Boing Boing 

Dale Dougherty


A Maker Faire Preview

For the fifth year in the Bay Area, Maker Faire welcomes thousands of makers of all ages who show us the amazing things they make. Makers are enthusiasts who love what they do and enjoy sharing it with others, which makes for an incredibly stimulating experience that inspires everyone. Maker Faire 2010 brings back annual favorites such as the Life-Size Mousetrap, Coke Zero and Mentos (note they switched brands!), Russell the Electric Giraffe, a fleet of electric muffins, rocket launches and the Robotic Warship Combat and Swap-a-rama-rama. We have hands-on exhibits created by Bay Area partners such as The Exploratorium, The Crucible, The Tech Museum, The TechShop, NASA Ames, and The Museum of Craft and Folk Art.

Here's a preview of some of what you might expect to see and do at Maker Faire Bay Area 2010, May 22-23 at the San Mateo Expo Center.

Meta-USA Self-balancing Scooter, Mike Phillips

All I can say is note the all safety gear Mike's wearing. He says it goes really fast.

Fishbug, Rebecca Anders and crew

We've brought this one in from the desert and put it in a dark building so you crawl through inside. It's really big and it breathes.

Read the rest

The Cartoon Cabinet

DATELINE TOONTOWN. President-elect Bam Bam has announced a slate of Cabinet appointments, declaring that "this new generation of leadership" will mix a few popular characters from the past along with "many less familiar faces who are getting their first opportunity in a leading role." At a press conference, the President-elect explained that the new appointees were put through a rigorous examination of their public and private lives, and that all were found to have "rock-solid reputations." He praised his new team, calling them "a bedrock for change." The most anticipated announcement of the day was the confirmation of Wilma Rockham Flintstone as his selection for the next Secretary of State.

Here's the complete rundown of all the appointments announced over the past week:

Secretary of State - Wilma Rockham Flintstone

This appointment shows how close the ties between family and party are in Toontown. Bam Bam used to party with the Flintstone's daughter, Pebbles, and his father, Barney Rubble, worked with Wilma's husband, Fred, in the excavation business. Most analysts are wondering what the appointment means for Fred Flintstone. Fred, who first uttered the words "hit the ground running", is still very popular around the world; and he likes the attention. But he has a big mouth. Bam Bam said today that "Wilma Flintstone is an American of tremendous stature" and that he has "complete confidence in her character and judgement." He cited her experience in dealing with domestic affairs, which has prepared her for "her new role in protecting the nation's interests abroad."

Treasury Secretary - Richie Rich

Rich, who has fallen on hard times lately, beat out Top Cat for the appointment. Reportedly, President-elect Bam Bam never felt comfortable around such a street-smart character. He thought that Rich's recent misfortunes, which have moved him back to the middle-class, might stir sympathy for the plight of the average American. Also, Rich really does need the job.

Dept of Homeland Security -- Yosemite Sam

With his hot-temper and first-hand knowledge of the southwestern border states, Yosemite Sam promises to bring "straight-talk" to immigration policy in America. He is not expected to duck from any aspect of this tough issue in the media or in Congress. However, many analysts think that because Sam's likely to come out with all his guns a-blazing, he is also a likely candidate for an early exit from the Bam-Bam administration.

Attorney General -- Huckleberry Hound

With considerable experience as a small-town Sheriff, this homely, homespun character with a Southern drawl is expected to restore the department's reputation as an honest defender of justice. President-elect Bam Bam said that he appreciated Huckleberry Hound's true-blue nature but added: "he is as sly as a dog." Supposedly, Ricochet Rabbit was also under consideration.

Secretary of Education -- Mister Peabody

The bespectacled inventor of the Wayback Machine, Peabody originated the phrase "no child left behind" during his time-travelling expeditions with young Sherman. Peabody has agreed to re-invent American education for the 21st Century. Many think he is capable of doing this single-handedly, if he's allowed to do so by teachers, parents and bureaucrats.

Secretary of Defense -- Baba Looey

Longtime deputy secretary to Quick Draw McGraw (aka El Kabong), Looey has been demonstrating his considerable brain-power behind the scenes in Toontown for decades. Now Looey is the first Mexican-born burro to hold a senior-level cabinet post. Unfortunately, the generals are already complaining about having to answer to another person with a funny name.

Secretary of Labor -- Hardy Har Har

Worked for years under Lippy the Lion and LBJ, Har Har is known to be rather down-in-the-mouth and pessimistic. This made him a good choice for a Labor Department, which must figure out how to put Americans back to work -- no laughing matter, indeed.

Secretary of Energy -- vacant.

There has been little speculation on the names under consideration for running the Energy Department, although the Drudge Report is saying that Bart Simpson's name has come up more than once.

Secretary of Commerce -- Magilla Gorilla

Citing years of experience in Mister Peebles' Pet Store, Magilla Gorilla is familiar with the struggles of small-town shopowners, a vanishing breed in an era where people are busily stampeding through Wal-Marts. President-elect Bam Bam is encouraging his new Secretary of Commerce to throw his weight around.

Secretary of Veterans Affairs -- General Flap

One of the pitifully few African-Americans living in Toontown, Lt. Flap distinguished himself in the war working with Beetle Bailey, starting in 1961, and now he finally receives this overdue promotion to a top job. In a town that worries more about equal representation of cats and dogs, this is progress.

Secretary of Transportation -- Motormouse or Penelope Pitstop.

One of the few appointments left undecided, the next Secretary of Transportation will either be the quiet but very quick Motormouse or the wealthy heiress, Ms. Pitstop, who has escaped many a predicament in her melodramatic career. Neither is expected to play a major role in the next administration.

Secretary of Health and Human Services -- Olive Oyl

Known for her good heart but lacking much on-the-job experience, Olive must tackle day-to-day management of a large department that could suffer brutal cutbacks. She is said to be focusing on childhood obesity and she's considering the possibility of banning wimpy burgers. It will also be important that she distance herself from her husband, known for the rap song "I Yam What I Yam" and violent rages induced by his vegetarian diet.

Secretary of the Environment -- Chilly Willy or Wally Gator.

This one is still a toss-up. The choice is between directing attention to the thawing Artic or the storm-tossed Louisiana swamp. Bam Bam is probably leaning towards Chilly Willy because of growing concern over global warming, along with a secret preference for Klondike bars.

Secretary of Agriculture -- Porky Pig

This ageless character comes out of retirement for one last spin on the world's stage. He comes from farm country so it will be interesting to see if he can be strong enough to roll back huge f-f-farm s-s-subs-s-s-idies.

National Security Advisor -- Johnny Quest

After a promising start to his career, Quest has finally achieved the senior-level position that many thought would come much earlier. He not only knows each region's hot spots but he's lived in each of them and found ways to survive on his own. Whether that qualifies him for the politically charged environment of Toontown remains to be seen.

Many believe there is a role in national security for veteran Clutch Cargo but lips are sealed on this one. There is also talk that Yakky Doodle will be the next press secretary. Finally, Uncle Scrooge is said to be close to accepting a role as President-elect Bam-Bam's top economic adviser. The sage skinflint, Scrooge is dusting off his own post-war recovery plan, titled "Voodoo Hoodoo", and he's updating it to cope with today's credit crisis.

Stay tuned for more news as it happens from Toontown. Thanks to Toonopedia.com for providing background information on all these characters.

