State of the BBotE Address

As the Feb 3rd pre-order slot window draws to a close, almost all the shipments are already out, so I’ve opened slots for the Feb 17th window which you are welcome to jump on. And there’s a new Ambassador for local pick up in Sydney!

On January 28th, the US Postal Service rolled out yet another postage increase. Playing with the postage calculator a bit, it appears that priority mail inside the US has gone up roughly $1-3 per item, depending on how far you are from the Golden Gate. For international mail, however, it’s another story entirely. For the lightest item I send, the BBotE vial sampler pack, international express postage went up by between $5-8. On a positive note, USPS priority mail now includes delivery confirmation as part of the service. So, you win some you lose some.

All that said, despite the some nasty droughts AND floods hitting the major coffee growing regions, the actual price of BBotE will stay the same. However, the availability of certain varieties may become iffy because of the weather. Both the Guatemalan Mundo Nuvo and Nueva Vinas, along with the Rwanda Abakundakawa, all went out of circulation last year because of the small crops and, to be honest, we drank most of it. I have high hopes they’ll be back with this year’s harvest. So far, the Panama and Peru Salkanty are holding strong but every time I go to get more I worry. The Panama was the first of the coffees to run out on me back in 2011 and it took eight months for it to return, and having to tell people “No, you can’t have any” is something that still haunts my soul.

I strongly suspect the fine folks at Death Wish Coffee are sampling their own wares heavily in order to meet demand. In addition to silly bastards like me that order coffee from them 20lbs at a time, the rest of the world has noticed them too. Good job guys!

For Christmas, the wife of the BBotE Ambassador of Chicago asked if I could make something special for Bill. You see, much as he adores BBotE, he felt bad about it detracting from the coffee he consumed from his favorite local roaster, Ipsento (they dwell on Facebook much more though if you want to know more). She wanted to know if I could make a special run of Bill’s favorite, Ipsento’s Panamanian, thus combining both his favorite things. Feeling festive and all, I said sure.

Ipsento’s Panamanian is light roast that upon open opening the bag filled my nose with the smell of blueberries. (FACT: If you want me to eat something, the surest way to to make that happen is to put blueberry sludge on it). While grinding and putting it the coffee into process, the room was filled with blueberries. And, I’m happy to report, as a BBotE it was still blueberries and spice. I have high hopes to make this available to all of you by and by. Announcements will be made when that happens.

EDIT: Test Subject Not A Whale Biologist reminds me that the Ipsento Panamanian coffee, as both BBotE and a hot brew, pairs well with cherry pie, Twin Peaks music, and zombies.

Lastly, but not least, I am pleased to announce that Australia has an BBotE Ambassador again, but this time for Greater Sydney. Robert is a several time victim of BBotE that tends to skip about the harbour fairly often on caffeinated wings, but dwells most of the time in Hornsby. Because Oz Post seems to be staffed with people with noodle arms incapable of lifting weights in excess of 20kg, he is stocked with 750ml bottles which go for US$60 each. You may drop Robert a line by email at BBoTE [at] fumbari [dot].com. Canberra service, hopefully, will be reestablished by and by.

Resupply for Austin went out last week. Resupply for London & Santa Barbara are slated be in their hands by next week. Seattle & Chicago still have decent supplies so I’m told.

I have received a variety of requests asking for new local Ambassadors to be established, or re-established, particularly in the New York/Philadelphia area. At some level, this is a function of my able to produce for them versus everyone who comes to me directly. I don’t want to leave them high and dry in a time of need and more that I want to introduce delay to those direct orders. When new ones go online, rest assured I will tell you here.

Shark Teeth & Whale Tale – Helping the Santa Cruz Museum of Natural History

This is a not-at-all-paid endorsement of the Santa Cruz Museum of Natural History’s Kickstarter project to make a very neat interactive exhibit, one I would have loved as a kid. I say not-at-all-paid because I tend to be the one who buys the drinks when my sister visits.

Wherever you went to school as a kid, there were field trips in elementary school. Now that I’m an adult, I suspect this was so there was time to fumigate the classrooms and disinfect every surface covered in the toxic biofilm of Cooties. Of course, the quality of your field trips was directly proportional to the level of funding your school had. Growing up in the immediate aftermath of post-Prop 13 California, this meant these trips got a lot more local with parents driving since we couldn’t afford to run the buses.

Before the Monterey Bay Aquarium opened, the most popular science field trip destinations for the kids of Santa Cruz County were Shark Tooth Hill (now known as the Randal Morgan Sandhills Preserve) and the Santa Cruz Museum of Natural History, AKA THE PLACE WITH THE WHALE SCULPTURE YOU CAN PLAY ON!!!!! It was, of course, forbidden to climb all over the concrete gray whale model outside the museum but somehow it seemed to attract dozens of second graders just the same. We got yelled at to get off of it, but were back on again within seconds of the Museum Lady turning her back. (NOTE: my sister now holds the role of Museum Lady for today’s kids)

The Museum is small but somehow manages to be a focal point for scientific inquiry for the whole county. Strange rock? People call the museum. Found a skull you think is a dinosaur’s despite the fact that the geology of Santa Cruz didn’t exist in the Mesozoic Era, a fact I totally learned in first grade there? People call the museum. Weird fungus on that tree over there, recording of a bird call you don’t recognize, etc.? I think you get the idea. The answer to your question may be “Umm, please don’t bring roadkill into the museum, unless it’s Bigfoot, TOTALLY BRING THAT IN” but it’s at least somewhere to start asking.

