Thursday, December 31, 2009

Retro 70's Christmas Toy Spectacular - Danger Edition

About a year ago, I blogged about some of my favorite toys from the 70's. There are a lot of toy geeks (like me) out there who read that post, so I've decided to do it annually. This year I'm going to focus on toys that would never be sold in our "It could kill you!" safety-obsessed society. Ah, the good old days when kids could ride bikes and skateboards without a styrofoam orb on their heads and without parent supervision and arranged "play dates". Sure, I'm almost blind in one eye from a skateboard accident in 7th grade, but I'm still alive... right!?!

Clackers - Excuse the obvious reference to the male anatomy... These menacing heavy plastic balls on strings were made to hit each other above and below your hand in a circular motion. They were hard to get going, and usually hit your arm or your face with deadly ninja-like blows. Clackers were also a medieval weapon perfectly suited for close combat with your brother or sister. These were pulled from stores for obvious reasons!

Thingmaker - What do you get when you mix liquid plastic, aluminum toy molds, and a blazing hot mini oven!?! Thingmaker! I really enjoyed this toy. You could pour plastic goop into the forms and make a variety of toys. The little cooker got incredibly hot and I remember getting burns from both the metal forms and the lava hot plastic. People who fear current PVC toys should not investigate the Thingmaker! There was also an edible version of this toy that made plastic gummy treats.

The Power Shop - I've been a compulsive woodworker since my Dad let me drive nails into a playhouse we built in our backyard. The fine folk at Mattel knew that all kids craved a tiny lathe, drill press, and table saw to create fine woodworking masterpieces. Sure, it would be hard to do serious damage to yourself with these - but they did cut real wood!

Ice Bird - Delicious treats were always a priority for children of the 70's. Ice Bird promised a shave ice like experience in your own household. The only problem is that your hands would slip on the ice block and Ice Bird would become Slice Bird! Seriously though, one of the most catchy toy jingles every created - I dare you not to sing this all day.

Electro-Shot Shooting Gallery (by Marx!) - Although this toy was not dangerous it featured a machine gun that fired ball bearings at various targets. The electro-shot captured the blood lust of pre-adolescent youth. Plus it was much safer than our bb gun and dirt clod fights outside. This game definitely damaged the ears, though. It made a huge whirring sound and the machine gun of bearings created cacophonous glory! Click on the picture to unlock the original violent commercial via YouTube...

Lawn Darts (a.k.a. Death from the Sky) - This post would not be complete without a reference to one of the most dangerous toys of all time, Lawn Darts! These little missiles were mighty fun unless you threw them straight up in the air. Your chances of a skull piercing brain injury became very real. Interesting enough, these babies were not banned in the U.S. until 1988. They were very popular at bbq's and campsites up until that time. I must say that the replacements are so boring compared to the satisfying flight path of these danger missiles.

Have a safe and happy holiday!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Ghosts of Shopping Past

It's that time of year when we spend inordinate amounts of time and money consuming products at retail stores. I have a love/hate relationship with shopping - I love products, I hate the feeling of buying something that I don't really need. I'm all about the chase, but I will admit to some post-purchase emptiness.

I was really floored recently by the work of Brian Ulrich - a Chicago-based photographer who holds a mirror up to our society's consumerism. Here's a sample of his excellent series on abandoned shopping facilities titled, "Dark Stores".

This image is like something straight out of Logan's Run! His pictures of abandoned malls are probably the most devastating. When the apes take over, these will make for a fine set of headquarters.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Shiny Design - Enough Already!

Have you noticed the trend of making products and media shiny? Over the last 3 years designers have applied a mirror-like finish on everything from electronics to website buttons. Take a look at the latest phones on the market. iPhone? Shiny! Palm Pre? Shiny! Almost all of the new netbooks on the market are so glossy that they can be hung on the wall above your bathroom sink. My new Dell Studio 14z looks like someone dipped it in lip gloss.