The Work Week Ahead

As we're approaching the end of what is a nice four-day holiday break for some of us, I want to talk about getting back to work. This will also be my final guestblog on Boing-Boing, for now. [Blogging here has been a welcome distraction and a delight; thanks for allowing me to share this wonderful space with so many of you.]

B83B5AE3-FC54-4C10-BF1E-7E696D87CF94.jpg While traveling recently, I came upon "The 4-Hour Workweek" in paperback, prominently displayed in an airport bookstore. I started wondering how the book is selling today. (The hardback was released in 2007). Its subtitle says it all: "Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere and Join the New Rich." Author Timothy Ferriss, not to be confused with Timothy Ferris, the science writer, considers himself a "lifestyle designer." He reveals how to cut your time at work by 80% and spend more time doing things you really enjoy such as skiiing or scuba diving.

The book's title, "The 4-hour Workweek", suggests the least amount of work you could get away with. However, in this economy, I kept thinking the title might suggest the most work you're lucky to find. Ferris' pitch now seems out of tune with tough times, a bit like books that guide you to "Invest in Real Estate with No Money Down."

Ferriss promises to reveal the secrets of the "New Rich, a fast-growing subculture who have abandoned the "deferred-life plan" (aka "slave - save - retire") and create luxury lifestyles in the present." It seems like the book was written for NY investment bankers who don't enjoy what they do but they can't bring themselves to walk away from $500K salaries and seek a new lifestyle. Ferris notes that it's not the money of the millionaire that most people want; it's the freedom that it buys them. So what keeps us from being free and enjoying it? It's a valid question but I had to ask its opposite: what keeps us from enjoying work?

With the investment banking lifestyle fast disappearing, like a lot of good deals gone bad, this book might represent the apex of the boomer fantasy -- the self-absorbed vision of abundance and personal prosperity, and its pre-occupation with retiring early and leaving the work world behind.

Ferris does have good things to say, but times have changed. Most of his advice applies if you don't like what you do for a living. Ferris says that most people see their "job description as self-description". We get trapped answering the question "what do you do?" Yes, that happens but it's what you do, not what you say that defines you, and that's why work is important. Work is where you can do a lot of things that you can't do on your own. Work is where you can do something that matters, not just to you, but to others. We don't have the luxury of ignoring the problems that face us and the people around us. (The economy, education, health care, climate change, etcetera, etcetera).

Ferris writes that "the perfect job is one that takes the least time." I beg to differ. I love what I do because it demands more and more of me. So, the perfect job is one that requires the most of you -- more of your talent, more of your time and more of your will to make something happen. It challenges you to grow and learn more about yourself, often through the people you work with. I realize not everyone has a job they love and nowadays, a lot of people are happy just to have a job, even if they don't love it. Nonetheless, I feel fortunate not only to have a good job but to be in a position to make a difference in other people's lives. I want more hours, not fewer.

I like poet Frank Bidart's words in "Advice to the Players."

“The greatest luxury is to live a life in which the work that one does to earn a living, and what one has the appetite to make, coincide - by a kind of grace are the same, one.”
Here's to a full workweek ahead, not merely four hours but forty plus.

Trains on the Brain

The holiday season brings back memories of toy trains running under the Christmas tree. My father built a six-foot-long platform for an American Flyer train set that was mine and went under the tree. My younger brother had a square platform for an HO-scale Lionel train and it sat off to the side. Each holiday season, we'd get these train-boards down and set up the track, fitting the sections together to create the oval. We'd unwrap the plastic pieces that made up the model village, and place the styrofoam train tunnel carefully around a bend. Finally, we'd wire the transformer to the track and get the train running along. Of course, we'd crank up the power and see how fast the train would go without it jumping off the tracks. It's a time when you're glad to have younger siblings distributed around the track ready to put the cars back on track. Trains were something to enjoy through the holidays and we'd complain not only that the holiday ended but that it was time to put these trains away.

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when I was young growing up in LA, my favorite place to eat was a diner that had sawdust on the floor. What I remember most is that the diner had a train that ran along the u-shaped counter and made a loop back into the kitchen. Sitting at the counter, I wrote down my order and clipped the piece of paper to a boxcar and off it went to the kitchen. Soon, the train returned and stopped in front of me with my plate sitting on top of a flatbed car.

When my own son was young, we set up some trains at Christmas and enjoyed them. I don't know if they occupy the same place in his brain as they do in mine. Video games have meant more to him and honestly, race-car sets were much more fun. Nonetheless, coming upon Christmas again, I want to build a train board and get a train set. I've been looking at what's new in trains, and I see digital command systems. It's a little hard to figure it out. I'm curious how trains and computers (microcontrollers, even) might play together today.

Recently, I was re-reading Steven Levy's book, Hackers, and it begins by telling the story of the MIT Model Railroad Club. There were two groups in the student club -- one that worked on the detailed layouts and the other that worked on the switching. It was the latter that saw the possibilities for using computers to control the trains. It was this group that first defined the hacker ethic and what Levy called the "hands-on" imperative. If you couldn't get your hands on something and take it apart, you could not understand how it works and learn to use it. In those days, computer manufacturers wouldn't have thought that a model train set was an appropriate application for computers, nor could they have imagined that the future of technology would be influenced so much by hackers.

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Over the weekend, I visited the Golden State Model Railway Museum in Point Richmond, California. The trains weren't running on the day I visited but I did get to see the different layouts, simulating different California scenes. The museum is a little sleepy, with old men working on the tracks. Frankly, what I imagine going on there is more interesting than what is actually going on. I want more interactivity than what's possible with the large-scale train layouts. I also recall over the years visiting men who had elaborate train yards in their garages. The layouts are meticulous and each one must have taken years to build. I don't necessarily want to the be that kind of person.

Afterwards my wife and I went on a beautiful walk in the Miller-Knox Regional Park across the street from the museum. It's the site of the Ferry Point Terminal, where, in the days before there were bridges over the Bay, trains arrived at this pier. Passengers and cargo were unloaded on to ferries and transported across the bay. Today, Ferry Point is a makeshift fishing pier but the shadowy hulk of train tracks and a rusty crane remain in place.

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Why Homebrew is Better

Every professional performer always does the same thing at exactly the same moment in every show they do. What I like are things that are different every time. That's why I like amateurs.

-- Andy Warhol

DSC_0074.jpg What Andy Warhol said about professionals vs. amateurs is true not just in theatre, but in lots of DIY pursuits such as brewing your own beer. Homebrew is better because each time it's different.

The beer that you buy is made by pros with the goal of replicating the same recipe each time; the same ingredients, the same process, the same consistent result. If you make your own beer, you can forget the same-old, same-old. In fact, it's rather hard to brew the same exact thing each time following home-made processes. As an amateur, you get to enjoy these small but noticeable differences. Homebrew has its own design goals, mainly exploring lots of variations that allow you to see how different beers can be. For instance, we've used fresh hops that I've grown when they're in season; we can dry the hops for use later in the year. We'll also buy hops from the brewing supply store.

I've got a setup for all-grain brewing at home and it takes about six hours to get a batch ready for fermentation. In the photo below, you can see the underlying IPA recipe and my notes outlining the steps. The notes help me structure the process and remember to do everything I need to do. I also use the notes to record times and other measurements.

