All in a Day’s Work

CK, Linda, and I just returned from a fact-finding mission in northern Colorado: How does the city of Greeley turn Rocky Mountain snowmelt into the best-tasting water in North America?

Turns out it’s thanks to guys like John Thornhill (left), water resources operations manager at Greeley, and Randy Gustafson (right), water resources administrator. And though we kind of knew that already, we feigned ignorance so that the two of them would take us on a field trip.

That’s how we ended up eating lunch on the front porch of a remote cabin with this view of Peterson Lake—at roughly 9,500 feet in elevation and just a stone’s throw from Rocky Mountain National Park. And how we learned a thing or two about water management, prior appropriation, what it means when someone has a “call on the river,” transbasin diversions, and what the heck a natural conveyance is.

Now, it’s not often that all three of us feel like the dumb kids in the room (usually it’s just me). But being around Randy and John, well…let’s just say that these guys are a great asset to the city. Congratulations on the award, fellas, and thanks for a great time.

This Year’s Vacation Rocked

One of the side benefits of this job (apart from the piles of cash and the constant attention from the ladies) is that you get to learn about all kinds of interesting things.

Like, say, rocks.

Working on CWU’s geologic timeline gave me a new appreciation for nature’s puzzle pieces—so much so that, on a vacation ostensibly about seeing the American West from two-lane highways, we went out of our way to take a gander at Petrified Forest National Park…

…Craters of the Moon…

…and, of course, Grand Canyon.

And it was amazing. All of it. Here are some more photos, if you’re so inclined.

On Dominance and Submission

As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, I recently returned from an epic road trip that took the missus and me everywhere from lonely byways in the heart of the Great Plains to the unrestrained hedonism of the Las Vegas Strip. But no matter where we happened to be, there was always one thing we could count on: people taking selfies.

I’m not entirely sure why, by I find the practice to be one of the most obnoxious developments of the Digital Age. Is it narcissism that drives people to take a selfie at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon? Or is it simply an example of herd mentality? Perhaps both.

But that’s not all. According to Dr. David Ludden at Psychology Today, people use selfies to, depending on their intended audience, create a certain impression:

Just like other animals, humans also equate size with dominance and submission. The priest stands at the altar before a kneeling congregation. The orator struts upon a dais before a seated audience. And the king sits on his raised throne before his prostrate subjects. These are all ancient practices, but there’s also a modern ritual in which people try to manage other people’s impressions of how tall they are—the selfie!

And it turns out that this “impression management” actually works. Read the whole article.

On the Road

Just got back from a two-week vacation—a rambling road trip covering more than 5,300 miles across a dozen states, mostly on two-lane highways. (The trip itself is immortalized on Instagram under #superepicmegaroadtrip, if you’re interested.)

Anyway, one of the highlights was meeting my aunt for the first time. She has a little farm on the Rio Grande near Dixon, New Mexico: fruits and vegetables, chickens, dairy goats. After getting to know her a little bit—like learning that she lived in a teepee for a couple of years—it occurred to me that she was something of a hippie. Which I dutifully reported, of course.

“Not a hippie,” she said as she looked at me over the top of her glasses. “I was a beatnik.”

“So,” I replied. “A hippie before it was cool.”

“No,” she said, a little more firmly. “A beatnik.”

Which is all just a roundabout way of bringing your attention to this story. It’s not only a fascinating—and maddening—look at the “hipster millennial scapegoats of their time,” but also a tastefully designed reading experience. Hats off to the Washington Post for a great article, and for doing something truly interesting and engaging with the medium.

Another Dose of Nostalgia

Last week (6.26), Courtney shared with us this link, taking us to a world that many have forgotten. This week, I’ll share with you a bit of information I found out…SEGA has released some of their original games for free. And according to the website they will release a new one every month. As an added bonus, they aren’t discriminating against a mobile platform, it’s available for both Android and iOS. So hop on the app store, search for SEGA, and download your favorite. From Sonic to Crazy Taxi to Kid Chameleon to Comix Zone to Altered Beast, there’s so many to choose from.

Clearly productivity around the office is slowly dwindling.

A Nice Walk in the Woods

“It’s a nice walk in the woods” he said, “no problem for beginners.”