Shiny is all over the internet, as well. Web 2.0 logos and site designs are also part of this reflective conspiracy. I blame Apple for this current trend. Although I lurve the iPhone, every aspect of Apple's design scheme is dripping with shiny. When you're the coolest thing on the market for the last 3 years, like-minded designers will follow. Here are some examples of Apple's style and the lemmings who followed:

Notice any similarities? I for one am done with shiny! Have you noticed how many fingerprints show up on a newly cleaned iPhone? It takes one phone call to make your phone look like a it's been man-handled by buttery fingers. Oh, and if you've ever handed your phone to a child in the backseat of your car then you know precisely what I mean... disastrous.

Where are you my sweet matte finish!?! It's time (cue Kurt Cobain) for a return to grunge.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Avatar - Anticipation and Fear

I'm up in arms about James Cameron's new film, Avatar. I just read a glowing review from the London premiere but I am skeptical. Part of me sees this as new era in imaginative cinema, and the other half thinks it's going to be a cheesy action-romance flick which features tall blue cat people. I'm hoping this movie finally pulls audiences beyond noticing monstrously complicated special effects into a experience where the story is the main focus and the effects are just a vehicle. I know. Dream on...

The Star Wars prequels were really bad examples of effect over story. There was so much superfluous crazy detail in those films that you couldn't really appreciate the work. The number of special effects per second blinded the viewer - not to mention that some poor schlep had to spend years making sure that tiny droids in the background of a battle scene exploded properly.

Avatar has a chance to pull action/fantasy/sci-fi into a more serious realm. I'm interested to see if Cameron's grand vision will pay off. Here's the trailer. Roll the blue battle cats!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Camera Toss Photos

I read an interesting article recently on Lifehacker titled, "Create Abstract Light Art by Snapping a Camera-Toss Photo." You put your camera on a long exposure, point it at some pretty lights, press the shutter and toss your camera in the air. If you crop these creatively in Photoshop you can make some cool wallpaper images. The photos below are of our Christmas tree. Oh, and don't tell my wife that I was tossing her Nikon D100 in the air... appreciate it....

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Stop Motion Madness!

One of the drawbacks about being a Dad who teaches digital media is that I have to practice what I preach with my own kids! Kidding... I love doing stop motion movies on the weekend (wink). For reals (as the kiddies say), Christy is away working on book two this weekend so the kids and I are experimenting with some movies. I built a little backdrop with some leftover black foamcore and a glue gun (one of my favorite tools). A few well placed lights, and a camera on a tripod and we're good to go!

As you can see from these test movies, we've got our work cut out to make a full film. These samples have over 100 stills in each film. This drudgery makes me appreciate the skill behind Wallace & Gromit. We're planning to film a simple story tomorrow. Although I like the idea of using Legos and minifigs, I think the larger action figures are a better fit for what we want to do. The Digger character is from Hank's Planet Heroes collection. The other thing that is annoying me is the pixelation that is occuring, I think Adobe Premier Elements is doing something funky when I import the stills. No promises about posting the final results tomorrow! I may be on medication after the 400th shot.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Black Friday Frills

Today I pulled the trigger on a new laptop - just bought the Dell Studio 14z model. Dell is heavily discounting laptops right now, so if you're in the market you should take a look. My main ride has been a Inspiron 1705; a beast of a laptop that has held up surprisingly well. The only problem is that it is HUGE and HEAVY. I really like the new netbooks, but I needed a little more power for all the resource hoggin' Adobe software that I run. The 14z is a higher end machine in a smaller form factor than the standard 15-17" laptops. It doesn't have a CD/DVD player, but I'm rarely using one these days unless I'm installing software.

Now I just have to sit on my hands while I wait for Dell to build my machine and ship it out!