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The photo at right is next-to-last step, siphoning the cooled-down brew into a 7-gallon glass carboy. We'll add yeast and the fermentation will start. It takes several days for the sugars to be converted into alcohol. I like to check on the batch and see this vigorous activity up-close. DSC_0087.jpg

Brewing is fun to do with a group of people. The brew room, like a workshop, becomes a hangout and you get to talking while you're doing something. My daughter's fiance, Ryan, is learning to brew along with me. Ryan understands much more of the science behind brewing. We made a tasty Pumpkin Ale for Thanksgiving. Yesterday, we started a batch of light-colored German-style beer, which we'll eventually bottle for holiday presents.

More serious home-brewers try to perfect a recipe and repeat it each time, especially those who enter competitions. But not everyone needs to have that goal. To cite a phrase made popular by Perl programmers, there's more than one way to do it. That's what makes homebrew so interesting.

The Gonad Gourmet

71A62BB3-7481-439F-9D73-1D89F2453FC1.jpg With the Thanksgiving turkey behind us, here's something else you don't eat regularly: meaty balls. Check out The Testicle Cookbook: Cooking with Balls by Serbian chef, Ljubomir Erovic. This multimedia cookbook tells you how to peel and slice animal testicles to make such wonders as Testicle Pizza - just add your own toppings!

Wouldn't you know *it* tastes like chicken. But *it* works like Viagra!

Ever since I was a little boy I listened to the elderly talking about testicles, when well prepared and cooked, can stimulate sexual activities. It seemed funny and stupid to me then, until as a grown up man I tasted delicious goulash at a party sometime at the end of the ‘80s. I was told that it was a rabbit goulash. I couldn’t sleep that very night because I became incredibly aroused and felt a real ``charge of positive energy`` that I had to use somehow. I had never experienced anything like that before.

The next day, after the wild night, I found out from a friend that the dish we ate was testicle goulash. I suddenly realized that it could be a great way to help the sexually troubled ones and through the cooking contests discover the strongest aphrodisiac to conquer the world. The way to better sexual life through food and not drugs is the idea that keeps running through my mind.

If I had to choose one recipe from my book and recommend it to someone who's eating testicle meat for the first time it would have to be Erovic Style Goulash with Stallion or Bulls Testicles. This is because Stallion and Bulls testicles are the tastiest, and the combination of flavours works best with the testicle meat. It also happens to be my favourite recipe, which I created myself!

Like every other meat, testicles taste differently depending on which animal they come from. But in general it is quite similar to other white meats, and once it is cooked a lot of people think it is actually chicken!

From Erovic's introduction to the Ball Cup, the Testicle Cooking Championship.

Gentlemen, don't be squeamish, fire up the barbie and invite the neighbors over. See what kind of positive energy you can cook up at home.

Large Candy Cane Used To Beat Threatening Neighbor

In what may be the only appropriate use for a Christmas lawn decoration, a Sacramento man grabbed a large candy-cane on his lawn and used it to beat a drunken knife-wielding neighbor who was threatening his Thanksgiving guests. He and his red-and-white weapon were able to hold the man until police arrived. Good thing he put those decorations out early. While it sounds like it came from the Onion, the story is in today's Sacramento Bee.

The attacker's name is Donald Kercell, a 49-year old. I searched for his name and found this SacBee story from 2007, and archived in a library service.

Kercell is a 48-year-old resident of Rio Linda. In his youth, he discovered two things. One was that he had a talent for working with concrete. The other was methamphetamine.

The former, coupled with an impressive work ethic, kept Kercell gainfully employed much of the time. The latter put him in prison.

Douglas Repetto's Squirrel Cages

DSC02022.jpg Earlier in the fall, I had the opportunity to visit Douglas Repetto in his office at Columbia University in New York. The founder of Dorkbot and organizer of ArtBots, Doug is an artist and maker and he writes the "Art Work" column for Make magazine. When I visited Doug, he was working on a piece about Squirrel Cages. These cages are quite beautiful constructions, made out of wood with the assistance of a laser cutter.

At the time, I wasn't familiar with the term "squirrel caging", which means to turn things over in your mind without end. One writer describes squirrel caging as the "act of rumination on negative thoughts." Whether they are good or bad thoughts, we all have had the experience of not being able to stop thinking about SOMETHING.


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Click on the above photo picture to go to a short movie of the squirrel cages in action.

The completed work, "Distributed Squirrel Cage for Parallel Processing" was later exhibited at the Main Street Museum in White River Junction, Vermont. Doug explains:

Humans are invited to write obsessive thoughts on scraps of paper, deposit them in squirrel cages, and turn the crank, thus offloading the actual work of obsessing to the mechanism. This cutting-edge apparatus applies the latest techniques in distributed, massively parallel processing to the age-old problem of broken human minds.

Maybe Doug could set up a Squirrel Cage installation somewhere down on Wall Street.

Obama's Voices

DFF2EB92-779F-43C4-9567-E1C48E25CCEB.jpgI've been listening to the audiobook, Dreams from My Father by Barack Obama, which has the additional benefit of being read by the author. Obama's baritone has become a familiar voice in my head. What might surprise some people, beyond Obama's ability as a writer and storyteller, is that each of his characters becomes a distinct voice that he brings alive, not just in his writing but even more so in this audiobook. They come alive for us because they are so alive to him.

Each person's unique voice -- from the lyrical African-English of his father or half-sister Auma, from his independent-minded and concerned mother to the voice of the South-side of Chicago's preachers, political organizers and young black men on the street, to his Kansas-bred grandparents and his Indonesian stepfather -- these are people that Obama carries with him. These aren't stock characters like Joe-the-plumber or Joe-Six-Pack. They aren't the subjects of morality tales like the historical characters in Kennedy's "Profiles in Courage." They are complex characters with hardships and conflicts, plagued by self-doubt and inspired by high ideals. They cuss and they cry.

I am so grateful that our democracy has elected a leader who can write like this, think and feel so deeply, with great subtlety and sympathy, and who will bring with him to the White House such a new assortment of interesting people -- not in his Cabinet but in his head.

Toddlepuff Game

Ilan Schifter, a recent graduate of NYU's ITP, came up with a inflatable game-space for toddlers called ToddlePuff. Here's how Ilan describes it:
ToddlePuff is an inflated interface that incorporates 16 proximity sensors and acts as a game controller for toddlers. It surrounds the child and encourages full body motion. It blocks the toddler's eye sight to create an immersive experience and is wider than a toddler's arm span to encourage movement. An animated children's story is displayed on a screen and told through the speakers. Images of characters from the story are placed on different locations inside the interface. When a character blinks on the screen, the child needs to find the matching image on the surrounding inflated walls and touch it to resume the story. The interaction inside ToddlePuff develops orientation, coordination and speed.

ToddlePuff sketch.jpg Here's a link to a video of two young sisters playing ToddlePuff. Even without the inflatable environment, kids may enjoy the "Flat for Rent" story, available, ToddlePuff.com.

Freakin' Friday's Silver Lining

Mark posted on Boing-Boing last year this article on Fake News that I wrote, which examined the retail numbers cited by the National Retail Federation about sales over Thanksgiving, and so-called Black Friday. I made the point that this news is fake news, coming from a press release generated by a retail trade organization and then spoon-fed to us by uncritical reporters. While the stories credit the source, the headlines give the impression that the retail industry wants, using numbers they provide. (Reporters like a story with specific numbers, no matter how contrived they are. Independent backup for the numbers is never provided.) There's every reason for NRF to present numbers that favor their view that consumers will be buying more. It's like asking the fox to count the eggs in the hen house and report on the health of the chickens.

