the robot and the canary

The robot shuffled into the country movie theatre. Its expectations were low. It was winter and the place was rundown, so it wasn’t surprised to learn that the heater wasn’t functioning. But the robot had a Saturday afternoon to kill, so it bought a ticket anyway and settled into a threadbare seat in the middle of the third row from the back.

The robot and the canary had the day off from the game they played with each other. They both enjoyed following the stock market. They found it intriguing to watch the ups and downs and imagined that profiting from it was much like making one’s fortune with a sword in medieval times, or at least the robot did. The canary wasn’t old enough to know anything about medieval times.

The robot, having traveled from the next inhabited system over, was very old. Its planet had the technology to build it itself and to build a ship to send it off on an adventure, but not to speed up the travel much. So the robot figured it was, well, it didn’t know exactly, so it chose the level of the Nasdaq on the day it arrived, and declared itself to be 3,578 years old plus two, for the two years it had been tested after being built. The robot was 3,580 years old.

The canary had a much easier time with its age. It knew it was the same age as the child in its house, and that was simple to remember because once a year the child’s family would have a party and the canary would count the number of candles on the cake thrust before the child. The canary was four.

The robot and the canary had met purely by accident. The robot’s first assignment was to locate 81RTHD47, another robot. The robot’s capsule had landed in the front yard in a suburban cul du sac, and it couldn’t believe its luck when it stumbled out of the pod and immediately laid its visual sensors on a sign that said “JEREMY’S 81RTHD47 PARTY HERE!” It didn’t know what a JEREMY or a PARTY was but it thought it very fortunate that 81RTHD47’s whereabouts were so conveniently labeled and immediately activated its retrieval mode.

The robot crashed into the building behind the sign. Its auditory sensors registered vocal music that included the word JEREMY. It moved toward the sound but was momentarily held at bay by rubbery pods of air that floated around JEREMY.

The robot quickly ascertained that 81RTHD47 was hidden somewhere in the building. It began smashing any compartments or walls that might be concealing the other robot. When the entire interior of the building was in shambles, the robot reluctantly concluded that 81RTHD47 was not on the premises after all.

As the robot picked its way through the debris, feeling like a failure for lack of success in the mission, it was distracted by a flash of yellow that flitted past its visual sensors. The color was accompanied by a different form of music, this more lighthearted and uplifting than the previous vocal sounds. The canary wished to thank the creature that had toppled its metal prison and set it free. And so the robot and the canary had become acquainted. They shared a beer that had rolled out of the toppled refrigerator and found they had much in common, not least an interest in both swords and numerical patterns.

So the robot and the canary had combined their ages. They were 3,584. For 3,584 minutes at a stretch, they would each play the stock market separately. At the end of the 3,584 minutes, or sixty days (they rounded to the nearest whole number), they would come together and see which of them had played the market most skillfully. The loser had to buy dinner the following weekend. On Monday they started the next round.

And so it was that the robot was passing a Saturday afternoon in an unheated theatre waiting for a bad movie to start, before its dinner date with a canary.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

My blogging topic tonight was the worst movie I ever did see but since I generally don’t get too worked up about movies, I instead went with a random word generator short story. I use randomly generated words (country, heater, robot) to get started, and every time I get stuck I generate another word to move the piece along. The random words are in bold. I try really hard not to censor the words or myself. It’s a good exercise and in the spirit of today’s blog subject prompt, I worked movie viewing into it. Here’s a previous story I wrote this way. This is the random word generator I used tonight.

Gotham, I miss you

October 31, 2012


You have probably gotten bored with my Twitter feed recently, because my tweets are likely a link to my latest Instagram photo or my latest Untappd beer check-in. Let’s talk about Instagram. Ooh, and this choice of topic is, I see, a bit serendipitous (if I may stretch the meaning of the word) because in just seven days, on November 6, I will have been using this service for two years. I’m lucky that I have friends in Silicon Valley who cause me to early-adopt many things.

