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June 30, 2010

Puppies, dislocated // David LeGault

Here's a picture of my new puppy. Isn't she cute? Her name is Mackinac, as in Mackinac Bridge or Mackinac Island or Mackinac City, as in Michigan, as in a transitional point between upper and lower peninsulas.

pitbull.jpgShe's a Staffordshire Terrier, more commonly known as a pit bull. My wife and I picked her up through a great local organization, Minnesota Pit Bull Rescue (and, of course, I'm going to go ahead and say you should check them out). It's amazing the reaction I've been getting whenever I tell someone what type of dog she is: a range of barely concealed shock to flat-out disbelief that we'd take such an animal into our home. And maybe the reaction is somewhat justified: pit bulls do fairly often appear at the top of Most Dangerous Breeds lists, and there are a number of horror stories connected to the breed (both in terms of human attacks as well as their popularity in dog-fighting circles).

But the truth is that these dogs are sweet and affectionate, like any dog really, but their natural strength draws bad people to them who train them to be violent. And part of me likes this about Mackinac: I like it that I'm going to have a friendly pit bull, an ambassador for the breed that can show others that we shouldn't judge the animal, but the owner.

And so Mackinac, at eight weeks old, is already defying the genre of her breed.

And breaking genre is a good thing: its one of the best ways (in literature, but all art really) to open the eyes of the audience to a different mindset. Start with what the audience knows (or think they know) and then show them why the subject matter can't be simplified. Show them a dog they think should terrify them, but that they can't help but love. Make it complex, different, amazing.

June 25, 2010

Psychotherapy: Hot or Not? // Jana Misk

Dear readers, as you can see, I've been putting off the promised column about why therapy is awesome. To be honest, as soon as I assured you I would deliver, I was overwhelmed with paralyzing self-doubt. Why should people see therapists? I've been convincing friends and lovers for years that they should seek a therapist's help--and not in that mean way that people sometimes do on sitcoms.

Some of these friends/lovers have actively resisted my urgings, while others have become grateful converts. One victim of my nagging did actually start seeing a therapist, but even after a few months (when he told me that he was going to "take a break" and see where he was after his newborn child was a bit older), he eyed me with some resentment and let me know that he just isn't the type of person to be in therapy indefinitely, digging around for problems that are not pressing like tumors on his brain.

therapy2.jpgAs I've noted in my previous post, "How to Choose a Therapist," not all therapists are worth seeing indefinitely. Many, in fact, don't want to be seen indefinitely. And an even greater number aren't worth seeing at all, ever. (One of my friends, a new recruit to the Therapy Cult, had to switch therapists at her student clinic; her new therapist cancelled their first appointment because she had to go a barbecue: "free food" was her reason for bailing on a client she hadn't even met yet. Dealbreaker? I think so.)

But once you find a therapist you click with, it is a lot like falling in love, with all of the pitfalls and neuroses that come with it. In fact, they're basically the same pitfalls and neuroses. Do you have problems with commitment? Do you fail to communicate well? Is anger management not your strong suit? Are you an escapist or a workaholic? All of these things will arise between you and your therapist, but where your romantic relationships collapsed under the strain of all that personal baggage, your therapist is trained to not only withstand your crazy bullshit, but actually help you work through it.

The fact is that all that stuff is supposed to come up in any therapeutic relationship, but if you also have a special rapport with your therapist, the chances of your sticking around long enough to see the process of healing through are much higher.

Just like a lover, a therapist can seem to play many roles: parent, friend, punching bag, and, um, therapist. But whereas you are not necessarily encouraged to treat your lover like s/he's your parent, your therapist can take on this projection and then give it back to you, showing you how your perceptions of others and yourself might be distorted (and therefore straining your relationships and general ability to tolerate life), and how you can empower yourself to take responsibility for how you behave and how well you're taken care of by the people in your life.

I'm getting a bit abstract now. Therapy--provided you're seeing a therapist who is a good fit for you in terms of methods and personality--is a way of getting a new perspective on your own life, in short. And so, if you're feeling stuck--in your career, in your love life, with your family or friends, or just somewhere inside yourself that no one else has access to--therapy helps you get unstuck, and even teaches you how to unstick yourself in the future.

