October 20, 2003

The Monkey vs the Salmon vs the World

There’s nothing here but quiet.

And sorry about that. Things have been crazy here the last week. All the Big Wigs left for Cape Hatteras last Saturday, putting us Small Wigs in charge of the store for the week. Everything went smoothly and they’re back now and we’re all hunky-dorrey.

And take salmon for instance. Could this fish be any stupider? I mean, it tries to kill itself by swimming upstream. It spends its entire life happy to occupy the lower pools and nibble the toes of children, but then BAM something serious pops in its cortex, something that dates back to the earliest days of evolutionary advantage, and all of a sudden all it wants to do is FIGHT. The water wants to push it down but the salmon wants to fight up. The salmon wants to spawn and it can’t spawn here. The salmon MUST SPAWN and it MUST SPAWN THERE.

And so it all jumps out of the water and stuff, and man builds dams to keep the salmon from spawning but the salmon outsmarts man and builds ladders. And man takes off his hat and scratches his head as he watches the salmon pound away with their tiny fish hammers. And the salmon builds a ladder and the man thinks to himself that he would never have thought of that. “Who would have thought that fish would not only be inclined to use ladders, but to construct them out of wood beams and concrete?” Man would never have thought of this, because man has legs and feet and these tools constrain his thinking, and he thinks what good would be a ladder without legs and feet?

And so the salmon build themselves a ladder to swim upstream, and yet they don’t even swim upstream. They don’t swim and instead leap far out of the water and into the greedy paws of grizzlies. The grizzly is delighted by this exemplary customer service but it is sad and tragic for the salmon. Stay put, dear salmon! Bound not into the ursine clutches! But the salmon doesn’t listen. The salmon can’t listen because millions of years of research and development in the piscine field reveals that leaping upstream to spawn has a greater evolutionary advantage than heeding the warnings of monkeys.

Tricky little monkeys. The monkey chatters in bemusement at the salmon’s cruel fate. So much wasted effort! What could possibly be so desirous at the head of the stream to make the salmon foolishly risk life? Why not spawn elsewhere? Spawn downstream! Spawn right where you are! Spawn under a shimmering disco ball moon!

But the monkey doesn’t realize something, and he doesn’t realize it because he’s so busy chiding the salmon. He doesn’t realize it because he is too deeply engaged in chattering away at himself, in impressing himself with his own intellectual prowess. His ears plug up with the cheap gin of his own cheap thoughts and he stumbles around deaf of ear and blind of mind. Intoxicated he can’t see that he and the salmon share similar fates. The only difference being that the monkey is the captain of his fate, and whether or not he’s going to be the incoherent stumbledrunk captain is a choice completely within his means.

At least the salmon has a glorious and efficient design for making way upstream. The effort is great indeed, but the result is arguably teleological. A monkey thrashing his way upstream just looks ridiculous. Watch as he gasps for air in the falls! Look at him flail his silly sodden limbs! You may have been meant for something, monkey. You may have been meant to climb down from the trees and paddle around that pool, but fighting your way against the current will only dash your brittle body against the rocks.

You can pick your fights, dear monkey, but you can’t fight everything so you must pick them well. Fighter monkeys will swim against a riptide with all their might, but that only makes sure they’re dead tired when they get swept out to sea. Thinker monkeys swim across a riptide until they reach an inflow that nudges them back to shore.

As in salmon, as in monkeys, as in life, you need to know when to fight and when to think. And right now we’re surrendering the fight for a moment of thought.

October 17, 2003






We are your local grocer!

What fun we can have with words at the local grocer!

Meat Debacle

Pine Nut Lambastification

Chipotle Ant Trap

…and we are currently listening to Space Hog and this afternoon we has a great kiteboarding session.

…and when did we start referring to ourselves in the first person plural? T’is a technique “used by sovereigns; used by writers to keep an impersonal character.” We’ve started using it in casual conversation as well, and it really confuses the hell people. Including me. I mean us. I mean we.

