Name Game

A couple of weeks ago I mentioned slipping on the ice and wrecking my clutch operating leg. As a result I was unable to drive and started using public transportation, which turned out to be easy and fun, mostly.

Then there was the day I went to the wrong stop one block south of where I was supposed to be, missed my connection and had to wait an extra hour for the next bus to come along. That was my mistake – a consequence of thinking I knew the system when, in fact, I didn’t.

Creating a logical and memorable network is one of the challenges transit planners face. Things that are easy to use get used more often. It becomes complicated when there are jumble of options for riders to de-code – regular busses, express busses, light rail and BRT, (Bus Rapid Transit), in which busses mimic the feel of rail and operate on a completely separate or somewhat exclusive right-of-way.

LRT and BRT are being developed as a system within the system, offering “enhanced” service along “transitways” that are clearly defined. The Hiawatha Avenue light rail line is fairly obvious, and completely tearing up and rebuilding University Avenue over the next few years for the Central Corridor LRT will make the path of that line indelible.

The zoomy looking transit station plopped down in the middle of I-35W at 46th Street in South Minneapolis is a new landmark. When I first saw it, I knew I wanted to go someplace from there. The problem was – where?

Back when there were no roads to speak of, people got around on the rivers, literally paddling their own canoes. That’s why I was tickled to see this – a cartographer named Daniel Huffman who teaches at UW-Madison re-drew the Mississippi River basin as a transit map.

It’s a fun piece of artwork that gets me thinking about the river in a different way, but I’m guessing the Native Americans who used the rivers as transit corridors before the Europeans showed up didn’t need this kind of help to get around. The Mississippi, Ohio and Missouri were perfectly legible without “branding”.

But the new system could use marketing help, and the Metro Council is asking for some. Here’s an excerpt from a press release that invites naming suggestions for the developing LRT/BRT component of the Twin Cities public transit network:

“We’re anxious to see what creative ideas the public has for this exciting new element of our transit system,” said Arlene McCarthy, director of Metropolitan Transportation Services for the Council. We’ll be looking for name ideas that identify this service as a distinct part of our system, while incorporating aspects of the character of the Twin Cities region.”

Intriguing challenge, but how do you collapse all of that into a couple of memorable, useful, descriptive words? What is the character of the Twin Cities region? Yow.
If you have ideas, you can send them one of these ways:

By mail to the Regional Data Center at 390 Robert St. N., St. Paul, MN 55101
By e-mail
Record your idea at 651-602-1500 (TTY 651-291-0904)
By Fax 651-602-1464
Or just use the online form.

Again, we see the tricky problem of navigating multiple modes of transport. In this case, which path to choose for conveying your brilliant ideas?

Are you good at naming things?

Don’t Panic!

Today is the anniversary of the first broadcast of the first radio installment of Douglas Adams’ “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”. I mention it only because I know some Trail Baboon regulars are fans of the author and the series, which went on to include books, TV shows, movies, more radio shows, a video game, lots of websites and who knows what else.

But it started as a for-ears-only experience.

The online description of the beginning states it thus: “Despite a low-key launch of the series (the first episode was broadcast at 10:30 p.m. on Wednesday, 8 March 1978), it received generally good reviews and a tremendous audience reaction … for radio.”

I love the “… for radio” part. Who listens to radio at 10:30 on a Wednesday night? For drama? Comic, science fiction drama? In Britain in 1978, the answer was “just enough.”

The video and film versions never quite measured up to the original, for me. But then I’m biased in favor of “the theater of the mind”, where some say the pictures are better but it’s also true that you automatically edit out any mind-pictures that don’t measure up – perhaps an unfair advantage for the creaky old medium.

This You Tube non-video offers the first ten minutes of the first episode.

Shortly after this clip ends, the world is destroyed. Not a bad first step along the way to starting something new.

I can only guess that Adams did not expect this project to draw the cult following it did, or to take up so much of his limited time on Earth. He died of a heart attack at age 49.

Clearly “The Hitchhiker’s Guide” is an example of something with modest beginnings that became much grander and infinitely more complicated. So hurrah for modest beginnings!

What have you done that met with unexpected success?

Goats in the News

Goats usually wind up in the news for one of two reasons.

1) Grazing on prominent or public lands as a cost efficient way of clearing weeds.
2) Being locked in the trunk of a car, sometimes painted to look like Brett Favre.

Thank goodness it’s option number one this time, as it appears there is no limit to our amazement that goats will do an efficient job of nibbling a field. The latest media stars are a group of animals who are munching away at the Palos Verdes Nature Preserve in California. Among their constant companions are a keeper (goatherder) and his dog, referred to by the L.A. Times as Choi and Troy. You’ll have to read the story to figure out which is which. Ultimately it doesn’t matter – they both have pretty cool entry-level jobs on the ground floor of what may turn out to be our coming goat-based economy.

