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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.

tardigrade
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

Wasilla_AK

highway

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

IMG_1528

print.jpg

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.

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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.

choppers.jpg
Helicopter locked and loaded at 25,000 feet
JGG
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!”

IMG_1516
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.

img_1517.jpg
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?

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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.

Terry_Bradshaw
Manolo Blahnik driver’s license photo circa 1958

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

blahnik
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.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Stranger Things

There`s a new series on Netflix called Stranger Things; my kids have been bugging the hell out of me to watch it.  They say it’s awesome but I can’t really write about it because I haven’t seen it.  I just wanted to mess with your mind for a second and make you think that I was going to write about it.   I’m actually going to write about the effects of the recent total eclipse, because there is lots of eclipse-related weirdness out there if you take the trouble to look for it.

For example, animals are known to go weird during a total eclipse and some of this weirdness is outlined on a site I found called World Book:

“4. Unnerved animals.

Many people around the world have noted unusual behavior in some pets and wildlife during solar eclipses. Animals may appear to be restless, “spooked,” or simply confused by the sudden midday twilight…Researchers in Zimbabwe have noted that hippopotami and impalas exhibit alert and anxious behavior following an eclipse. You may notice that the birds stop singing during the eclipse, or that your pets behave in unusual ways.”

I don’t have a pet hippopotamus, but I found this image of a young hippo who was undoubtedly extremely anxious during the eclipse, until it was comforted by its Therapy Oxpecker  It doesn’t look very anxious to me; it just looks a bit sly, like maybe it’s thinking about biting your head off if you so much as look at it sideways.

hippo and bird
Oxpecker (upper right) comforting young hippo during total eclipse

It’s not too surprising that animals might be disturbed by eclipses, since they tend to be more in tune with cosmic forces, but many authorities (some of them residents of Earth) believe that eclipses can also exert profound and lasting effects on humans, such as fatigue, weakness, feeling off-balance, increased shoe size, an urge to switch to a different brand of toothpaste and sudden fixation on some of the crazy stuff found in the Hammacher Schlemmer catalogue.

All I know is that some weird things  have happened to me just before and since the eclipse and I feel like I should tell you about them.

Weird Thing #1: I develop a sudden inability to read labels with font size 4 from three metres away

We’re doing renovations at the lab, including installation of large tanks for outside storage of liquid nitrogen and liquid argon.  So recently I found myself standing about three metres away from these tanks with my friend Dave, who has a great Scottish accent and also happens to be Scottish.

two tanks
Large tanks meant for storage of liquid gases including nitrogen and argon
Dave and GG
Me (at right) and Dave (at left)

 

 

 

 

 

I innocently asked Dave which one was the argon tank and which was the nitrogen tank, and he impishly said,” The one labeled ‘Nitrogen’ is for nitrogen and the one labeled ‘Argon’ is for argon.”  Then he started slapping his thigh and rolling on the ground laughing, and saying ,”I thought you were supposed to be smart,” or words to that effect. But I have to admit, it was kind of hilarious at the time.

In my defense, here are closeups of the tank labels.  Even from less than a metre away, they’re still mighty hard to read.  Darn that eclipse.

Ar
Closeup of label bearing the word ‘Argon’ in size 4 font
N2
Closeup of label bearing the word ‘Nitrogen’ in size 4 font

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Weird Thing #2: New information about the Earth’s magnetic field comes my way

Just before the eclipse I got this email alerting me to a paper that had been published in Frontiers in Zoology entitled: Dogs Are Sensitive to Small Variations of the Earth’s Magnetic Field.  (Hart et al. Frontiers in Zoology 2013, 10:80)  This got my attention right away so I checked it out.  The authors studied 70 dogs over a two-year period during which they observed 7,475 separate instances of defecation and urination (involving the dogs) and took careful note-follow me closely here-of the orientation of the long axis of their bodies (note that I am once again referring to the dogs) during said defecations and urinations.

For what its worth, over 37 breeds of dog were studied including a Rhodesian Ridgeback, a German Shepherd-Schnauzer cross, a Transylvanian hound, and a Wis Poopski or maybe it was an Oobah Poopoo.  I forget.