This is the post-Thanksgiving weekend story last year, written almost whole-cloth from the NRF press release.

Blockbuster Black Friday Weekend Sees Sales Near $28 Billion
145 Million Shoppers Hit Stores and Internet, Up From 133 Million in '04

Washington, DC, November 27, 2005--The ceremonial kickoff to the holiday season began with a great deal of fanfare as 145 million shoppers flooded stores and the Internet hunting for popular electronics, clothing, and books. An NRF survey conducted by BIGresearch found that the average shopper spent $302.81 this weekend, bringing total weekend spending to $27.8 billion, an incredible 21.9 percent increase over last year's $22.8 billion.

A year later, the retail outlook is a little different with a little less fanfare. I wondered what the NRF website was saying in advance of Black Friday. Do they still want you to believe more people are going to come out and buy? The answer is "yes, but." Instead of "more than last year," the idea is "more than you think."

Here's the pre-Thanksgiving press release, which prepares us for a "big surprise", saying the Black Friday will have a silver lining.

Preliminary Black Friday Survey Suggests Lower Gas Prices, Pent-Up Demand Offer Silver Lining for Weekend Shopping

Washington, November 25, 2008 – As retailers prepare to open their doors at the crack of dawn this Friday, many could be in for a welcome surprise. According to a preliminary Black Friday shopping survey conducted by BIGresearch for the National Retail Federation, up to 128 million people will shop this Friday, Saturday or Sunday. According to the survey, 49 million people will definitely hit the stores while another 79 million are waiting to see the weekend deals before making any decisions. This number is down slightly from the 135 million people who said they would or may shop over Black Friday weekend last year.

I went to Google News, typed in "Black Friday Silver Lining" and a CNNMoney story popped up. A cut-and-paste specialist, I mean, reporter, Julianne Pepitone made this story for CNN:

Black Friday retailers hope for silver lining

NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- Black Friday shopping is expected to decline slightly, but pent-up demand and lower gas prices may provide a small silver lining for the suffering retail industry, according to a survey released Tuesday.

Up to 128 million people said they will shop on the Friday, Saturday, or Sunday after Thanksgiving, down from 135 million the previous year, according to a survey by National Retail Federation (NRF).

Seriously, CNN should just cite NRF as the author of the story.

Now, look at last year's story which cited 145 million shoppers. This year the number for last year is down to 135 million, which means they overestimated last year by ten million or this revised number allowed them to say that numbers would be "down slightly" when comparing it their equally fictional 128 million for this year.

Here's my favorite part of the fairly literal PR-to-news translation:

In fact, a full 49 million people said they would "definitely" head to stores, while 79 million said they would decide after seeing the weekend deals.
Imagine asking that many "full" people, "in fact", people full from Thanksgiving, saying "definitely." If this were an election story, and you had this kind of poll data, you wouldn't write that "up to 128 million" had made up their mind to vote. You'd write that two-thirds were undecided.

"A fruitfull and liberall harvest"

Pilgrim's blog -- 1623.

[I may not here omite how, notwithstand all their great paines and industrie, and the great hops of a large cropp, the Lord seemed to blast, and take away the same, and to threaten further and more sore famine unto them, by a great drought which continued from the 3. weeke in May, till about the midle of July, without any raine, and with great heat (for the most parte), insomuch as the come begane to wither away, though it was set with fishe, the moysture wherof helped it much. Yet at length it begane to languish sore, and some of the drier grounds were partched like withered hay, part wherof was never recovered. Upon which they sett a parte a solemne day of humilliation, to seek the Lord by humble and fervente prayer, in this great distrese. And he was pleased to give them a gracious and speedy answer, both to thier owne and the Indeans admiration, that lived amongest them. For all the morning, and greatest part of the day, it was clear weather and very hotte, and not a cloud or any signe of raine I to be seen, yet toward evening it begane to overcast, and shortly after to raine, with shuch sweete and gentle showers, as gave them cause of rejoyceing, and blesing God. It came, without either wind, or thunder, or any violence, and by degreese in that abundance, as that the earth was thorowly wete and soked therwith. Which did so apparently revive and quicken the decayed come and other fruits, as was wonderfull to see, and made the Indeans astonished to behold; and afterwards the Lord sent them shuch seasonable showers, with enterchange of faire warme weather, as, through his blessing, caused a fruitfull and liberall harvest, to their no small comforte and rejoycing. For which mercie (in time conveniente) they also sett aparte a day of thanksgiveing. This being overslipt in its place, I thought meet here to inserte the same.]
Of Plymouth Plantation by William Bradford.

May your Thanksgiving bring "no small comforte and rejoycing."

The Name of the Game

Today I was reminded of the TV series "The Name of the Game", which ran from 1968 to 1971. A bit unconventional for its time, the show was smart, cool, different. It aspired to be more like a movie, pre-HBO, than a regular TV series. Did I really have a man-crush on Tony Franciosa as Jeff Dillon and a more conventional crush on Susan St. James as Peggy Maxwell?

"The Name of the Game" had three different main characters who were featured in rotation -- Franciosa, Robert Stack and Gene Barry. The show was about a large magazine company, which published People magazine way before People existed. Imagine publishing being the subject of a ninety-minute drama. Somehow, "The Name of the Game" could have sparked the idea that publishing was an exciting way of life. (It's a good life, actually.)

I found this clip on YouTube but I wish I could find a whole episode to watch and see if it matches up to memory. I do like the music in this opening sequence.


Pick A Pomegranate

Nearly everyone knows the pomegranate, although it's probably more common on the West Coast. Its unusually tangy seeds seem designed for mindless, time-passing enjoyment. Pick up a pomegranate and pick out seeds all day long.

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Here's a young, budding pomegranate in my garden on a dewy morning. An unseen spider has been playing "connect-the-dots" with the fruit.

About a month later, it's ready to tear apart and eat. The seeds are delicious in salads and they're a good match with fuyu persimmons.

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"The birthplace of the pomegranate was here in the Kopet Dag Mountains of Central Asia. And here is one of the last places on earth where wild pomegranates grow.” Barbara Baer heard Russian botanist, Dr. Gregory Levin, speak those words on a BBC broadcast in 2001. Barbara eventually tracked down Levin in Turkmenistan and got him to write a book she published called "Pomengranate Roads."

While we mostly find the "Wonderful" variety of pomegranate in stores and in nurseries but Levin had identified 1,117 different varieties -- with yellow, purple, even black seeds -- from twenty-seven countries on four continents. His story is one of dedication and persistence in the face of hardship -- to spend one's professional life collecting and studying with great seriousness this happy fruit.

The Mighty Quince

Quince is an oddly shaped fruit with a subtle, distinct fragrance. It's not something to eat like a pear but it looks like a knobby version of one. Quince needs to be prepared as a paste or jelly, utilizing all its natural pectin, but then quince achieves its mighty satisfying status in flavor and rose-red color. Quince comes from the Caucasus region, near Iran and Georgia, just like the pomegranate, which I'll cover later today.

I have a medium-sized quince tree, which is very productive. For a while, I didn't know what to do with quince until last year when I began making quince paste. The Spanish call it dulce de membrillo and feature it with manchego cheese.

