Monday, August 31, 2009


This is not truly tasteless: it has a little bit of Monday humor about it, don't you think? Via Yanko Design we have South Korean designer Ji-youn Kim's Hangman Light. In the background you can even see a couple of wall hangings. (Look it's not as tasteless as this.)

Take a look through Kim's website, he's got some pretty cool stuff, everything from construction equipment to solid toothpaste. What do I want most - even more than the Hangman Light (although I would settle for the Hangman light), what I want is the Boo, a battery charging boomerang: man, that is cool.

Listen up!

by Lance Albertson for Sanity Preferred
From SLOrk (the Stanford Laptop Orchestra) comes these really cool speakers, well, at least the plans for them.
The orchestra uses these as monitors so the performers can better hear their own instrument when playing with the ensemble. There are six speakers attached to a dome made from an Ikea salad bowl. Really cool and I really wanted to build it, so skipped right over the about section and started reading their instructions.
The supply list has lots of little doodads. Not bad. Doable. Tool supply list, uh, wait. "Milling Machine/Drill Press of some sort". Hmm. Challenging. Might have to pick me up one of those babies. BTW: did I mention that I got a C+ in woodshop in junior high? So I look at the picture again: there are six holes carved into an semi-circular bowl with a base plate cut to fit. Did I also mention that I'm not particularly good with straight lines? My girlfriend won't even let me paint her house anymore. And curved lines are, uh, well, out of my league. And curved lines on a sphere? Let's just say that IANAAN - I am not an airplane navigator. The first 9 steps are entirely woodworking, with another 3 for mounting the speakers for a total of 12.
And the steps? The salad bowl is the only thing even remotely Ikea about this project. Take step 7, for example:
Once the center holes are in a good place, get ready for some body-shaking hole saw drilling. This is most likely the most dangerous and unsatisfactory step of assembly (must be a better way). Attach the salad bowl to a table using a 2''x4'' and two quick grip clamps. Make sure the bowl is securely fastened as the hole saw drilling can be a bit rough. Attach the 3.5'' hole saw (with counter sink) to a power drill and drill away one at a time. You can also pre-drill the starter hole in the bowl for an easier start. Once one of the holes is complete, readjust the clamps and continue. At this point, the bowl is quite delicate so don't tighten the clamps too tight otherwise it will crack.
Should I really be trusting instructions that say that there must be a better way?

Then there's the face plate. Only 5 steps, but somewhere between steps 2 and 3 the faceplate magically arcs to fit the shape of the bowl. Curved lines again, plus I feel cheated because putting the curve in the faceplate should be another step, so we'll call it 6 steps.

Then you construct the amplifier by sticking together three amplifiers (2 channels/amp * 3 amps = 6 speakers). So I scan down. Step 13 (13?!) begins "[a]t this point, one of the three amplifiers is complete". We've done 12 steps and only one amp is done? So I do some quick math and figure that means 36 steps all together. It turns out you only have to do step 1 once, so we're down to 34. Oh, most of the steps are just ripping the circuit card out of a commercial amp, like step 6 (pictured) where you "[c]ut off the headphone jack cabling as close as possible to the amp board. Some additional soldering will be required because of this, but in the end it reduce the extraneous wiring." (NOTE to self, can possibly save a step by hanging on to that extraneous wiring.)
Finally, you put it all together. 9 more steps (making 61 steps all told). But wait! Do you remember those tests they'd give you in school where the first instruction is to read all the questions (because, spoiler!, the last question tells you not to answer any of the questions)? Okay, so here's how the last step - the 61st step - begins: "Now to seal everything up. This part is a bit tricky..." - THIS part is tricky? THIS PART?
So I go back to the beginning and read the About section. would have helped if I had read this earlier:

The following will be a general overview and design of the Stanford Laptop Orchestra (SLOrk) speaker. The SLOrk speaker was designed and built in the winter of 2008 by over twenty doctoral, masters, and undergrad students involved at CCRMA [Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics]...
This explains my general feeling of unease. It took more than 20 Stanford students to put this together. Now, being a Cal grad, I know that 1 Cal student is worth at least 5 Stanford students, but you know, it would still take at minumum of 4 of me to do this project. Plus, you know, in spite of starting out with an economical Ikea salad bowl, this speaker is going to end up costing me two or three thousand dollars (mostly for the drill press), a tremendous about of time and effort, and with my C+ woodshop experince I'll probably end up with something about as attractive Michael Palin in drag.
Maybe the instructions were right. Maybe there is a better way...

