Whatever has happened to Metal?

Once upon a time, many years ago, I used to watch “Headbanger’s Ball” on MTV in earnest.  I listened to Metallica before Metallica was cool.  Megadeth was pretty awesome.  Queensrÿche, Helloween, The Crüe so Mötley, Anthrax, other bands with cööl umlauts in their names.  All fit into the genre of “Heavy Metal”.  All of which included actual singing in their music.  Some might call them “melodies” or “songs”.  I have discovered that the way to tell that you’ve gotten old is when things you used to enjoy have devolved to the point where you can no longer tolerate them.

Now there are so many sub-genres of Metal and it is mostly so hardcore, it offends mine old and tender ears.  Death-Metal, Black-Metal, even Viking-Metal?

Metal bands now almost universally employ frontmen who “sing” entirely in guttural grunts.  Personally, I think they have a heavy influence from Sesame Street: “C is for cookie”, indeed.

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Posted by on March 30, 2011 in Music (or lack thereof)


Fabian Cancellara: Bike Doper! Case Closed.

The HBS file has obtained top-secret proof that Swiss world time trial champion (and superhuman) Fabian Cancellara has been performing on a “doped bike”.  First came accusations last May that he rode a bike with an electrical assist motor hidden in the seat tube.  Closer inspection of his handlebar revealed instead a nitrous oxide system arming switch:

Just flip and zoom.

He has now been accused of using “advanced bearing technology” to cheat, gaining a ridiculous 2.5s/kilometer because of some magical frictionless bearing system utilizing antigravity and a lubricant synthesized from an ethereal combination of Leprechaun tears and Charlie Sheen.  When asked about this new bottom bracket, he replied mysteriously in English, “Duh.  Winning!”.

He has successfully refuted all of these claims until now, where a picture of Cancellara has been uncovered, showing the champion jauntily posing with a model of the atomic structure of Uranium-235:

Fission is our friend

Herein lies the truth, the horrifying truth:  Fabian Cancellara tricked Jens Voigt into rowing him deep into the ocean.  As they passed quietly in the night, a deep-sea fisherman overheard Cancellara tell Voigt to clap his hands together “as hard as he could”, causing an enormous earthquake and subsequent tsunami.  The pair were last seen skulking around the Fukushima Dai-Ichi Nuclear Plant, Voigt shouldering as many spent fuel rods as he could carry (all of them).  Sources reveal that Cancellara is having Voigt chew the fuel rods into perfect spheres for use in his frictionless bearing crankset and subsequently powering a new nuclear seat-tube assist motor, enabling him to reach time trial speeds of 155mph.  It is unsure just what is in it for Jens Voigt, although one source said that he was simply “double-dog dared” by Cancellara.

Not on my watch, mister.  Plan foiled.
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Posted by on March 18, 2011 in Brilliance, Cycling, Sports


Cartoon Discussion #2: The Justice League

For me, growing up in the 1970’s and 1980’s meant watching Superfriends on Saturday morning.  I loved this show.  Classic good vs. evil.  Pitting the forces of the Justice League against the Legion of Doom.  Peering back into my recollection of the series and its superheroes, I began to ask some fundamental questions such as these: 

  1. Who is the most powerful member of the Justice League?
  2. Who is the most powerful nemesis in the Legion of Doom?
  3. Why did individual superheroes/villains decide to form a league (or legion)?
  4. What did local, state, and federal government think of this?
  5. Why did they bother with the Wonder Twins and especially Gleek?
  6. What were the politics and motivation behind the scenes of each respective organization?

“Meanwhile, at the Hall of Justice…” 

The Hall of Justice


Very nicely landscaped, reflecting pool, ample grounds, the Hall of Justice appears to be located near downtown Metropolis.  There is no fence and it looks suspiciously like the love child of an art-deco amphitheatre and public library.  One gets the feeling that this is funded by tax dollars and subsequently is accessible to the public.  Everyone knows where this building is.  No more impenetrable “fortress of solitude” or hidden batcave–everyone knows its location.  This would seem to pose a security problem.  The Legion of Doom are not above terrorism and one would think would attack this building with stunning regularity in an attempt to destroy as many League members as possible in one fell swoop.  Yet, they don’t.  I think this reveals the most fundamental fear among Legion members:  fear of Superman

Who Lives Here? 

