Boing Boing 

Bill Barol

Bill Barol is the author of Thanks For Killing Me, a novel. He blogs at Extra Bonus Super Happy Funtime.

Me, Al Franken and the worst meeting in the history of show business: a true story

I've never publicly shared my story about The Worst Meeting In The History Of Show Business, but this seems like an appropriate time, for reasons I'll get to in a minute. 

In the late '90s I was working as a sitcom writer, and in the spring of 1998 I was between jobs and needed one. My agent lined up a meeting for me with Al Franken, who was then running a show called "Lateline," a behind-the-scenes comedy about a TV news program. Franken wanted to meet me, my agent told me, because I had a news background, having been a writer for Newsweek before I moved to Los Angeles. My recollection is that "Lateline" was produced out of New York; Franken would fly out to Los Angeles to hold a few days' meetings with prospective hires at a hotel in West Hollywood. And so the meeting got set, for breakfast a week or so later. I arrived a little early and found Franken in the hotel restaurant, where he was meeting with another writer. He asked me if I'd mind waiting for a few minutes, so I took a seat in the lobby.

After a few moments the telephone rang at the host's station, which sat in the lobby, a few feet outside the dining room entrance, and about 20 feet from where I was sitting. The host answered the call, listened for a moment, then went inside and came back with Franken. The writer with whom Franken had just met, their meeting now concluded, continued through the lobby and left. Franken picked up the phone. Here's what I heard him say:

Read the rest

Mind Blowing Movies: Funny Bones, by Bill Barol

Mm200Recently, Boing Boing presented a series of essays about movies that have had a profound effect on our invited essayists. We are extending the series. See all the essays in the Mind Blowing Movies series. -- Mark



Mind Blowing Movies: Funny Bones, by Bill Barol

[Video Link] 1995’s Funny Bones, by the British writer/director Peter Chelsom, is either a comedy about dark things, like betrayal and manslaughter, or a drama about funny people, like a pair of retired vaudevillians who are winding down their days scaring children in the spook house on the Blackpool amusement pier. I’ve seen the movie, conservatively, two dozen times and I still don’t quite know how to describe it. I’ve never shown it to anybody who didn’t turn to me at least once with an incredulous look in their eyes, a look that says: “What the hell is this?”

This is exactly what I love about Funny Bones -- it is sui generis, and impossible to boil down. I can tell you the broad outlines: Failed standup Tommy Fawkes, the son of revered funnyman George Fawkes, flees Las Vegas and returns to the tattered seaside town of Blackpool where he grew up, in search of the indefinable substance that makes people funny. Once there he discovers that he has a half-brother he never knew, and that this odd, shy sibling is the unwilling recipient of the comedy genes, the funny bones, that Tommy so desperately desires. But those few quick strokes really -- you have to believe me -- they really don’t do justice to this odd, dark, deeply funny and witheringly sad story, or to the faded netherworld of fringe show business in which Tommy finds himself, casting frantically about for something to keep him from going under. Nor does it prepare you for an ending in which (I won’t spoil it) Tommy’s life literally dangles from his half-brother’s hands as a rapt, horrified audience looks on. Or for the lump in your throat when the story’s threads of desire, comedy, tragedy, love and hate interlock in one breathtaking final shot.

Read the rest

Andy Griffith: Before Mayberry, A Movie Monster

Mm200Boing Boing recently presented a series of essays about movies that have had a profound effect on our invited essayists. We are extending the series for several additional days. See all the essays in the Mind Blowing Movies series. -- Mark



Andy Griffith: Before Mayberry, A Movie Monster, by Bill Barol

[Video Link] If for any reason you doubt the power of television, consider the long career of Andy Griffith, who died this week at 86. Griffith had one TV role that was merely successful and one that was almost archetypical. That’s a pretty good run for any actor. But TV didn’t just give to Griffith. It also took away, and it’s here that the medium shows its muscle in a really astounding way. Griffith’s long TV career effectively effaced a film debut that, fifty years later, is so vivid and visceral that it startles with every viewing. The facts that Griffith played a bad guy in his first film role, and that both the performance and the movie, Elia Kazan’s 1957 A Face In The Crowd, are largely overlooked today -- these are testaments to TV’s power to swamp any cultural phenomena that have the poor judgment to get in its way.