Fortunately, it didn't take long to find a functionally equivalent alternative: via Coolest Gadgets, I give you The Sound Bomb, which serves the same purpose, costs only £24.95 from the UK site, and is superior in that it runs off USB instead of requiring an external 12v power supply.
Ahh. Another project complete. What will I do tomorrow?
Thanks to Veronica Belmont for the inspiring SLOrk speaker tweet.

Arthur Dent Sends His Sympathy

Well, it's not quite as dramatic as Tiananmen Square, but yet another Chinese protest has gone down in flames. Down is the wrong word; as you can see from the picture, up would be more appropriate. In a move Arthur Dent could certainly appreciate, Qu Liming of Liulin, China decided to block a large construction with his car. Liming's protest, like Dent's, appears to have been ineffective.

Museum of Animal Perspectives

Sam Easterson has been making movies for more than 15 years, but he's not even listed on That's because, although he has worked for such famous folk as Disney and the Sundance Channel, he doesn't do feature films, he does crittercams.
You know them, you love them, and there are bunches of videos on the web, just look for The Museum of Animal Perspectives (main site here, blog here, YouTube here, Flickr here, Vimeo here). Not all the videos are his, but it's a neat collection. He lists his own favorites on the main site, but these are a couple of mine.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Suicidal Cows of Switzerland

The happy cows are in California, the suicidal ones in Switzerland.

The cows around the idyllic Swiss town of Lauterbrunnen - and I do mean idyllic, look at that picture to the left - are hurling themselves off a cliff. Twenty-eight cows in three days. Because the rotting corpses threaten to contaminate the local water supply, mountain rescue workers were called in to the inaccessible location to remove the bodies by helicopter. The potential causes for the mass suicide are myriad (high school kids spiking the water with Kool Aid, a new bovine strain of the Lemming Flu, general economic malaise), but nothing is yet known for sure. If anyone has a clue, give the Lauterbrunnen police a ring at 555-YODL.

High Speed Robot Hand

Oh, man, just geeky cool. I remember when robots could only threaten the jobs of assembly line workers, but these babies can take on baseball players, baton twirlers, and bored teenagers testing the aerodynamic capabilities of their cellphones. On the other hand, I would like to point out to all the strong IP proponents out there, that, like hybrid cars, all the patents for this stuff is owned by Japanese companies; that's worked out well for the US auto makers. Just sayin'.
More videos available on the Ishikawa Komuro Lab website.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

SqealyD and the Cycologists

It's not about the bike, it's about the music. Do you remember when Carlos made an instrument in the Magic Schoolbus episode about sound? Well, SquealyD, aka Linsey Pollak, is all about sound, and his vibrations come from every day items, like his bike (below) or a carrot.
He is involved with several musical projects, including the Cycologists, a trio of guerrilla cycling musicians who show up, play, and get out of Dodge. Here's a link to them playing a yuletide tune.
Check out his YouTube channel, or his web site for more examples.


Friday, August 28, 2009

The Chicken Whisperer

He's been doing it since he was 3 years old. Joshua McCarthy, now 8, curious as to what would happen if he rolled one of the family chickens, (the late) Crooked Beak, on its back. Crooked Beak stayed put. His mother had been watching out the window; she thought he'd killed the chicken. Crooked Beak died a couple of years later, but not from anything Joshua had done. Joshua can do this with lots of chickens (his record is four at once), and he once got Sunny, a member of the current family flock, to stay on her back for 10 minutes. I see a future for him in Middle East peace talks or marriage counseling.

