Author: Phil Houtz

Jason Isbell – Songs Like Dawn’s First Light after a Really Rough Night

Sometimes it’s nice to have a little road music on the way to the trailhead. For my money you can’t find much better than Jason Isbell. Reviewers like to talk about how dark his songs can be, but what floors me is how much gratitude they express. Listening to a few of these songs – and I mean really listening – does a lot to clear out the old heart valves.

Hail to the working man like Pop
Never saw him drink a drop
He knew what i was up to, but he never called the cops

Hail to the Working Man on high
Give us plenty fish to fry
He might judge you but He’ll never make you stop

From God is a Working Man, by Jason Isbell

Psychoanalyzing Scrooge


What exactly trigger’s Ebenezer Scrooge’s big transformation in A Christmas Carol? I always thought Scrooge’s change of heart came about when the spirit of Christmas-yet-to-come pointed a boney finger to Ebenezer’s grave. I may have been influenced in that respect by the Mr. Magoo version.

Re-reading A Christmas Carol this year I noticed that the spirits themselves have little to do with Uncle Ebenezer’s big 180. Scrooge generally scoffs at the spirits, suggesting that Marley’s ghost is a bad dream induced by heartburn, an “undigested bit beef, a blot of mustard.”  The transformation actually starts when Scrooge rediscovers his inner child and sets him free.

If this sounds a little like psychoanalysis, you wouldn’t be the first to make the comparison. Dickens takes his character on journey back to re-experience some of the trauma of his childhood, a process that turns out to be surprisingly similar to intensive short-term therapy. The relationship between memory and personal transformation is a concept straight out of Alfred Adler.

So how would you diagnose Ebenezer Scrooge? Psychology student Kathleen Eveland thinks Scrooge is possibly bipolar exhibiting symptoms of stress-induced psychosis.


You’re a F*cking Genius…Why the F-Bomb is a Sign of Intelligence


So it seems that people tend to believe that foul language is a signal that a person may be intellectually challenged. But that’s not what research shows. In fact, if a person can deftly wield the f-bomb (yes, I’m looking at you, Adrian McKinty) it probably means that they have generally superior verbal skills overall.

You see it’s not the f-word itself, but how you use it.

And as a Public Service Announcement, if you must insult somebody do it with class.

[Via Uproxx]


Why Your Christmas Lights Might Bring Down an Airliner

Laser Light Show

I was talking with a friend yesterday who said that he was impressed by the Christmas lights he saw flying into Burbank Bob Hope Airport. But on some of the houses the displays weren’t just bright, they were blinding.

Turns out that laser Christmas lights, all the rage this season, may be creating a public nuisance. Pilots across the country are reporting “laser strikes” that can be traced back to Christmas displays like the $39.99 Star Shower system.

The lights are legal, for the time being, but unless you’re certain that you are nowhere near a flight path you’re probably better off sticking with traditional Christmas decorations that merely cause fires, falls, asphyxiation, lead poisoning, choking and neurotoxicity.

Merry Christmas.

Scientists Reveal True Face of Jesus…and He Had a Mullet

At last scientists have discovered the real face of Jesus. Broad features, dark skin and an expression that says “really? This is what you guys have spent the last five years studying?

The clincher is the hair. Leviticus says that ye shall not round the corners of your head. And the Apostle Paul says men shouldn’t have long hair. So scientists split the difference and gave Jesus a mullet.

Remember, these are the same scientists who told us that saturated fat is bad for us and that happiness makes you live longer.

[Via Complex | photo: BBC Photo Archive]

The 5 Worst Places to Stay in America

Bates Motel

Who plans a crummy vacation? If you’re like most people you check out the travel guides, Google the internets and browse through the Pinterests looking for the best places to vacation.

That kind of thinking is only going to leave you disappointed.

Instead I say shoot for the worst travel destinations and if they turn out better than you expected, well you’ll feel like you got your money’s worth.

So here you go, some of the worst places you can stay:

Tonopah Clown Motel, Tonopah Nevada

Delightful circus-themed motel and the only rest stop in 250 miles.

What makes it so bad? Clowns. Clowns everywhere. Hundreds and hundreds of clowns. Oh yeah, did I mention that next door is a graveyard.

