Posted in zany, offbeat, somewhat silly humor

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
Posted in zany, offbeat, somewhat silly humor

Toilet Seat Lore

Well, it looks like I’m cranking these things out somewhat less often than I’d like to, but echoing the immortal words of John Cusack explaining to his prof why he was late to class in The Sure Thing (1985): “Well you see there was this problem and I’m late because of it.”

The problem is that a few weeks ago we woke up one morning and decided to adopt a seven year old border collie named Mickey. Everything you read about border collies says they need to have a job, so Mickey’s job is to play fetch 23 hours a day and look at me reproachfully the rest of the time.

So between Mickey and the treadmill, there’s not a lot of spare time these days. Plus, I didn’t have anything worth writing about until last week when we had visitors from head office, aka The Mothership. For the sake of argument, I’ll call one of the visitors Lisa Kearns (not her real name). “Lisa” was relaying to one of the people I share an office with what a great stay she had had in the Hotel Elan (otherwise known as the Hotel Elan), “a unique, business-friendly boutique hotel in Calgary, located uptown just off vibrant 17th Avenue SW.”

hotel-elanI wasn’t sure what a boutique hotel is so I Googled it.

A boutique hotel is “a small stylish hotel, typically situated in a fashionable urban location.” I read a few more entries and found a pearl of wisdom from Kobrun Vidisdottir, of Reykjavík, Iceland.

According to her, a boutique hotel is “an accommodation that makes their guests feel happy and contented while staying there, makes them feel extraordinary, makes them to realize that they should revert soon and makes them to recognize that this hotel is worth discussing with others.”

I followed most of what Kobrun was trying to say, but I got stuck at the part where she started talking about reverting. Reverting to what? Her maiden name? Windows 7? Human form? Then I figured out she meant return soon. Which reminds me, I should return to the theme of this column, which is supposed to be about toilets. But remind me to tell you a little bit more about Reykjavík in a minute.

Anyway, “Lisa” was going on about the heated and lighted toilet seat in her hotel room, which in her words “changed my life.” I asked her if her life routinely involved sitting on ice-cold toilet seats and she said no, the heated seat was just a particularly pleasant experience. Plus the underside of the seat was ringed with LEDs, which emitted a pleasing blue light.

Now this is important because everyone knows that if you wake up in the middle of the night and turn on a yellow or orange light, it will immediately shut down your melatonin. Everyone  also knows that the last thing you want to do is sit on an ice-cold toilet seat and shut down your melatonin when all you really want to do is take a pee and go back to sleep. But I guess it’s this kind of thing that separates a normal hotel from a boutique hotel. It’s still sort of surreal though, like going to the bathroom in 2176 AD.

Speaking of going to the bathroom in 2176 AD, Calgary happens to have a few choice, futuristic, public washrooms strategically located about the city. I had the chance to use one a few years ago, but to refresh my memory about the entire experience, I paid a visit to one near my house, at the Tuscany LRT station. (My house is not at the Tuscany LRT station; the futuristic public washroom is at the Tuscany LRT station.)


For starters, it’s pretty futuristic-looking. You approach the door, push a button, the door slides open and you find yourself in a little room with a lot of stainless steel including a stainless-steel toilet, with no toilet seat.


You push another button (“Toilet Seat”) which triggers a bunch of disturbing mechanical noises. A panel in the wall slides open and a toilet seat deploys from behind the panel, spraying liquid in the process. (I am not making any of this up.) You half-expect that some robot arms with metallic claws will appear, seize your eyelids and pry them open, like in “A Clockwork Orange.” A mellifluous robotic voice guides you through the whole process, accompanied by a stirring rendition of “The Ride of the Valkryies.” (kidding)

second-buttonYou go to the bathroom, and if you can’t figure out how to flush, there are instructions to help. Once you wash your hands, the toilet seat folds back into its nook, the panel slides back down and you’re good to go. (I thought you went.)


But say you’re still sitting down or just remaining immobile for some reason (shock probably). The mellifluous robotic voice comes back on and tells you that you have about 20 seconds until the cubicle door opens, unless you start moving around soon. If you don’t move around, the voice starts counting down. Seriously.

I actually filmed this whole thing and you can check it out here:

(Futuristic Public Washroom video clip)

My son Ty got quite panicky once, when the mellifluous robotic voice announced the countdown while he was still working on Step 2 or whatever. He leaped up from his perch and began waving his arms madly, until he gained the precious seconds he needed to finish his business.

The whole setup is just so weird that I fully expected to emerge from that washroom to find myself catapulted two or three centuries past 2176 AD and face to face with a Dalek or else “Robot” from Lost in Space. “Danger, Will Robinson! Danger!”

verdarobbyThere is another high-end toilet (intended for household use although I’m sure a boutique hotel somewhere has one), which automatically deploys a menacing-looking probe from somewhere in the bowels (pun intended) of the toilet bowl. The probe emits a gentle spray of water which you direct with a complicated remote control. But since I can barely use my TV remote, I probably won’t buy one of those washing probe-equipped commodes, even if I could afford one. I’m saving up for a time machine.

Last but not least, if you happen to have to go potty in O’Hare Airport in Chicago, brace yourself. When you’re in the cubicle, you press a button on an apparatus situated on the back of the toilet. You hear mechanical noises and then a protective plastic sleeve shoots out and envelopes the toilet seat. You do what you went in for, then get up and after more mechanical whirring noises, the sleeve disappears into the apparatus behind the toilet seat.

My only question is: what happens to the sleeve you sat on? Do they just toss it, or is it sent back around for the next unsuspecting victim? I know, I probably shouldn’t worry about these things, but I just can’t help it. Call me a Luddite, but I just think things are getting way too complicated here in 2015.

I think I’ll move to Reykjavík. Quoting here from (whatever that is) about the downtown area: “The old city center is atmospheric and relaxed. Many excellent cafes, bars and restaurants are located there and there are also many shops, including stores specializing in traditional souvenirs and stocking a good selection of merchandise, including crafts, replicas of Viking artifacts, ceramics, jewelry, playing cards, books, calendars, sheepskin products – and Iceland’s famous wool products. “

Sounds great. I’m fresh out of Viking artifacts, so I’ll definitely check it out.  But I bet the toilet seats are freezing.