Things southern: Waffle House

I’ve asked a number of Yanks what they remember about the south, and the first thing that comes to mind is almost always Waffle House. There’s nothing extraordinary about this 24-hour diner chain except the fact that, well, it’s a 24-hour diner chain and they’re ubiquitous. Whether you’re on the highway, in the city, or the suburbs, you’re bound to see the bright yellow sign.

There are 22 Waffle Houses within the city limits of Atlanta, and I pass by 5 on my way to work (that’s about one per mile). Not overly suprising considering that the original restaurant still exists in the Atlanta suburb of Avondale Estates.

manifest destiny
W.H. on Cheshire Bridge

The menu

Waffle House owns a lot of titles in the food world: top waffle dealer, #1 omelet peddler and largest T-bone pusher in the world. Do Waffle House doors have locks? Maybe you should ask the burgeoning Waffle House fan club, or post your question to And if you have a chance to visit one, don’t forget the rules to the Waffle House drinking game.

Things southern: Scuppernongs

A rare treat I discovered here in Georgia is the Scuppernong, a green grape indigenous to the southern states of America. First discovered by Giovanni de Verrazzano in 1524, these bulbous fruit are a bronze variety of the Muscadine family. They have a thick skin with a texture I’ve never really experienced before; people have evolved different approaches to eating them.

Scuppernong Grapes

I stumbled upon them in the Dekalb Farmers Market in Decatur, which has the largest selection of produce I’ve ever seen assembled in one place. There was a small display of Scuppernongs and Muscadines next to the rest of the grapes, which I wouldn’t have noticed except for two or three shrieks by fellow shoppers when the local grapes were available. I was about to go for the standard Muscadine when a woman picked up two or three of the broze variety and told her friend that the Scuppernongs were riper and sweeter this early in the season. Can’t argue with that.

My friend Zach says that hicks in the south drink Muscadine wine, and are commonly seen foraging by the roadside for fresh ones. Sounds like a likely story, but I can’t seem to find anything on the web about the hillbilly’s affection for this grape. And of course if it’s not on the web, it’s not true.

Please do not feed the homeless

will infest for foodYesterday I received a note from my landlord under my door. Here’s what it said:

August 21, 2003
Blabity Blah Realty
Atlanta, GA 30306

It has come to our attention by the Atlanta Police Department that there has been a recent increase in car break-ins in the zone 6 area. Blabity Blah Realty encourages all residents not to leave valuables either in your trunks or inside your apartment. Car break-ins can happen at any time during the day or night, so please take every caution at all times.

It has also come to our attention that residents are feeding the homeless. Be aware that the more times you offer the homeless food or clothing, it’s more likely they will try making our properties their homes. If you feel the need to help the homeless, please take all of your donations [to] your local homeless shelters. (United Way, American Red Cross, Salvation Army, etc.)

Thank you for your time and understanding about these situations. We enjoy having all of you as residents and will take any actions to help make your stay more enjoyable

Blabity Blah Realty

This message is for real. If you don’t believe me, check the original. I’m going to test my realtor’s logic this weekend and feed the hell out of one of these homless people. And if I’m lucky, he might come back to Boston with me!!

Things southern: Kudzu

As I’m wrapping up my stay here in Atlanta, I thought I would document some of the wonderful and spetacular things that I’ve encountered while in the south.

Kudzu is a plant that was promoted in the 1930’s for erosion control, but has since grown out of control. Drive around South Carolina or Georgia and you will quickly realized that Kudzu is slowly devouring the land. Soon everything here will be covered by a warm, green blanket of this leafy vine. With the capability to grow one foot per day, it doesn’t take long to take over.

Maybe it’s the name, or maybe it’s the beast-like qualities, but in my head somewhere I anthropomorphized Kudzu as a kind of angry giant:



People are really starting to worry… it might be… KUDZU EAT SOUTH!!!

Email and social viruses

squash the stupidityAll day today I’ve been receiving W32/[email protected]-related emails. This is another nasty attachment-based email virus that spreads through the thoughtless clicks of unwitting email readers. I’m not trying to be condescending; I can’t really since I’ve been the victim before. Once upon a time I received an email containing some pictures of an attractive tennis player from an equally famous Media Lab professor, I couldn’t help but wonder what it was all about. I learned my lesson on that one (I ended up infecting my mom, among others).

These email viruses are social viruses, depending on real human networks to propagate. Since they typically come from trusted sources, they have the necessary believability to make users take action. They have decreased in popularity substantially over the past couple of years thanks to the collective browbeating of IT professionals worldwide who have educated us on the topic. Most email users now know not to trust anything that comes from your friends. So how is it that the W32/[email protected] virus is having such success? What differentiates it from it’s former ancestors?

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Low threshold links

get on the link chainSometime around the beginning of this year, I realized that I was encountering way too many sites to write an individual weblog post about each and every one. My threshold for what to post was way to high to catch many of the sites I was laughing at, engaged by, and sending on to my friends. Instead of losing these links thanks to my imperfect brain, I decided like many others to create a separate weblog just for the ephemeral sites that didn’t deserve discussion.

And so my oddments was born.

Ever since, I’ve become obsessed with finding more of them. They’re like crack. The part I love best is that when I’m truly bored, hitting reload in my RSS reader almost always turns up something. And more than anything else, these new lists facilitate the rapid spread of memes across the universe.

Following is a list of my favorite low-threshold link sites, roughly in the order that I discovered them. Send me an email or post a comment with yours and I’ll add you to the list.

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Google underscores filenames

people responsible for GoogleGoogle’s ranking algorithm takes into account much more than just the infamous PageRank. In fact, they claim to use over 100 factors in determining the order of results returned for each query made. The specific features and weightings that go into this calculation are the special sauce that makes Google so wonderful.

One of my jobs recently has been to explain to various branches in the Division of STD Prevention here at the CDC the meaning of their rankings, and how to structure their site to be most effectively indexed by engines like Google. For example, I was posed with the question of why a searches for different STDs show the Division pages at different rankings:

Search for syphilis: #1
Search for herpes: #10

Good question. Why was the CDC winning with syphilis and outranked by Was it because of a commercial interest in herpes treatment? Or perhaps that because herpes is so much more prevalent, there is more competition for providing information? And of course, there is always the possibility that it is related to the quirkiness of Google’s ranking algorithm.

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The medieval church, heresy and memes

infectious looking thingRichard Dawkins is typically cited as the inventor of the concept of the meme (he did coin the term). It is also a well known fact that Dawkins is a staunch athiest. Religion is the prime example he gives to elucidate memes

I find it a little ironic that the conceptualization of ideas as infectious diseases dates back far beyond The Selfish Gene. In fact, one of the first notable observations of this ideology is from the medieval Catholic Church, circa 12th century. Heresy was considered to be an infection of the mind which spread from person to person:

Heresy (from the Latin, secte) meant treason to God, the worst offense against Christian society. Heresy meant contamination — an infection from which true believers had to protect themselves.

It appears that the church knew full well that ideas worked like disease, and perhaps that their own docterine was in competition with the ideas of heretics. And this a full 700 years before the discovery of evolution. I find it mildly ironic that Dawkins would cite the Church as his prime example, but forget to cite their invention of the concept. Lecture 27: Heretics, Heresies and the Church