Tag Archives: Flux

Grinding the Gears: Inside and Outside of Robotics

Students line up around the stacks of wood. “Let’s get going guys,” the team co-captain says.

Each person picks up a different tool and begins assembling an exact replication of the blueprints the students created before the six-week building period. Quickly, the robotics arm is nestled into position.

SERT is the robotics team at South Eugene High School and is compromised of approximately 20 students with just as many different personalities. Each student contributes skills in distinct backgrounds to attribute to the success of the program.

“Outside of robotics, I enjoy reading, writing poetry, and riding horses,” says Perrin Dunn, 16. “It’s a really good experience because I’ve never been in any clubs before.”

"Having students interested in different things works out well for us," Kelly says. Each student brings a different background and contributes a diverse skill set to the team. (Photo by Alan Sylvestre)

“Having students interested in different things works out well for us,” Kelly says. Each student brings a different background and contributes a diverse skill set to the team. (Photo by Alan Sylvestre)

By delving into the meticulous realm of circuitry, SERT provides its students a way to get hands-on experience with teamwork, mathematics, and engineering in an academic setting before entering the real world.

Marcus Hall, the Head Programmer for SERT, uses the education he received through SERT to venture outside the realm of academia and share his passion for science and electrical work to elementary students at the Science Factory, a local children’s museum and planetarium in Eugene, Oregon.

Marcus Hall, SERT captain and head programmer, measures a piece of wood that that will eventually become a target for their demonstrations. Outside of SERT, Hall teaches robotics to elementary and middle school students in the Eugene area. (Photo by Alan Sylvestre)

Marcus Hall, SERT captain and head programmer, measures a piece of wood that that will eventually become a target for their demonstrations. Outside of SERT, Hall teaches robotics to elementary and middle school students in the Eugene area. (Photo by Alan Sylvestre)

In addition to teaching at the Science Factory, Hall teaches robotics to elementary school students at the Science Factory as well as with the Talented and Gifted program at the University of Oregon, a community outreach program dedicated to advanced education among K-12 students through U of O’s College of Education.

Through his work at the Science Factory, Hall is gaining invaluable leadership and teaching experience that he can incorporate into his team captain position with the SERT team.

Head coach and mentor Brian Kelly believes that having a strong and organized leader is quintessential to the six-week building season. It helps strengthen the team both from leadership and teaching standpoints.

During the non-building season, students take their skills to other areas of the school and invest them into classes and programs such as the Stagecraft class in which they construct the stages and sets for each play. This helps maintain their building dexterity during the off-season, as well as keeps the students in a team setting.

Sandra Lui uses a different take to practice her skills by leading the SERT public relations team. Outside of the building season, Lui travels with Hall to lobby the state legislature for more funding for FIRST Robotics. She feels that having a team dedicated to seeking funding for the program is an essential part of a successful robotics program now and in the future.

Even though the students excel far beyond the minimum requirements to preserve their team, for the future of SERT to travel down the path of least resistance, the team must over come a large hurdle recently set forth by the City of Eugene.

For the 2013-2014 school year, the City of Eugene has proposed a bond measure that could potentially harm the SERT program. Measure 20-201, a $170 million bond measure that would replace four aging school buildings, would eliminate Roosevelt Middle School, the current workspace for SERT.

“I don’t know what will happen,” Kelly says about the future of the program. Roosevelt Middle School is the only school is the area with enough space, storage and equipment for the SERT team to successfully construct a robot.

“There are no other workspaces around that we could use,” says Kelly.

In a time of economic instability, job security has never been at a more pivotal point, and any experience that students can obtain during high school will benefit their chances of pursuing a professional career in a technical field.

Having fundamental, hands-on skills is crucial to obtaining a job in the technical field. If the SERT program is lost, students will have to look for alternative methods to enhance their skills. (Photo by Alan Sylvestre)

Having fundamental, hands-on skills is crucial to obtaining a job in the technical field. If the SERT program is lost, students will have to look for alternative methods to enhance their skills. (Photo by Alan Sylvestre)

“It’s [robotics is] going to be helpful someday,” Lui says. “I’ve always wanted to help people.” The students feel that robotics has strengthened their ability to assist others and recognize the advantages team collaboration will have on their future endeavors.

If lost, SERT members will have no other outlets within this discipline because FIRST Robotics is the only hands-on program left at South Eugene High School. Churchill High School is the only Eugene school outside South that has an active robotics team.