As quince ripens, the skin turns from green to yellow. Quince have a grey-white fuzz, so the first thing is to give the quince a good scrubbing. Then, place the 4-5 quince in the oven to bake until they're cooked through. Once they've cooled, peel them and remove the seeds. This is somewhat tedious and messy. (Some recipes call for boiling the quince.)

Next, blend the quince in a food processor until the pulp is smooth. Remove to a saucepan, measuring equal amounts of sugar and quince puree. Cook thoroughly, a couple of hours or more. Slowly, the color of the quince mixture will begin to darken.

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My wife, Nancy, put some of the liquid quince at this stage over ice cream and she thought it tasted like butterscotch. She decided to save some in a jar for future desserts.

After stovetop cooking, scoop the quince mixture into a baking dish lined with parchment paper. Warm the oven and put the dish in it. Leave it overnight or longer until it begins to turn rose-red. The idea is to let the quince dry out and harden.

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Next, with a spatula, try to separate and remove squares of the mixture on to wax paper. The bottom side of the mixture will still be soft but I find that it continues to dry later on. Fold the wax paper to cover the quince paste and refrigerate. It keeps for months and I think it gets better over time. If you want to give some as a holiday gift, place the packet in a plastic bag.

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To serve, scrape the paste away from the wax paper and place in a shallow bowl. Surround it with cheese and crackers and fresh fruit for a wonderful appetizer or snack. You won't want to move to the main course.

Why CNN Struggles to Cover The Economic Panic

The current economic collapse is a difficult story for TV. It's a peculiar period in between an election and an inauguration. This most important story, this great-or-not-so great depression, is also the hardest for CNN to tell. I have more than enough reasons why in this late-night rant.

1) It's not a hurricane so Anderson Cooper of CNN is unable to position himself in the middle of the storm for optimal drama. In other words, TV anchors can't get wet and windblown, while viewers worry about their safety. The state of the economy is a disaster but not a natural disaster. Nobody's leaving the studio for this one. There's no place to go.

2) It's like a war and we keep losing ground each day. In the place of casualties, we have falling stock indices but it's hard to show the real damage. There's only so much you can do with oversized charts to tell a story. The war on terrorism featured a real enemy. We've just never been able to find them, no matter who goes after them. (Maybe it's not so different.) Campbell Brown ("No Bull, No Bias") should say that what the capitalism's finest did to themselves and to us was worse than any terrorist could have imagined.

3) Few CEOs, fewer economists, and almost no one in the financial industry, want to step forward and say with conviction what will happen. A year ago we couldn't get them to stop telling us what great things to expect in the next quarter. Not now. They don't know what's coming and they aren't willing to say even that much. They are MIA. Insider information is at an all-time low.

Memo to all American CEOs: don't presume in ten years' time to write business books about your leadership skills; maybe there's a gripping survival story to be told about how you held on to your job.

We want them to face the music. Even the Watergate hearings, which had a large cast of characters, were compelling to watch day after day.

4) There is not a President at the center. Bush is just not there. Like us, he's watching TV to find out what to think. Reporting from the White House doesn't have any relevance today. Moreover, the satisfaction in blaming Bush for everything is diminishing.

In addition, with the election over, reporters can't simply ask the candidates to react to the day's bad news. It seldom produced much insight anyway but it filled time. Now Obama is filling time, and he keeps repeating that "there's only one President" but there's really not a President. There's a leadership vacuum waiting to be filled by Obama. (BTW, this story is much bigger and more important than Obama's election and I think he understands that.) Bottom line is we're waiting for a central figure to emerge.

5) Real experts are hard to find, especially ones with big hair. So over-present talking heads such as Suze Orman ramble on and on in front of Larry King and others. Here's an incredible ramble from Suze Orman on CNN:

People feel they need medication because they are panicking. It’s as if the economy right now is in the I.C.U. unit of a hospital. We are in intensive care and they are throwing everything type of medication at us to cure what is going on. They are panicking because why? Nothing is working. They tried this, it didn’t work. They tried that medication, it didn’t work. They are running out of prescriptions to give it. We are going to be in the I.C.U. unit for a while. Eventually, I don’t know when that will be, six months, a year, year and a half, we will get out, we’ll be in the hospital then. We’ll stay in the hospital for about a year or two. After another year or two we will end up in rehab and then we’ll be okay. This is a long stretch. People have to stop panicking.
CNN link
Makes me think of Amy Winehouse singing "They try to make me go to rehab, I say no, no, no." Rehab is taking place over on CNBC.

6) Where are the winning and losing teams? We have learned more about Al Queda cells and Saddam Hussein's Elite Guards than about the people in power behind CITI, Goldman Sachs, Lehmann Brothers, AIG, etc. We know more about the New York Jets than we do about CITI Bank. Are the slow-moving Detroit Manufacturers competing head-to-head against the fast-talking Wall Street Financiers? Please tell us more about these teams as we're entrusting them with such large amounts of public money. Maybe we need to start thinking that, as with football, we care because we're betting on teams to win. We have our money at stake.

7) I can almost hear producers wondering each night if there isn't a better story to lead with. "Isn't there a story we can do on Sarah Palin? Like her or hate her, people can't get enough of her." At least that appears to be the thinking behind her getting the most air-time in the week following the election. Would you rather hear about Sarah Palin pardoning a turkey or David Gergen saying no one knows what to make of the economic mess? At least, the Palin piece will have something interesting going on in the foreground and the background.

8) "Why can't this be happening to Russia or China? If it was only happening there, and not here, we would know how to cover it." CNN would send Christiane Amanpour there. "Live from...". We don't have visuals like people knocking down walls, rushing into the streets or standing in lines. The Fall of the Berlin Wall is the Fall of Communism, the fall of Saddam's statue -- now these are stories of new freedoms. In America today, we have a big fall without a distinctive symbol, without a video loop, without an exotic locale.

Also, how do you explain that China is providing the bail for the bailout? As David Gergen said tonight on CNN, "China's become our banker." Even harder to tell that kind of "freedom" story.

9) The problems aren't going away and there's no timeline. So, where's the equivalent of "America Held Hostage: Day XN"? Nightline evolved from a special report to become a nightly hard-news program to follow the ongoing story of Iran holding American hostages during the Carter Administration. Why isn't this economic story played front-and-center in the same way? Isn't there a TV journalist saying "Holy Christ, this is the biggest story of my career and I'm going to bring it to you every night"? Ted Koppel, Edward R. Murrow, where are you?

Here's my list of names for a new Nightline-like special series on the economy:

  • America's Panic Attack
  • The Joke's on US
  • Invisible Hand-Wringing
  • Capitalism on the Ledge
  • The Economy on the Couch
  • Future Shock & Awe
  • Hitting the Wall And Falling on the Street.
  • America Sucks Right Now
  • US: Out of Order

10) Lastly, the TV media is no better off than we are at understanding this complex crisis. On a gut level, viewers know what the story is, that it's about them, their future and their children's future. They have specific questions that are difficult to answer (see the Suze Orman blog on CNN where it is promised that she'll answer these many, many questions; she doesn't, of course.) and they have general worries (should I panic?) that are hard to resolve. While we try to absorb as much information as possible, we keep having the same conversation over and over:
Q. What's going on?
A. I don't know. It's hard to tell.

