“You Want Fries with That?” One Professor’s Insight into why English is still One of Academia’s Most Valuable Degrees

As one of my final assignments for my college career, I was asked (okay, commanded) to interview one of the newest literary professors at my university.  Thankfully, I had already taken one of her classes, so I was more enthusiastic than usual about having to find time for another fun “real world writing experience” (a.k.a., an unpaid brochure-filler for incoming freshmen).  But after sitting down to write up the profile on my old professor, I was struck with how inspiring the interview had actually been.  As one of the countless college students who chose to major in the stereotypical English degree (let’s not even get started on my other major, which few Americans actually understand), I’m constantly braced for the barrage of employers and well-meaning parents who ask that oh-so-uncomfortable question: “how is this degree going to get you a job?”

because we all love hearing about how unmarketable we are after going into our own private recessions.

because we all love hearing about how unmarketable we are after going into our own private recessions.

Assuming that we actually HAVE given a thought to our futures and aren’t just killing time or draining Daddy’s wallet majoring in theater or underwater basket weaving, questions like this are still disconcerting to the almost-college grad.  In an economy still suffering from major borrowing backlash, it’s tough to know what we’ll end up doing in the next five years.  It doesn’t really help that most of our teachers seem to reside in a fantasy-land of perpetual academia, where you can actually make a living off of memorizing Renaissance poetry.

So when Dr. Furaha Norton, newly-hired professor of English and Comparative Literature at the University of Cincinnati, actually gave me some real-life wisdom, I felt it was my duty as a writer to share it with all my fellow English majors who dare to follow their dreams.  After all, Norton’s no stranger to these types of questions.  After spending the majority of her professional life advocating for the continued embracement of literature, she’s quite enthusiastic about the matter.

“You are constantly asked to justify the existence of the humanities,” Norton explains, surrounded by books in her campus office.  “I don’t ever feel like studying literature is not relevant.  As the world gets more complex, it is important to recognize how language can expand our understanding of the world, even change our perception of reality.”

When she joined UC’s staff in the spring of 2010, Norton was new to teaching, but not the academic lifestyle.  Her own mother being a professor of psychology, Norton grew up on a college campus.  Constantly exposed to the culture of dedicated learning and “the infectious energy of young people,” it comes as little surprise that by the age of thirteen, she had decided to become a professor herself.

After attending the University of Chicago for her undergraduate degree, Norton received her Masters and PhD at Cornell University.  While some consider Ivy League schools unattainable to all but the cream of the crop, Norton stresses that the “caliber of education you get is a combination of the focus and determination of curiosity you bring as a student.  Looking back, I was lucky to have some of the best professors in literature studies and literary criticism.  They set a standard of excellence in terms of writing, teaching, and research, and it’s a privilege for me to try to get halfway to where they were.”

It is this academic curiosity and ambition to rise above that set Norton apart when she made the transition from student to working professional.  After her time at Cornell, she was employed as an editor at the Oxford University Press, the largest and perhaps most prestigious university press in the world.  When interviewing for the position, she made it clear that no part of the job was beneath her.  “Even when I was copying a manuscript after I had earned a graduate degree I still learned something.  Seeing every part of the job you are applying for as an opportunity to learn and absorb is advantageous.  You can be the best at what you do, but there is a fine line between selling yourself and projecting arrogance.”

As a professor of American Ethnic Literature, Norton is all too aware of this fine line.  Hailing from an upper middle class family of teachers, it would be easy for her to take education for granted.  However, because her family is African American, she is aware just how important the opportunity for academic prestige is to her community.

“Since it was a crime for slaves to read, African Americans have always hungered for knowledge, and my family was no exception.  Being African American has influenced my professional development, because there is this idea that when you are black, you have to be twice as good as everyone else.  This was always the message conveyed to me by my ethnic identity.”

Unfortunately, many young people today don’t see the true value of an education.  Norton stresses the importance of having the discipline to finish school, especially those students choosing to pursue the subjects of literature, simply because it is empowering.  “If you can convey your ideas in writing, that is something that will make you stand out from the vast majority of people in the workforce, and will determine whether you spend your working life executing other people’s ideas because yours aren’t persuasive, or becoming someone whose ideas are heard.  Learning how to write is essential to expressing your ideas.”

But students can learn how to write through studying business models or scientific papers- so why study literature?

“The ultimate reason why we read literature is to create empathy.” Norton continues. “Our own experiences are reflected back to us, and we enjoy when we can understand someone else’s experience.  A lot of things follow from empathy: honesty, integrity, and perhaps most importantly in our changing world, seeing other people as friends and collaborators rather than being afraid of them because you don’t understand.  This is why I love teaching ethnic literature.”

Regardless of the many students she influences, Norton continues to advocate for literacy in her wider community.  Recently, she was elected to the board of the Mercantile Library, Cincinnati’s beautiful cultural and literary center.  As the predecessor to modern public libraries, mercantile libraries hold a collection of historic and eclectic volumes that are available exclusively to members and UC students, as well as holds events like book discussions and author readings which are open to the public.  As a director on the Mercantile Library board, she advises the executive director on finances, events, and most importantly, how they can grow their membership base to include more young people.

Norton is unapologetically passionate about drawing more students to literature-based careers.  “Don’t let people tell you that having an english degree is impractical, because it gives you a broader context of the world you live in, no matter what job you ultimately choose,” she advises.  “Stick to your guns because the basic preparation you receive from studying literature makes you a better writer.”

Words to live by the next time some smirking, communications-challenged engineer questions your “useless” major.

Tagged , , , ,

Rule Number 32: Enjoy the Little Things

Hostess is going bankrupt…..which means you better stock up on Twinkies now, before they all disappear.  Woody Harrelson’s worst nightmare may have just come true.