The NorShor: A Visit to the Attic

I was helping out for the 2003 Geek Prom, and we were pulling all sorts of geek detritus out of the attic of the NorShor. Old computer monitors, chemistry sets, mobiles made out of action figures and hamster balls… The attic isn’t so much an attic as a number of flights of stairs, with each landing stuffed with leftovers from the greatest deeds of the NorShor; junk from Homegrown, Halloween, New Year’s, Christmas, Geek Prom… the entire colorful history spills down these back stairs. But stairs to where? The most confusing part is that the stairs don’t really go anywhere. They just ascend a few floors above the main theatre and stop.

But then again, the stairs don’t “just stop.” While shoveling through geek items I noticed a wrought iron ladder, buried behind some painted styrofoam and a table of dot matrix printers, that ascended into a hole in the ceiling. The space above was dark and beckoning, so when the time was ripe I grabbed a flashlight we had been using earlier in the evening and headed on up to do some exploring.

The space reminded me of a tomb, in that I have never explored a tomb before but I assume that this is what one would be like, pitch black and pitch quiet, with thick coats of dust on the floor, and strange little tracks making their way through the filth. The first room featured a dirty window that let in the failing light of a cool Duluth evening, but beyond that the space was completely dark. And cramped. I opened up two heavy fire doors. The main hallway, built of sad gray concrete, twisted along the side the building. It looked as though the NorShor was built once, and after they thought better they scraped out the guts and rebuilt it from the inside, leaving the shell. This isn’t far from the truth, as I later learned.

I ducked some ancient rusty pipes and low ceilings and emerged in a room filled with a huge rusted generator type something. It was the size of a conversion van and had a five-foot steel wheel on it, likely attached with a belt to something evil in its hey-day. It was probably used to run curtains or something equally inane, but given the atmosphere my mind wove its own narrative. I squeezed by the generator and pressed on.

I found a set of double doors, varnished red with bullet holes in the glass. I pushed them open and found myself in what must have been the most uncomfortable theatre seating arrangement ever. There were a couple rows of thick slabs of concrete and nothing else. What’s more, it was above the ceiling of the second floor theatre and faced the wrong way, likely making it difficult to understand what was happening on stage. Negro seating from the days when the NorShor was turned around 180 degrees?

As I pondered this I realized my flashlight was dying. In my haste to explore I had neglected to check the batteries, or take extra batteries, or take any sort of safety precautions whatsoever. But with the passion for exploration pounding loud in my ears I foolishly pressed on. Down another dark hallway I came upon an old stairwell, lit faint and blue through small windows. The stairs in front of me disappeared, but I could see that ten feet below they resumed down to what must have been the ground floor, five stories below.

Unable to go down without climbing gear or broken legs, I went up and found another long and dark hallway. Nervous about the life of my flashlight I decided I had had enough discovery for the evening and started on my trek back to the attic.

I got about five feet into the darkness before my flashlight crapped out completely. I started to panic. No one knew I was up here. It would be dark soon, zeroing my chance of finding the ladder by its dingy window. I was too far from everything to be heard if I started yelling. What’s more, there were holes in the floor that gave way to the empty space above the main theatre. It was a fifty foot drop to the hard stage.

I was able to make it through the dark to the sinister generator thing and I hated it, now. I thought about curling up under it and waiting til morning, until I thought of all the nasty things that probably lived up here. I worried that someone might come up and close all the fire doors, locking me inside and blocking any light that I might be able to see from that window. My heart was pounding. I found that if I left the flashlight off for a minute or two I could milk five seconds of feeble light out of it. With this technique I tripped my way around the generator. I groped for what I hoped would be my last hallway, and finding the opening I threw myself through it in exhilaration.

And almost knocked myself unconscious by slamming my forehead into a low concrete wall. Dazed in darkness with pricks of light playing in my vision, I stumbled forward with a bit more care.

Finally, after a few unexpected turns and hallways (as distances in darkness and panic always seem longer than in light and calm) I could see faint sunlight filtering in just beyond the fire doors. I made it. Still shaking I climbed down the ladder, taking deliberate steps and clutching the rails so hard my knuckles turned white. After what I had been through, I was making damned sure I wasn’t going to screw it up at this point. I hit the floor with a sigh of relief and descended the stairs back to Geek Prom.

It was half an hour until my head calmed down and my nerves returned to normal. Or whatever could be considered normal for a person setting up something called Geek Prom.

