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 connelly.dale@gmail.com

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.

Sincerely,
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?

March Comes In …

The Trail Baboon Interview – March 2011

Today is the first day of March, and you know what they say about its famous entrances and exits. I was up late last night and was able to grab the tempestuous month for a brief interview.

TB: It’s just seconds after midnight and you’ve barely started. How are you planning to come in this year?

March: (sigh) I wish there wasn’t so much attention paid to that, frankly. There’s all this pressure to make an impressive entrance, but a few years ago I decided to just go with the feeling. I’ll come in however I come in.

TB: Don’t you worry that people will be disappointed if you’re not very lion-like?

March: What is a lion like? Do you even know?

TB: Ferocious. Hungry. Vicious.

March: Lions also sleep a lot. They have quiet moments. There’s even self doubt, sometimes.

TB: Self doubt in a lion? Really?

March: Sure. A lion can ask, “What am I all about? Does it always have to be growling and posing and tearing apart he weakest antelope in the herd? What’s it like to have a bowl of cold soup and a few crackers?” Raising some really basic questions can change your whole attitude.

TB: So you’re coming in like a pensive lion?

March: I’m an important month with my own style. I’m sick of apologizing for it or trying to hide behind some animal mask.

TB: So you’re not taking requests.

March: I’m coming in like the way I feel today. Not like a lion or a lamb, but just me.

TB: But you’ve got to admit you can be moody and blustery.

March: What, there’s no wind in November?

TB: Of course there is, but …

March: OK then. Stick the “blustery” tag on November. It needs something brutal to balance off all that goody-goodness around Thanksgiving.

TB: Right. And you don’t have a holiday, do you. Except St. Patrick’s Day.

March: (a low moan of anguish)

TB: You don’t like St. Patty’s Day?

March: It’s a fake holiday for slackers. Like Halloween and Valentine’s Day, it’s just an excuse for strange behavior. As soon as the green beer started to flow, I knew I wasn’t going to get any respect for hosting St. Patrick’s Day. Easter, now THERE’S a holiday. If I could have Easter every time … really be able to count on it … that would re-define me.

TB: You’ve got March Madness.

March: A basketball tournament? You’ve got to be kidding. That’s an insult. Ask the other months – I don’t think any of them would want to be known for “madness”. Especially since it’s all about posturing and gambling and the excitement peaks at the final game, which is when?
In April!

TB: I’m sensing resentment.

March: I’m frustrated because people don’t understand that some of us have to be early-stage transitional. And maybe that’s not so easy to love. Lots of flowery poems have been written about April and May, but they’d be impossible without March. Think about that!

TB: Any plans for snow?

March: Snow is part of my act, but I’m well aware it’s been done to death this year. It’s hard when the opener steals your material and does it so badly. But I’m not going to shelve one of my best routines just because some other month was trying to compensate for being short.

TB: Ouch. So there might be snow.

March: March snow is special. Try to have a positive attitude about it.

TB: And your exit this year? Can we count on something lamb-like?

March: Lambs are a lot more complicated than you think.
Be careful what you wish for.

What would you like to get from March this year?

Gold Men and Hams

Award acceptance speeches can be so difficult and potentially embarrassing. Words that might be perfectly acceptable in normal conversation or as part of a drunken brawl simply aren’t appropriate on a global stage with a billion people watching.

In short, it’s a good idea to write down your thoughts before accepting the little golden man.

And yet movie stars lead such complicated lives. People watch them to see the glamour, but they also enjoy a little bit of dirt. And you know how it is in show biz – you have to give the paying customers some of what they want. How much, however, is up to you.

Some complain that prepared remarks sound “canned”, and are not as memorable as more unscripted, genuine moments. Often this is true, but a bit of preparation shows respect for the audience and for one’s self. If you take the time to deliver a message that has been crafted and proofread and re-written, it will represent you better in the long run.

One year the actor Mark Rylance accepted a Tony award by reciting a prose poem written by Minnesota author Louis Jenkins. There are good things about handling it that way – including economy of language. A poem has rhythm and timing, and so it is easier to fit inside the 45-second acceptance speech time limit than, say, a bit of off-the-cuff drunken rambling.