MIT Trash Tracking

by Lance Albertson for Sanity Preferred
event photos by Sam Albertson & Lance Albertson

Update: the researches returned in September. Follow this link to the article covering their visit.

For this story, as with so many stories, the end is just the beginning.
For most people the last thing they know about their trash is where they threw it away, and even that is a fleeting memory. Your Starbucks cup, your lovingly crafted macaroni necklace, your television set: their time with you eventually comes to an end. Of course, we all know in the back of our minds that all those items go somewhere. But where do they go? And how do they get there? These are the questions being addressed by the Trash Track team from MIT's Senseable City Lab (I hope I got the italics right), who were in town this week tracking Seattle garbage. Six team members were here to support the project: Assaf Biderman (associate director of the Senseable City Lab), project leader Kristian Klöckl, Jennifer Dunnam, Christine Outram, and Caitlin Zacharias (not pictured, sorry Caitlin!).

The overriding theme of the Senseable City Lab is to dominate electronic data, bend it to our will so we can understand and improve the ways we interact with our man made environment. Senseable City Lab projects include The Copenhagen Wheel, which studies ways to improve cyclist interactions in Copenhagen using location aware bicycle wheels; Currentcity, which promotes understanding by visualizations (check out the "SMS During New Year's Eve" video); and the upcoming Engaging Data Forum, which addresses applications and management of personal electronic data.
The project du jour on Wednesday in Seattle, however, was the Trash Track project, which studies the "removal chain"; lots of time has been spent studying the supply chain and where stuff comes from, but much less effort has been spent studying where stuff goes after you get rid of it. Without data about where stuff goes and how it gets there it is difficult to figure out ways to improve the removal system. The Trash Track project is an effort to improve removal chain data collection. Currently the Trash Track team is studying trash in two cities, Seattle and New York. I am assuming that Seattle was chosen because it has a strong environmental reputation, and New York was chosen, in contrast, because its rivers occasionally catch fire. Okay, okay: so that was Cleveland, and the Trash Track project was inspired by the Green NYC Initiative, but the Yankees still suck, regardless.
As of today, most trash does not have smart transmitters, but they're coming. Think of all the little tags that keep you from walking out the store without paying for the goodies, or the RFID tags stowed in your passport and drivers license. As sensors become cheaper they will be embedded in everything you buy at the store and today's ubiquitous bar codes will become a quaint relic of the past (alas, too late to stop the desecration of album cover art, but that's a rant for another day). To address this problem, the Trash Track researchers developed their own transmitters which are attached to the trash.

The transmitters use cell phone technology for tracking, and oddly enough the transmitters used this week (version 2) are roughly the size of a small cell phone. This is about half the size of the original version, and the upcoming version (tentatively titled version 3), will cut the size in half again. The transmitters are stored inside the garbage, so the size of the transmitters limits the size of the garbage that can be tracked.

The transmitters are fragile electronics, so to protect them on their journey they have to be packaged up and kept away from the elements in some way. The most common way on Wednesday was using an insulating foam that sticks to the item, but protects the transmitter from the elements yet still allows its signal to get out. The foam is created on site; to the left you can see Jennifer Dunnam of the Trash Track team whipping up a batch of foam to attach a transmitter to the colorful, boxy item in front of her (courtesy of the Lake Washington Girls Middle School campus cleanup).
Once the tag is attached and the item is discarded (at least 10 blocks from the library, please), it can be tracked and mapped and made into a pretty picture like the one on the right which shows the path of a discarded Starbucks cup deployed in Seattle earlier this year.