San Onofre State Beach Campground, San Onofre, California

Sunny beaches, amazing bluffs, far from mad Los Angeles Traffic.

What makes it so bad? Tiny, cramped campsites. No showers. All within a mile of a nuclear power plant. A nuclear plant that closed because it was leaking. And still houses over 4,000 lbs. of nuclear material all in shouting distance of a major earthquake fault.

Townhouse Motel, Tupelo Mississippi

What could be better than a stay at the birthplace of the peanut butter, bacon, and banana sandwich?

What makes it so bad? “…and there was a puddle of blood outside our front door.”

Tipi Village Retreat, Marcola, Oregon

Beautiful setting, top-notch amenities, close to wine tasting.

What makes it so bad? Airbnb price is $1735…for a night in a tent…actually two nights minimum.

Rocky Mountains, Colorado

Experienced staff, views are beyond amazing, personal attention galore.

What makes it so bad? You’re 2,000 frickin’ feet off the ground, sleeping in a hammock that’s pinned to a granite wall using a couple of titanium toothpicks. Any questions?

The Best Places to See Nature in Every State


If yesterday’s post was too California-centric for you, Business Insider has a run-down of all 50 states with The Most Breathtaking Natural Wonders in Every State.

Some of the suggestions are obvious – in Colorado you go to Pike’s Peak of course. But some of the recommendations are a bit provocative. When in Delaware go see the cypress swamps.

50 states, 50 natural wonders is quite a bucket list. If you want to narrow it down consider North America’s Top 10 Natural Wonders.

[Photo: Connecticut Office of Tourism via Business Insider]

Top 20 Best Places to Camp in California

Wild Willy's Hot Spring | Photo by Greg Balkin

Wild Willy’s Hot Spring | Photo by Greg Balkin

The Huffington Post lists their picks for must-do adventures in California. There are some great spots on the list, even if it is a little heavy on campsites and hot springs.

I’m a little surprised to see Two Harbors on the list – I think I’d opt for camping on Anacapa Island instead. That said, my favorite thing to do in Two Harbors is go through the sea cave. BONUS TIP – sing the Pirates of the Caribbean theme song in your best pirate voice when you go in the cave. Watch for tides and be advised that in the afternoon you’ll likely be fighting the wind and current on the way back home.

[Photo: Greg Balkin]

”Human Beings Are Wired to Find Peace in Nature” … Honestly?

Photo by Joshua Earle

Photo by Joshua Earle

I pretty much take it as fact that human beings have not evolved to run on concrete. It kinda makes sense that scrambling over boulders and swinging from trees are better exercise for micro-muscles than are gym machines. And I can mostly accept that our digestive systems have not evolved to handle processed foods.

But what nearly made me spit coffee out my nose this morning was reading Dr. Ming Kuo explain that getting out into nature is healthy for us because

When we are in nature in that relaxed state, and our body knows that it’s safe, it invests resources toward the immune system.

Nature makes us feel safe. Right. Try telling that to the guy who stumbled over a sleeping grizzly last week and wound up having to shove his arm down the bear’s throat to convince the beast to stop biting him. Nature is no place to relax. It is out to get your ass.

In all of modern man’s 200,000 years on this planet I’d say that it’s only been since they put bathrooms in nature that anybody felt like nature was a great way to “get away from it all.” Prior to that most people spent all their energy trying to get away from nature. Going back to the 9th century most people felt that nature was a hostile, miserable place, a wilderness that needed to be tamed and subdued. To the extent that this taming and subduing was successful humanity began to have better feelings about the wilderness. Consider that Rousseau’s philosophy of the Natural Human followed on the heels of the Age of Discovery in which the globe and its continents were transected, mapped and claimed.

There is a notion going around these days, the biophilia hypothesis, that suggests we have evolved to have a natural fondness for nature. That feeling of OMG when you see a beautiful sunset. It goes a little deeper than that – merely getting a glimpse of nature is supposed to have beneficial impacts on our health.

I think a better argument can be made that humans are hardwired to flee nature. To hide in caves, to put up walls, and to pave the hell out of anything soft and springy. As Woody Allen said, “nature and I are two.”