As an estimated 18,500 Hostess Baking workers join the unemployment line, CEO’s are pointing their money-stained fingers at their former employees, who they claim “ruined” company productivity after a nation-wide strike, even though they were paid “far beyond” what they should have been earning.  Just my two-cents: it’s kind of hard to blame it on the workers when Hostess has been in and out of bankruptcy court since 2004, factory workers have been taking pay cuts to help the company stay afloat, and higher-ups have been giving themselves massive raises throughout the whole debacle.  Poor management wins again.

Hostess will be liquidating their “assets”- namely, the delicious Ho-Ho’s, Sno Balls, and afformentioned Twinkies- to various rival companies.  With American lunches built on baloney and Wonderbread since the 1950’s, we can only hope that all of these tasty creations will be reincarnated under the guise of different, and hopefully more responsible, brands.

For tips on how to survive a possible flesh-eating apocalypse, click on the related links below:

[Surviving the End of the World Part I] [Surviving the End of the World Part II] [Surviving the End of the World Part III]

Tagged , , ,

Budget-Friendly Gifts for Real Men

It’s November ladies and gentlemen, which means the santas are in the stores and the lights are up at the zoo in my backyard.  No, really, I live right next to the Cincinnati Zoo.  Sometimes, the lions are my alarm clock.

Jealous?  Yes you are.

But with all those wonderful Christmas advertisements going around, it’s time to tackle the tough side of our gift-giving lists.  The male side.  Search “Christmas Gifts for Men” on google and you’ll find a sad assortment of ideas clearly written by some misguided skymall executive.  No man I know wants a traveling toothbrush sanitizer or another sad holiday-themed sweater.

“I could hang myself with all the bad Christmas neckties I found at the dump!”

So after lots of research and optimal price searching, I decided to gift the internet with a list of my own.

You’ll probably notice that this list is mostly free from any video games, movies, or cds.  At least in my experience, when a man likes a certain film, band, or series of first-person-shooters, they tend to buy these things for themselves the moment they come out in stores.  I laughed when I saw Halo 4 on Internet gift lists- I think every guy I know who’s serious about Halo raced out at midnight on November 6th to get their hands on it.  For the most part, unless you’re buying them an old-school arcade game or a classic movie series you know they don’t have, try to be more creative with your entertainment gifts.  Hence the absence of any lame “Beer of the Month” club cop-outs.

I’ve tried to find gifts for all price points, ranging anywhere from $5-$99.  As this list comes from the perspective of an almost college grad trying to get by in a still-shitty economy, I certainly won’t be wrapping up anything too expensive this year.

Just a disclaimer: I’m not getting paid to write any of these reviews (but if anyone would like to start, let me know!).  I’ve done my best to showcase products and companies that are genuinely awesome, affordable, and treat their customers and the environment right.  I think companies with good business values deserve to be well-frequented, especially during the holiday season.

Stocking Stuffers for any man:

PowerGen Mobile Juice Pack

Perfect for any man with a smartphone, camera, tablet, or other handheld electronic device who wants extra security away from an outlet, this juice pack can hold enough charge for several devices or multiple charges.  Simply charge the battery at home, then take it along wherever you go.  It even includes an LED flashlight.  Perfect for emergencies or long car trips.  Find it on Amazon for $30.

Astronaut Ice Cream

What little boy didn’t want to be an astronaut?  Whether they’re five or fifty, they’ll love these little packets of awesome.  Freeze-dried ice cream= a three year shelf-life and major cool points.  And surprisingly?  It’s very tasty!  Choose from three different flavors for $4 each.

Maybe You Touched Your Genitals Hand Sanitizer

Because it’s funny.  And sadly, with boys, it’s probably true.  Perpetualkid, $6.

Shawnimals Pocket Plush

These adorable plushies come from the totes-cool website shawnimals.com, which specializes in stuffed ninjas (including zombie ninjas!), mustaches, and adorable anthropomorphic foods.  Search their website for just the perfectly sized friend for your recipient.  I’ve had my mustache and ninja plushies for almost two years now and they’re still adorable (even after getting mauled by my cat).  I think the ones pictured here would make excellent off-the-wall ornaments.

Robo Keys key covers

Awesome rubber key covers in a manly robot finish.  Amazon, $6.

For the sexy nerd:

Star Wars Jedi Fleece Bathrobe

All I can say is, I bought this for my boyfriend a while ago and he still wears it for gaming, lounging, and the odd impromptu lightsaber-fight.  It’s super warm and comfortable and should fit any guy from about 5’8”- over 6 ft., and the hood looks freaking badass.  Just be careful, as your girlfriend may end up stealing it.  Buy it on Amazon for about $60.

Tetris desk lamp

Seven very familiar shapes from a nostalgically awesome game team up to make one seriously sweet piece of furniture.  A tetris-shaped light would be cool enough, but what’s really bangin’ about this lamp is that the pieces can be stacked any way you want: the LED light turns on when the tetriminos are put together, and stays off when the lamp is disassembled.  Plugs into a standard outlet.  Get it at ThinkGeek.com, $40.

For the sports fan:

A hoodie of their favorite team

“Officially licensed” team apparel tends to get a little expensive, so if you can afford to give your sports fan a hoodie of their favorite NFL, NBA, or MLB team, it makes a thoughtful and lasting gift you know they’ll actually use.  Because unlike a jersey, they can keep wearing it even after their favorite player becomes a total douchemonkey and leaves for a better team.

Engraved Pet ID tag

Because man’s best friend needs to show his love of football too.  Fanatics, $12.

For the Fix-it Man:

Cardsharp 2

A utility knife that’s ultra-strong and folds into the shape and size of a credit card, so it’s easily storable in your everyday wallet.  Yeah, this thing is pretty cool.  Of course, it won’t saw through a metal pipe, but the stainless steel surgical blade is sharp, stylish, and incredibly durable.  The newest version boasts a childproof lock and a built-in protective sheath.  Iain Sinclair, $25.