In the sports department, I’m sorry to say the Chelan High School Goats lost to Granger at the state basketball tournament in Yakima, Washington. You won’t find a lot of high schools flying the goat banner. When it comes to mascots the sports world is heavily weighted towards big cats and birds of prey, but it’s hard to think of an animal more hardy and nimble than a goat. Too bad climbing up the backboard isn’t allowed!

In Potomac, Maryland, there are quadruplets! That’s almost a complete basketball team in one litter.

In the arts section, there’s word in the St. Paul Pioneer Press about a play called “Goats” which is being presented by the Minnesota Jewish Theater.
There are no actual goats in the show, which might be a disappointment for literalists in the audience. But then there were no real cats in “Cats”, either. The production is on through March 27th at the Hillcrest Center Theater, 1978 Ford Parkway in St. Paul.

As long as we’re on the topic of ungulates in show biz, here’s a shot from the MeadowWild Farm Barnies, being awarded perpetually at Barb and Steve’s blog, Out to Pasture.

In a science fiction movie, this is what would happen if those animals clearing the Palos Verdes Nature Preserve accidentally wandered into a top secret military testing area, ate radioactive weeds, got past Choi and Troy and began to mingle with the Hollywood folk.

Crimes Against Nature? Yes, but they’re award winners too!

What current news story might be improved by the addition of a few goats?

Space Shot

As we enjoy our first weekend shivering through the frozen month of March, 2011, I thought it would be appropriate to visit a old friend who is considerably colder than we are, but apparently unfazed – the Cassini spacecraft, continuing to orbit Saturn.

I check every now and then to see the latest shots from the Cassini camera. If you like the sight of lumpy moons and massive, sharp, razor thin rings set against the perfect blackness of space, there’s lots to love at the Cassini site. And then there’s this:

Cassini is looking past the southern edge of the moon Rhea to see the moon Dione, which appears to be rolling along the outer rings.

Photographers know you sometimes have to wait for things to line up before you can take that perfect shot. The Cassini orbiter was launched in October of 1997, so it took more than 13 years of patience to wait for the elements in this image to compose themselves just so. That’s a lot of time to spend with the flash charged up and your finger on the button!

Forget Watson winning at Jeopardy! Patience is the area where machines will put us to shame!

What have you had to wait for?

The Job of Rest

I’m so exhausted, I’ve turned over the blog to an advocacy group today.
It’s Infomercial Time! This guest blog is by Dr. Cozy Futon, Executive Director of Physicians for Bedrest, a non profit health care group advocating completion of the Job of Rest – America’s most pressing national duty.

Are you one of the 1/3 of all Americans who can’t concentrate because they don’t get enough sleep?

Sure, I can repeat it. I said, “Are you one of the 1/3 of ALL AMERICANS who CAN’T CONCENTRATE because they don’t get enough sleep?”

You may have heard me the first time, but you weren’t able to process it because your brain is fried from excessive awakiness. Just yesterday, the CDC revealed the results of a new survey – the finding is that far too many people shortchange themselves on sleep, and their health is affected.

A major part of the problem – Americans don’t see sleep as an important component of good health care. But the truth is – sleep can be a great tonic. Things happen inside the body during sleep that we still don’t understand. And why don’t we understand? We’re too tired to figure it out.

Physicians for Bedrest believes sleep is a key to solving many of the world’s problems:

* Turmoil in the middle east? More sleep for dictators!

* Labor strife in the Midwest? Everybody take a nap, you’ll be less cranky!

* Unbalanced budgets? Sleepers spend less than money and use fewer resources than people who are awake.

Let’s take a closer look at that last one.

Everybody knows we’ve got a money problem in our state capitals, at the federal level, and even in our homes. There is simply not enough money to finance all the things we want to do! And this ever increasing “wanting” is something that only comes from people who are awake. Awake people want goods, they want services, and they want security – in many cases they want these things as a way to ease distress brought on by sleep deprivation. By contrast, a sleeping person has most of their needs satisfied, by definition! They are at rest!

The CDC report says 70 million Americans get less than 7 hours rest, when the recommended amount is between 8 and 9 hours daily.

Look at the numbers!

If you get 6.5 hours instead of 8.5 hours, you’re 24% under your sleep target!
70 million people who are 24% more awake than they should be translates to an additional 16.8 million people driving on our roads, eating our food, picketing our legislatures and insulting our public employees! Our physical, political, and emotional infrastructures can’t stand the strain!

And if those numbers don’t seem right to you, what do you expect? Your brain is foggy from playing Angry Birds all night. Just accept my statistics and take a nap, you knucklehead!

The situation seems dire but we can get through it if we only close our eyes (make sure you’re not operating heavy equipment) and imagine a better, more well rested future. C’mon, America. Let’s sleep on it!

