Sunday, December 30, 2007

2008? bring it on!

The end of 2007 is upon us. But rather than look backward, as so many often do (yup, yup, yeah, yessir, yup, oui, yup), I'm looking ahead! Here are the top 10 things I'm looking forward to in 2008:

10. The Smart fortwo. I'm not personally in the market for a car, but I've loved the look of these guys ever since I saw them in Europe, oh, it seems like decades ago. Now that they're finally coming Stateside, I expect them to sell like hotcakes—and make the road a much funkier place in the process!

9. The Phoenix spacecraft lands on Mars. It's not a rover like Pathfinder, Spirit, and Opportunity, but the Phoenix has a gaggle of high-end analyzing probes that will scour the landing site for signs of water and...wait for it...possible Martians!

8. A new season for the Mets. If ever a team needed a fresh start, it's these fellas.

7. The Hawaiian quarter debuts! It will be the last of the state quarters released into general circulation since Bill Clinton approved the quarter program back in 1997. By the end of 2008, five state quarters will have been released in each of the past 10 years, in order of when the states became part of the Union. Interestingly, our non-state jurisdictions weren't too psyched about being left out of this coinage party, and they have successfully petitioned for their own quarters; an additional six quarters—representing the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, the Northern Mariana Islands, Guam, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and American Samoa—will be released in 2009.

6. New albums from Goldfrapp, Ladytron, M83, Peter Gabriel, and The Postal Service, among others!

5. The Columbus and Kibo modules get installed on the International Space Station. These two science labs have been a long time coming and will be among the final major pieces of the ISS puzzle.

4. The Large Hadron Collider opens for business! This humungoid particle accelerator near Geneva, Switzerland, will be the biggest, highest-energy accelerator on the planet. One of the main goals of the behemoth is for it to produce Higgs bosons, subatomic particles that, if proven to exist, may help explain some of the most fundamental questions about the nature of matter. Another main goal is to simulate conditions right after the Big Bang!

3. Ikea finally comes to Brooklyn! No more schlepping to Elizabeth, New Jersey for Swedish furniture and meatballs - woo hoo!

2. A bittersweet selection for No. 2: the final game played at Shea Stadium. The Mets are moving into a much-needed new ballpark, Citi Field, in 2009, which means that after the end of the 2008 baseball season, Shea will be pulverized and turned into a parking lot. I will very much miss Shea, but I'm looking forward to the tributes and, yes, moving on to the phat new stadium (which, among other things, may house a Shake Shack)!

...And the No. 1 thing I'm looking forward to in 2008: regime change! The 2008 presidential election will no doubt be a mud-fest no matter who the finalists are, but as long as there will be lame duck season for 43 and all his cronies, it's all good. Happy new year, everyone!

Friday, December 21, 2007

all i want for xmas is...

I have some friends who are waiting for the price of a hypoallergenic cat to come down before they treat themselves (they're currently about $6,000), but I'm putting something even cooler on my (evergreen) xmas list: a glow-in-the-dark cat. Scientists in South Korea announced last week that they had cloned several housecats—which in itself is nothing new—but that in these cats, they fiddled with a gene that makes a certain protein fluoresce. So, when they are exposed to ultraviolet light, the Turkish Angoras glow a faint but unmistakable red! Supposedly, the glowing is an unintended side effect, and the real goal is to be able to reproduce certain proteins during cloning that might lead to treatments for genetic diseases. Which is all well and good, but...who doesn't want a glow-in-the-dark cat?! I suppose the cats themselves might not appreciate being more detectable at night—especially, say, by rodent enemies. But I certainly will be less likely to step on my feline's tail on my way to the john at four in the morning if I can see it glowing red. I'm guessing these kitties will be even longer in coming than the hypoallergenic kind, so for now I'm just gonna put it on my list, and wait til Santa agrees that I've been nice enough.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

one very bad holiday gift idea

I listen to a news radio station every morning as I'm getting ready for work, and I can always tell when the holidays are approaching. No, it's not from their coverage of the cutting and lighting of the Rockefeller Center tree. Nor is it from the frigid temperatures that the weatherman starts announcing in late November. I know it from the gradual appearance of probably the most annoying ad I've ever heard. The advertisement is for a company called the International Star Registry (ISR). Their pitch begins, "For the perfect gift, name a star after someone!" Rocky Mosele, CEO of the company, goes on to tell you that for as little as $54, you can name a star after a friend or other loved one. Your money supposedly buys you the official naming rights to a star, which is registered "in book form in the U.S. Copyright Office." You also get a (pretty hideous) paper certificate; a star chart with "your star" circled in bright red; and a booklet on who-knows-what. Umm...this just might be the biggest scam in all of holiday giving!

