Carl Banks' Blog

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Comparing Cooking Appliances to Computer Operating Systems

The range and oven is the Unix of cooking appliances. It is powerful and versatile. It cooks almost anything. But, it's hard to learn and there's a lot to think about. And messing up with a range and oven results in disaster, whereas messing up with other appliances is much more forgiving.

The Foreman Grill is the Mac OS of cooking. It is easy to use, quick, effective, and, most importantly, stylish. However, it's not very versatile: there's a lot of food you can't cook in it at all. Plus, it's highly polarizing: lots of people hate the Foreman Grill just because it's different from what they're used to, though it does more than an adequate job.

The microwave is the Windows of cooking. It's good for thawing and reheating, and very easy to use. However, it's woefully inadequate for real cooking, and unless you're very careful, you are constantly plagued by improper heating. Additionally, there are an awful lot of people who don't know how to cook anything without a microwave, there are a lot of people who think the microwave is the best thing ever invented, and still quite a few who don't even know there are other ways to cook.

The deep fryer is the Plan 9 of cooking: it cooks everything the same way.

The charcoal grill is the Palm OS of cooking. It's not as fast as other cooking. But it's sexy, portable, and works anywhere. The need to carry around the power source is a tad annoying, though.

The open flame is the VxWorks of cooking: it's the absolute minimum you can cook with, and one normally only does it in specially designated areas.

The convection oven is the OS/2 of cooking. It's really a nice appliance that can produce nice meals, but no one seems to have one, and very few have heard of it.

Tags: cooking, operating_systems
Last Edited: 3 June 2006, 7:42 PM
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Why movie scores these days annoy me

It seems to me that more and more directors (especially but not exclusively in high-budget blockbuster-type movies) are using the score to bully you into feeling a certain way, when they should be using the score enhance the mood that the picture and story give you.

For example, to force you to have a "grand" feeling, the director will choose music played by an orchestra, emphasizing the strong instruments (trumpets and timponis), playing fortissimo at a slow tempo and using lots of major fifths; on top of that he'll crank the volume up to 11. It's so loud and forceful that it pretty much makes anything happening on the screen irrelevant. The characters on the screen could be walking down a tunnel to certain death, sleeping, playing in the grass, or having sex, it doesn't matter: you will feel grand because of the score.

You know what, I don't need a fascist director using the score to shove emotion down my throat. You want me to feel a certain way? How about using the story to do that? Use the score to enhance the feeling, not create it.

One movie that really irked me was the recent Narnia film. Take the scene where Lucy finds herself in this magical, serene, snowy land for the first time. Now, if I were choosing the music for this scene, I'd have an empty-souding score using maybe piccolos and chimes, no percussion, and maybe with a violin playing something ominous silently. That would convey curiosity, wonder, serenity, and a bit of danger.

What did Narnia have? A bunch of trumpets playing fortissimo. Yeah, real serene. There was absolutely no reason for any sort of grand feeling at the point in the story. But guess what? That's what the score conveyed: grandness. Guess what else? That's how you actually felt because it was overbearing and it didn't really matter that the picture and story conveyed something totally different.

Another thing: scores are way too cliche. Ever notice how every battle scene these days has a choir singing in 3/4 time? I mean, come on, do something original.

I confess I haven't seen many high-budget blockbusters lately, but I do know that in the past not every blockbuster had obnoxious scores.

A good example I can think of is Back to the Future. That movie knew that not every scene needed a loud, obnoxious score; in fact, the little ring of the chimes when something weird happened was better than any orchestrated piece of music could have done. And where the score did get intense, it was enhancing the intensity of the story. You could turn the sound off and still feel the urgency as Michael J. Fox was rushing to catch the bolt of lightning. The score wasn't creating the excitement.

Lots of successful high-budget movies in the past seemed to get by without fascist scores. Ghostbusters. It had music that was either ominous or light to set the mood, but nothing obnoxious.

Go back further. The Godfather. After Vito got shot, was there some orchestra wailing out a depression-filled dirge when we saw the family grieving? No! It wasn't needed: the camera did more than enough there. The music was sad but not overbearingly sad.

