The killer beside you

knife

The first murderer I ever met was tall and awkward, with curly hair. But this was sixth grade, and we were all a bit awkward. Every one of us.

This kid didn’t grow up to stalk the streets and slay prostitutes until the TV stations gave him a nickname.

He didn’t buy an AR-15 and shoot up a lecture hall or a nightclub.

This boy became a killer that same year.

One day he was in school. The next day he didn’t show up, and the next, and the next, until we finally learned the truth: he’d been charged with murder.
Continue reading “The killer beside you”

Is this dinosaur-sized alligator fake or real?

This is the video that has the internet, and the mainstream media, losing their minds.

It’s like The Dress, except whether a bit of fashionable fabric is blue or gold didn’t really matter to anyone, while the existence of massive alligators roaming golf courses could, in fact, matter a great deal to ALL THE PEOPLE IT GOBBLES UP.

So yeah, this is exciting and fun. Let’s break it down.

Evidence pointing toward fakery and prankery

1) Nothing screams “green screen” like a green background

We all know how you make a fake video, or do special effects in movies. It starts with a green screen.

Adding a moving object that goes straight across, left to right, on the same plane? Piece of cake.

2) Terrible audio

Audio that’s all chopped up points to film that got edited to bits.

3) No closeup

With most footage of real-life craziness, the person shooting it has a choice: (a) run far, far away from Things That Can Kill You, like tornadoes, great white sharks, zombies or alligators the size of garbage trucks, (b) risk your life to see it, but only from a safe distance, (c) get as close as you can for a real look at the thing and a chance for YouTube infamy or (d) be smart and use the magic of zooming to get a closer look without turning into lunch.

Why is the shot so static? Anybody with two brain cells to knock together would zoom in on this monster.

Evidence making me think it’s real

1) The shadow knows

the shadow knows

No, not that Shadow.

Check out the shadow of the gator as it crosses the sand trap. Pretty hard to fake that.

2) Alligators this size are rare, but not insanely rare

If you’ve ever watched National Geographic, The Crocodile Hunter or any other show dealing with nature, you’ve seen crocodiles and alligators. And yeah, they get big.

It’s a reptile thing. I believe reptiles keep growing and growing until they die.

Could be wrong. Not a scientist. Wait, I’m right. They grow forever.

3) This is Florida

If you told me this video was shot in Georgia, Michigan or California, I’d be 149 percent more skeptical.

But we’re talking about Florida, the only state with it’s own Fark tag.

Weird news and Florida go together like chocolate and peanut butter, Han Solo and Chewbecca, coffee and milk.

There’s so much weird news coming out of this state, there’s a Twitter account dedicated to insane headlines that all start with “Florida Man,” as in “Florida man dresses like ninja to rob 7-Elevens” or “Florida man hides from cops in pond, gets eaten by alligators.”

Verdict: Real.

Snopes.com investigated this issue, because somebody had to, and they dug up the truth.

This alligator is not only real, he’s well-known and pretty chill. Hasn’t eaten any golfers that we know of and is kind of a mascot for the course.

Ducks with jobs

Yes, I kid you not: this isn’t a pet duck with a uniform grandma knitted as a joke.

These are real ducks with real jobs. And they take it seriously.

First up: the army of 900 Indian Runner ducks who work in a vineyard, and yes, it’s real work. They’re not eye candy for tourists who stopped by to sip on Chianti.

These ducks perform a hugely important task: keeping the vineyard free of pests, and they do it so well, the vineyard doesn’t need to use pesticides, which you DO NOT WANT in your Chianti.

They also seem insanely happy to do this, don’t they?

Think about it: you’re a wild duck, scrambling around for food and shelter, and your vineyard duck cousin tells you about his life, living in a sweet vineyard full of yummy food, sleeping in a great shelter, no predators to worry about and 900 other chill ducks to hang out with when you’re not feasting on bugs and worms.

Not too shabby. Not shabby at all.

Then there’s these ducks with the same kind of gig in Thailand, working at a rice fam.

Let’s break down why this is amusing and touching.

First, the ducks are cute. They seem eager and happy, and they’re far more elegant than chickens.

My neighbor has chickens and ducks. I feed them leftover veggies and such, and have learned things. The chickens are like feathered dinosaurs, and they do talk. But they also move in jerks and look at you with one eye at a time.

The ducks seem more evolved and intelligent. Instead of doing the chicken walk, they stroll. So with ducks, you’ve got a sympathetic subject.

Second, it’s surprising that ducks can do a job.

Monkeys? Sure. You expect monkeys, elephants, dogs and dolphins to be the type of animal with a job. They’re trainable.

Ducks are a shock.