“This is their one big outlet and I think that’s actually a failing of the schools today, that kids don’t get any practical experience,” Kelly says.

As it stands, SERT relies heavily on funding from outside donors, and this can prove to be a challenge in a city where the largest businesses are also non-profit organizations. To raise more funds, the team participates in outside fundraising events each year to pay for the $5,000 entrance fee required before the competitive season starts.

SERT team members gather around the main controller as they prepare to give a demonstration in an effort to attract more students to their program. Recruitment is essential to the success of their program. (Photo by Alan Sylvestre)

SERT team members gather around the main controller as they prepare to give a demonstration in an effort to attract more students to their program. Recruitment is essential to the success of their program. (Photo by Alan Sylvestre)

The students also show off their hard work in “performances” at both Roosevelt and Spencer Butte Middle Schools to recruit eight graders into their program for the following year. Demonstrating what they’ve been intensively working on for the last six weeks helps attract a wide range of candidates as additions to the SERT team.

“I like robotics because it’s a bunch of helping, and electronics, and it’s a team,” Yakov Berenshtein says.

Relentless Forward Motion

The second her feet hit the track, she felt like a movie star. She became conscious of human noises –cheering, clapping, other feet falling into step beside her. After thirty-six hours, she had done it: Carolyn Hennessey had completed her first one-hundred-mile Western States Ultramarathon run.

She had spent half the night in the dark woods, the only sounds the owls, her footsteps, and her steady breath. She stopped occasionally to vomit–her body’s reaction to her attempts to consume food along the trail. The time pacers faded in and out, providing her with enough strength and encouragement to continue on. Relentless forward motion, she reminded herself.

The competition was solely internal: a personal commitment to accomplishment. However for Hennessey, finishing also meant overcoming mental and physical obstacles and fighting to keep control of her body while pushing it to the extreme. Despite the pain, discovering and defining her personal limits thrills her.

“I’m always curious about how far I can go and how long,” she says.

Meet the Runners

The category of ultrarunning encompasses a variety of races of different terrains and lengths. Technically, the distance is “anything over a marathon, which is 26.2 miles” according to Hennessey. Typically races range between fifty kilometers and fifty-miles races to one hundred kilometers and one-hundred-mile races. However, the longest ultrarun in the world is the 3,100-mile Self-Transcendence race in Queens, New York. Runners make 5,649 laps around the same city block, taking about a month to complete the race.

Although the concept of running for hours on end does not at first seem like a form of relaxation, individual runners learn to love logging these continuous miles. Hennessey started this practice young, beginning to add mileage to her high school softball team’s required two-mile warm-up before practice.

“I think I just liked that running made me feel free and got my heart beating,” she explains.

Growing up in the Mojave Desert, Hennessey appreciated the sagebrush and other parts of the breathtaking landscape she could see while on long runs. Running became an addictive form of self-competition, and she continued to add more miles to test her endurance.

“You find something in yourself that makes you keep going,” she says.

Carolyn Hennessey runs with her dogs for companionship and safety.

Carolyn Hennessey runs with her dogs for companionship and safety.

Hennessey ran her first hundred-mile ultramarathon in 2010, but it didn’t go exactly as planned when she began experiencing stomach issues at mile thirty-seven, vomiting for the next forty miles.

“I was so determined to finish the hundred-miler that it never crossed my mind that I would stop,” she says.

Although racing is often a personal journey, Hennessey values the time she trains with others. She and Kristin Zosel, whom she describes as a “kindred spirit,” met haphazardly on a trail when Zosel mistook Hennessey for someone else. The connection was instantaneous and they began running together.

This type of friendship is common in the ultrarunning community, According to Zosel. The sport brings together people of different socioeconomic backgrounds, ages and experiences that build unique friendships.

“You go through a lot of different emotions on the trail, you see each other when you are having some tantrums . . . maybe you’re working through some things in life with that run,” she explains. “And it seems like the bond that you form with those people is just stronger.”

Much like Hennessey, Zosel explains her relationship with running as a “slow love affair” that developed after playing sports all her life. Zosel never thought about running until she was in college and, looking for a way to stay in shape, she realized that running might be the best match for her.

“I did the Stairmaster every day and after a year of that I decided I was not going to be sticking with that for a lifetime.”

Running, on the other hand, she could.

Small laps on the road turned into large loops on mountain trails. “There was more a moment with trails where I discovered that, oh my gosh, why would I ever run on roads when I can run on trails?”

