Sunday, January 30, 2022

Abandonware: An Example of Why Copyright Law Should Be Revised

Over the last week I fell down a nostalgia rabbit hole.

I'm not really sure what prompted it.  I think maybe it was a post like this.

The joke is that the last name "Cooper" is the occupation of making barrels.

This piece of random, possibly useless historical trivia is something I learned from a game called "Carmen San Diego's Great Chase Through Time," and I haven't thought about that game in about 20 years, but I've retained an absolute ton of knowledge from it.  Looking back, I can say with a degree of confidence that it was my favorite "learning game" of my childhood.  A simple click-and-point adventure with a linear plotline, it was something of an interactive TV show that takes the user on a journey through history.

I wanted to play it but discovered, to my disappointment, it's not something easily found.  In fact, it's what's called "abandonware," a term for software that has been functionally given up by the creator and no longer has any type of official support.  Abandonware is similar to the poignant concept of an "orphan work," which is a copyrighted work whose owner is impossible to identify or contact, rendering the work stagnant because there's no one available to grant permission for the work to be rebooted, digitized, or otherwise "borrowed" (with the exception of fair use, of course.)  

 I found this entire situation fascinating: the idea that a work can be created, abandoned, and then, due to its copyright, fossilized into something that functionally ceases to exist and cannot be resurrected.  Particularly with regard to Carmen San Diego's Great Chase Through Time, I found this to be a good example of why copyright law should probably be reformed.  As someone who writes a copious amount of fan fiction, some of which doesn't even suck, I hate the idea of stamping an idea with a big "DO NOT USE" sticker and then letting it languish.

Anyway, I ended up finding several YouTube videos of play-throughs of Carmen San Diego's Great Chase Through Time and watching hours upon hours of someone else playing with the use of an emulator, and wrote up an article about this great little game.

Read my article about this 25-year-old game here!  It's fair use, maybe!

If the goal of the game was, ostensibly, simply to teach kids about history (and not just to make bank), then I feel like this game should absolutely be resurrected and made available.  It has so much merit; it's exactly what an educational game is supposed to be.  It's fun, it's clever, it's chock-full of puns and historical trivia, and perhaps most incredibly, a lot of that trivia stuck with me in adulthood, which shows just how effective the game was at teaching.  It's not just that the game provides knowledge but that it demonstrates how to make a really good learning game, which is a white whale that a lot of software developers still struggle with.

Letting a meritorious piece of work fade away because of a legal complication does a disservice not only to its creators (who gain nothing by letting it die), but to all those who would benefit from exposure to it.

I guess the case I'm making is that everyone should start writing Carmen San Diego fan fiction or something.

Wednesday, January 26, 2022

I accidentally made a green bean casserole that tastes exactly like sausage pizza. Here's the recipe.

I am no great shakes in the kitchen.  I'll say that right now.

But I really like green bean casserole, which is easy to make.

Recently I made it and it turned out GREAT.  I mean, GREAT.  It had an odd similarity to sausage pizza so, before I forget, I'd like to write down the recipe here so that future generations may enjoy it:

1.  To start, you'll need to vaguely remember Campbell's green bean casserole recipe.  Stop!  Don't click on that link.  You remember the recipe well enough probably, so you're ready to rock and roll.  You should have 4 cans of green beans and 2 cans of condensed mushroom soup to start with.

2.  Drain the green beans and mix the green beans and the soup into a standard casserole pan.

3.  Next, realize that you don't have any of the French's fried onions.  Shit.  You're going to have to improvise.  Uhh... goldfish crackers!  Those are crunchy and orange!  Crush up a cup or two of those, mixing it into the pan until it looks vaguely like you think it's suppose to.  (Pro hint: use your index finger and thumb to "pop" each goldfish cracker into crumbs.  This is good stress relief.)

4.  Now for a dash of soy sauce.  Shit, you're out of that, too.  Time to find a substitute.  Balsamic vinegar looks like soy sauce.  Wave the bottle over the pan; you've put in more than a "splash," but that's okay.  Be sure to mix it in!  This will change your mushroom soup base from an unappetizing light tan to an unappetizing slightly darker tan.

5.  Alright.  Seasoning time.  You moved last month and most of your spices are still wrapped in cling wrap.  Now is a good time to pre-heat the oven, since you're struggling to liberate the spices from the cling wrap.  Put it at... 450° F?  Yeah, that sounds about right.