If Dr. Kuo is saying that there are good things in nature that our bodies need, things that can’t be found in a formaldehyde-belching office environment, well I can accept that. But to suggest that human beings are evolved to spend time in nature is to ignore humanity’s relentless campaign to plow everything under.

As much as I love the idea of forest bathing I rather fear that our evolutionary agenda is less to find ourselves in nature than it is to whip, beat, pummel and torture our natural environment until it whimpers and is willing to eat from our hands. Then we will view pictures of nature and feel at peace with ourselves.

Photo By Joshua Earle via Unsplash


Improve Your Situational Awareness: the Secret Art of Sideview Mirrors

Image courtesy of Guodong Guo

Image courtesy of Guodong Guo

If you spend any time on the 101 freeway through Los Angeles you know that “situational awareness” is your key to survival. And your sideview mirrors are the key to knowing what is going on around you at all times as you drive.

But most people don’t have their sideview mirrors adjusted correctly. The technique I learned in Driver’s Ed back in the day is precisely the wrong way to adjust your sideview mirrors – with a little slice of your rear fender visible in the mirror. If you can see any part of your own car then you are leaving a blind spot to your right or left.

Here’s a better way to adjust your rearview mirrors (it seems almost too obvious to mention and yet…):

  1. Make sure the rearview mirror inside the car pointed straight back, giving you a full view of the road.
  2. Starting with the left sideview mirror, adjust the mirror so that you can see a bit of your rear fender. Then adjust it out slightly so that you can see any car moving up on you in the lane to your left. As a car moves out of view in your rearview mirror it should enter the view of your sideview mirror.
  3. Let the car fully overtake you in the left lane. It should be visible in your sideview mirror from the time it starts moving out of your rearview field of vision and until you can see it out of the corner of your eye. In other words you should always 360 degree view without moving your head.
  4. Repeat with the right sideview mirror.
  5. It’s probably not safe to do this while you’re driving so  try the head-leaning tip from the Automobile Association of America.

Now go forth and enjoy your new situational awareness.

Image and a good explanation of sideview mirror adjustment by Guodong Guo.

The Two Types of Clutter: Misplaced Stuff and Logjams

Photo: public domain

Photo: public domain

As I’m working on clearing off my desk and clearing out my office I’m starting to realize that this time around the clutter I’m dealing with is of a different quality than your garden variety crap-fest.

Use the Two-Minute Rule to Banish Vulture Vomit Forever

That was the term Stanley, our colorful across-the-street neighbor, used to describe his yard and garage when Lord Chaos had the upper hand. “Who left all this vulture vomit on the front lawn?”

Most clutter seems to fit this category – stuff where it shouldn’t be. It’s pretty easy to deal with, albeit not the apex of a good time. Simply round up the tools and put them back in the tool shed. Put the sports equipment back in the hall closet. Empty beer cans go in the recycling. Boom. You’re done.

If things are a little more complicated, let’s say with a messy desk, you can use David Allen’s two minute rule. If something on your desk can be handled in two minutes or less – like putting the car registration in the glovebox of the Ford – then do it now. Otherwise file it in a system that will prompt you to get to the task later.


Logjams May Require Dynamite

Vulture-vomit chaos is pretty easy to manage because you simply have to return things to their proper places and voila! order emerges from chaos.
But there’s another type of mess altogether – the logjam. Here you’ve got all kinds of projects, fragments, raw materials each with its own agenda, all at cross-purposes to the others.

For example I have some books on my desk that I should put on the bookcase but the shelves on the bookcase are cluttered with silver-plate family heirlooms but I can’t get to those because of the banker’s boxes full of my mother’s financials which I mean to scan and shred but I can’t start that project because my scanner is buried under a cascade of books on my desk.


Why the Two Minute Rule Doesn’t Work on Logjams

Breaking a logjam requires an entirely different strategy from ordinary clutter because there’s nothing in this howling mess that can be done inside of an hour and deferring one of these projects is simply like picking up a log from one part of the pile and moving it to another part of the pile.

Typically the way to clear a logjam – at least a real-life jam consisting of a tangled pile of logs damming up a river – is to identify the “key log” that is holding the jam in place. And then remove that log.
Identifying and removing key logs isn’t easy and it isn’t fast.