Third, it’s crazy how happy the ducks are do these jobs. They aren’t on a chain gang. The owner doesn’t have to loom over them with a whistle and a whip. Sure, eating bugs is natural, but working as a team, and doing it on schedule without causing other shenanigans?

It’s hard to get 900 humans to work together without shenanigans. Five or more humans in a group won’t even agree on how to SPELL shenanigins.

Bonus video: 10 interesting facts about ducks

Mother goose calls the cops to save her baby

Goose with gooslings or ducklings or whatever they are called

A crazy and touching story: mother goose calls the cops for help.

Technically, she pecked at the patrol car door to get help and didn’t dial 911, but that’s only because she dropped her iPhone over Lake Michigan.

Let’s break it down and go deeper.

It’s perfectly believable that a bird would (a) recognize that its baby is in trouble and (b) realize it can’t fix the problem. The leap is in (c) coming up with the idea that a human could help and (d) pecking at the door of a police cruiser. The next step–(e) honking and getting the police officer to follow–is perfectly believable for anyone who’s seen a single episode of Lassi.

So let’s talk about the big, surprising thing, step (c), that a wild animal would think to ask for help from a human.

Here’s why it makes perfect sense: Every day, we’re learning that everyday animals like squirrels and crows are far smarter than we ever suspected. Any mammal or bird is probably smart enough to realize that humans run this place.

To animals, we are hairless space aliens who control the earth, the sky and everything around us.

We’re wizards and gods who travel in magical metal horses when we’re not flying across oceans, sending things into space or staring at tiny screens that let us tap into storehouses of wisdom and technology or communicate with any other human on the planet when we’re not playing Candy Crush.

So if you’re a mother goose, yeah, you’re not going to bug Mr. Squirrel, who’s busy burying nuts and wouldn’t help anyway.

And you wouldn’t honk at the stray dog who always chases you when he’s not peeing on every tree in sight.

In a time of ultimate desperation, to save your baby goosling (or whatever they are called), you’d ask for help from the weird two-legged wizards who run the place.

Man leads police on 112 mph chase, crashes, then flees with his pet monkey

Monkey chase. Photo courtesy of the Burien Police Department.

Monkey chase. Photo courtesy of the Burien Police Department.

Photo courtesy of the Burien Police Department.

This sounds like an Onion story. But it’s not.

As a reformed journalist and unrepentant fan of weird news, this story is classic. Let’s break it down.

Related post, which WordPress put on the front page: How weird news teaches us great storytelling

Continue reading “Man leads police on 112 mph chase, crashes, then flees with his pet monkey”

An ode to Joy (the Cat)

Joy the Cat inspecting alien technology.

Joy the Cat inspecting alien technology.

Joy the Cat inspecting alien technology.

Joy will never read this, because she skipped school all of her 18 years and the authorities never caught her for truancy. SHE WAS TOO FAST. But I wanted to write it, to have something about her that lasts, even if it’s simply floating on the interwebs.

Joy was always different.

When our son was born, the other two cats fled in terror and stayed in the basement for a month.

Joy stood guard, like a dog, and hissed at people who got too close while he was sleeping. She’d patrol outside his bedroom door, even when it was closed.

Strangers also made our other cats hide. But they were catnip to Joy, who’d walk right up to meow hello and meet everybody.

She was a good a noble cat, always playful, happy to cuddle, and only a smidge bitey if you tried to give her a bath.

I’ve had dogs, cats, salamanders, a snapping turtle and a spider as pets. Joy is one of my favorites.

So we have to put her down today, since she’s got pancreatic cancer. It’s time. She can’t walk much or take care of herself anymore.

There’s an old saying that every kid should have a dog or a cat. That pets are good for kids. They don’t judge you. If you’ve had an epically bad day, and open the front door to see a dog who’s insanely happy to see you, it can’t help to make you feel better.

Put a dog in every office and stress levels would drop like a rock. Joy was the same way.

Pets are good for kids for another reason: they teach you about life. How to take care of a kitten or puppy, how to train them, clean up their accidents, feed them regularly, take them on walks and to the vet. It’s almost training to be a mom or dad.

And finally, having pets teaches you how to let a loved one go when they die.

That’s an important part. Everybody needs to learn how to handle death, how to grieve. I’ve buried a lot of pets and lost a lot of grandparents and relatives. It’s never easy. But you learn to treasure each hour of every day, even it’s just sitting on a couch discovering fun new BBC shows with a cat purring on your tummy.

Thank you, Joy—you mattered, and you’ll be missed.

Man Uses Raccoon To Start Breathalyzer Equipped Car, Raccoon Then Attacks Driver

Does it get any better than a headline like that? Click here for the incident report.

So this convicted drunk driver has to blow into a tube before his car starts, and he’s drunk. Shocking. What’s this genius do?

