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Getting Cranky on Mars

[My story in today's paper.]

The old rover was supposed to work for only 90 days, enough time to crawl two-thirds of a mile across the Martian desert. More than five years later, Spirit has put five miles on its odometer and is still rolling along -- but getting mighty cranky.

The rover, one of two NASA vehicles operating on Mars, has a broken right wheel. It has dust on its solar panels. It's operating at about 30 percent of normal power. Various sensors and software programs have gone screwy.

Then, on April 9, Spirit refused to wake up. The rover is designed to sleep at night, when there is no sunlight hitting the solar panels. But Spirit snoozed right through its wake-up call. It happened three times in succession. Finally a backup timer got Spirit up and moving again after a 27-hour slumber.

John Callas, project manager for the Mars rovers at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., said he doesn't have an explanation for what ailed Spirit. Nor can he explain why the rover repeatedly rebooted itself when engineers at the JPL tried to send it commands. The engineers found a fix -- they relayed commands via a spacecraft that orbits Mars -- but the incidents suggest that Spirit is getting erratic. Or maybe just old.

By any measure, Spirit and its sister rover, Opportunity, which is a good bit healthier, have been triumphs of the civilian space program. Spirit may yet operate for several more years, or it may be on its last legs. In any event, it is providing a tutorial on how even the most exquisitely designed machines eventually die.

Click here to keep reading.


Question for the day: What happens if (when?) Pakistan becomes a theocracy?


The Jeff Jarvis interview in Outlook has me puzzled anew over what, exactly, Jarvis wanted the news business to do when the Internets came knocking. No doubt the biz could have been faster, smarter, more flexible, but it's just not clear to me what golden opportunity slipped through our fingers (a friend says the NYTimes could have bought Google for a million dollars, but that still wouldn't have solved the newspaper dilemma in places like Philadelphia, Chicago and L.A.). Also note this passage by Jarvis: "At CUNY we teach every student to do audio, video, blogging, live-blogging, use Twitter. We also teach the eternal verities of journalism." I'm assuming he's referring to stuff like reporting and writing. I hope those aren't considered ancillary skills. (By the way, at 3 p.m. the Pulitzers are announced.)

By Joel Achenbach  |  April 20, 2009; 7:18 AM ET
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: Those Torture Memos
Next: Congrats to Gene Robinson


If engineers of that caliber preferreed to work for private industry rather than the government then GM wouldn't be in trouble.

Posted by: wiredog | April 20, 2009 8:01 AM | Report abuse

"preferreed"? Guess it's time to get a job with the Natinals.

Posted by: wiredog | April 20, 2009 8:01 AM | Report abuse

This is a great story, and I especially like the last line. (Isn't that called "the kicker" or something in that obscure journalistic lingo?)

Anyway, the story of these probes reminds me of the lightbulb in the Livermore Fire Station that has supposedly burnt for over a century. A certain amount of awe combined with resentment that other stuff doesn't last that long.

And because of the whole exploration angle, this technological awe is coupled with a vague sense of inspiration. You know, like that children's story about the little engine that could.

From a technological standpoint, I find these probes interesting because they seem to have inadvertently manifested a subtle concept of environmental design. They have succeeded, in part, because they exploit certain features of the natural environment - namely the wind.

It's sort of like how the Panama Canal works with the rain instead of against it.

I can't help but think, though, that there is a darker human story lurking here. People who chose to travel far from home and put their lives on hold expecting to tend to these robots for a few months, only to find themselves shackled like indentured servants to of the merciless demands of The Machines.

Or, one could view it as job security.

Posted by: RD_Padouk | April 20, 2009 8:04 AM | Report abuse

Endust ... with the original fresh scent.

Posted by: russianthistle | April 20, 2009 8:24 AM | Report abuse

Of course they want to keep track of Voyager. They know that when they lose it there will be heck to pay when it comes back. Just ask James Tiberius.

And speaking of Roman names, if you missed the tail end of the last boodle, I have muscled through my vacation pictures and narrowed the Rome (exclusive of the Vatican) section down to 88 photos even if I have kept in a few too many of St Terese in Ecstasy.

The whole selection:

And Terri enjoying that angel's arrow just a little too much:

Posted by: yellojkt | April 20, 2009 8:32 AM | Report abuse


I have sat through way too many day-long meetings. I learned (and have subsequently forgotten) more about the selection, care, and transportation of king palms that I ever cared for.

Posted by: yellojkt | April 20, 2009 8:34 AM | Report abuse

Are these the rubbers you're looking for, 'mudge?

Posted by: yellojkt | April 20, 2009 8:40 AM | Report abuse

I would think that you can sit and listen to discussions about Palms, but nothing matches hands-on experience with Palms.

Posted by: russianthistle | April 20, 2009 8:40 AM | Report abuse

"C.I.A. interrogators used waterboarding, the near-drowning technique that top Obama administration officials have described as illegal torture, 266 times on two key prisoners from Al Qaeda, far more than had been previously reported.