October 14, 2003

Hey, Good Lookin’

On a side note, I just realized that it would be really cool to go out and register www.briansideout.com. That is, if my name was Brian. Or Side. Or Ansid.

I love it when people link to my blog, and it’s only partially because it yanks more fresh folk in my direction. Welcome, new patrons! Come for the nihilism! Stay for the hubris! As creatures of habit we are prone to finding ourselves in ruts. This isn’t always a bad thing. Just down the road I can visit a field where you can still see the ruts left by wagons on the Oregon Trail. ‘course, everyone who was all cool-like jumped for the video game mayhem of navigating your raft down the Columbia River, from The Dalles to Cascade Locks. Only the wussiest fourth grader took the pass through the Cascade Range and opted out of dodging spinning logs, wagon-sized rocks, Charybdis and Scylla. But still, some ruts are good. Sometimes you want to be a wuss. Sometimes you want to keep your family from being eaten alive by a horrible sea creature.

Other ruts ain’t so good because they make you sleep too late, read too much, eat too fast and show up late to work. My favorite part of gettin’ linked is that it introduces me to many blogs I would never have discovered on my own. It also makes me wonder how these people became habitual readers in the first place, such that they would be inspired to link. What they specifically link to has meaning as well. Did they like the philosophy? The humor? The gratuitous pictures of me running around without my shirt on?

Honestly, I can only devote a few minutes a day to weblogs, as there is too much other stuff to be done out in the world. I could be kiteboarding, snowboarding, making cookies, mailing rotten corn to people, engaging in freak art, etc. I have my regular and irregular blogs, and I rarely stray too far from them because while I love blogs, there are just too many lovely things in this universe that aren’t blogs. Lovely things like friends, sunsets, getting lost in dark mysterious ghost neighborhoods that have roads and sidewalks but no street lights or houses, and Space Cadet Pinball.

I’ll show you mine if you show me yours.

Blogs I visit daily are Lileks (humor, Minnesota, politics), Instapundit (politics, nanotechnology, prolific), USS Clueless (politics, logic, science), Zeldman.com (web design, web news, advocacy) and Brainstorms and Raves (web design, CSS).

Blogs I visit semi-daily (or forget to visit unless something actively reminds me) are Tim Blair (Australia, politics, one-liners), Grotto11 (technology, politics) and Red Screen (midwest, amazing photography).

Blogs I feel super-duper guilty about not visiting more often and not devoting nearly enough time to digesting are Eject, Eject, Eject (heart, logic, politics), SomethingAwful (humor), Dave Barry (Dave Barry, duh) and Samizdata (politics on a deep blue background).

Blogs I only occasionally drop into are Ken Layne (journalistic gruffness, rockstar), 101-280 (politics, technology) and Slashdot (computers, super-geeks).

Blogs that everyone raves about but I just can’t get into are Little Green Footballs (politics, pro-Israel), Andrew Sullivan (politics, stuff) and Virginia Postrel (stuff, stuff).

Friends’ sites that I frequent are Zosia Blue (Minnesota, nerds, heart) and Casual Otaku (Japan, anime).

Following a link back from whomever linked to you reveals a whole nest of bloggers whose existence was unknown to you, but to whom your existence is known in part. It’s like peeling away the layers of an onion, which is really fun if you’ve never done it, but gets really confusing when you reach the center because onions don’t layer forever and get confused themselves when figuring out what to do with their absolute insides. Try it.

A few gems from the latest delayering:

Nerdy Girl:

It is interesting to note that simply vigorously shaking a can for 10 seconds produces almost no foam. Therefore, I highly recommend shaking your friends’ soda cans just to piss them off. It won’t foam on them and it’s funny to see the looks on their faces as they shout, “What are you doing?!?” (Disclaimer: results might vary depending on altitude, warmth of soda, and temperament of friends.)

Beef Pile:

Every other day, I drive out to school at Rock Creek in Hillsboro. .. Cow country! Usually Hwy 26 is a slow crap drive, but I was thinking smart. I scheduled my classes to avoid all the traffic. So when I head to school, I have no worries and smooth sailin’ all the way. … Well not today.

I was just out of the Hwy 217 exit and was cruising along at 65mph, when everyone slowed down. .. Wha?! There’s no heavy traffic – so that could mean one thing… CARNAGE! Sweet! Twisted metal! Yah! Let’s all have a good look at people’s lives being suddenly changed and bad days beginning. Awesome!! Cool – this will be worth the wait.