Locusts Like It Cool

According to an article in New Scientist, global climate warming may actually suppress plagues of locusts. One less thing to worry about, eh?
Zhibin Zhang of the Chinese Academy of Sciences and colleagues have trawled through 1000 years of historical records documenting locust swarms and compared it with 1000 years of temperature, drought and flood data estimates. 40EF982D-A323-4652-AD40-4DE7B07B48A9.jpg
image from wikipedia.

They found that the Oriental migratory locust (Locusta migratoria manilensis), which has been named as one of the most damaging agricultural pests in Chinese history, operates on a climate-driven cycle. Every 160 to 170 years, the swarms get bigger then subside again.

Counterintuitively, the timing of the largest swarms coincides with cooler periods.

"The popular view is that global warming may accelerate natural and biological disasters like drought and flood events, and outbreaks of pests, as predicted by the IPCC," says Zhang. "Our results suggest that warming reduced climatic extremes and locust plagues in ancient China."

That doesn't mean swarms won't happen. (Add this back to the list of things to worry about.) This month in Australia, drought followed by heavy rains in New South Wales has brought enormous swarms of locusts. One swarm is six kilometres long and 170 meters wide.

Here's a BBC video of the swarms. It's kind of like watching Hitchcock's "The Birds".

Permission for Persimmons, please

Please allow me to sing the praises of persimmons. Bright orange persimmons are about the last fruit to ripen in the fall. There are two main types of persimmons, and I have both in my yard: fuyu and hachiya. Persimmons come from China originally but the common varieties that we find in California are from Japan. The fuyu persimmon is round, more like an apple, while the hachiya is distinctively acorn-shaped. Fuyu are ripe now, while the hachiya ripen later. [I've changed Fuya to Fuyu.]

Fuyu

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The best thing about the fuyu is that it can be sliced and eaten like an apple or not-quite-ripe pear. You don't need to peel fuyus. My favorite use for fuyus is sliced or diced in salads. Last Thanksgiving, I created a relish with diced fuyu persimmons and pomegranate seeds mixed together.

Hachiya

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The hachiya persimmon is more familiar to people, and the trees are also more commonly planted. Hachiya need to be very ripe before using them. [I have not eaten one but other report they are good eating when soft.] Putting them in a bag helps to force ripening.

Hachiya persimmons are very astringent - your mouth will be unusable after taking a bite. Just don't eat them off the tree, like a fuya. Typically, this kind of persimmon is turned into pulp and then used to make a sweet bread or a pudding. I saw a recipe for a persimmon sorbet, which I'll have to try, maybe for the Christmas holidays.

In short, you can't have enough fuyus but you'll easily have too many hachiyas.

Ah, Horseradish!

In anticipation of the great food holiday of Thanksgiving, I'm going to post several food-related items. I'm not necessarily suggesting these items for a traditional Thanksgiving dinner but they all come from a late Autumn harvest. We'll start with the humble but hot horseradish root.

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The Horseradish Plant
Last spring I planted horseradish in the garden. I planted a section of root and its green leaves, tightly bunched, grew over summer. With colder weather, the leaves died off and the root can be harvested. This past weekend, I dug out a small piece and set out to make my own prepared or preserved horseradish.


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The Peeled Root
You can see the root at the top of the photo. First, I cleaned and peeled the root. It is a lot like a cross between carrot and parsnip. Then I diced it. Wondering how it tasted raw, I chewed a small piece of the root. It was like a flash of white lightning. Very sharp, coming on in a sudden burst, a bit like wasabi but different. I spit it out, and then immediately regretted doing so. It's cool-hot like a radish, but it really is a horse of a radish.

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The Prepared Horseradish
Next I put the diced horseradish root in a food processor, added cider vinegar, and gave it a whirl. That's all it took. As you can see from the photo, the result is milky white.

Next time, I will try to grate the horseradish instead of dicing it. The chunks of the horseradish from the food processor were a bit too coarse.

Now, this prepared horseradish can be tasted as is, and it is tasty. I could also add the horseradish to ketchup with some lemon juice for shrimp. Honestly I could skip the shrimp altogether and just lap up the horseradish sauce. It's a nice ingredient to add to salad dressings, especially Asian style dressings. Of course, it's an ingredient in Bloody Mary mix. My favorite horseradish application, though, is on a good piece of beef, like prime rib. I don't know how it would mix with turkey but I might just try it. Let me know if you have any ideas.

According to horseradish.org, Dagwood Bumstead enjoyed horseradish regularly in the popular comic strip, "Blondie," created originally by Chic Young in 1930.

Magic Lantern Castle Museum

Many collectors are makers, restoring the items they collect to working condition. Jack Judson created his own private museum, the Magic Lantern Castle Museum in San Antonio, TX. The magic lantern is the first projection technology, directing a light source through a lens to project images, which were initially painted on glass slides. Building this extensive collection of magic lanterns became Jack's obsession after he retired.

I interviewed Jack for Make:16 and I took the photo of him, below, in his workshop where he repairs magic lanterns and keeps them working. My excerpt below contains some parts of the conversation that didn't make it into the article.

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DD: There's a wonderful collection here, and it's a beautiful thing. You started in 1986 after you retired. What was the first thing that you bought?

JJ: I worked for a large, international organization. I was visiting our London office, and I asked the the manager of the office, "What's to do here in London?" I hadn't been there before. He said, "Well, go to a street market. We have them all the time here." I went to one. I bought what was purported to be a magic lantern, and I brought it back -- when airlines would let you bring things back in your luggage. After doing a lot of research, I found out what I bought was not a magic lantern but a lantern enlarger. That was my first comeuppance.

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DD: The museum has a collection of magic lanterns made as toys (above).

JJ: There was a huge industry. Everything that Daddy has, the kid gets too. While it’s never quite as much as Daddy's, still it's pretty cool. Most toys were made in Nuremburg, Germany. There were at least five makers that we know of there, and they made hundreds-of-thousands of various sizes and shapes.

DD: Mostly running off small oil lamps?

JJ: Yes. They didn't really project very well, but the kid in his little room could set one up, and project three of four feet onto a wall, and see what was not a very good image from a decal that had been stuck onto a piece of glass. They were lithograph-printed images. They were a little fuzzy, probably.

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DD: From being a toy or a plaything, the magic lantern comes up to be part of the early film industry starting in the late 1800s. Then we see Edison’s home kinetoscope.

JJ: You had the home kinetoscope, and, of course, then the projecting kinetoscope, which was the one that was used by more professional people. You could project films but you could not buy them; you had to rent them. Netflix of the day, I guess you might say. There's nothing new.

DD: Right.

JJ: You could buy, for 50 cents apiece, the slides that had little, tiny images that you could project -- pictures in France, or England, or the holy land.

DD: Those early films, though, were not very long were they?

JJ: No, they were very, very short. The earliest ones were 50 feet, which is basically the length of the table that George Eastman could lay out the film -- it was liquid -- and let it solidify, and then roll-cut strips that were 35 millimeter long, and so at 16-frames per second, it doesn't last very long. At some point, I recall in an autobiography where this old man talked to Edison about how to show these films, and he said, "Well, just run them through three times so that they get their money's worth." There was no story. They had no message -- no nothing. They were just images of people moving, and, in fact, they were not moving. They were really sequential stills.

The Right to Bear Pocket Knives

The following is a special message from American Security Theatre (AST), a group that seeks a dramatic reversal of Transportation Security Administration (TSA) policies.

