Science explains my madness, at last

If anyone has been bothering to read my rants for the past five-plus years, you may recall that one of my earliest blog posts was a tirade against the evils of cords.

Finally, while it may not be much solace, science as at least touched upon an explanation for why cords suck.

It’s kind of funny now, looking back at what I wrote in 2002. I was speaking in awed and reverent tones of the mystical wonders that awaited us in the future, these things called “AirPort” (I’m not even sure the term “Wi-Fi” was in use yet back then), and “Bluetooth” — things so new and wondrous that I put them in quotes when I referred to them, without a trace of irony.

Now I am pretty much taking for granted the fact that I’m sitting on my bed typing this on my laptop, connected to the Internet via Wi-Fi link to the router downstairs, and I’m controlling the cursor with a Bluetooth wireless mouse. Frankly, I’m more surprised by the fact that as of last Sunday my Mac is now set up in a triple boot configuration, with Mac OS X, Windows XP, and Ubuntu Linux.

The Case of the Missing Nav Bar

I will admit, sometimes the problems I encounter in Internet Explorer are simply due to slight differences in browsers’ implementation of HTML or CSS or whatever, and I’m just not properly accounting for the way IE does certain things. Other times, it’s true, they’re due to a flat-out bug in my code that Safari and/or Firefox (usually “and”) will just graciously accept, whereas IE will not. (The cases where IE catches errors that Safari and Firefox permit, however, are rare compared to the vast, cluttered landscape of bad code that IE welcomes with open arms but that Safari and Firefox rightly reject.)

And then there are the cases such as the one I encountered today. There’s no way around it. I can’t find a nicer way to put it, IE is just plain fucked up.

Yesterday I was going along innocently enough, demonstrating to a coworker the site I had been working on for him. As usual I had worked with Safari and Firefox as my test browsers, firing up IE through a remote connection to my PC as needed to make sure things weren’t completely off track. (In a perfect world, I would never have to do this, of course. But, well…) And then, wham! Of course this kind of problem only rears its head when you’re showing your work to someone who has the authority to reject it. I was convinced it was a fluke on his computer, but sure enough when I went back to my desk, I observed the same thing happening in IE on my own PC. Time to hit the brakes once again and go into IE debugging mode.

I tested all of the obvious things. No luck. So I dug a little deeper and started testing the more obscure, but at least logical things. Still nothing. And like so many times before, I was reduced to just randomly trying anything to see if I could get a different result, no matter how seemingly absurd.

Fortunately it only took about an hour to track down the problem this time. But as usual there was no satisfying resolution, no “Aha!” moment as I suddenly recognized a stupid mistake I had made. Oh no. The problem was that the CSS definition for the <div> tag containing the entire body of the page specified a background color. Of course! (No, not of course, as this should not have any impact whatsoever!)

*SIGH* Seeing as how that background color specification wasn’t technically necessary, I removed it. Problem solved. Frustration with Microsoft, higher than ever.

Hhffrrrggh (Inn)

You know how sometimes there are things you encounter in passing that are totally bizarre, but since you’re not really paying attention, they kind of slip by unnoticed for months (or years) before you finally say, “Wait a minute… what the…???”

Well, this is one of those things. I’ve done a fair amount of cross-country driving, but the long-haul trip I’ve made far more than all others put together is that between Minneapolis and Chicago along I-94/90/39 through Wisconsin. And yet, somehow, I went for years before more than a handful of brain cells bothered to notice, on one of those typical blue road signs advertising food/gas/lodging in Janesville, Wisconsin, the oddest business name I have ever encountered: Hhffrrrggh Inn.

Yes, that’s right: Hhffrrrggh Inn.

The name is so weird, it took about 3 or 4 trips past the sign before I even managed to make out enough of the letters to be able to take a reasonable stab at googling it.

And here it is… (I took the exit so I could take a picture of the actual restaurant, but as usual in Wisconsin, I drove a quarter of a mile and saw no sign of it — and scarcely any of civilization at all, for that matter — so I gave up.)

hhffrrrggh_1.jpg   hhffrrrggh_2.jpg


Originally posted July 21, 2006. See below for an update!

Not unlike Charles Foster Kane’s plaintive deathbed whisper — “Rosebud!” — I awoke this morning with one word in my brain (though fortunately for my surely-to-be-perplexed wife, I did not utter it aloud)… “Haystacks!”

Not a literal stack of hay, mind you, but a particular type of candy my grandfather adored (for some inexplicable reason); one I haven’t seen in years, if not decades.

The haystack is a peculiar candy. Start with a mound of a mysterious white sugary substance, the most cloyingly, sickeningly, tooth-rottingly sweet concoction you can imagine. Form it into the vaguely parabolic shape of a haystack (hence the name), and cover it in chocolate.

I think Brach’s used to sell these in cellophane bags, along with dozens of other kinds of candy not enjoyed by anyone born after 1929. But my grandfather used to buy his in bulk at a fresh produce market (that also had a greenhouse and a large bulk candy section), improbably located in Mapleview, Minnesota.

In attempting to locate more information about these candies, I was reminded of two things: 1) There’s another, completely unrelated (although much more accurately describable as “haystacks”) type of candy involving butterscotch, peanut butter, and chow mein noodles, and 2) although my grandfather, and by extension my parents, called them “haystacks,” I think Brach’s and Super Fresh Produce actually called them something else.

And so, I am brought back to Citizen Kane. Like Charles Foster, I am probably destined to live my entire adult life never to relive certain childhood memories. Unlike Mr. Kane, however, I doubt it will lead to any deathbed regrets.

Addendum (July 21, 2006): I was simultaneously validated in my memory and pigeonholed geographically and culturally by this discovery. In my various and relatively fruitless (not to mention pointless) Google searches to try to get an answer, I found a reference in a post on the Prairie Home Companion message boards to the candies I’m talking about, even calling them “haystacks,” distinctly different from every other type of “haystack” candy I’ve so far found online, all of which seem to contain coconut, chow mein noodles, or shoestring potatoes. Not at all what I remember, though I will happily concede that they do much more closely resemble actual haystacks.

Update (August 26, 2006): I guess it’s good that my parents read this after all! They informed me today that the “other” name for these candies is chocolate cream drops. A fine example of what they look like can be seen at the Vermont Country Store website, where you can even order the godawful things if you want. Knock yourself out. If you’re just interested in more pictures (recommended) rather than actually tasting them, you can also see some examples at the Spangler Candy (archrival to Brach’s in the inedible candy wars) website or, strangely, on a site called (which, after further consideration, I guess makes sense, considering the only way you can stand to eat these things is if your sense of taste is numbed by alcohol or a 2-pack-a-day habit).