Further still. Casablanca. The night after Ilsa came back, we see Rick upset and drinking. The music? It was just Sam playing If Time Goes By. If Casablanca were made today, it would be depressing wailing song with lots of violas and French horns.

So why does it seem like so many big movies these days have obnoxious scores? I don't know, but I don't like it.

Tags: back_to_the_future, movie_score, narnia
Last Edited: 12 March 2006, 2:28 PM
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It's too bad Mr. T wasn't around when Jesus was born

We'll have to examine the situation at the time of Jesus' birth to explain why it's too bad Mr. T wasn't around then.

Right around Jesus' due date, Mary and Joseph go to Bethlehem for the census so they can be numbered among the house of David, and they get there only to find out the inn lost their reservation, so now they're forced to stay in a stable (or rather, a cave doubling as a stable). While they're there, they give birth to the Messiah, and a new star appears in the sky. So we have this child, laid to rest in Mary's lap, shepherds are watching him, angels are singing to him, people are hasting to bring him laud, etc., etc.

Meanwhile, these wise guys in the East see this new star in the sky and believe that it means a new powerful king has been born. So in a major feat of ass-kissing unparalleled to this day (well, at least until Harriet Myers came onto the scene), they decide they're not going to wait around till he ascends the throne, they're gonna pay him homage now, before the rush. So they get their slaves and harem packed up and on the road to Bethlehem to meet this new infant king. (Well, actually, first they stop in Jerusalem to visit Puppetking Herod: an event that would end up casting serious doubt onto the appropriateness of the label "wise men", but never mind that for now.)

Now, when the wise men finally find the infant king, what do they see? Not some wealthy aristocratic family, but rather these destitute young parents who were sleeping with the animals (not that way, you sicko).

Here's my question: these (dubious) wise men were obviously very wealthy. If you're very wealthy, and really want to pay homage to a newborn king in such a deplorable situation, instead of giving gold, frankincense, and myrrh, how about putting them up in a nice place for the night?

I mean, we all know Bethlehem was inundated with people who wanted to flaunt their "Official Member of the House of David, as recognized by Caesar" certificates, so they could go around holding their head high while saying, "My kid could be the Messiah". But, come on, I'm sure a couple rich wise guys could swing some accommodations in a nice upscale hotel even then.

Balthazar, Caspar, and Melchor need to take a lesson from Mr. T, a true wise man, speaking about Katrina victims: "They didn't want diamond rings or new houses, they just wanted water, and they couldn't get any." I think Mr. T would pity these "wise" fools. Too bad he wasn't around when Jesus was born.

Tags: christmas, jesus, mr_t, wise_men
Last Edited: 11 February 2006, 8:04 AM
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Chia Professor

I admit it: I am not the easiest person to shop for on Christmas. Because of this, it was inevitable that sooner or later, I was going to get a Chia Pet. This Chirstmas, my sister Alexis got me Chia Professor

Here are the results.

As you can see, it worked quite well; Einstein has a full coat of hair.

There are a couple things I hope to improve for the next time, however. The most notable problem is that the watering is uneven. You see, the planter is very porous so that water inside teh planter can osmose to the outside and keep the seeds moist. Unfortunately, very soon after filling, the level in the planter goes down as water seeps out, meaning that the seeds near the top of the planter are not as well watered as the ones at the bottom. This had the effect of giving Einstein a mullet as the seeds began sprouting:

What I plan to do it work out some sort of automatic watering device. Probably nothing complex, maybe just a plastic cup with a small hole in it dripping slowly into the planter, to keep it at a high level. This will also mean I don't have to water it as often.

Second, emptying the drip tray of the planter was a pain. It was kind of flimsy and I had to move Chia Einstein out of the tray to empty it. I will probably concoct some sort of platfrom for Chia Einstein to rest on, with a removable drip tray underneath.

Finally, the seeds took a long time to sprout. I'm guessing the frigid conditions of my apartment didn't help. Therefore, I think I will take the offical Chia Pet advice and use a plastic bag greenhouse to promote sprouting.

Tags: chia_einstein, chia_pet
Last Edited: 28 January 2006, 8:05 AM
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I don't want any freaking tartness in my bottled tea

Note to stupid beverage makers: when I buy a bottle of unsweetened tea with no lemon, I don't want any citric acid put in there for tartness. Ok? If I wanted tartness in my sweetened tea, I'd just get it with lemon.

