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What counts as significant change? How do you know who you're supposed to buy presents for? Is it weird to let someone know you're thinking of them? And more!

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[Dear Hank and John intro music plays]

Hank: Hello, and welcome to Dear Hank and John

Alex: Or as a like to call it, "Dear Alex and Hank."

Hank: It's a comedy podcast where two brothers, and sometime a special guest, like today Alex Goldman of Reply All answer your questions, give you dubious advice, and bring you all the week's news from both Mars and AFC Wimbledon. How are you, Alex? 

Alex: I am great! I'm great, thank you for asking. 

Hank: Yeah, good! So Alex, you do a podcast. It's on the podcast places. All of them! 

Alex: Every single one of them.

Hank: And it's very popular and very good and interesting. It's called Reply All and I really appreciate you hanging out with me here on Dear Hank and John. I assume now that I will have to be a guest on Reply All where I will talk about my obsession with, I don't know, like, early internet animutations? 

Alex: What is an animutation?

Hank: Uh, "all your base are belong to us," that stuff? I don't know. What -

Alex: Yes, yes, you -

Hank: What? Did you ask what an animutation is? 

Alex: Yes.

Hank: [gasps] 

Alex: [laughing nervously] Oh no. 

Hank: How could I know something about the internet that you don't know? 

Alex: What is it? 

Hank: So, you remember there were like, these Flash animations that were done back in the day. Like Very Low Sodium, and Neil Cicierega and -

Alex: Yes, yeah.

Hank: Like, they did one for Yatta, you know these things. You know what I'm talking about. 

Alex: Mmhmm.

Hank: So I just, I loved that, and I love that those things have had an impact on the modern internet that no one understands. So the sort of, like, wave of influence is so far past being influenced by that -

Alex: One of the things that's nice in -

Hank: But like, it's still there. It's still hidden inside of the subculture of the internet. 

Alex: One of the things that's nice about the internet that doesn't feel the same way in the larger culture is that the internet is still relatively young enough that, you know, you can sort of see the butterfly wings fluttering and watch the massive change that came from that thing. Like, you can trace a lot of things back to their origins in a very interesting way. 

Hank: Mmhmm. Mmhmm, that's totally true. Yeah, and makes your podcast very interesting. So I love to watch and see it. If you ever - I would definitely want Neil Cicierega to be part of a story on Reply All some day because he's just had so many different things that are - like, people know about them but they don't know that he's the person that made them. 

Alex: He's like an internet polymath. He has done -

Hank: Yeah.

Alex: He has had many lives on the internet. All of them sort of uniquely weird. Every time he does something, I'm just like, "this is so creative."

Hank: Yeah.

Alex: Like, how do you not run out of these?

Hank: Right. Well, I mean, you just - yeah, you just got to keep making things. I'll tell you about my favorite Neil Cicierega project after the podcast because it's a little bit blue. So I feel like I can't bring it up right now. But we usually do - we answer questions from our listeners, so we're going to do that. Unless you have a short poem for us.

Alex: I do have a short poem for you! 

Hank: Oh my gosh! Okay. 

Alex: I wanted to throw some shine to a friend of mine, her name's Marissa Crawford. She's a poet in New York City and I have known her since college, and her poems are frequently about the sort of weird feelings that people have as teenagers about love and life and friends, and so I grabbed one from one of her books, and I am going to read it to you now. 

Hank: Okay.

Alex: It is untitled. It goes like this. "Carrie used to draw the anarchy symbol everywhere. But Janie said if there was anarchy that that would mean that killers like Charles Manson would be running free to attack and murder our mothers. There was this thing that happened when Carrie moved away. At first we talked a lot and wrote letters, but then missing each other got too hard and we became comfortably numb. We used our lunch money to buy a bag of purple Skittles and a bag of Chex Mix from the vending machine and then saved the rest for if Pink Floyd ever got back together." The end. 

Hank: [laughs] Oh yeah! That's my kind of poem, Alex. It's just - yeah. That didn't turn my brain off. I have this problem where poetry turns my brain off because it's not structured like normal speech. But that worked. That worked for me.

Alex: Yeah, I have a hard time with poetry too. It's nice that the one friend I have who decided to actually become a poet writes poetry that actually connects with the way that I experience the world.

Hank: [laughs] Yeah, just the narratively, not like - just like, functionally. 

Alex: Yeah.

Hank: Not any kind of, like, - yeah, not in terms of the metaphor or the subject matter, but I just can't do it! It's so weird! I - yeah. Just talk like a normal person, poets! I apologize, poets. Talk whichever way you want to and I will endeavor to change my brain and not make you change yours. 

Alex: No judgments, poets. You're doing fine. 

Hank: I did remember a moment when I was drawing an anarchy symbol in high school and somebody was like, "what kind of anarchy do you believe in?" And I was like, "oh man, that is way above my pay grade!" 

Alex: That feels like a very tough question.

Hank: I'm not - like, I haven't read books by these people. I'm just drawing the anarchy symbol. Let's be honest.

Alex: I believe in the kind of anarchy that lets me draw this cool symbol with impunity. 

Hank: Yeah, I believe in the kind of anarchy where I don't have to, like, go to school all the time.

Alex: You know what real anarchy is? Not learning the ins and outs of what anarchy actually is. 

Hank: [laughs] A plus. Alright, we've got some questions from our listener. 

 Question 1 (6:06)

Hank: I'm going to start with this one from Cameron, who asks, "Dear Hank and Alex, as a senior in high school, I have been applying to many scholarships and universities and one consistent thread in application essays is 'how have you significantly grown and changed over the last four years?' In a time in my life that is incredibly stressful and everybody's changing, what do you think counts as significant change? Is this change dependent on personality or events? What would each of you consider significant changes you have undergone in the last four years? Not an African country, just a person, Cameron." So not Cameroon. Okay. Do you have a - so I do want to admit that as a 37 year old person, I have not changed as much as I did between the ages of 14 and 18. But I have changed! I do have - I have changed significantly. And mostly that has to do with my professional life and also I got a baby. So that's probably -

Alex: Right, I also had a kid in the past couple years.

Hank: - different from your significant changes. Yeah.

Alex: That's what I was going to say, yeah. 