The bad thing about using poetry – a lot of people won’t get it. Others will find it annoying or will simply ignore it. And it’s not as splashy or revealing as off-the-cuff drunken rambling.

Unless you go Seussian / dysfunctional / confessional on them.

I’ve won the prize at last, Oh My!
And now it’s time for speeches.
Thank you, thank you, mom and dad,
And no thanks to the leeches.

Did I say “leeches”? Heavens dear.
That’s not what I’m about.
And we all know of whom I speak.
No need to call them out.

No, I don’t want to dwell on that.
On agents and producers
And all the stabbers, front and back
The users and seducers.

No, this is such a happy night
And I’ve already chewed
through half of my allotted time
with anti-gratitude.

So thanks to all those who endured
my antics without cringing.
My tantrums and my selfishness.
My pouts and fits and binging.

I’m so in awe of everyone’s
commitment to perfection.
My rehab staff. My temper coach.
The guards at State Corrections.

My family – the spouse and kids.
I haven’t thanked you yet.
I know I made you happiest
when I was on the set.

I’ve only got five seconds now.
So here’s to all the rest.
The fans who paid to see me
though I’ve been an awful pest.

That’s a solid 45 seconds, if read briskly. And it would run on You Tube forever.

If you had to accept a major award, would you go with stream-of-consciousness, or carefully prepared remarks?

A Show of Hands

How many hands have you got?

Individual results may vary, but for most people, the answer is 2. You probably didn’t have to check the ends of your arms to come up with that answer – your brain already knew it. And your brain is always right, right?

Yesterday, Beth-Ann sent a link to an interesting New York Times blog about an experiment conducted in Sweden that has provided a fresh variation on the “traditional rubber hand illusion.” I admit I did not know rubber hand illusions had a tradition.
I guess the world is full of ancient and exotic rituals.

In the “traditional” rubber hand illusion, a subject places one hand on the table while their opposite hand is hidden. A rubber hand is then put on the table in front of the subject in the spot where the hidden hand would have been, had they not withheld it. An experimenter then strokes both the hidden real hand and the exposed fake hand with a brush, and before long the subject begins to associate this sensation with the false hand they can see, rather than the real hand, which they cannot.

That’s sufficiently weird, but some people can’t stop messing with tradition.

In this new wrinkle, the real hand and the rubber hand sit side by side on the table in front of the subject. A sheet is draped over the arm so it’s not clear which appendage is actually connected to the body. As in the “traditional” illusion, both hands are stroked with a brush, and an unexpected thing happens. The subject takes ownership of both hands, feels sensations in both hands, and flinches when both hands are threatened with a knife.

It took me a while to understand the importance of this: Apparently our brains are big gullible goofballs.

If you’ve lived your entire life with only one right hand and then all it takes to confound you on that topic is a rubber duplicate, a paint brush and a sheet, that doesn’t speak very well for your innate sense of the world. How could your brain do this, the traitor? Accepting another, squishier right arm as your own, even though your perfectly good and historically loyal right arm is sitting right there in front of you? Scoundrel!

Suddenly it’s easier to understand the fruitless chase for WMD in Iraq and the epidemic of older men running off with younger, bouncier women. Brains don’t need a lot of convincing to buy into an obviously ludicrous idea. The elastic brain re-configures its wiring to create a reality that matches what it sees. Or what it thinks it sees. The internal dialog must go something like this:

“That pert young co-ed finds a paunchy, bald, wrinkled up prune of a U.S. Senator like me far more attractive than handsome, fit, energetic men her own age? Love is funny that way, I guess!”

“Hmm. It appears I have inexplicably grown a second right hand. Finally, a use for that orphaned winter glove! No wonder she loves me! She’s really into three handed men!”

Amazing. Science has proven what I already know. Brains are easily duped.

Or did I simply WANT to believe that?

R2 Seeks D2

The shuttle Discovery is back in space – the last mission for this particular orbiter and the very first mission for Robonaut 2, a machine that looks like a guy from the waist up. Unfortunately, from the waist down, this R2 looks like a high–end speaker stand. But it’s the first foray off-planet for “humanoid” robots – stationary machines built to look like people. One small step for those who can’t take one small step.
Maybe the walking attachment will be called D2.