The truth of the matter is that only one organization has the authority to name stars officially, and that is the International Astronomincal Union. The U.S. Copyright Office has absolutely no authority in this area. What's more, even if you decide to pony up some cash for these bogus naming rights, there's no way to prove that the ISR hasn't reused a small number of stars over and over again. In short, the International Star Registy is a black hole for your wallet. Of course, they aren't the only company claiming to let you name your own star; there are probably dozens of others. However, ISR just may be the worst offender, at least in the U.S.; they apparently make enough money spend up to $1 million every year on sketchy advertising! At this point in the conversation, I'd probably whip out the word "suckers," but as this is a friendly blog, I'll instead offer some advice: This holiday season, dear astronomy buff, please spend your money on a new telescope, a Hubble Telescope poster or print, or some astronomical Christmas tree ornaments!

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

girlz rule

For the first time ever, there aren't any Y chromosomes present among the winners of the prestigious Siemens Competition in Math, Science and Technology! In the team competition, Janelle Schlossberger and Amanda Marinoff of Plainview, Long Island won for the molecule they created that blocks the reproduction of drug-resistant tuberculosis bacteria. And in the individual competition, Isha Himani Jain from Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, took top honors for her work on bone growth in zebra fish. Each prize comes with a $100,000 scholarship, but it will also seriously pad the future resumes of these three young budding scientists! Congrats to all.

I guess the only thing surprising to me about this is that it didn't happen sooner. I mean, all three of these girls did their projects in the biological sciences, and the biological sciences have definitely not been lacking in female representation over the past decade or so. In fact, I kind of can't believe that 2007 is the first time this has happened! Now the next step for me would be to see more girls interested enough in the physical and mathematical sciences to kick butt there as well. Studies have shown that for a number of reasons, girls at an early age tend to shy away from the mathematical and physical sciences, which of course leads to a dearth of them at the college and post-college levels, which in turn makes it that much harder for any women who do want to break into these areas to feel like they're not just welcomed but treated equally.

For now, I'll just be happy to bask in the reflected glow of these three young ladies. By the way, eat your heart out, Larry Summers!

Sunday, December 02, 2007

bcs is a load of bs

I must say I'm sick and tired of hearing about all the nonsense regarding the insanity of the BCS system. For the uninitiated, that's the impossible-to-understand system that ranks college football teams throughout the season and decides which two get to vie for the national collegiate football championship title. I don't think there's anyone on the planet who likes it, so it's time to get rid of the darned thing. I'm not the first person to suggest there should be a playoff system similar to ones for most of the other NCAA sports—and I won't be the last. I don't want to hear any crap about scheduling works well enough for Division I-AA football teams! So just do what you have to do and make it so.

Speaking of Division I-AA: It's high time that the Ivy League were allowed into the NCAA I-AA football playoffs. For the past I-don't-know-how-long, Ivy League presidents have decided against letting the winner of the regular season compete in the national championships. The Ivy coaches are understandably livid about it. I would normally call this kind of thing "whining," since football programs, even at Ivy League schools, generally get waaaay more funding and perks than all other sports. Still, I don't blame the gridiron managers for being annoyed. Pretty much every other Ivy League sport has the opportunity to compete in an end-of-season championship (assuming they've compiled the requisite stellar record)...It's only fair to let the boys play on!

Saturday, December 01, 2007

our celestial twin?

Interesting news from the folks at the European Space Agency who are running the Venus Express spacecraft mission: It appears that Venus and Earth are looking more and more like they may be twins separated at birth!

Venus Express has been orbiting our sister planet since April 2006, but the first solid chunk of data from the mission is just starting to be released now (it takes a while to compile and analyze). Venus was an early target for interplanetary exploration due to its relative proximity to Earth back in the 1960s and 70s. The Soviet Union with its Venera spacecraft and the U.S. with its Mariner probes made dozens of attempts at orbit insertions and landings—quite a few of which were ultimately successful. From those missions we found out that Venus has a similar internal structure to Earth. It also has similar geological activity—such as volcanoes and plate tectonics. The most obvious difference between the two is that Venus has a thick, goopy atmosphere of noxious fumes, mostly carbon dioxide, that you can't see through with the naked eye (the image above is a radar image taken by NASA's Magellen spacecraft). Nevertheless, the early missions allowed us to see the surface for the first time.

Today, Venus Express is clueing us in to the fact that Venus may have looked a lot more like Earth in its distant past. The newest findings from present day include signs of lightning and temperature swings that are a lot more Earthlike than they thought Venus had the capacity for. Mission scientists believe Venus probably had large amounts of liquid water on its surface at one point, until it suddenly started evaporating into the atmosphere. Once there, it was broken down by the sun's rays into carbon dioxide (which hung around) and hydrogen (which escaped into space). This caused an out-of-control greenhouse effect that probably caused Venus to turn into a hellish planet with temperatures of around 800° F that probably no life form could survive on. While the Earth is much farther away from the sun than Venus is, the natural question, of course, is whether or not our steady dumping of carbon dioxide into our own atmosphere could someday turn Earth into a Venuslike place. Here's hoping we'll never know...

