Thursday, July 26, 2007


In case you've never learned the chemical elements, this poem by Harvard mathematics professor Tom Lehrer set to the tune of The Major-General's Song by Sir Arthur Sullivan, from Gilbert & Sullivan's The Pirates of Penzance you will find interesting and informative, at least for the first 102 elements (those discovered prior to 1959, when he wrote the poem.)

There's antimony, arsenic, aluminum, selenium,
And hydrogen and oxygen and nitrogen and rhenium,
And nickel, neodymium, neptunium, germanium,
And iron, americium, ruthenium, uranium,
Europium, zirconium, lutetium, vanadium,
And lanthanum and osmium and astatine and radium,
And gold and protactinium and indium and gallium, (gasp)
And iodine and thorium and thulium and thallium,

There's yttrium, ytterbium, actinium, rubidium,
And boron, gadolinium, niobium, iridium,
And strontium and silicon and silver and samarium,
And bismuth, bromine, lithium, beryllium, and barium.

Isn't that interesting?
I knew you would.
I hope you're all taking notes, because there's going to be a short quiz next period...

There's holmium and helium and hafnium and erbium,
And phosphorus and francium and fluorine and terbium,
And manganese and mercury, molybdenum, magnesium,
Dysprosium and scandium and cerium and cesium,
And lead, praseodymium and platinum, plutonium,
Palladium, promethium, potassium, polonium,
And tantalum, technetium, titanium, tellurium (gasp)
And cadmium and calcium and chromium and curium.

There's sulfur, californium and fermium, berkelium,
And also mendelevium, einsteinium, nobelium,
And argon, krypton, neon, radon, xenon, zinc and rhodium,
And chlorine, carbon, cobalt, copper, tungsten, tin and sodium.

These are the only ones of which the news has come to Hahvard,
And there may be many others but they haven't been discovered.

Several new elements have been discovered since them, Numbers 103 through 110, i.e. Lawrencium, Rutherfordium, Dubnium, Seaborgium, Bohrioum, Hassium, Meitnerium and Darmstadtium, and 5 others not named yet.

Tom Lehrer wrote and recorded many funny songs and you can still obtain them at the store or over the Internet.


Saturday, July 21, 2007


Last week, Dianne and I set out for our annual summer vacation. We were offered three free nights at the Mirage Hotel in Las Vegas, courtesy of Mr. Mirage, but those nights could not be used on Friday or Saturday. So we arranged to fly to Las Vegas on Sunday morning, July 8th, and on July 11th drive to Albuquerque, NM, the long way. We planned our itinerary and it amazingly worked out for the most part.

We had a fine time in Vegas, eating our way through some of the outstanding restaurants there. Our steak dinner at Ruth's Chris Steak House was one of the best. I had my birthday steak dinner at one of my favorites, Billy Bob's Steak House at Sam's Town Hotel & Casino. From the name, you probably think it's not real classy, but actually the food there is fantastic, and for us, relatively inexpensive, because Sam paid for about half of the dinner.

We saw the best free show in town, the Masquerade Show at the Rio Hotel, with rockin' music and dancers riding floats suspended from the rafters of the casino. Meanwhile, 50 feet below all this action, people were throwing money in the slot machines, oblivious to the show. Only in Vegas!

We made a special trip to pay homage to the famous statue of Benny Binion riding a horse, in downtown Vegas. (See KENSUSKINREPORT, June 27, 2007). We managed to lose a little money; after all, they don't build those big hotels because of people winning.

On Wednesday, we left early in the morning for the 450 mile trip to Moab, Utah, with the Beatles playing over and over on the CD player. We stopped for gas in Cedar City, UT, where we spent a couple of nights two years ago when visiting Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks. Don't ever go there on Sunday--the town closes down and all the restaurants are closed. Bars? Forgetaboutit.

We soon got on I-70 for the drive across the mountains, and we enjoyed the beautiful scenery, passing through towns like Richfield and Green River (remember the drink?) We arrived in Moab around 5 P.M. and looked for the B & B we thought we had reserved. We showed up on the guy's doorstep as he was preparing to go fishing, and then we really had reservations. He didn't know anything about the reservations we supposedly made on the Internet. He said he hadn't looked at his website in months. We landed at the Sleep Inn where we had asked for directions, and were very comfortable there.

