Houses on the Move

Friday, February 26th, 2021

A few years back, in the town of Belmont, Massachusetts, I witnessed the two and a half century old Thomas Clark House get moved. A developer had purchased the property, with plans to tear down the building and replace it with two new modern homes. Locals worked to preserve the structure, and paid to have it placed on a temporary lot about a mile from its original location, while a permanent home could be found.

The Belmont house, on a trailer[Photo courtesy of P. Kafasis]

Though it was a cold February day, the occasion drew folks out of their own homes to see the spectacle. It’s not every day that a home from the 18th century (or any century) goes mobile. There, amongst a crowd of onlookers, I overheard a dad trying to get his kid excited about the unusual event.

“Look at that! Isn’t that interesting?” the father asked.

His son replied “NO! They’re moving a house.”

That jaded eight-year-old had apparently seen such a thing countless times, but it was new and novel to me. And yet, that move was a cakewalk compared to a recent move in San Francisco.

There, an 80 foot long Victorian originally located at 807 Franklin was moved six blocks. It went downhill, along a route where parking meters had been ripped up, traffic signs had been removed, and overhead power was turned off, before finally coming to rest at 635 Fulton. The moving company worked with at least 15 different government agencies, while the home’s owner paid $200,000 to the city and another $200,000 in moving costs.

Of course, those huge costs are a lot easier to understand when you learn that the house was valued at $5 million. Further, in its new location, the home will be combined with a former mortuary to create a new development of 17 housing units. As well, the lot upon which it formerly rested will be the site of a new 8-story apartment complex. Turning a single house and a single business into 65 units of prime housing in one of the most expensive cities in the country is certain to be well worth the expenses and headaches. Nevertheless, it’s still bizarre to see it in action.

The San Francisco House in the middle of a turn on a city street.

Despite the cost and complexity, the San Francisco move went off without any major issues. Ultimately, things did not turn out so well back in Belmont. A suitable permanent location for the Thomas Clark House was never found, and just two and a half years after more than $80,000 was spent to save it, the house was demolished after all. All we are is dust in the wind.

I’d Read the Entire List of New Words 

Thursday, February 25th, 2021

At the moment, I am experience Impfneid, envy of those who’ve received the COVID vaccine. What new German word best describes your pandemic experience?

Our Immune Systems Are Adorable 

Wednesday, February 24th, 2021

Last fall, Reuters published a great look at viruses and vaccines. I hadn’t seen it until just recently, but it’s a great primer, and still worth a look.

COVID-19 Virus, magnified 1000000x

Both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines which are now in widespread use in America are mRNA vaccines.

Humorously Homicidal 

Tuesday, February 23rd, 2021

Before “Sesame Street” and “The Muppet Show”, Jim Henson’s creative efforts were used in advertising. A bizarre series of absurdly violent ads for the little-known Wilkins Coffee brand has recently been making the rounds, and it’s quite the watch.1


  1. This disturbing record of puppet-on-puppet crime is archived here. ↩︎

The Skelecaster 

Monday, February 22nd, 2021

A man who goes by the name “Prince Midnight” has built a functioning guitar out of a skeleton, and I can’t think of anything more metal than that.

“[N]ow Uncle Filip can shred for all eternity. That’s how he would want it. I’m super proud of the project and how it serves to honour him, his life and his influence on me.”

Rock on, Uncle Filip.

Update (February 22, 2021): It appears there are some questions about this story, as reported by Vice, among others. Is the backstory of a dead uncle the fictitious work of a prankster? It seems distinctly possible. However, the Skelecaster certainly does seem to exist, and it may well be built with a real human skeleton:

As for the Skelecaster and whether or not it’s actually made from a human skeleton, an orthopedic surgeon reviewed the photos of Filip’s bones at my request, and could only say that there wasn’t any evidence to suggest that the skeleton didn’t belong to a human male.

If it’s a real skeleton coupled with a fake backstory, that just makes the whole story even weirder. If it turns out to be a fake skeleton, well, that will be a shame.