"President Obama plans to visit C.I.A. headquarters Monday and make public remarks to employees, as well as meet privately with officials ... [What will Obama say?]

"The new information on the number of waterboarding episodes came out over the weekend when a number of bloggers, including Marcy Wheeler of the blog emptywheel, discovered it in the May 30, 2005, memo.

"The sentences in the memo containing that information appear to have been redacted from some copies but are visible in others. Initial news reports about the memos in The New York Times and other publications did not include the numbers."

Posted by: laloomis | April 20, 2009 8:43 AM | Report abuse

I have two palms on hand.

Posted by: Yoki | April 20, 2009 8:44 AM | Report abuse

I use a Treo now, but my wife has been itching to get an iPhone.

Posted by: yellojkt | April 20, 2009 8:47 AM | Report abuse

Morning boodle! JA never disappoints, except perhaps when the kits get a little long in the tooth.

Up early and have already ordered worms for an Earth Day composting project (have to get overnight delivery so the wee things don't freeze-in April for crying in the night), paid some bills, written a grant report and broken my brand new dish washing liquid dispenser. On the whole not bad, but the dispenser was just delivered on Saturday after waiting months to replace the one Mr. F broke last fall. Turns out concrete floors and quartz counter tops are exceptionally unforgiving-and gravity doesn't help either.

Later gators, on the road until late afternoon. In total denial over my carbon footprint these days.

Posted by: frostbitten1 | April 20, 2009 9:11 AM | Report abuse

Blogger Marcy Wheeler, in her blog post, does some really interesting number crunching and analysis about the number of times the CIA engaged in waterboarding. She also discusses how C.I.A. interrogators went beyond the expansive guidelines.

Interesting the graphics on the cable news channels used during Friday evening broadcasts to demonstrate waterboarding. CNN showed cartoon figures--no struggling whatsoever by the man strapped to the waterboard and a huge volume of water coming from a single bucket, poured from the bucket in great volume by the interrogators. According to Ms. Wheeler's blog post, the CNN graphic would appear to be not too far off the mark.

Anyone want to comment on the footage that MSNBC used to provide an example of waterboarding? This video showed real people, but the man's struggle on the waterboard was constrained by the pair of hands on him, holding down his face and neck. Why does the video showing Hitchens being waterboarded seem to be the most accurate depiction?

Posted by: laloomis | April 20, 2009 9:12 AM | Report abuse

First of all, let me wish a happy 4/20 to all the Glaucoma Test Pilots out there (Motto: "Let's light this candle!"); those with current flight status and those retired.

Reposted from previous Boodling:

"Good evening, all.

Joel's new article re. the Martian rover Spirit, still operating, despite being well out of warranty (though it could use a good wash, a detail, and a tuneup. Definitely to include changing all the filters):

On a side note, I spent some time repairing my olde German sedan (parts came in the mail while I was in Beantown with the oldest Daughter) and finally, the last "bc, yer an idiot" light is out. Of course, when I look at the odomoter and it shows 205,000 mi., I wonder if that's just an indicator I'm idiotically optimistic.


Posted by: -bc- | April 19, 2009 8:55 PM"

BTW, if NASA needs someone to get up to Mars to do tuneups on Spirit and Opportunity, fix the wheels, clean things up and generally make sure that they'll run for awhile longer, I can be ready to go anytime they can fly me and my travel toolboxes up there. They don't have to wait for triple-A to send someone over.


Posted by: -bc- | April 20, 2009 9:18 AM | Report abuse

If only a dozen rovers were roaming Mars. Then again, it's impressive that the two landed successfully, let alone that they continue functioning.

Posted by: DaveoftheCoonties | April 20, 2009 9:19 AM | Report abuse

The boss said that, "Spirit snoozed right through its wake-up call ... three times in succession"

Yeah, been there, done that.

Posted by: Don_from_I-270 | April 20, 2009 9:22 AM | Report abuse

Joel, your question regarding Pakistan is of some interest.

If the theocrats follow the Taliban model the implications for the citizens of Pakistan, especially the women, could be devastating. The brutal and absurdly mutually-exclusive restrictions imposed in Afghanistan are well documented.

If the theocracy is supportive of anti-western activists one could potentially have a situation in which anti-western terrorists are supplied with nuclear material. This is, of course, a very bad scenario.

Even if the direct threat of nuclear terrorism doesn’t materialize, the traditional hostility between Pakistan and India would take on an added intensity. And India has nuclear weapons as well.

Finally, of course, Israel would become even more terrified. And good things seldom come from that.

Of course, all of these scenarios are extremely dependent upon the individual personalities involved. Analysis can easily be swamped by the personal quirks, biases, and temperament of the players.

The ultimate random variable is always the human brain.

Posted by: RD_Padouk | April 20, 2009 9:23 AM | Report abuse

Spirit and Opportunity are proof positive that humans have the smarts to build something that lasts.

