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1 … 2 … GO! … 3 … Ready?

My brother was an early adopter, always wanting to be among the first to try a new thing, especially electronic stuff. He got out ahead of the crowd on laser video discs, for example. I remember marveling at the colorful LP sized platter that he brought out when it was time to watch a movie on that early machine. The thing whirred and heated up and eventually spat out some video that was a darn sight better than what we were seeing on VCR at the time, but of course it was nothing like today’s HD discs. He only collected a few films in this format before it became antiquated.

I can’t think of a time when I’ve been ahead of the crowd. Although I started to do an audio podcast around about the time the first enthusiasts lost interest in them, and now I understand they’re all the rage again, so I was both too late and too early to catch on to that trend.

Apparently there are people out there already gloating over and/or regretting their quick adoption of Apple’s latest iPhone, but there is some evidence to suggest that those riding the crest of every technological wave are better for it, eventually.

I don’t know if that’s true in nature, though.


There’s one branch on a tree in the back yard that thinks we’re at mid-October already. It spotted the “going orange” trend early and decided to jump in with abandon, though I’m sure some of the nearby limbs are thinking it’s a little soon to stake out that territory. What if the “hot” leaf color turns out to be blue this year?

How do you know when the time is right?

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Wheel of Misfortune

Today’s post is a letter to the editor.

To the Editor:

I was insulted by your recent article that sings the praises of what you called a “Human Hamster Wheel“, portraying it as a reasonable and even groundbreaking advance over the standard office desk.

I shouldn’t need to tell you that the term “Hamster Wheel” is offensive to all Rodent Americans, as it is often used in a belittling fashion, hand-in-hand with descriptions of futile, frenetic, and strangely comic activities. But it may come as a surprise to you that we hamsters do not relish pointless work and we get no joy from the kind of running that leads to no real change in location.

Our main concern, especially in the wild, is survival.

And in the name of that cause, no motion is wasted. If you saw me hoarding seeds and nuts you would realize that I work hard. Why do you think I stuff my cheeks so full?  Saves on steps, that’s why!  I can carry more snacks back to my burrow.

But efficiency is not what you would expect if your only image of us is of a creature running nowhere on a squeaky treadmill.

Humans, on the other hand, are famous effort wasters. You  relish creating multiple systems that require a lot of activity from hopeful participants in the name of creating something meaningful but instead these bright ideas yield no tangible results.

The smug looking man in the video appears to be very satisfied with himself for being inside a rotating circle.

For hamsters, it is just the opposite. When you see us running on the inside of a metal wheel, we are enraged! And the fact that you stand around and laugh at us while we do it is infuriating.

So don’t tarnish our reputations by putting the name “Hamster” on this  endless “circle of frustration.”

It’s a human invention, pure and simple.  So why don’t you just call it “Congress”?

A. Hamster


Name something that is mis-named.  


Eclectic Outpost

Today is the first day of the fall membership drive at the little radio station where I direct most of my time and energy these days.

KFAI Fresh Air Radio is in its 37th year and has, over the decades, been home to some of the most unusual, creative, soulful, earnest, nonsensical, transcendent and impractical radio programs ever made. There is a history buried under the worn-out carpet and hidden behind the dusty racks of obsolete technology, fondly recalled by old-timers when they sift through a program names graveyard that includes provocative titles like Little City in Space, Ideal Cafe Jukebox, Frogucci, Root of All Evil, Radio Rumpus Room, Musica Mundana, One Bubble Off Plumb and Indian Uprising. And lest you think those out-of-the-mainstream days are gone, consider some of the current programs like Strictly Butter, Fubar Omniverse, Rocket Ship Ska Trip, and Crap From The Past.

