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. Read the rest

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.]

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. Read the rest

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.

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. Read the rest

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

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. Read the rest

The Gonad Gourmet

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.

Read the rest

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.

Read the rest

Douglas Repetto's Squirrel Cages

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.

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. Read the rest

Obama's Voices

I'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. Read the rest

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.
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. Read the rest

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. Read the rest

"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.
Read the rest

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.

Read the rest

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.

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.

"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. Read the rest

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.

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. Read the rest

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. Read the rest

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. 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". Read the rest

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