Zosel ran her first ultramarathon in Alaska–a fifty-mile long trek with no road access for miles. “That was the race where I discovered just how badly you could hurt but how incredibly euphoric you can be at the same time.”

She parked her car at the start, committing herself to a run of at least thirty-eight miles to the nearest road. Since then, Zosel has run a total of thirty ultramarathons, having most success with hilly fifty-kilometer and fifty-mile distances.

A Note to the Avid Runner

While Zosel and Hennessey continually run fifty-plus-mile distances, the journey they experience along the trail is not for the feint of heart. Longer races can take over a day to complete, and runners tend to encounter an unavoidable point of misery somewhere in what Zosel refers to as the “middle miles.” According to Hennessey, to achieve that coveted runner’s high, you have to first hit a “runner’s low.”

Zosel and Hennessey run hill repeats at 5am on the trails around Mt. Pisgah. Running early in the morning allows them time for family and work later in the day.

Zosel and Hennessey run hill repeats at 5am on the trails around Mt. Pisgah. Running early in the morning allows them time for family and work later in the day.

“You really have to test your limits,” she says.

On the trail, runners remember three common phrases to help them through the roughest miles:

One: Beware the chair. As runners approach aid stations along the trail, their mind welcomes the food, warmth, and people as a sort of salvation. But this can also be dangerous. Runners must not give in to the welcoming comfort of taking a seat because it can cost them valuable race time.

“The chair becomes this all-encompassing thing that’s pulling you in and you don’t want to leave,” Zosel describes.

Two: It never always gets worse. As the night drags on, fatigue–both mental and physical–sets in. One way to combat this is with the phrase “it never always gets worse.” In this way, runners find motivation knowing that the pain will not last forever, but for Zosel, it is also important to remember that the good feelings will not last, either.

“If you’re feeling terrible, you usually drink a little bit, take in a few calories, adjust your electrolyte intake, and within fifteen minutes, you’re back on top of the world,” she says, noting that it’s all about taking care of your body to maintain the runner’s high of feeling “on top of the world.”

Three: Relentless forward motion. The pit of despair, the deepest, darkest part of the journey where Zosel says she feels like giving up and stopping the race. At this moment, she says it is best to remember the phrase “Put your head down and go.”

“It may not be glamorous, it may not be fast, but as long as you’re taking steps forward you’re getting closer to the finish line,” she adds.

Zosel sees a strong metaphor between her everyday life and this fundamental aspect of racing. If life is moving forward, it is going somewhere progressive. The middle miles, or the part of the race where adrenaline has worn off and the runner begins to realize just how far he or she has to run, are the toughest to work through. The struggle becomes more mental, and the motivation to push oneself decreases.

Not Only a Runner

Life is a marathon, not a sprint. In running, Zosel and Hennessey embrace the trail one mile at a time. “I never think, ‘Oh my gosh, I’m going to run fifty miles today.’ It’s always, ‘Okay, the first-aid station is in six miles so I’m going to run six miles.” In their own lives, the same concept applies.

Zosel works as a physical therapist, in addition to raising a 4-year-old son. The answer? Get up early. “Sometimes the alarm clock has a four on the front, sometimes it has a five on the front, but that way I get my time in,” Zosel says.

At first, Zosel worried about how becoming a mother may affect her running. “From the time you become pregnant, you start worrying about whether you’re running too much or if you’re not running enough . . . or if it’s safe or if it’s not safe.”

Sensitive to her body’s needs, she continued to maintain her fitness during her pregnancy. “There’s no manual anyone can give you about how to treat your body,” she realizes. She enjoys time with her son, Jacob, who likes to bike with her and chase geese in the park.

In addition to running, Kristin Zosel values spending time with her son, Jacob, and encouraging him to pursue his passions.

In addition to running, Kristin Zosel values spending time with her son, Jacob, and encouraging him to pursue his passions.

Hennessey, a stepmother of three children, manages to incorporate family time into her work and running schedules. The time she spends on the trail running gives her time for personal reflection and balances her time with family.

“Running is a way–on a daily basis–just to clear my mind and process things. It’s a way to get closer to myself,” she explains.

While running may seem extremely separate to this part of her life, the individual benefits actually help connect her to the people around her. Her family members function as her pit crew for races, pacing her and providing encouragement along the trail.

Working in human resources and licensed as a family and marriage therapist, she makes time to travel with her husband and stepchildren in their Volkswagen Eurovan. On weekends, she sometimes rises early to fit in a run, then returns around 10 a.m. to join her family for brunch.

