Monday, May 20, 2013

Jenny Gardiner: Bizarre things you learn on the internet

While my son was training for a marathon over the past few months, I started to notice a strange phenomenon when he returned from his long runs. He'd come into the house and ask me, "Did you just clean or something?"

As if!

Now, anyone who knows me realizes that is a completely ridiculous question to ask. I only clean for company. So obviously that hadn't happened, as we didn't have anyone coming to visit!

After this had happened a few times, I knew there must be some linkage to his distance running. So I went to my old reliable go-to source for knowledge, Google. Sure enough, I typed into my computer, "why do I smell ammonia after a long run?" and Google, via Runners World, told me the answer: because if your body lacks adequate carbohydrates to burn during exercise, it begins to burn proteins, and ammonia is a byproduct of protein metabolism. Your body is actually producing ammonia, which is picked up by your blood and carried to your respiratory system, where you then smell it.

Who knew?

My kids and I have long joked about the bizarre things you can learn on the Internet. Once, late at night on a long drive, we were coming up with stupid questions just to keep me awake, and we decided we simply had to know if spiders experienced flatulence. The answer: not exactly, but sort of. An unsatisfying response at that. Perhaps more entertaining, though, was asking Siri (the iPhone virtual assistant, to this unfamiliar with her) to find that out for us. Siri, the font of all knowledge.

Last week I was making a large batch of granola, only to realize that the Aunt Jemima Lite "syrup" (if you can call it that) in my closet wasn't a satisfactory ingredient: all the recipes called for real maple syrup. Now I'd recently heard in the news a story about a major heist — of maple syrup — due to it's exorbitant price, and realized that the cost of said syrup would preclude my purchasing it to save money while making my own granola instead of buying the expensive stuff already made. But then I remembered, ages ago my mother had sent us one of those odd gifts we never got around to using: a "breakfast" kit, with some sort of flavored waffle mixes and a bottle of — ta-da! — maple syrup, long since relegated to the back of the food pantry. I checked out the bottle, with a veritable antique expiration date stamped on it, and gave up hope on being able to use it. But then, I figured I'd Google it, just in case…And sure enough, I learned from Chowhound that I'm pretty sure I could use maple syrup tapped back in the 1800's, if given the chance. I cracked open the bottle; it was fine, tasted fine, needed not one bit of intervention, and the granola was perfect (although it was likely more perfect because I also used honey from my friend's bees).

We have high-maintenance pets that require all sorts of particular types of foods, but that can also not eat all sorts of particular types of foods or they could die. I am constantly Googling what you can and cannot feed parrots and rabbits, for instance. Thank goodness our dogs and cat can get by with the standard chow. The other day I was happy to see fava beans in Whole Foods finally (a harbinger of spring), and purchased a bunch. I then thought that would be a treat for my parrot. Alas, I learned from those-in-the-know in the bird world that that could've killed her. If you know our surly parrot Graycie, you'd probably have urged me to feed her a bunch, but I simply couldn't do that to the old girl.

Last night I noticed a large brown stain on the stove. Now I've mentioned my cleaning skills aren't exactly the hallmark of my existence, and I am particularly bad at getting cooked-on food off of the cooktop. Invariably I scratch the enamel, which is a bad plan. So as I was failing at Windexing away this large brown burn, I stopped. Let's see what my Google Guru has to say, I thought. Sure enough: a simple paste of baking soda and water worked like a charm. I might even start not loathing cleaning the cooktop. Nah.

A while back we had a large group at our house for dinner in New Year's eve and someone dripped butter on her new silk dress. Now I'd have written that dress off for a goner, stain-wise. But Google knew otherwise. Cornstarch! We rubbed a bit of cornstarch into the stain and it pulled the grease right on out. She was able to head on to another party that night without looking like she'd needed a bib for dinner.

I think the thing that intrigues me the most when I type a question into Google is that someone else has already entered that question. I'm now motivated to come up with bizarre questions that surely no one has contemplated (or at least contemplated into that vast database in the clouds). It's become my obsession to come up with the unasked one. I'd hate to believe there is no more unexplored territory in the world of curiosity, and I'm determined to blaze a trail, Lewis and Clark-style, until that one unknown question materializes. Wish me luck.

Jenny Gardiner is currently an armchair scholar at the University of Google. You can find her at
Sleeping with Ward Cleaver

Slim to None

Winging It: A Memoir of Caring for a Vengeful Parrot Who's Determined to Kill Me

Accidentally on Purpose (written as Erin Delany)

Compromising Positions (written as Erin Delany)

I'm Not the Biggest Bitch in this Relationship (I'm a contributor)

And these shorts:
Idol Worship: A Lost Week with the Weirdos and Wannabes at American Idol Auditions

The Gall of It All: And None of the Three F's Rhymes with Duck

Naked Man On Main Street
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Pat Cochran said...

Google is my good friend! Thus far,
I have received creditable answers
to all my questions.

Pat C.

Jenny Gardiner said...

Yes! It's a dangerous diversion from writing, however ;-)

Lory Lee said...

Haha, my office mate often jokes that if they have problems, they should approach me since Google is my "Best Friend!" :)

Aly said...

That's so weired! You can find anything on the internet :))