Wednesday the team took the next step: taking their testing out of the lab and onto the streets where the people meet, and see how trash is handled in the real world. The coming out party took place in front of the Central Branch of the Seattle Library (a building which Jennifer,an architecture major, it turns out, had studied). The event started at 10:30, but I got there around 10:00 to see what was going on. I wasn't the first one there, that honor went to Leslie Ashbaugh and her crew representing LWGMS pictured on the left with their colorful, boxy item prominently displayed - as it said on the project website, people were encouraged to bring in "original" items. I brought an item, too, but it was original only in the sense that my son, Sam, and I were probably the first people to cram an old clothes dryer into the back of a Prius (special shout out to all the kind drivers who let me survive the Mercer Merge without use of my rear view mirror). Other early arrivals included Wendy Malkin (whose Little Mermaid videotape was selected over her wedding cake topper), and Bobbie Leonard (whose happens to be maternally related to Annie Leonard of The Story of Stuff), and the now infamous Mrs. DeGroot, who somehow managed to avoid being pilloried in spite of trying to have an old MIT hat tagged for processing (the Uggs poking out of her bag were selected instead).
As I said, most of the items were attached with a foam compound. Jennifer spent a fair amount of time trying to get the tag inside Wendy's videotape, but even after sacrificing the cassette to the gods she couldn't wedge it in, so she resorted to attaching it to the cassette case instead (shown right).
However the foam is not appropriate for all items, like, say, the dryer I brought. The team wants the tag to be inside the item they are tracking which helps keep the tag actually with the item. If you tag something on the outside it is likely the tag will get removed from the item and, well, they want to track the items, not the tags, per se. However, when you put a tag inside a large metal item like my dryer the result is, well, pretty much nothing. As Jennifer explained, that is because the item acts as a Faraday cage, which you will of course remember from movies like Enemy of the State (in Brill's hideout, remember?!). A Faraday cage serves to block electromagnetic radiation, including the signals transmitted by the Trash Track tags. To get around this problem the team has an alternate way to tag appliances: a plastic box with sticky tape that you attach to the outside; it's pictured to the left in case the explanation was too technical for you.

Each item has an ID number so that it can be individually tracked. My dryer is #406 (pictured in situ to the right). The team also took down a few particulars for each item they tracked: how long did I own it, why was I discarding it, and the last time it was used, along with some contact information. At some point a map of the tracking information should be available online, so remember to look for #406 to see the travels of my dryer.

For people living in Seattle getting rid of appliances is not a problem, just drop them off at the city transfer stations. The King County transfer stations don't take appliances, but the Solid Waste Division does provide a website that lists companies that will take your old appliances. I dropped mine off Thursday morning at Arrow Metals in Woodinville (although I was seriously tempted to go to go Binford Metal Recycling in Kent until I remembered that in episode 54 of Tool Time Mr. Binford had died). Dropped it off unceremoniously in a u-shaped iron bin with a few crushed cans, a lifeless King Kong lying dead on the streets of New York surround by little humans. Still, my old dryer lives on, its end a part of a new scientific study, a new beginning (man, that was forced, but I had to tie in the opening line from the story).

The event seemed reasonably successful, but that's not to say it didn't go off without a hitch. The biggest problem was getting the foam to set. They had tested it here in Seattle in July, but the temperature had been in the 80's when they did the test, and though the high for Wednesday was 74, at 11:00 in the shade of the library it was nowhere near that warm, so the foam took longer than usual to solidify, which made the processing slower than they would have liked (and they lost a couple of people who had brought trash but didn't have time to wait). Other than that, however, a good time was had by all and I can't wait to see the map of my dryers trip.
Members of the Trash Track team will be returning to the library in September to go over the data. I don't have an exact date, but I will update this post when I find out. Drop me an email if you'd like to be notified of the date.

UPDATE: the MIT Trash Track team will be back at the Seattle Public Library on Saturday 9/19. Follow this link for more info.

UPDATE: the Trash Track team was back in Seattle in September. Follow this link for the article on their visit.


Animation Through the Ages

This is a fun little trip back through time showing different animation effects used in the movies over the past century. From the YouTube user BenGraphics, it was originally used as a lecture introduction. It is slightly misleading in that the explosion of the Death Star is not from the original 1977 version, but from one of the "more is better" later re-releases (raspberry insert: sorry George, the original film was charming and the effects enhanced the story, but then you went to the dark side), still, each of the effects was deemed remarkable in their time. I am, however, disappointed at the staggering lack of Wallace and Gromit. Click through to see the list of all the films in the clip. (PS: better watch it quick, before the Blue Man Group has it taken down for copyright infringement.)