“The things that happen when you’re a runner only make you a better mom, I believe.”

Of Time and Toys

Produced by Ella Gummer

Music, time, taxes, and death. These are the four absolutes in life, according to J. D. Olson, and they are all represented in his mystical land of antiques. Olson founded The Creative Clock and the Conger Street Clock Museum in Eugene, OR in 1981. It is a family run clock store and repair shop that doubles as a museum; an experience that Olson says is “like walking back through time.” Home to twenty large window displays, walls blanketed in cuckoo clocks, and grandfather clocks twice the size of an average child, the museum boasts pieces that date back as far as the 16th century. Olson, famously punctual, has turned his lifelong interest in small-scale mechanics and a knack for collecting into an exploration of what he calls the “philosophy of clocks.”

The Discipline of Dance

[caps]F[/caps]rom a young age, Geoffrey Bergold knew he was meant to move, but he didn’t realize until 2 years into college that he had a love for ballet. He abandoned traditional higher education, and found a disciplined home at Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet in Carisle, PA.

“For the first two months, I couldn’t walk,” recalls Bergold.

Transported from the east coast, Bergold now dances across the Pacific Northwest for the Eugene Ballet Company. Here, Bergold is surrounded by a devoted family of fellow dancers; “I don’t miss a day of work,” he says.

 

    

TIRED OF LONDON

“When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life.” -Samuel Johnson

Hey, you know Samuel Johnson? Fuck that guy.” -Truman Capps

I’ve been in London for just over two months now. At the time of this writing, I have exactly two weeks left before I jump on a plane and fly back to the United States. To be honest, I’m looking forward to it.

I’ve seen Big Ben and Parliament, and Westminster Abbey. I’ve had lunch in St. James Park and made faces at the guards at Buckingham Palace.

I’ve hung out in Trafalgar Square, had dinner in SoHo, and thoroughly perused the National Gallery, National Portrait Gallery, British Museum, Tate Britain, Tate Modern, Imperial War Museum, and the British Library. I’ve taken a stroll through the Tower of London and across the adjacent London Tower Bridge.

I’ve taken the obligatory tourist picture straddling the Prime Meridian at Greenwich. I’ve ridden a boat down the Thames. I’ve seen 10 Downing Street.

I got as close as possible to Battersea Power Station. I’ve seen three productions at the British National Theater and two at the Globe. I’ve eaten enough fish and chips, bangers and mash, and chicken tikka masala to choke a donkey.

I had wanted to visit Slough, setting of the original UK version of The Office, today so that I could see the building from the opening titles that is ostensibly the headquarters of Wernham-Hogg Paper Company. But I did some research today and discovered that a trip to Slough would take an hour and a half, one way, requiring multiple bus transfers and the purchase of a train ticket that would cost several pounds. Then, once in Slough, I would take a picture of the building that was shown at the beginning of every episode of a TV show I liked, then turn around and spend an hour and a half making my way back home.

Let’s just pretend I took this picture.

Having not done it, I feel sort of stupid, because really – do I have anything better to do? I’ve exhausted my tourism opportunities in the city (save for the changing of the guard, which I’ll see tomorrow, and the London Eye, which I’ll ride in my last week here, if at all), so my last couple of weekends have been spent kicking around Harrow or doing homework, with a fair amount of time spent daydreaming about whatever my internship situation winds up looking like for the summer.

But that’s the thing – I’ve been a tourist for so long now that I’m kind of getting sick of it. I miss just being a resident. I miss not feeling the need to pull out my camera every time I see something interesting. “Wow, the Steel Bridge looks pretty nice today… Eh, why take a picture? It’ll be here tomorrow. In Portland. Where I live.”

London is a gigantic city, and I’m not going to be the dumbass who suggests that I’ve seen everything it has to offer in two months. There’s undoubtedly more stuff to see in this city – fascinating little museums, street markets with free samples, red phone boxes with interesting pornographic leaflets in them – but I feel as though I’m almost fed up with seeing.

Every cathedral is very impressive for the first few seconds after you walk into it – it’s a massive indoor space with light shining through stained glass. They were designed to be impressive sensory experiences. What the original architects didn’t bargain for was the fact that one day, the people seeing cathedrals would be study abroad students who see at least two cathedrals a week.

And museums – oh, the museums. I’ve had so many maps and audio guides thrust into my hands, wandered through so many dusty rooms wondering “How much longer should I stare at this arrowhead?

