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 in this photo, 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


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

I just think that the underwear draws attention to Bigfoot’s derriere.  That’s all I’m saying.  But the plant in the background is a nice touch.  All in all you get the feeling that this chap is a down-to-earth 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

Now you may have noticed that several of the 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

To combat this trend, and to save space, appliance manufactures have taken to making multipurpose kitchen appliances.  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, inventors (some of them human) have been busily inventing all these 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 some kind of 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 TV remotes, PVRs, home entertainment consoles, lawn irrigation systems, thermostats, electric toothbrushes, etc, etc.  The instruction manuals for the new high-tech versions of all these household items are so complicated that they make you feel like you have the IQ of a mouse.










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 look that you like and just work it.





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.”









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.

Closeup of label bearing the word ‘Argon’ in size 4 font
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.


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”)

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.

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.


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?”

the death of socrates.jpg
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:


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