6.  Okay!  You can't find the seasonings you want and you sort of forget what the recipe calls for, though you have a vague notion there's garlic and celery seed, so just grab the one the says "Cajun."  It includes garlic and celery seed.  I checked the label, and here's what's in "Cajun": Salt, paprika, red pepper, thyme, black pepper, celery seed, garlic, and onion.

7.  You should not have learned your lesson from step 4.  Wave the seasoning bottle over the pan like you're Vision trying to measure out a "pinch" of paprika.  Is it over-seasoned now?  Probably!  Well, no time to try and fix it.  Just mix it all up and put it in the oven.

8.  Is it still pre-heating?  Hm.  Well, the dog needs walked, so you might as well do that.  Pop the casserole into the oven; can't hurt to get started!

9.  Okay, you came back from your walk and the oven is at 450.  The casserole inside is bubbling.  You really should have set a timer.

10.  Check on the casserole nervously a few times.  It's still bubbling.  Fish the soup cans out of the recycling to see if there's any warnings about under-cooking it.  Nope, you're good.  Well, as long as this disaster doesn't give anyone salmonella...

11.  When you open the  ̶o̶v̶e̶n̶  furnace you will realize that 450 is definitely way too hot.  Oh, God.  Oh, God! Turn it down to 380!

12.  It's still bubbling.  It's been 20 minutes, maybe?  You have no idea.  You've lost all sense of time while you were peeling oranges for your toddler.  The goldfish crackers will have a brownish singe; you worry you might have burned it.  Turn off the oven and leave the door open so it can cool.

13.  Poke it.  It should be very slightly congealed, enough to hold shape and be cut into squares.  Leave it to cool for 10 or 15 minutes while you despair that it probably sucks.  

14.  Congratulations!  Your disaster casserole is finished and somehow... it actually tastes really good??  Well, butter my ass and call me a biscuit! 

Note: Although this is a joke recipe, it actually really worked.

Sunday, January 16, 2022

I Tried Kava And You Should, Too

Originally written for the Grand Geek Gathering and posted January 12th, 2022.  View here.

 I recently visited a kava bar.  A kava bar is sometimes referred to as a “nakamal,” which is a Vanuatu public house.  I wasn’t in Vanuatu, but Oakland, California, and I had never heard of kava before, which is what MeloMelo Kava Bar serves.

Having tried it, I’m going to make a prediction: Kava is going to be a big new craze in the coming decade.  I’m not the first; in 2018, Rolling Stone made the same prediction.  Alas, they could not have predicted the Covid-19 pandemic, which stalled the growth of a lot of new businesses, and in particular, restaurants and bars.

As a result of the pandemic, 2020 saw a big upswing in both anxiety and alcohol consumption, which in turn prompted a big upswing in “dry” bars and a counterculture of consuming non-alcoholic or alcohol-alternative substances.  Kava is the perfect fit for those who want to experience the fun of a bar without the side effects of alcohol, and for those who are looking for a natural remedy for anxiety.

If you’re seeking a new experience, look no further than kava.  I tried it, and you should too.


(Raw, unprepared kava root.)

So what is kava?

Tl;dr – Kava is an earthy drink that gives you a very gentle euphoric buzz.

Kava has been consumed by humans for millennia.  It’s the root of a plant called Piper methysticum, a relative of black pepper.  This plant is native to islands of the south Pacific.


Kava is a seedless plant that requires human cultivation to propagate.

It goes by many names: yaqona is Fiji, ava in Samoa, and ‘awa in Hawai’i.  There are many varieties.  Kava is the name used on Vanuatu, which is where some believe it originated.  There are over a hundred varieties, which can be roughly categorized into “noble” kava or “tudei” (two-day) kava.

The root of kava is crushed and mixed into a drink that tastes earthy and ashy.  The mild psychoactive ingredients found in kava are called kavalactones. There are 18 different kavalactones in kava, with six being the most important, and every variety has different concentrations and combinations of kavalactones.  In fact, the profile of the six kavalactones acts as a sort of “varietal fingerprint” for each plant.  (Melomelo kava bar, for example, gets its name from the “Melomelo” variety of kava, from Ambae Island.)