Because of the short duration of my study abroad session in England, I’ve been forced to dive headfirst into pretty much everything. I haven’t had time to space out my museum visits over several months or get acclimated to the city at a reasonable pace – not that I wish my study abroad excursion was longer (for reasons I’ll cover in a later update).

Essentially, my time here, while it has been a life changing, kickass experience that I wouldn’t give up for the world, has also been essentially one big culture binge, and going on a two month binge of any sort is bound to burn you out eventually, be it heroin or English history.

Heroin will probably catch up with you a little faster.

Truman Capps has not gotten burned out on the deep fried foods, though, as tonight’s dinner proved.

HOLYROOD PARK

When making my preparations to go to Edinburgh, I knew that, given the diet of fried foods that defined my trip, I would need to spend all the time that I was not eating being active enough to turn my body into a big, albeit slightly flabby, calorie furnace. Fortunately, Edinburgh is a city hilly enough to rival San Francisco, with the added benefit of a royal park full of giant hills smack dab in the middle of town.

Hiking is not exactly my deal. It’s actually pretty far from my deal.

God bless the hikers of the world, but I’ve seen trees and rocks before. I enjoy trees and rocks, and I like seeing them.

However, I don’t feel the need to spend several hours clambering over uneven terrain in order to see more trees and rocks. I know it’s a matter of personal preference, but whenever I hear my friends raving about how much they love hiking, I can’t help but think that maybe I’m not enjoying it because I’m doing something wrong. It’s like I’m playing Modern Warfare 2 without knowing that you’re allowed to shoot people.

However, after two days in which I consumed a haggis burrito, a deep fried cheeseburger, and a deep fried pizza, I knew that the only way I could make it out of Scotland without heart failure as a souvenir was to hike my nuts off, and the place to do that was at Edinburgh’s Holyrood Park, home to Arthur’s Seat and the Salisbury Crags. The fact that I did this on a day so hot that a runner in the Edinburgh Marathon died of heat exhaustion should also be noted.

Right away, I realized that this hike probably couldn’t be classified as a hike – not because it wasn’t difficult, because it definitely was, but because I was actually enjoying it. You see, while I don’t like hiking, I do enjoy panoramic views of major cities, and the advantage to these hills being in the center of a major city is… Well, really, do I need to explain?

The hike where I first learned that I was not a hiking enthusiast was a muddy slog through dense forests, affording no real views of the surrounding landscape and, more importantly, no way to look back at how far you’d come and think, “Well, I’m covered in mud and sweat and there isn’t a bathroom for miles, but look what I’ve done!

For all I knew, we could’ve been going in circles. Furthermore, there was no tangible goal to what we were doing, save for “Get to the end of the trail so we can hike the entire trail backwards and then go home.”

Climbing the steep, uneven path up to the top of Arthur’s Seat, 823 feet above the city, was an awe inspiring experience. No, like, literally.

I would stop and turn around and see the tiny brown path I’d taken snaking up the sheer edge of the hill with the entire city of Edinburgh laid out in the distance all the way to the North Sea, glimmering in the afternoon light, and awe was actually inspired within me. And along with that awe was ambition to keep climbing up to the top, which was also within sight, because the view only got better the higher I went. Refreshing cold winds off the North Sea also helped.

Maybe 50 feet from the summit, the hill leveled out into a wide, grassy plateau where several other hikers were sitting with books or lying on their backs for a high-altitude nap. From here, you could turn 360 degrees and see everything for miles in every direction.

I could see from the docks at one side of town all the way to where houses and deep fried pizza shops gave way to lush green fields and farmland. A city the size of Portland laid out underneath me, like I was some sort of sweaty alien riding on a floating grass disk.

Edinburgh is probably the second most beautiful city I’ve ever seen (after Portland, which, if it were a woman, would be Christina Hendricks). I don’t think I’d ever want to live outside the United States, for reasons I’ll elaborate on in a later update, but if I had to flee the country after pulling a massive casino heist, Edinburgh would be the place I’d go to start my new life.*

*Not that I’m planning a casino heist.

And what’s more, I’d use my newfound wealth to bribe city council members to let me build a modest house up on that grassy plateau, that little disk in the sky. Every morning, I’d be able to walk out my front door and see everything in the city I called my home, and at the same time, if the police tried to catch up with me, they’d be forced to run single file up a narrow path, which gives me a clear advantage, tactically speaking.

Truman Capps has all sorts of other interesting travel tidbits on his blog, Hair Guy.