Hank: So that would be my big one.

Alex: I had a kid. But from 14 to 18 everything changes. 

Alex and Hank together: Right? 

Hank: Yes. Yeah. Be like, "I have a bunch of new feelings. For people and things." And, I mean, I think that what they're looking for is that you are interacting with the world in a rich way. And so, like, I think that you cannot go wrong on a college admissions essay by saying, "I used to thing that things were simple, and now I see that they are complex." 

Alex: Not only that, but like, between - when I was 14 I was just trying to survive. I didn't have an idea about how the world worked, and I didn't care to have one. But by the time I was 18 I developed like, a value system. 

Hank: Right.

Alex: Not a coherent one, necessarily. But -

Hank: Anarchy! 

Alex: My value system was about how cool it was to draw the anarchy symbol. But I do think that you come to understand what it means to be valuable to someone or to value someone over that period of time. 

Hank: Mmhmm. Mmhmm. 

Alex: And that's like a huge change!

Hank: Yeah, it's pretty remarkable, that shift. And this happened especially late for me, of like, accepting that my parents were people and that I needed to treat them like humans. 

Alex: Right. Right. That happened -

Hank: Like, something as simple as that. But also you find that in your peers, you find that other people valuing you and you find the joy in that, and the terror of wondering whether or not that's a real thing or an imagined thing, or not seeing it happen when it is happening because we're so good at ignoring people actually caring about us. Yeah, I think that - no funny answers here, I think this is legit a great thing to always be thinking about is like, how am I different now than I was last year? How am I growing and how am I doing a better job of imagining the world and myself and other people. 

Alex: I have never had that thought, and now I'm wondering how little I've grown over the past 30 plus years. 

Hank: [laughs] I apologize. 

 Question 2 (9:37)

Alex: "Dear Alex and Hank, I recently brought a college friend home for Thanksgiving because he didn't have anywhere else to go. During these three days with my family, he was very rude toward some of my family members and they all kind of hate him now."

Hank: [laughing] Okay.

Alex: "I used to like spending time with him, but now all I can think about is how rude he was to my family."

Hank: Oh god.

Alex: "I want to bring it up, but I don't know how, and I hate confrontation. I kind of just want to stop communication with him all together -"

Hank: Oh, man. 

Alex: "- because I don't even know if I want to be friends with him anymore. I'm confused, what should I do? Not the American Idol judge, Paula." 

Hank: Wait a second. Paula, do you think that Paula Abdul is just an American Idol judge and that's what she's famous for? 

Alex: Yeah, she's definitely famous for Straight Up. Or I guess, you know what, she's actually famous for that one with the animated cat. Opposites Attract.

Hank: Yeah. Opposites Attract. Like, that's a fascinating world that I live in now where some people think that Paula Abdul is just an American Idol judge. Like that's the thing - because I've never seen that show, and I didn't even know that Paula Abdul was an American Idol judge, I just assume that that's who you mean. 

Alex: I didn't either until - I assumed that you knew and that's why you said it. 

Hank: Quickly Googling! Paula, American Idol. It must be! Yeah. Paula Abdul. Singer songwriter Paula Abdul. 

Alex: Okay.

Hank: Married to Brad Beckerman from 1996 to 1998, and Emilio Estevez from 1992 to 1994! 

Alex: You didn't know that? 

Hank: No! Wow! My goodness.

Alex: Yeah. She married the repo man. 

Hank: Well apparently - [laughs] apparently Straight Up is actually her biggest hit, so you were right the first time. According to Google anyway. So. I know what I would do in this situation. Alex Goldman, do you want to hear my bad strategy for dealing with this?

Alex: Go for it. 

Hank: So I - like, I do not suggest that you do this. I would write this person an email and I would be like, "here's why the relationship has deteriorated between you and I, and I will outline to you in this short bulleted list the mistakes that you made." And it would be very awkward, and I would only do it because in my deep-seated heart I would believe that I was helping them, but I probably wouldn't actually be. 

Alex: Yeah, that's bad advice, Hank. [laughs] Sorry. 

Hank: [laughing] Well I'm glad that we're on the same page, that the thing that I would do is not the right thing to do. 

Alex: I can tell you what I would probably do, which is I would probably ghost the person. Which is also bad advice. 

Hank: I mean, is it? People get ghosted. And for less bad things than being a jerk to your family repeatedly. 

Alex: Right but, - I guess the thing in this email that makes me feel like ghosting might be okay is that Paula describes this person as a college friend -

Hank: Right.

Alex: Not like a close friend, a best friend, the closest she comes is "I used to like spending time - I used to like spending time with him." 

Hank: Mmhmm. Right. It does not appear that you - it kind of feels a little bit like, "maybe we could take our friendship to the next level," and then you found out that you couldn't, and that wasn't going to happen. Like, not like the next level like we're going to hook up, but like, if you're going to go from acquaintances to good friends, by having this together time at Thanksgiving and that didn't work out. And so now you're just acquaintances forever. 

Alex: I will say though, that bringing someone home with you for Thanksgiving presupposes a certain amount of closeness, doesn't it? 

Hank: I mean, yes and no. I actually was in a very similar situation to this one time where I ended up going to my friend's, like, lake house because I was going to be left at school alone and so they took me to the lake house and we went - like, I held on to his hips while he jet-skied, you know, and that's like, physical closeness and then it was like, we did not resonate on a friend level and we never hung out after that. 

Alex: Right.

Hank: We were like - I ended up getting dragged along and spending all this time and being like, "well, that didn't work out." And like, you're into stuff that I'm not into, was more what it was. Like, he was driving 95 miles an hour on the interstate and I was like, "slow down!"

Alex: So this is like -

Hank: I don't want to jet-ski anymore!

Alex: So this is like when you go on a date, when you go on a couple dates and then you're like, "let's take a weekend away." And when you actually spend a weekend with the person you're like, "bah, this is awful." 

Hank: [laughs] Yeah. Yeah! And I think it's okay. Like, I do - deep down I want to know what was the root of this, like maybe this person was feeling really uncomfortable or judged or was having a real bad day because they had to spend Thanksgiving with strangers but like, also, ehhh if you don't want to hang out with them, you don't have to be friends with people you don't want to be friends with. 