Hang on, there’s more. What’s doubly delicious about this is, A Face In The Crowd is a cautionary tale about the power of -- Anyone? Anyone? Yes: Television. Griffith, who came from nightclubs and the stage and had no resume as a dramatic actor in 1957, plays Lonesome Rhodes, a drifter who stumbles into national prominence thanks to the demagogic power of the then-young medium. A grifter and a charmer, Rhodes is sleeping off a hangover in a rural jail when a local radio producer (Patricia Neal, doing that hard-but-vulnerable thing she did so well) sticks a microphone in his face. He has no ambition to be a radio star or anything else, but once he grasps that a guy with a friendly demeanor can wield mass media like a club, and he grasps it very quickly indeed, there’s no stopping him. Rhodes shoots like a star from tiny Pickett, Arkansas to Memphis to New York, from radio to TV, from a singer and storyteller to “a force... a force,” he says with megalomaniac intensity. And from there it’s just a quick hop to politics, with a presidential candidate sucking around for his magic touch, and a madman’s dreams of power behind the throne.

Read the rest

Adventures in self-publishing: Why I took a year's work and tried my hardest to give it away

Bill-Barol-Book[I am reading Bill's novel now and really enjoying it. Look for a review from me soon -- Mark]

When John F. Kennedy was asked how he became a war hero, he’s supposed to have replied: “It was involuntary. They sank my boat.” That’s how I became a self-published novelist: A large number of New York publishers rejected Thanks for Killing Me, my spiky little crime novel about the aftermath of a con gone wrong. They did so for an exquisitely heterogeneous variety of reasons. One liked the plot but not the characters; another liked the characters but not the plot. A couple thought it moved too fast, and a couple found it too leisurely. About the only consensus was that none of them felt optimistic about their chances of selling a caper novel, and a first novel at that, in a declining publishing market. Being the self-starter that I am, I took these rejections in stride and leapt into action, throwing the manuscript into a drawer and sulking for eighteen months.

Read the rest

Going up

escalator.jpg
Photo by Ged Carroll. Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.
A recent article in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology makes a case that height makes right. That is, it cites four separate studies showing that people who were physically elevated (up on a raised platform, for example) behaved in a more humane and altruistic fashion than those below. As Scientific American notes today, "height is often used as a metaphor for virtue: moral high ground, God on high, looking up to good people, etc." The journal article, by Larry Sanna and associates at the University of North Carolina, suggests that height's value may be more than symbolic. What if, as one of the studies posits, escalators actually elevate good intentions: "Twice as many mall shoppers who had just ridden an up escalator contributed to the Salvation Army than shoppers who had just ridden the down escalator."

That said, escalators aren't all good.

"The Wire" as a Dickens serial

dickensomar.jpgIt's one of those ideas that sounds less nuts the more you think about it: "The Wire" imagined as a 19th-century serialized novel. After all, David Simon's great multi-season drama had all the muckraking moral outrage of Charles Dickens (Google the reviews and try to count the number of times you see the word "Dickensian"), and its shifting viewpoint over five seasons gave it a similar historical sweep and reportorial authority. The real kick of "When It's Not Your Turn," though, is its obsessive attention to detail. You have to admire the dedication of creators Joy Delyria and Sean Michael Robinson, who seemingly cram every arcane bit of the show's rich mythology into a fake lit-crit essay. The illustrations, ostensibly by Baxter "Bubz" Black, just add to the goofy verisimilitude of the thing. It's a fabulous fraud.

Pole dancing for Jesus

It's hard to to top the phrase "pole dancing for Jesus" -- I dare you to even try -- because it satisfies so many absolutely awful contemporary needs in just four words. It's the perfect bogus local-news trend story. (I first saw it on Wonkette, but it was picked up from the Fox affiliate in Houston.) It's an SEO bonanza. And it's an awesome name for the next band you never heard of that's suddenly appearing on "Saturday Night Live" for some reason. The fact that it's an actual thing -- there's a class in it at a dance studio in Spring, TX, a northern suburb of Houston, and the newsbabe somberly assures the anchordude that "you have to bring your church program with you in order to get into the class' -- only makes it better. Or worse. Or something. "Tune in," newsbabe tells anchordude, promising him in this teaser segment that she herself will take a few twirls for Jesus in the nine o'clock hour. "We will," anchordude replies, a glittery mix of prurience and ratings-lust in his eyes. Or is that just good old-fashioned religious fervor? it's getting so hard to tell.