Ke$ha In The Rye: Notes Toward A Theory

From Redding News Review

– Jacob O’Gara

I begin this post with only the most tenuous grasp on what about its subject I’m going to write. As suggested in the title, the purpose of this entry is to provide notes toward a theory on Ke$ha, one of the more bawdy pop acts in the post-Gaga musical age.

She lacks the faux innocence and self-destructive tragedy of Britney Spears or the post-modernism and wit of Lady Gaga, yet Ke$ha somehow managed to force herself, in all her lipstick-smeared and torn-leggings glory, onto the culture.

As one Facebook page asserts, Ke$ha seems to be like Taylor Swift—the current pop princess of wholesome, all-American innocence—if Swift started using crack cocaine. She’s the dark, demented flipside to the blonde, beauty pageant-ready look. Whereas a Taylor Swift uses makeup to enhance her beauty, a Ke$ha uses makeup to distort it.

When her breakout single, “Tik Tok,” was released, critics immediately compared Ke$ha to Lady Gaga, since they have both sung about clubbing and other nightlife activities. Such comparisons are cheap and demonstrate incredibly shallow thinking. Lady Gaga is more European and introspective in her sensibilities; Ke$ha’s all about, as she says, “boys, boots, beer, [and] boobs.”

However, the two singers do have a commonality: both have a surprisingly rigorous intellectual background. Gaga was admitted into the Tisch School of Arts at NYU at the age of seventeen, and her former gender studies teacher has said her essays regarding politics, gender, and race were brilliantly written and argued.

In high school, Ke$ha had “near-perfect” SAT scores, was involved in the international baccalaureate program, and would drive to the nearby university to listen in on lectures about Cold War history. A strange start for someone who would later sing about using whiskey as part of her dental hygiene plan.

What does this all mean though?

Does her intellectual curiosity during her high school days cast a shadow of a doubt over the authenticity of her “boys, boots, beer” manifesto? Perhaps after going west in search of fame and fortune, she fried her brain on Jack Daniel’s and crack cocaine, and now she’s this glitter-covered party ogre with sun-bleached hair.

Maybe, though, the true message of Ke$ha is that you can be both of these things. You can score well on the SAT and look like a “pimp in [your] gold Trans Am.”

You can know the intricacies of America’s relationship with the former Soviet Union and feel like P. Diddy when you rise from bed in the morning. There’s a little bit of Ke$ha in all of us, mainly because there’s a little bit of all of us in Ke$ha.

I’m going to let you finish, Taylor Swift, but Ke$ha is the best representation of today’s American society of all time. Of all time.

Eating in Edinburgh

– Truman Capps

Between the round trip train tickets and three nights in a hostel, my trip to Edinburgh cost me roughly 130 pounds, which comes out to nearly $200. I consider myself to be a slightly cultured person, but the simple fact is that no art museum or guided history tour alone will encourage me to drop $200 on a weekend trip.

An international reputation for deep fried food, on the other hand, is exactly what it takes.

You name it, Scotland deep fries it – hot dogs, rotisserie chickens, ribs, pineapple rings, eggs, McNuggets, doner kebabs…

The only limitation here is that whatever you want to deep fry has to be solid enough to be coated in batter and dropped in the fryer, hence why the Scots have yet to develop deep fried whiskey.

This penchant for deep frying anything edible has made Scotland late night talk show joke fodder in recent years, which I think is wholly unfair. Firstly, up until this deep frying craze began, Scotland’s best known food was haggis, which is made of sheep’s lungs, heart, and liver minced with onion and oatmeal, heavily seasoned, and then simmered inside the sheep’s stomach.

When your jumping off point is inedible bits of animal jammed inside another inedible bit of animal, anything is an improvement.

Incidentally, they deep fry haggis, too.

So, without any further ado, please enjoy my reviews of the three deep fried foods I consumed during my time in Edinburgh. Kids, don’t try this at home.

Deep Fried Cheeseburger

I am a tried and true burger lover. I’d say that it’s probably one of my favorite foods – juvenile a choice as it may be, there’s nothing quite like a big, high quality cheeseburger when you’ve had a long day and all you want is to clog your arteries in the most efficient way possible.

So when I saw the deep fried cheeseburger on the menu at Café Piccante, a chip shop near my hostel, I knew I had to go for it.