We weren't done yet. Since it was still daylight, we drove to Arches National Park, a few miles North of town. We spent 3 wonderful hours there until it got dark, viewing and photographing the gigantic and beautiful rock formations and, of course, the sandstone natural arches that the park is famous for.

The next morning, we arose early again for another full day. About 15 miles South of Moab is a 5000 square foot house built into a rock face--one of those kitschy road attractions with billboards for hundreds of miles around. It is called HOLE N' THE ROCK. The deal is, this guy named Albert Christiansen inherited 5 acres from his grandfather, a homesteader. The only problem with the land was there was a mountain on it. So Christiansen spent many years with his wife and family tunneling out the sandstone and created a nice house in the rock. This sounds like an episode of the Flintstones. It was well insulated because of the mountain, and heating and air conditioning were unnecessary. After the guy and his wife died in the 1970's, the family opened a restaurant in the house, but now it is a private museum, and they charge 5 bucks to see it.

After that 30 minute tour, we headed toward Mesa Verde National Park, about 100 miles away in Colorado. There, about 1000 years ago, a tribe of Native Americans, today called the Ancient Pueblans, built elaborate structures on the side of a cliff face. There are several of these structures over an area of several miles. To get access, you must buy a guided tour down the cliff. Needless to say, the tour would not meet the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act, as it involves walking down many steps carved into the rocks. Don't wear high heeled pumps for this tour. Returning to the top of the cliff required climbing several ladders, about 30 feet high. Don't look down. Also, on one tour we had to crawl on hands and knees through a narrow tunnel in the rocks for about 10 feet which, to me and other overweight people, was the most difficult part of the tour. If you get stuck, you may have to forego eating for a couple weeks until you can get through.

In any event, the Ancient Pueblans apparently didn't live there permanently, but used the buildings for religious purposes and stayed there in the winter. They constructed 20 foot deep holes with curved masonry sides, called kivas, which are easy to fall into. As a lawyer, I brought many business cards in case anyone fell in, but nobody on our tour did. The Pueblans built fires in the kivas and gathered around them for warmth.

To Dianne, that part of our trip was the high point. We were absolutely amazed at the skill of the people constructing those structures, which involved complicated masonry work. The bricks and stones, along with the tools had to be hauled down several hundred feet from the top of the cliff.

By late afternoon, as we headed toward Durango, CO., we just missed hitting a grizzly bear which was lumbering across the four lane highway, looking for dinner. I wasn't sure whether to hit the brakes or the gas pedal, but the bear was headed directly for the driver's side (mine) of the car. Apparently, the bear took evasive action at the last moment, and he missed us.

We arrived in Durango, an old mining town and quickly found the downtown area which has been restored to its former Victorian glory. We checked into the General Palmer Hotel, which was built in the 1890's and restored as a 4-star hotel. The elevator was not much bigger than a phone booth, and to get off, you had to manually open the gate and door. Both of us with suitcases could not fit into the elevator.

The hotel is located next to the railroad depot and is named after the man who built the railroad. Everything in the downtown area is historic. Sure, there's a Home Depot and Walmart in town, but only on the outskirts. Main Street has a diversified mix of stores with fine restaurants, gift shops, Western souvenir shops, and the ubiquitous T-shirt shops, all in Victorian style buildings.

We had reservations for the highlight of the town, a trip on the narrow gauge, steam engine powered, Durango & Silverton Railroad--45 miles of spectacular mountain scenery in the Animas River valley, on the way to Silverton, at 9200 feet elevation. We rode in vintage railroad cars and enjoyed every minute, taking numerous pictures. The trip takes 3 1/2 hours each way, although you can drive it in an hour or so.

Silverton looks like a Wild West town, and the first thing we did was take a ride around town on the two horse drawn stagecoach. We had lunch at a former brothel, but then virtually every building in town claimed to be a former brothel, or at least, a saloon. That's the way it was in the Wild West. Many of the people who took the train up to Silverton opted to take the bus back to Durango. We took the train back, and sat with some nice people from Texas, and the return trip went quickly for us.