Thanks to Dr. Futon for her soothing, swimming words. When I briefly scanned her text, that’s what the words appeared to be up to – the backstroke. Impressive. I wonder how she makes them do that? To save time and energy, I’ll simply agree with everything she said and move on.

Promoting healthy sleep is a good idea, and as Dr. Futon suggests, it could be patriotic. But like any marketing campaign you have to make sure you’re reaching the right audience. What we don’t want is to miss the mark and accidentally persuade those who are already getting enough sleep, to sleep more.

Are you one of the people who needs to Sleep for America?

I’ll Give You Mine If You Give Me Yours

Beth-Ann wrote the other day with a link to the Minneapolis contemporary furniture design company, Blu Dot. This is the quirky local firm that announced the opening of its Manhattan store a year and a half ago by abandoning several dozen chairs on the street corners of New York just to see what would happen.

Now Blu Dot is trying a new technique to get its furniture into the hands of customers – barter. Online barter, with voting. They’re calling it a Swap Meet.

Here’s how it works – you go to the company’s website, find a piece of furniture you covet, and then propose to trade something for it. Other readers have the opportunity to endorse your offer (or not).

Fun gimmick, and it’s interesting to see what people think they have that’s worth a fold out bed or a futuristic looking metal chair. I’m most impressed with Kirk McCall’s offer of some authentic, artistic 17th century sound effect machines (for opera) in exchange for a sofa. Invaluable, especially if you’re about to produce an opera in a venue without electricity! Blu Dot has already accepted a proposal to trade a sectional for a full sized motorcycle sculpture made out of 9,000 popsicle sticks. Smart move.

I wrote about Blu Dot for The Line and KFAI, and as part of my research visited the company’s one retail outlet in the Twin Cities, a little store called Roam, across the street from the International Design Center in Minneapolis. Of course the thing I found that I liked the most was an expansive, futuristic desk called Desk 51 – physically solid and heavy but visually light and sleek. Unfortunately, I can’t think of a thing I have that’s worth $699 in trade, unless it’s fawning publicity, and I’ve already delivered that for free.

Besides, there might be ethical concerns. A few.

Speaking of barter, it’s time once again to offer an opportunity for you to trade your writing and your unique perspective on the world for fantastically valuable rewards – my gratitude and the rapt attention of your fellow baboons. I’m hoping to run a string of guest blogs during the week of March 21st. Sherrilee and Barbara in Robbinsdale have already submitted some excellent posts. Four more will get us through the week.

Any takers? You can e-mail me directly at

UPDATE: Clyde, tim, Beth-Ann and Jim have stepped forward. We’re set for the March guest spots. Thanks, bartering baboons!

What goods and services have you exchanged through barter?

Ask Dr. Babooner

Dear Dr. Babooner,

I’ve been very worried about something personal, but I don’t know how to talk about it politely.

I recently heard a doctor on a TV show describe … well, you know when you go to the bathroom? Not number one, but the other one? This TV doctor said if you’re a healthy person, the deposit should be shaped like the letter “S” because it stands for “Super”, which is how you’re supposed to feel once you’re done.

Naturally, I took a look the next time and was shocked to discover that mine formed the letter “L”. I don’t know how I managed to make my offering turn such a sharp corner, but I was sufficiently concerned that I approached my next bathroom visit with quite a bit of consternation.

It was justified, as I issued forth a perfect letter “O”. Horrified, I called the nurse’s line at my HMO and though I think she was laughing at me under her breath, the nurse told me it was probably just the result of excess gas in the intestinal tract and I shouldn’t worry. Things would return to normal on their own.

Sure enough, the next time I produced the doctor-recommended perfect letter “S”. Relieved, I returned to my usual peaceful and confident frame of mind until a day later when I forced myself to look once again and discovered a remarkably crisp-looking block letter “E” floating in the commode.

Dr. Babooner, I’ve stopped eating because I’m afraid to continue with this particular bodily function. What if the next letter is an “R”? Could my own intestines be telling me I’m a total waste?

I don’t think I can bear the thought of it.

K.O. Pectate

I told K.O. that doctors who give advice on popular national TV shows are desperately needy individuals who apparently aren’t satisfied scaring people on a one-to-one basis. They have to freak us out a million at a time.
If your lower digestive tract is, in fact, trying to spell “LOSER” as a message to you about your place in the world, I would consider it miraculous and something to be proud of. It’s a talent that America should honor, and if there is not already a reality show on TV designed to show it off, there will be one soon.
And if you continue to be concerned about your health there are at least 50 things you should change before you even turn around to look at the shapes you’ve left in the bowl, starting with a realistic assessment of the junk you’ve been eating.

But that’s just one opinion. What do YOU think, Dr. Babooner?

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