When I started, I do confess that I went into it with the attitude, “oh good, another social network.” I was fully entrenched in Facebook where I did, and do, share photos liberally. I wondered why I needed to participate in a network that was strictly about sharing photos. It took me a while to figure out why it mattered, and even longer to hit my stride and even longer to develop a style. My early photos were, admittedly, nothing special (my very first Instagram photo leads off this post). And yet some of those initial efforts remain some of my favorites in my Instagram career. See the photos below.

Despite some mediocre at best photos, what Instagram did for me was cause me to take photos with an eye toward art, rather than indiscriminately tapping away because it’s digital and I’m not wasting film. Originally, I was one hundred percent an Instagram purest in that I only used my iPhone to take the photos, I framed the shots within Instagram’s viewfinder, and edited them only within Instagram. My iPhone is my de facto camera and though I have since given up on taking the photo within Instagram, I remain steadfastly adamant that I only edit within Instagram using a built-in filter. It pains me on those rare occasions when I simply must adjust the contrast or highlight/shadow in Snapseed or Camera+ before continuing in Instagram (I don’t count rotating slightly to straighten in Snapseed). It was very difficult recently when the assignment for the photo-a-day list in which I currently participate was “app-crazy.” That’s not to say I didn’t like the results (below), but that’s not how I use Instagram.


There are three distinct evolutionary periods in my Instagram history. The first was the willy-nilly, do-anything era which, sort of unfortunately, lasted for my first year and a half. The second era was when I ceased using the photo borders that come with the filters. If I could always choose, say, a one-point black rule I might still frame my pictures. But around March 2012 it became evident to me that sometimes the borders didn’t always match what I wanted to accomplish with the image. If you can’t frame anything nice, don’t frame anything at all.

My third Instagram breakthrough came just three months ago in July 2012 when I comprehended the concept of photo series. I can thank @rabbitdan, @andrewdunc, and @mike_n5. They post bunches of photos of escalators, or hallways, or streets, or launderettes, or solo people in front of walls, any sort of similarly themed subject matter. I was a little slow off the blocks but now I, too, am in full series mode.

In a way, I suppose it’s a little bit the easy way out because I don’t have to think about some different “what” to photograph all the time, I just have to find some different one of the same kind that I haven’t previously shown in that way. But I don’t care. I like my series. Every so often a new one creeps in. Below, you will see my favorite photo from each one — parking ramps; my office building which happens to have been built in the late 1800s and is rich with interesting details; my second favorite subject, alleys; looking straight up at buildings, tall or small.


But my favorite recurring theme is watertower weather. From my desk at work, I look out upon this small watertower atop a nearby building, which happens to be a mostly westerly view, which means the view of approaching weather. I think I’ve mentioned that I would have liked to major in meteorology in college but math and science got in the way. I have long had a fascination with the ever-changing view of the sky and big water, dating back to when I would visit my friend who lives on the south shore of Lake Erie. One winter visit in particular provided scintillating views of heavy weather and heavy waters. Observing the watertower and its sky satisfies some latent, meteorological need inside me.


I do enjoy participating in a photo-a-day list. Sometimes, that gets me to get out of series mode and find a photo on something completely different. I’ve been finding, though, that with the list I currently follow, I can usually manipulate the topic to work within what I now feel is my “style.” I even was featured recently, which was gratifying.

Whether or not I actually am, I just feel more creative and artsy on Instagram. Please enjoy a few more of my favorites below.












My family crest

October 19, 2011


A couple of weeks ago we were challenged to draw a family crest for ourselves. I scribbled mine out during brief interludes in the relatively autopilot production project I had going at work. Usually I like to hand-draw (as much as you can call what I do “drawing”) with my navy Sharpie, but I don’t have one right now. Nor do I have my other favorite color, the brickish-maroon (I’m sure I’ve horrified some Sharpie executive with that description). I used a lowly graphite mechanical pencil for the initial line drawing which turned out to be a good thing, in this case, because then I could get it right (as right as what I call “drawing” can be). Usually I like to do free and easy gesture drawings on which I don’t waste too much brain power, but a little more care was called for in this case. I had intended to color it with the bazillion colored pencils we have at the office, but they seem to have disappeared in the last clear-out, so I was left with fabric paint markers or crayons. Crude crayons it was!