Alex: Right. At the same time, if this person does want to salvage the relationship, I think that they need to say something. 

Hank: Yeah, you could do that. You could be like, "what was up with that?" 

Alex: That's the -

Hank: That's very hard.

Alex: That's exactly what I was going to say. The way you do it is you say, "did you notice maybe that you were being a little rude to my family?" And then if they're like, "what are you talking about?" be like, "well, here are six examples of the - when you threw a turkey leg at my grandmother." 

Hank: Yeah.

Alex: "Maybe you could - like why would that have happened?" And sometimes people will say, like, "I don't know, I was just really uncomfortable, and I liked them but I didn't know how to talk to them, blah blah blah." And like, you can come to some kind of understanding. 

Hank: Mmhmm. Absolutely. And do go into it with some not harsh but specific examples. Because I often will enter into a conversation where I'm like, "you need to stop acting this way." And people are like, "what do you mean?" And I'm like, "I don't know, you just do things!" And then it's aaaaaaah, I should have had my recorder out and recorded you when you said that mean thing. I don't know. I can't remember now.

Alex: Right. 

Hank: But yeah, if somebody got hit with a turkey leg, you've got to bring that up. 

Alex: Yeah, so our advice I guess is, ghost them if you don't care, -

Hank: Mmhmm.

Alex: Confront them if you do.

 Question 3 (16:22)

Hank: Alright, our next question - Austen asks, "Dear Hank and Alex, I live in Minnesota where we tend to have long, dark winters." I live in Montana! It's the same here. "While snow is wonderful and I actually really do like winter, all that darkness can be hard on your mental health. One of the things I've always found makes me feel better is a crackling fire in a fireplace or a lit candle or two. There's something so cheery about having a little flame flickering inside when it's dark out. Lot's of folks in Minnesota are descended from Scandinavian immigrants and I found a couple of years ago that there's this word in Norwegian and Danish to describe this cozy inside with fire feeling, hygge." Or whatever - however that's pronounced. "So, here's my question. Is there a scientific or psychological reason that candles and fires in a fireplace raise our morale. Like the author, not the city, Austen." Was like last year the year of hygge? Because I heard about this a lot last year and I feel like I'm still hearing - like my wife just came home with two different, like, hygge specific cookbooks. 

Alex: This is literally the first time I've ever seen this word. So last year was not the year of whatever the hell that word is. 

Hank: [laughing] Where do you live? You live in New York City? 

Alex: I mean, I live in New Jersey, I work in New York City. 

Hank: Okay. Okay. Yeah, I just feel like coziness is probably not a huge part of the culture of New York where, you know, it gets cold and dreary, but also people are like, I don't know, I just don't picture people in the big city like, cuddling up and spending time with their hot chocolate and their cat. You guys got stuff to do! 

Alex: Yeah, that's not a big New York City thing. I did grow up in Michigan. We did have that vibe there. So.

Hank: Yeah. I've been working on a video for a while - so I grew up in Florida and then I moved to Montana - there's a pretty big climate difference there. And so like, I've adjusted very well to living in a cold place but I just - my assistant moved from Florida to Montana and she's like, "I do not understand how you do this." And so I want to like, basically, for her but also everyone, like, "how do you live in a cold place?" And pieces of advice. And one of them is like, this - I think the word cozy is pretty good at describing this, where you have blankets around and you light a candle if you don't have a fireplace and you have - it's dark and you sort of lean in. What I've heard about hygge is that it's sort of like - I'm sure that I'm pronouncing this so well! It's sort of that except with friends. So there's sort of a social element to it -

Alex: Oh! Okay.

Hank: - where it's sort of like, everybody gets together and we're all going to like, put on blankets and like, chat. And have hot drinks. And that's a lovely thing! Like, I do like that. And I don't know if - I'm not going to say that there's a psychological or scientific thing here, but what I will say is there are definitely - when you end up in a situation, there are ways to frame it positively and ways to frame it negatively, and I think that if you surround yourself with ways to frame a situation positively, even if it's not super positive, like the Sun went down and it's 3:30 in the afternoon, that you can find ways to sort of form that into something that's nice. And that is just based on culture, and it's based on you, and it's based on your brain chemistry - it's based on a lot of things. But just trying to figure out the puzzle pieces to fit together to make something nice when it wouldn't necessarily be automatically nice -

Alex: Right.

Hank: - I think is like, I'm making the thumbs up gesture right now, and I think that coziness and maybe coziness with friends are really good ways to do that. 

Alex: I'm of the opinion that the only reasons for Winter are sledding and coziness. Like, sledding and a lot of blankets. You know how, like -

Hank: How - when was the last time you went sledding, Alex Goldman? 

Alex: Uh, well, I have a two year old. So I dragged him around in a sled last year. My hope is that -

Hank: Okay.

Alex: This year he'll be three.

Hank: I didn't say when was the last time you took someone sledding. When was the last time you put your butt on a sled and went down a hill? 

Alex: It was actually -

Hank: Because I did this when I was 35 years old and I discovered that my body is different now! I did not feel good the next day! Like, hard to get off of the bed. 

Alex: It was actually a couple years ago. It wasn't that long ago. 

Hank: Ah, yeah. I did not realize that sledding was a physical activity until I did it as a middle-aged man. 

Alex: I mean, a huge part of it is slamming yourself into the snow as you launch yourself downhill.

Hank: Oh, yeah! Just, bam! Bam! Bam! Bam! 

Alex: Right.

Hank: I mean, we have pretty intense sledding hills, as you might imagine in Missoula.

Alex: Yeah. Yeah, yeah. 

Hank: So it was - yeah. My back hurts just thinking about it. But! Very fun. I agree. Sledding is a high quality activity. 

Alex: But you know those like, weighted blankets that are supposed to improve your emotional state. There's like sort of -

Hank: Mmhmm. Yeah. 

Alex: I mean, that's just what being cozy is. You just toss a bunch of blankets on yourself. And then you feel -

Hank: Yeah.

Alex: - nice and like you're wearing a giant lead baby bib. It's great. 

Hank: [laughs] It's like - I mean, I remember going and getting x-rays and loving the feeling of them putting those lead things on you. 

Alex: Yeah.

