are best consumed next to the pond they came from while listening to the mournful croaks of their kin (which is some effed up Vlad the Impaler shit, I'll tell you what).

    Despite the medical section, it seems there's a lot of good advice in the book. I can't judge the tips on livestock or beekeeping, but the recipes are viable, the household hints are fun, and Dr. Chase's occasional snarky remarks add cranky grandpa sass.

    Dr. Chase's Third, Last and Complete is in the public domain, but you can also buy a new copy on Amazon. I would recommend getting an original book if you can find one, just because it adds a little gravitas when you're making an argument for roasting an onion at 10:30 at night for health reasons.

    *General Washington's Cure
    The Baltimore American informs us that Gen. George Washington gave the following recipe for a cold to an old lady now living in Newport when she was a very young girl in 1781–103 years before this writing. He was lodged in her father's house, the old Vernon mansion. As she was being sent to bed early with a very bad cold he remarked to Mrs. Vernon, the mother of this lady, "My own remedy, my dear madam, is always to eat just before I step into bed a hot roasted onion if I have a cold."

    (more…)

  • Aphid Shit is the Good Shit

    Past the flame-throwing octopus and its supplicants of selfie takers, past the army of 3-D printers spitting out the future like reverse Langoliers, past the roving neon land sharks and electric disco pillows, you'll find the Homegrown Village at Maker Faire. That's where things things start to get really weird.

    The murky green fish tanks of the "Grow Your Own Spirulina!" exhibit, assured me I wouldn't be any time soon. I drink spirulina all the time, but just as with hot dog sausages, I didn't want to see how it's made. The mushroom fudge booth made me wonder what awful thing fudge couldn't make taste better. I got two packages of it because it was both vegan and gluten-free. It's a gift you could give to almost anyone these days.

    But it was the seemingly innocuous honey booth that held the biggest surprise. "Do you want to see a working beehive?" a young woman asked, gesturing to an open side door. My first thought was this would be exactly the way you'd mug someone at the Faire. Who would believe you? I demurred, and she pointed me to the Honey Sample Lady.

    The Honey Sample Lady had her honeys lined up and we proceeded like a wine tasting-light to strong. A clover, a sage, an orange blossom, and finally Oak Dew. The Oak Dew was new to me, and on my first taste I thought immediately of baklava or crème bouche drizzled with the stuff. It was less sweet than the previous honeys, and unlike their simple one note flavor, the taste of the Oak Dew was complex, and the stickiness dissolved in my mouth quicker. I asked for a second sample and tried to parse what I was tasting.

    "What do the bees take from the oak tree to make this honey?" I asked the Honey Sample Lady.

    "Technically, it's not a honey," she said.

    "What is it then?"

    "Bees get it from another insect."

    "Really? What kind of insect?"

    "A scale insect."

    "What do they get from them?"

    "They secrete something and the bees take it."

    "Kinda like milking a cow?" I suggested.

    "Yeah," the Honey Sample Lady laughed. "Kinda like milking a cow."

    Oak Dew

    Before I could ask any more questions she rushed off to sell some more of the Oak Dew.

    It turns out Oak Dew is a honeydew honey, also called forest honey. When an aphid bites into the sap-carrying tube of a plant, it'd be a bit like you or me biting into a fire hose. There is so much pressure, it forces the contents of the aphid's digestion system out its posterior. It's really just sap minus a few amino acids. Supposedly, it dries and falls off trees when the wind blows, like a dew made of honey.

    When there is no floral pollen available, bees will collect the honeydew, take it to their hive, regurgitate it, and let it condense into a honey-like consistency called honeydew honey, or in this case, Oak Dew.

    "You mean you ate bug poop bee vomit honey?" my husband asked incredulously.

    "Yes, yes I did," I replied, "And, it was delicious."

    This is the third year honey farmer G & M Honey has been at the San Mateo Makers Faire. Honeydew honey harvests vary season to season, and by location, so only a limited amount is available. Your local beekeeper or farmers market may have it, as well.

    (more…)

  • Color for the Colorblind

    My EnChromas aren't sexy looking and they were early-adopter expensive. They came with a carrying sack, cleaning cloth, and an instruction manual. The manual starts with a number of grim imperatives, like don't touch the special lens, and one that most certainly will be ignored: "Removing the eyewear, even momentarily, will tend to reduce the effectiveness of the color enhancement." You won't be able to stop yourself from peeking under the glasses over and over again to verify your favorite gray sweater is actually a dusty rose. It is.

    They only work outdoors on a sunny day, and it takes about 10 minutes for your brain to start processing the colors. The lenses are 100% UV and scratch-resistant, and work by reshaping the spectrum light coming into your eyes. Enchroma also says the glasses come with Digital Color Boost, which, it turns out, is not a laundry additive, but an amplifier of the color signal coming to the brain. Science, bitch!

    (more…)