This is an actual photo of one of the study subjects, a young male Copo Fahrtima, which has apparently had a large wire frame complete with compass needle surgically-implanted on its back, squatting to do its business.

1742-9994-10-80-5 I’m kidding.  The dog is definitely squatting to do its business but the compass motif has been digitally superimposed on the image strictly for emphasis, like one of those phony shark- debate images you see everywhere these days.

phony shark attack
Navy SEAL allegedly debating shark

This image is obviously fake because the shark in the photo is a female.  No Navy SEAL in their right mind is going to get into this type of situation; everyone knows you can’t win a debate with a female shark.

But in any event, the data from the dog study is definitely not fake.  It clearly shows that when the Earth’s magnetic field is quiescent (as in the “0%” circle below) dogs have a definite tendency to  poop facing Magnetic North, but when the Earth’s magnetic field is wandering around like crazy (as in the “>2%” circle below) dogs tend to perform their eliminatorial duties facing in random directions.

tileshop.fcgi

I’m currently trying to see if my dog Mickey is following this pattern but I only have a dozen or so data points.  I might need another year or so.

Weird Thing #3: I am once again gobsmacked by something I spot in the Hammacher Schlemmer catalogue

I was sitting in a certain room in my house, facing North, and perusing the latest  Hammacher Schlemmer catalogue (Motto: “There Are Definitely Too Many People Out There With More Money Than Brains”) when I saw something that just about knocked me off my perch.  Here it is:

pub 1.png

So many thoughts ran through my mind that I can’t begin to put them all down, but here’s a brief sample:

“What the $%^!!*&# is that?”

“Which way is North?”

“What idiot would actually buy one of these?”

Turns out that any idiot with $5,000 can buy one.  (You can get an optional air pump for $79.95)  The Inflato-Pub has a spacious 75-square foot interior into which you can place your “preferred bar accessories, garden gnomes, lounge chairs or other decorative accents.”  If I were you I would leave the dartboard outside.

Just saying.

Well, I think that’s enough strangeness for one total eclipse. I’m thinking about going to watch the next one on July 2, 2019, visible from Easter Island.  That’s a long way to go though. I might save up for a Skyrunner instead.

On sale now at Hammacher Schlemmer.  (Other Motto:”We Also Sell Life Insurance”)

skyrunner
Since you asked, this is an ATV that is FAA-cleared to fly to 10,000 feet

 

 

 

 

 

Man vs Voles

Alert readers know that I haven’t posted a column since early June.  The reason I haven’t written anything this summer is that I’ve been distracted with the voles that seem to be overrunning Calgary this summer.  Not only do they seem to be overrunning Calgary, they actually are overrunning Calgary-at least the part of Calgary that my back yard is in.

OK I’m stopping here for a second because I think that overrunning looks really weird with those double r’s and double n’s.  I think maybe it should be over-running…

I just checked online.  Nowhere did I see any support for using over-running instead of overrunning.  But now I’m starting to wonder whether I should stick with online or maybe use “on line” or maybe even “on-line”…

I’m back. I went online again to resolve this new issue.  Lo and behold I’m not the first person to have wondered about online and its variants. It turns out that online is OK.

But where was I?  Oh yeah, vole-induced distraction.

The first thing you need to know about voles (aka Field Mice) is that they’re quite cute and mysterious.  That’s obvious from the picture of that vole floating mysteriously in midair on a disembodied hand (see above).  But the damage voles can do to your lawn is NOT cute. Left to themselves, voles can effortlessly create networks of dead grass “runs.”  Well maybe not effortlessly.  There’s a bit of chewing involved.

Vole_damage
Man smiling because this is not his lawn

The second thing to know about voles is that they aren’t mice.  Voles have shorter tails, smaller ears and blunter snouts relative to mice.  They’re compacted, almost as if they’re traveling  at or close to the speed of light.  But although I said voles are mysterious, they aren’t THAT mysterious.

(Editor’s Note:  Einstein figured out that a yardstick or a vole zipping past you at light speed will look shorter.  UNLESS you too happen to be moving at light speed.  More on that later.)