37DD5A18-6368-49A2-90D5-87391BB3E8B4.jpgWe hereby petition the incoming Obama administration for a modest change, an immediate change that would signal a new direction for air travelers, a new freedom for frequent fliers. Here it is: recognize the need of Americans in the friendly skies to bear tools that fit in their pocket, by which we mean the ever-so useful pocket knife, also known by its brand names, the Swiss Army Knife and the Leatherman Multi-tool.

Ever since 9/11, pocket knives and their owners have been separated at airport security checkpoints everywhere, never to be reunited. According to the TSA, knives are prohibited, except "for plastic or round bladed butter knives." Who carries a butter knife in his or her pocket or purse? The TSA's unhelpful "Summer Travel Tips" says: "Pocket knives, self-defense sprays and other potential weapons are also prohibited." What a huge misunderstanding! Pocket knives are tools. If you consider them to be weapons, certainly they are Weapons of minimal Destruction (WmD).

00ACDAA5-494C-4DD7-A1AA-0E347878D32D.jpg Talk about sweating the small stuff, missing the forest for the trees, looking for love in all the wrong places. If pocket knifes are prohibited, why are nail clippers and corkscrews allowed? Why not allow an all-in-one pocket knife, which best prepares a person for any emergency? Especially, what with emergencies on the rise!

We can bring screwdrivers, wrenches and pliers under seven inches on planes but not 3-inch pocket knives. Hammers and saws are not allowed, nor are cattle prods but none of these fit in your pocket. We don't seek permission to bring an entire toolchest but we need to go places with all the tools that a good pocket knife provides. Scissors and knitting needles were once confiscated but they are now permitted. The TSA could re-classify any of these humble items as potential weapons or as useful, personal tools.

DEA7241E-3D82-49CF-B069-DF892452054B.jpg So, on behalf of readers of Make magazine, I submit this petition with high hopes that the new administration will hear our plea. Many of us have been carrying Make's imposing Warranty Voider, a branded Leatherman Squirt, and we're losing them to the TSA. The prohibition seems absurd. We should be well-equipped when we travel.

On a recent trip, I had to buy safety razor blades and batteries, and back in my hotel room I found myself in a struggle with clamshell packaging that would not submit to fingernails and teeth. I regretted not having my pocket knife handy. No, I was mad that my pocket knife was unable to join me on my trip. Then, I had a flashback to when I went through airport security, where an elderly man was pulled aside by the TSA because attached to his keychain was a small pocket knife. Obviously, he had not reviewed the list of prohibited items. The poor man was upset at first; he did not understand that he had to remove the pocket knife from his keychain. This was hard enough for him to do but he couldn't believe that he also had to turn the pocket knife over to the TSA -- for keeps -- when he finished the task. He asked the TSA why they needed his pocket knife and the uninformed officer was unable to give him a satisfying answer. I thought to myself, pitifully, that I was glad I had not accidently brought along my pitiful pocket knife. In my hotel room, I felt bad that I had not responded with more empathy to my fellow travelers plight. Maybe I should spoken up then and there.

3F8D3C31-D7AF-499F-A35B-B1CA0070F7F0.jpg All I could think of was that another confiscated penknife was destined for Ebay, an abundance of utility without a home. How sad! You'd think the TSA would have the good sense to re-distribute the pocket knives to the truly needy.

The TSA prides itself on trapping innocent people. Here's a story found on the TSA site from April of this year.

On the morning of April 16, security officers in Wisconsin discovered a 4.5-inch knife hidden inside a Barbie doll box in a passenger's carry-on bag. When the passenger was questioned, he said that he forgot which Barbie doll box he put the knife in and thought the box with the knife was in his checked luggage.

The passenger surrendered the knife, but had to re=book on another flight.

Should we be proud of the TSA for exposing a Wisconsin man's Barbie doll fetish and making him "surrender" his knife? I mean, the guy's from Wisconsin and he's surrendering. President-elect Obama should be sensitive to the idea that Americans shouldn't be surrendering to other Americans. We are not our own enemy.

EBD2A252-C9CC-4771-B90E-C0C419CDF4FD.jpg It's too bad Inauguration Day doesn't come earlier so that we could get this change in place for the busy holiday travel season. There's also another item on the list of prohibited items that's going to bring huge disappointment for the holidays: would you believe, Santa, that the TSA won't allow Americans to travel with snow globes in their carry-ons?

Another point to be made, although not as sharp as the others, is that many people have successfully carried pocket knifes through security without detection. Most of the time it is unintentional but they are surprised to find that the TSA didn't notice. A lot of prohibited items are not caught. I hear people bragging that water bottles go through just fine in the pockets of cargo pants. I now know that I can forget pulling out my personal toiletries, even those over 3 oz., because they go through in my carry-on without detection. I've come to rely on it. The TSA doesn't seem to notice. It's only when you're honest and declare that -- oops -- you've discovered a pocket knife on your person or in your carry-on, only then do you lose it. That's not a way to keep people honest.

So, if this tiny change is too much to ask, if we haven't made the case that pocket knives are safe and essential everyday personal items, indeed tools just like combs and toothbrushes, or like cellphones, consider quietly crafting a compromise whereby the TSA agrees that when a pocket knife passes through, the uninformed officers intentionally ignore it. Let's apply a "don't tell, don't ask" policy. I won't tell a TSA officer that I have brought my pocket knife with me and an officer won't ask me if I have one.

The new president won't even have to make this policy public but he can let us know. President Obama can give us a "wink-wink" when he names the new head of the TSA and we'll know that old policy is on its way out with Michael Chertoff and Kip Hawley. The AST thanks you in advance.

Sparechange.gov

While we're waiting for the new economic stimulus plan to be unveiled on change.gov, or while we're waiting for it to kick-in, how about developing a backup plan at sparechange.gov?

Here's Tom Waits in a YouTube video singing the Depression-era "Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?", lyrics by Yip Harburg, music by Jay Gorney (1931). It's a little rougher than the traditionally smooth Bing Crosby version.


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They used to tell me, 
I was building a dream
With peace and glory ahead.
Why should I be standing in line
Just waiting for bread?
Once I built a railroad, 
I made it run
I made it run against time
Once i built a railroad, 
and now it's done
Brother, can you spare a dime? ...

Once in khaki suits,
Ah, gee we looked swell
Full of that yankee-doodle dee-dum!

Brother, can you spare a dime?

There are more and more people all around us needing our help.

Near The Burgess Shale

We stopped yesterday in the small town of Field, in Yoho National Park in British Columbia. It's the western side of the Continental Divide from where we were in Banff National Park. Here we are looking north from Field over the Kicking Horse River Valley.

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Field, which has a picturesque setting beneath Mount Stephen, below, was built for the construction of the railway and it looks like a model train village today. Railway workers began uncovering unusual fossils in the area. Charles Walcott came in 1908 to explore the trilobite bed near Mount Stephen. A year later, nearly 100 years ago, he discovered the Burgess Shale, which he named after nearby Mount Burgess. Walcott, head of the Smithsonian Institution, spent many years excavating the fossils and returning them to his museum.

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The Burgess Shale lies within Yoho National Park but you can only visit there in summer under the direction of licensed guides. We had a look-see in the information center and then headed to Calgary to fly home.

Years ago, I had read Stephen Jay Gould's Wonderful Life and the brief visit to Field made me want to find the book first thing upon returning home.

