Tips For Traveling Solo

According to authoritative sources like Solo Traveler and HuffPost, more people are choosing to travel solo these days. Common reasons cited for choosing this vacation option include: a need for breathing room, an urge to: “do what I want to do when I want to do it” , a need to seek challenges/gain confidence, to recharge, to avoid having to wait for anyone, to “get the hell away from my spouse before I wring their ever-loving neck”,  and last but not least, as a retaliatory spending strategy.

Say you come home and your spouse says, “Honey, you’ll never guess what I bought today!  Cover your eyes.”  You dutifully cover your eyes and are led out to the driveway where you behold the following:



Yes!  You guessed it!  A new car!  But not just any car.  This is a 1964 Chrysler turbine car!  Those things that look like laser cannons poking out of the business end are actually the turbine exhaust ports.  Neat huh? This car has a lot going for it.

  1. It sounds sort of like a jet engine revving up.
  2. Although it was designed to burn diesel fuel, it can burn pretty much any flammable liquid including kerosene, jet fuel, peanut oil, tequila and Chanel No. 5.  (I swear on the proboscis of an elephant seal that I am not making up the bit about Chanel No. 5.)

Elephant Seals

3. Jay Leno owns one.  (A Chrysler turbine car, not an elephant seal.)  In addition to his massive lower jaw, Jay has an equally massive collection of expensive vehicles.  He bought his turbine car directly from Chrysler and paid $415,000 for it.

These cars never really took off (!) as a mainstream product because other drivers kept gawking at them, saying to themselves “What in tarnation is that?” and then plowing into things like other cars and trees.  Turbine cars would have wound up costing about four times more than a regular car, and you could never get the Chanel No. 5/peanut oil smell out of the upholstery.  Long story short, Chrysler only made 55 of these cars, and destroyed most of them.

Anyway, where was I?  Oh yeah,  so in retaliation for your spouse’s financial indiscretion, you think to yourself: “Heck, if he just spent all that money on that stupid turbine car, I’m going to retaliate by taking a solo trip to check out some of those Lost City alkaline hydrothermal vents that lots of people are talking about these days.”

alkaline vents

theenergeticThese plumes of hot, alkaline, mineral-rich water which can generate and concentrate a wide variety of small organic molecules, may just happen to be the places where life originated, according to a book by Nick Lane:


If you happen to like geology, electrochemistry, organic chemistry, biochemistry, genetics physics and saw-whet owls, this is the book for you.  (Actually I threw in the saw-whet owls just to see if you were paying attention.  As far as I know, saw-whet owls do not get any airtime in Mr. Lane’s book.)  Seriously though, this is an amazing book.  I’m not kidding.  Really.  I’m not.

But a trip to check out the vents is definitely an excellent retaliatory spending choice since you will need something like the Ocean Pearl, a nifty little $2.5 million-dollar two-person submersible for the trip.  (The vents in question are typically located on the seafloor in about 2500 to 3000 feet of water.)

An Ocean Pearl sitting in Jay Leno’s garage.

Another great retaliatory spending idea is a trip to that Island of Stability that lots of other people are talking about.  (I mean the people other than the people who are fixated on the alkaline hydrothermal vents.  In case you were wondering.)

This is not The Island of Stability.  This is The Island of Only Being Able To Take Your Dog For Really Short Walks And From His Perspective Both You And He Would Probably Have Been Better Off If You Had Chosen An Elephant Seal As A Pet, Instead Of Him. But You’re Stuck Here Now So Make The Most Of It.

There’s one hitch:  The Island of Stability is not a real island.  It’s a theoretical region of the Periodic Table.  As you recall from Grade 9 Science, the Periodic Table arranges all the elements according to their properties and the sizes of their atoms.  As the atoms get bigger, they get more unstable, emit radiation and tend to be used for assassinations, smoke detectors and nuclear weapons. 

Physics theory predicts that as the atom size continues to increase we will eventually stagger into a region of really big atoms that are once again stable.  If you have nothing better to do, you can see where The Island of Stability is if you plot the number of protons in the nucleus vs the number of neutrons in the nucleus, like so:


The elements made from the atoms that lurk up in the top right corner of the plot are called superheavy elements and they might have weird and wonderful properties.  For example, they might go on diets all the time.  Science-based thrillers might even be written about them. Who knows?

This book might be about a meteor whose surface is made of a superheavy element.

But one of the things we know for sure about the superheavy elements is that they will cost  millions and maybe billions of dollars to make, because you will need a particle accelerator.  So if you go down this road, it will be one expensive trip, solo or not.

Particle accelerators use massive amounts of electricity and nobody is giving that away these days, but to run a really powerful accelerator you also need to take out extremely expensive insurance against the possibility that you might accidentally create a tiny black hole that could expand and swallow the entire Earth.  As you can imagine, this would be very bad.  And costly to repair.  And who would be the beneficiary?  You thought your car insurance premium was bad.  Try insuring a planet.

Here are some other potential properties of superheavy elements that some people have suggested:

1) The elements 113 and 114 mark the beginning of the 7p elements. Because of large relativistic spin–orbit effects on the 7p orbitals, these metals are expected to be more volatile than their lighter homologues.

2) Sg (element 106) is expected to be very refractory in the elemental state but should form volatile halides, oxide halides, oxide hydroxides and carbonyls.