The Ball’s in Your Court, Louvre 

Friday, February 19th, 2021

In the two years since his horrifying introduction, Gritty, the mascot of the Phillydelphia Flyers, has become an object of strange affection. Though he continues to be bizarre beyond belief, he’s been embraced. Now, he’s the subject of some truly fine art.

Gritty and the Gritty painting

I’m not sure what the plan is for this masterpiece. Gritty has suggested it be hung over the Mona Lisa.

Lies, Lions, and Statistics

Thursday, February 18th, 2021

Recently, I saw this picture online:

An adult male lion, sitting in a wheelbarrow

Now, that’s not really the point of this post, but it is a funny picture. Take a minute to enjoy it.

In the Reddit comments for this image, someone noted their two directly conflicting desires, to push around the wheelbarrow and to stay as far away from that same wheelbarrow as physically possible. In a reply, another user stated “I don’t think it would be possible to push it even if he let you”.

This led me to wonder just how much a lion weighs. After all, a wheelbarrow is really just an advanced form of lever, one which makes it possible to transport heavier loads than one could otherwise carry. Because I had only recently woken up, I foolishly tried to get help from Siri, asking it “How much does a male lion weigh?”.

A siri reply saying “278 pounds”.

“Huh,” I thought, “OK.”

After a few seconds, I realized that it was absolutely preposterous that I had received such a precise number in response to my question. Was Siri providing me the weight of a specific specimen, perhaps a famous male lion? Does Siri have a pet lion, and know its weight? Do all male lions weigh in at exactly 278 pounds?

To examine this further, I asked again, and received the same answer.1 Reviewing the response, I noted that this answer was supposedly derived from Wikipedia:

I tapped in, and got a longer summary about lions:

That paragraph of text mentions a range of body lengths for lions, but it does not include any details about weight. In the brief table below that, it bizarrely lists an entry for mass as “3.64 lbs”. This too is a ridiculously precise value, with two decimal places, and one that’s surely incorrect.

Finally, I tapped “See More on Wikipedia”, and got to the page for “Lion”. I searched for both “278” and “3.64”, and found nothing.2 Eventually, I got to this section of the page:

Here, I finally found what I was looking for, a range of statistics for lions. It seems the correct answer to the question “How much does a male lion weigh?” is something like “between 350 and 500 pounds”, or about 25-80% more than Siri’s answer (and 100 times as much as that inexplicable “3.64 lb” value). I still have no idea how this idiot decided to respond “278 pounds”.

Anyhow, it’s 2021 and Siri is still trash. The end.

Update (February 20, 2021): The lion in the original image is “Obi”, and he lives at Oaklawn Farm Zoo in Canada. He weighs ~400 pounds.


  1. Not a given by any means ↩︎

  2. Well, almost nothing. Searching for “278” returned one irrelevant result in the “References” section, for library reference number “JSTOR 27858577”. ↩︎

“Just” a Chocolate Cake With Raspberry Jam and Lashings of Buttercream 

Wednesday, February 17th, 2021

This is a damned impressive birthday cake.

Yardi Gras 

Tuesday, February 16th, 2021

Today is Mardi Gras, a day that would ordinarily include a huge parade in New Orleans, replete with elaborate costumes and traveling floats. In the midst of a still-raging pandemic, such an event would be ill-advised. However, the people of New Orleans have come up with a solid substitute: House floats.

When the parades and festivities that mark Carnival were canceled due to COVID-19 last fall, New Orleanians found another way to celebrate.

Within weeks, hundreds had signed up to decorate their homes as elaborate house floats to replace traditional parade floats.

Now, with just two weeks until Mardi Gras day, it’s hard not to walk through the city and find something to smile about, despite the ongoing pandemic and the toll it has exacted.

The Atlantic has a great collection of pictures, showing just how far folks are going.

The Six Commandments for Natural and Enjoyable Robotic Hugging 

Monday, February 15th, 2021

Valentine’s Day has come and gone, but if you’re still in need of some affection, perhaps a robotic hug will suffice. Meet HuggieBot 2.0, the robot that hugs and definitely won’t crush you to death.