Too bad that Robonaut 2 is being permanently installed in the International Space Station on this trip – he would make a perfect government employee for the New Wisconsin. He draws no salary and has no fringe benefits. As for health care, a little more hydraulic fluid and we’re good. If long-term disability becomes an issue, upgrades are always available, but shipping is extra because he’s not allowed to go home (he could be a Democrat in the Wisconsin Senate!). Best of all, he’s the only one of his kind so collective bargaining is a non-starter.

R2 has an uncanny ability to mimic our arm and hand motions. He’s designed to duplicate some of the fine motor tasks the astronauts do, and his purpose on this trip is to be tested in the weightless environment of space. And also to freak out the other astronauts when they look up from their work to see a golden helmeted mechanical figure waving its arms around inside the space station.

“Danger, Will Robinson!”

If I were on the trip we’d get some good data on what happens when a machine gives you a strong case of the creeps in zero G. Good thing everybody wears astronaut diapers.

But best wishes to Robonaut 2 for a safe forever flight, and condolences for Robonaut 1, who didn’t qualify for space travel and will be working this summer as an automated fortune teller on various state fair midways.

Just like human space travelers, those who fly stand on the shoulders of those who remain behind.

If they have legs, that is.

What chore would you unload on a Dexterous Human Robot?

Who Is This Really?

After yesterday’s kerfuffle over a prank phone call made to Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker by someone posing as businessman David Koch, I’m become very hesitant to accept the stated identity of anyone I can’t see. How can I possibly know that the people I’m talking to aren’t scheming, lying bloggers trying to embarrass me?

And don’t tell me bloggers who do this sort of thing are today’s equivalent of the pioneering broadcast journalists. Go to the CBS archives. Where are Edward R. Murrow’s prank calls? You won’t find them! And I can say that with certainty, not because I’ve been in the CBS archives, but because I’m a blogger and I can make stuff up.

In the Walker call, the prankster, a fellow identified as Ian Murphy (again, who really knows?), sounds just the way a scared guy would sound if he were trying to imitate the chummy, towel snapping way billionaire puppet masters are supposed to yuk it up with their boys in the back room. He is completely unconvincing when he attempts to encourage Walker with “Now you’re not talking to any of these Democrat bastards, are you?” There’s no fire in his voice when he exhorts the Wisconsin Governor with “Beautiful, beautiful. Gotta crush that union!”

There are plenty of movies where the villain is a fabulously wealthy lout who wants to control the world. Can’t we practice our maniacal cackle a little bit before trying it out for an audience?

The prank call achieved the remarkable feat of making me feel a tiny bit of sympathy for Wisconsin’s Governor. I’ll try not to get carried away, though it has changed my outlook in some key areas. That’s why I’ve taken to recording all my phone calls and producing a daily transcript, just in case someone tries to hoodwink me.

Here’s one from yesterday:

(phone rings)

?: Reference Desk.

Me: I’m looking for a book about prank calls. How to make them, how to record them, that sort of thing.

?: A whole book about prank calls? Phone calls?

Me: Yeah. Some of the social ramifications of it. Legal too.

?: I’ll check the catalog. I don’t think anyone’s written a whole book about it. There might be some magazine articles and … how about a movie?

Me: They made a movie about prank calls?

?: When A Stranger Calls. 2006.

Me: That sounds like a joke answer to my question, and I was looking for real information.

?: There’s also a book by Walter Mosley called “The Wave”. It says here one of the plot points has to do with a character getting phone calls from someone claiming to be his dead father.

Me: I think you’re pulling my leg. Are you a real reference librarian or is this some kind of cheap put-on for your juvenile GOTCHA website?

?: You called ME.

Me: That’s exactly what a prank caller would say!

?: All I did was pick up the phone.

Me: You mean you prank answered!

We went around and around for a while, but I didn’t fall for any of her cheap gags. Some people are just too smart to be fooled!

How can you prove you are you?

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