It will come as no surprise what I included.

Animals. Crests often have some beast of valor. I used beasts of favor, the rabbit that has become my symbol, and the closest I could come to a cat in the same style. Interesting side note, I only ever draw the rabbit facing to the left, so it was utterly awkward to draw the cat the other way.

Activities. You will often find a weapon on a crest. I included my weapons of choice for the zombie apocalypse, a bowling ball and bowling pins. Oh wait, no zombies? Bowling is the quest upon which I embark twice weekly. Still appropriate for a crest. The pins give the animals a platform for sitting.

Foliage. What crest would be complete with some kind of viney, leafy thing sinewing its way around? You guessed it. I gave my crest a few hop vine leaves and hop flower cones, representative of the beverage that keeps me going strong, beer, in particular, hoppy ales.

Shield. The above elements will be arranged around a central anchor, usually some kind of shield shape. I decided to use a beer bottle, upon which the cat and rabbit can lovingly gaze. I took poetic license with perspective and had the thumb hole of the bowling ball double as the opening in the bottle.

Banner. Well, isn’t there always some wavy thing containing the family name? This is my least favorite part at the moment. It’s like a big old cummerbund around the bowling ball’s beer belly. And it’s my username not my real last name. But it serves its purpose.

I am mostly so pleased by how it turned out, and I fully intend to create a more refined version on the computer. Then I can adjust some of the things that bother me. 

It was a very fun little project. I challenge you to make your own family crest. If you do, post a link to it in the comments!


October 3, 2011


Perhaps you read the tale of how I came to the decision, despite having professed for years that I’d never ever want one, to go ahead and get a tattoo. Here, then, is the account of the experience, from designing the perfect rabbit suitable for permanent emblazonment to, tee hee, Sparky McFuzznuts the squirrel.


I have drawn this rabbit a lot in the last year and a half, yet when it came time to draw one for the tattoo, well, I guess I experienced some performance pressure. I thought I’d whip one out in a maximum of ten rabbits. Turns out, it was fifteen pages of twenty-four rabbits. That’s just under one rabbit for each day of the year.


I didn’t love any of them on paper, but I picked the ones that passed as my favorites, cut them out and taped them to a single sheet of paper, and scanned them in. As a graphic designer, I was confident in the digital magic that could be done. I narrowed it down to parts of three or four rabbits that I knew I could Frankenstein together for The One.

In choosing The One, I practiced what I’ve preached to my mother on many a Teddy bear shopping excursion. It’s true that there are ten or twenty Teddies to choose from. And I know you want to choose the one with the cutest face. But once you get any one of the ten or twenty home and away from the other nine or nineteen, you won’t know the difference.

Once I got the rabbits to where I liked them, I employed the same strategy. It came down to one rabbit with two minor variations. I knew that once I got one away from the other, I’d never know the difference. Having also learned from playing Trivial Pursuit, I went with my first instinct.


The final decision was the size. After I had drawn a bunch of the rabbits, I started to think that maybe it didn’t need to be quite that big. I printed out the final rabbit in a range of sizes and decided to go just a little bit smaller.


Jers was my tattoo artist at Saint Sabrina’s. I tried to draw him out on some advice—he was the professional, after all—but he kept insisting that it was my tattoo and my decision about anything I asked him. Then I realized that the squirrel he was holding on his business card was actually his furry companion, Sparky McFuzznuts. Then I saw the back of the card.

During the process, I quizzed Jers about Sparky. I refused to look at what he was doing. It’s not that I’m afraid of needles or blood, but I just have this habit of psyching myself out and I didn’t want to take any chances. Learning about Sparky was the perfect distraction.

Jers said he rescued Sparky as an orphaned youngster. He nursed him to adulthood and tried to set him free, but Sparky just hung around the yard so Jers accepted him as an indoor companion. Sparky is about three.

