Hmm Weekly for February 25, 2020


Hmm Weekly for February 25, 2020

Another Week, Another Hmm Weekly

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From E. A. Shaw in response to an antique sandwich recipe posted in last week’s RECIPES DEP’T.:

I was troubled and confused by this paragraph from the recipe section: “…press for a moment, then roll it in a piece of tissue paper, pressing the ends as you would an old-fashioned motto…;” looked up the etymology of motto and found the term motto-kiss; found a definition in a digitized 1898 dictionary of Motto-kiss “candy wrapped in fancy paper having a motto or scrap of poetry enclosed with it” is from 1858. and yet I still have no idea of how I would press the ends as recommended in this recipe. All of which is to say, this continues to be a worthy weekly read productive of many hmms. Looking forward to supporting you in your paid iteration.

From Maledictions via Twitter:

From Substack Support, in response to Maledictions’ communication:

Yeah, people can / do do all sorts of things with their personal browsing / email setups. You can use clients that just don't load images. Sometimes people do this in their email to avoid tracking pixels.

From editor at in response to last week’s glyptodont content.

Hey! We actually just eradicated feral swine here according to Colorado Parks & Wildlife! But bring on the hippos!

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Andy Rooney 2.0 Dep't.

Salt Substitute

THE FIRST THING I noticed when I pulled this canister of salt off the pantry shelf was that it seemed narrower than the canisters used to be. But I checked and it was 26 ounces, and 26 ounces seems to be what the usual fatter canisters held. The real surprise was when I went to open it and realized the whole thing was put together differently. All my life I'd dealt with the same setup: you pick open a little pasted-down tissue-paper cover to get at the aluminum spout sunk into the cardboard top, then pry at the aluminum spout till it pivots up with a grating metallic groan and the salt is open. Here now, instead, was a simple plastic surface with a hinged snap-up flap. Built in underneath the flap was a push-down plastic tab, like a soda can tab, to break into the interior.

After decades of jamming aluminum under my fingernails, and occasionally mangling the spout, here was a clean straightforward opening scheme. Maybe it was less good for the planet, to have a full big chunk of plastic in place of a little aluminum gizmo? But the engineering improvement seemed irresistible: Click! Snap! Salt! I measured out some salt in a measuring spoon for a recipe I was using.

But mostly I don't measure out the salt. Next time I was cooking, I reached over for the canister and popped it open and realized, for the first time, that this setup had engineered away the spout.

A can of salt isn't just an ingredient. It's a kitchen tool. That flimsy, noisy little spout was what I used—without even thinking about it!—to control the amount of salt going into something. Now I had to shake it straight out of the opening, scattering it in little uneven bursts. It was as if someone had come up with a really clever new starting system for a car that incidentally meant they removed the steering wheel.

For a few terrifying days, I thought that progress had finally come for the salt pourer, the way it came for the headphone jack. When had this happened? I tried to Google it and I couldn't find any evidence of anyone talking about the change; then again, the internet isn't all that useful lately, either. Eventually, I figured out it was a food-service package that had ended up in my civilian hands. How the pros handle it, I have no idea. For now, everything is coming out over- or undersalted.


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Elisabeth Moss in The Invisible Man


The Invisible Man, directed by Leigh Whannell

HOLLYWOOD HAS BEEN making Invisible Man movies since the 1930s, and they’re all pretty unsatisfying, including whatever special-effects gimmicks they’ve used for the invisible parts. I can’t remember if it’s been on television, the internet, or movie trailers, but I had already seen enough snippets of this new Invisible Man film to set my mind against it. The stuff I saw looked irritating; a woman is in a relationship with a man who can be invisible, and everybody thinks she’s crazy. What will she do?

And this version of the Invisible Man movie is in fact dumb, in those small DON’T GO IN THERE WHY ARE YOU DOING THAT RUN DAMMIT RUN AWAY ways, and they really cheat hard with the music to telegraph shock moments. Seriously, the music is the most legitimately scary thing about this movie, especially if you’re in an auditorium with one of those sound systems that has the extra-vibrating bass response, yow.