The stigma on therapy and people who take advantage of it continues to linger in our society--strangely, even more so than the much more recent glut of psychoactive medications (antidepressants, antianxiety meds) that are supposed to handle the exact same problems, but with none of the emphasis on personal responsibility or intelligence. Sure, these meds can help anyone with emotional and psychological difficulties; but the help of a good therapist alongside those pills provides the promise of a better way of life--one you've chosen and crafted yourself, not one created by mysterious (and still scientifically unexplained) changes in your brain chemistry. It seems more likely these days that people will consider pills before therapy. If procuring a prescription has ever crossed your mind, for any of the reasons that it crosses anyone's mind (it's certainly crossed mind, and I did entertain a brief, mostly pleasant affair with antianxiety pills), I encourage you to consider therapy too. Those strange, difficult thoughts and feelings that lodge themselves in our minds from time to time are not impossible for us to understand, much less remove; we just sometimes need the help of a professional who can hold the mirror up at the right angle so we can see what's going on.

if you're looking for a therapist, your best bet is to talk to a friend who's seeing someone s/he likes, and get a referral from that practitioner. If you don't know anyone who is in therapy, or who has a friend in the profession, you'll have to start your search blind; refer to my previous column and remember to trust your gut. Bonne chance!

Image Credit:
"Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud Disagree on How to Treat the Patient's Stormtrooper Delusion" by ShellyS/flickr

June 24, 2010

Cats and Computers // Landrew Kentmore

Nature stuff and technology stuff are opposites of each other because nature stuff just happens while technology is put together using screws. But this doesn't mean that there are no similarities between them.

For example, an orange is from nature and a cell phone is from technology, but they are both things that my roommate, Greg, puts in his pockets before catching the bus to work (people probably think he has some weird growth on his leg because the orange kind of bulges out). More interesting than oranges and cell phones, though, are cats and computers!

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Some of the things that are the same about cats and computers are simple. First off, they both start with c, which is important because if you're talking to someone and you start to say computer when you mean to say cat, you've got a one-letter buffer time before they notice you made a mistake in your brain. Another thing is that cats and computers are two things that can sit in people's laps making a humming noise without that person feeling uncomfortable. Also, if you a glass of water on either your cat or your computer, it's going to act kind of weird.

Nowadays, though, cats aren't just like computers--they're in computers. Whenever a guy with a cat has to make up a new password on the Internet, he uses his cat's name. This means two things:

1. Because of security stuff, we might need to start giving our cats names that are at least six characters long, with one capital letter, one number and one symbol.

2. If some aliens came and stole all of our cats (maybe to eat them or maybe to love them--it doesn't matter for this situation) and erased all of our memories of cats, the entire internet would crash because we would have no way to log into anything.

But computers are getting into cats too. A lot of cats have microchips in them now, so that if you find some random cat outside your house, you can bring it to the vet and scan it and see who owns it. This sounds normal and helpful, but it makes me really nervous. First it's, "we just want to help you keep track of your cat," but then later it becomes, "we just want to help you keep track of your cat and control your cat and give your cat laser eyes and send your cat to fight in a war."

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But if these microchips are used for cool stuff rather than making cats into weapons, cats might replace computers in the future. What if scientists make a microchip so you can play mp3s and surf the internet on your cat? How would computers compete? A computer isn't furry and cool to pet and it can't meow unless you download a sound clip of a cat meowing, and even then, it's just not the same (unless you're totally blind and you have no nerves in your hands so furry stuff and not-furry stuff feels the same and also you have really good speakers that make the meow clip sound real--then it's probably the same).

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June 18, 2010

How Cold Technology Was Invented (maybe) // Landrew Kentmore

There's an old saying that says, "When the going gets tough, the tough get going." It doesn't make a lot of sense, even if you put "people" after the second "tough."

Wouldn't the tough guy be like, "Finally, some tough stuff that I can relate to around here!"? Maybe the phrase is saying truly tough people don't relate to anyone or anything?

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Whatever it means, it's stupid, but it's a good saying to use to invent other sayings that make more sense. Here's one that I made: "When the going gets hot, the hot people get going to a place that's not as hot as the place they were in originally."

In the olden days, this would mean taking a train to Alaska or Iceland. Now, getting cold is not so hard. There's plenty of technology everywhere to keep people cold. But who invented all of this technology to make you cold and how did they come up with these ideas? I have some guesses:

1. Fans: There once was a guy who had an airplane-painting business. The airplanes were old so they all had big propellers. One really hot day, a pilot pulled up with his airplane and he was like, "Sorry but I can't seem to turn my propeller off." So the guy had to paint the plane while the propeller was on. When he went to paint the front, the propeller cooled him off. So he thought, "I should put something like this inside."

