What To Do If You Have Too Much Time On Your Hands

I’ve had the following conversation with various children (most of them mine) at least fifty times over the last fifteen years.  Maybe you have too.  Not sure why you’d be talking to my kids but I’m not going to nit-pick.  Let’s just get going in the interests of saving time.

Imagine that your kid is strolling toward the front door…

You: Where are you going?

Your kid: The mall.

You:  The mall?  Which one?  Market Mall? Chinook? Heritage?  Last time I checked there were approximately thirty-seven malls in Calgary.

Your kid:  Long sigh followed by eye-rolling and a pause… We’re going to CrossIron Mills.

You:  OK, great.  Have fun and remember: clarity of speech is a virtue.  And while you’re at it, don’t forget that iconic American riverboat pilot-turned iconic American silver miner-turned iconic American author Samuel Langhorn Clemens once said: ” The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and lightning bug.”

Noted riverboat pilot/silver miner/author Samuel Langhorn Clemens posing in front of an early prototype of a Dyson Airblade

As an aside, one of the other things that Clemens said was, “What in the heck ever possessed me to start hanging out with Nikola Tesla?”

Samuel Langhorn Clemens saying to his buddy-iconic crazy Serbian-American genius and prankster-Nikola Tesla (lurking in background with an impish expression on his face): “Nikola, I said lightning bug! Not lightning! Turn this damned thing off!”

I swear on my Model S that this is not a phony picture.  They were besties.  Tesla may even have helped Clemens invent a wireless moustache trimmer.

Anyway… I might have been at the mall searching for a copy of The Electrifying Adventures Of Mark Twain and Nikola Tesla (Who Needs Wires Anyway?) but I happened to detour into Time Capsules `R Us first.  In case you haven’t noticed, there are a lot of pretty cool time capsules for sale these days.

housecat-sized time capsule
Housecat-sized time capsule

Who would have ever thought that some day there would be an entire store devoted to selling time capsules? But there it was, right next to World Of Paperclips.

And there I was, confronted by all these time capsules, so I started thinking about what the heck I would put in one.  Specifically, what could I put in a time capsule that would give our descendants a really clear picture of what we were like?

The answer came to me immediately: I could make a detailed analysis of a random issue of the Hammacher-Schlemmer catalogue and stick THAT in the time capsule.  From the detailed analysis, our descendants will get an unvarnished picture of what we were like.

For example, they might conclude that many of us retired to Florida (before most of it went underwater) where we proceeded to obsess over our health-and also thank our lucky stars that we decided to buy stock in FedEx and UPS.

Since I had too much time on my hands I decided to perform that detailed analysis.  And here it is:

DETAILED ANALYSIS OF THE 2019 HAMMACHER SCHLEMMER SUMMER SUPPLEMENT

2019 summer supplement Hmmacher Schlemmer
This bike is nowhere near the Remote-Controlled Abrams Tank, which is on page 70, in case you want one.

I identified 24 categories of health-related products plus this kick-ass kite which I  felt deserved an honorable mention.

F-35 kite
F-35 kite (Pilot’s license not included)

From all the other non-kite-related categories, I concluded that:

(a) Our feet are a big issue for us-I catalogued 31 products related to foot problems (neuropathy, swelling, plantar fasciitis and general comfort), some of them spring-loaded!

spring-loaded insoles-excellent for leaping tall buildings

(b) Our eyesight and hearing are terrible-30 offerings  related to vision-mostly glasses, lamps and voice-clarifiers/amplifiers

Advanced rearview mirror-includes 22-page installation manual
gooseneck viewer
Dang you Patches! Are you under there? Your supper is ready.  If the Roomba is under there too tell it it come out.

(c) Joint problems are rampant-I noted 22 items including massagers (some of them laser-assisted!), heating pads, braces, and a small masseuse named Hector.

Now where was that “Off” button again?  I KNEW I should have checked out that little Hector guy

(d) Collectively, we worry too much about our lips, sagging skin, toenails, faces, teeth and last-but-not-least our sinuses-13 gadgets total

I have to stop eating dragonflies once and for all.
My name is Alexa and I work for Amazon. How can I help you?
sinus irrigator
Sinus lavage device including convenient repository for any small metal parts that might wash out of your nose.

(e) We are lousy sleepers-the tally included 12 beds, mattresses, wedges, toppers, and a lounger

wake me up in 2783
Wake me up in 2783 if my alarm doesn’t go off

Well that was instructive, but I feel like I should get back to looking for that book I mentioned and I know you probably have better things to do too.  One of the other things on my list is doing something about those darned kids who keep sneaking into my pool.  Maybe Hammacher Schlemmer can help…

fake alligator
This thing is nowhere near the replica 1635 AD torture device/Cervical Traction Back Stretcher which is on page 55.  I know you want one.
cervical traction device
Why was that giraffe staring at me in the zoo?

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

 

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