There are five permanent members of the Justice League that have, for all intents and purposes, given up their secret identities (if they have them–Aquaman apparently has never sought a secret identity) and given up the charade of dual lives.  They are Superman, Batman, Robin, Aquaman, and Wonder Woman.  Of course the Hall has the most advanced in computer and technology, owing to both Batman (via Wayne Industries) and Wonder Woman (via Diana Prince’s unnamed company).  Let us not forget the amazing technology of Wonder Woman’s Invisible Jet, and the untold billions in selling this and other weapons technology, similar to Bruce Wayne. 

Rotational Responsibility 

Visiting and likely rotational responsibility allows other supers to maintain some modicum of privacy and keep their secret identities.  Besides, the Hall of Justice ain’t that big.  These heroes include: 

  • The Flash
  • Green Lantern
  • Hawkman [spare]
  • Hawkgirl [spare also]
  • The Atom [very powerful–more on him later]
  • Firestorm

A few other heroes were not DC comics creations, but were created for the series, primarily to emphasize multicultural/multiracial nature of the League (the Justice League is an equal-opportunity volunteer organization):  These also were some of my personal favorites: 

  • Black Vulcan [African-American]
  • Apache Chief [“Inyuk-Chuk!”…saying the Apache word for “Big Man”…]
  • Samurai [Japanese]
  • El Dorado [Hispanic]

Who leads this thing? 

Obviously, Superman.  Although the permanent members appear as a “council” for decision-making purposes, Superman could destroy any of them should he choose to do so. 

“…Superman never made any money saving the world from Solomon Grundy…he could have broke into any bank in the United States–he had the strength, but he would not.Crash Test Dummies, Superman’s Song. 

So in forming the League, Superman must have the trust and support of the other members, who can weaken, but likely not destroy him, save one

  • Wonder Woman can cause damage to him–by crashing her “Bracelets of Victory” together (technically these are called “vambraces”), it has been reported that the shock wave was able to cause Superman’s ears to bleed.  Her Golden Tiara, a stabbing and throwing weapon, is able to cut Superman’s skin also.
  • Green Lantern could create a “Kryptonite Ray” at his will that would weaken Superman, but the effects are only temporary and much weaker than actual Kryptonite.  Besides, his ray is effectively negated by the yellow “S” on Superman’s cape.

Atom: The Most Powerful Superhero? 

The Atom, arguably is the most powerful and the only superhero truly to be feared and respected by Superman.  Since Atom can shrink to sub atomic size, and can rearrange molecular structure, it is possible, he could shrink small enough to enter Superman’s bloodstream and then rearrange the molecules of his heart to form Kryptonite, elegantly destroying him.  There never appears to be any tension or power-hungriness exhibited by Atom in his few appearances, but it must be constantly in the back of Superman’s mind, and the other supers as well.  Especially Wonder Woman with her superior intellect, surely has thought of this scenario. 

The Kryptonite Question 

I envision that the Justice League had a brainstorming session early in its formation about each member’s strengths and weaknesses, as well as strategies to counter them.  Superman would be the first to admit his Kryptonite problem.  Naturally occurring Kryptonite would occur very rarely on Earth, so the first item on the agenda would be to secure as much of it as possible, keeping it from evildoers.  They would be fool to destroy it, in case Superman went rogue, so there must be a repository of Kryptonite on site at the Hall of Justice compound.  At the government level, surely it had been posited early in Superman’s tenure as non-governmental protector that a Kryptonite “weapon” of some sort should be created, with a two-key nuke-type system in place to destroy Superman should he prove a threat to mankind.  Superman has no significant oversight other than his integrity.  If not enough could be found on Earth, or if it had already been gathered up by the League, a covert space mission would be required to gather some from Superman’s exploded home.  Likely some exists on the moon, or in orbit, for example. 