2. Ice Cube Trays: Two guys were having a contest to see who could put more ponds on their property. The first guy dug a bunch of holes and filled them with water. The second guy was way smarter. He made a tray with a bunch of tiny ponds in it. Since they had no rules about pond size, he won. After he collected the bet money, he celebrated by emptying his ponds (which were frozen because it was winter) into a room temperature soda. "This soda is way colder than I remember," he thought.

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3. Air Conditioning: The woman who invented hair conditioner had a daughter, who also wanted to be an inventor. People said she would never live up to her mom so she set out to prove everyone wrong. Also, she had a knack for building machines that made rooms colder.

4. Water Slides: There once was a kid who spent all day in the bath because he was afraid of germs. His dad wanted him to be like a normal kid and play on the slide, but the kid was scared he would get dirty. To compromise, the dad got a hose and ran water down the slide so the kid could stay clean. "This is way more fun than a normal slide would be," said the kid to his dad, "but I wish it would be more like a twisty straw and cost money to ride." The dad said, "Anything for you, my boy."

These inventions might not have happened this way, but the important thing is that they could have. Some people might say it's more likely that they were invented by scientists, but then each story would be boring, like, "Some lame scientist who was annoying looked at dials and took measurements and invented the air conditioner. The end." Who wants to read stuff like that (other than scientists)?

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***
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June 14, 2010

Ape Escapes, Figurative and Literal // J. Lee Morsell

a. All that is solid melts into air
New Scientist reports that Santa Monica-based Image Metrics has realistically animated a human face. Linda Geddes explains,

Faces are particularly difficult to reproduce. For years, animators have struggled with a problem dubbed the "uncanny valley", in which a computer-generated face looks almost, but not quite, lifelike, triggering a sense of revulsion among human observers. "Systems which look close to real but not quite real are very creepy to people," says Dmitri Williams of the University of Southern California in Los Angeles.

LittleJoeGorilla.jpgImage Metrics has produced an animated "exact replica of the real actress Emily O'Brien" which is indeed difficult to distinguish from straight video of a real person. Geddes tells us that the animation "not only looks realistic, but can be manipulated in real time. 'The movements are perfect. We can pretty much make Emily say anything we want,' says Mike Starkenburg, CEO of Image Metrics."

Wow. Less and less can video footage be said to be evidence that a thing really happened. Until, and unless, the truth value of video becomes largely discredited, imagine what an unethical public relations firm could do with this technology.

In years to come, this power to simulate a person may extend beyond the TV screen. Geddes suggests that the technology to mimic the appearance of an individual will be combined with current (still rudimentary) efforts to mimic the brain of an individual, and unite the two in a realistic android. Imagine the future: you just ran into Barack Obama, or, say, your ex-husband--but was it him, or an android copy of him?

And check this out: invisibility cloaks may not be far off.

b. The growing gorilla problem: bar male syndrome?
Adapted from news stories in the Boston Globe, September 2003:

The gorilla exhibit was supposed to be escape-proof. So zoo volunteers were surprised to find eleven-year-old gorilla Little Joe standing outside his enclosure behind a potted plant. The adolescent ape then emerged from his cover and roamed harmlessly about the Tropical Forest Building for ten minutes, whereupon he voluntarily returned to his enclosure, presumably leaping the twelve-foot moat to do so. Spooked zookeepers added electric shock cables to the perimeter.

A month later, guests screamed when Little Joe managed to scale the glass wall of the enclosure, firmly grip the electric shock cables, and hoist himself to freedom. Eighteen-year-old babysitter Courtney Roberson had brought several children to see the gorillas; Roberson and the kids ran, Little Joe pursued. Carrying two-year-old Nia Scott on her hip, Roberson slammed a door on the three-hundred-pound delinquent's hairy arm; that arm in turn grabbed the toddler's leg. Nine-year-old Josette Kimbrough rushed to the humans' aid, clobbering the gorilla's hand with her child fists. Little Joe burst through the door, grabbed Roberson by the shirt and threw her several feet, causing her to drop Nia. Little Joe bounded forward, bit the babysitter in the back, and dragged her fifteen feet until he was distracted by the toddler's crying. He dropped Roberson and went for the baby. Roberson and all the kids but Kimbrough ran for help; the nine-year-old stayed in an attempt to reason with the gorilla, or find a way to hurt him.