And so we set off. 5 Girl Scouts. 16 people total.

6 hours later the last group made it back to camp.

I think I need to adjust my difficulty rating system when asking Aaron about trail hikes.

I’m lucky my Girl Scout parents like me.

Look Left, Then Look Right

When you find something this cool on the internet, you share it.

1. Click on this link
2. Pick a video that most intrigues you
3. Once it begins to play, click drag on the video left or right
4. Enjoy

Things I Saw Downtown, Walking On My Lunch Break

Beside the meter

­the lady fishes for her keys,

legs painted Pantone 163.


Within the underpass,

city sleepers spoon the passing traffic;

catch the faint whiff of­­ –­ well, I’d rather not say.




High above the street

on sidewalks blue, rests a solitary figure

amid faint curls of smoke.

Monday Monsters

While enjoying my coffee this morning I found this and it made me smile. And then it made me sentimental as hell. Now, after a deep-dive Google session, I’m playing this. Happy Monday, all.





Where It All Began

My first professional job, a part-time gig around 1980, was with a local design firm called Spilker Baker & Associates. Jim Spilker and Don Baker had met in design school at Spokane Falls Community College a few years earlier.

We worked out of the first floor of a house at 724 West Shannon. It’s…a little different from our studio today:


While I was at Spilker Baker for less than a year before moving on to an advertising agency, I’ve remained friends with Don ever since, and we continue to maintain a long-standing collaborative relationship.

The Sad State of Musical Criticism in 2017

Remember how last week I alerted you to Kalefa Sanneh’s New Yorker article on progressive rock? Now Forbes is getting in on the action. The key difference between the two pieces, though, is that Sanneh’s is worth reading—and it’s not just because the author of the Forbes piece, Rob Salkowitz, admits to being a “prog-hating Clash fan” (apparently you can’t, like me, be a fan of both prog and the Clash).

No, it’s because Salkowitz feels compelled to call into question the humanity of prog fans. No, for reals.

First, he asserts that prog bands (“aging, fat white guys living a rich lifestyle”) are “lightly regarded outside of a hard core of mostly male fans who self-identify as the nerds of the music world.” Then he wonders about “the appeal of this particular brand of indulgent, over-intellectualized music to male listeners of a certain bent.”

A certain bent? What could he possibly mean? Oh…of course. We’re racists!

Prog is “the whitest of white-boy music,” he writes, that “played in the segregation of album rock radio in the 1970s.”

Whereas Top 40 was inherently colorblind, playing James Brown, the Beatles, Motown and Bob Dylan as long as it was popular, the FM stations that championed prog rock, hard rock and heavy metal in the 1970s started systematically excluding black artists. [Note: How many black prog rock, hard rock, and heavy metal bands were there in the 1970s? Exactly.] That led to a massive division between R&B, soul and other “urban” (African-American) styles and what’s become known as “classic rock” for white kids in the suburbs – a casually racist state of affairs that persisted until the crossover of hip hop in the late 80s and lingers on to this day.

Huh. Who knew? And here I thought I liked King Crimson on accounta it’s musically interesting. Didn’t know I hated “African-American” styles. Guess I’d better get rid of all those CDs by Sun Ra, Miles Davis, Ornette Coleman, Charles Mingus, Herbie Hancock, Taj Mahal, Freddie Hubbard, Wadada Leo Smith, Isaac Hayes, McCoy Tyner…


Stephen Phelan on the world’s deadliest motorcycle race:

On the first lap, rider No. 63, Jochem van den Hoek, rocketed through Ballig on his Honda at more than a hundred and fifty miles per hour. Some twenty seconds later, turning through a tricky curve at the eleventh milestone, he came off the bike. His death was confirmed that afternoon, around the same time that No. 52, the Irishman Alan Bonner, had his own collision higher up the mountain. Bonner was also killed, bringing the historic death toll on this circuit, which has been in use since 1907, to two hundred and fifty-five, including thirty-two in the past decade. (That figure does not account for race officials and spectators hit by runaway bikes.)

Looks like Yoko Ono will finally share songwriting credit for “Imagine.” It’s only fitting, I suppose, since it’s a terrible, terrible song.

