And now, the news from Lake Erie.
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And now, the news from Lake Erie.
Read the rest
NPR's Robert Krulwich circled this bright spot on a night-time satellite image of the United States. As Krulwich points out, this cluster of lights is new — it wasn't there in 2005. And it's not a city.
Instead, that bright spot is a shining reminder of the natural gas boom. What you're seeing are the lights from drilling rigs and flares burning gas.
In 1936, Ludwig Bemelmans painted scenes of the Twin Cities to illustrate an article in Fortune magazine. If the style looks at all familiar, it's probably because you're remembering Bemelmans' most famous creation — a Parisian schoolgirl named Madeline.
In this painting, you can see the Cathedral of St. Paul and what I am pretty certain is the James J. Hill House — a massive, red sandstone mansion that is actually across the street and down a half block from the Cathedral. Bonus fact: The Hill House was built by the railroad magnate behind what is now Amtrak's Empire Builder route from Seattle to Minneapolis. In fact, that was his nickname. James "The Empire Builder" Hill. I'm not kidding. The house is open for tours and it's pretty fantastic. Plus, you get to watch a nice video which assures you that while James J. Hill was, technically, a union-busting robber baron, he also really liked kittens. Again, not kidding.
At one point — I think it was about halfway through climbing the twisting warren of dark staircases and pipe organ parts that leads to the top of the 10-story slide — I turned to my husband and asked, incredulous, "Why the hell wasn't this place in American Gods?"
Opened in an abandoned shoe factory and warehouse in downtown St. Louis in 1997, The City Museum is not so much a museum as it is a massive, rambling fantasy playground. From the rooftop to the strange subterranean tunnels built beneath the lobby floor, sculptor Bob Cassilly and a team of 20 artisans have, bit by bit, created something truly wonderful. Imagine what might happen if somebody turned Maker Faire into a full-scale amusement park. That's The City Museum.
There's a 1940s ferris wheel creaking and groaning its way through a glorious, rooftop view of the city. There's a human gerbil trail that winds around the first floor ceiling, providing great spots to check out the intricate tile mosaic fish that swim across the floor. There are columns covered in gears, and columns covered in old printing press plates. There's a giant ball pit; two gutted airplanes suspended in midair; and so many chutes, and slides, and tunnels that, by the time you walk back to your car you will find yourself thoroughly conditioned into reflexively contorting yourself into every dark hole you happen to see. Also, there are bars. Also, there is almost entirely zero supervision.
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That is a high claim, I know. But over Labor Day weekend, a combination of dedicated curation and popular vote resulted in Henri 2, Paw de Deux being named the best Internet cat video.
The Internet Cat Film Festival, sponsored by Minneapolis' Walker Museum of Art, drew a live audience of more than 10,000 people last Thursday night. Videos were curated from a massive collection submitted online, and were grouped into thematic categories— foreign films, for instance, or comedies. Henri 2 took home the Golden Kitty, a People's Choice award.
Bonus: If arguing about the merits of Henri 2 weren't enough of a gift to your procrastination tendencies, you can also check out a full list of all the films screened at the festival, including links.
I'm excited to be back on my old home turf next week, with two speaking events in Kansas City, Missouri, and Lawrence, Kansas.
Both events are centered on Before the Lights Go Out, my book about electricity, infrastructure, and the future of energy.
Thursday, August 30, 7:00 pm — The Raven bookstore in Lawrence
I'll be back in my college town to talk about the weird, messy history of electricity, and the ways that writing online can help build a better book. Join me at 6 East 7th Street, Lawrence, Kansas.
Friday, August 31, 7:00 pm — Prospero's Books in Kansas City
My event at Prospero's will cover a lot of the same ground as The Raven event, but will get more in-depth on the engineering of how our electric grid works and why this flawed system affects what we can and can't do to solve our energy problems. RSVP for the Prospero's event (and get address info) on Facebook.
Image: Electricity, a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial No-Derivative-Works (2.0) image from elycefeliz's photostream
If these photos of NASA's Lunar Orbiter Image Recovery Project look suspiciously like they might actually have been taken inside an abandoned McDonalds ... well, that's very observant of you.