One of the things I programmed myself that would anger me about this movie was the amount of time I would have to wait to not see the man, i.e., when the man would be Invisible and then do Invisible things. It took about 30 minutes, and it was annoying. I don’t want to spoiler anything about this movie, but the way the man becomes invisible has a solid, plausible, modern explanation. Meanwhile, there’s all kinds of stuff about the man’s invisibility that’s stupid, from the way the invisibility is exploited to the way that being invisible apparently gives you super strength ninja powers.

What’s good about this movie is that it’s not about the man, it’s about Elizabeth Moss, who does a compelling job portraying an understandably unraveling woman who is dealing with a man who can be invisible. There’s also no attempt at giving the film any sort of redeemable quality by drawing similarities between someone in an abusive relationship and the situation in which Ms. Moss’ character finds herself. She has a problem, and she attempts to deal with it, albeit while doing some dopey DON’T GO IN THERE stuff. Her strong performance carries us through this thing and makes us care what happens to her.

There are some admirable attempts in the production at providing artistic visual moments, with the camera searching empty rooms and running over murky translucent surfaces, but the film only really finds itself about halfway through the too-long two hour and four minute running time, when it becomes a Predator-type of movie (a series of movies about a bunch of aliens who can become invisible, and they are super violent), and that’s when the Invisible Man stuff pays off in entertainment. I contend there’s even an element in the sound design that’s totally Predator-ish.

This is not a good movie, but it’s a movie you could take in with others if you’re in a situation where you can’t agree on what to see, and then after, you could have fun talking about the annoying shitty parts, and have an argument about the zig-zaggy plot and whether the guy who plays the Invisible Man is a crappy actor or if he was just channeling dudes you might see on TV in The Bachelor.


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Spam Filter Letters to the Awl

WHILE WE MULL over what to serialize next, here's yet another installment of Spam Filter Letters to the Awl, from the 80,000-word collection of dummy-text cover letters I wrote to make sure that when I emailed that site a photograph of the sky, the filters would allow it to go through.

Subject: the sins of the fathers
To: Awl notes

So the first thing I had to do this morning was to try to install Python on Mack's computer, so that he could follow the instructions in the programming-for-kids book he'd unwrapped yesterday. The download from book's one-stop easy-use website failed, so I had to try hunt up the correct version of Python online and install that, plus whatever other program the Python download site strongly suggested installing to support it. All the while, the computer was pinwheeling and being a huge pain in the ass, and eventually I discovered that part of the reason was that he had piled up a stack of sixty (60) active, unsaved Microsoft Word documents. Suddenly my constant excess of tabs seemed not so bad but also, obviously, an incredibly poor example to have set.

Here is a photograph of the sky, and the review is in the system.

Subject: human resources
To: Awl notes

One way to spend an afternoon is in, having for the first time tried to be responsible enough to protect some money for childcare expenses from taxes, scrambling to fulfill the paperwork to redeem those expenses before the balance of money in the account is lost as part of the de-outsourcing of the employee benefits program. That is one way an afternoon can be spent, trying to clear up questions about the paperwork with a call center that does not issue its employees solid landlines but instead something faint and hiccupy and digitized. There are probably other ways to spend an afternoon, too, but I wouldn't know.

Here is a photograph of the sky, and the review is in the system.

Subject: another year
To: Awl notes

I was patting myself on the back for having remembered to correctly input "2015" in the headline of today's post, avoiding the ol' checkbook problem, despite the fact that I'd composed the headline in the editing window of the browser on my mobile phone, after a long and utterly perplexing effort to copy-paste the review text into the body field, which had led to repeatedly pasting the that review text instead into the headline field, owing to some stubborn incompatibility between my phone's copy-paste functions and the blogging platform. Despite all that, I got the year right, and so I was going to send the email announcing that the review was in the system and a photo of the sky was attached. Then, in my moment of extremely unimportant triumph, I noticed that I had put "14" in the filename of the sky photo, so I had to go back and fix it there.