Hank: So like, that's a weird thing that you brought up, but I do - like I love it when somebody puts a big leaded baby apron on me. 

Alex: [laughing] I have to give credit to - there is a Twitter user named Leyon - his twitter handle is @leyon -

Hank: Mmhmm.

Alex: - and he has a tweet in which he is chanting "heavy baby bib" and then the dentist comes and puts the lead apron on and then he calms down. And the image is so funny. I imagine someone in a dentist's office going, "heavy baby bib! Heavy baby bib!" So, much respect to Leyon. 

Hank: [laughs] That's good. That's good. 

Alex: Uh - I think we answered that one. Right? 

Hank: Yeah, I got as close as I was going to get. 

Alex: My only other hypothesis is that maybe we're like moths and we just like to run around in circles near lights and flames. 

Hank: Chanting, "heavy baby bib!" 

 Question 4 (23:06)

Alex: [laughs] Alright, here we go. "Dear Alex and Hank, I just started college and I've made some new friends, but now I have a problem. Am I supposed to get them Christmas presents? I mean -"

Hank: [groaning] Oh god! 

Alex: " - I've only known them a few months. So how long are you supposed to be friends with someone before you start buying each other Christmas presents? How do you know who you're supposed to buy presents for? I really need some dubious advice. Presents and problems, Laura." I have very strong feelings about this one.

Hank: I have a - Oh do you? 'Cause I have a suggestion, but I do not have strong feelings. So hit me with your strong feelings and then I'll hit you with my suggestion. 

Alex: When I was in college, at my best I was making minimum wage. Like, I had no money.

Hank: Mmhmm. Mmhmm. 

Alex: I had a meal plan, so I wasn't wanting for food. 

Hank: Yeah, Poptarts. Yeah.

Alex: But you shouldn't buy anybody Christmas presents when you're in college. If anything you should, like, make them Christmas presents. I mean -

Hank: Mmhmm.

Alex: I'm old enough that when I was in college it was like, mix CDs and things like that. But -

Hank: Right, right. 

Alex: But no one's going to get mad -

Hank: No! 

Alex: - if you don't get them a Christmas present. 

Hank: No. Here's my suggestion. If you feel like maybe there would be a level of appreciation that would be inferred by other people, like, "oh, this person is valuing me" if you gave them a present, then give them one of the following items. Candy. Something from the Dollar Store. That's it. Just like - and like a card that's made out of printer paper where you folded it in half and you said "Merry Christmas, here's some candy." Because I think that there's like - I think receiving a gift is a separate thing from the gift itself. And so it doesn't matter if you spent 25 cents on this gift. The fact that you are just doing it is okay, is like, A plus. Like no - here's - yes. Piece of printer paper, Merry Christmas, open it up, on the inside, scotch taped, is a quarter. Boom. Perfect Christmas presents for your college friends. 

Alex: That's actually really good. A quarter is really good. That feels like something that your parents would do, so it feels like, if you're homesick that feels really nice. 

Hank: Yeah, yeah.

Alex: When I first started dating my wife, I didn't - I was a terrible gift giver. I was just like, oh -

Hank: Did she reform you? Are you better now? 

Alex: She did! You know, she was like, "listen, you like to get me things that are like, expensive and electronic and blah blah blah," and she's like, "I don't really want those, there's nothing to them.

Hank: Mmhmm. 

Alex: "They're just, they're like tchotchkes that are great, and I'm sure very useful, but if you're getting me a gift I want you to get me a gift because it's something that you think I would really love." 

Hank: Mmmhmm.

Alex: So now it's like, you know. Like, she would value - she had a much better reaction to getting like a plank that she could put a book on in the bathtub than she did to like, an iPod. 

Hank: [laughs] Yeah.

Alex: And that is a valuable lesson I think. 

Hank: I thought about you and not only did I get you this thing but I also installed it. Look - or had it installed, as the case may be. Yeah, I actually got - for Christmas Katherine's going to get a thing that I will have installed, and she won't even know that she got this Christmas present until she opens the right door and she'll be like, "oh, that's convenient! That's nice. That's better than the way it was before. And that's what your 20th year of being together is like. I noticed that you were annoyed by something and I fixed it! 

Alex: Right.

Hank: You're less annoyed now! 

Alex: Right.

Hank: I was paying attention to you. And that's what we all want, is just to be valued. 

Alex: Anyway, you are under no obligation to get your friends Christmas presents. 

Hank: No! God no. Like, a coloring book and some crayons. Like, if you spend more than five dollars on anybody's present you are actually making the situation worse. 

Alex: Yeah, you're making it weird. Right.

Hank: Because then they're going to feel like they need to buy stuff and then it gets - yeah.

Alex: You know what would be the best Christmas present? This is something that I would want if I were in college. If you somehow have access to a part of the campus that I am not supposed to be on, take me to that part. That is a good Christmas present. 

Hank: [laughing] Take me to the bell tower! 

Alex: If you have access to a lab full of spiders, take me to that room.

Hank: Sure, yeah. Show me the weird natural history museum that's a working museum and not a public one. Yes. 

 Question 5 (27:55)

Hank: This next question comes from Don who asks, "Dear Hank and Alex, my question is simple. Does any light from other stars reach earth and remain visible to our eyes on the ground? So of course the light is visible to our eyes because we look at them and we see them, but does it hit the ground? Is my shadow less dark because of the light from other suns filling in the darkness? Can I get a slight three point lighting setup or like, 100 thousand million point lighting in this case, if I simply stand in the correct spot on Earth at the right time of day / night? I'm not a duck, Don." What do you think? What do you think, Alex, about stars? Do you know about this subject? 

Alex: No, man. I'm making a confession - this is a Dear Alex and Hank exclusive. I am so bad at mathematics and astronomy that the only way I made it out of my astronomy class was cheating on one test. 

Hank: Oh man.

Alex: Yeah. It's been 20 years. I think it's okay. I think the statute of limitations has run out. I don't think they're going to revoke my diploma. But I'm very, very bad at science. 