Monday, November 16, 2009

Settlers of Catan

If you enjoy board games, you should check out Settlers of Catan. My friend Pete introduced me to it about 2 years ago and we've been playing ever since. Matter of fact, I was at his excellent "cabin" (ahem, nicer than my house...) over the weekend with some college brosephs and we probably put in about 16 hours of game time. Settlers is highly addictive and a great way to spend a stormy weekend inside.

Settlers was created by German game god, Klaus Teuber and is really catching on in the U.S. It's close to selling a million units in the states. During the game, players try to become the dominant force on the island of Catan by building settlements, cities, and roads. Dice are rolled to determine what resources the island produces. In each turn you collect resources to build up civilizations to get to 10 victory points and win the game. It sounds lame, but it's a pile of awesomeness! I highly recommend it.

Wired Magazine had a great write up on it last spring.... Check it out.

Monday, November 9, 2009

People of Wal-Mart

Pronunciation: \ˈshä-dən-ˌfri-də\
Function: noun
Usage: often capitalized
Etymology: German, from Schaden damage + Freude joy
Date: 1895
: enjoyment obtained from the troubles of others

With this word in mind, I present I know that I'm not supposed to find this funny, but as a person who lives in a small town and needs to shop at Wal-Mart occasionally, I find this site to be incredibly accurate. We Americans are a breed apart.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Judah Friedlander's Supafine Art Gallery

If you're a fan of 30 Rock or standup comedy, then you'll recognize Judah Friedlander by his huge glasses and smirky custom hats. He and the other "writers" on 30 Rock are one of the bright spots on the show. I think this guy is really funny, but the thing I most like about him is his art collection. This is just down my alley:

Click here to visit Judah's excellent collection of bad (good?) art.

Among a fine collection of bad Elvis art, he also has a great mix of sculpture, toys, and fine art miscellany to appreciate. The art is good, but his comments seal the deal. Here's a couple of pieces that I enjoyed:

"Leif Garrett’s smart twin brother. Future cult leader. High school junior love interest in a Judy Blume novel."

"A print of Dorothy Hammill from when she won the 1976 Olympics in Montreal. This print has all the excitement and drama of her gold medal performance. It even has women dressed in traditional Montreal garb holding freshly baked bread. I also like the silhouette of her in the lower left corner. And then to top it off, there’s a bunch of words written about her in the lower right corner. This piece has the three E’s. Exquiste. Exciting. Educational."

"Another one of my favorites. Don’t know if these are landhoppers or if they can fly. But they do like to sit on wood and seem to prefer to travel in pairs – probably for safety. Probably from another planet originally. May have time traveled or space traveled. Not with their own time machine or spaceship – but probably sneaked onto someone else’s without them knowing and went along for the ride. My feeling is that these are the types of creatures that make friends easily."
I once had a collection of gigantic carved Polynesian spoons and forks that would have fit perfectly in this collection.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Captains I Have Known

In one of my fever-induced dreams I was on a boat getting seasick and the ship's captain ordered me to stay in the ship's hospital under quarantine. I remember him wearing a ridiculous blue captain suit with gold braided epaulets. I know, hang in there with me, it's been a rough week... here's a post on captains I have known in my lifetime:

Captain Kangaroo - Believe it or not we used to watch an older guy with a toupee named Captain Kangaroo when we were little. His actual name was Bob Keeshan. I forgot about Mr. Green Jeans - one of my favorites from the show - a friendly handyman who used to stop by. This clip is from 1980 when they tried to resurrect his 30 year old show as the centerpiece of Saturday Morning cartoons.

Captain Kirk - 'nuff said. Shatner needs no introduction. Here's a good clip. Captain Kirk does a dramatic reading of the preamble of the Constitution to a bunch of guys dressed in fake fur with spears. Classic...

"The Captain" of Captain & Tennille - This band was a hit machine in the seventies. "The Captain" was the silent, talented musical partner in this pop duo. At the time, we thought nothing of his hilarious hat/sunglass combo. I guess captain hats were more standard attire back then. This clip from Don Kirshner's Rock Concert show is like packaging everything about the 70's into a little bottle.