Experts say the radio business is personality-driven but there are only a few personality types permitted in commercial broadcasting, all fitting a certain vocal quality standard and each of them turning out to be a slightly different flavor of loudmouth. On KFAI you can hear shouters, sweet talkers, mumblers, whisperers and people who sit quietly in front of the microphone waiting for the sound of a needle to drop. Yes, there are still turntables. And people who walk in off the street can wind up with a show someday if they demonstrate persistence and creativity. Try that at KSTP and let me know how it works out. Twelve languages are heard on the station, and no, there are no translations. When there is an Oromo, Somali, Eritrean or Hmong program on the air you either already get it, or you sit back and enjoy the sound of the words as a form of music, which, of course, it is.

Every show host works for love and freedom of expression. Even staff members who do shows are “off the clock” when they’re on the air. The rest of the time staff supports the volunteers, who struggle mightily against the tendency of all things electronic to eventually short out, break down or freeze up. In this way the place continues to run in spite of all odds and completely against the accepted theories of what radio stations should do. Among programmers there is a passionate devotion to that oddball listener who can’t find what she wants anywhere else and doesn’t even know what that is until she hears it. And because there is very little money for traditional marketing, the audience recruitment strategy relies heavily on chance. We fill the bird feeder with seed and hope customers will wander past and have their heads turned by an exotic flavor.

As you might imagine, that approach requires a zen-like patience interspersed with moments of panic..

So I invite you to tune in, stream the audio at your desk or download the app for your smart phone and give us a chance. Fair warning, though – with most radio stations, you’ll be able to get the gist of what they’re trying to do in about ten minutes. Commercial formats are designed to transparent and easily digested. But if you really want to figure out what’s going on at KFAI, it would help to set aside a few years.

When has investing extra time in a project proven to be worth it?


Inversion of the Burger Pods

How delightful that the perennial American fast-food also-ran, Burger King, is courting a financial inversion strategy that would make it technically Canadian.

This is one I will file under the heading Things I Already Thought Were True. Because there was always a slight Canadian tinge to BK, starting with the fake royalist vibe and including its cheese-smothered, can’t-be-good-for-you ham sandwich of the ’80’s, called the Yumbo, which sounds like something a starving Manitoba lumberjack would murmur when he hears the dinner bell.

I loved the Yumbo so much, I did not see how the bottom line of other junk food chains could compete with its obvious appeal. This is just another example of how completely out of step I am with what most Americans think. Back in the middle of the last half of the last century, when fast food was still a novel idea, a kid could imagine Burger King and McDonald’s competing for total control of our culture. The notion, back then, that one or the other might consume another entity that dispenses massive quantities of coffee and donuts would have been breathtaking and possibly the End of History. To have been able to get french fries and a chocolate old-fashioned at the very same counter would have kept me from reaching adulthood.

My other favorite thing about Burger King was that by wrapping its sandwiches in paper, the company stood in stark contrast to McDonald’s reliance on wasteful styrofoam clamshell containers, otherwise known as Burger Pods. When governments started to ban this kind of packaging and forced McDonald’s to re-configure, I thought Burger King had finally triumphed.

Alas, it was just one skirmish in a forgotten battle.

Today, in realm of trendy things that are taking over our lives and that cannot be stopped or ignored, fast food has fallen far behind the Internet and being drenched by Ice Water from Buckets. But there was a time when we even thought the future would be shaped by the containers our food came in – as frighteningly depicted in this trailer for a film by my friend Jeff Strate of Timid Video:

I did believe that I would never again live in a world without burger pods, though it has been years since I’ve seen one. And I have finally accepted that the Yumbo, like the Triceratops, will never again drip globs of cheese on a thirsty earth.

What did you used to eat that you don’t eat anymore?


Make Serious $$ In Your Pajamas!

Federal regulators have busted a work-from-home-scam that did not actually help anyone work from home.  The people who signed up received no gainful employment except perhaps the unpleasant job of trying to figure out where their money went.  This is the type of business you used to see touted on flyers stuck to telephone poles – back before the internet became a worldwide staple-ready blank space.

The notices usually said something like this:

Work Without Leaving Home!
Earn Unlimited Dollars In Your Pajamas!