Powdered kava root.

Kavalactones are thought to act as GABA agonists and reduce the re-uptake of norepinephrine. (* See correction.)  As expected from a GABA agonist, this results in a calm, sleepy, mildly euphoric effect.

In short, it gets you high.

Kava is not regulated at any state or federal level, which is fascinating, considering it’s psychoactive.


Kava being strained into its drinkable form.

How does it taste and feel?

As I mentioned, Kava has an earthy, ashy, slightly “muddy” taste.  You can mix powdered kava into any drink (don’t do it with alcohol, please!) but traditional kava is simply made with water.  Served in a polished coconut shell called a bilo, it has a murky, brownish-grey color.

Upon swigging it, the first thing I noticed was that my mouth went pleasantly numb.  You know the feeling when you get Novocain at the dentist and, hours later, it’s wearing off with a gradual tingle?  That’s a bit how this felt.  It’s a pins-and-needles feeling that’s soft as opposed to prickly, and I found it enjoyable.


Kava in bilos.

On my first visit, I consumed three drinks, which left me feeling relaxed and friendly.  Everyone’s “tolerance” for kava is different, but as a general rule of thumb, it takes about 20 minutes to feel any effect and that effect lasts maybe two or three hours.  This was my experience.

I have heard it compared to weed, but I am allergic to cannabis (yes, really) so I can’t really tell you how they compare.  I do have a Xanax prescription and have also heard it compared to anti-anxiety medication, but I found it to be far, far milder than any anti-anxiety medication I’ve ever tried.  Certainly, it had the calming effect of anti-anxiety medication, but there was none of the clocked-out grogginess.  I felt perfectly alert and present, just calm.

Unlike alcohol, kava is not addictive and has no risk for overdosing.  After I tried it, I walked home from the kava bar and had a fantastic sleep.  The buzz is the mildest of buzzes; it’s the feeling of going to a really fun party and meeting really cool people you immediately click with.  (At kava bars, everyone “clicks” with everyone else.  Friendliest folks you’ll ever meet.)

It’s no wonder kava has such a long history of ceremonial and social importance.


Traditional kava ceremony in Fiji.

What’s the history?

Kava has an incredible culture that surrounds it.  Kava is the national drink of Fiji.  It’s so important to their culture that it’s featured on their one-cent coin.

In pre-colonial Fiji and Vanuatu, kava was consumed by male priests, chiefs, and elders; the ceremonies were often used to welcome visitors and open up trade between tribes.  Colonizers called the drink “grog,” a term you might have heard in old sailing books and assumed (incorrectly) that it referred to rum.  Nope.  Kava.

The kava-drinking ceremony (called yagona in Fiji) is now a major tourist attraction for the islands and open to more than just male elders.  Participants clap once before drinking the kava, exclaim “bula!”, and clap three times afterwards.  (Bula, pronounced “boolah,” translates literally to “life” and is used as both a greeting and as a way to express a wish for another’s health.  In other words, it’s “L’chaim!” or “Cheers!”)


Women Preparing Kava, by John La Large, 1891.

It’s easy to fall down a rabbit hole when researching kava’s historical importance, and I ended up spending three or four hours reading about it before determining that I simply do not have the expertise required to tell you about kava’s history.

I will direct you instead to Kava: The Pacific Elixir, by Vincent Lebot, or to the Wikipedia page on Kava culture, or to the Kalm with Kava culture page, all of which delve into some of the ways kava shaped, influenced, and impacted various Oceanic cultures.

Learning about something like this made me feel humbled by just how little I knew about Fiji and Vanuatu.  For whatever reason, kava hasn’t yet caught on in Western culture, although it’s getting there, and I did find this ad for it in a 1915 Sears catalogue.

According to Kalm with Kava, there are currently just under 200 kava bars in the United States, and that number is growing.  (It’s nearly doubled since 2018.)

Is Kava safe?  

When people hear the word “psychoactive” they tend to immediately grow concerned (or excited, depending on who it is).  Kava is a suspected GABA agonist, just like alcohol, barbiturates, and benzodiazepines. (* See correction.)

But unlike most drugs, kava is, by all accounts, one of the safest psychoactive things you could possibly consume.