Ten Sexy Ladies

ladies.jpg

You might know Joshua Allen from the Twitter, where he posts hilariously (and not often enough) under the handle Fireland. Allen is one of the three or four people who make it seem possible that Twitter can spawn something like art. (Others? Tim Siedell, Adam Lisagor and Christian A. Dumais, the guy behind Drunk Hulk. That's my list. I'm sure you have yours.) Now, just to rub it in, he has a new project: Ten Sexy Ladies, in which he rates "everything ever, on a scale from one to ten sexy ladies." And when Allen says "everything ever," you better believe that's exactly what he means. Here he is on "This Thing of ChapStick":

Come closer, mon petit chou. I have generously applied deodorant that smells like a lumberjack fresh out of a clear mountain stream. I have swished mouthwash until it burned my gums like a sexual fire. I didn't floss because come on, really? But I did shave. Everywhere. And I got in there real good with a Q-tip. I am ready to receive your makeouts. (Rating: Two sexy ladies.)
Allen, who in real life is a writer living in Denver, is so prolifically funny that he makes me feel a little ashamed. The only comfort I can take is that sometimes his ratings are, like, way off. I mean, a mere "One sexy ladies" for pennies, which are so fantastically useful as to stagger the mind, as Allen himself admits?

Got chewed out by the boss? On your way out throw some pennies in the recycling bin. He'll be impressed with your lackadaisical approach to finance. This kid knows something I don't, he'll think later that night as he pays a woman to take a straight razor to his neck hair, slowly, so slowly, the only time he ever really feels anything.
Yeah. That's a Six Sexy Ladies right there. Four, minimum. Certainly no fewer than three.

Note to self: Panda earthquake image not a fake, exactly

Dear Bill: You know that picture of the terrified giant panda clinging to a policeman's leg after the Japan earthquake? The one that, in the terrible early hours of this awful disaster, rocketed all over the Internet, landed on your screen and induced all sorts of anthropomorphic empathy on your part? It's not a fake, exactly; the image is real, but it's five years old, and was taken at a panda research center, and not in Japan but in China, and the guy isn't a policeman, he's a keeper, and it was feeding time, and the panda wasn't terrified but hungry. As you're contemplating the still-unfolding disaster, reserve a little brainpower to ponder on who puts this sort of misinformation out there at a time like this, and why. And try not to let it make you feel worse about this moment in history than you already do.

Do It (Tomorrow)

My name is Bill, and I'm bad at GTD.

doittoday.jpgMany, many factors account for this -- let's call it a character flaw. But the biggest is probably this one: My utter inability (or maybe it's just an unwilingness) to see beyond what's right in front of me. This one failing has knocked the pins right out from under every GTD implementation I've ever looked at, and I've looked at 'em all. You know in the cartoons, when somebody's confused and words start circling his head? That's me with a new GTD app. Projects? Next tasks? Near-term goals? Far-term goals? Why, you're just talking gibberish!

doittomorrow.jpgThis may be why I've embraced Do It (Tomorrow), a dead-simple to-do app for iOS. (Free for the iPhone; a $1.99 universal version adds cloud sync.) Do It (Tomorrow) builds on -- or maybe it takes away from -- the work done by earlier apps like Put Things Off, a simplified sort-of-GTD client that allows you to schedule tasks for today or shove them off indefinitely. The trouble is, even that feels like too much work to someone like me. Here's the uncomplicated beauty of Do It (Tomorrow): It offers two choices: Do it today, or put it off for tomorrow. That's it. In reducing the vista of available time, it allows me to focus on only those things that really need doing right now, or close to it. Do It (Tomorrow) embraces the functioning part of my brain, which can see about 36 hours ahead, and doesn't bother with the rest. It's simple, good-looking and -- for me -- supremely functional.

Skull cups

Kapala_skull_cup.jpg
"The next time you're in a museum, keep a sharp eye out for skull cups," Gadling advises brightly today, following up on a BBC report about the discovery of three ancient skulls that were carved into drinking cups. And you can bet your life I will, Gadling, because skull cups can be beautiful, like the one above (apparently Chinese, although its provenance is a little murky) but mostly because they are SKULLS carved into CUPS and ancient people DRANK OUT OF THEM, and if that doesn't give you nightmares, take another good look at the less aesthetic and more terrifying model whose picture accompanies the BBC story and remind yourself that once upon a time it was the repository for SOME GUY'S BRAINS.

