SkyMall catalog: consumer whoredom at 50,000 feet

The SkyMall Catalog. It’s one of the few constants in today’s uncertain airline industry. The carriers can reduce the number of blankets and take away the meals, but travelers can always count on the SkyMall Catalog, a beacon of consumer whoredom, to be waiting for them on the plane, conveniently located in the neighbor’s seat-back.

Imagine every silly catalog you’ve ever received aggregated into one lifestyle-enhancing meta-directory. Do you have problem areas in your yard? Sore calves? Insect bites? Small mailbox? The SkyMall Catalog can help!

It all makes sense at 50,000 feet. Flying is so surreal, with the constant drone, the lack of cell phone chatter, and the people in navy blue demonstrating emergency oxygen procedures before passing out little bags of peanuts, that it doesn’t seem strange to consider spending $895 on Mombasa, the eight foot tall garden giraffe. “Your neighbors are sure to be surprised when Mombasa moves in!”

SkyMall rules, though it does lose some of its luster once the plane has landed and you’re safely back to reality. Below are some fascinating items I discovered on the trip to Montana. Next week, we’ll learn about the “As Seen on TV” store.

From Femail Creations: a glow in the dark pillowcase.

By night the pillowcase glows with empowering messages like; Dream Big, Have Courage, Girls Rock.

From the Ex Officio section: insect-repellent clothing:

Protect the whole family from mosquitoes, ticks and UV rays.
BUZZ OFF Insect Shield Insect Repellant Apparel by Ex Officio is the only insect repellant clothing registered by the EPA. BUZZ OFF apparel gives you the protection of insect repellent spray without having to keep reapplying oily chemicals to your skin.

From the Diversions Catalog: Presidential figures. Collect all six!

At the push of a button, each president’s oral history comes alive with one of 25 authentic phrases in their [sic] actual voices (except for Lincoln).

From Plow and Hearth: the infamous Mock Rock.

Hide unsightly or problem areas in your yard with the Mock Rock. Lightweight and durable, the hollow design is a great solution to pipes, meters or landscaping problems.

Dinner parties and small kitchens

Some of the best dinner parties happened in Sassy J’s small apartment on the third floor of a Rittenhouse brownstone. The kitchen was composed of a refrigerator, an apartment-sized stove, and a sink that stood galley-style against the back wall of the living room. A microwave cart, sans microwave, provided extra counter space, and a few cabinets above the appliances housed the pantry and place settings. Anything not needed on a regular basis was banished to the adjacent “hell closet,” the door to which was opened with extreme caution and only in emergencies.

Shortly before she got married and moved to the ‘burbs, I visited Sassy J’s little urban retreat for the last time. “I won’t miss this kitchen,” she said, pointing out the signs of disrepair: chipped enamel on the stove, sagging cupboards, and rusting hardware. But no one noticed these flaws during the cozy parties; the dinners were perfect, even without comfy chairs, granite countertops, and shiny appliances.

Six or eight of us would arrive and drink wine and smell the sautéing onions and garlic. And then we’d drink more wine and seat ourselves around the folding chairs and the card table borrowed from the downstairs neighbors. And then we’d drink more wine and feast on whatever Sassy had cooked up: shrimp on rosemary sprigs, Moroccan lentils, soups, salads, sometimes a bourbon chocolate pecan pie if it wasn’t Sunday and hard to procure the bourbon. And then we’d drink more wine or coffee and sit around telling stories.

And so I resolve in 2009 to have more people over to our own tiny kitchen. We can’t seat more than six comfortably or spare the counter space for a food processor (although we do have my grandmother’s blender), but we have some wine, good recipes, and Sassy J’s old folding chairs in the basement.

Thanks to Mark Bittman, whose “So Your Kitchen is Tiny. So What?” article was the inspiration for this trip down memory lane.

Life moves pretty fast

There must be something in the water around here because things are happening. Big things. Superwoman got a job in San Francisco, and her first day was Monday. I know she’ll kick ass and I couldn’t be happier for her, but life just won’t be the same without Superwoman’s hospitality, warmth, and ability to listen and give advice.