It wasn’t too painful. I had figured it would be akin to when my cat CJ is in her basket just to the side of my mouse arm and decides that she needs to be in physical contact with me. She reaches out and doesn’t exactly dig in, but still she kind of grapples my arm and hangs on and it’s prickly. I anticipated that the tattoo would be heavy-duty prickly. It was more like CJ was scratching. Not painful, but quite noticeable.

I endured—adrenalin was definitely in play—but I was very happy when Jers let up and it seemed like he was taking a break. Then, before I could remark, he said, “You’re done!” What? It didn’t even take fifteen minutes. It is a simple design and I had no previous experience to judge by, but I sure wasn’t expecting to be finished that quickly.

It’s been a week and a half and, thankfully, I’ve not had a moment of buyer’s remorse. Jers did a wonderful job and I love my tattoo!

Evolution of a tattoo

June 1, 2011


A year and a half ago, I drew this marker tattoo of a rabbit on my wrist. As the day wore on and then it was still there, albeit somewhat faded, after my shower the next morning, I slowly decided that I didn’t mind it. It faded from my thoughts until six weeks ago when once again, the rabbit appeared on my wrist. And I really liked having it there. (Blog post / TT mission // Blog post / TT mission)


It was then that my friend Lauren (the same one who had us thinking about cover songs the other night) gave me the old peer pressure one-two. 

She lives in Philadelphia, but whenever she’d come to Minneapolis to visit our friend Rob (the one who moved to California, remember?), the two of them would always pay a visit to Saint Sabrina’s Parlor of Purgatory to get something pierced.


Lauren is coming to town later this month for a family thing on her husband’s side. She has made a case for me to take over for Rob in accompanying her to Saint Sabrina’s (looks like they’ve dropped the Parlor of Purgatory from their name). She has a new tattoo that she’d like to get, and I am just about sure that I will get the rabbit. I submitted a request for an estimate and if the price is less than the arbitrary cut-off point I’ve set, I’LL DO IT!

As I was looking back through my Tweak Today submissions, I saw how often this rabbit has made an appearance, and in what varied mediums. Its appearance has also evolved somewhat, from the kind of  pensive fellow in the original marker tattoo to the rather more coiled fellow in the second marker tattoo and the recent chalk drawing.

Here, then, is a gallery of  … The Rabbit.


Drawn in condiments. Hershey’s chocolate syrup and Readi-Whip, to be exact. (Blog post / TT mission)


Cut paper picture, recreating a way I used to make art as a kid. (Blog post / TT mission)


Connect the dots. (Blog post / TT mission)


Blaze orange duct tape 3D sculpture. (Blog post / TT mission)


Hopping mad. (Blog post / TT mission)


A woodcut I made, art for the sake of art. (Blog post / Blog post 2 / TT mission)


Carved on a zucchini. (Blog post / TT mission)


In a picture to hang on your refrigerator. (Blog post / TT mission)


Chalk drawing on the bike path. (Blog post / TT mission)


[Update: The tattoo price estimate did come in within range and I did get it. Read all about it in this later post.]



Dear the3six5,

For weeks, nay, months, I have been waiting to find the perfect time to write the perfect email to you to apply for an author spot on your interesting blog. I should have known better. The perfect time never happens. And the other perfection is in the eye of the beholder.

Tonight I have finally gotten fed up with my inaction and fairly quickly come around to the notion of turning tonight’s entry on my own blog into my application to your blog.

All along, I had been planning to give you the link to my blog as my resumé for your project. Because what better way to demonstrate that on any given day, I can write about something, anything, than to show you that I do. 

I like to write but I hate coming up with ideas, so this is where I confess that it’s not entirely my own imagination that drives my blog. For a year and three-quarters I have been playing on where we do something different every day, documenting said thing, most often, with an original photo, but sometimes with a video. It eventually occurred to me that using our daily mission as the jumping-off point for my blog would be an easy way to overcome that bit of laziness. But it would still be a challenge because by letting an outside influence dictate my direction, I wouldn’t get to write about something near and dear to me a lot of the time. So for a year and a half, I’ve been taking what the community dealt me. I think it’s gone pretty well.

It’s ironic that today, when I finally apply to you, the mission chosen on is by me and that no one, including myself, has submitted anything.