But Little Joe just batted at the baby's head a few times and was off; escaping the zoo grounds, he made it to a park, where he was shot with four tranquilizer darts, at least one of which he pulled from his flesh before falling unconscious.

Witnesses say that, en route to the park, Little Joe paused at a bus stop to rest. Rhonda Devance saw the gorilla at the corner of Seaver and Harold, and said, "I thought it was a guy with a big black jacket and a snorkel on."

"This bastard jumped on my two-year-old!" little Nia's mother exclaimed later at the hospital.

This anecdote underscores a growing problem: "an increasing number of young male gorillas who are both agile enough and restless enough to challenge the security systems that hold them." One zoo director in Minnesota blames the proximity of lady gorillas, comparing it to the so-called "'bar male syndrome': The guys in the bar are getting along fine, playing pool or whatever, until the women arrive and their whole attitude changes. 'They start strutting their stuff.'" Since "the combination of massive size and an immature mind can be dangerous," consideration is being given to separating the sexes. Zoos are experimenting with other solutions, too. One facility built a bridge in its gorilla enclosure so that animals could run in a circle. Another zoo tried giving young males a cocktail of antidepressants and anti-anxiety medication, to no avail.

Image Credit:
Little Joe Gorilla photo by shugbear/flickr

June 11, 2010

Summer Lovin' // Liana Liu

Have you read The End of Vandalism by Tom Drury? If you have, isn't it wonderful? If you haven't, you really should read it. I've been pushing this book onto my friends, my students, and even my teachers, for such a long time now that it only makes sense that I push it upon the general public.

vandalism.jpgSo, general public, read it! It's funny! It's beautiful! It's heartbreaking! When you're done reading, you'll want to clasp the book to your bosom and sigh, I promise. I do that every time I finish reading it, and I've read this novel about five times.

If you're a writer, I doubly recommend The End of Vandalism, especially if you have strange or uncertain feelings about writing dialogue. For a long time, I had a very difficult time with dialogue. It felt awkward to put words in my character's mouths; it felt awkward to read the words I had put in my character's mouths. All in all, dialogue made me feel icky-squicky. But in The End of Vandalism, the characters make small talk and have arguments and tell stories and reveal feelings... all through dialogue, and it never feels false, like expository dialogue often can. This novel taught me how to love writing dialogue; it taught me that dialogue can be funny and beautiful and heartbreaking.

I kept wanting to insert a "that's what she said" joke in the above paragraph, but couldn't get it to feel right. That's what she said! Um. I mean, read The End of Vandalism.

I know this column is less sexy than my usual column, but I've decided that I am going to spend this summer talking about my favorite books. I figure it will be a good balance: I'm sure your everyday summer lives are so full of exposed skin and heavy breathing that when you come to the internet you are looking for some cool-down in the form of book talk from yours truly. Sexy talk to resume in the fall.So, general public, read it! It's funny! It's beautiful! It's heartbreaking! When you're done reading, you'll want to clasp the book to your bosom and sigh, I promise. I do that every time I finish reading it, and I've read this novel about five times.

If you're a writer, I doubly recommend The End of Vandalism, especially if you have strange or uncertain feelings about writing dialogue. For a long time, I had a very difficult time with dialogue. It felt awkward to put words in my character's mouths; it felt awkward to read the words I had put in my character's mouths. All in all, dialogue made me feel icky-squicky. But in The End of Vandalism, the characters make small talk and have arguments and tell stories and reveal feelings... all through dialogue, and it never feels false, like expository dialogue often can. This novel taught me how to love writing dialogue; it taught me that dialogue can be funny and beautiful and heartbreaking.

I kept wanting to insert a "that's what she said" joke in the above paragraph, but couldn't get it to feel right. That's what she said! Um. I mean, read The End of Vandalism.

I know this column is less sexy than my usual column, but I've decided that I am going to spend this summer talking about my favorite books. I figure it will be a good balance: I'm sure your everyday summer lives are so full of exposed skin and heavy breathing that when you come to the internet you are looking for some cool-down in the form of book talk from yours truly. Sexy talk to resume in the fall.