I dunno.  The two animals pictured below look like they’re about the same size.  It does look like the vole had part of its tail airbrushed away to make it (the tail) look shorter but I could be wrong.  Anyway, who would do that?

mouse and vole
Vole squinting into cosmic headwind above mouse with dorsal fur ruffled by cosmic tailwind

 

And I resisted the impulse to go online to see whether airbrushed should actually be air-brushed, just so you know…

Hah!  Caught you didn’t I?  You just went online and found out that there aren’t any sites addressing this issue, didn’t you?  I could have told you that.  But wait a minute!  Let’s think this through.  You’re already online!  Otherwise you wouldn’t be reading this column!  What was I thinking?

Clearly, I’m distracted and also a victim of my own logic, because here I am online too, typing stuff like: “I went back online to resolve this new issue.”

Anyway, the third thing about voles is this: certain breeds of dogs, such as Border Collie-Lab crosses, will gobble up dead voles with relish (and maybe mustard).  One dog in particular, whom I’ll call “Mickey” for the sake of argument,  has been having a field (!) day this summer snacking on the voles that have succumbed to the feral cats in our neighborhood, including one I’ll call “Zoe” for the sake of argument.  More on that some other time.

The last thing I think you should know about voles is that the damage they cause is often blamed on moles, so let’s clear this up right now.  Moles leave ridges in your lawn, not bare strips.  The moles HATE taking shade on account of voles.  They have enough problems of their own such as bad eyesight.  They also spend a fortune on nail care.

black mole vertical
Mole in need of manicure staring balefully at vole (not shown)

I think I need to regroup at this point.  What I really wanted to talk about today is the potentially sub-optimal practice of walking while texting.  The Employee Health and Safety division of the company I work for, which I’ll call “LifeLabs” for the sake of argument, just issued a whole blurb about this topic, under the heading “The Walking Distracted.”

distracted walking

The following picture illustrates some of the hazards associated with walking-whilst-texting including missing your cab, dialing a wrong number, failing to notice a weird black oval on the sidewalk which incidentally looks nothing like a manhole, having half your head sliced off by a green thing sporting a suspicious bulge, and wasting data by texting your friend who is only two feet away from you.

blurb

But this got me to thinking about all the other potentially sub-optimal scenarios arising from texting, such as:

Distracted Archer:  What could go wrong? Really.

archery phone

 

 

 

 

 

Distracted Philospher: “I drank what?”

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Socrates accidentally drinking hemlock .  Cellphone not shown,

Distracted Barista:

“Did you want that no-foam, no-water, no coffee, triple-caramel scammarato to be at 187.32 °F or 187.23 °F?”

distracted barista

Distracted English Major:

students

Symptoms of Texting While Sitting in English Class:

-Non-sequiturs e.g. voles do not understand English

-improper USE Of capitalS

-Overuse of “literally” e.g. “I was literally blown away by her talk” (incorrect usage) vs “I was literally blown away when that 100 megaton nuclear warhead accidentally detonated down the street” (correct usage).

-Missing deadlines

Well, that’s about it for now.  The voles are beckoning me with their tiny, mysterious paws.

vole nibbling something
Vole holding mystery object in its tiny paws

But one last thing: should that have been “deadlines” or “dead-lines” a few lines back?  You could always go online and check.

 

Next Column:  The Eclipse, Relativity And Maybe Some Octopus-Related Anecdotes

 

 

 

Thanks, Steve

Before we get going here I just want to run something by all you readers:

Q. “Therapy Bee Colony Collapse Disorder May Lead To Cascading Failure Of Democracy And Maybe Even Civilization As We Know It.”  Fake News or Real News?

A. Fake

Next question:

Q. “Daytime Headlight and Tailight Use Prevents Traffic Accidents And Saves Lives And Should Be Mandatory And Enforced.”  Fake News or Real News?

A. Also Fake.

I made up the bee thing, but that other thing is an actual rant that I found inscribed on -of all things – a toilet paper dispenser in a public washroom.  I swear on a Charmin Mega Roll pack that I am not making this up.  I even wrote some notes about the rant in a little book I keep with me, before I left the stall.