Let me explain.

Like many people, I like the convenience of bottled drinks, especially for when I'm on the road. And like many people, I like iced tea. And, as it turns out, iced tea is a common bottled beverage. So, one would think that this would be an ideal situation for me: I get a conveniently bottled drink that I like (and has a lot of caffeine).

Unfortunately, the situation is far from ideal.

You see, I find that acidic flavors conflict very inauspiciously with the pleasant natural flavor of tea. In particular, lemon can really overbear the delicate tea flavor, so I very much dislike tea with lemon.

"Ok," you say. "Fine. You don't like lemon in your tea. So why don't you just buy bottled tea with no lemon? I mean, there is bottled tea with no lemon on the shelves. Right?"

Yes. Unfortunately, every single freaking bottled tea manufacturer that I know of adds citric acid to their tea. Why? Get this: it's for "tartness."

Now, maybe I'm missing something, but wouldn't people who want tartness in their tea just get tea with lemon? Isn't the whole point of not putting lemon in the tea because you don't want tartness? What purpose does omitting the lemon serve when you're going tartness right back in?

What bugs me about this is every single manufacturer seems to think that "tartness" is a required element of tea, and that they are "helpfully" enhancing it by adding the citric acid. Well, they're not. All they're doing is making a half-assed lemon tea.

Fortunately, there is a reasonably palatable solution: Trade Winds. Trade Winds does add citric acid to its sweet tea; however, two things make the tartness rather mild. First, it appears to use somewhat less citric acid than other bottled teas. Second, the tea flavor is much bolder and less prone to being overpowered by the acidity (evidently this is due to its kettle brewing).

Still, I'd prefer a completely untart Trade Winds, or any bottled tea completely untart for that matter.

Tags: bottled_tea, citric_acid, lemon, rant, tea, tradewinds
Last Edited: 22 January 2006, 11:21 AM
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A New Political Spectrum

The liberal-conservative spectrum we are accustomed to is a gross simplification and distortion. Labeling someone as "liberal" or "conservative" often obscures the true political views of someone. This is true of any one-dimensional measure of political opinion, of course. But it seems that there could be an alternative to the liberal-conservative political spectrum: one that more accurately reflects what people consider important.

I believe I have found such a spectrum: the evil-stupid spectrum.


It is a simple fact that a politician must lie to get elected, with very few exceptions. Why, you ask? Because for every truth, there is always a lie that sounds better. I suppose it's possible a truth-teller can defy the odds and win an election occasionally. But one can only defy odds for so long. Eventually, the truth-teller will run against a skilled liar, and will then have to lie or lose the election.

Now, to lie to the public, you either have to be intentionally dishonest (i.e., evil), or naive enough to believe the truth of what you are saying (i.e., stupid). That's where the evil-stupid spectrum comes in: it determines whether a candidate is mendacious or naive. (If I wanted to be more precise, I could call it the mendacious-naive spectrum, but I am not interested in political correctness here.)

Evidence of the usefulness of the evil-stupid spectrum

I say the evil-stupid spectrum more closely represents what people, unconciously, consider important. As evidence of this, I invite you to consider the Presidents of the United States over the last century:

President Party Evil/Stupid
Theodore Roosevelt Republican Stupid
William Howard Taft Republican Stupid
Woodrow Wilson Democrat Stupid
Warren Harding Republican Stupid
Calvin Coolidge Republican Stupid
Herbert Hoover Republican Stupid
Franklin D. Roosevelt Democrat Evil
Harry Truman Democrat Evil
Dwight D. Eisenhower Republican Evil
John F. Kennedy Democrat Evil
Lyndon Johnson Democrat Evil
Richard Nixon Republican Evil
Gerald Ford Republican Stupid
Jimmy Carter Democrat Stupid
Ronald Reagan Republican Stupid
George Bush Republican Stupid
Bill Clinton Democrat Stupid
George W. Bush Republican Stupid

You will notice that, although the public fluctuated freely between Republican and Democrat, the choice of evil or stupid has been more consistent. That should tell you that this evil-stupid spectrum is more aligned with the national conciousness. It forms a definite pattern in the Presidents of the last century, while the liberal-conservative political spectrum yields no rhyme or reason to the selection.