Image Credit:
photo by sunface13/flickr

You Can Be--or Already Are--An Award-Winning Writer

by Robyn Parnell

Calling all non-award-winning writers (you know who you are)--it's time to add a trophy title to your nom de plume. It imparts that certain je ne sais quoi, literary cachet; besides, with all the opportunities out there, what's your excuse for not having one?

trophies.jpgAdmit it, you've had an experience similar to the following. Scanning the bio notes of an article in a writer's magazine, you discovered that the article's author had received a literary award, the title of which you had to practice saying several times before you could utter it in one breath: "The Barbara Kingsolver's Bellwether Prize For Fiction in Support of a Literature For Social Change." Pulitzer, schmulitzer; there's an award you don't see every day. Although if present trends continue, you probably will.

No disrespect intended towards the esteemed (and multiple award-winning) Ms. Kingsolver, whose once-eponymous award now goes by the more succinct, "The Bellwether Prize." As awkwardly extensive as I found the earlier title, it was nice to come across any award named after a living woman instead of a member of the Dead Literary Guys Club. Still, I can't get that erstwhile très specific award title out of my mind. It reminds me of, well, other très specific or obscure literary award titles I've seen in the classifieds ads, the Grants and Awards announcements, and Member News sections of writer's publications.

Computer-literate literati are just a Google away from discovering the astounding number of writing awards, contests, grants, and fellowships available to actual or aspiring authors. Award titles and descriptions can be quite entertaining, so once upon a keyboard I decided to keep a file of literary awards' names, categories and sponsors. In a few months this decision was followed by another: to delete the file, whose page count had surpassed that of the draft of my first novel. I feared for the storage space on my hard disk; I feared for my attitude even more.

I hold a hopeful snobbery about writing, and am ambivalent about the proliferation of literary prizes. I want writers to eschew the self-celebration and celebriti-zation that infests popular culture. Moreover, the proliferation of Something, even Something with good intentions, can ultimately demean its significance or value. There's the Oscars, Cannes, Sundance . . . and then there's the Toledo People's Choice Film Festival.

At the risk of sounding like the Sean Penn or George C. Scott of authordom, I'm leery of prizes for art in general and literature in specific. I reject the notion that, intentionally or otherwise, writers should compete with one another, or that there are universally accepted or objective criteria for judging the "best" of works that are written--and read--by gloriously subjective beings.

Then again, I can understand the motivations for award-giving in any field of endeavor, including writing ("Our work must be important--see how many awards we have?!"). And who wouldn't enjoy having "Pulitzer Prize-winning author" attached to their byline?

An award, any award, can bestow a certain distinction. Thousands of novels and poetry collections are published each year, most fading quickly into obscurity. But maybe, just maybe, you'll give the impression you're Someone To Watch if your backlisted-so-fast-it-left-skidmarks chapbook receives The Award for Southwestern Pan-gendered Speculative Flash Prose-Poems.

Relax, take a cleansing breath, and stop composing your bio notes for the entry form. There's no such award. Yet.

To get an idea of the number and variety of literary prizes, flip through the classified ads section of any writer's magazine, or check out their online versions. One prominent writer's website has over nine hundred Awards & Contests listings, a number added to weekly if not daily. Whatever your personal traits or writing genre, there's a prize or contest--and, of course, an entry fee--waiting for you.

Anything in particular for which you'd like recognition? If it's for religion or spirituality, among the hundreds of awards are the Helen and Stan Vine Canadian Jewish Book Awards, the American Academy of Religion's Best First Book in the History of Religions, and the Utmost Christian Poetry Contest. If you're inspired by regional affiliation, try the Saskatchewan Book Of The Year Award or The Boardman Tasker Prize For Mountain Literature.

You might impress potential publishers (or failing that, the crowned heads of Europe) with a majestic title: The Royal Society Of Literature Award Under The W.H. Heinemann Bequest. If you'd like to woo corporate America, seek General Mills' Cheerios® New Author Contest. Are you between the ages of eleven and 111? Go for the Geoffrey Bilson Award For Historical Fiction For Young People or the The Solas Awards Elder Travel: the best story from a traveler 65 years of age or older.

And there's no lack of prizes vis-à-vis gender, ethnic, and sexual identity, including the Women's Empowerment Awards Writing Competition, the Association Of Italian-Canadian Writers Literary Contest, and the Emerging Lesbian Writers Fund Award.