Captain Crunch - Commander of the cereal universe, kooky leader, and all around deliverer of deliciousness, Captain Crunch has been in the background of culture for my entire lifespan.

Captain Caveman - A clear Scooby Doo template spinoff, Captain Caveman and the Teen Angels was an odd cartoon that ran from 1977-1980. Apparently, because of the three channels available on my TV at the time, I would watch anything.

Captain Stubing - The Love Boat was one of the cheesiest, but most beloved TV shows ever created. Looking back, I can't believe that we watched this schlock. It was essentially a big PR campaign for the "B" movie star of the month. Essentially, a bunch of story lines written exclusively for guest stars - Bert Convy where are you now!?! You can catch a glimpse of Captain Stubing at the :55 mark in this opening intro.

Captain Jack Sparrow - Depp's famous pirate is so good because he based his character on original pirate/zombie/rockstar Keith Richards. If you're a fan of the Rolling Stones, you know how good this is...

Captain Knuckles - If you haven't seen it, "The Marvelous Misadventures of Flapjack" is worth a gander. Twisted kids cartoons from Mark "Thurop" Van Orman, who used to work on the Powerpuff Girls as an animator. Knuckles and flapjack live on a fetid fishing dock in the middle of nowhere, and are in a constant quest to find "Candied Island". Uncomfortable humor, but really creative.

Ahoy Mateys!

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Swine Flu Day 3

I'm going to live! No fevers today, but I'm still coughing up green goblins and the sore throat is still intense. Still bed-ridden, and achy, but overall a better day. I'm ready to join the survivors of pandemic 2009. Hopefully more recovery tomorrow.

The only bummer is that I missed Halloween. The kids had great costumes. This year they went as Gnomeo and Juliet... Get it!?! Juliet looks cute as usual, but Hank makes me bust up every time I look at him. There's something about tiny suspenders and a beard.

This next sentence makes me the biggest wussy on the planet... I miss hugging my wife and kids! I've been in quarantine in our house for the last three days. No one is coming within 3 feet of me and everything I touch is being wiped down with disinfectant. At least Oregon crushed USC this evening... Goodnight from your local leper.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Swine Flu Day 2

Ever get so sick that your sense of reality starts to warp? I spent the day battling high temps again, in and out of sleep having weird dreams, and painful coughing spells. Thankfully I got some antibiotics from my parents to go along with tamiflu (Papa Pete you are my hero). Going to the pharmacy was a huge journey. Once they know you're infected it's like everyone starts to avert the eyes. Receipts are handed to you with a stick. Children are hidden. I have become the elephant man.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Swine Flu Day 1

Karma... You know what they say. Initially I dismissed swine flu as yet another media-hyped creation of our hypochondriac-filled culture. After a couple of months of teaching kids about avoiding H1N1, washing my hands every five minutes, and seeing a lot of them succumb - I now have it. It's as bad as they say it is; a severe form of flu. What sucks about it is that it combines the worst features of several forms of sickness (fever, achy back, sore throat, headache, sinus pressure, ridiculous green snot, cough, watery eyes, fatigue).

So far the Tamiflu is not really doing anything miraculous. Viruses are such a strange robotic thing. I understand the science behind it, but it still seems like science fiction. I must make amends with my body. G'night.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

I'm Becoming a Hunchback! Fall Music...

I'm beat today... Work stank. Do you ever feel like you're working really hard to push the ball up the hill and it keeps rolling down over the top of you? Today is thus. Smoten, jinxed, awry. Best to just wallow in the beauty and peace of music. Here are some picks for the brooding fall season. Warning! Retroness is nigh!

The Helio Sequence - ultra cool band out of Portland (my home town). Great background music for hanging out around the house.

The Raconteurs - I've been revisiting their first album. It holds up really well three years later. Jack White is the man. If you're a fan, check out "It Might Get Loud", the documentary he made with Led Zeppelin's Jimmy Page, and The Edge from U2.

