Dallas-based Travel Technologies Group (TTG), a software developer for the travel and meetings industries, headed off a possible sickout anticipated for Wednesday, May 19 -- opening day of the new "Star Wars" flick -- by purchasing tickets to the premiere for each of its 75 employees.

On Wednesday, May 12, the day tickets went on sale, the company dispatched some employees to the Loews Theater downtown to spend their day waiting on line for the tickets.

Given that TTG's staff consists of scores of techies, this seems a wise move on management's part. May the workforce be with you.

Pikolets caged

Birds are a very big deal with men in Suriname, who carry their caged songbirds everywhere with them. Walking, biking, riding on mopeds or paddling dugout canoes, men tote their birds. If a man is home, the cage is set or hung somewhere on the street side of the house so that the birds get used to traffic sounds. If the owner is in a restaurant, the cage hangs near him while he dines.

The reason, as Insider discovered, is that there's a lucrative trade in trained birds. In fact, songbird competitions are a big tourist attraction on Sunday mornings in Independence Square in Paramaribo.

Here's how it works. Two bird owners set up their birdcages on the grassy square. Each owner has a chalkboard to tally the number of times his competitor's bird trills, whistles or shrieks during a 15-minute period.

Independence Square in Paramaribo.

These are small birds called pikolets and twa-twas. We're not talking screaming eagles. Insider stood close to the judging area but couldn't hear anything except the nerve-jarring sound of chalk on slate. A frequent-trilling bird fetches as much as $35 in the Central Market in Paramaribo.

The ground-zero club

We get lots of review copies of books, so when a box of outdoorsy-looking titles arrived, Insider figured they'd deal with camping or hiking or some such.

Uh-uh. From the brown cardboard box, Insider lifted out a paperback titled "Sex in the Outdoors: A Humorous Approach to Recreation," by Robert Rose, M.D., and Buck Tilton, M.S. (Globe Pequot Press, $6.95).

The book is fairly funny in parts. There's an especially clever section on mountain climbing -- with climbing paraphernalia treated as if it came from a Frederick's of Hollywood catalog. There is also a chapter of "Testimonials" that reads like a PG-13 version of a men's mag's letters-to-the-editor column.

For any "niche" sellers who might be interested, a lengthier summary of the book's contents appears on the publisher's Web site, www.globe-pequot.com.

Of skies and limits

As of May 28, drivers in Montana will re-encounter a tradition that had disappeared for nearly four years: the speed limit. Since the lifting of federal speed limits in 1995, Montana has been operating under what it calls the Basic Rule -- that motorists are to drive in a "reasonable and prudent manner."

With a notable rise in traffic fatalities "involving speed as a factor" and at the recommendation of the state attorney general's office, the Montana Legislature took up the issue.

After much backing-and-forthing, according to a spokeswoman for the state's Commerce Department, law-makers came up with the following:

  • On multilane interstates, for cars, 75 mph day and night; for trucks, 65 day and night.
  • On two-lane highways, for cars, 70 day, 65 night; for trucks, 60 day, 55 night.
  • In "urban" areas (word theirs, quote marks ours), 65 across the board.
  • Earlier this month, Gov. Marc Racicot issued a statement on the issue, part of which read: "Unfortunately ... no numerical [italics his] daytime speed limit ... was interpreted by some as no speed limits at all."

    Among those so misinterpreting the Basic Rule must have been the folks at Travel Montana's Web site, whose home page at one point featured a flashing billboard announcing "Big Sky Country ... And No Speed Limit!"

    More Big Sky fun stuff

    We had some fun this past winter with Visit Montana's calendar of sometimes wacky events, but the bureau's latest newsletter shows the state has some interesting stuff going on in summer as well.

    Here's a sampling (as if anyone ever needed an excuse to visit Montana):

  • The Duck Race, Libby, June 5. Hundreds of plastic ducks are placed in Flower Creek, in five heats. Grand prize, $1,000.
  • Buzzard Day, Glendive, June 12. The event celebrates the buzzards' annual return to Makoshiko State Park. Cookouts, a bike race and a "poker run" are among the activities.
  • The Matthew Quigley Shoot, Forsyth, June 19 and 20. We expected the tag line on this one to be something like "Fun for all but Matthew Quigley." But, no. The name refers to a movie character. This is a long-range-rifle competition using period and replica firearms, and many of the 300-plus participants dress in period duds.
  • Prison Breakout Bluegrass Festival, Deer Lodge, June 26 and 27. A big old hoedown. We just like the name.
  • Eastern Montana 'Ski Festival, Wibaux, July 2 to 4. That's right: a celebration of Polish-American culture, with Polish barbecue and something called a "polka Mass," which gives a whole new meaning to the term "liturgical music."
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