All of those film canisters you see in the first image are actually spools of 70mm magnetic tape containing the analog originals of images taken by the Lunar Orbiter spacecraft in 1966 and 1967. Very few of these images have been seen by the public—at least, in their full glory. Some of the images were released early on, but only as grainy photos of photos. The originals are a lot more sharp and detailed.
After sitting in storage for decades—most notably in a barn in California—the tapes were brought to the NASA Ames Research Center in 2007. Since then, some of the originals have been digitized and preserved. (There's a good chance you saw a few in 2008, when the first preserved images were released.) Others are still in process. There's not much funding for this type of work, and it can get expensive, as it involves maintaining extremely rare FR-900 tape drives.
These photos of the LOIRP facility were taken in 2008 by venture capitalist Steve Jurvetson, who has been on a couple of tours there. He says:
Some of the applications of this project, beyond accessing the best images of the moon ever taken, are to look for new landing sites for the new Google Lunar X-Prize robo-landers, and to compare the new craters on the moon today to 40 years ago, a measure of micrometeorite flux and risk to future lunar operations.
Check out NASA's page on LOIRP
Check out Steve Jurvetson's photos on Flickr. If you scroll down in the comments, you'll find a photo of the outside of the LOIRP facility, taken this week.
CORRECTION: Sorry, guys. Apparently, I'm an idiot and/or need to cover space stories more often. I'd been under the impression that NASA Ames Research Center was in Iowa, I think because I once talked to a researcher there who also had an appointment at the University of Iowa. It is actually in California. D'oh. Story is fixed now.
Thanks to Andy Ihnatko for alerting me to these photos!
Well, it's been a quiet week in Minneapolis, Minnesota, my hometown. The heatwave broke. There was a giant tomato fight downtown. And the Gonzo Group Theater is performing Aristophanes in the middle of the lightrail construction zone. But out on the Internet, everybody is talking about the fact that Minneapolis will, on August 30, play host an Internet cat video film festival.
Yes, a film festival of Internet cat videos. Curator Katie Czarniecki Hill is accepting nominations through July 30, so you should totally submit your favorite.
But I also wanted to talk briefly about the context of this, because it's awesome, and you should know about it. Czarniecki's Cat Video Film Festival is part of a summer-long program at the Walker Art Center (our fabulous modern art museum) called Open Field. If you're not familiar with Minneapolis, the Walker sits at the base of a big hill. Part of the lot is covered with art museum, and part of it is given over to a broad, grassy slope*.
That's where Open Field happens. What's Open Field? Partly it's just a reminder that this big public greenspace exists behind the Walker and, hey, maybe you should come hang out there. But it's also sort of an ad-hoc, crowd-sourced, summer-long festival space, where both Walker artists-in-residence and average folks can stage unique community events, skill-shares, workshops, and projects. Today, for instance, you could go down to Open Field and team up with a group of knitters and fiber artists who are building an interactive fabric installation; join the band Dear Data for a low-key acoustic campfire sing-a-long; watch your own (and other people's) old, film-based home movies and learn about film preservation; and participate in an interactive workshop about the history and future of print-letter writing and the post office.
Basically, you should know this—Walker Open Field: It's like a Happy Mutant smorgasbord.
*And an absolutely awesome installation piece that takes the form of a semi-hidden, ancient-temple-looking room cut into the side of the hill. Seriously, go check it out. Preferably after dark because it's most awesome then.
I'm amused and charmed by this theoretical public art project proposed by Minneapolis' Carmichael Lynch Creative. Urban Plant Tags explain the care, placement, and proper feeding of inanimate objects like benches, streetlights, and fire hydrants.
You can go to the website to read those plant tags more clearly. But I love the care instructions for this bench: "Apply Real Estate Ads Annually — Occasionally Wipe Clean — Keep Warm With Butt."
Side note: Perhaps you are confused by the fact that this fire hydrant appears to be on a stilt. That's because it snows so much up here in Minnesota that they have to build the fire hydrants tall enough to clear the winter snow cover. An amusing regionalism.