3) Element 113 might give off a weird odor such as Chanel No.122.  Or burning pepper.  Or maybe cooked asparagus.

4) Element 118 is expected to avoid eye contact, and appear vaguely shifty at all times.  It may be able to demagnetize the stripes on your plastic at distances of 10 metres or more.  Do not even think about dating this element.  Or worse yet, marrying it.

Well, at this point it’s abundantly clear that there are lots of exciting possibilities for solo vacations.  So plan that trip now.  The sky’s the limit, and you don’t have to answer to anyone.

A couple of helpful closing tips:

Helpful Closing Tip #1: Do not, and I repeat, do not drink unfiltered water from rivers, lakes, ponds and ditches on your trip.  Otherwise you might end up with laryngeal hirudiniasis.  Laryngeal hirudiniasis is easily mistaken for asthma due to progressively worsening coughing and wheezing.  Laryngeal hirudiniasis is also known as “having a live leech fastened to some part of your airway.”  WARNING: YOU WILL NEVER BE ABLE TO UNSEE THE FOLLOWING IMAGES.  DON’T LOOK.  I MEAN IT.

Lee P, et al. All that wheezes is not asthma. Thorax 2018;0:1. doi:10.1136/thoraxjnl-2017-211394
You looked.  I knew you would.  To make you feel better though, I’m reproducing some tweets from a site that posted the images from the paper:

-So was it the leech that had asthma?

-Everyone should have a pet.

-BRB.  Vomiting.


Helpful Closing Tip #2: Try not to overpack.  You’ll regret it.  Even if your backpack was only $49.95 at Hammacher Schlemmer. (Motto: We know lots of great chiropractors!)













Testicle Navigators

Many times over the years I have asked myself the following question and I’ll bet you have too:

“How in the heck did the ancient Polynesians manage to leave their idyllic villages and navigate their rafts thousands of miles over the Pacific Ocean to Hawaii without the benefit of modern conveniences such as Waze, Google Maps and so forth?”

You don’t have to answer, but I can assure you that you’re not alone in your puzzlement.  Thousands of scholars have devoted their entire careers to researching that exact same question!  And thousands of other scholars have devoted their entire careers to researching what exactly the ancient Polynesians did when they got to Hawaii.  (Well maybe not thousands of scholars in each case, but quite a few, for sure.)

One popular theory maintains that they had to leave their idyllic villages and sail thousands of miles to Hawaii in order to get flu shots.

Primitive Hawaiian flu vaccination clinic


This seems highly unlikely.

But we do have a much better grip on how these people got around their neighborhood, large as it was.  To navigate, they used all their senses, observing the wind, the birds, the driftwood, smelling and tasting the ocean, touching it to gauge its temperature, watching the stars and clouds, noting the interference patterns on the ocean surface.  And finally, employing their senses of proprioception AND touch, they also used their testicles.

I swear on the PhD thesis of prominent testicle researcher Timothy Ratliff that I am not making this up.


I also happen to think that The Testicle Navigators would make a pretty righteous name for a band.  Maybe even more righteous than The Gravity Waves which is my other idea for a righteous band name.

Anywaze, don’t take my word for it.  A chap by the name of David Barrie wrote a book on navigation entitled Sextant and on page 264 in Sextant he says:


“The traditional navigators of Oceania made up for their inability to measure longitude by taking advantage of the distinctive patterns of waves and swells, which revealed to them the presence and the direction of land long before it was visible.  When the horizon was obscured and its changing slant could not tell them how their boat was responding to the waves, they apparently stood with their legs apart, using the inertia of their testicles as a guide.”

This may be a photo depicting the traditional stance of a testicle navigator.  Or it just may a picture of an older dude in a yoga pose.

I know that your minds are literally whirring at this point, but I want to stop you and point out that as far as I know, David Barrie is NOT related to humorist Dave Barry.  But he (David Barrie) IS the great great nephew of Sir James Matthew Barrie, the author of Peter Pan.

If you don’t believe David Barrie, you can turn to his source David Lewis, who wrote a book called “Those Twins Were Made For Swingin’ .”

Actually, I’m lying.  The title of his book is actually “We, the Navigators The Ancient Art of Landfinding in the Pacific.”

David Lewis

If you don’t believe Barrie or Lewis you can also turn to Harriet Witt, writing for The Whole Earth Review Fall 1991 in an article entitled “The Soft, Warm, Wet Technology of Native Oceania.”

Witt says this:

“To get a feeling for what the wayfinder is doing all this time with his testicles (ed. note: besides scratching them), it helps to understand ocean swells. These enormous formations are powered by distant storms and steady trade winds and shouldn’t be confused with surface waves which change direction as the local wind shifts. Swells march in consistent ranks across thousands of miles. The swell entertaining surfers in Honolulu is generated by winds south of New Zealand. If you can read the shape of a swell you can tell the direction and strength of the current beneath it, and this is critical because if you don’t know what the current is doing you can steer a perfect course and still get lost. The wayfinder reads the swell by sitting cross-legged and nearly naked on the bottom of his all-vegetable-matter canoe and feeling it in his testicles.”

No matter what, one thing is clear.  Whether their owners sat or stood, the testicles have been playing a key role in ocean navigation for a long time-at least until the invention of Saxx.

saxxBut what about sharks?  Did these well-hung navigators have any means of protecting their most personal private areas from shark attacks in the event of misreading a swell, losing their balance and tumbling overboard?