Gould writes that "the invertebrates of the Burgess Shale...are the world's most important animal fossils. Modern multicellular animals make their first uncontested appearance in the fossil record some 570 million years ago." These fossils represent a record of the Cambrian explosion and "they are precious because they preserve in exquisite detail...the soft anatomy of organisms."

Gould writes lyrically:

The animals of the Burgess Shale are holy objects -- in the unconventional sense that this word conveys in some cultures. We do not place them on pedestals and worship from afar. We climb mountains and dynamite hillsides to find them. We quarry them, split them, carve them, draw them, and dissect them, struggling to wrest their secrets. ... They are grubby little creatures of a sea floor 530 million years old, but we greet them with awe because they are the Old Ones, and they are trying to tell us something.
Since the book was first published in 1989, Gould's interpretation of the evolutionary significance of the Burgess Shale has come under some criticism. (You can read some of the criticism in Amazon's reviews of the book.) Also, other Cambrian fossil sites have been found in Greenland and China. However, you can't mistake Gould's true enthusiasm for the story of the Burgess Shale, and its breakthrough role in helping us understand the history of life on earth.

Michael Moore on Bailout of US Auto Makers

Michael Moore was a recent guest on Larry King talking about the auto bailout. Moore's terrific documentary, "Roger & Me," targeted the auto companies in 1989 while they closed plants and laid off workers. Moore tells Larry King that in the movie when the GM representative said that 30,000 people could be laid off in Flint, he thought it was a joke. Years later, it came true. Moore says he's conflicted, as many of us are, about what to do. He doesn't have any confidence in the leaders of this industry.

Moore doesn't want to see the loss of more jobs in the US auto industry. He also doesn't trust the current management teams that got them into this mess. Hard to argue against either position.

I don't know if I can go so far as Moore to believe that the government could do a better job running these companies. However, it's clear that this manufacturing capacity could be a great asset if applied to an overhaul of the US transportation system.


I liked Michael Moore as the bumbling everyman in Roger & Me and I've liked his movies less and less as they've become strident setups. I was happy to see Moore in this interview get back to something like his old self. It's somehow personal again.

Since this interview, the CEOs of the Big Three had a humbling day on Capitol Hill, unable to defend their use of separate corporate jets to bring them to the hearing and more importantly, unable to articulate what they would do with the money they're asking for. They've supposedly gone back to Detroit to work on a proposal and muster the courage to go back to Washington in December.

Alberta Meteor Sighting

Last night, there was a report of a meteor streaking across the Alberta sky and crashing somewhere in Western Canada in the early evening. Sadly I did not see it but some local TV coverage can be found on YouTube.


There's a Canadian scientific website for reporting meteor sightings and impacts but it's mum on last night's event.

Icefields Mystery Trails

BoingBoing readers may help me identify what made the trails in the photo below, taken from Icefields Parkway in Banff National Park. I took the photo from the road when I noticed what looked liked ski trails. Except I don't believe they are ski trails; they were in a remote area where it would not be safe to ski.

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The above picture is a blow-up from this photo, which might provide more context. I should also add that I'm not a skier nor a snowboarder.

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If Nobody Got Told

"The biggest fuck-up with killing people, if nobody, if nobody got told then nobody would've slipped information," he added.
I was reading this story of a Calgary murder trial in Toronto's Globe and Mail and I was surprised by the above quote. I'm not used to seeing "fuck-up" in a newspaper but then again I'm reading mostly American newspapers. Not only would the obscenity cause problems for American editors, but the grammar would give them another reason to reject the quote. It's a choice between decency and realism, and I liked the Globe and Mail's choice, which gives me greater insight into how this awful man thinks and acts.

I can't resist summarizing the crime story, which is tragic, but it sets up another astonishing quote from this 25-year-old murderer. He and his then 12-year-old girlfriend killed her family because they didn't want him seeing her. These cold-blooded killers fled but were caught, presumably because they told friends how to find them. On the way to a psychiatric evaluation, the man gave details of the murders, bragging to a fellow traveller who was an undercover cop. He was already thinking about what life would be like with his girlfriend after prison.

He ruminated about their plans once they get out to have a "gothic wedding," move to Germany, buy a castle and raise a couple of kids. He talked almost proudly about the notoriety the murders had given them. "Me and my old lady have become legends," he said.

Icefields Parkway in Banff National Park

Today, we travelled up the Icefields Parkway from Lake Louise. We didn't make it all the way to the Columbia Icefields but we saw lots of incredibly beautiful mountains and glaciers. I took this picture near Glacier Lake.

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The next photo, I believe, has a view of the Crowfoot Glacier.

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I've been reading How Old is that Mountain? by Chris Yorath. In answering the question in the book's title, Yorath uses a metaphor that will stay with me longer than most of the geological terms. He said it's like a new house built with hundred-year old timber. The rock was formed first long before the forces that "deformed" the rock and created the mountain. The sedimentary rock in the Banff National Park was formed about 610 million years ago but the mountains were created 90 to 60 million years. In addition, glaciation and erosion continue to change the mountains as well as carve the valleys between them.

I was disappointed not to get further north. (Ok, I'll admit that I didn't top off the gas tank before leaving Lake Louise and there were no services along the way, so I had to turn back fearing we might not have enough gas for the round trip.) I wanted to get to the Columbia Icefields and ideally all the way to Jasper. The sight I wanted to see was Mount Athabasca, which is described as the hydrographic apex of North America. That is, water from this mountain drains in three possible directions -- west to the Pacific, east to the Atlantic and north to Hudson. Yorath writes that it is the "one point on which a mountaineer can pollute all three oceans with a single act."

I will have to come back again. There's lots more to explore. I want to see the Canadian Rockies in other seasons but this glimpse of early winter is really wonderful.

Avalanche!

I heard the distant rumble and looked up from the trail. I quickly took this photo as fast as I could.

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It's a relatively small avalanche but I'd never seen one before. They are the stuff of legend, especially in the minds of those who don't live in snow country. I can't place a particular TV drama from the sixties but I know that where I first heard the shout "Avalanche!".

We were out about two hours on a trail leading from Lake Louise towards the Victoria glacier. It was very cold but sunny. We had been told to expect avalanches with the sun warming up the ledges. The trail leads to the Plain of Six Glaciers. The avalanche we saw was snow falling off the top of the Lefroy Glacier.

Everywhere you see evidence of avalanches past such as this one.

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Illustrating Alan Kay's Role in Portable Computing

It's usual practice for a magazine to run an excerpt of a book written by one of its editors. However, BusinessWeek went one step further and converted an excerpt from senior editor Steve Hamm's new book into a comic or manga. His book, The Race for Perfect: Inside the Quest to Design the Ultimate Portable Computer, is “a popular history of portable computing and also a narrative of a single, contemporary product (Lenovo’s X300) as it travels from conception to the marketplace.” Here's the first panel of this version, which tells the story of Alan Kay, one of the creative visionaries and inventors of the computer revolution.


Steve wrote in his Globespotting blog that one of his purposes in writing the book "was to get young people interested in being engineers, designers, inventors, and entrepreneurs." Make magazine shares that goal.

I use Alan Kay's famous quote in my talks: "The best way to predict the future is to invent it." I take the liberty of substituting "make" for "invent." I would love to have Alan Kay come to Maker Faire.

View the rest of Alan Kay series on the BusinessWeek website