Make mine hibiscus

I can think of a lot of reasons why New York City rules, and today there's one more: Soda Party! Anton Nocito, the proprietor of Brooklyn's P&H Soda Co., will cater your birthday party, wedding or other event with hand-made sodas from his own artisanal syrups, in ginger, hibiscus, lime and cream flavors. (He offers seasonal specials as well, and plans to add more flavors to the permanent lineup.) Nocito also hosts soda-making/history classes; there's one this week at The Brooklyn Kitchen. The Food Curated blog recently visited with Nocito, a guy who looks like he absolutely loves his work.

P&H Soda Co: Refreshing All Natural Syrups for Soda Lovers from SkeeterNYC on Vimeo.

The sound of a TV through a wall

ambianceapp.jpg
Today I want to offer my thanks to a nameless collection of audio nerds. Armed only with DAT recorders and patience, and maybe some Mojo bars and sports drinks, and, I don't know, tents and blankets, I guess, these are the dedicated hobbyists who have provided a company named Urban Apps with the raw materials for a great product called Ambiance, newly arrived for the desktop. (It's also available for iOS, Android and Blackberry.)

Ambiance is, more or less, a slick front end for an audio archive called The Freesound Project, but it adds tons of value. It gives you the capability to download (for free) a large number of high-quality ambient audio clips, arrange them in playlists, and play them back in any order you choose. You can set them to shuffle and loop, and set a timer so the sounds fade away after a given period. The variety of clips on offer is staggering, and goes way beyond the usual waves and showers. As I write this I'm listening to a clip called "Sonoran Desert," which features the dry whisper of wind over sand, bird sounds and -- alarmingly -- what sounds like the rattle of a rattlesnake really freakin' close. This has the vestigial effect on my ancient fight-or-flight response of making me want very badly to choose flight, which is probably the exact opposite of the restful effect the developers were seeking, but never mind. If that isn't your cup of noise you can choose from rural sounds or urban sounds (I love "NYC Rooftop," which perfectly captures the attenuated whoosh of a city street overheard from a high roof). You can pick from sounds of static, sci-fi sounds, the sounds of various kinds of machines, sports, environments and a bunch of more arcane choices, including a clock shop, somebody endlessly clicking a pen, and -- this one I really don't get, because it's the exact sound that almost prompted me to murder my neighbors when I lived in New York -- the sound of a TV playing through a wall. Whatever floats your sonic boat, I guess. The app is beautiful, works great on multiple platforms (it runs on Adobe AIR) and is a dead steal at $9.99. It's a supermarket of sound, right on your desktop.

Bomb-sniffing mice


[Video Link] You know, it's all well and good to talk about how bomb-sniffing mice are the future of security, and sure, it sounds good. But ask yourself: What does the phrase "genetically-selected rodents, optimized by integration with Hi-technology system" mean? I think it means they stuff mice into a plastic shoebox and train them to push a button when they get the whiff of contraband. And all I'm saying is, if I were stuffed into a plastic shoebox at the airport I'd give some serious consideration to pushing the tiny button a few extra times to screw with my tormentors, or maybe just because I was bored. Unless it's a gag. It's gotta be a gag, right? It's a gag. I'm pretty sure it's a gag. (via dvice.)

Also, you're gonna love this buttercream scaloppini

I want to be snippy about this Wall Street Journal trend story. I really do. It encapsulates everything I hate about trend stories: The totally fake, self-justifying notion that Suddenly everybody is {insert trend here}!!!, the lazy reliance on a few East-Side-of-LA hipsters to underpin the thing, the utterly un-self-aware trashing of whatever previous trend the publication has just pivoted away from. I mean, it's all here. It's a Perfect Storm of Trend Story Clichés. (Please note: The use of the phrase "Perfect storm" is itself a big whopping trend story cliché.) But the thing is, and I'm not proud of this, lasagna cupcakes sound totally delicious. Listen to the way a TV writer (well, of course she is) describes the savory snacks: They're "all corners, they're a wall of crust." Have they got you yet? Are you getting hungry yet? No? Then take a look at the semi-pornographic photos of lasagna cupcakes in various stages of preparation. It's like being beaten over the head with cheesy deliciousness. You win, Wall Street Journal Trend Guy. But then I guess we both knew you would.