Yes they did!

Once again, Hammacher Schlemmer comes to the rescue. (Motto: Protecting Testicle Navigators From Shark Attacks For Quite A Long Time)

I quote:

“Only available from Hammacher Schlemmer, this is the sharkproof stainless steel chainmail suit that has protected testicle navigators head-to-toe since approximately 100 AD. The suit’s sleeves are worn beneath the tunic to provide two layers of armor from the elbow to the upper torso while the crotch incorporates a “trap door” design that allows freedom of movement for any or all navigational aids. The tunic’s extended length and front-split bottom is worn under the pants to provide double coverage from the knees to the waist. The pants’ built-in stainless steel belt sleeve extends the entire circumference of the waist for evenly distributed weight support, allowing one to wear the suit with or without the included military-grade jockstrap. Worn under the pants, the booties secure the feet with hook-and-loop fasteners that enable quick removal for secure footing even in the thickest bed of vegetable matter including coconut husks. The hood provides protection from frigate bird droppings for the head and neck.”

I had no idea.

Well, this column is winding to a close and and so is winter (hopefully).  I could finish with a string of really great testicle puns here but a guy by the name of Jesse Bering already did that in a Scientific American blog: Why do human testicles hang like that?

But listen.  it’s still not too late to get your flu shot.  I hear flights to Hawaii are on sale this week but even if they all sell out you could always take the raft.

Thor Heyerdahl aboard Kon-Tiki, seeking a “destination vaccination”










Ghost Peppers And Other Things Peripherally-Related to Kitchens

Just to spare you some cognitive dissonance, I feel like I should explain that the feature image for this column has nothing to do with kitchens or Ghost Peppers.  The person in the photo happens to be a scientist whom I’ll call Tanner Shpiruk for the sake of argument.  “Tanner” was hard at work when this photo was taken, graphing fluctuations in the intensity of the solar ion flux.  Or he might have been trying to figure out how to pay off his photo radar tickets.  I can’t remember.  Either way, he’s a busy fellow.

But the point I want to make here is that I was pleasantly surprised one morning recently when I came into my office to discover that Tanner had given my Dress-up Bigfoot  a serious wardrobe overhaul.

After overhaul
Before overhaul


I have to applaud Tanner for exercising some initiative and demonstrating his creativity.  After all, you have to give your team members room to run.  My personal preference was the combination of the  fez, kilt and Chuck Taylors, as the kilt has an overall slimming effect.  I do have to admit though, that the tighty-whitey/bling ensemble works OK for me too.  And the plant in the background is also a nice touch.

I just think that the tight underwear draws attention to Bigfoot’s butt.  That’s all I’m saying.   Still and all, you get the feeling that this chap is the down-to-earth uncomplicated type of large primate that you might meet anywhere, like on Rodeo Drive for example.

But long before the wardrobe overhaul incident, things really started heating up (!) here at The Department of Lateral Thinking when I staggered into a discussion about the Scoville scale for rating the pungency or “hotness” of chili peppers in the lunchroom.  (The peppers weren’t in the lunchroom; the discussion took  place in the lunchroom.)

Basically,  Scoville Heat Units reflect the number of drops of a sugar solution needed to dilute a standard extract of a candidate chili pepper to the point where at least three out of five highly-trained chili pepper tasters can put a drop of the diluted extract on their tongues and still remain conscious long enough to exclaim: “Holy Crap!  It feels like someone just cut loose in my mouth with one of Elon Musk’s new Boring Company flamethrowers!”

Musk sporting an impish expression and wielding his new flamethrower

I’ll likely come back to the flamethrower at some point, but anyway, the lunchroom discussion centered around where the Ghost Pepper sits in the rankings of hottest peppers in the world, with some people insisting that it is #1.  Not so!

To settle the issue, I’m giving you a recent list of the hottest peppers in the world along with their Scoville Heat Unit (SHU) ratings.

1. Carolina Reaper (aka The Widowmaker) 2,200,000 SHU

Freshly-picked California Reaper in containment device, awaiting ingestion

2.Trinidad Moruga Scorpion 2,009,231 SHU

trinidad scorpion
Moruga scorpion with stinger exposed.  Note that protective gloves are mandatory when handling this pepper.

3. Seven-Pot Douglah 1,853,936 SHU

4. Seven-Pot Primo 1,469,000 SHU

5. Trinidad Scorpion “Butch T” 1,463,700 SHU

6. Naga Viper 1,349,000 SHU

Another hot item: Dodge Viper 850 HP

7. Bhut Jolokia (aka Ghost Pepper) 1,041,427 SHU

Ghost Pepper in its natural state: barely visible

8. Seven-Pot Barrackpore 1,000,000 SHU

9. Seven-Pot Red (Giant) 1,000,000 SHU

10. Red Savina Habanero 500,000 SHU

As you can see, the Ghost Pepper is still a serious player, coming in at a respectable one million SHU, well ahead of hundreds of other lesser peppers such as the Malagueta pepper. By the way even though the Malagueta is only rated at a paltry 50,000 to 100,000 SHUs it’s still sort of a unique pepper because it bears an uncanny resemblance to a bird.

Malagueta pepper
Fully-ripened Malagueta pepper bearing vestigial red rooting pod from which it develops.  Other rooting pods may be seen in the forefront.

