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Teenager won't be punished for saying mean things about state governor

Last week, Kansas teenager Emma Sullivan posted a snarky tweet about the state's governor Sam Brownback, which, naturally, led to Brownback's staffers pressuring her principal to make her apologize on threat of punishment. Apparently, at some point during the holiday weekend, the school district noticed this would violate Sullivan's free speech rights. They've announced that she will not be forced to apologize and will not be punished for her tweet. Sullivan now has more Twitter followers than Governor Sam Brownback.

Fish House parade

The Aitkin, Minnesota, Fish House Parade is a post-Thanksgiving tradition. People dress up their snowmobiles, Sno-Cats, and fish houses—portable cabins used for ice fishing—in silly costumes and roll them down Aitkin's Main Street to cheering throngs. It's meant to mark the kick-off of the ice fishing season on Mille Lacs, a particularly large lake in north-central Minnesota. This year, however, the arrival of Thanksgiving has not really coincided with the arrival of thick snow and solid lake ice. It'll be a while yet before any of the fish houses are being used for fishing.

One other oddity brought on by the relatively warm November: If you browse through the photos taken by Minnesota Public Radio's Bob Collins, you'll see that many of fish house floats are towed by snowmobile. But, lacking much snow, the snowmobiles all have little, temporary front wheels attached.

I am thankful for Minneapolis

There's a great write-up on Good about my city and my mayor, R.T. Rybak. Minneapolis isn't a perfect city, by any means. But it remains the best place I have ever had the privilege of living. And I think a huge part of that is the unofficial city motto that Good highlights here: "Minneapolis: We Build Stuff and Take Care of Things."

Governor, school district offended by 18-year-old's cranky tweet

Kansas high school student Emma Sullivan took a field trip to see Governor Sam Brownback speak. She didn't like what he had to say, and tweeted about what she wished she could do: "just made mean comments at gov brownback and told him he sucked, in person #heblowsalot." Clearly, this kind of insubordination could not stand. Someone from Brownback's office sent the tweet to someone from the Shawnee Mission School District who sent it to Sullivan's principal, who has demanded that Sullivan write the governor an apology. (Via Chad Manspeaker)

University of Kansas takes home quidditch title

I would just like to take a moment to congratulate my alma mater on being ranked #1 by the World Quidditch Association. Rock Chalk!

Missouri town still hates Jayhawks

Today in Midwestern news, the Missouri town of Osceola has passed a resolution asking that the University of Kansas retire the Jayhawk from being the school's official mascot.

To understand why, you have to know a little about 19th-century U.S. history. Thanks to congressional compromises that allowed some new states and territories to vote on whether or not they'd allow slavery, Kansas and Missouri started fighting the Civil War about a decade before the rest of the country. Missouri was a slave state. Kansas' status was up in the air. The result was a series of cross-border battles and raids aimed at destroying free-state strongholds, retaliating against slave-state strongholds, and generally intimidating people on both sides of the fence. For a while, Kansas even had dueling free-state and slave-state capital cities, which drafted their own unilateral state constitutions and, occasionally, raided each other for official state documents.

While the "Jayhawks" are today represented by a large, imaginary bird (and/or an alt-country band), they were, originally, the free-state militia. In September of 1861, this militia raided Osceola, killing at least a dozen men and burning a good chunk of the town. And the citizens of Osceola, it seems, are still pretty pissed about this and consider the mascot Jayhawk to be an example of Kansans rubbing salt in the wound.

Along with suggesting that KU change its team name, the resolution calls on the University of Missouri to make sure the full story of the Border War is told and not just the story of William Quantrill’s raid on Lawrence, Kan., in August 1863. That attack featured many guerrillas shouting “Remember Osceola.”

And the resolution calls on Missourians to stop spelling Kansas or KU with a capital letter, as “neither is a proper name or a proper place.”

“I don’t expect them to do anything,” Rick Reed of Osceola, who brought the resolution to the aldermen, said of KU. “They are so arrogant and uppity.”

Now, an arrogant and uppity KU alum might take this moment to remind the good citizens of Osceola that the attack on their city did not happen in a vacuum. Free-staters in Kansas, including in Lawrence, had been defending themselves against attack from within and without the state for several years before the Osceola raid. And that it is generally accepted that pro-slavery forces started the violence. She also might wonder aloud what the heck any of this has to do with Kansas being a proper noun.

Or, your know, we could just acknowledge that a good deal of random violence happened on both sides. And it happened a long time ago. And neither Kansans nor Missourians are currently oppressing one another, nor particularly suffering from long-term fallout of that past violence. Nor does the name "Jayhawk" degrade any living people. So, maybe, this whole thing is just a bit silly.