The Exotica Project

LatinMoods.jpg
It's easier for me to define exotica, a lush, atmospheric, sometimes-sappy instrumental pop music of the '50s and '60s, than it is for me to explain why I love it. I think it has something to do with nostalgia for a time I didn't really live through -- a late-postwar period in which the world was bigger and stranger, and unfamiliar locales could be described with a straight face as "exotic." (One historical theory holds that the music was initially marketed to ex-GIs home from the Pacific, and trickled down to the populace at large.) There's something emotionally resonant in that idea. It's like we're looking back at a generation that looked forward, and out to a larger world it hadn't yet subsumed. Also: While the music is frequently syrupy, some of it is unironically pretty. And some of it, like the best of genre superstar Les Baxter, bubbles with an unexpected, almost subliminal complexity. Dan Shiman, who's also proprietor of the excellent MP3 blog Office Naps, curates a fantastic introduction to the music at The Exotica Project. (Via the tireless Maria Popova.)

Bill Murray at the NBR

Every time I think Bill Murray is a perfect and unimprovable paragon of cool, he does something to get cooler. Like this, his speech introducing writer/director Sofia Coppola at last night's National Board of Review Awards. Murray was perfectly suited to the task of winging an introduction for Coppola: She directed him in a titanic performance in 2003's "Lost In Translation," and he has for many years engaged in eccentrically good-natured public appearances that have added up a unique kind of improvisational performance art. (My favorite was last year at SXSW, when Murray showed up at an Austin joint and began tending bar, sloshing out slugs of tequila to the clientele, no matter what they'd ordered.) Anyway, here's Murray at the NBR, chewing on Red Hots and, in a deceptively easygoing fashion, making some moving points about life, work and the places where they meet.
..why do you encourage these people? Because now she's had this success, she's had this work, she has this life, she has this family, she has this thing going, and now is when people like you have chosen well to say, 'Let's give this person another boost, let's give this person another boost to say keep going, because now life will come to you hard, like it's come to everyone that's lived long enough. It comes hard and it gets in the way of your career; it stops your career, it stunts your life -- not necessarily your life, but it definitely will make your career go left. You show me an actor doing a shit movie, I'll show you a guy with a bad divorce. [Audience laughs.] Right? Right? [Looking around the room.] You know who I'm talking about.
Read the whole thing.

Where Tarantino came from

I've heard about this on and off over the years, but had never seen it until Kottke posted a link this morning: It's a clip from "My Best Friend's Birthday," Quentin Tarantino's first film, ca. 1987. If I didn't know better, and I'm not sure I do, I'd suspect it's an elaborate prank. The young Tarantino who appears as a motormouth DJ is a pretty good caricature of everything we associate with Tarantino the actor -- all the hyperkinetic, can't-sit-still, chew-the-scenery mannerisms are there in full. Fortunately, the things we associate with Tarantino the writer are present too -- the black humor, the perfect pauses, the on-a-dime conversational switches. The directing? It's a wash. The thing's pretty primitive, but most of it was apparently destroyed in a fire at the lab. Still, it's a satisfying glimpse of one of our greatest, weirdest auteurs in utero.

Make mine Kolache

20110102-kolache.jpg
My experience of kolaches, the crazy delicious doughnut-like pastries brought to the central US by Slavic immigrants, is limited to a couple of places in Fredericksburg, TX. But there doesn't appear to be a single thing wrong with Kolache Kitchen in Oklahoma City, which Erin Meister of Serious Eats recently visited. Meister accurately points out that the genius of the kolache is its bready base, which approximates that of a dinner roll. What gets slathered on top or baked into the middle can be either sweet or savory -- Meister likes Kolache Kitchen's apricot/sweet cheese, cinnamon/apple and poppy seed versions, because what person in their right mind wouldn't. The result, especially when consumed fresh from the oven after a long day's drive, can be life-changing. Kolache Kitchen also serves lunch, apparently, but you have to wonder why. (Photo by Erin Meister for Serious Eats.)

Now roll me to the fjords

rollingfjords.jpg
This prize-winning entry in a Norwegian design competition proposes an elegant idea for the small town of Ã…ndalsnes, which describes itself as "The Gateway To The Fjords." (Full disclosure: I don't know if Ãndalsnes describes itself as "The Gateway To The Fjords," but it should.) The design posits a collection of small, plain housing units that would roll out toward the fjords on existing railroad tracks in viewing seasson, and collect together near the town center in winter, adding valuable housing stock. The firm that came up with the idea, Jagnefält Milton Architecture, also proposes units of varying size and function that could be assembled into a hotel, and others into a public bath and concert hall:
The integration of mobile structures - including a rolling hotel, public bath and concert hall - has the potential to transform the city into a dense, integrated and continually changing scenography. The temporary, small-scale structures sets the 'city in motion', providing an important connection between the land and the sea.
(Via designboom.)