The next morning we set out for New Mexico, stopping in Pagosa Springs, CO. a resort town known for its hot springs. We stopped there because they had a cell (not available in the mountains), and we were able to call our offices. We made our way into New Mexico, which, despite the view of many in Washington, is not a foreign country. We passed through Chama and Cebolla and came upon Ghost Ranch which is famous for the dinosaur bones discovered there. We toured the museum and marveled at the bones (ooh! ahh!) and took pictures.

Eventually we arrived in Santa Fe and found the old town area which was settled in the 1700's. The architecture all over town is Spanish adobe. They won't let you build anything else. The city, besides being the State Capitol, is known for its 300 artist studios. Jeez! how much art can you buy anyway? There's an open air market where the Navajo and Hopi sell native jewelry, especially turquoise. The city is populated with aging hippies from the 1960's. They've all opened art studios, and I can't understand how they make any money. But I guess there's a lot of foot traffic, and the artists are able to scrape up a little business to keep going. Many stores also sell rocks and beads. If you like good Mexican food, Santa Fe is a good place to find it.

That night we stayed at the Fairfield Inn, on the edge of town, and went to a movie. We were so tired, any movie would do, so long as it started within a few minutes of our entering the theater. We saw Evan Almighty, which had some good stars in the cast--Steve Carell playing Evan, Morgan Freeman playing God, and John Goodman playing his usual role--the corporate type bad guy--in this case, a crooked Congressman. I won't bore you with too much of the plot, but essentially, a young Congressman is approached by God and told to build an ark in preparation for the flood coming on a specified day, and to bring the various animals on board. While this sounds like a bad Bill Cosby routine, it was entertaining, and I didn't fall asleep like I usually do at the movies.

The next day was getaway day, and we had a plane to catch in Albuquerque. In looking through the brochures in the hotel, we found an interesting ranch on the way--El Rancho de las Golondrinas, a sight not well known to us Midwesterners, but definitely worth seeing. It was a re-enactment--a Hispanic Williamsburg, with restored houses and shops from the 1700's and 1800's with people dressed in clothes from those periods. We could only stay an hour or so, but one could spend a whole day there viewing the interesting sights and talking to the re-enactors.

We eventually made it to the airport, returned our rental Suburu Outback and obtained our $500+ invoice and returned home.



Wednesday, July 18, 2007


In continuing our tradition of unusual sports legends, I have to feature the incomparable six time Nathan's Famous Hot Dog Eating Champion, Takeru Kobayashi, who, this year, was narrowly beaten by a relative unknown, Joey Chestnut, of San Jose, CA., the home of quiche and tofu. Chestnut ate 66 hot dogs and buns in 12 minutes, edging out Kobayashi, who was able to down only 63. In all fairness to Kobayashi, he arrived at the tournament suffering from a jaw injury and was worked on intensely by his trainers until shortly before the event, but he nevertheless came up short.

Kobayashi, a native of Nagano, Japan, stands 5'7" and weight about 131 pounds, in stark contrast to some of the more portly contestants. For example, in the 2003 competition, William (Refrigerator) Perry, the 400 pound former NFL star known for his prodigious eating habits, also competed, but came up far behind the rest of the field.

During his salad days, Kobayashi won the six championships handily. As a 110 pound rookie in 2001, he ate 50 hot dogs in 12 minutes, doubling the previous world record of 25. He put on some weight in subsequent years, eating 50 1/2 hot dogs in 2002; 44 1/2 in 2003; 53 1/2 in 2004; 49 in 2005 and 53 3/4 in 2006; against slimmer competition.

Kobayashi revolutionized the "sport" of eating by developing the "Solomon Method" of breaking each hot dog in two, dipping the buns in water or 7-Up, and then stuffing both sides in his mouth at once.

The competition has bulked up in recent years with increased cash prizes--up to $10,000. The Nathan's Famous Fourth of July International Hot Dog Eating Contest has been held each year since 1918, but the competition has never been as intense as it was this year. The 2007 event brought in an estimated crowd of 50,000 people to view the gastronomic feast.

Kobayashi may be a celebrity in the eating world, but he was handed his lunch by a 1089 pound Kodiak bear in a 2003 made-for-TV eating competition which I had the dubious privilege of viewing over the Internet. The bear ate all 50 hot dogs (without buns) placed before it in 2 minutes and 36 seconds. Kobayashi was left in the dust, consuming only 31.