Charmin

The thing about that rant is that I also took a picture of it with my phone as I silently intoned the words: “Thanks Steve.”  Actually, I didn’t intone those words.  That would have been just plain weird.  I’ll show you the picture of the dispenser in a minute but my point here is that this whole thing is a great example of the profound impact that technology has had on our lives.

Since Steve Jobs woke up one morning and insisted on shrinking the optics for a camera down to the point where he could stick it (the camera) on a phone, we now have several generations of people spending between 97 to 99% of their waking hours taking pictures of themselves, exchanging them (the pictures) with friends, strangers and probably advanced beings from other planets for all  I know, and also occasionally committing heinous violations of basic rules of grammar such as “Composeth  not, the run-on sentence.”

Whew!  That was a long sentence in case you didn’t notice.  But I’ll bet E.B. White noticed.  I’ll bet he’s rolling  over in his grave as I type, along with Ayn Rand, who by the way, is hardly one to talk since she probably penned the longest soliloquy known to Mankind.  (It was John Galt’s 80-page speech in Atlas Shrugged.)  Hamlet had nothing on her.  I mean it.

But meanwhile back at the rant (!), here’s the picture I took:

toilet paper dispenser
Admonition inscribed on toilet paper dispenser

Now don’t get me wrong. This is a great sentiment as far as sentiments go, and clearly this is a deeply concerned individual who happens to carry a Sharpie marker at all times and also appreciates the value of a captive audience.  I’m still grappling with the placement of the hyphens though, not to mention all those capitals. Plus  I think Tailight is misspelled.  I feel like the spelling is either “tail-lights” or maybe it’s two words “tail light”, but I’m not sure.  Let me go check…

A few minutes later…

Dang!  It’s: “tail lights.”

tesla-model-s-p85d-2015-taillight
Grammarian puzzling over correct spelling of “tail light”

The first thing that popped into my mind after I read that cautionary inscription was a  picture of the International Space Station, serenely rotating through space as it orbited the Earth majestically.  And once every rotation, somewhere on the body of the thing, this message would roll into view, no doubt written by advanced beings from other planets who were lured here by Snap Chat:

“Running lights OFF, Earth. You’re wasting a shit-ton of electricity.”

space-station-live

earth from space

And finally, here’s a picture of the notes I wrote when I saw the sobering toilet paper dispenser.   I took the picture with my phone, of course.

rant notes

Thanks again, Steve.

Next column: The Worst Sound In The World

Fake Owls

Fake news is making headlines these days although outrageous, bogus news stories are nothing new.  For example, the National Enquirer, famous for fake news, dates back to shortly after the signing of the Magna Carta, as shown by the July 5, 1215 woodcut (below right).

mermaids
Mermaids Negotiate Peace Treaty Between France and England

(Actually I’m lying.  The National Enquirer started in 1926.)

You have to admit though, that there have been some great fake headlines over the years.  One of my personal favorites is “Face Of Alfred. E. Neuman Appears In Slice Of Toast On  Pope’s Breakfast Tray”  Or maybe it was “Face Of Pope Appears In Slice Of Toast On Alfred E. Neuman’s Breakfast Tray.”  I forget which.

toast face

OK, maybe I made that headline up.  Nobody even knows who Alfred E. Neuman is any more.  And I have no idea who the guy in the toast is.

But  here’s  a real fake headline that appeared in the Weekly World News in 1937.  The tipoff that it’s fake is that Hilary was only eight years old in 1937.

alien baby

Speaking of aliens, how about the whole Bigfoot On Mars thing that hit the news in late 2007?  OK, maybe the shape in the picture below sort of looks like it has the torso of a Sasquatch, but the rest of it looks more like a seal, or maybe a walrus.

20130529_sasquatch
Bigfoot en route to potato field

 

 

 

 

 

But while we’re talking about fakes, let’s talk about this whole business of using fake plastic owls to keep pigeons from crapping on your roof or balcony.  There’s this gigantic fake owl industry (well, pretty big fake owl industry) built on the premise that pigeons are stupid, and can’t tell an immobile owl-replica from the real thing.

But this isn’t true.  The gigantic fake owl industry is built on the fact that humans can’t tell the difference.  I know this because there is a grassy expanse  on the other side of the parking lot just outside the window of my office.  There’s a fake owl tacked on to a post at the edge of that grass.  Every time I look out my window, I do a double-take and think to myself, “Dang!  Look at that owl!  What the heck is it doing over there?”