He looks for a sober buddy to puff that tube for him so he can drive off.

The nearest buddy happens to be a raccoon rummaging through his garbage. Grabs the raccoon, somehow gets the animal to blow on the tube and yes, the car starts, with the animal now unconscious. Maybe he squeezed it too hard.

So he’s driving along when the raccoon wakes up to gets his revenge, scratching and clawing our drunken genius, who crashes into a fence.

This story has all the classic hallmarks of weird news: drunken idiots (almost always men), motor vehicles and dangerous wild animals. The only way to improve it would be to add firearms.

Sadly, the San Diego Police report that this is an internet hoax.

HOWEVER: The way it spread so fast shows that the bones of this story are strong. All the elements you need are there, and there’s no fat to trim. It’s an urban legend that’s evolved into a perfect little story.

Defense against the Dark Arts: Propaganda vs. journalism and rhetoric

As the race for the White House gears up, you are being bombarded with stories, 30-second ads, attack tweets and Instagram videos.

Back in the 1970s, the average person got hit with 500 messages a day: ads in the paper to buy Fords, radio spots for Richard Nixon, promos for the latest ABBA album and billboards for Coke.

Today, the average person is buried with 5,000 messages a day.

So how do you tell the difference between propaganda vs. journalism and rhetoric?

I did a series of posts about this for about.com, back when it was owned by The New York Times, and it’s a topic worth revisiting. Continue reading “Defense against the Dark Arts: Propaganda vs. journalism and rhetoric”

The simple story of a dog–and why it makes you cry

So there’s something stuck in your eye, right?

Let’s talk about why this works, as a story, and how it could be even better. Because I’m not adding value by simply sticking funny or heartwarming videos in your feed. We have to dissect them and learn a little. SCHOOL IS IN SESSION.

Why this works and how to make it better:

 

1) The mangled start doesn’t matter–yet fixing it would’ve made it even more viral

This video works even if you read the story on Huffingtonpost or wherever, and know all the story beats, before you watch the thing. That’s how good the story is.

HOWEVER: Starting out a video with text screens like this is almost always a mistake. Cramming all the text in the beginning slows it down and I bet a good percentage of people bail in those first few seconds instead of sticking with it, which is a mistake.

How to fix it: Start with video of the dog chained up. We don’t need any text to understand the problem, to get that setup. Then if you really have to, add a little voice narration. I’d kill the text screen entirely.

 

2) Our narrator takes risks and is a hero

The narrator keeps the focus entirely on Rusty the Dog, but he shows real heroism, taking time–and risks.

He spends time to get to know this dog, repeatedly risks getting bit and confronts the owner, saying he’s not leaving without the dog. That took guts.

And all the while, he knows his family can’t adopt the dog, that he’d have to find another home for it.

Everything the narrator does is unselfish, and while he doesn’t focus on it, or take credit, this makes the story better.

 

3) The biggest possible gaps 

Conflict and surprise comes from the biggest possible gaps between expectation and result.

  • You expect the chained up, aggressive dog to bite his hand.
  • You expect the owner to laugh at him when he says he’s not leaving without the dog.
  • You expect the narrator to adopt the dog himself, not search for a home.
  • And you expect the dog to be timid and afraid when finally free, not friendly and joyous.

This is a little story, a tiny snippet of life. But it made me feel more than most of the action movies that I’d happily paid money to watch and wouldn’t see again.

I’d see this again. I’d smile to see a follow-up, to find out how Rusty is doing.

And I’d want to shake the narrator’s hand for taking some risks, and doing the right thing, for an old dog most people would avoid and forget.

The most epic and hilarious Crime Stoppers in history

Why is this so funny and perfect? Let’s take it apart and see why it sings.

1) The sheriff deputy is from central casting.

If there’s a factory where Hollywood makes police officers from small towns, Lt. Higgins is the man they use as the mold.

Even without the hat and the uniform, Higgins would look and sound like an officer of the law. It’s in his bones.

Also, his accent and the cadence of his speech is mesmerizing. I could not, and would not, improve it. And his name is perfect.

2) Telling details about the crime and the suspect.

Show somebody the surveillance video without any narration from Lt. Higgins and they’d be all, “Yeah, it’s some kid in a hoodie. Good luck figuring out who.”

Lt. Higgins doesn’t see grainy film and a kid in a hoodie.

He sees a six-foot-tall suspect in a camo hoodie, a man with a distinctive lanky gait.

If we gave Lt. Higgins more screen time, I bet he could dissect every frame of this surveillance tape. And we’d be educated while entertained.

3) Son, I’m gonna have a cheeseburger here, with fries and a coke

The beginning is good. The middle is interesting.

But the last two-thirds is the climax, and that’s what makes this little bit of YouTube footage into viral gold.