That doesn’t mean that I can’t write. And I’ll even write on a holiday, such as my birthday or Christmas. And look, this letter just happens to be 354 words long, almost perfectly fitting your author guidelines.

Kelly Doudna

Tree fractals

March 7, 2011


As I was waiting for the train to work last Friday morning and looking around for things to take Instagram pictures of to kill time, I had the sudden feeling that one of my favorite things about winter here in the deciduous northern hemisphere is seeing the bare trees reaching toward the sky and knowing that what I see above ground is happening below ground as well.

I hadn’t thought of tree branches as fractals until I saw an episode of Nova a few weeks ago, but I have known for a very long time that trees have root systems underground that are equivalent to their branch systems above. As I stared at the beautiful, veiny, starkness of the winter bare branches, I was a little overwhelmed by the thought of the symmetrical happenings in the dirt.

I didn’t have time to leave the train platform to take photos of the trees that were uncluttered by power lines, apartment highrises or other impediments, but the images stayed in my memory all weekend and were the inspiration for this illustration based on tracings of my hands.


A smidge for your fridge

January 16, 2011


Today was one of those rare occasions when I made art for the sake of making art. You have my permission to print out this picture and hang it on your refrigerator, because that’s why I created it.

As you’ve learned from previous entries, woodcut is my preferred medium for art-making. But for work as a graphic designer, I used to have to illustrate simple stories and did so with photo and clip art, such as in the Billy Goat Can Float book. I didn’t usually have to draw stuff from scratch though, it was just a matter of combining elements. That’s fun, too.

Today, however, I created this original illustration in Adobe Illustrator and jazzed it up a bit in Photoshop. Guess what, it’s a rabbit.

Has anybody printed it out and hung it on their refrigerator? I have no idea. But I did. Yes, those are rabbit-shaped magnets holding it up, and there are many other rabbit things present on my fridge. I also have some bowling achievement magnets, a few Minnesota Twins baseball things, ephemera from my favorite radio station, The Current, and a few beer items. Oh, and my guest pass sticker from the day I visited my friend who works at Yahoo.

My new picture definitely brightens things up. I printed out an extra one for my mom. Well, it’s actually an extra that I thought I was printing with a border, but the rule only showed up on one edge. But I know she’ll like it. She hasn’t had refrigerator art from me since the mid-seventies.



My first thought was to make this a 3-D zucchini sculpture, but as soon as I picked up the knife I knew that would be overly ambitious. So instead I made a simple, woodcut-like carving. Now what?


The alien quietly kicked the electronic dead body. It was dead. It didn’t react. The alien thought for a moment. Maybe the body simply needed some hydrotherapy to restore it, but it was unready to make the decision. The alien thought for thirty seconds longer. Then, with one boisterous gesture, it grabbed the electronic dead body and plunged it into the pot of boiling water. And waited. While it waited, it poured itself a small aperitif of sherry.

The water bubbled in anger, the alien sipped, and gradually, those two things conspired to make the alien’s stomach itself burble. The alien was quite hungry. It gazed longingly into the pot at the electronic dead body. Although the boiling water was splashy, the alien could see that a transformation was taking place in the cauldron. The protracted hydrotherapy had caused the electronic dead body to transform into an edible zucchini.

The alien’s revery was interrupted by the doorbell.



Phrases and words in bold came from random generators. I went where they took me, for better and for worse. The initial sentence came from here. Subsequent words were generated here. Another fun creative writing mini-exercise.


Hooli G. An versus the robot

December 10, 2010


And so, the robot quickly spat on the green book. It experienced only a moment of remorse. “I don’t suffer from insanity. I enjoy every minute of it!” it monotoned in a metallic voice. “However, that doesn’t mean that things are going as planned.

The robot shuffled off. It was winter, so it moved more slowly. This meant Hooli G. An had to wait. The stress was enough to give her a nosebleed. Her one goal was to get to the green book before the acid from the robot’s saliva disintegrated it. Time was of the essence. Up until this point, the plan had seemed well-choreographed, but now she was beginning to conclude it was an irreversible misunderstanding between all parties involved. And really, it might not be just the robot who was insane.