According to a statement by the World Health Organization, ““Kava has had at least a 1500-year history of relatively safe use, with liver side effects never having arisen in the ethnopharmacological data. Clinical trials of kava have not revealed hepatotoxicty as a problem. This has been confirmed by further studies evaluating the toxicology of kava drink. Based on available scientific information it can be inferred that kava as a traditional beverage is safe for human consumption.”


These 6 kavalactones make up 95% of the psychoactive properties of kava, but every variety has a different ratio.

It’s recommended not to combine alcohol and kava, or kava and other psychoactive drugs, because the effects can compound and kavalactones are highly interactive with other drugs.  You definitely shouldn’t drive on it due to the sedative effect.

It’s worth noting that safety applies, specifically, to the “noble” strains of kava.  The tudei kava is more potent, used mostly for ceremonial purposes (as opposed to recreation), and is not exported or legally sold.  If you are getting kava from a kava bar, it’s the safer “noble” strain.  When buying kava, always make sure you know what you’re getting; some processed herbal remedies have additives that are not safe.  (Note that this is true of any drug, herb, vitamin, or supplement; know your source.)


It is rare to see children participate in kava ceremonies, though not unheard of. Generally kava is not recommended for children.

Kava has almost no calories, no hang-over, and no risk of overdose; as mentioned before, it is also not considered addictive.  From my own experience I can say there were zero side effects; when the “high” wears off, there is no residual grogginess or brain fog, as there often is with pharmaceutical anti-anxiety medications.

One mild side effect associated with long-term, heavy kava consumption is a skin condition known as “kava dermopathy” (kani kani in Fiji).  The skin gets dry, scaly, and flaky, especially on the palms of the hands and soles of the feet.  This condition is reversible and, at the kava bar, I met two avid kava consumers who had experienced it and reduced their kava use for a few weeks, reversing it with no ill or lasting effects.  This is not something you need to worry about if you plan to try kava once, or even if you consume it a few times a week.

Where can I try Kava?

I personally recommend that, if you’re anywhere near a kava bar, you go there first.  While you can buy powdered kava on Amazon (as well as pills and tinctures), the experience of drinking it out of a bilo among a group of friendly people, clapping, and shouting “bula!” definitely adds to the enjoyment.  And having it prepared properly by people who can answer your questions about it is also a major benefit.

Kava has been used and is recommended as an alternative aid for anti-anxiety medication and sleeping pills, and as a decided high-strung guy myself, kava worked wonders for me.  I was surprised by its effectiveness and delighted to have found it.

This just goes to show the importance of trying new things and learning about new cultures.  If you’re looking for one to try, I humbly recommend kava, whose history of human consumption and effects on the human body make it a unique avenue to explore.




* Correction (January 15th, 2022):

GABA agonist is one proposed method by which Kavalactones, or Kavain, works, but recent evidence shows that Kavain has no affinity for the GABA receptor.  Rather, it interacts with subunits of the GABA A receptor, which would classify it as a “General Positive Allosteric Modulator,” not a GABA agonist.  In recent experiments, the application of a strong benzo antagonist did not affect the effects of kava, implying further that the psychoactive elements of kava do not work on the benzodiazepine allosteric site, and it is not in the same GABA agonist class of drugs as benzos.


  • Chua, Han Chow, Emilie T. H. Christensen, Kirsten Hoestgaard-Jensen, Leonny Y. Hartiadi, Iqbal Ramzan, Anders A. Jensen, Nathan L. Absalom, and Mary Chebib. 2016. “Kavain, the Major Constituent of the Anxiolytic Kava Extract, Potentiates GABAA Receptors: Functional Characteristics and Molecular Mechanism.” PloS One 11 (6): e0157700.
  • Rowe, A., R. Narlawar, P. W. Groundwater, and I. Ramzan. 2011. “Kavalactone Pharmacophores for Major Cellular Drug Targets.” Mini Reviews in Medicinal Chemistry 11 (1): 79–83.

Friday, January 7, 2022

Umbrella Academy Season 3 Fan Predictions

Nothing to see here, just offering up some of my latest writing.  

In 2022 I'm going to try to get back to a weekly article and I thought I'd start off easy, which is why I'm ringing in the new year with a fan-servicey fluff piece about the fan theories re: the upcoming third season of Umbrella Academy. 

 Check out my article here!