If I Were The Man of Steel… 

  1. I would first dispatch Atom, quietly, in his sleep.  He still clings to a secret identity, so we know he takes off his suit.  His “shrinkage power” is activated by a buckle on his belt, so separate him from his power and he will be easy to eliminate.
  2. I would eliminate all sources of Kryptonite on Earth and space as much as is practical.  Tricky, but enlisting the trusting help of The Wonder Twins sidekicks could make this possible.  Once these obstacles are gone, my power would be complete.

What of the L.O.D?



The Legion of Doom


It is my theory that the Legion of Doom was organized by Lex Luthor in response to always getting bested by the Justice League since their formation.  The only way to allow crime to indeed pay is to divide and conquer.  Most members of the League have their own nemesis with srtrikingly similar powers, each effectively nullifying the other.  This also allows better strategy to defeat the League with some members causing a diversion while others damage the weakened remnant. 

The Hall of Doom 

The Hall of Doom, unlike its Justice counterpart is depicted as based beneath a swamp where it can be raised and lowered.  It is mobile and can fly via rockets, be remote-controlled, has laser defenses, and has been modified to travel through time.  Its design appears to be heavily influenced by the designer of Darth Vader’s helmet.  Awesome!  (The bad guys always have the more kick-ass toys.)  I never quite understood the vilians’ deference to their leader, Lex Luthor, with no powers save his intellect.  In my personal opinion, they value his planning and organizational ability, and he likely has the vast funds necessary to keep the Legion operating and awash in high-tech weaponry during lean times of crime when halted by the Justice League.  Anyway.  The continual members of the Legion no longer seem concerned with secret identity.  They are as follows, listed with their linked Justice nemesis: 

  • Lex Luthor – Superman
  • Bizarro – Superman
  • Black Manta – Aquaman
  • Brainiac [evil android] – Superman
  • Captain Cold [able to slow down Flash with freeze ray] – Flash
  • Cheetah – Wonder Woman
  • Giganta – Apache Chief, Wonder Woman
  • Gorilla Grodd – The Flash, Black Vulcan
  • The Riddler – Batman and Robin
  • Scarecrow – Batman and Robin
  • Sinestro [yellow power ring] – Green Lantern
  • Solomon Grundy [super-powered Cajun zombie from the swamp. Yup] – Green Lantern, others
  • Toyman – [makes destructive toys?!?] – Batman and Robin

The recurrent plotline is that the Legion concocts some evil plan to destroy the Superfriends who, in the end, always prevail.  However, at the last moment, a pre-conceived escape plan kicks in and they all get away.  The League makes no significant attempt to chase them.  They all suffer from hero complexes and will wait to fight another day instead of rendering themselves obsolete. 

The Most Powerful Villain: Mr. Mxyzptlk 

This is the most powerful villain. Really?


Mr. Mxyzptlk is not a member of the Legion.  He is appreciated by the Legion and should be feared by all.  He is an impish creature from the fifth dimension who, for some reason, appears to exist to revel in torturing Superman.  His powers are only limited by his imagination.  Just by willing it, he could turn Superman to dust, for example.  He can only be banished back to the fifth dimension [for a minimum of 90 days] if he says his name backward.  Superman always pronounces this “Klipt-il-sim”.  He is extraordinarily gullible, and this is usually accomplished fairly easily.  Not even the Legion messes with this guy.  They have no contact with him and are mostly desperate not to gain his attention.  Luckily, Mr. Mxyzptlk would be bored if Superman is not in the world, so he is jointly his nemesis and his insurance policy.  One can assume that the Legion is most active in their efforts against Superman during his 90-day banishment period. 

“Wonder Twin Powers, Activate!” 

Zan and Jayna.  So why the sidekicks?  It is my theory that Superman befreinded these two, plus their blue pet monkey, “Gleek” to keep them close and positively influence them so they don’t fall to become minions of the Legion.  Jayna was a shape-shifter and had the ability of turning herself into any animal, real or imagined, as long as she knew its name.  Ant to whale, anything was possible.  Zan could change himself into any state of water (liquid, gas, solid).  He could form anything from an ice cage to house a criminal or even complex machinery like an “ice jet-engine”.  They would travel by Jayna turning into a giant eagle; Zan would transform into water and “jump” into a bucket held by Gleek.  Gleek’s superpower appears to be able to make a wooden bucket appear at will. 