LED Lighted Safety Glasses

Chances are your DIY guy already has a good amount of tools.  Beware when buying the serious handyman a new powerdrill or set of screwdrivers, as he’s probably loyal to one particular brand.  Try to focus on accessories to his toolbox he might not have- or even think about- like these LED safety glasses.  With polycarbonate lenses, adjustable lights, and the dependable Craftsman lifetime warranty, this is a cool little gadget he never knew he needed.  $20, Craftsman.

For the baby:

The Peter Rabbit Hat

Yeah, I did the advertising for this one, so you KNOW it’s not only adorable, but a great, eco-friendly company too.  Cutie Bees is an organic baby clothes company that makes its products from all-natural cotton that won’t make sensitive skin uncomfortable.  If your friends are suddenly reproducing like rabbits and you have no idea what an appropriate gift for their mini-them is, you can’t go wrong with this $12 floppy eared snow hat.  Plus, it will be WAY more creative than the dozens of diapers, onesies, and stuffed animals they’re bound to get from their other aunts and uncles.

Mustache pacifier

Speaking of creative, anyone familiar with this blog knows that one of my favorite gift-giving sites is Perpetualkid.  Their customer service is spot-on, their packaging is biodegradable, and their products are 100% awesome and unique!  I love their stock of Fred and Friends merchandise, including this $12 hilarious pacifier.

I mean, just look at how happy it makes his clearly mustache-deprived daddy!

For the young nephew:

The Pocket Sized Fart Machine

is it just me, or does this look like a chocolate bar?

If you haven’t been blessed yet with your own little pile of spawn, you are in the “cool aunt/uncle” territory.  This means that you can get your siblings’/friends’ children the “fun” (read: annoying) gifts with no fear of immediate retaliation.  Hence the pocket sized fart machine.  Because what little boy doesn’t want to amuse himself with a bountiful arsenal of flatulence at his fingertips?  Whoopie cushions are SO last year.  Perpetualkid, $7.


Parents: want an educational game that’s not a total bummer to give to your kids?  Bananagrams is faster than Scrabble and way more fun to play, yet still teaches spelling.  The object of the game is to be the first to use all your letters to build a crossword grid using anagrams.  It’s a great way to spend some time playing together on something other than a t.v. screen, plus it comes in a cool, portable banana carrying case.  $15, Amazon.

For the teen son:

Skullcandy Pipe iPod Station

This docking station and speaker for iPod and iPhone looks sleek and delivers decent sound for a decent price (but won’t blow your eardrums out). Charges your device while you play your music and even doubles as an alarm clock.  Its compact design allows for easier portability than the older iHome model and comes with a remote, so you know it’s male-friendly.  Another benefit?  A two-year replacement plan can be purchased with the speaker for only an additional $7, good news for parents who also bought their less-than-careful boys nerf guns.  Get it at Target for $63.

Five-tier Media Rack

Tired of yelling at your teenager to clean up his video games?  Give him a stylish, modern media rack to store all his games, movies, and CDs.  Atlantic, $20.

For the college-bound:

Faux Leather Jacket

Real leather’s expensive, and let’s face it, he’s probably going to spill cheap beer on it at some point.  But with this faux leather trucker jacket with knit lining he’ll look great AND stay warm while running all over campus.  J.C. Penny’s, $65.

Star Wars: the complete saga

With Darth Vader going Disney, you’ll need to preserve the “original” storyline for future generations.  At almost $90 for all six blu-ray discs, I’d relegate this to the “big gift” category.  Still, when you consider the price of buying all the movies separately and the hours of extras and deleted scenes, it’s actually a pretty great bargain.  Instead of avoiding his homework by watching lame Youtube videos, he can procrastinate by indulging in a pop-culture classic.  Plus, all sensible college girls will think your son’s good taste in movie references is sexy.

For the young professional:

The Fold Flat Grill

Small apartment living can be a challenge.  It’s hard to devote lots of dedicated space to a cooking device you use 2 seasons out of the year.  But what if you could fold that sucker to a slick 1 inch thick panel?  Meet the Fold Flat Grill, the portable charcoal grill with enough cooking space to sear six juicy steaks, yet takes advantage of the compact size of a folding chair.  Comes with a lifetime guarantee and serious awesome points.  Hammacher Schlemmer, $60.

Grant Leather Watch (in Black)

A young aspiring businessman needs a watch that fits serious style in a budget-friendly package.  Secured on a genuine leather band, water-resistant, and under limited warranty for 11 years, this Fossil-brand watch is classically cool.  Fossil, $95.

For dads:

Wolverine Boots

No, not the X-Men character, but your dad will probably feel like a superhero in the popular Gold outdoorsman Wolverine boot.  Waterproof, insulated, and slip-resistant, these are the perfect shoes for the serious workman or a weekend of camping.  When it comes to winter boots, several of my menfolk won’t wear anything else.  All-leather uppers and rubber soles, $90.

ResQMe Car Escape Tool

Every driver should have one of these babies stored away in their glove compartment and on their car keys.  Show dad you care by gifting him the two-in-one ResQMe multi-tool, a small spring-loaded do-hickey that smashes windows and a razor that cuts through stuck seatbelts.  It’s easy to use and it’s made in the USA!  Buy it on Amazon, $12.

For the mancave:

Egyptian hookah

Smoking your tobacco this way is cleaner, cooler, and so very, very relaxing.  No mancave is complete without a well-built Egyptian-style hookah- and besides, it doubles as the manlier version of a scented candle.  Prices vary depending on what size, color, and company you buy from, but quality products can be found for as low as $40, so do your research.  I personally recommend a hookah with only one hose valve, as the double valves tend to give a less-than-full hit.  Obviously, this gift is only for the smokers on your list.

Cool Shooters Shot Glass Mold

For a cool twist on the typical shot, freeze these molds and enjoy a quick drink before smashing them in the driveway like the manly man you are.  Or fill with melted candy for gummy shots!  Fred and Friends, $9.

