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It’s Kind of a Funny Story



Spoiler alert: There’s no gunfire, no emergencies, no big-time scary scenes in this movie, but you’ll like it.

I had a friend who I visited in a place like this. The guy worked in my bicycle shop. He had been evicted from three homes because he somehow figured that the furnaces in each place were putting out dangerous fumes. I asked him about that, and all he could tell me is that the fumes were bad and they weren’t carbon monoxide.

When he called the fire department in the middle of the last place, there was nowhere left that he could rent. He ended up homeless. This was winter on the east coast of the United States. He equipped his bicycle with full winter camping gear, and ended up living in the woods.

Then, one night, he got the notion that the local mental ward in the university hospital, where he had been a few times before, wasn’t feeding the patients right. He claimed, perhaps rightly, that the food did not have enough nutrition. As the night shift orderlies tried to calm him and assure him that they’d pass the message along to the doctors in the morning, he became upset because he knew they were just placating him. He became more and more upset, and of course they had to commit him again.

When he didn’t show up for work for a few days, I started asking around and discovered that he was committed. I did visit, and the place was quite like in the movie. However, during the time I was there, I did not see anyone who was catatonic, violent, or looking crazy in any way. There were just people playing chess, conversing, watching TV or reading books.

There’s more to this story. I recorded the whole thing in Five Years in the Bike Shop.

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Secret Beach House Inside Box Truck


This guy, Scott, built what many might consider the ultimate recreational vehicle (RV), all in an 18-foot box truck. His whole home is in just a bit less than 144 square feet. He estimates the cost, including buying his used Isusu truck, at $85,000. That’s high, but as you can see, he spared no expense.

By building his own motorhome, he avoided many of the problems associated with typical RVs.

Many motorhomes are problematic because the manufacturers attempt to keep costs down by building on truck or van chassis that aren’t really up to the job. Then, the household appliances, plumbing and electrical systems are not really equipped to be shaken all the time as the vehicle drives down the road. By the time they are 60,000 to 65,000 miles (100,000 km) old, they are so broken down they are not cost-effective to keep running.

For instance, running an automotive V8 engine full out while going up hills warps the exhaust manifolds, tends toward overheating, blows gaskets, and may even burn the valves.

The ordinary household plumbing fittings will vibrate apart, resulting in gallons of water being pumped out across the carpeting, warping the cabinetry near the floor, and setting off irreparable mold growth.

Whereas manufactured homes (formerly called ‘mobile homes’) have to be made with proper and safe materials, it is legal to build motorhomes and trailers with just about any kind of cheap materials. There have been numerous reports of new RV owners having ongoing flu-like symptoms from out-gassing of formaldehyde from the paneling, cabinetry and upholstery. We don’t even want to consider the long-term effects.

Many RVs come with labels that say ‘not for full-time use.’

You might think you’re covered with a nice warranty when you buy a new RV. Unfortunately, you may discover that the dealer has had you sign paperwork stating that the dealer is not responsible for warranty work. That’s left to the manufacturer. But who is the manufacturer? If the refrigerator breaks, it’s the company that made it. If the paneling starts coming apart, it’s the coach builder. If the roof leaks, is that the coach builder or the chassis maker? You may find you have to drive a thousand miles to have the warranty work done by the manufacturer.

Worse, especially if you buy a half-million dollar diesel pusher (a large motorhome with a diesel engine in the rear), that repairs are not only expensive, but you may not easily find a shop willing to do the work. For instance, if the shifter quits working, it might be the push-button panel in the dashboard, but it might be the transmission, or it might be in the ten meters of wiring somewhere under the floor between the front and back. It is not uncommon for repairs, even on a new unit, to take literally months to have completed.

Maybe you should buy a used RV and using some of the money you saved to fix it up. That’s a good idea in general until you find out how much some of the repairs may cost. For instance, replacing a transmission in an RV can be twice as costly as in a car because it is so much more difficult to reach. Then, you might also discover that many RV parks will turn down anyone with a rig older than 15 years.

There have been numerous cases of motorhomes and trailers falling apart on the road, leaving the owner stranded without even a tow truck large enough to move it. Sometimes that straps that hold in tanks under the floor fail. In some cases, the paneling that makes up the sides of the vehicle has been known to work loose then blow off in the wind.

Among the most significant breakdowns from a practical point of view are slide out sections that won’t slide back in, or hydraulic levelers stuck in the down position. Your RV isn’t going anywhere when this happens.

Enough with the negativity already! On the plus side, you are living a lighter footprint on the earth if you’re a full-time RVer. Instead of commuting many miles to and from work, you can park your RV near to where you work. Instead of heating a 4,000 square-foot McMansion, you’re only heating a couple hundred square feet. So, even though the insulation is much thinner in an RV, you’re still leaving a smaller carbon footprint. If you’re not connected to city services, you have very little water, electricity and propane on board. You can learn to make these supplies last weeks, again reducing waste and pollution. Because you have limited storage, you’re less likely to buy and consume things.