Now, having mentioned the geology of Santa Cruz, most all of what you see is uplifted marine sediments. The drier parts of the county tend to have a lot of exposed sandstone which is why there’s several quarries around. And as any student of paleontology, or sufficiently dinosaur obsessed six year old (e.g. Li’l Phil), can tell you quarries tend to find fossils as they’re doing the most digging. Being marine sediments, the fossils you get reflect that.

Near Scotts Valley, there was an exposed hill face of sandstone that science field trips and cub scouts went to regularly to go play in the sand, particularly after good storms. What were we looking for? Shark teeth. They washed out of the hill with astounding regularity which captivated my imagination as a kid. Even six year old Phil had some grasp of statistics, populations, and the geologic time scale. My first grader math quickly put together a picture of submerged Santa Cruz as a place that was a thronging sea of almost nothing but great white sharks, HUGE sharks, to have caused that many teeth to be in that hill.

Really, it only takes one Megaladon tooth side by side with one from a modern great white to make you stare at the calm ocean surface and never want to get near a boat again.

But other fossils and than shark teeth get found in those hills. There’s plenty of whale skeletons and massive loads of sand dollars, but one of the more interesting ones is the long extinct Dusisiren jordani sea cow (same family as the Steller’s Sea Cow, which fur hunters in the North Pacific hunted to extinction to keep sailors fed). They would like to make a replica of this skeleton for students to practice exhuming this from a sandbox. If you’ve gotten the opportunity to play in an archaeology/paleontology grid, this is precisely what they’d like start teaching kids about in elementary school, except with a sea cow to discover and assemble.

As much fun as I had sliding down those sand hills to the point I abraded holes in the seat of my pants as I kid, I’m not sure I can express what kind of dark pacts I would have made to have a skeleton to assemble. So, go on over to Kickstarter and toss a few bucks at them. Do it for Li’l Phil. Do it for some unnamed mischevious child that’s out there now with a healthy sense of the morbid that has future in forensics.

The Antarctic Musical Tradition (AKA: NYE 2002)

What do people do when they are trapped with no possibility of escape or parole? An Antarctica station is not all that different from an old gulag in this respect; you’re welcome to try to flee, but the surrounding environment will kill you more surely than any guard will. To keep this properly nerdy, let’s have a quick word from the Warden of BEAUTIFUL Rura Penthe!

So, now that you have the proper vision of Antarctica as a frozen prison in your head, the leisure activities of choice are just what you’d expect in modern prison, e.g. weightlifting, art, reading, gambling, and music. As I recall from my tour of Alcatraz, one of the greatest privileges a prisoner could be granted was a musical instrument. Per the Institution Rules & Regulations of Alcatraz (1955):

46. MUSIC RULES: Musical instruments may be purchased if approved by the Associate Warden. Guitars and other stringed instruments may be played in the cellhouse in a QUIET manner only between the hours of 5:30 P.M. and 7:00 P.M. No singing or whistling accompaniments will be tolerated. Any instrument which is played in an unauthorized place, manner, or time will be confiscated and the inmate placed on a disciplinary report. Wind instruments, drums and pianos will be played in the band or Orchestra Rooms on Saturdays, Sundays and Holidays. At no time will you play any wind instrument in the cellhouse. Permission to play instruments in the Band, Orchestra or bathrooms may be granted by the Associate Warden to inmates in good standing. The Band room is a privilege and permission to play there must be requested from the Associate Warden. A limited number of inmates may be allowed to take musical instruments to and from the recreation yard. Permission must first be obtained from the Associate Warden. No inmate on “idle” status or on “report” or restricted will be allowed to use the Band Room, Orchestra Room or to take instruments to the yard. An inmate whose musical privileges have been restricted or revoked shall be removed from all musical lists, and his instrument stored in “A” Block until otherwise authorized by the Associate Warden. No inmate is allowed to give, sell, trade, exchange, gamble, loan or otherwise dispose of his personal or institutional instrument or to receive such from another inmate. Institutional instruments may be loaned to inmates in good standing upon the approval of the Associate Warden. All instruments will be listed on personal property cards. Institutional instruments shall be listed as “On Loan” from the institution, together with the date of the loan and the identification number of the instrument. Surplus parts for musical instruments together with and including extra sets of guitar strings shall be kept in “A” Block. Guitar strings shall be purchased in the regular manner and stored in “A” Block until needed. An old set of strings must be turned in to the cellhouse Officer to draw a new set.