Thanks to Sarah and Justin Henning!

Inside the sea caves of Devil's Island

Last year, when I posted here about the history of the lighthouse at Devil's Island, Wisconsin, several of you noticed the island's extensive network of sea caves, carved into the sandstone cliffs by splashing waves and moving water. This year, when some friends and I went on a little paddle through the caves, I took along a video camera. It doesn't quite capture the eerie awesomeness of floating into the dark with Lake Superior behind you, but it's still pretty neat.

Apologies in advance for the occasional sudden jerky movements and possible audible swearing. Devil's Island is also home to a large population of biting flies and my ankles are, apparently, quite tasty.

Video Link

Car decaying in the forest—Sand Island, Wisconsin

I went back to the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore last weekend for a short vacation. One of my goals was to get out to Sand Island. This particular one of the 22 Apostles (Official story behind the name: Jesuit missionaries miscounted) is pretty far-flung, especially at the 3 or 4 miles per hour a sailboat moves. But it was worth the trip.

Last month, I interviewed Bob Mackreth, a writer, historian, and retired park ranger, for a story about the conflict between natural history and human history in national parks. During the interview, he told me that Sand Island was the place to go to see that conflict in action. The Island was once home to a relatively large and long-lived village. Where there is now forest, there was once a school, a cooperative grocery store, and roads. It lasted until the 1950s, when the sea lamprey put a major kink in the commercial fishing industry on Lake Superior.

Today, the park trail follows the former path of Sand Island's main road. Along it, Mackreth told me, you'll find a couple of old cars, abandoned to the forest. I did find them. And I thought you'd like to see them, too.

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Preserving human history in a National Park

Northern Wisconsin, along the coast of Lake Superior, is rural, but it isn't wild. Farms and orchards have been cleared here for generations.

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Bike ride and food tasting in MPLS/St Paul

Twin Citians: My husband noticed this nifty upcoming event—Bike and Bite is a group ride/local food tasting. It happens August 13th and tickets start at $10

Forget the Hindenburg: What I learned on board a zeppelin

Eden Prairie, Minnesota, is as good a place as any to learn a hard truth.

This suburb of Minneapolis is largely indistinguishable from the other suburbs that border it ...

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Models of Worlds of Fun roller coasters, circa 1980

I'm not really a roller coaster rider. Why? Because of this thing. Or, rather, because of the full-scale real roller coaster this model is based on. Sometime in the mid 1980s, (I'm not exactly sure when, because neither he or I fully remember) I talked my father into taking me on the Screamroller, a corkscrew roller coaster at Worlds of Fun in Kansas City. I do not know how old I was at the time, except, to say, far too young. (This roller coaster was disassembled and replaced with a different ride when I was 7, so I know it was before that.) I don't remember the ride itself—just standing in line being excited beforehand, and crying unconsolably afterwards.

But now, thanks to the artistry and skill of the model builder behind, I can relive the experience, in a far less terrifying and far more enjoyably geeky way. I kind of adore model trains, and the model roller coasters built by scratch that itch well, using K'nex motors to haul the trains uphill and letting gravity do its job the rest of the way through the ride. This person has a full set of coaster models—called Project 31—showcasing all the roller coasters that were at Worlds of Fun in 1980. It's a nifty project and great work!

There's more photos and videos on the Model Coasters website. Below is a photo I took of the Model Coaster's version of the Orient Express (which I always loved to watch, even though I never had an interest in riding it). The entire series is on display in Kansas City's Union Station through August 11.

orient express.jpg

Video Link

Neil Gaiman singing a song about Joan of Arc

Minnesota Public Radio wrapped up another fabulous season of WITS last Friday. Besides being the first thing I've ever bought season tickets for, WITS is best described as the very nerdy, slightly tipsy, younger cousin of A Prairie Home Companion. There are authors, there are musicians, there are the creators of MST3K heckling from a balcony seat. In other words, you'd love it.

This season wrapped up with Neil Gaiman, singer/songwriter/charmingimaginaryboyfriend Josh Ritter, and phone call-ins by special guests Wil Wheaton and Adam Savage. I thought you'd all get a kick out of this clip from the show, where Gaiman sings a song he wrote about Joan of Arc, accompanied by Ritter, a brass band, and the WITS house musicians.

If you aren't lucky enough to live in, or be visiting, the Twin Cities when WITS is recorded, don't despair. You can listen to the show, and watch clips, online.