For the man who has everything (but a girlfriend):

The Icerack boob ice mold

Cleverly marketed to young frat boys everywhere, the proud owner of this ice mold can “take some shooters from the hooters” with style.  Just freeze this ice luge up and fill with your favorite liquor for a delicious regression into infancy feeding.  I can see this luge being a big hit at a bachelor party or college rager.  At $17, this gift is for the single party boy who wants to stay that way.

The Artemis Woman Nail Catcher:

Yup, it says woman in the title, probably because we females are all sick of stepping on your gross toenail clippings.  Contrary to popular belief, carpeting is NOT the best place for all your unwanted body shavings.  At just $5, use of this product may just help you get a girl to stay the night. Or maybe you just need to look into manscaping.

For the man with a girlfriend:

Shower Squids

Whoever made these deserves a chocolate bar, because these little guys are cute and useful (a delightfully dangerous combination).  No man wants clutter in his shower.  Girlfriends, as Jenna Marbles confesses, like to “goo hoard” lots of it.  Gift one of these four shampoo-touting, soap-holding shower-buddies, and watch in wonder as the battle of the bathroom is instantly (and cleverly) solved.  I currently own one of these squids and they really are an awesome addition to my cephalopod-themed decor.  Available for $35 in black, red, or blue.

Victorias Secret Lingerie

Because you will be the best girlfriend ever if you enthusiastically spoil him.  Victorias Secret, $48.

For the coworker:

The Butt Station Assistant

Ever been invited to one of those awkward office gift-swap parties and didn’t know what to bring?  Forced to participate in an HR-mandated Secret Santa?  For about $15 you can gift Chip from IT the most envy-inducing office product ever.  I have one of these little guys chilling on my desk right now (in orange, of course, though it comes in blue and green as well).  The only “con” that I’ve found about the design is the body doesn’t stay firmly attached to his toilet bowl, so when you go to reach for a piece of tape just be sure that you hold him in place.  The fact that it combines functionality with poop-humor makes it a win in any corporate-minded male’s mind.

Chocolate Covered Bacon

Appropriately listed after the toilet-shaped office supplies, a $12 box of delicious chocolate covered bacon is a manly gift for any lucky coworker on your list. I’ve also taken the liberty of finding you the perfect non-sappy giftcard to go with it:

For the pet-lover:

DJ Cat Scratch Turntable

Because pet furniture should be stylish and perhaps slightly hilarious too.  Perpetualkid, $42.

Mustache Dog Collar

Instead of your typical collar clasp, this dog collar closes with a seatbelt-like button.  Muttropolis, $25.

Want to save even more money this holiday season (and give your loved ones awesome, one-of-a-kind-presents)?  Tune in next time for handmade gifts!

Tagged , , , , ,

Zombie Hayrides: you want romance, go shoot some paintball

So Hurricane…..no, wait, SUPERSTORM SANDY is hard at work ruining the nation’s Halloween fun, smothering the dreams of candy-hungry little tots and eye-candy-hungry frat boys (sadly, a close resemblance) in its wake of post-tropical rage.  With trick-or-treating being cancelled across the coast and slutty costumes being “weatherproofed,” will this year’s Halloween be reduced to a moldering collection of cannibalized pumpkins?

Not if the zombies have anything to say about it.

Parents, kids, and college students alike have been partaking in a new Halloween tradition this year, one that only gets more incredibly awesome with the muddy, rainy weather.  Zombie.  Hayride.  Paintball.


Combining most things we all love about Halloween– scares, fake violence, and those lovable, brain-munching flesh-bags– farms around the Midwest have been revamping the traditional autumn hayrides with mounted paintball guns and eager zombified employees.  Participants wishing to step things up from their usual video-game conquests can don a pair of safety glasses and punch holes through the marshmallow-wrapped (and hopefully well-paid) “walking dead” in several strategic stops on the nighttime tractor ride.

My boyfriend and I went last weekend, and I have to say, it was one of the most unique (and knowing my obsession with zombies, awesome) dates I’ve ever been on.  Besides, it can’t hurt to prep your moving-target shooting skills, right?

Happy Halloween!

Tagged , , , ,

Surviving the End of the World Part III: Choosing your Melee-Weapon

Disclaimer: I am not sponsored or paid in any way for these reviews.  I am merely rather zombie-obsessed.  Some of these products are ones I own and have tested myself, while others are ones I’ve heavily researched in anticipation of buying them.  I also only advocate the use of these weapons against man-hungry corpses, not living human beings.

In the zombie apocalypse, it’s a kill-or-be-eaten kind of world.  Sadly, human beings are not yet equipped with built-in claws or cyborbtronic laser-swords- we must depend on using manufactured tools in order to defend ourselves.  While movies like Zombieland prove that almost anything can become a highly-effective weapon in a pinch (carnival strength-guage sledgehammer, anyone?), it pays to be prepared with actual products designed for the express purpose of killing adversaries and aiding in other survival activities.

Okay, but how useful would that sledgehammer be in building a shelter?

I’m pretty clueless when it comes to guns.  The closest I’ve come to firing a (non video game) weapon the tactical games of paintball I used to play in highschool, though I’m proud to say I now have experience shooting zombie-actors from my latest prepping escapade.  Now THAT was money well spent.