IMG_1328
Fake owl mocking me with its immobility

The pigeons figure out that the immobile plastic object is no threat after a couple of days, tops.  Then they start laughing at us humans.  To my point, here’s a little  vignette I ran across on a fake-owl debunking site which says it all:

“I remember telling my wife when we were first dating to get a fake owl to scare the pigeons away, she pointed over to the next balcony where a fake owl was covered in pigeon shit.”

And from the same site:

“I think the fake owls work better if you have a lot of real owls around your place. Nesting boxes, tall pole perches, mowing your orchard, leaving a light on near your garden/orchard and playing owl calls over the stereo are good ways to attract screech owls and barred owls. (Horned owls, too.) When you get a bunch of real owls, the other birds can’t always be so sure that the owl decoys are fake. (It helps to move the fake owls around a lot, too.) ”

So these people went to the trouble to attract a bunch of real owls to their orchard or whatever, but they still spent money on fake owls.  Plus, it sounds like they spent a lot of time moving the fake owls around.  What was wrong with the real owls?  It just goes to show you that you can fool a couple of pigeons all of the time and you can fool all of the pigeons for a couple of days, but you can fool all of us humans as long as you have a healthy supply of fake owls, especially the ultra-realistic ones that flap their plastic wings, move their heads and hoot convincingly.

I think that people should just quit diddling around with stupid fake owls and move on to something like this:

IMG_1331 (2)
Unretouched photo taken near my house

That bad boy probably cost a fortune, but this next picture puts it all into perspective:

IMG_1330 (2)That, my friends, is a Porsche Cayman.  And there was a Maserati parked on the street in front of that house.  I am not making up so much as a single syllable of any of this.  There wasn’t a single femtogram of pigeon poop anywhere on those vehicles, either.

I wouldn’t shit you about this.

Next column: How to scare away car thieves

 

Einstein’s Last Thought Experiment

Well it’s been more than two months since my last column and for lack of a better excuse, I’m blaming it mostly on the fact that things have been stressful at work lately and I don’t have a Therapy Dog.  As we all know,  Therapy Dogs are specially trained to provide comfort to a wide range of people these days including shut-ins, sick people,  disaster survivors and accountants.  When things just get too tough, a therapy dog is there to well…mostly just be there, and maybe lick your face once in awhile.

It’s a tough job and not all dogs are up for the task, given the long list of characteristics of a good Therapy Dog.  You can check them (the characteristics) out if you want, but basically a Therapy Dog has to be friendly, tolerant, confident, mature, healthy, self-controlled and focused.

My dog Mickey is a good boy, but he would make a lousy Therapy Dog; he falls a bit short in the focus department.  For example when we’re out playing fetch, he will get the ball and be making his way back toward me when he suddenly stops dead, stares off into the distance with a vacant expression on his face, and lets the ball drop out of his mouth to the ground.  Then I have to go over to him, interrupt his reverie and say, “Mickey!  What the heck are you staring at?  There’s nothing out there.”  Then he’ll blink, give his head a bit of a shake, look up at me in surprise and pick up his ball.

But where was I?

Oh yeah, I need to talk to you about a new trend in veterinary psychiatry: Therapy Dog Burnout.  Apparently Therapy Dogs can burn out, just like human caregivers.  So if you have a Therapy Dog, there are some things you need to be doing to make sure it can continue to perform its service to Humanity in general, and college students in particular.  You need to make sure your dog stays in good physical condition and gets lots of chances to do all the stuff regular dogs do such as wallowing in the decomposing carcasses of badgers and maintaining a healthy stool microbiome by nibbling on random pieces of dog poop.  You also might want to make sure your Therapy Dog flosses regularly, with all that face-licking it will be doing.  Just saying.

badger2

Every dog has a favorite toy or two, and Therapy Dogs are no exception.  Mickey, for example, has a bee, and also a spider (not shown).  I don’t know what’s up with the insect theme here; if it was left up to me, I would never buy a stuffed bee or spider for my dog.  But at home, these types of decisions are above my pay grade.