Perhaps you'd rather be esteemed for subject matter. If you cover the timeless concerns of war and peace, the Michael Shaara Award For Excellence In Civil War Fiction or Japan's Goi Peace Foundation International Essay Contest may be for you. And let us wave our olive branches in tribute to one of the more interestingly named awards in this or any category, in hopes that, with perhaps a little nudging, the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation will reinstate their now-retired Swackhamer Peace Essay Contest (it took a serious peacenik to wield a Swackhamer). Don't worry if your themes are comparatively prosaic; writing awards are not limited to life's essentials. From sailors (the U.S. Maritime Literature Awards) to horses (the Thoroughbred Times Fiction Contest) to zombies (Dark Moon Anthology Short Story Writing Contests for Horror Writers), if there's a topic, there's a prize.

Awards even pay tribute to literary length. Writers in it for the long haul have the Reva Shiner Full-Length Play Award, while those pressed for time may try the Short Prose Competition for Developing Writers. Not to be out-shorted is Glimmer Train's Very Short Fiction Award; covering the remaining short bases is the Fineline Competition For Prose Poems, Short Shorts, And Anything In Between. And for literature with a discernable shelf life, behold the Perishable Theatre's Women's Playwriting Festival prize.

My excuse for not having even one measly award title escorting my nom de plume is likely related to the fact that I don't enter contests (perhaps one day I'll discover that I've won the Chinook Prize for the Pacific Northwest's Un-entered Fiction Contests). My nonparticipation notwithstanding, the number of literary awards continues to expand, and they've got to be conferred upon somebody. Chances are greater than ever that almost all writers will have their fifteen minutes to don some sort of authorial laurel wreath. Yes, dear writer, you could be an award-winning author. There's probably something wrong with you if you're not.

My favorite prize title ostensibly defies literary classification, yet is listed as a writing award. And so, fellow writer, considering the abundance of awards, in your quest for recognition and cool author's bio notes, please save this one for me: the Wergle Flomp Poetry Contest. If my entry prevails I will receive a monetary prize and publication of my poem, plus that accolade for which no value can be calculated: the right to henceforth refer to myself, in author's credits and future contest entry forms, as a Wergle Flomp award-winning writer.

***
A long, long time ago a sixth grader named Robyn Parnell won some kind of "Isn't America Groovy?!" essay contest. Since 1975, when she acquired a trophy resembling a garden trowel (High School Journalism Day, Orange County, CA), Parnell has remained an award-free writer. She hopes to one day be the deserving recipient of the Robyn Parnell Prize in Support of Imaginative and Distinguished Prose in Support of Robyn Parnell.

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Image Credit:
photo by terren in Virginia/flickr

June 10, 2010

Exercise Technology: Stair Steppers // Landrew Kentmore

If you watch movies, then you know that the best way to get into really good shape is to run up a bunch of stairs, preferably in front of a historic-looking building with inspiring music playing. The biggest problem is some people don't live near historical buildings with a million stairs. Some people live in single-story houses, so they have no access to stairs, unless they ask to use their neighbors' stairs (which is embarrassing).

Luckily for these people, exercise scientists invented a machine that simulates stairs called a stair stepper!

Even if you have stairs, a stair stepper might be a good choice for safety reasons. Think about it: stairs are usually pretty tall and jagged so if you fall down them, you might break some ribs. Stair stepper's are not very high off the ground or jagged, unless your stair stepper is at the top of a cliff in the desert or on an avalanche prone mountain. But if you've got all sorts of exotic real estate for to put your stair stepper on, you've probably got some extra cash lying around to pay for a hospital visit.

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But don't be fooled - stair steppers can be dangerous, even in your house. For example, let's say your hanging out in your house playing with lemons and you accidentally squirt yourself in the eye with one. You want to go upstairs to wash out your eyes in the bathroom but since you can't see right, you accidentally get on the stair stepper instead of the real stairs. After a while, you start to get worried because you're exhausted but you haven't gotten to the top yet and your eyes still hurt, so you call 911 to get help and tell them you're stuck on your stairs. The paramedics come and can't find you on the stairs and then they get worried that maybe there's something in the air that messes up their eyes and then everyone's going crazy and no one is getting any help.

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Now, if you're like me, when you hear about stair steppers, the first thing you think is, "In the future, when they invent teleportation so you can just teleport up to different stories of buildings and so everyone gets rid of the stairs, will there still be stair steppers?" Well, I think when this happens stair steppers will be more important than ever, because we can use them to teach people about the past. Then if your grandchildren take teleportation for granted, you could make them get on the stair stepper and say, "Does it burn? Well in my day, that was the only way to go up in a building!" (To make sure your kids think times were tough when you were young, don't tell them about elevators.)