South Pole Station’s rule was a little simpler: “Play it in the Music Room, or play it outside.” Given the choice, most people chose to stick to the small room in the Skylab tower of the Dome. I do know for a fact that at least one person decided that the Ceremonial Pole needed some mindblowing riffs with the Stratocaster and portable amp. Because if you can ROCK at the bottom of the Earth, you can ROCK anywhere.

But every year, people come to Antarctica with disparate musical abilities, some with their instruments. The IT guy from the previous post, arrived at Pole with his banjo and mixing turntable, presciently predicting the musical future eight years later. When you put more than two people and musical instruments together someone decides it’s a good idea to form a band. And, as we all know, the very first thing you do when you form a band is name it. Generally, the bands have US Antarctic Program topical names. A few samplings: NPX (the airport designator for Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station), Clear and Copious (what the urine of a well-hydrated Polie should be), NPQ (“Not Physically Qualified”, justification from the screening period to not go south and/or stay the winter).

These bands were were ephemeral creatures of the Ice, disintegrating as people left the continent. While they were there though, they were an invaluable part of station festivities. Heck, this is been the case since the dawn of exploration when the harmonica quartet was an important part of sanity for Shackleton’s crew. The Scots cannae help but bring the pipes.

But what of the people with no instruments or particular musical talent, which included yours truly?

Such begins our tale on fateful day in early December 2002. Having finished my work in the Cryo Barn, I walked next door to bother my neighbors in the Balloon Shack (Meteorology launched at least two weather balloons a day using the reclaimed helium vent gas from my giant LHe dewars). Nobody was there. Still craving people to bother, I went to the next closest building, the Cargo Shed.

In the Cargo Shed, I found Tony, my favorite meteorologist, shooting the shit with the cargo handlers and eating their stash of cookies. One of the cargo guys, Forrest, had already been messing with his guitar in the Cargo Shed, somewhat to the annoyance of the ladies that were wrangling the manifests. The woman who set the chain of events to come in progress had been listening to her guilty musical pleasure on headphones from her computer as she did data entry. Forrest was lamenting that he didn’t have anyone to play with. We all stated, pretty emphatically, that there were dead penguins in McMurdo with more musical skill than us. It was about then that she got up, Patient Zero forgot she had headphones on and pulled it out of the jack, letting us hear the N Sync she’d been listening to the whole time.

In that moment it was revealed to us what we could do with our complete lack of musical talent: we could form Antarctica’s first lip synching boy band. There was some resistance, at first, to the idea:

Dan: I can’t sing.

Tony: You don’t need to! That the joy of lip synching.

Dan: I don’t think we have enough people.

Me: What are talking about? Five is the scientifically proven ideal boy band size. We even have all the requisite members?

Forrest: What do you mean?

Me: Look, you’re the All American Aryan. He’s the cute one. Dan, you’re the rugged one. Tony…

Tony: Go ahead, say it. I’m gonna hit you anyway.

Me: Tony’s the token minority.

Forrest: Well what are you?

Me: Isn’t it obvious? I’m the bad one. I have the goatee and everything.

And thus it began. First things first, we chose our name, the Antarcticly relevant -98 Degrees (my sister still groans at this name). N Sync’s “Bye, Bye, Bye” was chosen as it was the song that had brought us together. We had a couple weeks of dance practice as even more important than lip synching is your choreography. I’m not gonna say we’d have impressed Paula Abdul, but we managed to not injure each other. But then we had to work one the important bits, like fan base. As proven by the Beatles, New Kids on the Block, One Direction and the immortal Fingerbang, the crowd of screaming ladies for the Garmlich Effect is vital. Luckily, we had plenty of willing accomplices for this, not the least of which being Patient Zero who thought this was the funniest thing ever.

For the grand New Year’s Eve party, the heavy shop garage was cleaned within an inch ofit’s life and turned into a stage, dance floor, and buffet. If I recall correctly, there were two different band and the mixmaster skills of DJ Banjo-IT between. Ending the evening, before the countdown, was -98 Degrees.

As we all gathered in the gym for our final preparations, along with our half dozen screaming fan accomplices, the Rugged and the Cute Ones were getting cold feet. I, wisely, had brought a bottle of Captain Morgan to provide the necessary liquid courage. Between us all, that bottle went away along with and everyone was ready to kick ass. Our accomplices left, our parkas went on, and the light in the garage we brought down.

Emerging from the light of the corridor came five completely parkabound men.

-98 Degrees: Their First & Only Performance of "Bye Bye Bye"

-98 Degrees: Their First & Only Performance of “Bye Bye Bye”

The crowd erupted into shrieks of delight and anticipation. As we walked forward, we hugged the throng on either side of the path to the stage, gave high fives, and signed autographs on body parts. We walked on stage, stood in a line, with hands crossed and heads down. It was dark and quiet, the music began. With the “Hey Heyyyyyy”, we stripped our parkas, threw them to the floor and it was ON.

And that, ladies and gentleman, is one of best displays of how little shame I have. Good luck trying to embarrass me, because I did this and rocked the shit out of it. Thank you and good night!