Jayna, however could potentially be quite a threat to Superman.  Since she adopts the characteristics and “powers” of any animal she shifts into, she could potentially turn into an animal from Krypton, thereby gaining all the powers of our yellow sun and possibly overcome Superman.  Can you imagine a huge bulletproof Kryptonian tiger with super strength and heat vision?  Superman wants to keep her under his thumb. 

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Posted by on July 10, 2010 in Random


Awesome, In-Depth World Cup Soccer Review Rife with Hot Sports Opinions


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Posted by on June 22, 2010 in Other, Sports


Cartoon Discussion #1: Shmoo

Cartoons and cartoon physics lend themselves to elegant, thought-provoking discussion.  Take for example, “Shmoo”:


Perhaps you remember him as I do, as part of an animated series, a bit player on a few episodes of Scooby-Doo or The New Fred and Barney Show, where Shmoo had some episodes all to himself.  Little did I know, however, what a huge place Shmoo has in history.  His popularity.  His controversy.  Licensing phenom.  Critique on human nature.  Shmoo is more.

Shmoo History

“Shmoo” is a fictional cartoon character, created by Al Capp (1909 – 1979).  He frst appeared in Al Capp’s famous comic strip Li’l Abner in August 1948.  Li’l Abner discovers them when upon following the mysterious siren-like sound of their call (from whence their name is derived), he enters the forbidden “Valley of the Shmoon” (“Shmoon” being the plural form of “Shmoo”).  Befriending the creatures, he is warned by the shepherd of the Shmoon, Old Man Mose* that they are the greatest meance to “hoomankind” the world has ever known.  “Thass becuz they is so bad, huh?” [That’s because they are so bad, huh?]** asks Li’l Abner.  “No, stupid,” answers Mose paradoxically, “it’s because they’s so good!”

Shmoo Qualities

Shmoon were endowed with the following characteristics:

  • They require no sustenance other than air and reproduce asexually and prolifically.
  • Shmoon are delicious to eat and are eager to be eaten.  If looked upon hungrily, they will happily immolate themselves, jumping into a frying pan, whence they taste like chicken (of course).  If broiled, they taste like beef.  If roasted, they taste like pork.  Baked, they taste like catfish.  If eaten raw, they taste like oysters on the half-shell.
  • They have no bones, so they have no waste (a theory recently disproved by artist Michael Paulus, whose dissective Shmoo anatomy sketches follow:

    Large Pelvic Girdle, No Maxilla.

  • The frolicking of Shmoon is so entertaining that people lose interest in watching television or going to the movies.
  • The Shmoo can produce eggs (neatly packaged by the dozen), milk (grade-A), and butter without churning.  Their hide makes perfect bootleather or house timber, depending on how thick you slice it.
  • Apparently some of the more tasty varieties of Shmoon are more difficult to catch, creating sport.

Worldwide Boon and Shmooicide

Discovering their value to mankind, Li’l Abner leads them out of the valley: “wif these around, nobody won’t nevah havta work no more!!” [with these around, no one will have to work anymore!!]  They quickly become a sensation in Dogpatch (where Li’l Abner is set) and soon the rest of the world.  Sales plummeting for virtually every product, a worldwide “Shmoo Crisis” erupts.  Captains of industry order the extermination of the Shmoon, which are dispatched by “Shmooicide Squads” wielding a variety of weapons, illustrated in graphic comic style.  Global economic meltdown averted, people quickly resume consuming products that Shmoon replaced.  Li’l Abner managed to hide one “boy” and one “girl” Shmoo [I thought they reproduced asexually…don’t worry about that] who, in Dogpatch tradition, would be married as consequence to the girl Shmoo catching the boy Shmoo in the annual Sadie Hawkins Day Race [see below*]. The rapidly-expanding Shmoo family return to the Valley of the Shmoo, leaving the door open for future Shmoo “sequels”.