The Wichita "heat burst" explained


Last Thursday, around midnight, the temperature in Wichita, Kansas, jumped 20 degrees in 20 minutes. Needless to say, this is not normal—both for the speed of the temperature increase, and the time of day at which it happened. (There's a reason we normally talk about overnight lows.) So, what's the deal?

It's called a "heat burst," says John Rennie at PLoS Blogs. Heat bursts are weather phenomena related to stuff you've probably heard of before—downbursts and microbursts. In those events, rain-cooled air suddenly becomes denser than the air beneath it and plummets quickly to Earth. But, for obvious reasons, that doesn't fully explain what happens in a heat burst.

The missing piece involves the very particular conditions that produce heat bursts and the relation between the pressure and temperature of a gas.

First, heat bursts almost invariably form at night on the trailing edge of thunderstorm systems. Presumably, the energy of the storm system helps to make sure that enough moisture can be raised to a great height, while the absence of sunlight and surface evaporation helps to ensure that the air column beneath it remains very dry. The virga that initiates the burst begins by falling into particularly high, arid air. The Wichita heat burst probably started about 3,000 feet (roughly 900 meters) up--quite a bit higher than many downbursts.

As in any downburst, the air made cold and dense by the evaporating moisture plummets. But in the heat burst, that descending air mass also becomes even more dense as it falls because the higher atmospheric pressure at lower altitudes squeezes it. Compressing a gas raises its temperature, a process called adiabatic heating. If the air contained significant moisture, its temperature would change less because the water molecules could absorb a lot of the latent heat energy, but the air is instead bone dry. So as the air of the burst descends, it becomes almost 1 degree C hotter with every 100 meters it falls.

Of course, heating the air also makes it expand, which in principle ought to cool it off and make it less dense, so one might think the descending air mass would settle into a comfortable equilibrium at some altitude, like a hot air balloon, and radiate away its excess heat. But it never gets that chance. The air is falling with so much velocity that it overshoots whatever equilibrium altitude it might achieve and plunges on into the earth. And that--at least in broad outline--is the source of the 102 degree F air and the 60 mile per hour winds that briefly wracked Wichita so early on Thursday morning.

Image: Hot Hot Hot, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from rcbodden's photostream

Heat wave buckles highways in Minneapolis

buckled concrete.jpg

Apparently, while I wasn't paying attention, Minneapolis plunged into a heat wave. (I suspect this says something about the temperature-control powers of my 1920s stucco house. That, and my husband's practice of opening the house and turning on fans over night, and then closing all the windows in the morning. ) We hit a new record high—97 degrees F—yesterday afternoon, and more of the same is expected today.

But here's the really fun part: The heat caused serious highway damage in 21 different spots around the Twin Cities yesterday. We're not talking about gaping chasms opening up or anything. But heat and humidity do make concrete expand. If there's no place for it to expand to—as in the middle of a highway—it can buckle along the weakest point. The result: Sudden, big potholes where potholes did not used to be. Also: Traffic jams.

Bear that expected bad traffic in mind today, if you're joining me for the Twin Cities edition of the 1st Annual International BoingBoing Meetup Day. On the plus side, it's not likely to rain on us, right? Maybe we'll go for a purifying dip in the waters of Creek Minnehaha.

Via Amy Nelson

Image: American Film, a Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike (2.0) image from swanksalot's photostream. Not a highway in Minneapolis, but buckled concrete, nonetheless.

Tornado weather


This photo of the sky over downtown Kansas City, MO, was taken today at around 1:00 pm Central by Gary Lezak, a local television meteorologist.

Meanwhile today, tornadoes plowed through the Oklahoma City area, killing four. (Thankfully, from my perspective, the neighborhood where my Dad lives was spared.) Two more people were killed in the small town of St. John, Kansas. And, while I can't find news confirmation on this yet through Google, I have friends on Facebook saying that Joplin, MO, is in the middle of another tornado warning.

Stay safe, everyone. This is getting ridiculous.

EDIT: In the comments, some people have pointed out that this photo wasn't taken by Gary Lezak, but by photographer Scott Cook. According to the comments on Facebook you can buy 8x10 prints of it, with proceeds going to Joplin tornado relief efforts. Apparently, if you want one, you should contact Cook through his Facebook account, or via email at Scott Cook Mail (at) gmail (dot) com. (No spaces in the email. Spaces added in probably vain attempt to keep Cook's email from being flooded with spam.)