Friday, November 23, 2007

it's beginning to sound
a lot like xmas...

It's only the day after Thanksgiving, but you'd think it was Christmas eve with the shopping and decorations already at a fevered pitch! So, here's a little xmas mix. The number of songs with sleighbells makes me wonder if the entire music industry uses the same prerecorded sleighbell track or whether groups actually go out and find sleighbells to record with. Hmmm..... Anyway, happy listening!

Brooklyn Xmas mix
Yeah, I Know It's Christmastime - Andrew Dost
Christmas Time is Here - Ivy
And Your Boy Can Drum - The Recital
My Dreams of Christmas - Billy Bob Thornton & The Boxmasters
Here Comes Santa Claus - Gene Autry
White Christmas - Melt Banana
Donde Esta Santa Claus? - Guster
Christmas is Going to the Dogs - Eels
Christmas Reindeer - The Knife
Silent Night - Yo Yo Yo Kids
Winters Wonderland - Scott Allen
Last Christmas - Wham!
Blue Christmas - Elvis Presley
All That I Want - The Weepies
Christmas (Baby Please Come Home) - Death Cab For Cutie
Silent Night - Nullsleep
Christmas Tree's On Fire - Holly Golightly

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

the wampanoag live on

It's that time of year again, when we all get to listen to the heartwarming story about how a fledgling group of English folk and a troupe of 90-odd American Indians gathered for the first official unofficial Thanksgiving. (Here's the kiddie version.) It's a cute story, but it's so blown out of proportion that it's kind of silly. The truth of the matter is, the Pilgrims became the original gentrifiers of this glorious land we live in—and the people who had settled into the lush woods of Massachussets and Rhode Island, well, they ended up with the short end of the stick in so many ways.

By now you may know the name of the American Indian tribe that feted with Myles Standish and the rest of the British immigrants, but in case not, let me introduce you to the Wampanoag. The Wampanoag have traditionally inhabited what is now southeastern Massachusetts and Rhode Island, plus the islands of Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket. There are about 2,000 Wampanoag surviving today, living mostly in the same places that the Pilgrims found them. (After a major conflict between the English and the American Indians in the late 1600s that nearly exterminated the Wampanoag, some natives were sold as slaves and sent to Bermuda, so there's a small population of Wampanoag there as well.) There are five groups of mainland American Wampanoag. Only two are recognized by the federal government, however: the Gay Head Wampanoag of Martha's Vineyard and the Mashpee Wampanoag of Cape Cod, who received their government recognition just this year.

Along with trying to gain federal recognition, some Wampanoag are currently undergoing a language reclamation project to help modern Wampanoag learn their traditional language, which went extinct more than a century ago. With the help of linguistics experts, the group is making baby steps in trying to teach younger folks the old language so that it may live again. Here's a sample of a Wampanoag text!

If you are so inclined, you can read more about the Wampanoag and their march through history. In the meantime, as you're eating your turkey dinner and gobbling down stuffing and pumpkin pie, take a moment to remember these people for their selflessness during a time when they could have turned a cold shoulder to the needy, helpless Brits. We owe them that!

Thursday, November 15, 2007

recycle now!

Today is America Recycles Day, so I thought I'd start by going on a bit about how ridiculous I think it is that people don't recycle more. And then I'll give you some fun stuff to listen to! First things first: The Gotham Gazette just published a very informative article on the state of waste in New York City and the U.S. as a whole—and some of the recycling stats are crazy. It made me want to look a little deeper into the issue. Here's what I found:

¤ 50 billion bottles of water are sold in the U.S. every year. That's 167 for every man, woman, and child in America! When you think about the fact that most municipal water is clean and essentially free, this kind of stat boggles the mind. (Especially when you also know that some bottled water is just tap water in fancy packaging!)

¤ Only a quarter of those 50 billion water bottles are recycled, meaning that some 37.5 billion water bottles end up—needlessly—in landfills, where they will stay unchanged for the next million years at least. By the way, it takes about 17 million barrels of oil to produce the plastic used to make all the water bottles consumed in the U.S. each year. And the manufacturing of every ton of that plastic belches up 3 tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Yum!

¤ If half of all New Yorkers would simply recycle rather than discard their junk mail, they could prevent 500,000 tons of paper waste garbage each year.

¤ In New York City, only about 50 percent of the recyclables that we get rid of are actually recycled. This is insane to me! Especially since if you live in an apartment building, where recyclables are picked up like clockwork every week, it takes almost zero effort to recycle. In more rural areas, where you might have to drive to a recycling center, I would offer this advice: Just get off your you know what and DO IT! You're already polluting the environment by having a car; you might as well pay back a little by making those wheels zoom you to the local recycling location once a month or so. (Of course, for financial reasons, not all towns recycle all materials; be sure to get the facts on what can and can't be salvaged before you dump your recyclables!)