Now if only they could make toasters that last more than a year.

Posted by: --dr-- | April 20, 2009 9:27 AM | Report abuse

I am thinking of 3 mechanical devices with intricate moving parts that I have never seen stop working. I've never seen them in need of maintenance, repair or calibration either:

1. Gas meter
2. water meter
3. electric meter

I only wish I could by a stove, faucet, or blender built with the same specs.

Posted by: WhackyWeasel | April 20, 2009 9:31 AM | Report abuse

A glimpse at what life might be like for women under a theocracy in Pakistan. This is a collection by the female Globe and Mail writers who have reported from Afganistan, Kandahar in particular. Chilling is an understatement.

Posted by: dmd2 | April 20, 2009 9:36 AM | Report abuse

Yoki, I owe you a *snort*.

Yup, Totes still makes rubbers. Thanks, yello.

RIP author J.G. Ballard, author of "Empire of the Sun." From the AP obit: "Ballard would eventually be deemed worthy of his own adjective, "Ballardian," defined by the Collins English Dictionary as "resembling or suggestive of the conditions described in Ballard's novels & stories, esp. dystopian modernity, bleak man-made landscapes & the psychological effects of technological, social or environmental developments."

Dystopian modernity...psychological effects of tech, social and enviro developments... bleak man-made landscapes.... My kinda guy.

Posted by: curmudgeon-1 | April 20, 2009 9:38 AM | Report abuse

Both "Crash" and "High Rise" haunt me to this day. Ballard was a great under-appreciated writer.

Posted by: yellojkt | April 20, 2009 9:44 AM | Report abuse

Here's an unusual bit of technology operating well beyond it's intended life span: wooden water mains that exist in different places in the U.S., from Alaska to, perhaps, Philadelphia.

Posted by: -jack- | April 20, 2009 9:54 AM | Report abuse

I'd expect a massive exodus of the educated elite in Pakistan, to start with. Pakistan would quickly degrade further as a nation-state.

There's a difference between being religious and faithful and letting two-bit thugs bully the country.

It'd be interesting to see what India does about the threat; that must be factored into any predictions-- Lahore is not that far from Delhi.

Posted by: Wilbrod_Gnome | April 20, 2009 10:15 AM | Report abuse

dbG's travails are slightly freaking me out, as I have had the same alerts popping up about firewall. If I do have a worm it's the most sophisticated thing possible, because it's invisible. I'm tending to believe in the fallibility of Microsoft, Symantec, et al instead.

The 4/20 alert reminded me of how officials claimed the "4-20" on one of the walls at Columbine was an homage to "Hitler's birthday," an interpretation so clueless I worry about the near-subhuman stupidity of those in charge.

I'm just cranky today. MSNBC dragged Obama over the coals for not calling out Chavez, or perhaps for not just killing him ninja style with a pencil right on the floor. Part of it is, I suppose, that I am inclined to somehow agree, but I don't want to, wishing to extend my unadulterated support to the President as long as I plausibly can. And I'm tired of diminutive strutting and boastful little roosters such as Chavez and Bush and Ahmadinejad. May they all discover the increasing and insinuating scent of sulfur pernicious, and likely effusing from their own scabrous hearts, and turn away from it.

Posted by: Jumper1 | April 20, 2009 10:27 AM | Report abuse

Awesome photos, yellojkt. Thanks for sharing them. If you've got time, could you explain (1) the coin tossing ritual/legend at the Four Rivers Fountain, and (2) what's the source of St. Theresa's, uh, beatitude?


Posted by: jp1954 | April 20, 2009 10:37 AM | Report abuse

Just postulating here...

Since the president has not divulged the precise content of his exchange with the not-very-esteemed leader of Venezuela, might I suggest he slipped in some Hawaiian slang that was less that complimentary and also very likely untranslatable?

*really-quite-busy-catching-up-at-the-office-while-preparing-for-another-trip Grover waves* :-)

Posted by: Scottynuke | April 20, 2009 10:42 AM | Report abuse

Cowtown, your second question can be found here: (also the source of the Bernini statue)

Posted by: curmudgeon-1 | April 20, 2009 10:49 AM | Report abuse

I suspect that treating Chavez in a civil manner, as if he is unobjectionable, is probably the most effective way to belittle him. If we acknowledge him, then it shows that he has the strength and the power to bother the giant. Gently smile at him and disagree with his ranting in mild tones. Hard to imagine anything that would annoy him more, or make him look smaller and more powerless.

Posted by: ScienceTim | April 20, 2009 10:52 AM | Report abuse

The Trevi Fountain legend is that if you toss a coin into the fountain over your left shoulder with your right hand while your back is to the fountain, you will eventually return to Rome. In our case it took nearly 25 years to take effect. There are ipso factos, quid pro quos, et ceteras on the minimum denomination required for effectiveness.