Thursday, August 27, 2009

Here's Looking at You, Kid

Looking at her butt will never be the same now that it can look back.
William Jones, an Everett, Washington artist has created pants that not only stare back, but actually wink. The hand-painted creations "wink" by having the eyes positioned in the crease between the thigh and the butt-cheek. (See the viral video here.)
He has several different styles which you can see on his website. Each style is a different price. The pair of a tiger peering out of the jungle (pictured) will set you back $579.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Pinkelstein Partay!

The story has come down through the ages that in 1787 W. A. Mozart, then 31 and far closer to death than anyone realized, stopped in Raschala, Austria on his way to Prague in order to pee. At least that's the story told by Helmut Leierer since 1975, and he's sticking to it. In fact, in 1976 the town installed a plaque on the stone Mozart peed on, the now world famous Pinkelstein. Then, the thinking went, if you needed to pee something, what would you pee? "Beer" came back the obvious answer with "anything else alcoholic" a close second. Wishing to emulate the great musician and needing an excuse to imbibe (in order to pee), Raschala is now putting on a (wink, wink) "Music" festival where alcoholic beverages will be consumed in mass (<- German joke) quantities. Here's a link to the story, but, of course, it's in German.

Dude? Dude? Dude!!

The skatepark in Snowmass is once again safe for humans. The unnamed bear (age unknown), was found in a deep bowl at the skatepark on Tuesday morning. The steep sides of the bowl proved an effective if unintentional pit trap similar to the wolf trap shown below. Workers from the Parks and Rec department (and I am seriously thinking "summer interns" here), lowered a ladder which the bear eventually used to make its escape. No word on whether Activision will incorporate the bear into the next release of the Tony Hawk franchise.

Ms. Monroe Seeks the Pleasure of Your Company

The grave located just above the one at Corridor of Memories, #24, at Westwood Memorial Park in Los Angeles, CA is once again open to the highest bidder. It's kind of pricey, but you'll spend eternity in interesting company. A space to the side is reserved for Playboy magnate Hugh Heffner, your downstairs neighbor would be his Sweetheart of the Month from Playboy issue #1, Marilyn Monroe. Originally owned by Joe Dimaggio (himself buried at Holy Cross Cemetery in illustrious Colma, CA, City of the Dead*), the spot atop the Hollywood Icon was purchased in 1954 by Richard Poncher who has occupied it (facing down, of course), for the last 23 years. His widow is selling the spot on eBay to the highest bidder. The winning bid of $4.6 million was withdrawn, leaving the eleven people who already bid at least $4.5 million to duke it out for the right to be just out of sight in thousands of photographs every year (see photo to right).

* Why are there no good zombie movies set in Colma?

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Governator's House to Become Superfund Site

Arnold Schwarzenegger's birth house in Thal, Austria is to become a Superfund site. No, wait, I think I read that wrong. Oh, I see: the house is to be turned into a museum with the backing of the Superfund Group. Schwarzenegger's most recent trip to Austria was in March of this year, when he tore himself away from the CeBit Expo in Hannover and flew to Graz for an evening of friendship and wiener schnitzel. The plan is to open the museum next year, and the group hopes the Governator will attend the opening and spend more than six hours in Austria this time.

Monday, August 24, 2009

First the Hair Goes, Then the Museum

The Burt Reynolds & Friends Museum is one of the largest celebrity museums in the country...for the moment.
The not-for-profit museum opened in 2003. It houses a collection of movie and sports memorabilia including a Canoe from Deliverance, a key to the city of Piggott, AR, and Fred Biletnikoff's last jar of Stick-um. It is also home to the Burt Reynolds Institute for Film & Theatre (yes, with an "re").
However the building that currently houses it in Jupiter, FL (on US1, across from Chili's) has just been sold and will be torn down. Although 2500 square feet have been set aside for non-profit space in the new development, there is no guarantee the museum will get that space. "The museum needs to be more than acting classes, photos of Burt Reynolds with Loni Anderson, and canoes used in filming Deliverance," said Nick Mastroianni, a spokesman for the developer.
Perhaps Mr. Mastroianni was not aware of Fred Biletnikoff's jar of Stick-um.