Hank: [laughing] Alright, well, so Don - the answer to your question is simply that yes, there is starlight and on a moonless night if you are in the middle of nowhere and there is no source of light, there is still light because of stars. And it will still be like each individual star is casting its individual shadow, but there will be no shadows because there's a dome of them, and so they're casting in every direction. Which is really cool, and you can detect that light and there is actually a weird thing where if the universe was infinitely large and infinitely old there would be so much starlight that would have reached us that the sky would actually just be the color of the Sun. And the brightness of the Sun.

Alex: Whoah. Really?

Hank: And the only reason it's dark and black is because even though we think that the universe is likely just sort of an infiniteness of stars, that light hasn't had time to get to us yet. 

Alex: Huh. So at some point if the universe is infinite there will be no nighttime and no daytime, just sort of this blinding white brightness?

Hank: Well, to be clear, the universe will never be infinitely old. So that is a supposition of a thing that cannot occur. 

Alex: Right.

Hank: But yeah, if it was or if the speed of light were instantaneous and all of the light from infinite field of stars all had already reached us - there's a MinutePhysics video about this called "Why is the Sky Dark at Night?" which will explain all of that, and it's very good and it has video parts. And it is only three minutes long. Even though it's MinutePhysics. It's three minute physics.

Alex: Gotcha.

Hank: So. Yeah, weird! Starlight is a thing. And in fact, people have even tried to create solar panels that are sensitive enough that they can generate electricity from starlight, which they can do, but it is more useful for detecting very faint amounts of light than it is for actually producing electricity. It's just sort of a way to say like, "this is a very sensitive solar panel."

Alex: Oh. Okay, well, this is more than I - I've learned more about astronomy in these last two minutes than I have in many years. So, thank you. 

Hank: Oh, good. 

 Question 6 (31:52)

Alex: Alright. "Dear Alex and Hank, I am an American. I recently moved to Germany. In an attempt to find my bearings in my new city, almost everything reminds me of people I knew in the US. Sometimes I'm reminded of old friends or ex boyfriends I've lost touch with. Is it ever okay to reach out to someone just to say hi? Is it weird to let someone know you are thinking of them? Or is it nice? I don't know what I want out of the interaction, I think I just want to connect to people. Would everyone be better off if I focused on making new friends? For better or wurst," as in, like, bratwurst, -

Hank: [laughing] Bratwurst.

Alex: "Tessa." 

Hank: Uh, okay, yeah, no, it's normal to reach out to old friends! I don't know about ex boyfriends, because like, I don't know if they're going to be like, "so what does this mean? What does this mean? Does this - what?" Like there might be some amount of - I don't know how you left it with them? But yeah! I like it when my old friends reach out to me and they're like, "hey! How ya doin, now? I'm good. I live in Germany. I eat lots of German food and hang out with German people. That's weird." Not that - does anybody think that's weird? 

Alex: I feel like this question says old friends but it's more geared toward the ex boyfriends thing. Like, I think that, like -

Hank: [laughing] Yeah, 'cause it's definitely not weird with old friends. 

Alex: Yeah.

Hank: But it might be a little weird with ex boyfriends. Yeah, I think that that is a good piece of intuition, Alex. 

Alex: I think that it is only weird - okay this is going to sound, this is a tautology, but I'm going to say it anyway - it's weird if it's weird! Like, if you had a bad parting relationship with that person, then yes, it's super weird. Or -

Hank: Right, like if you broke up with them and they were like, "I would like to keep this going," and you were like, "no." And then you reach out and you're like, "hey, I live in Germany now! How are you doing?" They're going to be like, "okay, well I got a chance with Tessa now, so lets put my entire life on hold and I'm going to move to Germany." 

Alex: But I don't - I mean, I'm friends with exes. It's okay to be friends with exes. 

Hank: Mmhmm. Yeah. 

Alex: And sometimes it's nice to feel like you have an anchor when you are totally unmoored and sort of lost in another country. It feels - it's tough.

Hank: Yeah.

Alex: To move to another city, to say nothing of another country. 

Hank: Mmhmm.

Alex: So if it's not weird, I say do it. At the same time, you would be better off if you focused on making new friends, Tessa. 

Hank: And yet I have no advice on how to make new friends as an American in Germany, because I have not done that. 

Alex: I think that I don't have enough information to totally say, but if you speak German, I would say if you have a hobby or something and there's like a meetup for it, you should go do that. 

Hank: Mmhmm. 

Alex: I loved radio when I was in college and my first semester of college I was like, lonely and desperate, and I was like, "maybe I should drop out and move home," and I cried every day, and one time someone asked me how I was doing at the food co-op and I started to cry because I was doing so badly. Like, it was just - I was miserable the whole time and I almost didn't come back. And -

Hank: Mmhmm. 

Alex: - the semester I returned, I just got involved at the radio station. I didn't have a radio show, I was just a volunteer there which meant I would do stuff like cataloguing records and things like that. And I met everyone I knew at college through the radio station. 

Hank: Mmhmm.

Alex: It's - just go find something that you like to do and go do it. That doesn't mean that you shouldn't talk to your friends back home. I'm sure that even people who haven't heard from you in a long time care about you and want to hear from you.

Hank: Absolutely.

Alex: But I know what it's like to be in a situation that feels isolating and alone, and I'm sorry, Tessa, that you're there, and I hope that you're doing okay. 

Hank: Thanks, Alex!

 Question 7 (36:05)

Hank: This next question comes from Tori, who asks, "Dear Hank and Alex, why are all of my pencils number 2? What does this mean? Are all of my number 1 and 3 pencils languishing in some drawer, lost and alone? Shouldn't all my pencils be number 1? Are they not worthy of praise and adoration? Who in the world uses number 1 and number 3 pencils? Why are they not allowed to be used on standardized tests? How far does this number system go? Are there number 10 pencils? Is this a Ticonderoga conspiracy? I hope I'm not the only one confused. Looking for my number 1 pencil, Tori of the land of Ticonderoga." Do they have Ticonderoga pencils in other countries or are people going to be really confused by that? 

Alex: Uh, I don't know. I have no idea! 

Hank: In any case, Ticonderoga is a pencil company in America. And it's also a place. I assume that Ticonderoga pencils are made in Ticonderoga. Which is a wonderful word, now that I've said it a bunch of towns.

Alex: Yeah -

Hank: Towns? Times. 

Alex: Ticonderoga is a nice word. There's a place in Los Angeles called Cahuenga Pass -

Hank: Mmhmm.