Ultimately, recycling is only one of the three R's—which by now you should know by heart: Reuse, Reduce, Recycle. To really change the way you have an impact on our environment, you need to do all three. Reducing your use of "stuff" is of course the best conservation method of all—the fewer things we consume, the less of it will get produced, and the less pollution will be made in manufacturing. My favorite trick (though it's easy to lapse on if you don't plan ahead): bring your own bags to the grocery store. Heck, Whole Foods even made it fashionable (although I prefer my Strand bag, personally)! Another easy tip: Now that the holiday catalogue season is upon us, make a few 5-minute phone calls to get companies to stop sending you tons of catalogues and other junk mail (I'm talking to you, Capital One)! Reusing the things we do buy also prevents more "stuff" from being sold and manufactured. Just think: if all New Yorkers would refill the water bottle they puchased while walking through Central Park just three times, they could prevent 13,260 tons of plastic from ending up in a landfill. As for Recycling, it's all about attitude. You can sit around and do nothing, or you can take simple but important actions to help fix the sorry state of affairs our planet is in. What's your choice?

Okay, now for the fun—and a rewind to the happenin' year of 1991. I kind of can't believe this CD still works - it's probably one of the oldest dics I own! Anyway, first up is a stern warning from one of the queens of recycling, my girl Bette Midler (don't tempt her, man—you know she'll get on your ass if you don't do what she says!). And second is what I was hoping so dearly I could find on YouTube (it had a ridiculous video with it back in the day)...alas, no dice. The song itself is still pretty sweet, though...I mean, dude: Tone Loc is on there! And Ozzy!

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

is intelligent design dead?

I just had the pleasure of watching PBS's fabulous 2-hour NOVA special on the most recent assault to the theory of evolution, namely, the "theory" of intelligent design. The show did a remarkable job of summing up not only the debate that has existed of late between proponents of evolution and proponents of intelligent design, but of the dramatic court case that took place in Dover, Pennsylvania a couple of years ago, which put the legality of teaching intelligent design in American public schools into question. I had read with interest about the trial as it was happening, and also had the opportunity to hear a lecture from one of the star witnesses for the prosecution, Brown University Professor of Biology Ken Miller, at a function for Brown alumni shortly after the trial wrapped up. I won't spoil all the juicy details for those of you not yet in the know, but I will say that the entire case, and the NOVA special in particular, makes me feel a whole lot better about the state of science education in this country, especially in the wake of the havoc wreaked on our scientific government agencies by the current administration.

So the question is, is intelligent design officially dead? You'd think that after the Dover fiasco, it would be. The judge in the case, John Jones, is a known conservative, hand-picked by George W. Bush to preside over the bench in his Pennsylvania district. But the fervor with which he made his legal opinion, denouncing intelligent design as nothing more than creationism in sheep's clothing, seems like it may just have been the silver dagger in the hearts of the pro-intelligent design camp. Doing a bit of research, I even found this blog for a group called Conservatives Against Intelligent Design, which, despite its horrible layout, has a very nice logo. This may not represent the end-all be-all, but surely if you've got right-wing Republicans railing against intelligent design, there has to be something right going on for a change. (By the way, if you're looking for some pro-evolution zingers, toons, or logos, this page has a bunch of good ones.)

I guess the bigger question, really, is what the next iteration of creationism-in-the-classroom will look like—for we all know that there are still tons of people out there who are outraged that creationism isn't given equal time in schools. I watched the documentary Jesus Camp recently, and it was pretty clear that there is some serious home-schooling going on that's brainwashing kids into thinking that creationism is "how it went down." So I can't imagine it'll be long before another set of irate fundamentalist parents tries again to breach the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution (which calls for the separation of church and state). Although, come to think of it, there was talk about a Flying Spaghetti Monster a while back...and frankly, I think a trial to keep old Spaghetti Man out of 9th grade biology would make an even more entertaining NOVA special, so bring it on! (Kidding, kidding.) Anyway, if you didn't get a chance to see the show, check out the NOVA website, where you can watch the entire thing or view the online-only extras.

Monday, November 05, 2007

interweb shoutout: modern cat

You know that cheesy moment in the middle of a B movie where everything goes to slow motion, the protagonist's face lights up with an enormous smile, and the chorus of "Hallelujah" blasts in the background? Well, I just had one of those eureka moments when I discovered what is assured to be the coolest cat-related blog on the planet: Modern Cat.