Now you may have noticed that several of the other heavyweight peppers listed above bear the “Seven-Pot” prefix in their name.  This is because a single high octane pepper of this calibre is reputed to be able to season seven pots of stew.

So the question that immediately springs to my mind is: who the heck has the kitchen cupboard space to safely store seven stew pots?  And never mind the stew pots.  What about the appliances?  We have so darned many appliances these days that kitchen sizes are increasing at an alarming rate.

Kitchen in average new starter home

Now just like you have a microbiome, consisting of all the various bacteria occupying the ecological niches in your colon, you also have an  applianceome consisting of all the various appliances that occupy niches in your kitchen cupboards.  In an attempt to make space in the applianceome for more stew pots, appliance manufacturers (some of them human) have been busily inventing weird multipurpose appliances.  Here are a few examples:






8-function cooker

medaieval device


Clockwise from top left we have:

Some kind of combination blender/broccoli steamer which also allows you to bathe small animals and then somehow do their hair; at 2 o’clock we have a toaster oven/warming tray which doubles as a food dehydrator and coffee perk/sock washer; next is an 8-function alien programmable bagel steamer/rice cooker/bidirectional time machine and teleportation unit; carrying on the alien theme at the bottom of the collage is a mobile high-intensity xenon arc flashlight which doubles as a robotic helper to help keep the damned cats off the kitchen counter, especially when there’s company;  last-but-not-least, gracing the 9 o’clock position, is a human-powered coffee grinder/paint stirrer/ argon plasma coagulator although I’m not sure of the exact functions because the verbiage on the site I got it from was in Russian.

Language barrier aside, I’m not saying you shouldn’t check some of these things out in order to make room for more stew pots.  Just remember that we’ve already been fooled by this sort of thing with our washing machines, coffee makers, TV remotes, PVRs, home entertainment consoles, vole eradication systems, thermostats, electric toothbrushes, gravity wave detectors, etc, etc.  The instruction manuals for the new high-tech versions of all these everyday items are so complicated that they make you feel like you have the IQ of a mouse when you try to read them.










Life is complicated enough.  If you’re not comfortable reading 27-page instruction manuals and/or don’t have a PhD in Electrical Engineering you should stick to basics, eat milder chili peppers, make do with the number of cooking pots you already have, find a simple wardrobe look that you like and just keep working it.


Next column: Ancient Polynesian ocean navigation strategies



Third Annual Lateral Thinking Department Christmas Gift Guide

Well Christmas has come and gone.  Again.  One minute it’s like, July 16th and the next thing you know it’s January 4th.  (Obviously that would be January 4th of the next calendar year since as far as most of us know, time travel hasn’t been invented yet.)

But anyway, January  proceeds to drag on for what seems like 83 days, followed by February coming in with what seems like 56 days, March at 41 days and so on until July 16th comes around again.  Then the rest of the year suddenly seems to vanish with a blinding flash of light, leaving behind an unidentified foul odor, and it’s December 23rd.  You still haven’t done any shopping.

So this year I decided to help you out and be proactive with this Christmas Gift Guide.

By the way, I was exaggerating about it seeming like January 83rd.  Everyone knows that January only has 31 days.  But remember that January is tied with March, May, July, August, October and December in that regard.

Speaking of the months of March, May, July, August, October and December, I decided to rearrange them to spell Charmer, Mabel, Stu, Tobey, Margey, Cud and Cujo, since I didn’t have anything better to do while I was waiting for this column to pick up some momentum.

By an astounding coincidence, Charmer, Mabel, Stu, Tobey, Margey, Cud and Cujo also happen to be the names of the co-stars in the upcoming Tyler Perry remake of Snow White, entitled: “Madea Takes A Job Cooking And Cleaning For Six Other Much Smaller People And Their Dog Cujo, Before Lapsing Into A Coma.”

madea in kitchen
Madea pondering what to feed her dog Cujo (not shown)

I fully intend to get to the Gift Guide but meanwhile, if you’re looking for something else to amuse you, try Dave Barry’s 2017 Year in Review: Did that really happen?  Dave is much funnier than I am and he also won the Pulitzer Prize for Commentary in 1988.  I didn’t win anything in 1988 but in 1980 I won a silver tray for the highest marks in 4th year Undergrad Chemistry.  Zzzzzzz….

But on that note, as promised, here’s my 3rd Annual Lateral Thinking Department Christmas Gift Guide for 2018:

Official Lateral Thinking Department Christmas Gift Guide

1) Digital copies of movies. (Legal copies, of course!)

Everyone likes movies.  Here are what I feel are several great suggestions:

-Digital copy of the as-yet-to-be-released Tyler Perry movie: “Madea Takes A Job Cooking And Cleaning For Six Other Much Smaller People And Their Dog Cujo, Before Lapsing Into A Coma”

six dwarfs
Six Small People Exhibiting Various Reactions Upon Hearing The News That Cujo Is Missing

-Digital copy of the1967 Peter Brook film: “Persecution and Assassination of Jean-Paul Marat As Performed by the Inmates of the Asylum of Charenton Under the Direction of the Marquis de Sade”


This sounds like a fairly weird movie if you ask me.  The only reason I chose it is that when I found a list of movies with the longest titles I liked it better than the first-place finisher.

First place went to: “Night of the Day of the Dawn of the Son of the Bride of the Return of the Revenge of the Terror of the Attack of the Evil, Mutant, Hellbound, Flesh-Eating Subhumanoid Zombified Living Dead, Part 2”

I didn’t put that movie in the Guide because it sounded kind of lacklustre.