Alex: That's also a word I love saying over and over again. Cahuenga is a lot of fun to say.

Hank: Yeah, Cahuenga. [laughs] Yeah, I did some research on number 3 pencils, but before I get there - yeah! That is confusing, because they don't show up in normal life. But there is a difference. There is a thing here that is being indicated by the numbers on your pencils. And it is the hardness of their lead. Or their graphite.

Alex: Wait, why do I need to know how hard the lead is? Does that affect how it looks?  

Hank: It does. So the harder the pencil lead the softer the line. So a number one pencil has the softest of the leads before it just starts to be crumbly and that graphite will make a darker line and the pencil will wear more quickly. And number one pencils are used by professionals who are really into their pencils having really dark marks. 

Alex: Mmmmmm. 

Hank: Number 2 pencils wear less quickly but they still have relatively dark marks, whereas number 3 and 4, and I don't know how high it goes, but those pencils are so hard that they might not be dark enough to make the Scantron sheets read the pencil. 

Alex: So the reason that we use number 2 pencils is because they show up on Scantrons. And last a while. 

Hank: Yeah, they're a good mix between - yeah. Those two things. 

Alex: Uh, I'm looking - I just googled number 8 pencils. 

Hank: [laughs]

Alex: And it looks like they exist!

Hank: Really? I'd like to try a number 8 pencil. That sounds like it would be a very, very hard lead. 

Alex: "Faber Castell pencils since 1761. The graphite pencil Castell 9000, 8B. A genuinely classic pencil, was launched by Count Alexander Castell in 1905. Its quality and finely graduated degrees of hardness have made it a firm favorite with artists and illustrators. Its lead fully bonded with the wood surrounding. It is therefore particularly break resistant. And it's available in 16 different degrees of hardness!"

Hank: [laughs] Nice! 

Alex: It goes from - Hm. It now gets confusing to me because there are letters after it, so there's like a 4B -

Hank: Mmhmm. Who knows what those letters are, yeah.

Alex: 4H. 

Hank: Oh my gosh. I mean, people get really into their writing implements. I have had conversations with people that I did not want to be in that went on for a very long time about pens and I was just like, "man, my relationship with pens is I take them from hotels." And that's my pen now.

Alex: [laughs] Yes, me too. Me too. I'm like, an incessant doodler, but I'm not a good artist, so I don't have like a predilection toward fancy pens. I just grab whatever's - 

Hank: Right. Yeah, that's the thing, that's the thing to know is that a lot of pencils, like, you go to an art supply store and there's pencils, and every thought you can have about what a pencil might be capable of, they have more thoughts. Because pencils, when they're being used for art, are - there are a number of different things that can be done there. 

 Sponsors (40:46)

Hank: Which is why this podcast is brought to you by all of the pencils. It's - you've got a number 4B. You want that? Yes! You want a number 10A? Yeah, we've got that too! Every pencil, available probably at your art store but definitely in Ticonderoga, where apparently pencils come from. 

Alex: This podcast is also brought to you by starlight! 

Hank: Ah!

Alex: It's not just from the Sun anymore! And if the universe gets sufficiently old, it'll be everywhere! 

Hank: It'll be everywhere and probably all life on Earth will be fried. This podcast is also brought to you by jet skiing with a not-very-close acquaintance. Awkward! 

Alex: [laughs] This episode is also brought to you by the heavy baby bib. It's so comfortable. Just lay down. We'll place it over you, and then, you know, you might get your teeth drilled, you might sit in front of a crackling fire. Who can say? 

Hank: [laughs] Alright this podcast is also brought to you actually by Storyblocks. Storyblocks is a service that is on the internet and gets you access to a large gigantic library of video, audio, and picture stuff. Right now they have a triple bundle going on where for a year you can pay 149 dollars and get all three of those things where usually they are 149 dollars a year each. Storyblocks is an extremely useful tool for people who make content, and it used to be very, very difficult to get footage or audio clips or pictures to use in your content that you would then be using properly and not stealing from an artist, and those artists would be compensated for the work that they were doing, and now Storyblocks does that. It connects people who want to make stuff with people who have already made it so that you can make your stuff better with the stuff that people have made, and those people will get paid for it and it's good. Storyblocks has two different ways that you can get content. There's the membership content which will be available to anybody who pays and then there's stuff that is available that you'll have to pay extra for, and those are the marketplace things, and that money goes directly to the person who created it. And Storyblocks is a useful thing and those a-la-carte marketplace things range in value from like 4 bucks to like 50 bucks. We at our production company use Storyblocks in order to make our content better and do it inexpensively, and we very much appreciate them supporting this podcast. And also supporting sort of the creative community on the internet, making us better and not stealing and also getting more good stuff made in the world. Thank you Storyblocks! If you want to check out Storyblocks you can go to That will help us out. And there you can find the triple bundle where you'll get all of their things that usually cost 150 each, but just 150 for all three of them. So thank you to Storyblocks. 

 Question 8 (43:56)

Hank: Alright, lets do one more question before we get to the new from Mars and AFC Wimbledon. I assume that you brought some news from AFC Wimbledon. 

Alex: Oh yeah, you know it. 

Hank: Okay, good. Alright, hit me with that last question. 

Alex: This says - this is from Paige. It says, "Hello Brothers, - " I'm going to assume she knew that I was going to be on the show and just thinks of us as having a fraternal relationship.

Hank: Mmm. 

Alex: "Hello Brothers, I have a short range radio device that you can plug in to your phone."

Hank: Mmmm!

Alex: It's supposed to be used as an alternate if your car doesn't have an aux cord. I've been using it to prank my friends for a few weeks now." [laughing]

Hank: This is good. 

Alex: "I've had it play some bits of your podcast and more recently I made it play cryptic messages. My friends are super spooked and still totally oblivious. Any ideas for next steps in the prank? Do I play more cryptic messages, other things, any advice is greatly appreciated."

Hank: Oh my god. Oh, and sign-off, "Turn the, Paige." We do name-specific sign-offs here at Dear Hank and John if you hadn't caught on, Alex. This is great.

Alex: This is wonderful.