My area of “expertise” (and I’m using that term pretty loosely) comes with manual weapons.  And honestly, that doesn’t bother me too much.  In a true extinction-event, guns are a finite resource.  When the ammunition runs low, hand-to-hand combat will be the way to go, and my years of camping and chopping down trees on the family farm will definitely pay off.  I’ve spent a lot of time researching prospective additions to my B.O.B.  Here, I’ve rounded up some of the best zombie-killing weapons on the market:

 SOG Specialty Knives F01T Tactical Tomahawk:

The SOG has a 2.75 inch stainless-steel axe head that’s coated with oxide to reduce reflection from the sun, useful when you don’t want to be seen from far away.  Side-hammered checkering allows the axe to be used as a hammer-like tool as well, great news for the survivor who needs to pack light, and a steel ferrule (bracelet-like clamp) around the handle for added strength.  The glass-reinforced, ergonomic nylon handle is bolted to the axe head for secure chopping and a no-slip grip.  Weighing in at just 24 ounces, this packable weapon is great for younger warriors who want some security in their back pockets.  Reviewers stated that the tomahawk was amazingly sturdy considering how lightweight it is, slicing easily through cinder blocks, tree limbs, and even a truck hood (I cannot question the bad-assery of that particular reviewer).  Sure, a higher-priced axe head will give you more chopping power, but at only twenty-six dollars, this weapon is a true bang-for-your-buck quality zombie-wacking machine.  Purchase one on Amazon here.

RATING: High-quality back-up weapon AND a great builder’s multi-tool.

 Smith and Wesson Bullseye Search and Rescue Fixed Blade Knife:

This Smith & Wesson fixed blade is 5.88 inches and made of solid stainless steel, also coated with the same non-reflective black coating as the SOG tomahawk, a matte-finish which improves wear.  The most important feature of this knife is that it’s full tang, meaning that the blade travels all the way through the handle, resisting breakage much better than a cheaper knife.  I was a little bit iffy about the rubber/aluminum handle, but it seems to hold up well against heavy use.  At 9.4 ounces, this blade is solid, yet easy to wield.  In my opinion, a modest sized knife will do you much better in a survival situation than a huge, heavy weapon.  If you want to go big, go with a katana or a machete- the point of a survival knife is to have something sharp and sturdy that can be used as a weapon, yet kept on your person at all times.  The included sheathing is reinforced with steel and a hard inner liner for serious durability, and the knife even comes with a free sharping stone.  Priced at twenty-five dollars, it’s a little more expensive than other options, but definitely worth the extra money as it performs just as well as even pricer knives.  As a Smith & Wesson product, I wouldn’t expect anything less than good quality.  You can buy yours on Amazon here.

RATING: Cannot leave your side.

 M48 Ranger Hawk Weapon:

This.  This.  THIS.  When I think of the one, trusty blade I would have to have by my side at all times, the ranger hawk is my perfect weapon.  Zombease.com reviewed it as an excellent melee weapon: lightweight, sturdy, and easily wieldable, good news for all those zombie-killers on the smaller side.  At 1.9 pounds with a 4 inch frontal blade and a 3.5 inch back spike, the stainless steel edges hold up well against a variety of test surfaces.  The para-cord handle outdoes the SOG Tomahawk’s glass-reinforced nylon handle in my book for durability, and it even comes with a nylon sheath and built-in compass, always a useful addition to a multi-tool when you often have to leave possessions behind a la end of Walking Dead season 2.  The only thing I don’t like about this particular tomahawk is the absence of a full tang blade (a blade that continues all the way down through the handle to prevent breakage).  However, Zombease assured readers that the 3.5 inch tang was securely bolted through their most rigorous testing.  All-in-all, the pros MAJORLY outweigh the one small con on this weapon.  You can get your own M48 Tomahawk here.

RATING: Absolute must-have in a B.O.B.

These are only the creme-of-the-crop products I’ve found in my prepping research.  Some weapons, like the highly-recommended Innovation Factory’s Trucker’s Friend multi-tool, didn’t make my cut, because they seemed too heavy or too hard to wield in a close-quarters fight.  While some of these longer, larger multi-tools seem like a good idea in theory, they are more useful for certain body-types, namely taller and burlier warriors than my tiny 100 pound self.  When creating your own personal B.O.B. and weapons arsenal, be sure that the products you chose reflect the physical strength and skill level you yourself possess.  It doesn’t matter how many weapons you have if you can’t use them effectively.

It’s also highly advised to (carefully!) practice your kill stroke on non-threatening objects like pineapples.

playing this game does not count as zombie-killing practice.

[related links: Surviving the End of the World Part I: Getting out of Dodge means being Prepared][Surviving the End of the World Part II: Defending Against the Other]

Tagged , , , , ,

Season 3 of the Walking Dead- are you ready?

Highly anticipated by avid cable fans everywhere (but not dish, as AMC likes to remind us constantly), the season 3 premier of the Walking Dead airs tonight at 9.

As true die-hard zombie fans, my boyfriend and I spent most of the weekend watching a marathon of Walking Dead’s past two seasons, comparing them to the comics and trying to guess what will happen in the mysterious West Georgia Corrections Facility.  All we know is, Lori looks WAY too pregnant in the teasers compared to how flat her stomach was at the end of the last season, Michonne is a bad-ass, and Rick is about to go ape-shit on these zombie prisoners.

If the world does go up in zombie-esque flames, I will feel even better prepared having watched others deal with the destruction of society as we know it.  We all know they’re just characters, but somehow, the Grimes Family & Co. have come to mean something to us, a tight-knit zombie-induced family group.

Oh yeah, and Merle?  Welcome back, you stumpy bastard.  We missed you.

Tagged , ,

The Power of Words

People wonder why one of my majors is in professional writing.  Studying words and the effect they have on others is a powerful thing.  We cannot forget how precious our humanity is.

Tagged ,

Cleveland: the Safest City of the Apocalypse?

When the zombie-shit finally hits the proverbial fan (do zombies even take dumps?  Where do all those man-wiches go?), or other earth-shaking disasters rock society as we know it, where will you and your fellow survivors run to?  Chaos theorists suggest Cleveland.

Yes, that’s right bitches.  My little “Mistake on the Lake” hometown would kick SO MUCH ASS in the apocalypse.

Pro # 1: No natural disasters.