The Pixies - My friend Chris is canceling his plans to attend the latest Pixies reunion tour in Seattle next month so that he can go to a remote cabin with his brosephs. You are a good friend, Chris. If Frank Black were coming to Ashland, I'm not sure I could be so loyal. As a tribute to you, I give you an ancient rendition on the BBC where they all still have hair!

Pinback - a band I learned about from John in the Morning at KEXP. I like the simple drawings in this video.

Massive Attack - What's not to like about the combination of Massive Attack and Elizabeth Fraser from the Cocteau Twins? I find this song very soothing, but I hated the original video for it - a singing fetus!?! I'm still surprised that Fraser is not a superstar in the music biz.

Here's to a new day tomorrow.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Money! It's a hit...

This year I'm teaching a year long advanced digital media class. We're getting deep into Photoshop, Flash and Dreamweaver as well as a little Illustrator and Indesign. Right now my students are ready to burn me at the stake while I teach them the vagaries of Illustrator. One of our first projects was to create a piece of custom currency in Photoshop. Money is an interesting graphic system that seems simple at first, but is really very complex. My students did a fantastic job, so I thought I'd show some of the best efforts here...

I'm enjoying my time with these young'ns. They're a talented crew, I'm lucky to be their teacher!

Sunday, October 4, 2009

You Are Correct, Sir!

Hank just turned 6! He had an awesome birthday yesterday. Key highlights included a totally chocolate breakfast (hot chocolate and chocolate chip pancakes), a shopping spree at Toys R Us (excellent toy choices btw), and a small party with his buddies Sam, Jack, and Grace (and Juliet of course). Hank is wise beyond his years, as evidenced by this sly video clip...

...and, like his father, he knows how to correctly tuck his t-shirt into his underwear. I love you, Hank! You're a stylish and witty lad!

Sunday, September 27, 2009


On Monday our whole neighborhood was turned upside down by a raging grass fire that threatened our hood and cut a 100 acre swath before it was quelled. Christy called me at noon, and told me to come home quickly because a brush fire was burning towards our house. I jumped in the car and took this picture from I-5 South. Our house is situated just to the right of this mushroom cloud.

By the time I got off the freeway they had closed off our road and blocked all access. I had to sneak into our neighborhood through some back roads (which is not easy in the dotcom mobile). It was utter madness - people were leaving cars in the road and standing on their roofs spraying water. Fire trucks and fire crews were zooming by, and helicopters and planes were dropping water and fire retardant on the blaze up the hill. There was a horse in my yard, and a very nice woman apologizing that her farm was burning and she had no where to go until her husband pulled up the horse trailer. I went in to the house and Christy was already packing valuables into bags. We laughed about how unimportant our possessions seemed to be at that moment. I packed a bunch of meaningless electronics, and my standup bass into the car. She grabbed the really important stuff - pictures and tax documents - and we drove away to get Juliet (Hank was already at Grammy's house). My daughter's school is at the base of the hill and as we arrived the kids were being loaded into buses with the full effect of the fire cloud straight above them. It was a bizarre scene. Here's some video shot at the source of the fire by our local newspaper.

We hung around town in a hotel nervously awaiting news. Luckily the fire crews were able to contain it by early evening. They applied an amazing amount of force to it in a very short time. One rental house at the top of hill burned to the ground, but mostly it damaged farm land. Support your local fire fighters! This was a great lesson for us - it's important to have an emergency plan for when a fire occurs. Our neighborhood is very lucky, a slight shift of the wind and it would have been a horrible disaster.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

A Fine Weekend of Watching Football and Making Stuffed Animals

I didn't just honor diversity this weekend, I celebrated it. I ran the gamut from watching 4 different football games*, to a prolific session with the sewing machine on Sunday where I kicked out 3 stuffed animals. I know. You're like, "Wakka Wakka What?" That's right people, I know how to sew. My momma taught me at young age. What about it!?! When the zombie apocalypse finally comes, I will be ready with a bolt of fabric and a few choice buttons. We'll see who is laughing then...