Deep frying is a tricky proposition – you’ve got to drop the whole business into a vat of boiling oil, which makes frying small things (M&Ms) or multi-layered things (burgers with their buns) difficult, as it’s very easy for everything to come apart and sink to the bottom of the fryer. That’s why I was interested to see how they handled a deep fried cheeseburger – a layer of cheese on top of the patty would all too quickly separate and disappear into the fat. It’s for this same reason that you can’t deep fry a pizza with any toppings that are liable to come off when submerged.

As it turned out, the Swiss cheese was inside the patty, an ingenious and effective delivery method that I would’ve taken a photograph of had it not been so delicious that I devoured the whole burger before I could think. The act of forming the raw patty around the cheese and then cooking it put me in mind of the South Minneapolis ‘Jucy Lucy’ burger.

Jucy Lucy

Deep Fried Pizza

When I mentioned it a second ago, maybe you said, “What? Deep fried pizza!? He’s joking, right?”

No, I wasn’t.

The deep fried pizza was something I’d been itching to try ever since seeing it on a Food Network special about deep fried foods, and my trip to Castle Rock Chip Shop in the Grass Market was the culmination of many months’ planning and fantasizing.

The closer I got, though, the more apprehensive I felt – was I actually going to go through with this?

I already felt bad enough for my body after the previous day’s deep fried cheeseburger – a battered and fried pizza would surely be adding insult to injury. I paced outside the chip shop for a minute before forcing myself to go inside, having already come this far.

“I-I’d like a d-deep fried pizza, please,” I murmured to the woman behind the counter as though I were asking for a volume of deep fried hardcore pornography.

She cheerily went to work, pulling a cheap frozen pizza out of the freezer and covering it in batter before dropping it into the fryer. Just like top quality steak never goes into a steak sandwich, you’re going to have to look far and wide to find a brick oven deep fried pizza.

To my knowledge, virtually every chip shop in Scotland buys the bottom rung school cafeteria-style cheese pizzas to throw into the fryer. Buy a pizza at WinCo and you’ll know what I mean.

Thing is, you’re not paying for the pizza – you’re paying for the fact that it’s deep fried, and I can tell you that when you’re experiencing the novelty of eating something cheesy and tomatoey that’s also been beer battered, you really don’t care that much. The deep frying process covers for a lot of ills.

The experience was not that enjoyable for me, however. They dropped the whole deep fried pizza into a box and shoveled in a liberal amount of fries along with it, and then sent me on my way. Yes, as this was a take-away establishment, I was going to have to find a park bench and eat this embarrassingly unhealthy meal in public, bearing my shame for all to see.

It was good enough, I suppose, but I felt so bad – psychologically, I mean – about what I was eating that I only finished about three quarters of it and maybe half of the fries before dumping the remains in a garbage can and fleeing the scene, promising that my next meal would involve bean sprouts in some way.

(Also, I washed this meal down with a can of Irn-Bru soda, the Scottish soft drink so popular that in Scotland it outsells Coke and Pepsi combined. It tastes like a combination of orange and cream soda and has so much sugar and so many additives that it is allegedly illegal in Sweden. I have never in my life tasted a soda so steadfastly committed to being gross.)

Deep Fried Mars Bar

After my PTSD-inducing experience with deep fried pizza, I promised myself I would abstain from trying a deep fried Mars Bar. However, on my last night in town I caved and slipped out of the hostel under the cover of darkness, making my way to the Clam Shell chip shop on the Royal Mile with the dark and insane drive of Martin Sheen going to kill Kurtz at the end of Apocalypse Now.

I could practically hear Jim Morrison echoing in my head when I approached the Indian guy at the counter and said, “One deep fried Mars Bar, please.”

Verdict?

Don’t do it.

The Mars Bar is what we in America know as the Milky Way bar, which is actually one of my preferred brands of candy bar. But something about coating it in batter and throwing it in the fryer turns it into a sugar-charged orgy of molten chocolate and nougat coated in enough grease to render multiple sheets of paper clear as a car’s windshield.

It was a dark but delicious three days. Also, in case you were wondering, I was able to make it through the weekend without turning into 1970s Elvis by doing uncharacteristically athletic stuff, like climbing these volcanic rock formations:

Of course, I guess I’ll only really know if I ducked the consequences when I die of natural causes at a very old age, instead of succumbing to a heart attack before I finish writing thi

Truman Capps also recounts his experiences with haggis and Scottish hiking on his personal blog, Hair Guy.