How does evil-stupid correlate with liberal-conservative?

The only question left is how does the evil-stupid spectrum correlate to the liberal-conservative spectrum? It seems that most conservatives tend to be stupid, whereas liberals tend to be evil, but that's only a tendency. A look at the above table will confirm that there were more stupid Republicans and evil Democrats.

In fact, the Presidents that I am not so certain about the evil/stupid status of, namely Wilson, Eisenhower, and Clinton, are opposite of this tendency.

Nevertheless, there are very evil conservatives and very stupid liberals, and it seems that when voters "cross over," they do it (unconciously) because of evil-stupid sympathies.

Update April 30, 2011

Barrack Obama, while he was campaigning, I originally placed in the Evil category. After having experienced two years of his presidency, I'm now putting him squarely in the Stupid category. (In fact, I've jokingly called him Barrack W. Obama several times....)

As you can see from the chart, after decades of Stupid, America seems poised to enter a phase of Evil Presidents. This leads me to believe that Obama is likely to lose the next election. There are at least three notable Republicans exploring presidental runs who are squarely in the Evil category (Donald Trump, Newt Gingrich, and the very Evil Rick Santorum).

Tags: evil, political_spectrum, politics, president, stupid
Last Edited: 24 September 2005, 10:26 PM
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Phase Portraits

These are some phase portraits I've made for a homework assignment. (A phase portrait is a graph showing the trajectories of a system.) Anyways, the different basins of attraction were to be color coded. I decided to use GIMP to do the color coding in a more creative way.


Duffing's Equation, α<0

Duffing's Equation, α>0
Tags: duffings_equation, phase_portrait
Last Edited: 24 September 2005, 10:26 PM
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My theory on what Tom Bombadil is

Tom Bombadil is one of the most enigmatic characters in J. R. R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings. Many have speculated on the true nature of Tom Bombadil. Although their explanations have their strong and weak points, none are truly convincing. I believe, however, that most speculators have been too narrow in their thinking; a true, convincing explanation of Tom Bombadil depends on one considering the history of Middle Earth in its proper context.

Most theories about Bombadil's nature are based on large part on the ancient Elvish folklore published in The Silmarillion. But The Silmarillion is mythology. To be sure, The Silmarillion is more factual than a typical mythology, seeing that many eyewitnesses of the events in it remained alive in Middle Earth through the War of the Ring. Nevertheless, it is a mythology: and we cannot trust its literal truth.

The literal truth of The Silmarillion is most doubtful in the stories of the Valar, for The Silmarillion is a tale written by Elves, yet many stories concerning the Valar predated their existence. Stories of the early wars between the Valar and Melkor (before the First Awakening) are dubious, as are stories of the origins of the Sun, the Moon, and the stars. Such stories, which explain the existence of things hard to explain, are always dubious in mythology. Other stories, such as the story of the two trees, Telperion and Laurelin, how Orcs came to be, and Earendil's voyage, are likely exaggerated.

Furthermore, even if we accept that the Valar simply told the Elves what happened before they were born, we can't expect the natural beings like the Elves to be able to comprehend the methods of supernatural beings like the Valar. Most likely, the stories of the Valar are metaphorical, rather than literal, accounts.

The point of this, as it relates to Bombadil, is that the early stories of Middle Earth are often very doubtful, and may only contain metaphorical truths. Yet, many of the beings Bombadil is theorized to be (Valar, Maiar, Iluvatar) are explained fully only in The Silmarillion.

Furthermore, many theories try to place Bombadil in the context of early Earth, as described in The Silmarillion, to justify themselves. (For example, a theory might place Bombadil on Earth while the Valar lived on the Isle of Almaren, in order to claim that Bombadil is himself a Vala. This, even though the very existence of Almaren is questionable.) Such theories are flawed, because they accept the literal reality of the tales.

The key to explaining what Bombadil is to not take The Silmarillion too literally. Instead, we consider the Earth in its context as we know it today.