Scientists or charlatans? Dan Rosenheck hangs out with legit wine “supertasters”

Everyone has read florid promises of “gobs of ripe cassis”, “pillowy tannins”, and “seductive hints of garrigue”. Yet the relationships between such mumbo-jumbo and the chemical composition of a wine, between one taster’s use of it and another’s, and even between the same drinker’s notes on the same wine on different occasions tend to be faint at best.

…while Brian Palmer asks, “Is wine really art?”

The answer has more to do with how you define art than how you think about wine, and therefore is a deep philosophical question that probably shouldn’t be answered by a half-in-the-bag socialite at a $1,000-a-bottle bacchanalia.

And in sports news, Ford Motor Company turns 114 today—on the eve of 24 Heures du Mans, where the Ford Chip Ganassi Racing team will defend its 2016 LM GTE Pro class win.

Thursday Thoughts

Can you spot the typo in the following excerpt from page 243 of Where the Water Goes (2017) by David Owen?

“The company ended up not drilling, because that area wasn’t terribly attractive,” Holsinger told me. “Now my parents have a little next egg, and they paid off debt, and the ranch is still in the family.”

Right. It’s nest egg, not next egg. Simple mistake—after all, the S and X keys are adjacent to each other. And no spell-check software is gonna pick up on it, on accounta next is a real word.

“But wait a minute, Mister Smarty-Pants,” you’re thinking right now, “maybe Holsinger actually said ‘next egg,’ and the author is simply quoting him accurately.” If that were the case, the insertion of [sic] after next would indicate precisely that: that it’s been transcribed exactly as quoted, warts and all.

So what’s the point?

Simply that the publisher of Where the Water Goes is Riverhead Books, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC, which is in turn owned by a German media conglomerate and a British multinational publishing company. Penguin Random House has nearly 250 imprints and brands on five continents. It sells more than 15,000 new titles and 800 million print, audio, and e-books every year. Its revenue in 2015 was 3.7 billion EUR, up 11.8 percent from 2014—while operating EBIDTA rose 23.2 percent to 557 million EUR.

It’s safe to say, then, that PRH has at its disposal some of the best proofreaders money can buy. And they still missed one.

So. We’re all human. Stuff happens. Perfection is unattainable. And that’s okay.

Stop! Grammar time!

Sarah Sweet’s “Barbarians at the Gates of Grammar” reminds me a little bit of Mark Twain’s apocryphal “When I was a boy of fourteen…” quote—though it’s less about discovering the wisdom of your elders than it is the realization that “the problem with pedantry is that the rules and definitions you passionately defend and get churlish about insist on changing.”

I’d elucidate, but then you wouldn’t read the article. Trust me, it’s worth it.

Prog is dead. Long live prog!

The subtitle of Kelefa Sanneh’s New Yorker article on progressive rock reads “Critics think that the genre was an embarrassing dead end. So why do fans and musicians still love it?”

As a recovering musician and an ardent fan of the genre, I’ve always been somewhat baffled by the prog haters out there. And speaking as a former critic, it’s simply not true that prog is a dead end—embarrassing or otherwise. The success of Kscope is proof of that.

In fact, it’s precisely those artists who have been influenced by Gentle Giant, King Crimson, Pink Floyd, et al.—like, oh, I dunno…Steven Wilson—who seem to be the only ones doing anything remotely interesting these days. (To his credit, Sanneh reminds readers that Tool, Meshuggah, and Opeth are also “latter-day [prog] innovators.”)

Like any musical genre, there’s both good and bad. If you dismiss all of prog because, like Robert Christgau, you think that the members of Emerson, Lake & Palmer were “as stupid as their most pretentious fans,” then you miss out on Peter Gabriel-era Genesis. And that would be a shame.

Seinfeld 2020: Make America Aloof Again

I am not a hugger.

It’s not just because I’m an introvert, though I’m sure that has something to do with it. Nor is it because it’s inherently awkward—though it is, in fact, inherently awkward.

No, it’s because the number of people I like well enough to hug can be counted on Frodo’s left hand—and that would still leave an extra finger.