This is what slayed me: “Look at me son, I’m talking to you. The sheriff likes Stelly’s restaurant, and so do I. The food is good, and the folks are friendly. We’re gonna identify you, arrest you and put you in a small cell. After that, I’m gonna have a cheeseburger here, with fries and a coke, and leave a nice tip for the waitress. Meanwhile, your next meal will be served in a small door through a cell door.”

Then Lt. Higgins gets all CSI, talking about his detectives “harvesting DNA from the rock you used” and the perfect bootprint on the door.

The kicker: Lt. Higgins doesn’t need all that science evidence, because the suspect’s friends, they don’t like him much and will go for the reward money. Oh, that stings.

Verdict: Lt. Higgins should have his work duties changed so he records Crime Stopper videos all across America.

This is where you stop

image

On the way up, a man and his family said, “You’re almost there. But don’t go on the ice. We slipped and it was nearly fatal.”

This would be why all the people on the ice field in this photo are roped up and wearing crampons. It’s the way to Camp Muir and the summit. You don’t walk out there in shorts and hiking boots.

Bourbon and birthdays and such

buffalo trace bourbon

So I try not to write about personal things, because a good blog is not a bad version of Dear Diary.

HOWEVER: It’s my birthday and I’ll blog if I want to. (Believe this is a song from the ’50s. Could be wrong. Not gonna check.)

Though I rarely drink now, my wife gave me two bottles of fine bourbon this morning: Knob Creek and Buffalo Trace.

A while bag, I toured the Buffalo Trace distillery while in Kentucky’s capitol, and they spent hours educating all about bourbon, which is rather complicated and interesting.

Also, the governor made us Kentucky Colonels.

I kid you not. Not really a military thing. Honorary advisory role from way back. Colonel Sanders wasn’t an officer who fought in World War II, then decided to open fried chicken restaurants. He was a Kentucky Colonel.

So yeah, those of us who went on this trip still joke around and call each other Colonel, though none of us have gone to the annual reunions.

The interesting part about the tour wasn’t just the ABC’s of bourbon and how each barrel was worth $25,000.

At lunch, they gave us pulled pork sandwiches and little taster cups. Columns were ingredients: rye whiskey, bourbon, vodka and so forth. Rows were age, with six months on the bottom row, a year, two years then the expensive stuff on the top row aged something like seven years or more.

Here’s the thing: didn’t matter if you loved whiskey and hated vodka. Every single thing in that bottom row, the six-months old, tasted like cheap moonshine. Rocket fuel. It was terrible, no matter what ingredients they used.

The next row was better. Third row was great.

Weirdly, the top row, the expensive stuff, wasn’t universally wonderful. Vodka doesn’t really taste like anything, so it was fine, but other cups weren’t smooth like the middle rows. Some of them tasted seriously off. Spicy, heavy, more concentrated. You’ve probably run into this if you’ve ever had an expensive bottle of wine. Uncorking it after thirty or sixty years is rolling the dice. Could be amazing. Could be sour and terrible. Either way, it’ll cost you as much as a used Honda Civic.

On the same line of thought, I’d always thought the Z3 was the best-looking car ever since Remington Steele drove one in GOLDENEYE: SEAN BEAN DIES AGAIN. (Love the Swedish subtitles on this video. Perfect.)

Last week, I spotted a Z3 at our friend’s house with a FOR SALE sign. Beautiful car, low miles.

She gave me keys to drive it. A dream, right?

Hated it. A fine car, just way too small, my head would poke out of the top of the soft-top. I felt cramped, like an astronaut shoved into a space capsule. I honestly feel far more comfortable in the Epic Black Car Part II: The Sequel, which sounds weird to say–I’d rather drive that instead of a Z3? But yeah, I would.

Sometimes, expensive is just expensive, and something one-third the price is twice as good.

The random junk in our garages, it is multiplying, and IT MUST BE STOPPED

How much stuff is in your garage or basement, taking up space?

I feel your pain. Once you put something in a plastic bin and shove it in your garage, there’s a 95 percent change you’ll never open it. You could move across the country three times, loading and unloading those same plastic bins into U-Hauls, and never crack open the seal.

This is wrong. And it doesn’t have to be this way.

Though my first social media love remains Twitter, and my affair with WordPress lives on, the useful thing about Facebook is you can connect with local people who’ll pay you monies to TAKE JUNK YOU DON’T USE.

Here are three ads I put on Facebook today for my local group, East Grays Harbor Swap and Shop, or as I like to call it, EGHSS, which you pronounce kinda like “eggs” except slower and in a Danish accent.

Also: here’s a link to the craigslist ad that started me blogging in the first place: Epic Black Car deserves good owner; are you worthy?

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