This idea of making a living without having to leave the house has always carried a special allure for me because I am a natural introvert and a lifetime member of Persons Anonymous – a social support group for the low and no profiled.  We attract and retain members by having it as a defining article in our charter that we never actually meet.   But if we ever did get together, I’m certain the Persons Anonymous membership would discover that we, as a group, have been disappointed by “work from home” scams at a much higher rate than members of the general (sociable) population.   And chief among those disappointments would be the realization that “work from home” is not the same thing as “work alone” or “work without having to interact with other people”.  Some of these “work from home” scenarios involve making cold sales calls, or answering the phone, or dropping your pajamas on the floor and picking up your money on the dresser.

In fact, this past weekend’s arrests may confirm that the only way to truly make money in your pajamas is as a sleepwear model.   The sole requirement – that you look fetching in drawstring pants,  appealing in a terrycloth bathrobe and ravishing in adult onesies – an easy reach for Baboons, especially when they do your hair, apply the make up, and turn on the fans.

But of course you’d have to leave the house to go to the shoot.


What business have you (or would you) run out of your home?


Still Hanging Around

More unfortunate news for England’s Richard III – a year after he suffered the indignity of having his bones excavated from underneath a parking lot, researchers have received the green light to map his genome.

This means Richard III’s genetic secrets will be laid bare, including any serious medical conditions he was predisposed towards. Scoliosis, anyone? That’s the prevailing reason to resist having one’s DNA decoded – to avoid potential discrimination based on the likelihood that you will develop an expensive malady down the road.

Fortunately for Richard III, he doesn’t have to worry about such things because Obamacare is now the law of the land, so he can’t be denied coverage based on a pre-existing condition! He is also protected by the fact that he’s not from around here, and is already disintegrating.

Yet Richard III is still alive as a cultural figure even though his reputation remains dark. It’s bad enough to have great artists (Shakespeare!) interpret your legacy. They don’t really care about you – just their form of expression. And now the great scientists will have a go at telling Richard III’s story their own way. These test-tube shakers and number crunchers have no reason to be kind either – it’s all a collection of data points to them. So you could say Richard has an endless literary shelf life and will soon gain a timeless scientific stature too, but immortality of any sort is wasted on the dead.

Would you rather live forever as a dramatic villain, or a museum exhibit?


Crocodiles In Trees

I really don’t know much about alligators and crocodiles, including which is which. Whenever I wonder about their various differences I take a moment and look it up, (alligator – freshwater, “u” shaped snout / crocodile – salt water, “v” shaped snout) but when I’m face-to-face with one or the other, I always forget what I learned and panic in exactly the same way, regardless.


Because I have so much idle time, I often daydream about what I would do if a giant reptile decided I was worth the effort to chase down and, perhaps, eat. My first thought is that I would outrun the beast, though I’ve been informed that they are surprisingly fast – a bit of information that becomes more alarming as I age and become surprisingly slow.

I have always assumed that another convenient escape route for any potential human morsel would be to climb a nearby tree, since the only images I’ve seen of crocodiles and alligators depict them at ground level, or partially submerged. I climbed many a tree when I was a boy, and only fell out of one once. So I figured with the help of adrenaline I could probably get off the ground once again and cling to a higher branch until a sick goat happened to wander by to distract my frustrated reptilian pursuer.

But now comes the troubling information that alligators and crocodiles can climb. Obviously this puts a kink in my plans. Before this I had never considered the possibility that the words “… he was pulled out of a tree by an alligator” could someday appear in my obituary.

There’s nothing about that experience that sounds even remotely pleasant, although it would be a pretty remarkable thing to have as your official C.O.D. (cause of demise). The scenario does have me wondering where a treed human would try to kick an upwardly mobile crocodile or alligator, since they are pretty much all mouth on the front end. Surely there must be a strategy that would work!

A crocodilian has you up a tree. Now what?