When most of my friends in Cincinnati start complaining about Cleveland, two main issues always seem to come up: 1. the crime rate (ranked 34th most dangerous city in the U.S.) and 2. even worse, the long, cold, snowy winters.  Now personally, I’d have to say I’ve been scared for my life infinitely more times during my four years in Cinci than I ever was in my EIGHTEEN years of being a Clevelander, but that’s just me.  [read Surviving the End of the World Part II: Defending Against the Other for basic self defense tips].  Or maybe everyone down in here’s just a big sissy because they can’t handle more than two inches of snow in one winter.  If they could look past the wet weather to see the big picture, they’d realize that Northeast Ohio is blessedly free from most tornados (and those annoying Cincinnati tornado sirens that sounds eerily like alien music at two in the morning), thanks to our comfy spot in the Appalachian Foothills.

A typical cleveland winter. No biggie.

And speaking of precipitation, Cleveland’s snow-belt, lake-effect snow coupled with our ever-present chance for rain means that we have no serious droughts, no wildfires- and surprisingly, very little in the way of flooding.  Situated on the southern shore of Lake Erie at a comfortable 653 ft. above sea-level, the most flooding we get comes from the large amount of rainfall during late spring, hardly a comparison next to the constantly ravaged floodplains of the Mississippi.  Hurricanes and tsunamis are also highly unlikely on any of the Great Lakes, since the leftovers from tropical storms and earthquakes in these areas are usually small-scale and happen infrequently.  The worst we get on our waters are seiches, huge fluctuations in water levels caused by thunderstorms or sudden changes in air pressure and wind speed.  While this causes a large standing wave, truly destructive ones are extremely rare and cause only a fraction of the damage to shoreline properties that tsunamis do.

Pro # 2: Proximity to fresh water.

All those water shortages you hear about on the news?  People think it’s bad enough when Nevadans have to give up green lawns and buy bottled water, but can you imagine living in Death Valley with no air conditioning, ice cream, or earth’s favorite life-sustaining beverage?  I sure wouldn’t want to be in competition for something so scarce with other apocalypse survivors.  Between Cleveland’s Cuyahoga River and Lake Erie, we wouldn’t have the same struggle to procure clean drinking water like our country’s desert or southern states.  Some politicians even want to divert water from the Great Lakes in order to supply golf greens in places where grass has no business being grown.  Sorry, but I wouldn’t trade hot showers and cold drinks for perpetual beach weather any day of the week.

Pro #3: Resiliency.

Proving, once again, the “Rust Belt’s” reliability in dangerous times, Jeff Opperman, senior adviser at the Nature Conservancy, recently ranked Cleveland number one among U.S. cities’ ability to bounce back from significant climate change.

He also ranked Miami number 50.  If the bathsalts don’t get ya, a fiery asteroid the size of Arizona will.

Fred smells delicious.

Whether it’s caused by supervolcano, an asteroid, or global warming, Northeast Ohio would not be as highly affected as other regions of the country.  But if Cleveland seems to be getting rather crowded at that point, one of the other top five safe zones in the country: Milwaukee, Detroit, Chicago, or Minneapolis, are good second picks.

Well, okay, we may get screwed by a supervolcano.

So, in case of a second dinosaur-killing meteorite scare, the ice caps melting, or your neighbors suddenly acquiring the taste for human flesh, your best bet for survival lies in high-tailin’ it over to the city of snow.

And yes, you’ll have to help us shovel.

[related links: Surviving the End of the World Part I: Getting out of Dodge means being Prepared]

Tagged , ,

How to save money in College

Today’s generation will have an average of seven careers throughout their working lifetime.

Sometimes, I feel like I’ll need all seven just to pay off my student loans.

Yeah, college is expensive.  Hell, LIFE is expensive.  Bill after bill after bill after bill.  But that’s just the way of the world, nowadays.  Nothing to do but bend over and take it with a big ol’ smile on our faces, right?

Not necessarily.

The past four years of my college education have been instrumental in teaching me, not just about gene inheritance and copywriting, but how to work with what you have to get by, get ahead, and get focused on becoming an adult.  With a little bit of effort (and yes, some Saturday nights spent [gasp!] sitting at home), you can end your years at university with a diploma in your hand and money in the bank.

1. Learn to cook.  I’m going to be starting things off with food, because 1. it tends to be the thing college students spend most on besides textbooks and alcohol, and 2. even the main-stream act of eating is still necessary for college hipsters.

We all know you spent $99 dollars on that ironic granny shirt and don’t have any lenses in your glasses.  I wore glasses back before it was cool.

anatomy of a hipster

Moving on…..

If you weren’t raised by an Italian, you might not already have advanced culinary skills.  Or ANY culinary skills, for that matter.  There was a girl in my dorm freshman year who made all 700 of us evacuate for a “fire” at five in the morning because she burned ramen.  As in, microwavable ramen noodles.  She forgot to add water.

If you also fall into the “dumbass with food” category, make some effort to learn how to whip up simple meals.  Fried eggs.  Mashed potatoes.  Spaghetti.  Trust me, eating out all the time adds up to a full waistline and an empty wallet- and your girlfriend is gonna get damn tired of those PB&J’s you “cooked” her.  Any idiot can throw together a healthy and inexpensive dinner that covers most of the essential food groups (for tips on how, read my “Adventures in Cooking” posts!)

And no, beer is not an essential food group.  Which brings us to numero dos:

2. Be smart with your alcohol.  Don’t be one of those people who bums beers and cigarettes off of people.  It’s just sad and reminds everyone of when they were in high school and had to beg their older sisters to buy them the cheapest, nastiest bottle of nail-polish-remover they sold.  If you can’t afford to purchase your own beer/wine/whiskey, then don’t drink.  Friends will treat you once in a while, but if you get the reputation of a booze-mooch, don’t be surprised when you are no longer welcome to the weekend bar-hops.