Via Andrew Balfour
Minneapolis' Catholic DeLaSalle High School had a mandatory assembly recently for its senior class, to educate the students on what marriage is and what a family ought to look like. As you might guess, this also meant telling the students who didn't count as a family and why some families were bad.
It didn't go over very well, according to a story in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune:
"The first three-quarters of the presentation were really good," said Bliss. "They talked about what is marriage and how marriage helps us as a society. Then it started going downhill when they started talking about single parents and adopted kids. They didn't directly say it, but they implied that kids who are adopted or live with single parents are less than kids with two parents of the opposite sex. They implied that a 'normal' family is the best family."
"When they finally got to gay marriage, [students] were really upset," said Bliss. "You could look around the room and feel the anger. My friend who is a lesbian started crying, and people were crying in the bathroom."
Bliss was one of several students who stood up to argue with the representatives from the archdiocese. One girl held up a sign that said, "I love my moms."
It's not a coincidence that this assembly was mandatory for seniors only. Minnesota will be voting on a marriage amendment this year. In fact, the presenters from the archdiocese tried to bring that issue up, but didn't get much of a chance to talk about it because of students—politely and respectively—challenging the rhetoric and asking pointed questions about evidence.
Also not random chance: The fact that high school students would challenge the Bishops on these issues to begin with. There is broad support for gay marriage among people under 30. In fact, multiple polls have shown that somewhere between 55% and 65% of all people under 30 support gay marriage. Like the seniors at DeLaSalle, a majority of young Americans get that this isn't a political football, it's a civil rights issue.
Read the Minneapolis Star-Tribune story about what happened at DeLaSalle High School.
We grow a lot of corn in the United States, much of which never sees the inside of a human stomach. In fact, in 2010, something like a quarter of all the corn grown in this country went to ethanol production. That's a massive amount of corn grown for gas tanks. And it's a problem.
The process of growing corn is tremendously energy intensive, and it has some far-reaching drawbacks that threaten the future of vital farmlands in the Midwest. Corn crops provide steady, reliable income for farmers. But the risks likely outweigh those benefits, at least at the quantities in which we now grow corn.
In the spring of 2009, I experienced some of those risks first hand. At Smithsonian.com, you can read a excerpt from Before the Lights Go Out, my book about the future of energy. The excerpt is about Madelia, Minnesota, a small town where local farming advocates are trying to promote a more sustainable cropping system, and a better way to grow biofuels—one that provides incentives for farmers to grow less corn, not more.
Read the rest
This customized 1957 Pontiac was used by the Erie Mining Company to transport supervisors up and down the company's 74-mile-long Mainline railroad, which shipped taconite from mines in northern Minnesota to coastal ports and processing facilities on Lake Superior.
Every day, seven 96-car trains full of taconite travel down this rail line. The Pontiac was tricked out to allow it to drive on both roads or on the Mainline rails, themselves, with rail wheels that could be raised or lowered. You can see the rail wheels in the photo below.
Both photos come from my visit to the Lake Superior Railroad Museum in Duluth last month.
Here are two myths you need to let go of:
The solution to high gas prices is more oil.
Climate change is something that happens to polar bears and people from Kiribati.
The truth is that fossil fuels are extremely useful and valuable. And, by their very nature, the supplies are limited. Likewise, climate change isn't just something that's going happen—it's already taking place, and you can see the effects in your own backyard.
Too often, I think, we talk about the risks of fossil fuel dependence and climate change in ways that make them seem abstract to the very people who use the most fossil fuels and create the most greenhouse gases. That's a problem. There are lots of reasons to care about energy. But I think that fossil fuel limits and climate change are the most pressing reasons. And I think it's incredibly important to discuss those very real risks in a way that actually feels very real.
This isn't about morality, or lifestyle choices, or maintaining populations of cute, fuzzy animals. (Or, rather, it's not just about those things.) Instead, we have to consider what will happen to us and how much money we will have to spend if we choose to do nothing to change the way we make and use energy.