Juliet and I have been talking lately about how cool it would be to make our own versions of "Ugly Dolls". So today we picked up fleece at Wal-Mart and went to work. Hank received the first effort, a stripey dude that he named "Germy McNugget". Then Juliet designed and sewed a character named "Cloudor", which comes with a brilliant brown sock as an accessory. Finally, I made a one-eyed monster that Christy warned me looked like something that could spawn human life - at that point it was clear that quittin' time was upon us. Overall, I think they came out really well. Better than my Seahawks...

*Oregon v. Utah (Ducks Win!), Florida tells Tennessee and the Kiffin's to pipe down. My Seahawks get the beatdown from the surprising 49ers and are doomed with another year of loss and injury. Lastly, the Giants beat the Cowboys and no one hit Double J's low hanging TV set. Special bonus - YewDub downs SC this weekend! Highly satisfying.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Santa's Got a Brand New Sleigh

Check out this polar concept vehicle from French designer Matthieu Tarrit. This is the coolest snow-caterpillar that I've ever seen. It's a mobile research lab that he designed with input from polar scientists. Forget science! Santa should start the R&D investment now, so that all the Q4 toys can be delivered in style. C'est magnifique!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Plants vs. Zombies

If you enjoy a little casual gaming now and then, you must play Plants vs. Zombies! It's a new take on the old "tower defense" games where you have to protect your house from an onslaught of clever zombies using a variety of weapons. In this case, plants. The game play is incredibly addictive and the graphics are hilarious. There's a very nice interplay between the cuteness of the plants and the ghoulish zombies. Extra Bonus: I read recently that game director George Fan was influenced by Tapper, a classic arcade game from my high school years.

Plants vs. Zombies is published by PopCap games. You can download a trial version, but I recommend the full version which you can purchase for $9.99 via Steam. BRAINS!!!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Storage Units: A Uniquely American Malaise

I read an interesting article recently in the NY Times about storage units. Those little garages say a lot about how Americans over value their possessions. It's also a great indicator that our consumerism has an interesting waste cycle (half life) of its own. Perhaps these cardboard boxes and plastic tubs of misc goods make us feel more permanent on this earth, or give us a sense of our own history.

I'm guilty too. We've owned a storage unit for the last 5 years. It's like a convenient ball and chain. You must believe me when I say, "We've got valuable stuff in there!" But I'm sure that beyond a few nice pieces, it's just psychological baggage. It's weird how we define ourselves based on our "stuff". Please take a gander at this article... It says a lot about our culture, and I found myself nodding my head throughout the text.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Tiny Minds, Tiny Worlds

One of the things I enjoy the most about being a Dad is watching my kids create things. Whether it's drawing, clay, cooking, or just storytelling - I always enjoy seeing the product of their minds. This is most true when my kids play with the greatest toy of all time - Legos! The tiny bricks just had their umpteenth toy revival at our house this weekend. I love the strange coupling of objects, the total disregard for order or utility, and the randomness of the characters.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The Book of Jobs

After years of sitting on my hands and resisting the high cost of smart phones, I finally succumbed and bought an iPhone this summer. I have a bumpy history with Apple. I was obsessed with all things Apple during college, but I couldn't afford one and ended up getting deep into PC's because of all the video games available on the PC. In the early nineties, I started at Microsoft with a Macintosh on my desk (gasp!?! what!?!). Yes, it's true people... Microsoft had many Mac users in the early days. Among other products, I helped market MacOffice to the masses. It sold more than our Windows version in the early days. About a year in, all of our machines were replaced with PC's so that we could test Microsoft's newest version of Windows and email.