All I want for Christmas is the $62,000 Twitter owes me

I'm not a greedy man, or an unreasonable one. (Nor, for that matter, am I insane. I'm NOT.) So when I sat down to place a monetary value on the content that's gone missing from my Twitter stream over the last week, an issue that Twitter has so far failed to acknowledge, I consistently rounded down. That's how I arrived at $62,000.

Read the rest

Ghost Bus spotted in Manhattan

9098bus.jpgThe merry pranksters at New York's MTA are turning the holiday season into a kooky, trip-your-brains-out, you've-fallen-down-a-wormhole, what-in-the-name-of-all-that's-holy-is-happening-to-you time-travel freakout by putting a vintage 1958 GM bus into service on a selection of routes. Reader Dimitrios Gazis filed a full dispatch with the Jeremiah's Vanishing New York blog, and reports that "the noise and the stench of diesel was comforting." A reader of the EV Grieve blog, meanwhile, caught the bus, #9098, in transit on 34th Street between First and Second Avenues. That's his photo above. The whole thing is nutty and beautiful. I miss New York.

Warm Heads for Christmas

hat_group2.jpg
I live in a warm place now, but I retain a vestigial -- well, let's call it a respect for cold weather. So these handsome little art cards by designer Sam Tudyk scratch at a deep place in my psyche. A deep, cold place. Even the vaguely creepy one that suggests a bank robbery about to happen. I'd love them even if they weren't selling at a web store affiliated with the ad agency Wieden+Kennedy, which is responsible for the single greatest achievement in the history of advertising. I wish them, and you, a Merry Christmas. (Via Coudal.)

Dial 9... for fun!

So here's another thing the stinkin' future promised us and never delivered, he thought bitterly: A computerized pub, ca. 1965. It doesn't look all that futuristic from the vantage point of today (or Today!!!, as BBC1 probably would have styled it) -- I mean, push-button phones weren't an unimaginable prospect even in 1965. To be fair, though, in 1965 Britain was still trying to recover from the Blitz. In fact, the whole prospect seems to inspire a gloomy air. Take a look at the poor customers in this clip, who look like they're assembled for a wake, not an evening down at the local. Now that I think about it, I'm actually a little relieved the scenario sketched here never came to pass. I was once served a 7Up by a robot at London's YO! Sushi. I still wake up screaming. (Via How To Be A Retronaut.)

Do one thing. Do it really well. Repeat.

duescreen.jpgI've tangled with every GTD app there is. I've wrestled with setting repeating tasks in iCal. I didn't know it, at least not beyond a certain inchoate longing, but what I wanted was something that didn't hogtie me with complexity. I wanted something that would live in my pocket and execute simple reminders with deadly efficiency and an absolute minimum of fuss. What I was looking for was Due, "the missing reminder app" for iPhone.

I understand the impulse to bulk up a smartphone with pre-installed apps, and the impulse to make those apps Swiss Army knives. But I have a tremendous affection for software that does one thing and does it really well. Due, from developer Lin Junjie, is like that. It's about the reminder, the simple nudge in the ribs to draw your attention to a task that may be need to be done as infrequently as once, versus the "task" or the "project," ungainlier creatures that can have multiple steps and deadlines. It's uncomplicated, beautiful and functional. My only beef with it is that it includes a secondary functionality that's sort of neat, I guess -- you can define and save timers of varying lengths keyed to different events -- but which I never use. Just knowing the timers are there detracts a tiny bit from the gorgeous simplicity of the thing. I'm a purist that way. But is Due in every other respect an essential addition to my home screen? Absolutely. It passes the highest test I can imagine for an iPhone app: It's so smart, and so pretty, I can't imagine why Apple didn't bake something like it right in.