The following passage is the most significant clue about Tom's nature. This is his answer to Frodo's question, "Master, who are you?" (LOTR 129):

Eldest, that's what I am. Mark my words, my friends: Tom was here before the river and the trees; Tom remembers the first raindrop and the first acorn. He made paths before the Big People, and saw the little People arriving. He was here before the Kings and the graves and the Barrow-wights. When the Elves passed westward, Tom was here already, before the seas were bent. He knew the dark under the stars when it was fearless - before the Dark Lord came from Outside.

One interesting thing Tom says is that he remembers the first raindrop; this means Tom actually predates the world in its current form. Almost all life on Earth needs water; therefore, we assume Tom predates life as well, at least life on land. Tom implies this when he says he remembers the first acorn. Also, he claims he was there before the river; was he there before the ocean, too?

Bombadil also calls himself the "Eldest." He was not the only person to do this: in the Council of Elrond, Glorfindel calls him the "First" (LOTR 259). Why do these High Elves call Bombadil the "First," when many of whom supposedly dwelled in the Far West, along with the Valar who were supposed to be the first? It is clear that the Elves believe Bombadil was on the Earth since it's earliest days, even before the Valar lived on the Earth, and even before the Earth was in the form it is today.

The Ainulandale, although myth, provides more evidence of this, if we accept the chronology of the world's formation that it describes. Iluvatar, speaking to Ulmo before the Ainur entered the world, says to him, "Behold rather the height and glory of the clouds, and the everchanging mist; and listen to the fall of rain upon the Earth!" (Silm 19). As we said, Bombadil claims he saw the first raindrop; therefore, if the chronology in Ainulandale is accurate, Bombadil was on the Earth before the Valar.

But what, exactly, is the "Earth"? Previous theorists have automatically accepted the account of the Earth in The Silmarillion, i.e., that it was created flat, that Melkor messed everything up so the Valar moved to the Uttermost West, and that Eru bent the flat Earth into a round sphere when the Numenorians attacked Aman.

However, as my theory treats The Silmarillion as mythology, it cannot do that. Consider the different perspectives of the Elves and us. To the Elves, the Earth was the whole Universe. To us, the Earth is a small planet in an unimaginably vast space. Elves often use the Earth to refer to the everything that exists, because, to the Elves, the Earth was everything. We, however, have to distinguish what sense the Elves referred to the Earth in: did they mean "this big hunk of rock we walk on" or "everything that exists; the whole Universe"? Accordingly, when the Elves speak of the Early Days of Earth ("the Springtime of Arda"), do they mean the early days of the big hunk of rock we walk on, or the early days of the universe?

My theory is, when the Elves called Bombadil the "First," and when Bombadil calls himself the "Eldest," they mean he is the first and eldest in existence. The Elves might have no idea that existence could predate the Earth, but when they say "Bombadil is the First," the mean Bombadil is the First, i.e., the first to exist anywhere. Bombadil, on his part, might never mention the days before Earth existed, so as not to confuse anyone.

So, if this is true, it means that Tom existed from the Universe's early days. In this case, it becomes clear what Bombadil is. There is only one good explanation: Tom Bombadil is the Dark Matter making up 90% of the mass of the Universe.

If the Powers are the Valar (after all, "vala" means "power" in High Elvish), and the Beautiful Ones are the Maiar, then Bombadil would be called a Morerma (or better yet, The Morerma, as there is certainly only one of him).

I suppose you're thinking, "How can Tom Bombadil himself make up 90% of the mass of the universe? Wouldn't his gravitational pull instantly swallow the whole galaxy?" Well, obviously, he's not all of the Dark Matter. In fact, his body might not actually consist of Dark Matter, although considering his foot speed, there's a good chance that it does. It is clear, however, that Bombadil is associated with the Dark Matter.

Exactly what the association is can't be answered. Perhaps Bombadil is the Dark Matter, or maybe the Dark Matter is Bombadil? Perhaps the Dark Matter is the real Being, and Bombadil is just his Earthly raiment. Or, maybe Tom Bombadil is the Master of the Dark Matter. We can't be certain; but we do know that the same spirit that rests in Bombadil also rests in the Dark Matter; they are parts of the same being.