Hank: This is very good. I think that this - like, I am often iffy on pranks, because I think that they can be - and be careful that you're not freaking your friends out too much! But I like this. I have a similar - I had a long-running similar prank where I would - so my laptop, I named it, like, it asks you to put your name in when you have your laptop -

Alex: Mmhmm.

Hank: And I put jut like a random name in that was not mine, just 'cause I didn't care. And then I found that that meant that when I Airdropped people it came from a name that was not my name and then I found that a lot of people in my office had their Airdrop open, so I would just sent them weird things -

Alex: That's nice.

Hank: - and they would accept them and they would be like, "who-" so finally I let everyone - it came out that it was me who had been doing it and I was like, "what did you think?" And they were like, "I thought, honestly that there was a guy who would, like, drive by our office and Airdrop us files." And I was like "yeah, I guess!" Like Airdrop you like, E.T. in a coat! Yeah, that was just a guy, like, just, yeah.

Alex: Back in the early days of wifi there used to be people who would drive around neighborhoods and try and hack into other people's wifi networks.

Hank: Mmhmm. Yeah.

Alex: They called it "war driving" because it was similar to the way that Matthew Broderick's character in War Games would just dial every number until he got -

Hank: Right.

Alex: - until he connected to someone. And what they were imagining is someone who was just war driving your office. I imagine someone parked in your parking lot in the corner, just being like, "ah, I can't wait to send them a weird image!" [laughs]

Hank: [laughing] Yes, "I'm totally gonna get 'em today!" Ah, yeah, so maybe -

Alex: This is amazing, and I love it.

Hank: - maybe you can name your computer and like, have a thing that's playing and then have the image show up that's related to it later that day and you airdrop them a file that is related to the weird podcast that you're playing or the weird podcast you're creating from ghosts. Weird ghost podcast. Like that.

Alex: See, I always feel like, if you have the opportunity to do this, it shouldn't just be random bits and pieces of weirdness. I feel like you should come up with a narrative that is plausibly disembodied voices coming out of the short-range radio and then play those. Like play - come up with some kind of story. 

Hank: Right, well the thing I don't want to do its have it just be like, weird ghosts. So you want, I think that there should be more to it, like there should be a person who's stuck in the radio station or who has become a radio like a person who's got like a transporter accident in Star Trek instead, like they got shocked at the radio station, something funny and cute that's not just like - no screaming or like, "this is how I died" stuff. 

Alex: Yeah, okay! I like that.

Hank: This is how I got converted into a radio broadcast. 

Alex: This reminds of in Gremlins 2 when one of the gremlins is turned into electricity. 

Hank: [laughs] Well, I forgot about that! Yeah, like that! 

Alex: How could you forget about that? 

Hank: [laughs] I don't know. Like that. Do that. Except maybe it is a gremlin. Maybe you just start making weird gremliny noises. I -

Alex: Yeah.

Hank: I mean, I kind of want to leave this in your hands. Don't be too mean. But definitely keep it going. 

Alex: Paige, I think that just by virtue of the fact that you came up with this prank in the first place, I have total faith that you are going to come up with a great -

Hank: Mmhmm.

Alex: - great prank to play on them. So -

Hank: Right, and I don't - my only contribution is maybe if you can work in Airdrop so that it's happening in multiple media simultaneously -

Alex: That is a good idea.

Hank: - they can be like, "okay, this is real weird now. This is real weird. It's happening."

Alex: If you can figure out how to project something on to the tv, then you get the trifecta. 

Hank: Oh yeah, and then it's all happening at once! 

Alex: [laughs] Good luck, Paige. 

Hank: You can like, have a scavenger hunt, and at the end of the scavenger hunt they get a piece of printer paper folded in half and it says "Merry Christmas" and there's a quarter inside. 

Alex: There's a quarter taped to the inside. That is a good idea. 

Hank: Oh, yeah. It was all worth it. You got that quarter. 

 News from Mars and AFC Wimbledon (50:13)

Hank: Alright, Alex. New from AFC Wimbledon. 

Alex: "AFC Wimbledon Shot Down by the Wizardry of Oz."

Hank: Oh no, that doesn't sound good. 

Alex: "Former Dulwich Hamlet playmaker nets twice." 

Hank: [laughing] So far so good. 

Alex: There is a former Dulwich Hamlet midfielder named Erhun Oztumer, who I assume they call "Oz" and he's capable of performing wizardry.

Hank: Mmhmm.

Alex: "And he proved that it is skill, not size that wins matches as AFC Wimbledon paid the price for early missed chances." So what I've learned about him so far is that he is skillful but small, used to hang out with something called "Dulwich Hamlet", and people call him "Oz." He scored a "scorching free kick" and "a very rare error by keeper George Long on Saturday gifted him the ball 30 yards out." Um. So, it was 2 - 0 against AFC Wimbledon, I'm sorry to say, because of how great - let me get his name again - because of how great Erhun Oztumer is. I hope I'm pronouncing his name right. 

Hank: Seems unlikely, but that is life. That is the life of AFC Wimbledon news as far as I can tell. Especially British towns. Who knows? Who knows? But it sounds like AFC Wimbledon lost a game. 

Alex: AFC Wimbledon lost a game to someone who used to be part of the Dulwich Hamlet.

Hank: Yes. 

Alex: I do love - I do love the names of towns in England.

Hank: There's something weird about it! Like it makes - like, it resonates with my ancestral memory. Because I am like - I did 23 and me and I'm very British - Irish. Which is not surprising considering all the people who I know are my family, and yeah. I look at the names of the subway stations and I'm like, "this is different," because all these words are based on my language, whereas in America, words are based on like, every language. We've got like, lots of Spanish words and lots of Native American words and lots of - we've got some, you know, York. We've got New York happening up there, but I grew up in Florida where most of- yeah. It's just, yeah. And out here in Montana, like, Montana is a Spanish word. But there's something interesting where it's like, "that is working with some part of my linguistic brain in a cool way." 

Alex: Interesting. Yeah, I don't have this feeling at all. I have no relationship.

Hank: You just like - you just like the words?

Alex: Yeah. It just feels like it's a bunch of old English words that are strung together. They're like, "Dunwich Shopfordshire Main on Cordon-stron-ton."

Hank: Yeah. Mmhmm.