2) Starbucksology Coffee Mug


Starbucksology might just be a fancy word for Hipsterism, but it is actually the science of predicting someone’s personality traits, favorite animal, political preference, shoe size, etc, based on what they like to order at Starbucks.  It’s sort of like Astrology only with more options.

For example, someone who likes venti peppermint with chocolate mocha will probably prefer to work in a medical laboratory whereas someone who orders a tall, skinny vanilla latte most likely works in the accounting department of a medical laboratory.  Someone who routinely buys oat fudge bars from Starbucks definitely should NOT work in any accounting department because they are willingly paying about 4.26 times as much as a similar bar sold elsewhere.


3) Argon Plasma Coagulator

conmed APC unit.jpg
Argon plasma coagulator power supply
argon plasma coagulator
Business end of argon plasma coagulator busily coagulating the surface of someone’s liver








An Argon Plasma Coagulator (APC) is a handy gadget which can spray a focused beam of highly energetic argon ions pretty much anywhere you’d want to spray them.  (Man, I wish I had had one of those when I was a kid.) APC’s are commonly used to stop bleeding during surgery, so this is a great gift if you happen to be friends with a surgeon.  Especially if that surgeon has a propensity for leaving calling cards.


You think I’m kidding but I’m not.  British liver surgeon Simon Bramhall is currently facing charges of “assault occasioning actual bodily harm” for marking his initials on the livers of two patients during their transplant surgeries.  He also faces the lesser charge of wearing a busy pink and purple tie to the ofifice on occasion.


Dr. Bramhall will be sentenced sometime later this month.  I think that at a minimum, he should be ordered to perform 100 hours of community services such as erasing graffiti.

graffiti removal
Maintenance worker using argon plasma beam to remove graffiti


4) Wenger 16999 knife


This is a great gift.  The reason it’s so great is that it has 187 different implements, but the main reason you should get one for somebody is so that they can add their own review to the long list of hilarious bogus reviews on Amazon.  Here are a few examples:

-Excellent product. I found the Large Hadron Collider to be particularly useful on long hikes.

The knife has become self-aware, and is staring at me from the corner of the room.

-As soon as I found out how much my husband spent on this, I left him. Bad move. It represented him at the divorce hearing. I now pay $10,000 a month in alimony.

-This knife actually birthed Richard Dean Anderson for the sole purpose of starring in MacGyver, then it wrote, directed, produced and filmed the entire series on its own without a crew.


5) Fulgurite specimen

A fulgurite would be a great gift for almost anyone whose desk at work isn’t already festooned with random crap like a sandstone sculpture, a Stirling Engine, small ceramic owls and plants.

Not a picture of a fulgurite

I turned to noted fulgurite blogger and all-around highly-educated person Anne Marie Helmenstine PhD to explain fulgurites.  She says the following: “The word fulgurite comes from the Latin word fulgur, which means thunderbolt. A fulgurite  or “petrified lightning” is a glass tube formed when electricity strikes sand. Usually fulgurites are hollow, with a rough exterior and smooth interior. Lightning from thunderstorms makes most fulgurites, but they also form from atomic blasts, meteor strikes and from man-made high voltage devices falling onto the ground.”

I haven’t been around any atomic blasts or meteor strikes lately but still, I wanted a fulgurite, so my wife got one for me for Christmas from somewhere on line.  Some fulgurites look like coral, or a tree root, or a section of someone’s small intestine that has been worked over with an APC.  I think mine looks like a piece of dinosaur poop.

Small ceramic owl feeling a bit sheepish because it is posing with a fulgurite that looks like a piece of  dinosaur poop
This is just wrong somehow

The best way to display your fulgurite is to place it in some other natural formation such as a sandstone sculpture.  I happen to have a sandstone sculpture so I tried placing my fulgurite in it, but I don’t know.  It just didn’t work out like I thought it would.

The fulgurite looks more like that thing that I thought was Moby Dick in the snow globe featured in my last column.  That thing  turned out to be an Exogorth Space Slug.

Art is like that sometimes.


6) Dress-up Bigfoot

I bought one of these to give to my son-in-law, at the same time proclaiming loudly to anyone who would listen, that I too would like one.  Who wouldn’t? And here it is!

Dress-up Bigfoot  caught in wild state
Dress-up Bigfoot sure as hell NOT posing for cover of GQ











I’m particularly impressed by the fact that his basketball shoes are the same colour.

I’m sure you can think of hundreds of different uses for this thing.  If you can, let me know because I can only think of one use for it: put it in my office alongside all the other junk including a Lego Ghostbusters car, which made my boss peer at me dubiously the first time he saw it.

ghostbusters car.jpg


7) Stirling Engine (since you asked)


The thing sitting on top of the cup is a Stirling Engine, which is a closed-cycle regenerative heat engine with a permanently gaseous working fluid.  In other words, this is a bitchin’ little gadget you can set on top of a cup of hot coffee and watch for the next three hours until the wheel stops spinning. Note: your coffee will be cold at this point.

You can get it as a kit from Lee Valley.  It’s the perfect gift for a mechanically-minded person.  Especially if they already own a Starbucksology mug.  Or you could get them the Stirling Engine AND a Starbucksology mug.  And an oat fudge bar.