At the right is a picture of the cosmic background radiation; essentially this is a panoramic view of the Universe in its earliest stages. This image shows Bombadil hard at work, as he brings about the formation of the Universe's first macroscopic structures. These formations eventually led to the condensation of the universe, which in turn allowed the formation of stars and planets.

This photograph shows Tom Bombadil obstructing an edge view of a galaxy. Many models predict the presence of Dark Matter on the rims of galaxies. Much as on Middle Earth, Bombadil is faster than the fast: the Dark Matter orbits the galactic core faster than the stars inside. (And lest you think I need to brush up on my orbital mechanics, let me say your objection is almost certainly wrong. Surely you mean to point out that objects further from the center of gravity orbit slower? Well, not in this case. Because the galaxy is densely populated with stars, gravity cancels out close to the center. Therefore, stars near the center orbit slower than the Dark Matter on the outside. Indeed, Bombadil's feet are faster.)

Anyways, this is just a theory, but a theory I feel is more convincing than current theories because it is based in fact, not mythology. It's not cop-out like those "nature spirit" or "non-Vala, non-Maia Ainu" theories, because it explains the very nature of Tom Bombadil and his purpose.

Works Cited

[LOTR]Tolkien, J. R. R. The Lord of the Rings. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1993
[Silm]Tolkien, J. R. R. The Silmarillion. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2001
1 comment:
Sandi wrote: Recent thoughts on his origin...but I think he's the nature spirit of simply life. He said that he was there before the first raindrop and there before the first acorn. Life began in the form of archaebacteria before both of those occurrences. He has no side in the war, because things that are essences of himself are on both sides. The ring has no effect on him, because he only exists in his little world, ruling only himself. To me, all the pieces just click. So while your "dark matter" theory is pretty cool and well researched, I'm just throwing mine out here.

Microburst: June 8, 2003

On June 8, 2003, a microburst fell upon my house in Oakmont, Pennsylvania. Here are some photographs of the damage.

An apple tree uprooted near my driveway. This is after it had been trimmed a little.

Another apple tree that fell near my car. (The Ford Probe in the picture, by the way, was incapacitated by a microburst of a different sort, namely my sister.)

This image shows the two uprooted apple trees. A third apple tree, between the other two, remains standing. On the right, you can see a large part of another tree where it fell. About 1/3 of that tree is still there, though.

Here are two rickety old chestnut trees that somehow survived the microburst. Behind them is one of the uprooted apple trees, and a large chestnut branch.

Opposite side of the house. You can see a telephone pole through a clearing in the right side. Normally, you can see the whole road from this vantage point, underneath the foliage of the trees. However, there are so many downed branches, it blocks the view.

From the front porch. At least you can see the road from here, but there are numerous branches scattered about the yard.

This is a view of a maple tree in the front yard. On the right, there is a very large downed maple branch which used to be the top of the tree. (It's further away than it appears.)

Another view of the maple. Numerous scattered branches.

Here's a view of the great oak tree from the road (near the mentioned telephone pole). Numerous scattered branches.

This is the vantage point as above, panned to the right. The two hosers are the people we hired to remove the downed foliage.

A window view of the uprooted apple tree that fell near my car. Note that the car's hood doesn't shut properly, thanks to my sister.

A downed mulberry bush in the backyard.

Tags: microburst, oakmont
Last Edited: 24 September 2005, 12:43 PM
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My Dotfiles

Here is a listing of some of my personal Unix configuration files. (This is here not only to share my geekiness, but so that I can access my geekiness on a computer away from home.)

NOTE: As of 6/1/2016 I no longer use Emacs. Thank God. Emacs init file left as a reference so I don't forget how bad it became.

Tags: bash, dotfiles, emacs, openbox
Last Edited: 23 September 2005, 11:31 PM
1 comment:
Bob wrote: I've been using emacs (nox) since at least 1989, and no other editor. It is reassuring that others (like you) find the same minor annoyances. For example, over the more recent years, I simply ignored that first menu line "File Edit ..." I have never ever used that menu, and in fact, I don't even know how to access it. It is just background noise, or perhaps I thought it was simply artwork to make it look like and old Mac. Thanks.
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