But for now, the stair steppers are just exercise machines and not history lessons, because the government hasn't invented teleportation, and, based on them not replying to any of my emails about it, it doesn't seem like they are working on it much (and if any government guys are reading this, could you let me know if you even got my emails - I just guessed that the address would be quickermovementdepartment@usa.gov. Is that correct?).

June 5, 2010

What to do in a place with bad cell phone reception // Landrew Kentmore

Cell phone reception and wedding receptions are similar because they both involve talking to people. If you go to the wrong place for your wedding reception, it could be really bad, like a place where there are lots of bees or a tropical island where a violent, wedding-hating tribe lives.

This stuff is pretty easy to avoid, though, because there will be clues, like big bee hives or burning wedding cakes all over the beach. Going to the wrong place can also make your cell phone reception bad, but it's not as easy to avoid. That's why it's important to know the steps to take if it happens to you.

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Step 1: Before you end up in a place with bad reception, keep an eye on your bars. If you are driving and you notice that your bars are going down, ask yourself, "Is where I'm going really that cool? Cool enough to not be able to talk on my cell phone? And if it is that cool, won't I want to call someone and tell them how cool it is?" (Important: this only applies to the bars on your phone. If you drive past a bar, like where people watch sports and drink beers, and it goes down, like the whole bar falls over, this does not mean you are losing cell phone reception. In fact, if you have cell phone reception and a bar falls over while you drive by, you should probably call someone.)

Step 2: If you end up in a place with bad cell phone reception, try not to panic, but if you really want to, you can panic a little bit. Think about it: your cell phone's not working, so who's going to know? It's not like someone's going to call you up, hear your panicky voice and then un-invite you to a bunch of sweet parties for calm people.

Step 3: Don't scare the locals. The people around you have bad cell phone reception so who knows if they've even seen a cell phone before. Keep your cell phone in your pocket.

Step 4: If you forget to put your cell phone away and someone asks you what the thing with buttons and a screen is, say you're a scientist and you invented it.

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Step 5: See what other technology these people are missing. If they don't have computers and televisions, drive home, grab your computer and your TV and then come back. Show the people your stuff and say you made it all and that, when you said you were a scientist before, you meant that you were a wizard.

Step 6: Once they believe you're a wizard, run for mayor. You'll get elected (who wouldn't vote for a wizard?).

mayor job applicant.jpg

Step 7: Since the town doesn't have cell phone reception, it's probably pretty lame, so only stay mayor for a little while. Stay long enough to be able to mention it when you're trying to get jobs or when you're talking to attractive girls who are into guys with leadership skills.

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June 2, 2010

Barbecues, dislocated // David LeGault

In the spirit of Memorial Day, one of those holidays whose true meaning is entirely lost on the three-day weekend and the unofficial start of summer, my wife and I bought and assembled a grill last weekend. The grill, on sale at a hardware store, probably had the worst set of instructions I've ever encountered: it took over three hours, a second trip to the hardware store for spare parts, and several stripped screws to get it all together.

hemi-powered-barbecue-grill.jpgAlthough the assembly wasn't complete until 10:30 at night, we decided to inaugurate our grill with some shish kabobs, which weren't ready until around midnight, but totally worth it.

When I think of grills, I think of my father--he's a year-round griller, standing outside in the snowfall of Northern Michigan winters, lighting charcoal with a propane torch. Like me, my dad is a man who loves process. Cooking meat may be a two-, sometimes three-day process (there's the extended period of marinating, of tenderizing, of slow cooking over the open flame, repeatedly coating with barbecue sauce, continuous turning to avoid burning the meat) that results in some kickass chicken, or ribs, or whatever.

My abilities come nowhere near my father's dedication, though I hope some of his skill is somehow genetic.

Although I'm not yet a grill master, I do see this process--the time taken to create the perfect meal--shining through in the process of the essay. Marinating occurs in the pre-writing process, the time spent thinking about my subject, finding odd connections in research that help infuse my personal stories. As the cook continually turns the meat to avoid charring, the writer must continually change tack, attack their problem at different angles to keep the writing both interesting and open-minded. I have yet to find the literary equivalent to barbecue sauce, but boy, would that be great.

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