The St. Theresa statue is Bernini's interpretations of Theresa's own description of how an angel with a golden spear repeatedly stabbed her and gave her spiritual fulfillment. From Wikipedia:

"The pain was so great, that it made me moan; and yet so surpassing was the sweetness of this excessive pain, that I could not wish to be rid of it. The soul is satisfied now with nothing less than God."

God (or at least an angel with a burning sword) is a tough act to follow.

Since Freud was several hundred years down the road, interpretations of both St. Theresa's experience and the statue's presentation have varied over the years.

Posted by: yellojkt | April 20, 2009 11:01 AM | Report abuse

420 dude

Posted by: omnigood | April 20, 2009 11:05 AM | Report abuse

"...Spirit and its sister rover, Opportunity, which is a good bit healthier...."

She's not healthier. She just doesn't act like she's got pneumonia when she's it's really just a touch of a cold. She also takes echinacea and Vitamin C when she feels a cold coming on, and gets plenty of rest instead of staying up half the night watching a repeat of a football game played 20 years ago.

Or maybe Spirit hasn't used all his vacation days, and they have a use-or-lose policy.

Have a happy day all.

Posted by: LostInThought | April 20, 2009 11:07 AM | Report abuse

SciTim, I agree.

Posted by: russianthistle | April 20, 2009 11:12 AM | Report abuse

Mudge, to your remark in the previous Boodle about Palin making a "pro-choice" speech - uh, no. She said she had a "moment of doubt" when she considered terminating her last pregnancy - she called it "changing the circumstances" - but ultimately, she CHOSE to have the baby. Neither she, nor her rabid followers, see the irony that she had a CHOICE, but that they want to take that away!

Here's Ruth Marcus on the Palin speech:

Posted by: seasea1 | April 20, 2009 11:19 AM | Report abuse

Time and Scotty have cheered me. Pakistan is another story. I fear how this will turn out. It's as if Charles Manson has his own part of a country now.

Posted by: Jumper1 | April 20, 2009 11:23 AM | Report abuse

Yeah, I read the Marcus piece a little while ago. I was reacting to a crummy headline and teaser (albeit in disbelief). Having read it, I see the "twist" in what Marcus is saying. But the original tease writer didn't (I may have whined about the lack of quality in some online hed and tease writers before, methinks).

Posted by: curmudgeon-1 | April 20, 2009 11:33 AM | Report abuse

"If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice."

An apropos quote for 4/20.

Posted by: yellojkt | April 20, 2009 11:38 AM | Report abuse

I must admit not getting the "420" references until I checked out Wiki.

Sheltered. Life.

Posted by: RD_Padouk | April 20, 2009 11:43 AM | Report abuse

Lest we forget, 22 years and 30 days ago...What did Reagan unleash during his turn at foreign policy?

(Bacevich has an interesting answer in "Limits of Power"...Why do I see Tom Friedman echoing so many of Bacevich's opinions in Freidman's recent columns? In his talk on April 9, Bacevich pointed out that Obama is just as much a rookie at foreign policy as Obama's two immediate predecessors.)

Graveyard of Empires, including Pax Americana?:

Proclamation 5621 -- Afghanistan Day, 1987
March 20, 1987
By the President of the United States of America

A Proclamation

The people of Afghanistan traditionally celebrate March 21 as the start of their new year. For the friends of the Afghan people, the date has another meaning: it is an occasion to reaffirm publicly our long-standing support of the Afghan struggle for freedom. That struggle seized the attention of the world in December 1979 when a massive Soviet force invaded, murdered one Marxist ruler, installed another, and attempted to crush a widespread resistance movement. ...

Now, Therefore, I, Ronald Reagan, President of the United States of America, do hereby proclaim March 21, 1987, as Afghanistan Day, and I urge the American people to participate in appropriate observances to reflect our support of the Afghan struggle for freedom.

Posted by: laloomis | April 20, 2009 11:45 AM | Report abuse

I have decided the best way to pay for on-line content from a newspaper is to send to the publishing company each month a modest amount of money. As confirmation of my payment, specially hired deliver individuals will daily supply me with a special document.

Posted by: RD_Padouk | April 20, 2009 11:46 AM | Report abuse

No, Padouk, I don't think you're "sheltered." I'm throwing the flag on that 420 business as being too obscure, and not part of the general culture *or* counterculture. As far as i can tell you have to be in either San Rafael, CA, or Boulder, CO, to know what it means. It is waaaay too infra-dig to know what it means.

Posted by: curmudgeon-1 | April 20, 2009 11:52 AM | Report abuse

On the other hand, as the banner ad at the top of this page (well, mine, anyway) says, May 8th is Railroad Day!!!

Posted by: curmudgeon-1 | April 20, 2009 11:53 AM | Report abuse

SCC: wrong link. Try

And I screwed up the date, too. It's May 9.

Perhaps too much 420 in my morning Cheerios.