The Aliens of SR9

by Lance Albertson for Sanity Preferred
You've just left the town of Grace, WA in your rear view mirror (population 12, says the sign), heading north on a two-lane highway, north towards Clearview, then on to Snohomish. You're tooling down the highway when you see - no, it couldn't have been. You look again, and it's true. Your eyes did not deceive you. They are real. Lurking beneath the apple trees, the aliens of SR9 are among us.
And have been for about ten years.

They are the handiwork of John King, tow-truck driver, sci-fi fan, and resident artist. Not surprisingly, people like me stop by all the time to take pictures of the creatures and their spaceships. John's wife, Sue (pictured left, with the artist), puts up with them.
Each of the spaceships is constructed of a pair of large, old-style satellite dishes that people had asked him to haul off for scrap, then topped off with a Weber grill. The mid-line is covered by lights that the Kings turn on in the fall which makes the ships easy to pick out at night. The aliens are made of car suspension springs and alien Halloween masks. Both the springs and the masks are harder to come by than they used to be. (If anyone knows where to find the alien masks, please let John know - he's especially interested in green ones.) Sometimes he does get donations. The round-faced alien shown above is a cookie jar left anonymously on the Kings' doorstep.

John said that when he finished building his first ship he sat in the back yard with spacey, New Age music playing and the lights flashing and it felt "almost mystic". He might have stopped there if it weren't for someone saying it looked like a clam (must have been an Ivar's fan). To make sure that people realized that they were spaceships and not clams, John set about creating a small army of aliens. Now there are two ships and seven aliens, five on the ground, and two in one of the ships.

John has made other things from scrap as well. He has a larger, man-sized spring creature that can sometimes be seen dressed in a Mariners outfit, and he has made a dinner bell (left) out of an old compressed air tank. An avowed pack rat, he has pulled an eclectic mix of items from cars before he drags them off to be scrapped: an Oscar the Grouch who pops out of his plastic garbage can when you squeeze an air bulb, a stack of bibles (which he gives away), and boxes of car emblems pried from the sides of the soon-to-not-be cars. The strangest thing he ever found in a car? A box of cremated human remains, packaged up nicely, complete with the deceased's name on the box (the remains were respectfully disposed of at a funeral home).
The aliens wear out over time, their plastic faces fade from exposure to the elements. In fact, John replaced the masks for the spaceship aliens while I was there today, a little maintenance to keep this alien roadside attraction in shape, a task that John seems to enjoy. I suppose I should expect nothing less, after all, John's father was born in Roswell, New Mexico.
If you ever need a tow, be sure to give John's Econo-Tow a call at 425-488-2406.

Excuse in a Box

You know the guy, the over-involved one who coaches baseball, volunteers to read to his kid's class twice a week, and decorates his cubicle with endearing photos and macaroni artwork. The one who always misses work to do something with his kid. The one you always have to cover for. The one who leaves you, the childless, responsible drone to do his job for him.
You are jealous of him. You hate him. You know you do.
If only YOU had a child, then it would all be different. If only YOU had a child then YOU could skip work and frolic with antelope or whatever it is you'd rather be doing. If only.
Well, now, you CAN be that guy.
Created by Melissa Maher, I give you: The Office Kid.
As real as Jan Brady's boyfriend, The Office Kid is what excuses are made of: photographs and family drawings, no real kid necessary. Who needs a sick kid? All you really need is a physician's note.
For guys, all you have to do is name the little twerp, come up with a little background story, and start skipping work. It's a little harder for gals (it always is, isn't it?), but the idea of an emergency adoption on your trip to Cancun (where you will have to return twice a year so he can visit his birth parents), or the death of a (preferably fictional) relative can serve as a satisfying explanation.
Like everything of quality, you can buy it, er, him on eBay.

