Update on the Wisconsin mystery booms

The U.S. Geological Survey says there was an earthquake—a very small, 1.5 magnitude earthquake—in the vicinity of Clintonville, Wisconsin earlier this week. The mysterious booming noises heard in and around that town could be related to the earthquake. Granted, that theory doesn't perfectly fit. But the booms have stopped now, and it's the best idea anybody has. Read the rest

The war at home: Energy crisis and risk in America

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. Read the rest

Maggie speaking Monday afternoon at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Why does electric infrastructure affect our ability to make energy more sustainable? How is the electric grid like a lazy river at the water park? And why should you never, ever go fishing with a salesman? Learn the answers to these questions—and more—when I speak at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign on Monday, March 12. My presentation starts at 3:00 pm in room 355 of the Mechanical Engineering Building. It's free, and open to the public. (Can't make it to the speech? You can also find out the answers to these questions by reading my book, Before the Lights Go Out.) Read the rest

The Grand Forks Herald reviews the new Olive Garden in town

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. Read the rest

Woman recalls the hydroelectric power plant her father built in 1922

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. Read the rest

What's Occupy Minnesota doing during winter?

It's cold outside in Minnesota (though, not as cold as it usually is), but the Occupy movement has not been idle here. They've been busy occupying a house threatened with foreclosure and saving homeowner Bobby Hull from becoming homeless. Hull says the very public pressure and media exposure provided by Occupy played a major role in convincing his lender to let him renegotiate the mortgage. If you're in Minnesota and your house is at risk, contact Occupy at Occupyhomesmn@gmail.com. (Thanks, Laura!) Read the rest

Maggie in a silent auction to support Phillips Neighborhood Medical Clinic

This Thursday, I'll be donating my time to support The Phillips Clinic, a free healthcare provider that serves more than 1000 patients in Minneapolis. Come to the Clinic's annual silent auction where you'll be able to bid on awesome items like gift cards, a hot air balloon ride, and a presentation by me! If you win me, I'll come talk to your lab/students/friends/cats about how to better communicate science to the general public. Bidding starts at 6:00 pm, this Thursday, at the University of Minnesota's McNamara Alumni Center. Read the rest

How to build an art shanty

Earlier this week, Mark told you about a couple of the cool art projects happening on a frozen lake in Minnesota. The Art Shanty Projects are a semi-annual wintertime tradition up here. And it's a sort-of send up of a much older tradition.

Every winter, there's a lot of ice fishing that happens in Minnesota. On the smaller lakes in Minneapolis, people set up temporary tents to shield themselves from the wind while they drill through the ice and wait and drink. But out on the larger lakes, the shelters become a lot more elaborate. Ice fishing "shanties" might come with bunk beds, carpeting, satellite TV, and kegarators. They're left on the lakes—which turn into temporary neighborhoods—all season long. From the outside, some of these fishing shanties just look like a trailer camper, or a plywood box. But it's not unusual to see fishermen get creative—decorating their shanties with tropical paint jobs, designing them to be fish-shaped. There's even a fish shanty parade in a small town in northern Minnesota.

This is where the Art Shanty Projects come in. Basically, they build on things Minnesotans have been doing for years, but with the priorities flipped. At the Art Shanty Projects—which run through this weekend on Minnesota's Medicine Lake—the emphasis is on art and creativity, rather than fishing. It gives artists, makers, and groups of friends with a good idea the chance to build something wild and whimsical and wonderfully interactive.

This year, I got to follow one group of shanty builders as they built their "Monsters Under the Bed" shanty at the Minneapolis Hack Factory, and then took it out on the ice. Read the rest

"My Favorite Museum Exhibit": A collection of beloved collections

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. The challenge was triggered by an awesome photo of a mummified Ice Age bison on display in Fairbanks, Alaska.

But this series also has roots in my own love of the museum exhibits that defined my childhood. Over the coming week, I'll be posting more "My Favorite Museum Exhibit" entries. I'll update the list here, and this post will be the one-stop place to check if you want to read them all. But I also wanted to use this space to share one of my favorite museum exhibits—the Panorama of North American Plants and Animals at the University of Kansas' Dyche Museum of Natural History.

Taxidermy is not normally my thing. I love dinosaur bones, but dioramas always make me feel like I'd rather just be at a zoo, or watching a nature special on TV. This is especially true of the "local flora and fauna" sort of museum dioramas. I have seen squirrels, thanks. But the Panorama is something else, a work that transcends its genre to become true art and a temple to Maker creativity. Read the rest

Reminder: BoingBoing meetup in Minneapolis on Saturday

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! Read the rest

Recall election in Wisconsin: It's probably on

Wisconsinites needed 500,000 signatures in order to authorize a recall election against Governor Scott Walker. They got 1 million. Read the rest

North Dakota tries to be cool, fails

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. Read the rest

Twin Cities BoingBoing Winter Meetup: January 28

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! Read the rest

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. Read the rest

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.

Read the rest

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." Read the rest

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) Read the rest

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