Look it’s only January 6th.  You have lots of time to consider your options.  There are still 353 days until Christmas.  Unless you own a time machine.

Rod Taylor In 'The Time Machine'
Time Machine offered for sale by Hammacher Schlemmer circa 1849 but hastily withdrawn after almost all the machines in stock vanished simultaneously with a blinding flash of light, leaving behind an unidentified foul odor

Seven Reasons Why You Should Watch Hallmark Christmas Movies

It’s been 120 years and a bit since 8-year-old Virginia O’Hanlon wrote to the New York Sun in an attempt to get to the bottom of whether or not Santa is real.  And of course we all know what Francis Pharcellus Church replied: “…Yes Virginia, there is a Santa Claus…”

yes virginia

One of the things I would like to get to the bottom of is: what the heck are Francis and Virginia looking at?  I think that Mr. Church (above right) is actually looking at Virginia (at left); Virginia, in turn, is looking at her dog Henry (below).

henry and Baloo
Henry, wearing a style of hat popular  in the late 19th century

We can talk about Henry and his odd headgear some other time.  The main issue I  want to get to the bottom of today is whether or not you should start watching Hallmark Christmas Movies.

I feel like you should.  I’ll tell you why in a minute.  But first let me give you a three-sentence rundown on these movies.  (Wait, wait, wait.  Why am I asking for your permission?  If you don’t want to read the rundown, you don’t have to.)

Here’s the rundown:

Every year, Hallmark makes a slew of these harmless, squeaky-clean, formulaic, feel-good movies set in small towns. The storylines always unfold in the week or so before Christmas.  They’re kind of like burning log videos: nice to have running in the background during the Christmas season.

Seven Reasons To Watch Hallmark Christmas Movies

1. If you have a small town that you don’t know what to do with, or happen to be building a small town, watch a few of these movies to see if you might be able to rent it (the town) to Hallmark for a few weeks.  I’m not kidding.  If you went to that link a few paragraphs back, you would learn that Hallmark is running out of cozy small town shooting locations.

2. If you’re looking for a new drinking game, the Hallmark Christmas Move drinking game is going viral.  I swear on my hepatic artery that I am not making this up.  You pick a Hallmark Christmas Movie at random, watch it, and drink up at various points throughout the movie according to  criteria such as: “If there’s magic involved – a magical stocking, magical ornaments, a magical snow globe, guardian angel, etc. – take two drinks.” or “If the primary male love interest is a farmer, carpenter or just someone who works with his hands, take a drink. If he drives a pickup truck or jeep, take another drink.”

Ornamental Millenium Falcon-escaping-from gigantic, mud-coated-oven mitt

Speaking of snow globes, I found this thing at left.  Do you want to know what my first thought about it was?  (Dang, there I go again, asking your permission.)  I honestly thought it was Moby Dick engulfing a whaling-ship.  But then I thought: Who on earth would make something like that?  Then I found out it’s not from Earth.

Apparently it’s a decorative piece depicting an Exogorth Space Slug engulfing a whaling ship.  I think you can get one from Hammacher Schlemmer.


Actually I’m lying about several details.

That’s the Millenium Falcon in there, not a whaling ship.

Hammacher Schlemmer doesn’t carry this item.


I find this surprising.

OK, where was I?

3. If you’re trying to decide whether or not you should get a puppy, watching Hallmark Christmas Movies will probably help you out.  I always give my dog Mickey a big hug whenever I watch one.  They just give you a warm, fuzzy feeling.  If I didn’t have Mickey I would for sure have gotten a puppy by now.  Not that I’m obsessively watching these movies on W (channel 23 if you have Shaw Cable).

4.  If you need some kind of temporary bridging fetish because you’re in between seasons of whatever Netflix epic you’re currently addicted to, you could do a lot worse than watch some Hallmark Christmas Movies.

5.  You should watch the Hallmark Christmas Movies if you own one of those Polar Express Bells and you can hear it tinkle, or if you can hear someone else’s tinkle.  (I know what you’re thinking.  Stop it right now.  This is a PG-13 column.)


6.  If you are looking to graduate from obsessively reading Harlequin Romances such as the one below, which by the way, raises a multitude of highly disturbing questions in my mind such as:  Who’s the billionaire-him or her?  Did someone give that baby to them?  Did they buy that baby?  Clone it?  Or what?

billionaire baby

7.  If you’ve ever fallen in love +/- 3 days from December 25th you will definitely relate to these movies.  Generally the first kiss/declaration of deep feelings/proposal/wedding takes place on Christmas Eve,  Christmas Day or worst case: Boxing Day.

So there.  Seven good reasons to watch Hallmark Christmas Movies.

If there is someone you would like to fall in love with in the next couple of weeks, I highly recommend that you turn on W, plop down on the couch along with a big bowl of popcorn, some Christmas cookies, a puppy and maybe a snow globe or two.

Don’t forget to include the person you want to fall in love with!

By the way, the feature image for this column is an actual unretouched photo of an Exogorth Space Slug oven mitt.  Perfect for when you’re baking those Christmas cookies.

star wars cookies

Why you should turn your kid into a robot

Warning: Some parts of this column may not be true.

Before we get started, I feel like I have to emphasize  that the events I am about to relate to you did NOT and I repeat, did NOT happen in the state of Florida.  Although I also feel like they could have.  Quite easily.  And I bet Dave Barry would back me up on this. If anybody has their finger on the weirdness pulse of Florida, Dave does.