Consider the Great Raft, a jam of logs that was four times as long as Rhode Island is wide. It took teams of engineers decades to remove these logs and get the Red River flowing. But the alternative to doing the work is to let the log jam grow. Then you’ll be in a dam fine mess indeed.

It’s All Turned to Crap – Again. How to Declutter for 70th Time…

Let’s get this out of the way first – that’s an iced coffee on my desk, not an iced Guinness.

Next, I am drowning in clutter. It doesn’t seem to matter how much time and effort I spend on trying to get my life organized, there is just no free space anywhere to put anything. It is a howling mess.

This is not for want of good advice – there is literally a crapload of advice on how to uncluttered your surroundings:

18 Five-Minute Decluttering Tips to Start Conquering Your Mess
40 Bags in 40 Days
Art of Manliness’ Guide to Declutter Your Life and Make Some Extra Cash
All of My Belongings Fit in One Box
Use the “This Isn’t My Stuff Approach” for Radical Decluttering

All this advice is kind of the same. And for some reason it isn’t working for me. I’ve parted with more crap this past year than perhaps in all my previous years combined. And my space is more crowded and cluttered than ever. It seems to defy physics.

So I’m going to give it another shot and I’m going to be kind of public about it and we’ll see if I can get to the bottom of this clutter and find a pony…

Back Home to Patch My Bones – Three Lessons from Our Last Trip

Our recent trip to Colorado was…well it got off to a bumpy start. Hertz rent-a-car was short 200 cars, there was a 3 hour wait – during which time NO HERTZ EMPLOYEE ACKNOWLEDGED THE SITUATION OR SPOKE TO CUSTOMERS IN LINE, when we finally talked to an agent we discovered we had booked our reservation downtown, the manager told us our choices were to pay triple our agreed-upon rate or go downtown before the office closed at 6pm. We got downtown at 5pm only to find that the office had closed at 4pm. Stranded in downtown Denver with no car and no rooms available. Thanks Hertz for the worst customer service we’ve ever had.

Anyhow, here are some things I learned:

1. Pin every destination to a map before the trip. For past trips I’ve made a custom Google map with planned and possible stops. If I’d done that this time we’d have seen our car rental booking error and fixed it before we had to deal with the Denver Hertz’ terrible customer service.

2. Bring the Mophie reserve battery. Traveling is hard on your cell phone battery for some reason. We were running low all the time, even when we finally got a rental car (from Enterprise – excellent customer service). If I’d packed my Mophie we’d have had far fewer conversations that began “my phone might die in the middle of our conversation.”

3. Cotton underwear. I like the Champion performance gear they sell at Target. It wicks away moisture and is fast drying. The synthetic fabric has a nice silky feel, it’s lightweight and packs well. I thought it would be great when we traveled to France. It wasn’t. I felt like I was inside of a giant clam the whole time. Sweaty, sweaty, sweaty even when others were bundling up against the Fall chill. It’s cotton from here on out for me.

Spooky Pageviews at a Distance

I’ve been working pretty hard to promote our eCommerce site, Open Door. And we’re slowly and surely getting traffic. But something weird is happening. I’m seeing quantum effects of all this promotion.

I’m posting and promoting Open Door but I’m seeing most of the growth here on Wild Rye. What the heck? Is this evidence of Einstein’s bogie showing up in my page metrics?

Or maybe I’ve got some Wild Rye ad code in my ads for Open Door.


Photo by Luke Pamer via Unsplash

How to Start Over When You Don’t Know Where to Start

I just had a setback. It might not seem like a big deal to you but my office that I’ve been struggling to get organized and keep organized just got turned into a junk room. After four months of work in my spare time I’m back to square one. Maybe even square minus-one.

How do people start over when they face “real” problems – say a business failure or a divorce?

Sam Harris thinks that sometimes you have to act fast even when the outcomes are risky. Big risks sometimes means bigger rewards.

Journalist Susannah Breslin agrees that radical change is better than slow change.

Here is the thing about radical change: It changes your life radically. More importantly, it changes who you are radically.

Of course “going big” might also mean starting small. When you don’t know were to begin, when you’re truly stumped, sometimes you have to simply start somewhere, anywhere and just tinker around until you can see things more clearly.

The secret though is to do something.