Facebook Official

– Jacob O’Gara

Most generations throughout history have authenticated themselves (usually this is a self-authenticating, since the generation previous will always have something to complain about the next) through combat and calamity. The Baby Boomers proved themselves with Vietnam, the tumult of the 1960s, and the malaise of the 1970s; the generation that spawned the Boomers got the stamp of authenticity through the bloodshed of World War Two and the terrible conditions delivered by the Great Depression.

The generation before that one was forged in the fires of the First World War. And so on, and so on.

This generation has no great war or other strife (though the current Great Recession might count) to assuage its anxiety of validity. 9/11 and the subsequent war against clerical barbarism came too early for most of us, and we were born and raised in the economic bubble of the 1990s, a decade in which the biggest issue was whether or not the President of the United States had sexual relations with that woman. Our greatest problem is with prosperity, and the utter lack of resources it gives us to feel authentic, to feel like a part of the flow of history, to feel real.

Enter Facebook.

Specifically, enter Facebook and the “like” feature. Of course, there were social networking sites that came before Facebook, but none of them possessed that single, remarkable attribute: the ability to pass judgment, to provide a fast ticket to validation and approval.

It’s one thing to go up to your friend after reading a particularly witty status update and saying, “That was funny, bro.” It’s another thing entirely to “like” that status, perhaps joined with an affirming “lol” comment. A single click of a button makes up for missing years of devastating warfare and other crises.

The other strand of this whole “Facebook-as-generation-authenticator” thing is the phrase, one that has snuck into our parlance so easily, “Facebook official.” Entire relationships have been obliterated because one person doesn’t “get the point” of changing his or her relationship status.

Events aren’t really going on unless an event page is set up on Facebook and people are invited. You can tell me in person that I’m invited to your themed shindig this weekend, but where the hell is the Facebook invitation?

But don’t let this mean I’ve come to bury Facebook. Nothing can be farther from the truth; I adore Facebook, even “like” it.

Would I rather gain generational validation by declaring my approval of a bunch of status updates than suffer the slings and arrows of crisis? Absolutely.

But try as hard as we might, I don’t think we can “like” our way into the history books.

The Tears Of A Clown: Gucci Mane’s Pleas For Love

– Jacob O’Gara

A rapper’s swagger is as important to him as his microphone and gold chain. However, if you scratch beneath that layer, inevitably you’ll find squirming insecurity and self-consciousness.

In the case of Li’l Wayne, who has transplanted the slithering rock-star formula to hip-hop, you’d have to scratch for a while. Jay-Z’s swagger comes from surviving and rising from his hustler days; Kanye West tells us he’s “Amazing” as a way to convince himself, and his Good Music protégé Kid Cudi wears vulnerability on his sleeve, which is a kind of swagger in itself.

Gucci Mane is different.

He’s got the swagger of a playground bully, a bully who picks on the other kids because he got picked on, and because negative attention is better than no attention at all. But don’t let that make you think Gucci Mane, born Radric Davis, is some kind of weakling; in 2005, he was charged with murder (he was acquitted), something he references again and again in his lyrics.

But underneath his battle-hardened grizzly exterior is a teddy bear. In the song “My Chain,” Gucci asks, “Don’t you like my chain?”

Of course, Gucci Mane is following a long line of rappers who have bragged about and extolled the value of their chains, but he is the first (to my knowledge) to express a concern for validity from the listener. He is pretty sure his chain is above all others, but do you like it?

Gucci may be a blinged-out alleged murderer, but he has feelings too.

“Freaky Gurl,” perhaps Gucci’s most famous track (coming from the Hard to Kill mixtape along with “My Chain”), contains a similar plea for praise and validity. In the first verse, he inquires the listener/unseen female companion, “Don’t you think I’m handsome?”

In the hip-hop world, that question is never asked; a Li’l Wayne knows for damn sure he’s handsome, even a more introspective Kanye West does. Maybe that’s part of their swagger, that they just know they’re handsome.

Maybe they’re afraid that if they asked, the answer would be “No.” Either way, Gucci Mane is the only rapper out there with the balls (or self-consciousness) to ask such questions.

Hip-hop is a genre that, by its very nature, rejects introspection, even though it is populated by head cases fraught with anxiety masquerading as strutting peacocks. And of all the peacocks, Gucci Mane is the goofiest one.

He looks goofy and sounds goofy when he raps goofy verses. He is hip-hop’s court jester, a pompous, vainglorious, perhaps murderous clown juggling with tears in his eyes.

Far from causing you to shrink away in terror, Gucci’s mush-mouthed pleas make you just want to give the guy a hug.