Cockney ATM

Banks with a sense of humor? This is what separates Britain from the United States. Five ATMs operated by Bank Machine in London's East End will have interfaces in Cockney Rhyming slang for the next three months (BTW: for those of you unsure on the matter, Dick Van Dyke? Not really Cockney). Using the rhyming slang means that someone will have to enter their Huckleberry Finn [PIN], then decide how much sausage and mash [cash] they want to withdraw.
How long before the Trekkies demand an interface in Klingon?
Update: here's a picture of the actual ATM (via Neatorama):

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Where Are The Gherkins Lurkin'?

No joke: someone in Adelaide is playing hide the pickle, or more accurately, hide the $10,000 worth of cucumbers. Fine: gherkins are not the same as cucumbers (but they rhyme better), and those are Australian dollars, not US, so it's more like $8500 dollars stateside, but still, that's a lot of missing cucumbers.
Says Chief Inspector Kym Zander, "The issue with the cucumber is how do you and I tell who owns a different cucumber? We're having difficulty establishing where [the cucumbers] are going."
Indeed, the police are in a pickle.

The Witch of Wookey Hole

Sorry Star Wars fans, it's Wookey, not Wookie. Carla Calamity (mild mannered real estate agent Carole Bohanan by day), recently out-interviewed several hundred other applicants for the opportunity to sit in a cave and cackle at tourists. More than 3,000 people applied, but only about 10% got to interview. During busy times she will have to leave her rented home and sleep in the caves, which she says "will be like a palace compared to what I am living in at the moment." (Click through the links above for more pix.)
Picture at right from

Friday, August 21, 2009

Totnes Orange Races

The 2009 edition of the Totnes Elizabethan Society sponsored orange races are in the books. This year there were eight different age categories, plus a police challenge race. The competitors start the race with an orange which they must throw, kick, or otherwise motivate ahead of them to the end of the course. A full orange is not required at the end of the course, any piece will do - in fact any piece of anyone's orange will do.
This year's races had heightened safety concerns due to newly erected bollards and chicanes designed to control traffic flow, so extra marshalls were on hand to protect the competitors.

Donkey Tea Bags

I know some of you are only checking this out to satisfy your prurient interests, but these are, in fact real tea bags. (Really.) Donkey Products from famously humorous Germany brings you three sets of tea bags: Royal Tea (pictured), featuring the British royal family, Democratea, featuring various world leaders, and the slightly prurient Strip Tea, which you'll just have to click through to see if you can't figure it out on your own.
No word yet on where these can be purchased. (Sounds like a job for Archie McPhee!)

Revoltin' Samoans

The island nation of Samoa is scheduled to switch from driving on the right to driving on the left on September 7th, but there is understandable resistance to the change. Approximately 17,000 of the 19,000 cars in Samoa are left-hand drive, like US cars. The switch is to bring the country more in line with its neighbors New Zealand and Australia.
This would be the first case of a country switching driving directions since Iceland in 1968, and Sweden (pictured on the day of the switch known as Högertrafikomläggningen) in 1967.
Disgruntled Samoan residents have been removing the new signs and painting arrows the wrong direction on the streets in an effort to fight the change.