Over at Scientific American, you can read an excerpt from my upcoming book, Before the Lights Go Out. In it, you'll read about the energy risks hanging over the Kansas City metro area—a place that, in many ways, resembles the places and lifestyles shared by a majority of Americans. You've probably never been to Merriam, Kansas. But you can look at Merriam and see what could happen in your hometown.
Merriam isn't a small town. There's nothing really recognizable as a small town central business district. Instead, Merriam's stores and offices are mostly concentrated along two major thoroughfares—Shawnee Mission Parkway and Johnson Drive. These wide, multilane roads are dotted with clusters of shopping centers and big box stores, like necklaces strung with fat pearls. The municipal building and the police station are a couple of nondescript offices that sit off the frontage of Shawnee Mission Parkway, on a ridge overlooking the Interstate. Nothing about that says, "Classic Americana."
Yet Merriam isn't a suburb, either—or an urban city. It's too dense to be the first and not dense enough to be the latter. Merriam has a mixture of house styles. Drive down one street, and you'll see a 1930s bungalow standing shoulder to shoulder with a spare little 1950s Cape Cod. Next to that, there's a 1980s split-level with windows on the front and the back but none on the sides. More than three generations of the American Dream are living here.
It's ironic that Merriam doesn't really fit any of the classic American paradigms, because, quite frankly, most of us have already left those paradigms behind. We talk about this country as if it's full of neatly defined small towns, big cities, and tidy suburbs. In reality, the places where we live are lot mushier than that. Merriam isn't the exception. Merriam is the rule.
Here's a sentence I never expected to type: You should really read the Grand Forks Herald's review of The Olive Garden.
This is in North Dakota, for those not familiar. With almost 100,000 people in the metro area, it's the third-largest city in the state. It recently got its first Olive Garden and critic Marilyn Hagerty got in ahead of the lunch rush.
The place is impressive. It’s fashioned in Tuscan farmhouse style with a welcoming entryway. There is seating for those who are waiting ...
At length, I asked my server what she would recommend. She suggested chicken Alfredo, and I went with that. Instead of the raspberry lemonade she suggested, I drank water.
She first brought me the familiar Olive Garden salad bowl with crisp greens, peppers, onion rings and yes — several black olives. Along with it came a plate with two long, warm breadsticks.
There are several things to love about this review. For me, it's about the nostalgia. If you grew up in places where Olive Garden and Red Lobster really were the best restaurants in town, you can't help but feel a warm twinge of homesickness reading this. It's not judgement. I can't judge. I chose to go to Applebee's for my fancy high school graduation dinner.
But the best part about this review comes from some background information dug up by intrepid Duluth News reporter Brandon Stahl. In the course of verifying that this was, in fact, a real review, he uncovered something wonderfully upper-Midwestern. First, read the full review. Done that? Great. Now, get this—that was not a positive review of The Olive Garden.
Stahl talked to a former Grand Forks Herald editor who says, "By the way, [Marilyn Hagerty's] regular readers will recognize that as a fairly negative review since she spent a lot more time on the ambience than the food."
Cultural context: It's the difference between a glowing review, and a passive-aggressively negative one.
Via David Brauer
Before the Lights Go Out is Maggie's new book about how our current energy systems work, and how we'll have to change them in the future. It comes out April 10th and is available for pre-order (in print or e-book) now. Over the next couple of months, Maggie will be posting some energy-related stories based on things she learned while researching the book. This is one of them.
One of the things I loved about researching my book on the future of energy was getting the opportunity to delve a little into the history of electricity. Although I'd heard plenty about the Tesla vs. Edison wars—the "great men doing important things" side of the story—I was pretty unfamiliar with the impact their inventions had on average people, and how those people responded and adapted to changing technology.
What I found in my research was fascinating. I spent a lot of time in the archives at the Wisconsin Historical Society, turning up letters and documents that introduced me to a perspective on history I'd not previously known. I learned about the skepticism and fear that surrounded electricity in the 19th and early 20th century. I found out that many, many of the early electric utilities went bankrupt—unable to make enough money selling electricity to cover the costs of building the expensive systems to produce and distribute it. I learned that, outside the hands of a privileged few geniuses, electric infrastructure and generation was a slapdash affair, focused more on quick, cheap construction than reliable operation—a reality that still affects the way our grid works today.