He has proved himself to be a man of many tastes. Last year he ate 58 Johnsonville brats in 10 minutes. The previous record of 35 was set the previous year by Sonya Thomas, who was apparently on a diet. At another event, he ate 97 Krystal hamburgers in 8 minutes. In 2005 in Hong Kong, he ate 83 vegetarian dumplings in 8 minutes, and the following day, ate 100 roasted pork buns in 12 minutes. He also won the Alka Seltzer US Open of Competitive Eating, broadcast on ESPN. He has certainly shown himself to be a connoisseur (common sewer?) of fast food.

To compete, one must seriously train for such gastronomic feats. Kobayashi undergoes weight training, working out and body building, which has kept his body fat under 10%. The excess calories he consumes are quickly used up in training. Also he has a condition called gastroptosis, which is an abnormal downward displacement of his stomach which allows him to consume large quantities of food. The net effect is that he consumes an average of 6000 calories a day without apparent adverse effects.

But if you're planning to meet him for dinner, insist on separate checks.



Monday, July 16, 2007

What's Your Shtick?

This article appeared in the GLMV Chamber of Commerce Action News for July, 2007,

One of the major benefits of your GLMV Chamber is the networking opportunities. Some people seem to be born with social skills that make them thrive in those situations. As a kid, I was never one of them.

At my high school reunion, each person filled out a questionnaire. In high school I was {fill in the blank}. I filled in "invisible." But I'm getting better. At least, the attractive girls, who are now grandmothers, will talk to me now.

Last September, I went to Las Vegas with Dianne for a poker tournament. There, I got to talking to a guy named Jeff, from Pennsylvania, who managed a Home Depot store. After the tournament, I asked him what city he lived in. He answered, "Bloomsburg." I said "Bloomsburg, like in Bloomsburg State College?" He said, "Yeah, that's the college there." I then said, "Didn't Bob Tucker, the tight end for the Giants, go to school there?" He replied, "Yes, but I can't believe you would know that--you're from Chicago. Are you a Giants fan?" I said, "No, I'm a trivia guy." What amazed him was that, although Tucker played 11 years in the NFL, he retired in 1980, over 25 years ago. I wasn't perfect, however, I didn't remember Tucker's uniform number. Jeff told me, "Number 38" which was an unusual number for a tight end. I made a friend for life. Although I've traveled all over the country, I've never been to Bloomsburg.

I was one of those kids who read the World Book Encyclopedia from cover to cover. I won a trivia contest on a cruise ship by correctly answering that during the Middle Ages, the Pope lived in Avignon, France. My teammate asked, "How'd you know that?" I replied, "20 years of Catholic School." He said, "I didn't know you were Catholic." I said, "I'm not, I was just sh---in' you."

I could ask you: What do the following people have in common: Daniel D. Tompkins, Richard M. Johnson, William King, Henry Wilson, Thomas R. Marshall, and Adlai E. Stevenson? Putting Adlai Stevenson in that group would probably throw most people off the track, but the answer is that all were Vice Presidents of the United States, mostly in the 1800's. Pretty obscure names. None have their pictures on postage stamps or on the money. But maybe you can win a bet sometime with that. Or you can come up with something easier, like naming all the mayors of Rosemont, IL, while standing on one foot.

The point is that when networking, its helpful to have a shtick to keep the conversation moving. Knowing a lot of useless information works for me, at least for its entertainment value. Also, I try to hang around people who are smarter than I am, so I can learn something.

Find something that works for you. You don't have to be selling all the time. Take it slow and let people get to know you. If you're honest and look like you know what you're talking about, people will buy whatever you're selling.



Tuesday, July 3, 2007


Scrabble, that familiar board game has become a sport like chess and checkers, with tournaments, cash prizes and an entire subculture of Scrabble aficionadoes, with their own eccentric stars. The game was invented in 1931, by unemployed architect, Alfred Butts, from Poughkeepsie, NY, who called it "Lexico". Unfortunately, Butts' marketing skills were limited, and he gave the games away to his friends. He attempted to sell the game to the major game manufacturers Milton Bradley and Parker Brothers, but with no success.