So I creep along – and to my excitement I see what everyone was slowing down for. PINECONES! Frickin’ pinecones on the highway.. I waited 10 minutes in traffic so I wouldn’t hit 10 pinecones at 65mph. Fhew!!! Good thing, cuz those lil’ bastards will tear your sheeit up!


When I think about the larch, I think about its needles. I imagine them filling with resin, viscous gold syrup drawn up like honey into a syringe, where it crystallizes, as delicate and hard as Christmas brittle. And when each needle-leaf snaps loose from its branch, I remember how you pushed your needles in, testing to make sure you hit a vein by drawing a little blood into the syringe.


The normblog greatest jazz albums:

1. Miles Davis, Kind of Blue – 1959 (20)

2. Louis Armstrong, The Complete Hot 5 and Hot 7 Recordings – 1925-9 (12)

3. John Coltrane, Giant Steps – 1959 (10)

4. Charles Mingus, Mingus Ah Um – 1959 (7)

4. Sonny Rollins, Saxophone Colossus – 1956 (7)

6. Duke Ellington, Ellington at Newport – 1956 (6)

6. Lee Morgan, The Sidewinder – 1963 (6)

8. Cannonball Adderley, Somethin’ Else – 1958 (5)

8. John Coltrane, A Love Supreme – 1964 (5)

8. Eric Dolphy, Out to Lunch – 1964 (5)

8. Duke Ellington, The Blanton-Webster Band – 1940-2 (5)

8. Thelonious Monk, Brilliant Corners – 1956 (5)

8. Oliver Nelson, Blues and the Abstract Truth – 1961 (5)

8. The Quintet*, Jazz at Massey Hall – 1953 (5)

But really, what I’m most curious about is where the rest of you frequent. What do you find is most worth your time, online?

October 13, 2003

Adventure: Darkness

Okay, so it wasn’t all that bad. I spent a total of six minutes in the store, found exactly what I needed and bolted on outta there, almost backing over a guy and his shopping cart on my way out. In the store, tinny music played from confused speakers as I browsed soap. The vast number of soap flavors has exploded in the last couple years: Fresh Coconut. Sun-Ripened Raspberry. Toasted Vanilla and Sugar.

Sugar. Riiiiiight. The first thing I want to rub all over my body in the morning is sugar. Whatever happened to natural soap smells like hibiscus? Or lye? Or Fragrance RT-41? These new scents may smell nice (or may attract swarms of wasps) but in the end they all taste like soap. You know what, all you soapsmiths out there? You’re not fooling me, okay? You’re not fooling me! SOAP ISN’T FOOD! I REFUSE TO EAT IT! I DON’T CARE WHAT YOU SAY!

The weirdest thing I saw at Wal-Mart? An impulse purchase summer sausage display at the front of the store. Two feet of meat carnage, only $4.98!

Into the Darkness

Oops. I was just about to snuggle into my sleeping bag for the evening and I remembered I still need to make a run to Wall-Wart.

I hate hate hate going there. All the people are ugly and creepy. The sores on their faces weep. Their football jerseys that boast “PLAYAH” are negated by their hairy, pasty legs shoved into striped tube socks worn with plastic shower flip-flops.

I’m gonna wear my leather motorcycle jacket and leer menacingly. Best to leave the glasses at home on this run.

October 12, 2003

Laser Wallet Surgery

Watched extreme ski videos over at H20 Joe’s tonight, and now I’m totally stoked for this winter. If I end up in the mountains when the snow starts flyin’ I’m gonna need to see what it takes to get into backcountry riding.

The Green Dragon Wagon is starting to sputter again, suggesting that my superball/electrical tape vacuum leak fix may be failing. This is not what it will take to get into backcountry riding. $400 could be spent on fixing my car, getting a season pass at Mount Hood Meadows, moving back to Minnesota, flying home for the holidays, getting a wetsuit to extend my kiteboarding season another month, or building a death ray.

Hmm. Of all the possibilities, only the death ray has the potential to pay for all the others. But really, how much death ray could you get for only 400 dollars?

No, really. How much?