So let’s start off by pondering this question:

What do “Alaska and Wisconsin” have in common?

The obvious answer is that “Alaska and Wisconsin” can be rearranged to “Asia Sow Ink Scandal” which might be a headline about a female Tibetan pig getting an illegal tattoo, but that’s not the answer I was looking for.  The answer I was looking for concerns the shenanigans of parents and kids in Wisconsin and Alaska, specifically where moving vehicles are involved.

The first shenanigan came to my attention recently via my research assistant/office mate whom I’ll call Tanner Shpiruk (not his real name).  Anyway, “Tanner” somehow heard about this Fredonia, Wisconsin resident named Amber Schmunk.  Amber is currently facing a felony charge of having the common sense of a tardigrade after she was arrested on September 9, 2017 for weighting down a small plastic swimming pool she was transporting on the roof of her minivan.  In Wisconsin it’s not illegal to weight down a swimming pool located on the roof of your minivan but the caveat here is that the weight happened to consist of her 9-year old son.

Electron micrograph of tardigrade aka “Water Bear” showing very little common sense by thinking about diving into a pool of liquid nitrogen


An alert driver noticed the diminuitive pool passenger, called police and followed Amber until she pulled over and removed her son from the roof.  When the police caught up with her, Amber admitted that her son had been on top of the van, “but only for a short time, maybe 20-30 seconds.”  Schmunk is also alleged to have told an officer that she thought the whole thing was OK not only because she had strapped the child to the roof but also because her father, a circus high-wire daredevil, had allowed her to do similar things when she was young.

Amber really IS facing  felony charges…for second degree reckless endangerment of safety.  But I think she should also have been charged for transporting a swimming pool after Labor Day.  And as far as I know, Amber’s father was not a circus high-wire daredevil, but he may have graduated from the Barbara Coloroso School of Safe Parenting.  (Motto: “The greatest part of each day, each year, each lifetime is made up of small, seemingly insignificant moments. Those moments may occasionally include being strapped to the outside of a moving vehicle.”)

Coloroso book


coloroso II
Parenting expert Barbara Coloroso










Amber waived her right to a preliminary hearing on November 14th and is due back in court December 12th to enter a plea of: “My Dad said it was OK.”

Now parents in Wisconsin may be tough on their kids, but the kids in Alaska are tough enough, even without their parents.

It’s darned cold up there, so Alaskans in general have to be tough, and apparently this starts in early childhood when kids are encouraged to climb huge trees, wrestle bear cubs and body-surf through Class V rapids.

We really shouldn’t be too surprised then, to learn about this six year old boy who rode three miles down the Parks Highway near Wasilla, AK in early July 2013, clinging to the roof rack of his parent’s minivan before tumbling off, incurring cuts and bruises, but escaping otherwise unharmed.  No one had any clue he was even up there.

boy on roof









The boy was picked up by another motorist and taken to a gas station, where he was ultimately reunited with his parents just as he was attempting to jump from the roof of the gas station on to a moving semi.

Police reported that on the day in question, the boy had furtively climbed atop the minivan before it left home at Mile 52 (see map) but lost his grip at Mile 49 (see map).  He also admitted that this was not the first time he had done this.  No charges have been laid, but police did buy the intrepid youngster some body armor.  And a helmet.  And some disability insurance.  Lots of disability insurance, actually.

The boy, who is reputed to be distantly related to Evel Knievel, went on to join the Armed Forces and is the youngest person ever to be accepted into a Navy SEAL program.  He is shown below, taking part in a precision-skydiving exercise.

Joint training at 12,500 feet
Reputed relative of Evel Knievel (in forefront) attempting to parachute on to the top of a moving semi (not shown).

So with all this going on, it’s clear that we as parents need better strategies to protect and distract our children.  Once again Hammacher Schlemmer (Motto: We sell inflatable Irish Pubs!) has come to the rescue with Ride On Robotic Armor.



You can never be too nice to your peaceful allies so I think this thing is just great.  And safe too.  With a top speed of 1 mph only two things can go wrong:

1) Your kid will ride on it for approximately 18 milliseconds then give you the same look my dog gives me when I put something unsavory in his food dish.  For those of you who don’t own pets, it’s a “Are you kidding me?” look.

2) Either you, your kid, or both of you will lapse into unconsciousness and/or fall deeply asleep from sheer boredom.

At this point, you’re probably knocking yourself on the forehead and saying:
“This is clever!  Why didn’t I think of this??”

The reason you didn’t think of this is because you are probably not descended from space aliens.  All the left-behind space alien descendants already work for Hammacher Schlemmer.

Next column: Hallmark Christmas Movies

9 lives


Even Stranger Things

This column is entitled “Even Stranger Things” as you probably already noticed.  Sorry, but I’m just not ready to let go of the whole “post-eclipse-disturbance-in-the Force” thing yet and there are some seriously strange things still going on since August 21st.  I think you need to know about them.

For starters, I’m still doing doubletakes when I see that darned plastic owl that someone stuck on a post outside my office window.  I don’t even know why anyone would do that.  Those things don’t fool anybody.


Then there’s this whole Harvest/Thanksgiving-related subculture out there that I just discovered, involving hoisting a massive pumpkin and/or massive squash high in the air with a crane or helicopter and then dropping it into a swimming pool, or on to an old car, or a trampoline, etc.