I've actually been a dog person most of my life, so I'm relatively new to the cat thing. But when I got my kitty last year, I noticed right away that the aesthetic for cat toys and especially furniture was, well, let's just say "lacking." Most cat scratching or climbing toys are covered in various types of carpet, which, let's face it, are usually a**-ugly. Now, I'm all for functional cat toys, and no doubt kitties get excited about some of these intense cat trees and condos, but a person's gotta live in her cat's apartment, too. And I'm gonna tell you right now, wooing potential mates becomes that much harder when it looks like the Golden Girls have seen to the kitty decor!

So it was with tremendous pleasure that I discovered Modern Cat, a blog that specializes in functional, yet impeccably designed cat furniture (and toys). The layout and commentary are relatively simple, but that's the way it should be for a blog that prides itself on celebrating mod designs that speak for themselves. I'm hoping that this and a recent New York Times article are a harbinger that the cat's time has come as the new center of attention in the pet design world. Anyway, definitely check out the Modern Cat blog if you're in the middle of the Venn diagram for cat lovers and design freaks.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

i am a rock...

Many of my friends already know that I have a thing for islands. Aside from their inherent beauty, islands are places where people pride themselves on their culture. In some cases, island residents represent a microcosm of the larger nation to which they belong. Other times, islanders are fiercely independent and want nothing more than to be left to their own devices. Either way, I've found that visiting an island and meeting its people is always a rewarding experience.

So when I recently discovered National Geographic Traveler's rankings of the top 111 islands in the world, I started some mental drooling. What an amazing list! The only sad part is knowing I'll probably never get to see all of these places. But thanks to all those family trips and other vacations I've taken over the years, I have already been to one-eighth of them! Of those, here are my top four...

Faroe Islands: These are the islands that got the highest score in the whole survey, and I'd have to agree that the Faroes (seen in the photo above) are probably the best-kept secret among vacation spots in the world. You're not going to find sand and sun here—the islands get precipitation almost every single day, and temperatures hover around 50 degrees Fahrenheit all year long. But the majestic canyons of carved green rock, combined with the warm, but independent-minded natives (they're technically Danes but speak their own Faroese language), make this destination one of the most unique you'll ever find.

Bora Bora: The second-best-known island of French Polynesia (after Tahiti), Bora Bora lives up to the hype. With its dramatic extinct volcano rising from its center and the surrounding lush rainforests and pristine beaches, this small island is nothing short of gorgeous. Many of the local resorts offer charming bungalows either right on the water's edge or sitting on stilts in the water. There are also plenty of places to explore, whether it's hiking in the jungle, canoeing the lagoon, or snorkeling along the reef. Talk about the perfect getaway!

Mallorca: True, it gets a bad rap for being too touristy and overdeveloped in spots, but Mallorca, the largest of Spain's Balearic Islands, is still tops in my list for the hidden gems you'll find along its shores and in its Tramuntana mountain range. As long as you rent a car and make a point of exploring outside of the capital city of Palma, you'll find plenty of quiet aqua-colored beaches and coves, as well as quaint villages—like Valldemosa and Deià—that still retain their traditional Mallorcan appeal.

Aran Islands: If you're looking for old-world charm and lovely vistas mixed with a spot of history, the Irish Aran Islands are for you. Inishmore, the largest of these small islands, is covered with rocks—some in their natural state, but many more in the form of ubiquitous stone walls. There are also a number of iron age forts that deserve exploring. And with all the sheep on the islands, the local residents are known for their woolen goodies, including the famous Aran Sweaters.

Of course no list like this can go without some debate...Here are the four islands I think the peeps at NGT missed!

Long Island: Okay, lots of Long Island (New York) is an eyesore, with miles and miles of nothing but strip malls. But the eastern and western ends of this glacial moraine are completely unique. For instance, on the eastern fork, you've got the ever-popular vacationing communities of Montauk and the Hamptons. And on the western edge, well, you have two of the most culturally interesting parts of New York City: Brooklyn (home to Coney Island, above, which used to be its own island but not anymore) and Queens! Of course, I do live here, so I'm a little biased...

Montserrat: You may have heard about this island when a major volcanic eruption happened here in 1997, wiping out much of the infrastructure and decimating several towns. While the Soufriere Hills Volcano is still active, Montserrat is making a comeback. It's a beautiful Caribbean island, but it's also an amazing place to go to witness geology in action. During your stay (I'd recommend no more than a few days), you can see how the ash cloud from '97 created havoc and meet with the vulcanologists who are monitoring this Caribbean jewel.

Åland: This archepelago between Sweden and Finland is not well known among Americans, but is a popular destination for Scandinavians during the warm August months. Technically a part of Finland, Åland islanders retain a semi-autonomous government and actually align themselves culturally more with Sweden (they speak Swedish, for one thing). A lovely way to view the sparsely populated islands, which feature a nice mix of rolling meadows, evergreen forest, and rocky shores, is by bike, since they're relatively flat.

