30 August 2021

Ice Nine and Ice Nine Kills

Ice Nine Kills - Good Things Festival, Australia, 2019


I came across a reference to a band called Ice Nine Kills (abbreviated to INK, and formerly known as Ice Nine) that is an American heavy metal band from Boston known for its horror-inspired lyrics. Formed in 2000 by high school friends Spencer Charnas and Jeremy Schwartz, they started as ska-punk but later became a form of heavy metal.

I don't know much about their music but I do know where they got their name. Their band name is derived from the fictional substance ice-nine from the science fiction novel Cat's Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut.

Cat's Cradle is a satirical novel that I had taught to high school students and that I really enjoy. It was Vonnegut's fourth novel, published in 1963. It is a satire of science, technology, religion, and the nuclear arms race. It is black humor and if funny and scary.

In the novel, the co-creator of the atomic bomb and Nobel laureate physicist who creates for the military ice-nine. It is an alternative structure of water that is solid at room temperature and acts as a seed crystal upon contact with ordinary liquid water, causing that liquid water to instantly transform into more ice-nine. If put into a swimming pool, all the water instantly transforms. If you touched it to your tongue, you become ice-nine.

Things don't end well for the Earth with ice-nine. Read (or listen to) the book.

Besides ice-nine being a fictional solid form of water from Vonnegut, I found via Wikipedia that it shows up in other places besides the novel and the band. 

The most interesting of those is Ice IX which is an actual form of solid water. On the technical side, it turns out there is also ice II, and ice III. In fact, ordinary water ice is known as ice Ih in the Bridgman nomenclature and there are different types of ice, from ice II to ice XVIII that have been created in the laboratory at different temperatures and pressures. Who knew? I hope none of them work like Vonnegut's version!

Ice-nine may also refer to:

25 August 2021

God Bless That Sneeze

Image by Mojpe from Pixabay

In the year 600, Pope Gregory the Great declared “God bless you” to be the correct response to a sneeze. It was once thought that sneezing was an omen of death, since many dying people fell into sneezing fits. 

However, in the Hebrew Talmud sneezing was called “pleasure sent from God."

The Greeks and Romans believed that sneezing was a good omen since you were expelling bad air. They responded to sneezes with “Long may you live!” or “May you enjoy good health.” 

Pope Gregory introduced the response of “God bless you” when the plague was at its height in Europe, hoping that the quick prayer would protect the sneezer from sickness and death. As the plague spread across Europe, the new response spread with it and has survived to this day.

"Gesundheit" is another common response to a sneeze. It comes from German, where it literally means "health." It combines gesund ("healthy") and -heit ("-hood"). Wishing a person good health when they sneezed was traditionally believed to forestall the illness that a sneeze often portends.

17 August 2021


There are a good number of words and names that we just don’t know an origin. One example is the odd word "williwaw."

Williwaw is used to describe a sudden violent gust of cold land air, most common along mountainous coasts of high latitudes. It is also used more generally to mean a sudden violent wind, and figuratively for a violent commotion.

We know that the word was first used by 19th-century British writers who may have picked it up from British sailors and seal hunters. But I also found an origin being Native American origin or invented or adopted by European sailors and fishermen who encountered the fierce winds off North America’s northwest coast and in the Strait of Magellan at the southern tip of South America.

The word is still used today when unsuspecting sailors or pilots encounter these winds that seem to come out of nowhere. 

12 August 2021


Nuva Hiva French Polynesia Marquesas Islands

I wrote a poem called "Beachcombing" after I had read, much to my surprise, that the first appearance of the word “beachcombers” in print was in Herman Melville’s memoir Omoo: A Narrative of Adventures in the South Seas in 1847. 

Melville used the term to describe a population of Europeans who lived in South Pacific islands, “combing” the beach and nearby waters for flotsam, jetsam, or anything else they could use or trade. We use the term in the same way today - though for less serious beachcombing for things like seashells.

That book was a follow-up to the commercial and critical success of his first book, Typee. It continued his tales of South Sea adventure-romances. Omoo is named after the Polynesian term for a rover, or someone who roams from island to island.

Omoo is about the events aboard a South Sea whaling vessel. It is based on Melville’s personal experiences as a crew member on a ship sailing the Pacific. They did recruiting among the natives for sailors. They dealt with deserters and even mutiny.

Melville's first-person account of life as a sailor during the nineteenth century and the exotic locales in Polynesia made the books popular. The two books found much greater success and sales than the later books, including his masterpiece, Moby-Dick.

Typee: A Peep at Polynesian Life was Melville's first book, published in the early part of 1846. Melville was 26 years old. It is itself a minor classic of the travel and adventure genre. From it, Melville became known as the "man who lived among the cannibals."

It is about his time on the island Nuku Hiva in the South Pacific Marquesas Islands. Melville "supplemented" the story with some "imaginative reconstruction" and research from other books, as he did in most of his non-fiction and fiction. "Typee" comes from the valley of Taipivai, once known as Taipei. It was his most popular work during his lifetime.

I am not suggesting that Melville made up his adventures. Many of the events in the book were corroborated by Melville's fellow castaway, Richard Tobias Greene ("Toby") and an affidavit from the ship's captain corroborated that both of them did desert ship on the island in the summer of 1842.

The research is described by Melville as a way to supplement his lack of knowledge beyond his first-hnd experiences about the island culture and language.

09 August 2021

The String Cheese Incident

The String Cheese Incident is one of the more unusual band names. Right upfront, I will say that I haven't found a definitive answer on the name's origin, but there are some interesting theories.

The band started in Crested Butte, Colorado in 1993. They are hard to pin down to one musical genre. They are often called a jam band and their music can be progressive bluegrass, country, neo-psychedelia, or some hybrid. 

In 1993, there was a band in Crested Butte, Colorado briefly called the Blue String Cheese Band, who became the String Cheese Conspiracy for a very short time. Those are supposedly earlier forms of The String Cheese Incident.

Like some other bands, this band does not say how the name came to be. Mystery. My favorite of the origin stories is that they had a run-in with the law enforcement in a traffic stop. They had some magic mushrooms but when questioned about what was in the bag, they claimed it was "string cheese." String cheese (which is mozzarella cheese) and mushrooms don't look at all similar but the story was believed. This became "the string cheese incident."

I also saw online several people who claimed the name comes from a running gag in the comic Calvin and Hobbes. But that has been refuted and the comic had a running joke about a "noodle incident."

The band's gigs became known as "incidents." One of their albums is called Rhythm Of The Road: Volume One, Incident In Atlanta -11.17.00 .

There are no confirmations or refutations on their official website at stringcheeseincident.com

The band has a cultish following that records and shares recordings of all their shows, much like the Phish and Grateful Dead fans.