Seasonal smattering

A few trinkets for your stocking.

After over a year shuttered, the Division Street Russian Baths are back open. The “renovation” is somewhat underwhelming. The classic, mildewy old entrance is gone, replaced by a brokerage or something. I sauntered into a room full of cubicles and thought “can’t be.” Indeed, it wasn’t. The entrance is now through what used to be the women’s spa. The new upper floor is a vast, soul-free community era decorated in stunning what-do-you-do-for-style-after-communism Russian cheese. The sauna benches have been rebuilt and enlarged. Yes, the charm of worrying about hooking an appendage (ok, the appendage) on a rusty nail popping through the slats is gone. As is the old tiled Russian and Turkish Baths sign. The eucalyptus steam room ain’t working and the cold bath looks like the holding area for the Creature from the Black Lagoon. Granted, I visited two weeks ago, so maybe things have improved, but Russian Baths 2.0 is definitely still in beta.

On a recent ground stop in SFO (weather in Chicago, imagine that) I had a few hours to talk to the pilot. He told me about all the shit that’s hit his plane’s windshield during flight. Birds, obviously. But also fish over Cleveland that had been sucked up in some Great Lakes equivalent of a waterspout. He’s also had a snake smashed into the glass, dropped from a bird of prey presumably. Snakes on a plane, indeed. Then there are the animals in the plane. The pilot told me about all the legally-permissible guide animals — animals that are not required to be caged. Dogs, obviously. But also guide pigs (small) and even a guide falcon, which sat (hooded) on his owner’s shoulder the whole flight. I suggest that the person behind the falconer was not about to complain about a too-reclined seat.

The ‘tubes have been good to me this year. I’ve reconnected with my roommate from Rome in 1993 (one resolution, complete), my best friend from high school who I haven’t seen in 20 years, and a student I taught freshman composition to in 1996. Is anyone still saying the Internet makes you antisocial?

The shooting at a law office in the Chicago Loop last week over a patent misunderstanding has gotten me thinking about the value of ideas these days. The business of patents — creating them, licensing them, suing for them — is gigantic, billions of dollars annually. And yet, they are only ideas, most never to receive material or methodological implementation. It’s no wonder — though certainly tragic — that a sociopathic gunman didn’t understand that just because a truckers’ toilet hadn’t been built didn’t mean it hadn’t been patented. The patent system clearly needs an overhaul, but so do people’s expectations of the value of a single idea. Innovation ain’t worth much if it isn’t paired with insight and implementation. And for those of you who think your life has been ruined because of a stolen idea, perhaps check Google’s new patent search first?