These days, though, everyone hugs everyone else, for no apparent reason other than that’s just what we’re supposed to do. But no more. In this era of wanton familiarity and unchecked intimacy, Jerry Seinfeld took a stand. He’s a true American hero. He deserves our thanks.

Quote of the Day

“Be courteous to all, but intimate with few, and let those few be well tried before you give them your confidence—true friendship is a plant of slow growth, and must undergo & withstand the shocks of adversity before it is entitled to the appellation.”

George Washington, in a letter to his nephew Bushrod Washington, January 15, 1783

Spokane Scene no. 25

Knothead Loop is a seven-mile hike that rewards you with Indian petroglyphs, gorgeous views, and plenty of wildlife—and it’s only a half-hour drive from downtown Spokane. This time of year the lupine and wild roses are in bloom in the valleys; wild irises are blanketing the marshy area around the Little Spokane River. Check it out.


Terry Teachout reports on a “trivial little exercise in inter-generational trolling” he undertook on Twitter last week. The results are predictably vile (and, to be honest, depressing). Turns out that “a total stranger’s expression of tepid distaste for a now-commonplace conversational mannerism” is enough to get some people really fired up. Least surprising? Millennials were the angriest. WARNING: Lots of naughty words at the link.

Speaking of social media, how’s that whole slacktivism approach to solving all the world’s problems working out? Not so well, perhaps.

Tomorrow (June 6) marks the 73rd anniversary of D-Day. Rather than wait until then, go ahead and check out the Atlantic‘s cool “Then and Now” feature, which they published back in 2014.

Martin Scorsese defends film as art. Seems odd that such an argument would be necessary, but, well…these are the times in which we live. (Bonus! A 1980 review of The Shining, from the same publication, that underscores at least a couple of Scorsese’s points: “It would be tempting to call it metaphysical…if the story on which it was based were less of a mail-order catalogue of fashionable—not to mention profitable—occult notions. There is not much metaphysics in The Shining, but it is as fine a piece of cinema as Kubrick has produced.”)

“A Tiny Masterpiece”

Robert Rauschenberg,* who once said that he wanted to make the biggest drawing in the world, also created one of the twentieth century’s smallest art works.” Read Calvin Tomkins’s charming piece on Rauschenberg’s Self-Portrait [for The New Yorker profile]. (C’mon. It’ll only take you three minutes.)

*Being something of a Philistine when it comes to art, I had to ask CK whether Robert Rauschenberg was cool enough to blog about. Yes, he assured me. Yes, he is.

Public Service Announcement

If you ever find yourself in Dillon, Montana—and really, why wouldn’t you?—do yourself a favor and stop in at the Taco Bus for a quick bite. Seriously, these are the best tacos in the history of tacos.

While you’re in the area, hit up the Patagonia Outlet, try your hand at some blue-ribbon fly fishing, or visit historic Bannack. Or heck—go just for the tacos. Sure, it’s a five-hour drive from Spokane. But it’s worth every minute.

It’s Not Just You: English Really Is Weird

A friend alerted me to John McWhorter’s delightful essay “English is not normal” over at Aeon. Here’s how it begins:

English speakers know that their language is odd. So do people saddled with learning it non-natively. The oddity that we all perceive most readily is its spelling, which is indeed a nightmare. In countries where English isn’t spoken, there is no such thing as a ‘spelling bee’ competition. For a normal language, spelling at least pretends a basic correspondence to the way people pronounce the words. But English is not normal.

You’ve heard it all before, I’m sure. The thing is, though, McWhorter goes on to explain why. So do yourself a favor and read the entire piece. And if you find this sort of thing fascinating (as, of course, you should), check out Kevin Stroud’s History of English Podcast.

Thank You, Captain Obvious

The correct answer to this question, of course, is “Yes.” #SavedYouAClick

However, since reading “calms the nerves, increases language and reasoning, and can even keep you mentally alert as you age”—while watching TV pretty much does the opposite—we recommend clicking anyway. Not only that, but it appears to be the nature of the activities themselves, rather than differences in quality between the two, that accounts for the difference. So, basically, reading this beats watching this.