Amazing A is moving to Tucson, where she and her husband found the cutest bungalow ever. Who can replace her role as my adviser on faux meat products and soap making?

In a few short weeks I’ll say goodbye to the soulless office park and say hello to life on a city campus. Not only is the new job a wonderful professional opportunity, it’s a quality of life move because it will eliminate my biggest source of aggravation: commuting via car.

Other big things: yesterday I put in an offer on my first house. If the offer is accepted–and I will cry if it’s not–all I have to do between now and August is finish up my current job, hire an inspector, apply for a mortgage, hire movers, pack, phone my evil landlord, plan a week-long Maine camping trip, and study up on ColdFusion. No problem.

And maybe the biggest news of all: I am finally getting cell phone.

My New Filing Technique is Unstoppable (again)

my new filing technique is unstoppable
I just checked Amazon, and no on has purchased Good Grief’s featured item! Just so you know, this is not just about making $0.80. Everyone should buy My New Filing Technique is Unstoppable because it’s a damn funny book.

Rees, better known for his Get Your War On comic, also has a longer-running series about life in the office. Part of Rees’ schtick is using public domain clipart instead of drawing the strips himself. And this tacky office clipart–you know, the blurry black and white pictures of office workers in plaid jackets talking on the phone–is a big part of the humor. There’s something funny about dowdy office staff spewing obscenities:

Guy hunched in front of computer: These variables are not reconciling to the monthly accounts!

Perky guy popping his head into the office [boss-across-the-hall]: Team Spirit Meeting in five minutes! See you there!

Guy hunched in front of computer: Go the fuck away! I’m working on some bad-ass computer shit right now! I have no time for team spirit!

I know these guys, and you probably do too. In fact, most of Rees’ trash-talking clipart characters are familiar enough to make part of you laugh in recognition and part of you consider hara-kiri. The clipart device also works well because Rees treats the pictures literally and builds absurd stories around them. Two women in front of a filing cabinet have intense and profane conversations about filing techniques; co-workers gathered around a workstation are business trainees who use the spy computer to learn about office politics; a shadowy man with a stack of dot-matrix printouts contemplates stealing the paperwork to start his own company.

So take a cubicle break and visit a world where management can drop a Triangle Body Mode on your ass and bring in Dr. Niles Fanderbiles to make sure your filing system is in the Realm of Excellence.

Happy Father’s Day, Moon Pappy!

plaid family

plaid family

John Allen Paulos: Who’s Counting?

A reader noticed that Once Upon a Number: The Hidden Mathematical Logic of Stories is currently in the pile of to-be-read-books and kindly sent the link to John Allen Paulos’ Who’s Counting column at Thanks, Dan!

There’s lots of good stuff in the archives. For example, concerning hidden codes in text:

If, to use an example I’ve written about elsewhere, you were to look for prophetic evidence of the Clinton sex scandals in the Constitution, you could look for ELSes that begin anywhere within the document, that have any number of skips between letters of the ELSes, that involve any words spelled backward, diagonally, or any which way. With so much leeway, it would not be too unlikely if you found some ELSes that spell out, say, M-O-N-I-C-A or P-A-U-L-A or G-E-N-N-I-F-E-R or K-A-T-H-L-E-E-N, or something similar–seemingly remarkable, yet utterly insignificant.

The moral of the story: if you look long enough and hard enough, you’ll likely find what you’re looking for. Moreover, if you don’t set up strict rules beforehand for searching the data, and if you throw away all of the boring nonresults, then the interesting sequences that pop up by chance do not mean what they seem to.

Kinda takes the fun out of Pi and The Da Vinci Code, though.


Is this a fable, an allegory, a metaphor, or just a story about people poundin grapefruits into a keyboard?