Alex: Also, what I'm noticing here is that AFC Wimbledon- I don't know if some of the seats in the - some of the seats apparently, in their - this might be old news for your listeners. Some of the seats in their arena are named for a company called ChemFlow so you can buy terraced tickets for the RyGas stand, or the ChemFlow end. 

Hank: [laughs] Yeah!

Alex: It seems as though you can buy tickets for a certain part of that called "ChemFlow."

Hank: Yeah, well that different companies sponsor different areas of the stadium and so then you know which area you're buying the ticket in. And like, they get their -

Alex: I never want to sit in a place called ChemFlow.

Hank: It does not sound like the place that I - the end I would choose, if I had the opportunity.

Alex: [laughs] It's cheap though.

Hank: So the news for people who care about this - I just looked up the League One table and AFC Wimbledon is in 20th of 24 which means that they are one spot out of being last - or out of being in the relegation zone I think is what it's called. So they are not - they are hanging on by the skin of their teeth and they need to win some football games. This is as good as I can do in terms of how to analyze the-

Alex: Well, they need to learn that it's skill, not size -

Hank: Right.

Alex: - as the wizardry of Oz taught them. 

Hank: The wizard - yes. Whoever that person is. The news from Mars - so as - so, two pieces of things. One, you may have heard about this weird asteroid that we think was maybe really skinny and long, but that seems very unlikely, so maybe it just had a weird coloration and we could only see the skinny, long part of it and the rest of it was very dark, but it was very weird and it was an object from outside of our solar system and it came flying through our solar system. It's the first time we've ever detected an object from outside of our solar system. It is of course a thing that happens, but we're getting better at detecting objects like that now because we're kind of on the lookout for meteorites that might hit Earth - doing a better job of that. Which is great. Good job.

Alex: How are we able - how are we able to know that it's from another solar system? 

Hank: So, its trajectory is hyperbolic. So almost all of the stuff in our solar system, its trajectory comes - you can see the orbit. And the orbit might not be a circle. In fact, very often there are these huge long looping things where it comes into the inner solar system and it goes way out, but eventually it's going to come back. And this object came in at a speed and a trajectory - so it came in not in the plane of the solar system. So, our solar system is like a plate, and it came in from up instead of from side to side. And then it came in, went extremely fast, looped around the Sun, and then went right back out. So it had way too much kinetic energy for it to have been from here. It's not like - sometimes this will happen when two objects interact and one grabs a bunch of its kinetic energy through a gravity interaction and then it will get enough energy to slingshot out of the solar system, but this was way too fast for that. So it's definitely from elsewhere. And so, we won't ever know anything more about this object, because it was going too fast, and we took readings at its closest point, and now it's way farther away and will continue getting farther away, but the question is, could we have - like if we had, some time in the future, would there have actually been a possibility to actually chase something like this down, and be like, well, we're not going to get a chance to observe another solar system anytime soon because they're, you know, light years away. 

Alex: Right.

Hank: Could we get to this thing - and I know this doesn't sound like Mars news yet, but could we get to this thing and study another solar system by studying an object that made its way to us from another solar system? And the answer to that is, with SpaceX's current plan for its big ol' Mars rocket called the BFR, we could actually get something going fast enough to catch up to - not this object, because that thing isn't built yet, but to another object like it that happened by. So if we were ready and the BFR was a thing that existed, and it was like, driving people from LA to Sydney every afternoon like Elon Musk seems to think is possible, we could load one of these things up and get it going fast enough that it would actually be capable of catching up with - like, if it existed today we could have launched it and it would have caught up with this object which I'm not going to try to pronounce its name because it's in Hawaiian and I would be bad at it. So yeah, that is an exciting potential side effect of building a rocket capable of going to Mars is also you would have a rocket capable of chasing down an object that was flung into our solar system from another solar system, being able to do research on that object and learning about what life- or, not what life, but what the universe is like very far away and in a very different place. So that's just a maybe, but also a cool! So I'm glad, -

Alex: Yeah, that is pretty cool. 

Hank: - glad to know that somebody was thinking about that and ran the numbers.

 Outro (59:02)

Hank: Alex. What did we learn today?

Alex: We learned that the greatest gift a person can get is a piece of printer paper folded in half with a quarter taped to it.

Hank: And we learned that if somebody whacked your Grandma with a turkey leg at Thanksgiving, that you can ghost them. You can take it, you can just be like, "no thanks, that's that." 

Alex: And we learned that the number 2 pencil is just one of many in a long lineage of pencils -

Hank: Oh, so many! 

Alex: - with various numbers and apparently letters. H and B, who knows what that's about? 

Hank: At least. And finally we learned that the opposite of anarchy is learning what anarchy actually is.

Alex: [laughs and coughs] Oh, you made me cough. 

Hank: Oh! Good! I'm so glad. Alex, thank you so much for joining me! I am a big fan of Reply All, so it's just an absolute treat to hang out and talk, and thanks for joining me on the Patreon livestream before this! All the Patreon patrons got - or, the ones who were able to show up, got a special treat of Alex Goldman hanging out and talking about net neutrality and marshmallows. So if you want to support us you can do that at Also if you want to support us, just tell your friends what a great podcast this is! And also tell them about Reply All because it is very good and, let's be honest, better than this. But -

[outro music plays] 

Alex: Oh, come one. Come on. 

Hank: Different. [laughs] 

Alex: Heh. We actually -

Hank: Much more work. 

Alex: In honor of being on the show I actually created a special page called - there's actually three URLs you can go to - it's called,, and They all go to the same place though. It's just a page of some of our favorite episodes if you want to get started with the show.

Hank: [laughs] Oh, that's so nice! That's wonderful!

Alex: So go ahead and check those out. It's, I think, 8 or 9 episodes that we really like and listeners really like. So yeah! Go ahead and check those out. And thanks so much for having me on the show. I really appreciate it. 

Hank: This podcast is produced by Rosianna Halse Rojas and Sheridan Gibson. It's edited by Nicholas Jenkins. Our head of community and communications is Victoria Bongiorno. The theme music you're hearing now and at the beginning is by the great Gunnarolla. And as they say in our hometown -

Alex and Hank together: Don't forget to be awesome. 

[outro music ends]