Minnesota GOP legislator makes passionate speech in support of marriage equality

On Saturday night, the Minnesota House of Representatives voted 70-62 in favor of putting a proposed constitutional ban on same sex marriage up for a public vote in 2012. Bear in mind, same sex marriage is already illegal in this state. So when I go out and vote on this constitutional amendment, my choices are going to be: A) Continue to discriminate against GLBT families or B) Codify that discrimination into my state's primary document. Good times.

But this post isn't about how disgusting I think it is to put a minority's civil rights up for a vote. No. This post is about offering my genuine thanks and appreciation to the two Minnesota Republicans who were brave enough to speak out against the amendment. Rep. Tim Kelly, R-Red Wing, and Rep. John Kriesel, R-Cottage Grove—Thank you both. If I wasn't absolutely certain it would set off some kind of security panic, I'd mail you both a box of my best home made bars.

Kriesel, in particular, gave a passionate, moving speech explaining why he changed his mind on marriage equality. The turning point: When he was almost killed while on a tour of duty in Iraq. Quoting from the video above:

"It made me think about this issue and say, 'you know what, what would I do without my wife?' She makes me happy. Life is hard. We're in a really tough time in our nation's history. Happiness is so hard to find for people. So they find it. They find someone who makes them happy. And we want to say, 'Oh, you can be together. You can love that person. But you can't marry them.' That's wrong. That's wrong, and I disagree with it.

... This amendment doesn't represent what I went to fight for. Hear that out there? [referencing protesters in the rotunda] That's the America I fought for. And I'm proud of that. ... If there was a "Hell No" button right here, I would press it. But, unfortunately, I just have "Nay," and that's the one I'm going to press.

If this moved you as much as it moved me—even if you aren't a Minnesotan—I'd encourage you to send a quick thank-you email to Rep. Kriesel.

Video Link

1943 color photo of a Topeka, Kansas, train yard


This color photo, dating to 1943, is part of a Library of Congress collection that I've posted shots from before. This one is just lovely. And I'm also pretty sure that I know where this train shop building is located. If I'm right, it's one of the massive Santa Fe RR buildings near Topeka's Oakland neighborhood, right across from Our Lady of Guadeloupe church. Today, there's a road bridge that takes you over the top of the rail yards, so you drive into Oakland at almost the level of those upper windows. I always did want to see what was inside!

Wisconsin protests—now with farmers (and tractors)


Note: This is not an image from next week's farmer-labor day at the Wisconsin Capitol Building. That hasn't happened yet. This is an image meant to illustrate the concept of a tractorcade for anyone who's never seen one. Apologies for any confusion.

Tens of thousands of people were in Madison, Wisconsin, again this weekend, continuing to protest Governor Scott Walkers attempt to do away with collective bargaining for some state employees. We're at Day 18 now, if you're keeping track.

This has been a very weird event, by U.S. standards. We don't often have protest movements that sustain their momentum, at this level, over this long a period of time. Hell, one day is usually the maximum. So it's been interesting to me to see the Madison protests evolve. Up next, apparently, are theme protests. Next Saturday, March 12, starting at noon, it's farmer-labor day at the Wisconsin Capitol Building—with farmers from across the state set to bring a tractorcade of support to the protesters in Madison. Yes. A tractorcade. This just got 10x more awesome.

Next week, farmers from across the dairyland will bring tractors and solidarity to the WI capitol to fight for labor rights and a just state budget. Rural communities will be disproportionately hurt by the cuts to education and badgercare, and farmers in Wisconsin stand with state workers, and all working and middle class families in the state. The event is sponsored by Family Farm Defenders, Wisconsin Farmers Union and Land Stewardship project.

All farmers and eaters welcome and encouraged to come! If you have a tractor and would like to join in the tractorcade please contact John Peck at Family Farm Defenders - (608) 260-0900;

Couple of other notes:
• Remember how cleanup in the Capitol Building was supposed to cost $7 million. Yeah. That's been retracted. The State is now estimating $350,000.

• The City of Madison issued a press release on Saturday thanking protesters for another huge protest with no arrests and no citations. That's right. In 18 days, nobody has done anything worthy of arrest, or even ticketing. Good work, Wisconsin! In the Upper Midwest, even our "thugs" are well above average.

Some rights reserved by mahalie

Wisconsin update: More to come later today

My friends in Madison say they've been told that the Capitol Building will be cleared of protesters today around 4:00 pm. Passive resistance—"Gandhi-style"—is planned. It's my hope that the protests will remain as peaceful and spirited as they've been so far, and that the people tasked with removing protesters will respond to that peacefulness. In the meantime, check out this Forbes article debunking one of the biggest myths to come out of this situation. The truth: Wisconsin public employees pay for their own retirement plans.