Finally, there’s expense. If you’re in a financial bind, you might consider buying an older RV, knowing you’ll probably have to fix things from time to time, then find a good RV park or private property, where the rent is only a few hundred dollars per month.

Many of the RV parks need managers. The manager checks people in and out, offers a bit of security, and maintains the facilities such as mowing the lawn and helping people back in their trailers. This is in trade for free living.

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Octopus vs Underwater Maze

This is a remarkably endearing and educational video. Mark Rober taught us many interesting facts about octopi. The plural can also also be octopuses. He did point out that their blue blood is copper-based, and that they have three hearts. What he didn’t mention is that all three hearts beat with independent rhythms. Among their many defenses, such as camouflage and squirting water out of their jet to swim away very quickly, is the ability to squirt a cloud of ink, thereby obscuring their view from enemies. The largest octopi, living off the coast of Washington State on the west coast of the United States, have been known to grow to beyond 30 feet across (9.1 meters) and weigh as much as 600 pounds (272 kg) Their eyes can be as big as 15 inches (38cm) in diameter.

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Cats and Cucumbers

Why are cats so afraid of cucumbers? The common theory is that cucumbers look like snakes, and cats have evolved a natural fear of snakes. Cats see only in black and white with red, so the green color of a cucumber does nothing to de-worry the cats.

Another factor worth considering is that the cucumbers are often placed while the cats are obliviously eating or sleeping. When the cat suddenly sees the cucumber, all they know in that instant is that something possibly ominous has appeared that they were not expecting.

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Laughing Babies

From Wikipedia:

“Caregivers of an infant are advised to pick up on the infant’s facial expressions and mirror them. Reproducing and empathizing with their facial expressions enables infants to experience effectiveness and to recognize their own actions more easily (see mirror neurons). Exaggeratedly reproduced facial expressions and gestures are recommended, as they are clearer forms of expression. The baby’s babbling should also be picked up and repeated. By imitating each other’s sounds the first simple dialogues are initiated. Accentuated pronunciation and melodic intonation make it easier to recognize individual words in a sentence. However, it is not advisable to use simplified “baby talk” (e.g. “Did you ‘ouch’?” instead of, “Did you hurt yourself?”).

“Even if parents cannot yet understand infants’ babbling, a timely response by parents to babbling leads to faster language acquisition. This was confirmed by researchers who first studied mothers’ behavior towards 8-month-old infants and later tested the infants’ vocabulary when they were 15 months old. A first important development of infants is the discovery that they can influence their parents through babbling (development of intentional communication). Parents can encourage this by engaging with their infants in babbling. This in turn promotes further language development, as infants then turn to their parents more often.

“Previous studies have shown that the infant’s speech is encouraged when parents, for example, smile in the infant’s direction or touch the infant every time the infant looks at them and babbles. It also helps if parents respond to what they think their baby is saying (for example, giving a ball or commenting when the baby looks at the ball and babbles). Responding to sounds produced when the baby looks at an object (object-directed vocalizations) thus provide an opportunity to learn the name of the object. In this way, babies also learn that sounds are associated with objects. However, language development is only achieved if parents react positively (e.g. smile) in response to the infant’s babbling. A high response rate without a connection to the infant’s utterances does not lead to language promotion. It is detrimental to language development if a mother instead tries to divert the infant’s attention to something else.”

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Sun Valley Serenade

This full movie is cued up to start at the musical and dance entertainment portion. You can rewind to the beginning to see the full movie if you wish. This is a level of entertainment that is probably not possible today.

The orchestra was led by Benny Goodman who was as big as the Beatles in his day – about 25 years before the Beatles. Benny’s instrument was the clarinet, something that’s been nearly entirely missing from the mainstream music scene for at least fifty years.

Sun Valley Serenade was recorded in Sun Valley, Idaho. The venue still exists to this day. Your author and his wife had the pleasure of staying in the Sun Valley Lodge 20 or so years ago where we met ice skating legends Scotty Hamilton, Katarina Witt, Oksana Baiul, and others in person. The room the orchestra played in looks the same to this day.

Skating stars tend to vacation in Sun Valley and neighboring Ketchum, Idaho in the summers during their off season. Many of them practice in the two skating rinks and some participate in public shows on Friday or Saturday nights. Sun Vally has a year-round outdoor ice rink, one of the few, and perhaps the only year-round outdoor rink in the world. To keep the ice frozen, they have four Diesel-powered refrigerators each as big as a full-size cargo container.

I believe you’ll agree with me that the dance sequence is one of the best ever. It is performed by the Nicholas Brothers and Dorothy Dandridge. The brothers were born in 1914 and 1921 to a pianist mother and drummer father.

The Nicholas Brothers, Harold and Fayard, who lived to the age of 92, later taught master tap dance classes as teachers-in-residence at Harvard University and Radcliffe College. Janet Jackson and her brother Michael studied under the Nicholas brothers.