Easter Island: I've actually never been to Easter Island, but I'm shocked that it didn't make it to the NGT list. Maybe it's because it's so hard to get to (you have to fly through Chile, its mother country, or Tahiti) or because the ecosystem there has been in major decline (check out Jared Diamond's Collapse for more on that). But, this island is chock-full of prehistoric arifacts, including petroglyphs, stone houses, and, most nobably, their famous Moai, spooky human-shaped statues that line the island's coast. I definitely hope to get there soon!

So, what say you? Feel free to bash my picks or make your own in the comments section! The islands we're talking about here are generally small islands and shouldn't be major independent countries (so, for instance, Ireland, Japan, and Australia don't count). Happy traveling!

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

spooky furry things

Why should humans have all the fun? These fuzzy felines certainly look like they're enjoying themselves (mostly...). These poor pooches? Not so much. It's pretty amazing how hot of a fad commercial pet costumes have become recently. I was shopping for my kitty this afternoon (who, incidentally, was far more interested in chewing her lion costume than wearing it) at Trixie and Peanut, probably the poshest pet store in the whole of NYC. While I was there, three chihuahas and some sort of terrier all showed up (with their humans) in full regalia; one was a knight, another was a player for the Yankees, another was a ladybug, and the last was a princess. It was a little unreal! But, hey, I was there to partake just as much as they were, so I guess I shouldn't talk... Anyway, happy Halloween to all you furry four-legged friends out there! May your trick-or-treat bags be filled with savory snacks, and may your costumes not catch on some appliance you aren't supposed to jump on anyway!

Sunday, October 28, 2007

the beauty of our waste

I recently stumbled on the work of Chris Jordan, a Seattle-based photographer who specializes in environmental issues. Jordan's photographs are nothing short of mesmerizing.

His two latest series deal mostly with the magnitude of our waste. The photo above is just one example of various scenes he's scoped out of dumps for very specific items - this one being old cell phones. Many of the topics Jordan photographs are rather mundane - shards of glass, pieces of scrap metal - but his many shots of consumer electronics trash, such as an entire field of old circuit boards, are a sobering reminder of just how wasteful a lot we Americans have become.

Jordan's most recent series, which uses digitally enhanced photographs to show in a small space the grandiosity of many of our seemingly small actions, is a little more manipulated, but it works to great effect. The images are similar to those Chuck-Close-style photomosaics, where hundreds or thousands of different photographs are used to represent individual "pixels"... For instance, in one shot, Jordan uses exactly 106,000 aluminum soda cans to reproduce Georges Seurat's iconic Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte. The 106,000 represents the number of soda cans used every 30 seconds in the United States. Most of the images in this series, though, look like white noise unless you're looking closely. But when you do look closely (Jordan provides three zooms for each shot in the series on his site), you can literally feel the enormity of the statistics his images visually convey.

Sadly, the Web isn't really the best place to view the largest of Jordan's images. To get the full scale, you have to see one of the pieces in person because most of them are actually 5 feet tall by 6 feet wide! (The second set of images here includes zooms of a 10' x 23' piece with 2.3 million prison uniforms, one for each person who was incarcerated in the U.S. in 2005.) Anyway, if you have a chance, go check out Chris Jordan's work in the flesh. But if not, his site is definitely worth a visit. In it, you'll also find some heartbreaking but astounding photos he shot of the devastation left in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

eve curie labouisse (1904 - 2007)

Monday marked the passing of Eve Curie Labouisse, the youngest daughter of Nobel Prize-winning physicists Marie and Pierre Curie. A resident of New York City, Curie Labouisse had an impressive career as a writer and journalist, and apparently also had considerable talent as a pianist. While her older sister Irene followed in their parents' footsteps and became a scientist, Eve spent her early adult life attending to her widowed mother in Paris, supporting her at home and often traveling with her abroad. After Marie Curie's death in 1934, Eve wrote what is still considered the preeminent biography of her mother, Madame Curie, which won her a National Book Award.

After WWII began, the intrepid Curie became a war correspondant after previously having been an officer of the women's division of the French army. She later published a second successful book chronicling her experiences on the fronts of WWII. She also became co-publisher of a Parisian newspaper, and would go on to serve as the Special Advisor to the Secretary General of NATO. In 1954, Curie married Henry Richardson Labouisse, who spent 15 years as the executive director of UNICEF. Curie, too, served the organization for a short time, as the executive director in Greece. You might remember carrying a trick-or-treat UNICEF box around during Halloween as a kid; the organization still distributes the boxes as a way to raise money to help needy kids, so before you make the rounds this coming week, make sure you get one for yourself!

Anyway, here's to the recently departed Eve Curie Labouisse; the world will miss such a talented and giving lady.