Shmoo Craze

An unprecedented Shmoo craze exploded across the U.S., and in 1949 and 1950, Shmoos were everywhere, including the cover of Time Magazine.  It is reported that over 100 Shmoo products for 75 different manufacturers, selling over 5 million units each. In a single year, they accounted for over twenty-five million dollars (over 215 million dollars in 2007 value).  Unbelievable.  The Shmoo was so popular, it replaced Mickey Mouse as the character embodiment of children’s savings bonds, sold by the U.S. Treasury.

Shmoo Commentary

The Shmoo story superficially concerns a cute, cuddly creature, only wanting to be a boon to mankind.  It is a parable about human nature, as we destroy any good and perfect thing.  Capp was slammed for the Shmoo story by both sides:  communists thought he was lampooning socialism and Marxism.  The right-wing thought he was criticizing capitalism and the American way.  It still invites thoughtful dialogue.

Shmoo Etymology and Trivia

Apparently linguists have debated for years about the origin of the word “Shmoo”.  Capp himself never divulged its true source, although it is thought that it comes from the taboo Yiddish term “shmue” referring to the female reproductive organ.  Li’l Abner was full of Yiddish word variations.  Another appears distinctly Russian in nature, the “Nogoodnik” which Capp created subsequently as an anti-Shmoo.  They were Shmoo-shaped, but colored sickly green with yellow teeth, red eyes, and a “dirty look”.  They often sported five-o’clock shadow, chomped stogies, and devoured their friendly Shmoo cousins.  Winged, flying Shmoon also later appeared, and were christened “Shtoonks”.

Who knew? [Who Shmoo?]

* Old Man Mose was a hermit-like sage, always 100% correct in his Sadie Hawkins Day Race predicitions.  He refused to “kick the bucket” which was conveniently placed outside his cave door.  Sadie Hawkins, the “homeliest gal’ in the hills” was a spinster at age 35.  Afraid she would live with him forever, Sadie’s father created “Sadie Hawkins Day” in which a race was held where the womenfolk of Dogpatch chased the men.  If caught, matrimony was the reward (penalty).  In the case of the last two Shmoon, the girl Shmoo caught the boy Shmoo and they were married by Marryin’ Sam, a traveling preacher who specialized in $2 weddings.  He was “paid” in the Shmoo way with two dozen eggs, two pounds of butter, and six cupcakes with chocolate frosting.  I attended a “Sadie Hawkins Dance” annually in high school, where the girls take the intiative in asking out the boys.  I always thought Sadie Hawkins was a real person, signifcant in women’s suffrage.  Nope.

**  I find the verbatim text of Li’l Abner so difficult and annoying to read, I have added translation for those of like mind.

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Posted by on June 3, 2010 in Bullsh., Random



We all know what this means…but where does it come from?  “Scapegoat” comes from a mistranslation of “Azazel” in Leviticus 16:  as “oz ezel” which means “the goat that departs” and further morphed into “(e)scape goat” in the King James Version of Leviticus.  The story is as follows in Leviticus 16:20-22:

“And when he has made an end of atoning for the Holy Place, the tabernacle of meeting, and the altar, he shall bring the live goat. Aaron shall lay both his hands on the head of the live goat, confess over it all the iniquities of the children of Israel, and all their transgressions, concerning all their sins, putting them on the head of the goat, and shall send it away into the wilderness by the hand of a suitable man. The goat shall bear on itself all their iniquities to an uninhabited land; and he shall release the goat in the wilderness.”

Escape, Goat!

Aaron was to ceremonially place the sins of Israel onto the head of this “scapegoat” where it would meet its destruction in the wilderness.  But the people began to worry and wonder–what if the goat made its way back to the herd and blended back in undetected?  Tradition says that they began to place a red cloth around the goat’s neck so it would be recognizable.  If the cloth turned white, then God accepted the sacrifice as an atonement.  Still concerned about dealing with unatoned sin for a year until the next Day of Atonement, they began to hurl the goat from a craggy mountain, ensuring its demise.  Incidentally “Azaz” translates to “rugged” and “El” meaning “power” or “of God”.  So the goat was to be thrown down from a rugged mountain, deemed “Azazel”.