Last week, I spoke about some of this history, and its impact on our future, at the University of Minnesota. (You can watch a recording of that speech online.) Afterwards, Christopher Mayr, director of development at the U's Institute on the Environment, told me about the video I've posted here. In it, Doris Duborg Hughes, a lifelong Wisconsinite, talks about her father, farmer Rudolph Duborg, and the hydroelectric power plant he and his brother built on Wisconsin's Crawfish River in 1922.
This is a great story about Makers tinkering with "crazy" ideas at a time when very few people knew anything about electricity, and when getting electricity on a farm was a near impossibility. By the 1920s, some electric utilities were beginning to turn a profit ... but only in cities, where population density meant you could spread the cost of infrastructure over a lot of customers. Having electricity on the farm meant building the infrastructure yourself, something few people had the drive (and money) to manage.
Doris Hughes' earliest memories involve her family putting up the men who came to wire the farmhouse. She was a child when the system went in, and that's part of what I like about this story. It's very clearly coming through the filter of childhood. Because of that, we get details like Hughes remembering that she wasn't supposed to turn lights off in the house, during the day or at night, because she was told that doing so might break the system.
Also fascinating: Henry Ford sent men to inspect the Duborg hydroelectric plant, apparently as part of research into a manufacturing scheme very different from the factory system Ford is known for today. In the late 'teens and early '20s, Ford was convinced that he could harness water power to bring electricity to farms, then split the elements of automobile construction among a number of electrified farms in a geographic region. The result (he hoped): More employment in rural communities and an increase in living standards. You can learn a little more about this at the end of the video.
Full list of posts updated Monday, February 6. This is the final update.
Last week, I asked BoingBoing readers to send me images and stories about your favorite museum exhibits—beloved displays and collections squirreled away in museums that might not have a big profile outside your state or region.Read the rest
Twin Cities Boingers will be meeting up this Saturday afternoon. The meetup is ostensibly scheduled around the Art Sled Rally in Powderhorn Park, but will still happen even if there isn't enough snow on the ground for the sleds to, you know, sled.
Emily Lloyd has graciously volunteered her house, across from Powderhorn Park, as the location of the meetup. We'll meet at 3216 10th Ave South at 1:00 — BYOB and a snack to share. Then, at 2:00 (King Boreas willing) we'll cross the street to watch some awesome sledding action!
See you there!
We all probably had at least one friend who attempted to reinvent themselves after high-school in a way that was so not them that it just made you feel pity. You know what I'm talking about. Like the goody-goody who tried so hard to change their squeaky clean reputation, but would clearly never be a badass cool kid, no matter how many times they told you that they got "sooooo drunk" last weekend.
That's what this ad reminds me of.
Somehow, North Dakota has managed to create a tourism ad that is simultaneously offensively sleazy and desperately uncool. It's trying to make a wink-wink, "women are objects" lad mag joke. But it looks like your really dorky, incredibly square uncle's idea of a wink-wink, "women are objects" lad mag joke.
It's sleaze as designed by people who have no idea what sleaze is supposed to look like. They've just heard about it third-hand from someone who went to Vegas once.
Mark your calendars, Twin Citians. The Powderhorn Park Art Sled Rally is January 28. If you've never been, you're missing out. It's a Happy Mutant-filled fun fest of creatively themed homemade sleds careening down a steep hill, ridden by costumed characters. It's also the perfect way to cure some depth-of-winter blues. Check out the video to see, among other things, a sled shaped like a 20-sided die.
I'll be joining BoingBoing readers for a meetup before this year's rally. Hopefully, you can come! We'll meet at 1:00. Reader Emily Lloyd has graciously volunteered her home, across the street from Powderhorn Park, for the meetup location. Bring what you'd like to drink. Bring a snack to share. At 2:00 or so, we'll walk to the park to watch the sledding. More details are on the BoingBoing Meetup page. See you there!