Posted by: curmudgeon-1 | April 20, 2009 11:56 AM | Report abuse

Bybee's a Mormon sitting on a federal court in San Francisco? I'd say he's in deep you-know-what. There's a story for Dowd who was out in the Bay Area very recently with Newsom, Waters, and Modesto's Lucas.

Posted by: laloomis | April 20, 2009 11:57 AM | Report abuse

Mudge, I'm thinking your assertion that 4:20 is obscure is a generational thing. I drank champagne out of FMPs, right? What the heck is that about? RD, it's not generational, and it's not a sheltered life. It's that you were busy with other things. Probably redheads.

Posted by: LostInThought | April 20, 2009 11:59 AM | Report abuse

Nope. I'm entitled to issue a ruling on what is obscure, and what isn't. It's what editors do.

Posted by: curmudgeon-1 | April 20, 2009 12:11 PM | Report abuse

You made me laugh out loud. Thanks.

Posted by: LostInThought | April 20, 2009 12:16 PM | Report abuse

I also didn't know what 420 was until I looked it up just now. Jumper, why do you feel so strongly that a "Hitler's birthday" interpretation was so clueless in those awful circumstances? If anything, the other way around looks stranger - blaming a shooting spree on "reefer madness".

Posted by: engelmann | April 20, 2009 12:33 PM | Report abuse

Not only do I not get the 420 reference (which I will look up), I do not know the "teabagging" references other than to the original Boston Tea Party I am clueless and quite happy to remain so in this instance.

Went out for drinks with a good friends the other night, and as usual the topics we discussed covered a wide range of topics including the two of us not getting the teabagging references and being embarrassed to ask what it ment. I consider us both of at (me) and above (her) intelligence - apparently just not clued in to popular cultural references.

I repeat I do not want an explanation :-)

Posted by: dmd2 | April 20, 2009 12:38 PM | Report abuse

Whenever I get really sad about my mom, I remember the time Sis2, Sis3, Mom and I were in Mom's back yard, and Sis2 explained a wide variety of euphemisms (including that one) to her. The image of my mom laughing so hard she could barely stand, her cheeks looking like they're about to burst, well, it makes me smile.

Posted by: LostInThought | April 20, 2009 12:45 PM | Report abuse

Clearly you haven't been buying enough tobacco water pipes at your local hemp goods outlet. You can't make it through the patchouli haze between the front door and the 'special products' show room without stumbling over tee-shirts, bumperstickers, butane lighters and other, er, paraphernalia emblazoned with the 4:20 logo. Feel free to do some investigative reporting. I'd help you with some locations, but those Google searches end in the big blue "Restricted Content" page.

420 has entries in Wikipedia, Urban Dictionary and Snopes, which is particularly good:

I have had the Sweetwater Brewing Company 420 Ale. Not bad, but not a substitute for the real thing.

Feel free to remain a fogey (it is your trademark) but some weekend mention that it's 4:20 in front of your kids and pull out some J&B rolling papers or some White Owl blunts and see what sort of reaction you get.

Posted by: yellojkt | April 20, 2009 12:48 PM | Report abuse

Achenblog... the glee-filled home of dot connectors.

Posted by: russianthistle | April 20, 2009 12:48 PM | Report abuse

4:20 = Miller Time for pot heads - I get it.

Posted by: dmd2 | April 20, 2009 12:52 PM | Report abuse

I'm only about two hours behind

Posted by: omnigood | April 20, 2009 12:57 PM | Report abuse

Hey, I've let lil' runty dogs teabag me.


Posted by: Wilbrod_Gnome | April 20, 2009 12:58 PM | Report abuse

Thanks for oversharing, Wilbrodog.

Posted by: yellojkt | April 20, 2009 12:59 PM | Report abuse

The things I learn in this place!

dmd, don't feel bad, I didn't get it either. Google is a wonderful tool.

Yello, this is for you. The Geekdottir sent it to me. She was impressed:

Posted by: slyness | April 20, 2009 1:02 PM | Report abuse

What? Just enabling the size-disadvantaged here, Yellojkt.


Posted by: Wilbrod_Gnome | April 20, 2009 1:03 PM | Report abuse


I couldn't watch the whole thing at work, but I've favorited it and will watch it at home. My initial reaction is that that guy has way more skilz than I do. I stick to the road and my trickiest maneuver is pulling my water bottle out of the holder and getting it back in without dropping it.

That reminds me. The Five Boro Ride is in less than two weeks and I haven't gotten my registration packet yet. I better follow up on that.

Posted by: yellojkt | April 20, 2009 1:10 PM | Report abuse

It was the Wikipedia entry on 420 that convinced me it was obscure.

Don't feel bad about the "teabagging" reference, dmd. I first heard the phrase a year or two ago, but had to look it up myself.