Monday, October 22, 2007

interweb shoutout: metal chik

Creative types with a flair for bling have a hip new place to hang out on the Web. It's called Metal Chik and it's all about trends in (mostly metal) jewelry making! The site is hosted by punk rocker-turned jewelry maker-turned art professor Victoria Tillotson, who happens to also be my prof at SVA this semester. She started Metal Chik a few months ago to give creative types and those into jewelry trends a place to learn and get advice. On Metal Chik, Victoria stars in her own little webisodes, which feature interviews with professional jewelry designers, sellers, and suppliers, as well as useful hands-on demos, and lots of examples of Victoria's work. My favorite webisode so far would be the punk rock jewelry - except, of course, for the part where they show a woman getting her nose pierced! Yikes! Anyway, whatever kind of jewelry you're into, there's a video for you. Plus, there are blog posts with more detailed step-by-step instructions in case you decide you just HAVE to have that ring, dahling. Here's a recent webisode on setting diamonds and their cheaper lookalikes, cubic zirconia! Enjoy.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

the (icky) business of halloween

Allow me to rant for a minute about the Halloween business here in New York City. First off, you should know that I love Halloween. Here's a holiday that everyone can get happy about - there's little pressure other than what costume to wear, you get to make a fool of yourself and be someone (or something) else for a day, and of course, there's the candy. But the business of Halloween makes me sick.

Here in New York there are a few specialty costume shops that are decent mom-and-pop stores. But the majority of NYC costume sales are made at the retail chain Ricky's, a glamified beauty shop for 11 months out of the year and a "Halloween superstore" in October. My first major beef with the costume shopping experience at Ricky's is the double-whammy of not being able to return or exchange any Halloween stuff and not being able to try the costumes on. You know, I do understand retail, and I understand the need to capitalize on a timely holiday. Ricky's doesn't want to be stuck with costumes people change their minds about at the last minute. But, it's incredible to me that you can't try stuff on. Of course the biggest reason anyone would want to try a costume on is that the sizing, especially for women, is completely crazy! And I'm a lot less likely to put money down on something that might not fit me. So I really don't get that whole situation.

Which brings me to beef #2: Women's Halloween costumes are essentially all pornographic! It's really scary. Almost every single costume that Ricky's sells for females over the age of 12 involves an ultramini skirt (the kind you mistake for underwear) and a glorified bra that you pretty much can't don anyway unless you're a D-cup. Clearly, Halloween is an inherently sexy holiday - when else can you dress like an actual whore and get away with it? But to essentially MAKE women dress like this is totally stupid. (And I'm not the only one who thinks so!) Seriously, just looking at the women's section at Ricky's makes me feel like I'm in a porn shop, and the skimpy costumes are pretty much all the choice I've got. The models all have serious cleavage, long, sexy legs, and a pouty look that's just begging for foreplay. This must be what the Victoria's Secret models do in their spare time! (To be sure, Ricky's is known for it's back-of-the-store sex toys, but at least those are hidden from all the kids.) Oh, and have I mentioned that Halloween takes place one day before NOVEMBER? In New York, at least, it's COLD in November. Why should women have to freeze their asses off on Halloween when the guys almost always get to wear a pair of pants and full shirt, if not some warmer, fuzzier outfit? Even traditional costumes seem overly sexed up. I mean, Marie Antoinette was a babe, no doubt, but I guarantee you her skirts were three times as long as the "replicas" you can buy for Halloween today. What's even more silly is the fact that Ricky's has a whole section of Playboy-licensed "sexy costumes." The way 99 percent of the women's costumes they carry look and fit, they might as well stamp "Playboy" on the whole lot.

That brings me to my last major problem with the Halloween business. Along with being sexy, most Halloween costumes - and I'm including all age groups here - are totally sexist. This year I thought it would be fun to be an astronaut, perhaps just straight up, or perhaps adding the Lisa Nowak diaper. But, wouldn't ya know it, there are only boy's or men's astronaut costumes! I checked out both and neither was going to work for a 5'4 woman; the boys' was too small and the men's was so big, I could probably fit two of me into it. How sad that so-called "girl costumes" are witches and princesses, while "boy costumes" are robots and astronauts... There was one set of costumes in particular that really got to me. You can buy a boy or man Ghostbuster outfit, but if you want to be a female Ghostbuster, can see the problem. Mostly, of course, I blame the costume manufacturers. But it comes from parents, too. While shopping today, I overheard a young girl asking her mom if she could buy superhero costume. The mom replied, "That's a boy costume. Pick something more girly." I had to restrain myself. I guess we still have a way to go as far as really accepting that girls can be whatever they want to be...

Anyway, I suppose the saving grace is that at least there's still the candy. The only part of the Halloween business I really like is being able to buy my sugary treats for half off the day after the main event!