But so here is the aforementioned email, with the aforementioned message.

Subject: cascading failures
To: Awl notes

One trouble with having some phone-network access in some subway stations is that it only sharpens the frustration of not having access in the places where it's unavailable, such as in a B/D tunnel somewhere above West Fourth Street, where the track is broken and impassable, while the clock ticks along toward the time that the younger child is supposed to get out of preschool, which would be the sitter's business, if the sitter did not have the flu, but with the sitter in fact having the flu, it is the B/D's business, and not a business one can share with anyone else, on account of the absence of phone signal, an absence that will not be abated even by the time the train rolls backwards down to West Fourth, since West Fourth is not one of the stations with a signal, meaning that the choices for how to get the now very urgent message about the rail delay out are either to wait for a new uptown train to appear on the local tracks and see if any of the local stations between West Fourth and Herald Square have a signal, or just bail out and burn a fare to get out to the open air and make a phone call.

Here is a photograph of the sky, and the review is in the system.

Subject: What drives upgrades?
To: Awl notes

Often in my

experience it

is a matter of new software coming along that

pushes the existing systems to

the limits of their


so that what was a a satisfying a satisfying user experience becomes unbearably slow, with key lag and pinwheeling. Online graphics and video have been a

great driver this way. Adequate browsers were made inadequate, over and over again.

Right now the pick for the great driver, from where I sit, would appear to be Slack, which seems to have a particular greed for stable connections and the ability to propagate its dissatisfaction to every other function on the machine. Where Slack encounters a problem, it exacerbates it. A hiccupy day on the wifi causes Slack to become panicky, stalling out all the activity around it. On mobile, Slack's desperation to maintain always-on communication as it passes in and out of service zones seems to drive it to drain the battery dry in five or ten-percent increments. So our productivity software shapes our productivity. poroductivity . productivity.

Here (after a remarkably slow attachment process) is a photograph of the sky, and the review is in the system.

Subject: standards
To: Awl notes

Perhaps, the guy says, the thing your computer needs is a newer version of Slack. The App Store has it. The App Store also has, it turns out, a lockout threshold of two incorrectly typed passwords, or one fewer password attempt that it took me to remember the configuration of capital letters. Perhaps buying more things at the App Store would have programmed the correct password into my brain more robustly. At any rate, changing the Apple password served not to get me access to the update, but instead to trap me in a perpetual login loop for the App Store. Where does one go to get an update to the App Store app?

Here is a photograph of the sky, and the review is in the system.


IT SEEMS AS if we will never cease presenting a selection of recipes for ancient but reproducible sandwiches, found in The Up-To-Date Sandwich Book: 400 Ways to Make a Sandwich, by Eva Greene Fuller; 1909; McClurg and Co., Chicago, now in the public domain for the delectation of all.

Mince finely two parts of cooked chicken or game to one part of cooked tongue, and one part of minced cooked mushrooms. Season with salt and pepper and a little lemon juice; mix and place between thin slices of buttered white bread. Garnish with small pickle.

Equal quantities of breast of cold boiled chicken and tongue, put through food chopper; season with celery, salt, cayenne, anchovy paste, and mayonnaise. Place mixture between slices of lightly buttered white bread with crisp lettuce leaf that has been dipped in tarragon vinegar.

Place between thin slices of white bread, cold roast beef or lamb, chopped fine; season with pepper and salt. Mix with a little of the left-over gravy; dip in egg and milk and fry brown in butter. Serve hot.

If you make one of these sandwiches, before you eat it, please send a picture to

HMM WEEKLY IS written by Tom Scocca, editor, and Joe MacPutty, creative director. If you enjoy Hmm Weekly, please let a friend know about it, and if you're reading this because someone forwarded it to you, go ahead and sign up  for a copy of your own right now.
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