Azazel is also found in the Book of Enoch (an apocryphal text) as the name of one of the fallen angels in pre-flood Earth, in league with Satan.  Against God’s will, he allegedly instructed early man in the art of warfare–making weapons, shields, armor, etc.  He also instructed women in the art of deception and body decorating and ornamentation–painting the face and eyes, dyeing hair, etc. and corrupted both gender’s manners, leading them into impurity.  For this he was, at the Lord’s command, bound hand and foot by the archangel Raphael and chained to the jagged rocks of Beth Hadudo [sound familiar?] where he is to abide in utter darkness (with goats being thrown on his head every year on the Day of Atonement) until the Great Day of Judgment where he will be cast to burn eternally in the lake of fire.

So there you go–let’s blame Azazel.  He can be mankind’s ultimate scapegoat for teaching men about war and for teaching sneaky women how to look younger than they really are…**BELCH** and for ruining our manners (excuse me).

I Blame This Guy!

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Posted by on June 1, 2010 in Etymology, Religion


Once in a Blue Moon

Here again lies a cliche I use frequently in conversation.  But how often does a “blue moon” really occur?  I mean it to occur regularly, but not often.  Where did this come from and what does it really mean?  Thanks to the wonder of internet research, which can never be wrong, I can tell you exactly what it means.


A full moon occurs approximately once per month, but the solar calendar year contains eleven more days than the lunar calendar year.  These days accumulate, and therefore about every two to three years, there is an “extra” full moon.  The term “blue” moon comes from folklore–here is a couple of possibilities:

  • The word “belewe” had a double meaning in Old English; either the color blue or “to betray”.  In determining the dates for Lent and Easter, clergy use the lunar calendar and it is thought that when the extra moon came too early, it was the “betrayer” moon so the Lent moon could occur at its predicted time.
  • The Farmer’s Almanac defined a blue moon as an extra full moon that occurred in a season.  If that season had four full moons, then the third full moon was called a “blue moon”.


The most literal meaning of blue moon is when the moon appears unusually bluish to the observer.  This can happen when dust particles of the correct diameter (slightly larger than the wavelength of red light,  at approximately 700nm) exist in the atmosphere without many particles of differing size.  Occasionally volcanic eruption can cause such a moon, as happened after the eruption of Krakatoa in 1883 which caused the moon to appear more blue for almost two years.

Most ash and dust clouds thrown into the atmosphere by fires and storms have particles of many different sizes, many smaller than one micron, which causes the moon to have a red appearance.  Red appearing moons appear much more commonly than blue.  This lends credence to the terminology and tradition of a blue moon being an infrequent event.

There's One!

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Posted by on May 12, 2010 in Brilliance, Bullsh., Sayings


Not Worth His Salt

I wondered once too often about the origin of this phrase.  As I wrote it today, I decided to do something about it.  The phrase “worth one’s salt” began with the ancient Romans, perhaps as early as 900 B.C.  During that time, soldiers were paid for work in “salarium”, an allowance for the purchase of salt.  Salt was a hard-to-find commodity in the ancient world and regarded as good for health.  The literal translation of the word “soldier” from that era is “one who is paid in salt”.

Look at the Latin word “salarium” which means “pay”.  This was shortened as it appeared in English to salary.  When you say that someone is “worth their salt” it means that they are worth the wages that they earn.

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Posted by on May 8, 2010 in Brilliance, Bullsh., Sayings


Of What Caliber (or Calibre) are You?

One descriptor that has always puzzled me is the terminology for firearms.  What exactly does a “twenty-two” mean?  Although I think I know the meaning of the “9mm” for my Glock 19, why is a “thirty-aught-six” a common deer rifle?  How about a “12-gauge” shotgun?  This bothered me enough to require further exploration.

Rifled Barrels

Caliber (or Calibre if you reside across the pond) originated in reference to the approximate diameter of the bullet used.  Therefore a .22 (“twenty-two”) is approximately .22 inches in diameter.  A Colt .45 has a bullet .45 inches in diameter (or a popular malt liquor beverage).  Caliber can also be expressed in millimeters, for example, my Glock 19 has a bullet 9mm in diameter.