Thursday, October 18, 2007

cats ≠ dogs

So the Cat Fanciers' Association had their annual convention at Madison Square Garden last weekend. In the year since I started thinking about getting a cat, I've decided that cat shows are almost as cool as dog shows—but not quite. The one main difference is that the cats don't really get to prance around and strut their stuff in front of a judge the way dogs do; they basically just sit in a cage, get manhandled for a few minutes, and are then put right back into the cage. It makes sense. Cats are a notoriously disobedient lot; they do what they want when they want, and not a moment before!

But then I found out about the new cat obstacle course! You might have seen dogs run through hoops, fly over stairs, and weave in between posts on ESPN, which occasionally televises dog agility competitions. But now thanks to the CFA you can see cats...uh...snicker at their humans' attempts to get them to run around like idiots! Yes, the CFA was going for popularity, but it has produced nothing but hilarity. So check out this video from The New York Times...and keep your eye out for the little white Japanese bobtail who's obviously got better things to do than chase a feathered stick!

Thursday, October 04, 2007

stuck in barajas? no problema!

I am writing this as I'm stuck in Madrid after a missed connection (*?@#ing JFK traffic), and I have to say that if there's an airport to have an unexpected layover in, this would definitely have to be in the top five. A word to the wise in case you've never been here: Madrid Barajas International Airport is the s***. Well, architecturally, anyway. It's true, their seats are actually not at all comfortable, there's nowhere to lie down in case you want a cat nap, and there are no work stations or even power outlets (although you can pay to surf the Web from very hip-looking kiosks). No, the awesomeness I'm talking about is the visual eye candy that is MAD. There are two main terminals, each a feast of silver mesh, glass, rainbow-colored support beams, and undulating wood (bamboo?) ceilings. The support beams are painted in hues that seemingly span the entire electromagnetic spectrum, which creates the illusion that you're in some sort of theme park. There are hardly any lights on in the place; with all the glass walls and circular pore-like holes in the ceiling, the airport is lit almost completely with natural daylight. At the center of the main terminal is an impressive array of shops and restaurants. Equally enthralling are the architectural details that make me wish I'd majored in industrial design: clear round-edged elevator cars that look like they belong in the Parisian Pompidou Centre; tapas cafes lit by giant eyes staring down from the roof above; and white robotic-looking contraptions that remind me of giant ET heads keeping watch over passengers as they wait for their luggage. (Oh, and by the way, the rain in Spain, does fall mainly on the plain - also, on the poor airport workers who are getting drenched as they report for cargo-buggy-driving duty.)

Anyway, if you ever find yourself needing to choose a connection city for your flight to Europe, and you have an eye for great industrial design, come to Madrid Barajas. It will make your five-hour layover suck a lot less.

Monday, September 24, 2007

high jinx

Okay, it's been literally two years since I started this silly little thing. I promise it won't be another two before I write again.

Anyway, so today's post regards Major League Baseball, who are on my hit list right now. Just so you get the picture: The Mets are currently up by 2 games in the National League East, with the Phillies breathing down their necks and only about a week to go in the regular season. The not-so-Amazins have given up a huge lead in the standings over the past fortnight, and have been driving their fans insane with their shoddy pitching. So this morning, a colleague and fellow Met fan forwarded me this and this.

Yes, that's right, folks, Major League Baseball has decided that the Mets are going to win the division and have already started selling the shirts! If that's not the stupidest thing I've ever seen out of the MLB then I don't know what is. Sure, you can make your shirts nice and early so you can have them ready for purchase not two seconds after the team in question has clinched. But to make them available for purchase when it's very possible that the team may not make it at all? I dare say (as do many of my Met fan friends) that the MLB has officially jinxed the Mets and if there were any last hopes of them making the playoffs with a week to go, they have now officially gone the way of the dodo.

Even worse: There's no one to complain about it! I spent 10 minutes looking for a "comments" or "questions" form or customer service email that I could mouth off to in protest. Here's what I found. Looks legit, right? I figured, at least someone will hear my frustration, even if they don't change a thing. I got my friends to write to them also. About an hour later, I recieved a response. That was quick! Well, of course it was: it was automated. The MLB's question form is never seen by human eyes - you can complain to your heart's content and no one will ever see it! Gee, thanks MLB. You guys are truly going the extra mile to make sure the average American baseball fan is screwed in every which way possible. Jinxing your teams and abandoning the fans: a combo made in business school heaven.

UPDATE: Well, the jinx and the collapse are complete. You suck, MLB! Interestingly, a fellow Mets fan friend tried to order one of the shirts, just to see what would happen. His order was essentially kept in preorder status until the day after the Mets blew it, at which time he received an email stating that the shirt was no longer available. Well, I've read up on cases like this; the tees are no doubt on their way to a small town in a developing country where few from the developed world ever step foot. Oh, well, there's always next year.