On a somewhat serious level, words/phrases that exist only in a small subculture are not, almost by definition, part of the general culture. Further, one is not expected to be fully conversant with all manner of things floating around in the culture (much less the subculture). Yes, I'm sure my son knows things I'm completely unaware of. But then, I had to explain to him where Arizona was.

Posted by: curmudgeon-1 | April 20, 2009 1:22 PM | Report abuse

Did that tale of finding Arizona begin with Cortes, Mudge?

Posted by: Wilbrod_Gnome | April 20, 2009 1:25 PM | Report abuse

That's a splendid story about the Mars Rover. Whenever I think about the Mars Rover I think about Donna Shirley. I'm sure you all do, too. Donna, who got her aerospace engineering degrees back when women couldn't be engineers (girls, y'know), first went to work on a Mars program at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in 1966. She managed the Mars Exploration Program Office. It is in large part thanks to Donna Shirley that the Rovers successfully launched, landed and are still doggedly bumbling around the planet today. After retiring, she headed the Science Fiction Museum in Seattle for a while. She is a fine woman, a fine person, has really great stories, and now lives in Tulsa. Joel, if you'd ever like to talk to Donna I'd be glad to put you in touch with her.

Posted by: Ivansmom | April 20, 2009 1:26 PM | Report abuse

So we are sure now that it was not an AMC Spirit.

I didn't know what 4:20 meant either but then, in my bad old days that would have been an awfully late hour to "really" start the day.

To add to the rubber thread (ha!):
A very proper British chemist working in our lab at the time ask the young and pretty office manager for rubbers. Dumbfounded by her hilarity he explained he wanted some of those pink rubber erasers. We are separated by a common language indeed.

Posted by: shrieking_denizen | April 20, 2009 1:29 PM | Report abuse

Exactly. You're not supposed to know what 4:20 is. The fact that you now do means that have to invent all new lingo to keep you and the other straights in dark.

See, I still have a teenage son and have to keep my ear a little closer to the ground. All this knowledge of the drug subculture is strictly in service of being a responsible parent. Like knowing about sexting and WoW. I've tried to use the 'keeping up with kids today' rationalization to explain why I watch The New DeGrassi and iCarly, but my wife isn't buying it.

Posted by: yellojkt | April 20, 2009 1:32 PM | Report abuse

sd...there's a term for starting earlier. It's Breakfast of Champions.

Posted by: LostInThought | April 20, 2009 1:41 PM | Report abuse

I accidently put my mouse over the Hyatt add at the top of the kit, I now have roulette machine noises sound on my computer - very annoying.

Posted by: dmd2 | April 20, 2009 1:46 PM | Report abuse

Which is why Michael Phelps shilled for Kelloggs until he was caught being a little indiscreet.

Posted by: yellojkt | April 20, 2009 1:46 PM | Report abuse

SCC more like slot machine.

Stopped now thankfully.

Posted by: dmd2 | April 20, 2009 1:47 PM | Report abuse


I once heard that large-headed human babies were an evolutionary compromise between the need for alarge natal brain and not killing the mother during childbirth. We are now in a similar arms race where the goal is for an ad to be as annoying and distracting as possible without stopping people from actually visiting the site. So far annoying is winning.

Posted by: yellojkt | April 20, 2009 1:50 PM | Report abuse

I'm just saying if you see "4-20" or similar on a highschool wall, it probably has nothing to do with anything except pot. In particular, highschool teachers ought to have known this. And cops. And principals.

"According to Steven Hager, editor of High Times, the term 420 originated at San Rafael High School, in 1971, among a group of about a dozen pot-smoking wiseacres who called themselves the Waldos, who are now pushing 50. The term was shorthand for the time of day the group would meet, at the campus statue of Louis Pasteur, to smoke pot. Intent on developing their own discreet language, they made 420 code for a time to get high, and its use spread among members of an entire generation. While our teens feel that they know something we don't, you can let them in on the fact that it was your generation that came up with the numbers." from

I have no idea if that's a fact. Snopes also says the same thing, and notes it is not police lingo, or anything else.

Posted by: Jumper1 | April 20, 2009 2:07 PM | Report abuse

The Department of Homeland Security is now going through cost-cutting measures--but we can all breathe a sigh of relief at attempts to make our borders more secure: Janet Napolitano says her department is now going to buy office products in bulk.

Per Obama's remarks following the first full cabinet meeting, well except for Sebelius...

Posted by: laloomis | April 20, 2009 2:08 PM | Report abuse

yello, I think the "enlargement" ads are evolutionary failures. No matter how good the program, I change television channels when one comes on. Often I get distracted and don't change back the channel when it's over. I call these "kamikaze ads."

Posted by: Jumper1 | April 20, 2009 2:10 PM | Report abuse

I thought morning potsmoking was called "wake & bake." And I thought it was shotgunning beers upon arising that was known as "breakfast of champions."

Posted by: Jumper1 | April 20, 2009 2:15 PM | Report abuse

In university we used to call the left over pizza (usually after an evening of drinking), the Breakfast of Champions.