Sentimental Journey B-17

by Lance Albertson for Sanity Preferred

I enjoy artifacts. I like going through Europe and touring the castles in the Loire valley, seeing meridian line at the Royal Observatory, or walking through the ruins of Pompeii. But there are artifacts outside of Europe, and yesterday I got see a bunch at the Flying Heritage Museum, at Paine Field in Everett, WA.
The main purpose of the trip was to see one of the last airworthy B-17s, the Sentimental Journey, a Flying Fortress maintained by the Arizona Wing of the Commemorative Air Force. I did not get to fly in the plane, but did tour it on the ground. I was first introduced to black and white WWII footage by the World at War documentary series in the 70s and have been interested in what may have been the last romantic (and not coincidentally, first fully filmed) war. I still recall the images of the huge bombers filling the sky and aerial views of the bombs dropping down and creating their tiny mushroom clouds as they hit the ground.
The plane was out flying when we pulled into the parking lot, but landed about 10 minutes later and taxied to the viewing area. The first thing I noticed as it rolled past a 747 sitting on the tarmac was that the plane was not huge. It was remarkably not-huge, a fact driven home when I climbed on board. I am not a big guy, about 5' 9", extraordinarily average, but even for me, climbing up through the nose turret and up to the cockpit was a chore. The actor Jimmy Stewart piloted B-17s during WWII, and I just can't imagine dragging his 6' 3" frame through such a cramped space.

This version of the plane - I believe it was a B-17E - had six machine guns (top, belly, nose, tail, and one on each side). They were displayed with belts of 50 caliber rounds, thicker than my finger and much longer.
The bomb bay was a revelation. It is just an open space in the middle of the plane full of bombs - no surprise - but the catwalk that connects the front of the plane to the rear can't be more than six or eight inches across, about the span of my hand, not even wide enough to stand with your feet next to each other. I am afraid of heights, and I have this horrible image in my mind of a bomb that doesn't release, and some poor sap (probably me), having to go out on the catwalk, flak exploding all around, rounds from enemy fighters ripping through the airframe as I stand with a six inch plate of steel between me and a mile of empty space while I try to pry the bomb free. Zeesh. It's amazing I slept at all last night.
Very cool stuff.

Then we went into the Flying Heritage Museum itself. It's just a hangar and doesn't look like much from the outside, but inside is a great collection of mostly WWII aircraft. I'm not a particular aircraft buff, but it was neat to see these planes most of which are still in flying condition (there are demonstration flights every other weekend during the summer). If you like WWII era aircraft, this is a nice stop. We went during the week and, in spite of the B-17, the museum was quite empty, which meant we got Woody as our own private docent. He talked at length about the history of the models, how they were used in the war, and sometimes about the specific pilot who flew the plane. It was pretty cool and made the trip much more interesting than just watching the taped interviews and historical footage would have been.
There were a couple of surprises. First was the one of the planes flown by the "Night Witches" of the Soviet 588th Night Bomber Regiment. I didn't even know the story - women called into service as pilots who flew low altitude missions in obsolete biplanes in WWII at night with no lights dropping bombs (sometimes by hand) onto enemy positions. It serves as a reminder that there were heroic efforts by many on all sides during the war.
The second surprise - and this is just great for artifact lovers like me - was getting to see the X-Prize, the actual trophy awarded to Scaled Composites for the first commercial space flight in 2004. There was also a model of SpaceShipOne hanging from the rafters.
Again, very cool.
The last artifact I'll mention was also the first one I saw. I grew up as a big fan of the Guinness Book of World Records. The Guinness book is now associated with lots of bizarre records, but back in the day it was more down to earth. One of those record holders I believe dates back to my childhood. As we pulled off the freeway onto the surface streets going to the airport off to our right was a building, the Boeing Everett plant, where 747s are made. The building next to us was not just a building, it was, at 472 million cubic feet, the largest building in the world. I had never seen it before, and for an artifact hound like me, it was a nice start to what turned out to be a really fun afternoon.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

One Piece at a Time

In a move reminiscent of the Johnny Cash song, a motorcycle factory in Chongqing, China has been arrested for stealing a motorcycle one piece at a time. He began stealing parts in 2003, bringing them home and assembling the bike. He was pulled over by police on his inaugural ride.

Camel Milk Chocolate

Rest easy, my friends, for camel milk chocolate can now be yours. Al Nassma will soon be providing chocolate made from camel milk. It is considered a luxury item in the Middle East. Camel milk contains less fat, less lactose and more insulin than cow milk, so is more suitable for diabetics (I did not know that).
And none too soon, either. No longer will I have to rely on canned Haggis to fulfill my international culinary desires.