I digress... After years of making fun of the "Cult of Steve", I'm eating crow in a big way. Earlier this summer I met a designer at a conference who said, "If it's not on a phone, it's useless." I was really offended until I started using my iPhone more than my laptop. The touch screen and the app store make this device endlessly useful. Yea, the keyboard interface sucks and iTunes is still a horrible piece of software - but I'm hopelessly sold on it. After years of making fun of texters, I'm now texting like a teenage girl, "ZOMG, WTF, ROFL Copter!!!"

Let the derision begin!

Neal Stephenson's Anathem: Thinking Man's Sci-Fi

This summer I read Stephenson's Anathem on my iPhone using Amazon's Kindle App (side note, the Kindle is going to die now that this exists on phones). It's around a thousand pages - so consider the crazy 4000 finger swipes required to get through it. My wife was so annoyed with my time on the iPhone that she started calling it my, "robot girlfriend". I would be offended if she was not dating her phone on such a regular basis. I'm sure her phone does a better job of cleaning the house and paying the bills.

I've been a huge fan of Neal Stephenson since I read Snow Crash in the early nineties. I'm not sure if that book stands the test of time, but it was an awesome read back in the day. The book stirred many of the fears and wonders of the early Internet, and the oncoming doom represented by VIRTUAL REALITY - remember that storyline!?! Stephenson's other big hits, The Diamond Age and Cryptonomicon are also classics. The former represents for me the birth of steam punk and the latter is an awesome adventure romp replete with WWII gold-hoarding fanaticism. Bobby Shaftoe is the bomb! Stephenson then went on to write a trilogy called the "Baroque Cycle", and I had a hard time following. They were brilliantly complex books, but I think they were difficult reads for even the most hardcore of readers - which I'm not.

Anathem is set in a oddly possible parallel universe. I lack the skills to summarize it, so here's a quote from Amazon - "Stephenson (Cryptonomicon) conjures a far-future Earth-like planet, Arbre, where scientists, philosophers and mathematicians—a religious order unto themselves—have been cloistered behind concent (convent) walls. Their role is to nurture all knowledge while safeguarding it from the vagaries of the irrational saecular outside world. Among the monastic scholars is 19-year-old Raz, collected into the concent at age eight and now a decenarian, or tenner (someone allowed contact with the world beyond the stronghold walls only once a decade). But millennia-old rules are cataclysmically shattered when extraterrestrial catastrophe looms, and Raz and his teenage companions—engaging in intense intellectual debate one moment, wrestling like rambunctious adolescents the next—are summoned to save the world."

It's a rigorous read, but well worth the time. I highly recommend it.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

You may ask yourself... Where does my waste go?

Alreet. I attended a Sustainability Institute last July (btw, I found out my carbon footprint is a massive black hole - being a technophile and driving the dotcom mobile is definitely a problem). The focus of the conference was to raise awareness on lowering our impact on the earth, and how we can teach students in high schools to be better stewards. For my fellow teachers and I, it was an opportunity for us to act like 14 year-olds and gawk at gross things that come out of the sewer (Lucky, T-Bone, and Rhino - you know who you are). If you're on the fence about ecology... simply visit a waste water treatment plant and everything will be crystal clear!

I've always hated the word, "sewage". It's the perfect auditory representation of the physical product. Treating sewage is actually pretty amazing. It's incredible how efficient the process has become, and that relatively clean water can come from such unholy spew. But there is one dumpster in the plant that cannot be saved by our techno-wizardry. This pile represents things that cannot be reclaimed or decomposed. If ye dare to click on this tiny picture, then hide your children and grab a vomitous receptacle!!! You have been warned...

My God, what hell hath we wrought!?!

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Catching Sun in a Jar

It's damn hot here! 80 degrees at 9am this morning, and we're expecting highs from 110 to 115. These are the days when I long for Seattle's moderate weather (although I hear it's hot there too this week). People are staying indoors lately - let's pray that the power stays on...