Posted by: dmd2 | April 20, 2009 2:23 PM | Report abuse

Wake and bake. Then pizza. mmmmmmmm.

Posted by: shrieking_denizen | April 20, 2009 2:26 PM | Report abuse

I'm with you on all counts Jumper. Breakfast of Champions is either Scotch and Wheaties or Budweiser and Wheaties depending on your age and social class. Kurt Vonnegut used it as a waitress's catch phrase whenever she served a martini in his novel of the same name.

Urban Dictionary says BoC is coffee and cigarettes. The pot/weed definition is number 14 way below several apocryphal sex acts.

In a broader meaning, it's just an ironic comment anytime you ingest something unhealthy.

And it should not be confused with the phrase "Who [urinated] in your Cheerios?" frequently heard during cold rainy Dawn Patrol squadron briefings.

Posted by: yellojkt | April 20, 2009 2:32 PM | Report abuse

RD and Ivansmom, I did not get it either. However, for me, 4:20 is P.U. on my daily schedule. This is the opposite action of D.O.

Do any other carpoolers speak this code:

Figured in a good murder mystery of the 80s.

Posted by: CollegequaParkian | April 20, 2009 2:33 PM | Report abuse

Better to be P.U.ed than P.O.ed.

Posted by: yellojkt | April 20, 2009 2:35 PM | Report abuse

BoC is really McCann's Irish Oatmeal, with strawberries or blueberries.

Here is my on kit moment of the day;

“I'm moving to Mars next week, so if you have any boxes...” by deadpan comic Steve Wright.

Posted by: CollegequaParkian | April 20, 2009 2:42 PM | Report abuse

My favorite Steve Wright:

Thought I had mono...turns out I'm just really lazy.

Posted by: engelmann | April 20, 2009 2:47 PM | Report abuse

Is that McCann's with or without a pint of Guinness to qualify as a BoC?

Posted by: yellojkt | April 20, 2009 2:49 PM | Report abuse

Time to send good thoughts and wishes across the pond -- Stephen Hawking is in the hospital.


Posted by: Scottynuke | April 20, 2009 2:56 PM | Report abuse

I thought that was Irish Breakfast, yello.

Posted by: -TBG- | April 20, 2009 2:57 PM | Report abuse

YJ, Barry's or Bewley's tea, thank you very much.

Engelman -- S.W. is so very funny in an understated way.

Posted by: CollegequaParkian | April 20, 2009 2:57 PM | Report abuse

During summers while I was in college I worked for moving companies. The first one I worked for had several guys who would drink a quart of Colt 45 for breakfast.

Posted by: -pj- | April 20, 2009 2:58 PM | Report abuse

Pulitzer Prize for Commentary - Eugene Robinson of The Washington Post.

Posted by: -TBG- | April 20, 2009 3:02 PM | Report abuse

That's fine, pj, but could they drink a quart of Monkey and still stand still?

Posted by: Scottynuke | April 20, 2009 3:03 PM | Report abuse

Uh-oh. I have no clue what WoW is. Not sure I even wanna Google it.

No, Wilbrod, my first experience with Arizona wasn't with Cortez (whom Wiki seems to insist is some guy named Hernan Cortes, although he was Hernando Cortez when I went to school, and I'm a bit ticked off about never getting the memo on his name change). At any rate, Cortes pretty much confined himself to Mexico; I don’t think he ever got up into Arizona much, if at all.

But little known is the fact that after traipsing around Mexico and generally raising havoc, Cortes went back to Spain and later found himself helping to combat Barbary pirates in a combined fleet under the command of the great Italian admiral, Andrea Doria, which is when I first met Cortes. (I didn't like him. A bloody-minded man.) Doria commanded a fleet belonging to Charles V (“Chucky the Five,” we called him, and sometimes Cholly Cinco, since he was dual-hatted as King of Spain, as well as Holy Roman Empire-in-Charge or some such), and we were going up against Algiers, and the Turkish privateer and corsair Barbarossa Hayreddin Pasha, the Admiral-in-Chief of the Ottoman Fleet.

(This would have been 1541 or thereabouts. Hayreddin had a red beard, of course, which is what "barbarossa" means in Italiano. And although he was an Ottoman Turk, he was born on Lesbos, which at that time the Ottomans owned. So yup, Redbeard was a Lesbian, not that there was anything wrong with that. It just made for some interesting shop talk.)

As it happened, Cholly Cinco had actually tried to hire Barbarossa to be on his side, but apparently there weren’t enough pesos or something, and Redbeard said grassy-ass but no grassy-ass. Anyways, Cholly Cinco told Andrea to go attach, and on the way we almost got demolished by a big storm that nearly kilt old Cortes. But he survived.