Mickey's Bee
Mickey’s Bee

 

Brinkley, the dog on the right, has possibly just been arrested (note Police Officer on phone in background).  But that’s not my point; my point is that Brinkley too, has a favorite toy that looks like it might be some kind of weird fish.

comfort-dog
Brinkley cuddling unidentified toy

And look at that other dog, up at the start of this column.  It has a teddy bear.  It also needs a pedicure.

So it’s pretty clear that you need to make sure your Therapy Dog has at least one toy on hand at all times, to stay at the top of its game.

 

And while we’re on the topic, apparently there are other Therapy Animals,  including horses, cats, guinea pigs, snakes and parrots already out there ministering to people.  The concept of a Therapy Parrot got me thinking, I have to admit.

image03
Therapy parrots currently not on speaking terms

You: I am so stressed out today.

Your Therapy Parrot:  Awwwk! You’re stressed?  I’m stuck on this perch all day.  Lucy won’t talk to me.  My neck is killing me.  I’m only 5 years old and I’m probably going to live at least another 50 years!  Awwwk!

You: Buck up Polly.  Things could be a lot worse.  You could be a land tortoise.

The idea of a Therapy Cat also works for me, and apparently others, too.  For example, here is an unretouched photo of a  Black Ninja Therapy Cat (on left), hard at work comforting an infant afflicted with Pink Baby Syndrome, by probing its head.  The baby seems to be OK with it though.

cat soothing baby
Black Ninja Therapy Cat in classic soothing/probing pose

But nobody seems to be talking about the possibility that maybe Therapy Dogs should also have their own special Therapy Animals to turn to for comfort, to de-stress and avoid burnout. This is not as far-fetched as you would think. Why couldn’t all these Therapy Animals help each other out?  They could!  Things could get really complicated though, as demonstrated by the following Thought Experiment.  (Remember that Einstein’s Special Theory of Relativity was developed when he started thinking about what would happen if you happened to be riding a beam of light.)

Anyway, here goes:

Say you have a Therapy Horse…

Mr. Ed

It eventually starts to show signs of burnout such as obsessively watching Mr. Ed reruns and repetitively neighing a bizarre rendition of  Jimi Hendrix’ “Purple Haze,” so you bring in a Therapy Dog.  hendrix

The Therapy Dog burns out, not only because it’s no picnic babysitting a horse, but also because it hates Jimi Hendrix.  You know all this because the dog has lost  interest in badger carcass-wallowing and poop-gobbling.  Plus it’s laying around all day with its paws over its ears.

Undaunted, you bring in a Therapy Cat to backstop the Therapy Dog, but it too eventually succumbs to the unrelenting stress and starts yowling more-or-less in tune with the horse.  In desperation you recruit a Talk Therapy Parrot.  A Talk Therapy Parrot is pretty much like a regular human therapist but a lot funnier, as it has no filter.  And it’s only a matter of time until the parrot loses it and starts cursing away like a drunken sailor.

You can’t stand all the neighing, moping, ear-covering, slightly off-key yowling, probing and cursing.  You need some peace and quiet.  Logically then, you bring in a nice Therapy Flower such as a Therapy Honeysuckle, to sooth the foul-mouthed Therapy Parrot.

flower

Sooner or later though, the Therapy Honeysuckle needs to be pollinated, so as a last resort you bring in a Therapy Bee.

This turns out to be a genius maneuver; Einstein himself couldn’t have done better.

 

 

Therapy Bee:  Hi Honey! (pun intended)  Bzzz. I’m home!

Husband of Therapy Bee:  Bzzz.  Bzzz. How was your day? Bzzz.

Therapy Bee:  Horrible!  Bzzz. My head is so full, it’s buzzing.

Husband of Therapy Bee: Awwww… Bzzz.  Here, let me groom your antennae.

Therapy Bee: Hell no! Bzzz.  I need a drink!!!  Do we have any mead?

Well, quite frankly, this is getting pretty ridiculous so I want to close now, but I’ll leave you with this simple piece of advice about coping with stress:

“Therapy Animals come and go, but just remember that it’s always 5 o’clock somewhere.  Especially in the hive.”

Next column: Negative Mass