That being said, when you do choose to imbibe, do so with dignity and class.  I really don’t respect people who buy the cheapest beer just because they want to get drunk.  If you like drinking a less expensive brand, that’s totally cool!  But don’t force it down just because you’re broke and Natty Light is the only thing that will get you wasted off of the change in your pocket.  It’s just repacked frat-house piss-water and everyone knows it.  The truth is, alcohol can be a fun and delicious addition to a night out, but it should be viewed as an extra and not a necessity.  Drinking beer should never take precedence over buying groceries or paying your electric bill, as I’ve seen happen all too many times.  That leads down a very bad road, my friend.

Oh, and don’t be stingy on the tips because your drinks cost more than you planned!  Your waitress or bartender is probably also a student who makes their living off your generosity- if you can’t tip them decently, you’re just perpetuating the college stereotype (though when I was a pizza cook, most of the people who didn’t tip were wealthy businessmen!)  If you can’t afford to go out responsibly, just buy beer and have a party at home.  That’s the smarter, safer way to do it, anyways.

bad tippers don’t deserve good service.  Or air.

3. Buy in-season fruits and vegetables.  They are cheaper, fresher, and oh-so-tasty.  Buying in-season, even in the large chain grocery stores, means you will probably be supporting a local farmer vs. a foreign one, ensuring that less fuel is spent schlepping the goods across the continent and less illegal chemicals are used in your food.  Look at you, saving money and avoiding e. coli poisoning from unwashed vegetables!

4. Figure out which foods can be bought “off-brand” and which ones you should splurge for.  This may take some trial-and-error, but it’s well-worth a few meal experiments to see what you can substitute.  Many of your grocery store’s own brands taste just as good as some of the pricer ones your mom always buys (once you start making $27/hr., you can afford to eat fancy cheese again).  For instance, Kroger brand crackers taste just like Ritz, and their lunchmeats are more-or-less the same pressed-together pig innards as Oscar Mayer sells.  Valu Time Duplex cookies, which sound more like an apartment than a snack food, are friggin’ delicious, try to convince me otherwise.  Off-brand mac-and-cheese, however, is to be avoided at ALL COSTS.  I remember having to suffer through an entire five packages of disappointing Kroger Easy-Mac before I gave the rest away to the boys next door.  Even they wouldn’t eat it, and I know for a fact that one of them survived on a lone jar of peanut butter for three days before his mom sent him some pity cash.  A dire example of how ignoring rule number 2. will bite you in the ass.

5. Stay away from the frozen foods aisle.  This pretty much goes along with the “learn to cook” tip, but even I fall into this trap every so often (though since I gravitate towards the ice cream, it usually tends to derail my diet, not my wallet).  All those hot pockets, Marie Callender’s lasagnas, and frisbee-disc pizzas are EXPENSIVE.  I mean, have you ever noticed how the portion sizes look bigger on the box?  Or how even the foods that were around when we were younger are getting smaller and smaller as companies cut corners?  I’m fully convinced that the size of a Toaster Strudel is directly proportionate to how many kids still know who Hey Arnold! is (i.e., by next year they’ll be about as big as a postage stamp).  And next time you reach for that T.V. dinner, take a gander at how much bleeping sodium is in there.  Enough to bloat up a bleeping cactus.

6. Consider living off campus.  If you’re not in your freshman year, grab a few roommate-material friends and get an apartment!  I will always treasure those crazy nights partying with half of my dorm floor, but as an upperclassman I get so tired of dealing with the newbies’ antics.  And talk about expensive.  My dorm fees?  Around $4,000 a quarter.  My rent and utilities?  Around $4,000 a year.  Not only does living off campus save me a butt-load of money, it’s taught me some real-world responsibility and given me a taste of the true adult-life, sans parents helping me with my tuition payments.  Just make sure you and your roomies are fully up to paying the bills.

Nothing like an early eviction to put a serious dent in your semester o’ fun.

7. Watch your energy use.  While living at home, your parents probably gave you flack for not turning off the lights or running the air conditioning in November.  Now that you’re on your own and paying each utility bill, you understand why: each gallon of wasted water adds up by the end of the month.  Be smart with your appliances; it’s better for the environment and will save you money!  Turn off the t.v., lower the heat, throw on an extra blanket (or six).  And unplug those charging devices from the wall- they call them “vampire drains” for a reason.

8. Search the internet, newspapers, and campus bulletin boards for free food and events.  The awesome thing about going to college is the insane amount of activities your university will offer you, most of them costing nothing but your time.  Joining clubs is a good way to meet new people with similar interests and score some free pizza.  I get the neighborhood newspaper delivered for free, and it always has lots of articles on upcoming street fairs, art festivals, and new business openings within walking distance from my apartment.  With a little more effort, it’s pretty easy to come up with more creative [read: awesome] dates and outings that don’t drain your savings.

9. Get a job with fringe benefits.  Two years ago I worked as a night cook making pizzas in the city’s best pizza shop.  I walked to work (in hindsight, not the best idea considering I worked till the wee hours in the inner city), took home extra, unwanted, or “messed-up” pies, and saved all my tips in a big olive jar for a rainy day.  As a result, I was not only making a paycheck, but saving money on all those dinners and cold pizza breakfasts I would have otherwise had to buy.  Most college towns have tons of late-night food joints for the double-duty student; just make sure you’re not choosing work over the reason you went to college in the first place: good grades.

the Turtles know how to save money- and stay out of federal prison!

10. Create a budget.  This is probably the single best thing I ever did for my finances during college.  Most computers come pre-loaded with an Excel or Numbers program and budgeting templates, or you can easily download free apps for your iPhone.  Plug in each receipt as-you-go to track your spending habits; or, if you’re lazy like me, just record your average expense per month to see if you’re being wallet-sensible.  You’ll be surprised to see exactly how much those lunchtime fast-food runs are actually costing you.