As various scenarios ran through the hooligan’s thoughts, she realized she was having trouble breathing. “I’ve come too far for it to end in asphyxiation,” she opined, ‘but I’m a little unsure … “ and things went black.

When Hooli regained consciousness, her first thought was, a happy pair they made, so beauteously laid beneath the gay illuminations all along the promenade. As lucidity set in, she realized that didn’t make any sense. If she were going to complete the mission and depict herself with anything approaching credibility, she had to shake the cobwebs off fast and get back to the business of saving the green book. Dithering about would not do. The time for jocularity was past. She had to get serious.

Hooli sat up and surveyed her surroundings. Wherever she had been taken, the place was definitely in disrepair. And at least her captors hadn’t tied her up or put her in a straightjacket, she thought thankfully. It was just then that her robot adversary entered the space. Hooli didn’t hesitate to give it a piece of her mind.

“I will not let some two-bit, tin-can robot—who might be insane despite the logic of your programming—cost me this mission,” she ranted. “This whole situation”—she gestured vaguely around the room—”is, I have to admit, somewhat unanticipated. But it is not insurmountable.” The robot meeped non-commitally. Hooli went on. “My whole life, I have been self-supporting. Retrieving the green book is supposed to be my last mission and I’m not going to let you spoil it.”

The lime-green lasers of the robot’s eyes shone into Hooli’s. It appeared to be unfazed by her declarations. It stood there calmly, maddeningly. She didn’t actually know what to do. Hooli furrowed her brows and considered options as quickly as she could, given her puny human brain. When this was over, she’d need therapy for sure.

The rules of her employers were restrictive, that much was certain. But with each passing minute, she believed the guidelines were less and less relevant. Then she saw the hutch against the side wall of the room and, more importantly, spied the green book on the far end. She glanced up to the single lightbulb hanging from the ceiling. Insects orbited it like planets around a sun. An idea began to take shape.

Earlier in the day for lunch, Hooli had eaten some Chinese take-out. The fortune cookie had advised, “Don’t eat any Chinese food today or you’ll be very sick!” Robots, of course, didn’t eat food, but they still needed additives in order to maintain their functionality. It was winter and the robot looked stiff. Hooli took her one, her last, chance.

“You haven’t gotten your winter weight robot oil yet, have you?” she wondered with what was, she hoped, an air of nonchalance. “Your joints must be rubbing like a molar on a canker sore.” Once again, the robot meeped non-commitally. “I had a sneaking suspicion,” she said.

Hooli drew in a deep breath. This was her best chance to destroy the robot. “It’s your lucky day, robot, because for some mysterious reason, I happen to have winter weight robot oil with me. It’s right here in this glitzy canister.” She pulled a rhinestone-encrusted object from her bag. She shook it so that the motion caused the myriad of facets to catch and reflect the light from that single lightbulb. The robot was bedazzled. To add to the confusion, she made a finger moustache.

The robot, who had initially looked rather roguish when it had been spitting acid on the green book, now had the air of a crumpled soda can. It was powerless to defy the sparkles coming from Hooli’s blinged-up reusable water bottle. 

“Sorry, robot, but you’re going to have to take a rain check on world domination. I know that as a machine, you’re used to dealing with exactitudes, but that’s where I have the upper hand. I am not logical. This is not a tug of war. I’m taking the book. You may not admit to being insane, but I am a lunatic!”

The robot waved its arms rather lamely as Hooli continued to waggle her rhinestone bottle in the light. She grabbed the green book and was pleased to see that the aqueous coating on the cover had slowed the effects of the robot’s acid. She exited via the wrought iron fire escape ladder and gave a satisfied nod of her head once she was clear of the building. Hooli G. An was back in control.


Credits: Phrases and words in bold came from random generators. I went where they took me, for better and for worse. The initial sentence came from here. Subsequent words (other than the “Hooli G. An” name, which was inspired by a friend’s comment elsewhere) were generated here. Alien poster from here. All in all, a fun creative writing exercise.