What about a .30-30?  Or .30-06?  .30-30 is still a commonly used cartridge and actually refers to the caliber (.30 inches) followed by the standard black powder charge in grains (30gr) in the days of early black-powder era cartridges when the convention was adopted.  Modern .30-30 Winchester cartridge charge may differ from the original.  “Thirty-aught-six” (.30-06) refers to caliber (.30 inches) with a modifier as to the year introduced (1906).

What about Shotguns?

For shotguns, ballistics are measured in a term related to caliber called gauge.  Gauge refers to how many spheres of a given bore (inside diameter of the shotgun barrel) it would take to equal one pound.  Therefore for a twelve-gauge shotgun it would take 12 spheres the size of its barrel’s bore to equal one pound.  A “twenty-gauge” would take 20 spheres, reflecting its narrower bore.  Interestingly, a .410 shotgun measurement is a caliber measurement.  For shotshells, the size of the shot becomes a little more confusing in its naming convention.  “Birdshot” are shells with pellets “poured” into the shell.  “Buckshot” are much larger, such that may be used to hunt bigger game, hence the name.  They are more carefully placed into the shotshell and packed with sawdust or tiny plastic pellets between them in order to control the spread as the shot strikes its target.

I measure roughly 46cm at my widest point (thankfully, my shoulders), so it would take at least a 460mm cannon to fire me.

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Posted by on April 12, 2010 in Brilliance, Random


Dead as a Doornail

I have used this phrase countless times either in the above iteration or as “deader than a doornail”.  But one day it crossed my mind as strange.  All nails are dead, inanimate objects, why should doornails be any more so?  Is the intention referring to death by doornail?  A little research has revealed, no.


This is quite an old term, actually.  It is referenced in print as early as 1350, and Shakespeare used the term in King Henry VI, Part 2, 1592:

Brave thee! ay, by the best blood that ever was broached, and beard thee too.  Look on me well: I have eat no meat these five days; yet, come thou and thy five men, and if I do not leave you all as dead as a doornail, I pray God I may never eat grass more.

A "dead nail" with its tip clenched back into the wood, a common way to fasten door hinges to keep them from working loose.

I learned from the Appalachian Blacksmiths Association that in the day of forged or cut nails, manufacture was quite labor-intensive.  Therefore nails were reused when possible.  The tips of the large-headed nails used in hingeing doors (remember, this is before the usage of wood screws, for which a satisfactory lathe to manufacture was not invented until the late 1700’s) were turned back into the wood as shown in the rendering at the left, a procedure called “clenching”.  Nails were so scarce and expensive in pre-1850 America that people would burn down dilapidated structures just to sift the ashes to recover nails.  Clenched nails like the one shown above, however, were too bent to be reused, and were christened “dead nails” by the construction industry.  Hence the term, “dead as a doornail”.  This research led me to another question.  Why is the term “penny” used to describe the size of a nail?  It is its weight in pennies or some equivalent?  Again, no:


The term “penny” is still used when referring to a nail’s size.  In the 1600’s when it is believed this term came into use, the English monetary unit was the Pound Sterling (£) which was divided into shillings and pence.  The cost of 100 nails in 1600’s pence is how nail sizes are described to this day.  For example, 100 small nails, selling for 4 pence were called 4d nails (4d is the abbreviation for 4 pence and is still used to describe a 4-penny nail).  100 larger nails sold for 10 pence are 10d nails, and so on.  The price of nails was apparently near constant for a long period of time, and thus led to standard sizes.  Nail recovery has been all but eliminated with the use of modern wire nails.

Wire vs. Cut

Forged nails are square, each side being tapered to the tip.  Cut nails were quicker to manufacture, and were characterized by two tapered sides and two parallel sides, where they were sheared from steel plate.  A second machine forms the head of a cut nail.  Wire nails are round.  Steel wire of varying sizes is fed through a machine that grips the wire, cuts it, chisels the point, and forms the head all in one operation, churning out thousands of nails per minute.  Wire nails are cheaper to produce, but the cut nail has about four times the holding power of its round cousin.  You now know more about nails than you ever cared to. Read the rest of this entry »

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Posted by on April 5, 2010 in Brilliance, Cliche, Sayings