11. Carpool, carpool, carpool- or take public transportation.  There is no real need to own a car in college if you live in a bigger city.  Make a Facebook group for everyone at your university who lives near your hometown, and split the gas equally.  Sometimes I have no choice but to use Greyhound or MegaBus, but their tickets are significantly cheaper if you plan your trip farther in advance.  Don’t be afraid to take advantage of the low student rates for the city buses.  My university even has a free shuttle that runs until 3:00 a.m. on weekends; just in time to cater to all the drunk barflies at last call.

12. Skip the student bookstore and purchase all your textbooks online.  Seriously, screw the campus bookstore.  Check out sites like Amazon, Chegg.com, or Abebooks.com for reliable, high-quality, and usually much cheaper textbook sources.  I’ve gotten slightly older versions of the books I need for as low as three dollars, when the bookstore would have me pay five times as much.

13. Resist the temptation to own a pet.  This is one temptation I sadly fail at.  Throughout my four years of college, I have been suckered into providing free room and board for a cat named Lucy; five mice: Ping-Pong, Pinky, Flower, Quentin, and Cinnamon; and a fish named Spike (though he doesn’t do much besides poop and make faces at me).  Anyone who’s familiar with this blog knows that I had no choice but to save the cat from my selfish former roommate (and really, I’m glad I did), but the rest of the animals are a product of my incessant Italian need to feed things.  Things whose poop I now have to clean.

Speaking of poop- oh Lord, I don’t ever want to own another rodent again.  Yeah, they’re cute when they run on their little wheels or squeeze through their little play-tubes or peek out at you from their little modified aquarium, but DAMN those little butts make so much freaking poop.  Poop that smells.  Poop that gets everywhere.  Just a hellhole of freaking. little. poops.  And their frequent demises are really depressing.  One died of old age, another died a week after I got her, and one, I’m sad to say, was coerced out of her cage by my evilly intelligent kitty and gobbled up like a furry little Cheeto (I’m blaming the toxoplasma mind-control).  The fourth one was lucky- she turned out to be a he, and had to be returned for trying to impregnate his unwilling cage-mate.  Now I’m impatiently waiting for his very old girlfriend to croak, but she’s still going strong.  At least she’s proved Cosmo right that having sex really does make you live longer!

Seriously, having pets is great for the company, the responsibility, and the overwhelming desire to cuddle and smother it with unconditional love, but be realistic: if you can’t afford to pay your landlord extra rent for your cat, don’t get one.  Get a freaking bamboo plant from IKEA, those things are REALLY hard to kill.

Man’s best friend: aiding in our laziness since the caveman days.

Tagged , ,

Toxoplasma mind-control: how your kitty’s litter box plans to take over the world

If you have a cat, chances are you have toxoplasmosa in your brain.

“What?! I have toxo-something in my BRAIN?!”
photo courtesy of “the brownhorse” a.k.a. Adam Bronkhorst

Whoah there, friend.  Put down the powerdrill.

I most likely have it too.  What can I say?  I love my kitty and she needs someone to scoop her poop.

In fact, according to my anthropology professor, about 50% of the world’s population has these tiny little guys chilling in their craniums.  But that’s okay, because toxoplasma is microscopic and no match for our advanced human immune systems.  We are, as the term goes, an evolutionary dead end for these creepy little parasites.  Up there in our heavily-guarded skulls, Toxoplasma gondii can’t lay their eggs or socialize with other little parasitic friends.  They can only watch in horror as you tune in to yet another episode of the Jersey Shore and curse the day that felines started relieving themselves in a box cleaned by easily-entertained hominid morons.

That’s right.  Much as we like to think of ourselves as Mother Nature’s darling creations, most parasites don’t want to have anything to do with us.  Toxoplasma, for instance, would rather hang out inside kitty’s tootsie-rolls until something much smaller than a litter-scoop comes their way.

Rats, for instance.

Toxoplasma LOVES rats.  Once these greedy little bastards get inside a rat’s brain, it’s one step closer to achieving what drives pretty much the entire biological kingdom: sex.

See, toxoplasma can only reproduce in the stomach of a cat.  In order to get there, it needs what we disease-mappers call a vector, or what Fluffy calls dinner.  So what toxoplasma does is implement some rodent mind-control.

Instead of being afraid of the smell of cats, an infected rat confuses the smell of cat urine with that of a sexually-charged rat female.  While normal rats run away, this poor, love-blind rodent ends up getting eaten, or as I like to think of it, screwed in the much less pleasant sense of the word.

All for being a horny parasite mind-slave.

nyan cat poops rainbows, not horrible brain-changing beasties.

Before you marvel at the lengths a one-celled organism will go to perpetuate its own kind, you may be wondering what affect this has on you.  If the little buggers aren’t interested in living in your stomach, then why should you even care?  Researchers observed people with and without the parasite in their brains and learned an interesting thing- toxoplasma may actually have some sway over our own behaviors, too.

They found that men infected with T. gondii are more introverted, more physically reckless and generally tend to ignore social rules.  On the other hand, women with toxoplasma have lots of friends and are usually regarded as more sexually attractive than parasite-free females.  Both are free from normal fear responses, similar to our aforementioned ratty pals.  They are more independent, more interesting, and generally unconcerned with how others view them- just like cats. Some studies even show a shrinkage of the cerebral cortext in schizophrenics, hinting that the protozoan might trigger the disease in genetically-susceptable individuals.  Some less scientific studies think that toxoplasma might be the harbinger of the zombie apocalypse (you knew I’d work that in there somewhere, didn’t you).

“you shall do my bidding, zombie rat slave”

So while you probably won’t go searching for the nearest Bengal tiger to chomp down on your liver, there’s a very good chance that T. gondii has influenced some of the major decisions you make in your life.  What you wear, where you go, and who you choose to go with you could all subliminally be impacted by tiny little parasites inside your brain.

Perhaps we should all just take a cue from our dogs and make our cats poop outside.  Let Mother Nature deal with all that infected kitty crap.

Tagged , , ,