With that in mind, I’m a-gonna throw caution to the wind and take a copy of Library of America’s American Science Fiction: Five Classic Novels 1956–1958 into the woods this weekend. War and Peace can wait.

Say Goodbye to Workplace Productivity

As usual, I’m late to the party on this. But I just discovered Open Culture, “The best free cultural & educational media on the web.” Now I’m exhausted.

See, I got there by way of a link to this story about Paul Klee’s notebooks. I didn’t even read the article, though, because I got distracted by this and this and this. And especially this. And that was before I discovered the 1,150 free movies. You can watch Why Man Creates, the 1963 animated short by Saul Bass. Or The Phantom Carriage (1921), “one of the central works in the history of Swedish cinema.” Or any of half a dozen Sonny Chiba flicks.

Sorry, CK. I accomplished nothing today. Which I can guarantee you is more than Courtney got done, but still.

Today in History

The Reverend Sydney Smith to Lady Holland, May 23, 1811:

How very odd, dear Lady Holland, to ask me to dine with you on Sunday, the 9th, when I am coming to stay with you from the 5th to the 12th! It is like giving a gentleman an assignation for Wednesday, when you are going to marry him on the preceding Sunday—an attempt to combine the stimulus of gallantry with the security of connubial relations. I do not propose to be guilty of the slightest infidelity to you while I am at Holland House, except you dine in town; and then it will not be infidelity, but spirited recrimination.

From The Folio Book of Days (The Folio Society, 2002)

The Wonder of It All

I’ve been mildly annoyed by REI’s #ForceOfNature social media campaign, if only because they seem to be trying really, really hard to convince me that…come to think of it, I’m not sure what it is they’re trying to say, other than that is has something to do with sexism. Am I sexist for being a male and enjoying the outdoors? Or is it the outdoors itself that’s sexist? Whatever it is, it’s definitely a Bad Thing.

So they post pictures to Instagram with lines like “They might say, ‘you should be quiet.’ But out here, we’re not going to listen to the stereotypes.” Deep, huh? (Just two days before that, it was “Somewhere they might be saying, ‘you should be more feminine.’ But up here, we can’t hear the stereotypes.” They’ve already run out of ideas.)

Apart from the cheesiness of it all, it just seemed so improbable. I mean, are there really insufferable a**holes out there who say such things to women? And if so, is it a quantity sufficient enough to warrant a lame social media campaign? I follow REI on Instagram to look at cool gear and gorgeous photography, not be lectured about the purported inequality of the sexes – especially with obviously staged photos and woefully forced copy.

Then Skooch sent me this story.

It made me realize that, if people like D. Marble exist, then yes, the aforementioned insufferable a**holes surely must exist as well. Just when you think you’ve got the world figured out, it throws you a curve ball.

So, You’re Thinking of Choosing a Font…

This is a big moment for you. For a long time, you’ve stood in the margins, watching friends and coworkers play a mysterious game with their words—but no longer. You’ve decided you’re ready to start caring what your language looks like. It would be so easy to brush this off and act like it’s no big thing, but deep down, you know it took guts getting to this point. And for that, you deserve to let a little pride drip out of your inner tap. So go ahead and indulge yourself a little. You’ve earned it.

However, it’s also important to appreciate the gravity of the situation you’re in. Maybe you thought choosing a font was as simple as picking out a pair of socks. If that were the case, you failed to appreciate just how badly this could go for you. You’re about to enter a minefield, littered with the carcasses of past font choices gone wrong. People are going to be talking about this for a long time, and you’re either going to be a raging success or the flop that people, whispering, point out in the supermarket aisle. I wish it weren’t too late to convince you to abandon this decision, but now that you know it exists there’s no turning back.

The first thing you need to figure out is where you stand in the perennial dispute between serif and sans serif. This is your Montague-Capulet kind of situation, only where Romeo and Juliet are pretending to be into each other so they can one day poison the other person’s whole family. It is here where humanity parts into two ideologically opposed groups. Underlying this conflict is a history far too complex to explain before you make your decision, so you just need to ask yourself: would you rather wear a black turtleneck or an decorative neck scarf? This will tell you on which side of the conflict you land.