Wisconsin cops for the win

Yesterday afternoon, hundreds of cops marched into the Wisconsin Capitol Building, where Wisconsinites have spent more than a week protesting their governor's plan to eliminate collective bargaining for most public employees. They were there to join the protest. Musician Ryan Harvey posted this report to Facebook:

"Hundreds of cops have just marched into the Wisconsin state capitol building to protest the anti-Union bill, to massive applause. They now join up to 600 people who are inside."

"Police have just announced to the crowds inside the occupied State Capitol of Wisconsin: 'We have been ordered by the legislature to kick you all out at 4:00 today. But we know what's right from wrong. We will not be kicking anyone out, in fact, we will be sleeping here with you!' Unreal."

My friend Chris Hayden, one of the people running the protest's volunteer first-aid station, also told me that, despite an order to remove the station, he was able to negotiate a compromise with on-site law enforcement (when I was there on Thursday, state troopers were standing guard at the capital, rather than police) that allowed the service to continue.

If I understand correctly, police are one of the groups that would be exempt from an elimination of collective bargaining rights. They don't personally stand to lose anything. But they came anyway, to support the people who do have something to lose. Protect and serve!

Via Chris Hayden and The Understory

Voices and pictures from Madison, Wisconsin, protests

We Are Wisconsin from Finn Ryan on Vimeo.

Last night, I joined the scattered groups of people walking down Madison, Wisconsin's State Street towards the State Capitol Building. There weren't the mighty throngs from last weekend, but for a Thursday night, at 8:00 pm, the smaller clutches still made an impact. They came up both sides of the block. A group of five here. Another three over there. Four coming up right behind them.

I wanted to see, for myself, what was happening in Wisconsin—what it really looks and feels like when a diverse swath of Americans band together for a common cause. From that first realization that all the people on State Street were going to the same place I was going, I knew this was going to be a new experience.

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How to: Move a room

When the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra plays at Minnesota's Ordway Theater, they do it inside the orchestra shell—a massive, mahogany-paneled, three-walled room that sits on the stage. But the Ordway hosts more than just orchestra, so the shell has to be movable. It's no easy task. The back wall, alone, weighs 70 tons. How do they do it?

Turns out, the entire orchestra shell is a hovercraft.

Each wall is equipped with air casters that help lift them off the ground. A soap and water solution is sprayed on the floor to keep the it slippery when the wall touches down, and to ensure the walls move at an even pace, a couple stage crew members guide motorized palette jacks like slow motion motorcycles.

Minnesota Sounds: Ordway Theater

Full Minnesota Sounds series

Fluid-filled dress knit from plastic tubes

Fluid Dress from Charlie Bucket on Vimeo.

Two years ago, I got the opportunity to visit the workshop of Minneapolis artist Charlie Bucket and see his fascinating efforts to knit plastic tubing into wearable art that could then be pumped full of colored liquid. The last time I saw this stuff, he had a very simple, very loosely knitted prototype dress made up, and hadn't totally figured out how to control the movement of fluid. Now, just look at it. Bucket's done some amazing work. I'm so pleased to see such an awesome end result!

Check out his Vimeo page to see what this evolved from. There's a couple videos from two years ago showing an early skirt and the basic, original knitted shape.

Greetings from snowy Minneapolis!


Twin Cities writer Douglas Mack took this picture, capturing all the beauty and wonder of a snowy night on the Mississippi River. Gorgeous!

Cyclogenesis is the bomb


The Phrase of the Day: Bomb Cyclogenesis

Sounds very terrorism-cyberpunk, doesn't it? Sort-of-luckily for the state of Minnesota, it's actually a meteorological term. I say "sort of" because bomb cyclogenesis will probably work out better for us as a weather phenomenon than it would as a tactic of the android jihad, but it's still not great.

Basically, bomb cyclogenesis is the formation of an over-land cyclone ("cyclogenesis") in a dramatically short period of time ("kablooey"). The phenomenon might be involved in the formation of Atlantic Nor'easters, and was the force behind some of the biggest blizzards of the mid-20th century. In fact, Minnesota Public Radio's Updraft blog is going so far as to call this incoming weather system a "land hurricane" ("telegram"). The Eastern side of Lake Superior is expecting 25-foot waves this afternoon. Should be exciting. And we've all learned a new word.

Image: Taken in Minnesota, but not today. Some rights reserved by MattLaws