Helicopter locked and loaded at 25,000 feet
The Jolly Green Giant minding his own business, checking the B&G Foods stock price and oblivious to impending doom from above

Then there’s this weird thing going on with my shoes. I walked Mickey last Saturday afternoon, checked to see which way he was facing during his potty stop, came in, took off my shoes and said: “What the heck?  My shoes don’t match!”

G.Gillson Converse + unknown Converse

My first clue was the colour, as I had been labouring under the distinct impression that they were both grey since I bought them a couple of years ago.

The next thing I did was check the size; they both turned out to be size  9 1/2.

Next I conferred with my wife and forensic shoe-expert-in-residence, Jeanette.  She noted that one shoe was subtly longer than the other, the wear patterns didn’t match and also confirmed that the shoes were different colors.  She speculated that maybe I had gotten one of them wet hopping around on one leg in the foot of snow that fell early in October (another strange thing), or had left one of them out in the sun, or carelessly stepped in a puddle of bleach or worse yet, sulfuric acid.

Then I checked the labels more closely and that was the clincher: they (the shoes) weren’t even made in the same country.

Label of grey shoe belonging to me

You have to admit; this is pretty weird.  It would be like you met identical twins, fell in love with one of them, got married and then a year later you discovered that you had somehow married the wrong twin.  Or maybe the one you didn’t marry agreed to sub in for the one you did marry, but they didn’t tell you about the arrangement.  If you were in my shoes (!) I bet you would probably have the exact same thoughts. But maybe not.

Wait! You can’t be in my shoes because I’m not even in them!  Someone else has one of my shoes!  And I have one of theirs!  Eclipse or no eclipse, how could this have happened?

Label from brown shoe belonging to someone else, probably Steve Harris

To get to the bottom of things, I called a buddy of mine whom I’ll refer to as Stephen Harris (not his real name), a retired shoe salesman and former Assistant Superintendent of the Livingstone Range SD No. 68. (Not his actual former occupation.)

This was a supremely logical manoeuvre because:

1). I knew for sure that “Steve” had a pair of light brown Converse my size.

2). We had been together with four other lads from high school in early August for “Geezerfest 2017”.  “Steve” had those brown Converse with him, and I had my trusty grey Converse with me.

3). When we were 17 years old, “Harris” played accomplice to a guy named Brad Mighton who burned a hole in his denim shirt one night at the “my parents are away for the weekend” party I threw.  Steve and Brad proceeded to creep into my bedroom, root around in my closet and swap the damaged shirt for my undamaged shirt, which happened to be identical.  (I didn’t find any of this out until about 30 years later.)  My mother puzzled over that for several weeks after she patched the burned spot and kept asking me how it happened.  And I honestly had no idea.  (Sorry Mom.)

By the way, I swear on Manolo Blahnik’s driver’s license that I’m not making any of this up.

Manolo Blahnik driver’s license photo circa 1958

So anyway, like I said, I called former Assistant Superintendent Harris:

Stephen Harris, Superintendent of Livingstone SD No.68 (ret.)


Harris: “Hello?”

Me: “Hey Harris.  Happy Thanksgiving.  Have you noticed anything weird about your Converse lately?”

Harris: “Like what?”

Me: “Like maybe one is grey and the other one is brown.”

Harris: “No.  They’re the same colour.”

Me: “OK great.  See you later.”

Harris: “Not if I see you first.”


But still, I remained suspicious.

The reason for my persistent suspicion is that Steve only hesitated for maybe 50 milliseconds before answering my question.  Even if he WAS wearing his shoes, he wouldn’t have had time to look down and check to see if they matched.  Try this yourself if you don’t believe me.

I made some other phone calls about the shoes, but I’m not going to tell you about them right now.  And I still have absolutely no clue what happened to my other shoe.  But we’re still on the general theme of strange post-eclipse occurrences and I need to tell you about our recent visitor.

We have been growing potatoes in a pressurized enclosure at the lab recently, more or less just for the heck of it.  One day, Mark Watney aka Matt Damon showed up to check out the crop!  Matt’s looking a little stiff these days, but it’s probably that suit.  But stiffness or no, the fact that he would take the trouble to come up and check us out is pretty unbelievable. Right?

Rob and Mark Watney
Rob Bitcon, elemental analysis specialist, posing with Mark Watney aka Matt Damon, Martian potato specialist

But speaking of not believing me, I do have one teensy confession to make here:  that wasn’t Manolo Blahnik’s driver’s license photo back there.  That was actually a high school yearbook picture of Terry Bradshaw, former QB for the Pittsburgh Steelers.  (four Superbowl championships in six years!)  I don’t know why I used Bradshaw’s picture instead.  Must have been that pesky eclipse.  And that  wasn’t a photo of Stephen Harris either.  That was actually the famous shoe designer Manolo Blahnik.

And speaking of shoe designers, I’ll leave you with one last photo.  I swear this really is a picture of Chuck Taylor, supersalesman for the Converse  shoe company, and also the biological father of the Chuck Taylor All Star basketball shoes.

Chuck Taylor 1
Chuck Taylor thinking about something.  Probably basketball.  Or maybe shoes.

I think Chuck was also fond of this saying: “Never judge a man until you walk a mile in his shoes.  You’ll be a mile away. And you’ll have his shoes.  Even if they don’t match.”