Next, you’ll want to consider serious things like aesthetics, audience, mood, legibility—blah, blah, blah. Look, it’s mostly a gut thing and remember, it was your guts that got you to this point, so don’t be afraid to trust them. Really, making the right call is mostly about avoiding the wrong ones. Here are some of the biggies:

– Avoid trite correlations, e.g. don’t choose Gotham just because you’re writing Batman fan-fiction and or wearing Batman pajamas.

– Certain fonts like Comic Sans and Papyrus have become the lepers of typography. Try not to touch them.*

– Like the popular kids at school, some fonts lose their style after a few years. Don’t let fashion intrude on your decision-making.

Let’s not sugarcoat it; this is huge decision and one that you haven’t come to lightly. But don’t worry, you’re only risking a life sentence of passive-aggressive judgment from your peers. So, relax. You’re going to be fine, just fine.

Get choosing.

*One precarious option I wouldn’t recommend to a first-timer like yourself—but that is still worth mentioning—is using your font choice to make an ironic comment on the popular tastes and distastes of a society. This might include choosing to use Comic Sans on the program for a design lecture, or branding your company as a pastiche of a certain font which, through historical overuse, has become the subject of insults and ridicule. Again, this is only for the advanced.

On Names Good and Bad

“Consider the Oreo cookie,” wrote Harlan Ellison. “Mealy. Chocolate only in the same way that an H-bomb blast-effect is a suntan. Mendacious, meretricious, monstrously mouth-clotting…it is anti-cookie, the baked good personification of the AntiChrist.”

He described the cream filling as “corpse-white adhesive,” as “bird doo-doo,” and, perhaps most memorably, as “loathsome diabetes-inducing spackling compound.”

What he really had a thing for was Hydrox: the “Stabat Mater of junk food.”

You remember Hydrox, don’t you? They were not only first on the scene—pre-dating Oreos by four years—but also, by most accounts anyway (or at least Ellison’s), superior in every conceivable way. Too bad about the name, though.

People tell me that a good name can make all the difference. Can it, though? I mean, it’s not like “Oreo” is a great name or anything—it’s that “Hydrox” is terrible. It’s like the difference between Ritz and Hi-Ho, another battle between Sunshine and Nabisco. Who wants to eat a Hi-Ho? Nobody, that’s who. I don’t care how much better they taste. Gimme a Ritz every time. And lest you think this is some sort of anti-Sunshine blog, we here at helveticka world headquarters—like the rest of the civilized world—are all about the Cheez-Its.

Today’s Reading Assignment

Over at Current Affairs, Nathan J. Robinson offers an impressive—and, to be honest, convicting—defense of liking stupid things. “Not everything that exists in the time of Donald Trump has to be a metaphor for Donald Trump,” he writes, “and not every silly trinket produced by capitalism is evidence of our decline in intellectual vigor.”

He’s talking about recent criticism of the fidget spinner. And he’s just getting started:

“I’m particularly irritated by this kind of cultural criticism because it embodies one of the most unfortunate tendencies in left-ish political thinking: the need to spoil everybody’s fun by finding some kind of problem with everything. There is enough serious human misery in the world for the left to point out; there’s no need to problematize the fidget spinner as well.”

Then there’s this:

“Fun is important, and sometimes people have fun by playing tiddlywinks or spinning a top or finding one of the myriad of other trivial diversions that keep us from having to face the full horror of our mortal existence.”

Robinson’s piece is a necessary corrective to the spate of finger-wagging we’re seeing lately. You should read the entire thing. Right now.


Check this out:

In 2009, Richard Stephens, a psychologist at Keele University, in England, asked a group of volunteers to plunge one hand into a bucket of ice-cold water and keep it there for as long as they could. Sometimes Stephens instructed them to repeat an expletive of their choice—one that “they might use if they banged their head or hit their thumb with a hammer,” according to an article he wrote about the study. Other times he had them repeat a neutral word, like “wooden” or “brown.” With few exceptions, the volunteers could hold their hand in the water for longer when they cursed—about forty seconds longer, on average.

So, if swearing makes you stronger (and clearly it does), then Shirlee must have the strength of at least a dozen men—while I, on the other hand, am a 97-lb. weakling.

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