More sumac, please

sumac.jpg
God, I love food blogs. I love all sorts of food blogs, from the hip and sensible to the bizarrely specific. But I think the one I love most is Serious Eats, with its luscious, almost pornographic closeups of brisket and apple cake and Mac & Cheese Carbonara. I love its enthusiastic coverage of coffee and burgers. And I love the way it occasionally does what it did yesterday -- break down the exact appeal of an obscure ingredient in a fashion that makes you want to drive to the obscure-ingredients quarter of town and spend the afternoon hunting it down. The ingredient is sumac, which blogger Max Falkowitz calls "the saving grace for the unapologetically lazy cook, a Swiss army knife of finishing touches." (Tell me that wouldn't make a lazy cook, or an energetic one, want to read more.) His sensuous descriptions of the spice (" ...it's much more complex than lemon, reminiscent of perfectly ripe raspberries and tomatoes, with a pleasing bitterness that lingers just a second after swallowing") practically make me salivate, and this is the thing: I have never to my knowledge tasted sumac. If that isn't good food writing I don't know what is. Falkowitz's lovely essay on the spice reminds me of the story Bruce Springsteen told about Chuck Berry in Taylor Hackford's Hail! Hail! Rock 'n' Roll. Springsteen recalls the first time he heard Berry's "Nadine," with its description of "a coffee-colored Cadillac," and tells Hackford: "I'd never seen a coffee-colored Cadillac." But after hearing Berry, Springsteen says, "I knew exactly what one looked like." (Photo by Robyn Lee for Serious Eats.)

Nick DeWolf's hungry eye

nick_dewolf02.jpgNick DeWolf was one of those passionate, indefatigable amateurs who were just made to live on via the Internet. He wasn't an amateur at his chosen profession, which was engineering; he co-founded Teradyne, a manufacturer of electronic test equipment that survives him. In his spare time, though, he was a photographic hobbyist, and a good one, and over a period of about fifty years he photographed everything: Guys in cars. The Boston skyline. Women on subway platforms. How many images are there in total? Who knows? DeWolf's devoted son-in-law, Steve Lundeen, has been uploading them a few at a time to Flickr for about the last six years. There are now almost 44,000 of them. Taken together they represent a vast, varied swath of the latter 20th century. "He carried a camera with him at all times," Lundeen writes, "usually a family of cameras. If you knew Nick, you got used to this...eventually, he'd be pointing his camera at you." (Via Retro Thing.)

And now, the floor-cleaning shoe

Foki.jpgToday's Kooky Koncept Design is the Foki, a "Floor Cleaner Shoe" from Adika Titut Triyugo of Institute of Technology Bandung in Indonesia. The rechargeable Foki has tiny cleaning devices on its soles and an LED readout topside to display information on cleanliness level and battery status. The Fiko is intended, Triyugo says, for people who "have to do multiple activities in one moment." It's an ingenious idea. But despite the delightful prospect of skimming across my hardwood floors on rotary brushes, busting dust while "The Skater's Waltz" plays, I have to wonder of Triyugo hasn't misread the market for a rechargeable floor-cleaning shoe. Aren't the people who would most benefit from a device like this -- your slovenly, your lazy, your easily distracted -- the ones least likely to get up and move around at all? I know I am. (Via PSFK.)

LIVE RIGHT NOW: The eight-month demolition of The Spectrum

I take a perverse pride in the fact that this, the worst building-demolition video in the history of the genre, is set in my hometown. It documents the attempted destruction of The Spectrum, Philadelphia's shuttered '60s-era sports arena, and it violates every precept of building-demo videos: It's slow, awkward, and utterly lacks any anticipatory drama or final, dusty explosion. Plus it gets bonus points for the weird, Palin-y diction of the Fox News anchorbabe who tries to fill time by explaining that the demo is "a little uneffective... Y'know, we wanna bring you these pictures because, y'know, this is a building that longer is being used, and they're gonna be doing this big destruction of it... " Any way you look at it, it's Art.

Did Hitler plan UFO attacks on London? (No. Not really.)

doomsaucer.jpgLondonist slugs its post on this absolutely nutso piece from the the Daily Mail Hitler Planned UFO Attack On London, Claims Newspaper, while the paper itself goes no further than gonzo speculation: Did the Führer plan to attack London and New York in UFOs? See, it's that little bit of wiggle room that lets the real pros operate. And should anybody be so prickly as to take the paper to task for photoshopping an Iron Cross onto an old illustration of the alleged SchicksalSaucer der Himmel, which they freely admit they did, just because it looked bitchin' -- well. hell, the Mail never said the Nazis actually had the thing. They were just asking the question! (Also, for the record, nobody except me ever actually called the saucer the SchicksalSaucer der Himmel, which, roughly translated, means Doom Saucer of the Skies. But they could have!)