Can it be? A political weblog that does not whine or proselytize? Maybe it does, but you’ll be so busy laughing your ass off that you won’t even notice. For example:

Boss-across-the-hall-update: on again, off again

He cut our weekly Business Intelligence staff meeting short because he’s tired today. And why is he tired? Because it’s the most wonderful time of the year!

Boss-across spent all day Saturday and Sunday stringing Christmas lights around fifteen pine trees in his front yard. As a final touch, he installed a sensor that will automatically turn on the lights when the sun goes down.

At first, everything went as planned: it got dark, and the lights came on. Hundreds of bright, white lights that tricked the sensor into a false sense of daylight, causing it to turn off the lights. And immediately it was dark again, so the trusty sensor turned the lights back on. And off. And on.

Back to the staff meeting. Boss-across-the-hall told us that our group is going to test the company’s instant messaging software:

Becky: I am not putting IM on my computer unless I have to.
Boss-across: You have to.
Boss-across: Meeting over. I’m very tired from all of the Christmas lights.

Happy Birthday, Moon Pappy

plaid family

In honor of Moon Pappy’s birthday, I present the famous S family seventies plaid photo. Brother Dan S was either:

  • not born yet
  • behind the camera
  • smart enough to run away

Happy birthday, Moon Pappy! You’ll be eligible for social security next year really soon!

PS: Don’t laugh–plaid is hot this fall!

Wildlife: has it made any progress?

Eight years ago, I asked an important question:

Why should we bother to protect wildlife if it won’t even pose for a few simple photographs?

In this era of austerity and tough budget decisions, it’s time to determine whether or not wildlife has become more cooperative and more deserving of our tax dollars. Below, my findings from a recent trip to Alaska.


caribou in Denali

First up, caribou. Like the mountain goats from the Montana trip, they remained distant. However, they thoughtfully positioned themselves against a gorgeous backdrop of snow-capped hills, streams, and endless, rolling fields. Moreover, they were everywhere and easy to find. Good job, caribou.

moose in wonder lake

moose in Wonder Lake

One of my personal goals on this trip was to see a moose. The first sighting was only a moose butt (not pictured), but as the week wore on, we saw many moose, each closer than the last. In fact, the last sighting–a mama moose and her calf on the bike path–was not a picture-taking scenario. It was a “please don’t trample us” scenario.

I applaud the moose for being plentiful. Their territorial behavior, however, needs improvement.

grizzly bear


Next we have the bears. The grizzly above gets points for proximity, though he should consider showing his face. Not just because people want to photograph it, but because this pose just screams RUG–presumably not an idea he’s trying to evoke.

black bear

Black bear near the train tracks

The black bear has the right idea. Four legs and a head, running around in the snow–definitely not rug material.

cross fox

posing and waiting for squirrels

In terms of actual posing, this cross fox did the best job. He conveniently perched by the side of the road and was very cooperative, sitting still for photos while waiting for a tasty squirrel to come along. A tasty squirrel did, in fact, come along; sadly, his picture turned out rather gory.


puffin, floating along

Moving on to the water animals, puffins get kudos for their sheer volume and for displaying themselves in a variety of photogenic ways: lined up on the ledge of a rock, flying underwater, and floating around near boatloads of tourists. Their big, orange feet and clumsy-looking take-offs add to their charm.

humpbacks feeding

feeding time for the humpbacks

We saw a group of six humpback whales who put on quite a show of bubblenet feeding. It’s a co-operative way of feeding and very rare, so huge bonus points for that. Furthermore, the bubbles they create tell photographers exactly where the whales are going to surface next.

My only suggestion for the humpbacks is to jump up more.

sea otter

hello, there!

Finally, the sea otter.  This little guy floated right by the boat and gave us a wave. Hello to you too, little guy.

Overall, wildlife has made vast strides since 2004. Unlike my experience at Glacier National Park, the wildlife of Alaska was very understanding of tourists and their desire to take animal photos. And there were no incidents of inappropriate behaviors.

Keep up the good work, wildlife–I fully support my tax dollars being used to preserve your habitats.