I've been doing some Instructables projects lately. If you're a tinkerer then you're familiar with Make magazine, and the instructables site - a shrine to all things DIY. I made a couple of "Sun Jars" built with off the shelf solar LED yard lights, some old school canning jars, and frosted glass spray paint. Lifehacker had a more simple version of Make's sun jar, so I used their instructions. These are pretty easy to build, the only step that I changed was to glue the solar cell and the electronics into the lid of the jar using some silicone based caulking. Here are some pics:

They work great! If, like me, you believe the white light that LEDs provide is too harsh you can simply tape a clear bottle label over them (we used a Aquafina bottle label for the blue one pictured above). The kids have been using them as night lights in their rooms. We just set them out in the sun for the day and they last all night.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Google Moon Rocks My Inner Spaceman... Man...

It's the 40th anniversary of our nations first steps on the moon! I was four years old when this occurred, but I can still remember it vividly. Thanks Mom, for plopping us kids down in front of our TV to watch this historic event.

Google Earth 5.0 now has the ability to explore our tiny orbiting friend... just select "Moon" from the top toolbar and you're set to explore. There's archival pictures and footage, 3D models of the landing craft, tours, and much much more. The Apollo 11 mission really spurred my interest in all things space. It's cool to go back to it in such an interactive way. Landing on the moon was a pivotal moments in American history, so I'm happy that NASA and Google paired up to capture these missions. The moon is incredibly relevant to modern society, culture, art and literature. Take a moment this week to stare at it from your yard - still fascinating.

Somewhere Major Matt Mason is slowly deteriorating in his rubberized flight suit, sipping a martini and toasting the Apollo 11 crew...

Friday, July 10, 2009

Happy Birthday, Tesla

Do you like remote controls, radio, wireless devices, and motors? Do you like having outlets throughout your house? Then you need to thank Nikola Tesla - America's most under appreciated inventor. Today is his birthday, and you wouldn't know it except for the custom logo on Google's search page. Tesla was equal parts Bill Gates, DaVinci, Nostradamus, and Dr. Frankenstein. The more you know about him the more unreal he gets - as if he was a visitor from the future who brought back enabling technology to the early part of the twentieth century. He was an early pioneer in the field of electricity and magnetism. Here are just a few of his inventions:
  • Alternating Current (AC power systems) - in the war of currents, Tesla's AC power which was backed by George Westinghouse beat out Thomas Edison's Direct Current or DC system as the backbone for power distribution in the U.S.
  • Polyphase Power Distribution (a.k.a. 3 phase power). Look up at most power poles and you'll see three lines.
  • AC Motors - which is also a polyphase system. Induction motors have an electromagnetic case which creates a rotating output shaft. These motors were one of the key ingredients of the Second Industrial Revolution in the United States.
  • Radio Transmission - Marconi gets the credit for inventing radio, but Tesla was the true inventor.
Edison spent a lot of time and energy trying to discredit Tesla's ideas and inventions. Matter of fact, Tesla worked for Edison initially but their relationship soured when Tesla was not paid for his work as they originally agreed. Tesla was a genius, but unlike Edison, he was a poor business man. Later in his life, Tesla dedicated his work towards wireless power transmission. As part of these studies he discovered that the resonant frequency of the Earth was approximately 8 Hertz (Hz). In the 1950s, researchers confirmed that the resonant frequency of the Earth's ionospheric cavity was in this range (later named the Schumann resonance). People thought he lost his mind at the end, where he lived penniless in a hotel and had a fondness for birds. He even claimed that he had the ability to create a death ray - which raised the eyebrows of U.S. military personnel leading up to World War II.

Regardless of his far reaching ideas, Tesla was one of the greatest inventors to ever grace our planet. It's my hope that other people learn and appreciate this great man. If you ever get the chance check out PBS' excellent documentary titled, "Tesla - Master of Lightning" you'll be amazed at the breadth and depth of his genius. PBS also has a companion web site which covers his life. I was happy to hear recently that there is a movement afoot to save his Wardenclyffe lab site in Long Island. Spread the word about this talented American!