He finally sold the game in 1948 to James Brunot who changed the name to Scrabble. Still, very few units were sold until Jack Straus, the Chairman of Macy's, had occasion to play the game while on vacation. Straus loved the game and ordered thousands of sets for Macy's and in 1952, Scrabble became the most popular game in America. Some well known fans of Scrabble today include Rosie O'Donnell, Mel Gibson, Madonna and her husband, Mr. Madonna, and Kylie Minogue.

In case you came from Mars and are not familiar with the game, Scrabble has a board with 100 tiles to be played. The tiles represent the English alphabet with 98 letters and 2 blanks which may be used for any letter. Points awarded for each letter are based on the frequency of that letter in the English language. For example, "E" is the most common letter, and there are 12 "E"'s in the game, each worth one point. The letters "Q" and "Z" are not common and each has only one tile worth 10 points, while the single "J" and "X" are worth 8 points each. To play, each player is dealt 7 tiles and must make intersecting words on a board like a free flowing crossword puzzle, and in doing so to accumulate the most points. Some of the spaces on the board have premiums for extra points such as double or triple letter and double or triple word. Thus, if you can land a "Q" on a triple letter space, you get 30 points. If you can make a word using all your 7 tiles, you get a bingo, which is worth 50 extra points.

A player's success in a Scrabble tournament is determined by his ability to memorize anagrams, all the 2 and 3 letter words, all words with "Q" and no "U", and other strange letter combinations. While I learned in school that no words exist with "Q" and no "U", the Scrabble Dictionary lists at least 20, which appear to be foreign words which have liberally entered the English language. Examples are:
qanat, qat, qaid, qoph, faqir, tranq, qindar, qintar, qwerty, qi, suq, umiaq, burqa and sheqel. The above spellings are creative, as the "Q" in many of those words can be substituted with "K". I defy anyone to use those words in a sentence. Since there is no committee which decides which words enter the English language, the Scrabble people borrow foreign words to invent new English words to use in the game. A word is defined to include words found in at least one of ten editions of five major U.S. college dictionaries.

There are numerous unacceptable words which people use and may yet enter the English language, such as brainiacs, duh, est, flashcard, gonna, gotta, lemme, newbie, piercings, rainman, and unenjoyable (with only 7 tiles in your rack this one would be tough).

Additional unacceptable words which were removed under controversy include several offensive words such as religious and ethnic slurs and other words considered vulgar such as fart, Jesuit, Papist, piss and turd. Despite the objections of the Romany people, the word gyp is OK, but wetback is not. Another controversy concerned the word jew, used as a verb, which is acceptable for Scrabble. Rumor has it that Mel Gibson often uses that word in his games.

Essentially, if the word is one of the 120,000 words listed in the Official Tournament and Word List (OWL), published by Merriam Webster, it is OK to use it.

The two letter words are helpful to know because you can make several words in one turn by placing a word parallel and adjacent to a word already on the board, but all the two letter combinations must be valid words. There are approximately 120 two letter words. Besides the obvious ones, there are, for example: aa, ae, ag, ai, ea, ee, fy, io, jo, ko, ky, ny, ou, oy, ph, qi, te, ut, xi, xu, yu and zo. There are also 1015 three letter words, such as zzz, aal, baa, zuz, pyx, and taj.

The definitions of some of these words indicate their foreign origins, so one wonders why they are considered part of the English language. For example xu is a Vietnamese monetary unit. Ut is a musical tone in French solmization system (huh!). Aa is rough cindery lava (in Hawaiian). It has a plural--aas. Ai is a 3-toed sloth. Oe is a whirlwind in the Faeroe Islands. Aal is an East Indian shrub. Qi is a Chinese vital force. Baa is the noise a sheep makes. Sheep speak English? Oy expresses dismay, or as my grandmother used to say, "Oy vey is mir!" But she thought she was speaking Yiddish, not English. How about mm, an expression of satisfaction? These are words?

To be a skilled tournament player in Scrabble, you must master those 2 and 3 letter words. Also there is the difficult situation where the player is left with a rack full of vowels. There is a solution! There is one 3 letter word with all vowels--eau, the French word for water. But there are 62 four letter words with only one consonant, such as alee, ooze, ajee, ixia, ciao, and eaux.
There are also 21 five letter words with only one consonant, such as aalii, adieu, queue, zoeae, etc.

Learn all of these, and you'll be better than the average living room player. But if you're looking to make money, don't quit your day job.