Posted by: curmudgeon-1 | April 20, 2009 3:14 PM | Report abuse


I’ll tell ya this much: During this period I wasn’t much fond of yer Mediterranean. Sure, ya had yer Columbus and yer Prince Henry the Navigator of Portugal (he was a good guy. Good sailor and shipmate, come to that.). But ya basically had a whole mess of wack jobs all over the place. It wasn’t what you’d call “settled.” On the north shore ya had yer Portogeese, yer Spanyards, yer Genovese, yer Florentines, yer Venetians, yer Sardines from that Sardinia place, yer Corsicanos, yer Malts from Malta, yer Tuskers from Tuscany, yer Margarines from Majorca and your Minarets from Minorca (FYI, Majorca and Minorca are latin, meaning “Big Whale” and “Little Whale.” Not many people know that.). Did I mention the French? And the Sicilians? Ya had yer Napalitanos from Naples, and some a yer Grecos, although that far east the Ottomans had a lot to say about that. Then along the south shore—well, yer Morrocettes, and yer Algerines, your Tunisians and yer bedoins, and yer Egyptologists, well, I mean it was just like U.N. Day at the county fair, all these various and sundry city-states and what-not, and nowt a bit of organization among ‘em noways. And all this time them Ottomansers were giving us Europe types a hard time right until we finally whipped ‘em at the Battle of Lepanto in 1571, but that’s a story for another day.

To get back to Wilbrod’s question, my chief experience in Arizona came when I was copy editor of the Tombstone Epitaph in the early 1880s. I’d been one of Johnny Clum’s copy editors back when he ran the Tucson Citizen, and took over from him when he went on to become a gummint Indian Agent running the San Carlos Apache Reservation. One day he sends me a telegraph asking if I wanted to go out on a little job with him, and I said sure, what the heck. So we’ go out to the res and take custody of this here Apache they got, name of Geronimo, and took him in. Pretty soon he escaped, though, but we didn’t think much of it, because nobody’d ever heard of Geronimo at that point.

Anyways, after being an Indian agent and capturing Geronimo, Clum went up to Tombstone and started a newspaper, and asked me if I wanted to come along and be chief of the copy desk. “What’s the name of this here paper gonna be?” I asks him. “Hell if I know, Mudge. Knowing Tombstone, we’ll probably print nothin’ but damn obits left and right. So let’s call it the Tombstone Obit.” “Not very classy sounding, John,” I says. How about the Tombstone Epitaph, instead?” “Yanno, Mudge, that has a nice ring to it,” he says.


Posted by: curmudgeon-1 | April 20, 2009 3:16 PM | Report abuse


So anyways, I was the copy chief of the Tombstone Epitaph from the git-go. It was me kept correcting the spelling of Wiat Erp. (Clum was a good reporter, but couldn’t spell for beans, which is why he needed me.) And it was me made sure the name of Dic Halliday didn’t get in the paper, neither, and believe me, there would have been hell to pay over that one. (Our rival newspaper across town was the Italic Nugget, believe it or not. Yes, even then they had Italics, which is more than I can say for the Achenblog, alas.)

One of the darkest days of my newspaper career came a year or so later, in October of 1881. It was a Saturday and I had the day off, and we had some damn intern from New York covering the desk. Well, there was some trouble down to the OK Corral, and one thing led to another, boys will be boys, you know how that goes, and next thing ya know we was up to our asses in more obits, two for the McLaurey boys and one for Billy Clanton (a first-order jerkorooney, for my money). So the next day the story of the gunfight at the OK Corral comes out with the headline written by our wet-behind-the-ears New York intern: “Earps to Clanton Gang: Eat Lead, Be-atches.”

It was very embarrassing coming in to work Monday morning, I can tell you.

Not too long after, Clum decided he’d had enough newspapering, and moved to Washington D.C. to go work for the Post Office. Yep. Clum went postal on us.

Posted by: curmudgeon-1 | April 20, 2009 3:17 PM | Report abuse

We are thinking of a vacation to the Old Sod so I can connect with my much neglected roots (For one, I'm not very fond of corned beef nor cabbage) provided we can get a good travel deal. Then WaPo goes and runs this article in the Travel Section:

If that isn't a sign from a deity, I don't know what is.

Posted by: yellojkt | April 20, 2009 3:18 PM | Report abuse

Monkey, Scotty?

Posted by: -pj- | April 20, 2009 3:20 PM | Report abuse

New kit!

Posted by: LostInThought | April 20, 2009 3:27 PM | Report abuse

The Pulitzer website is getting slammed so I can't see if Joel got shut out again. Not having a Pulitzer at WaPo must be like being a high school salutatorian at Harvard. (All the salutatorians go to Princeton.)

Posted by: yellojkt | April 20, 2009 3:28 PM | Report abuse

yello, that must explain why Princeton doesn't have the endowment that Harvard has. My good friend delivered a lot of checks to Harvard, but then again, he played hockey for them.

Posted by: russianthistle | April 20, 2009 3:35 PM | Report abuse

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