Sunday, January 27, 2008

eustace tilly sightings

Each year The New Yorker holds a contest open to the general public, the goal of which is to reinvent its iconic mascot, Eustace Tilly. Mr. Tilly first appeared on a TNY cover in 1925 and has been gracing the magazine's anniversary issue every year since. Entries for this year's contest are all available for perusal via this Flickr page. Contest winners will be announced next week, but I'd suggest heading over to the Flickr site to check out all the candidates! I've picked a few favorites, at right and below. &infin

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

fast food calorie counters

Well, it looks like hell just might be on the verge of freezing over. The New York City Board of Health approved a measure today that will require several thousand of the city's fast food restaurants, including all McDonald's stores, to "prominently" post health information about their foods. The new law is aimed at curbing obesity and rests on market research that the shows that consumers do make eating decisions after seeking out calorie and fat labels in supermarket aisles. You can bet that Mickey D's will be appealing the measure, but it certainly seems like a landmark victory for the cause of getting fast food labeled as the garbage that it is.

I gotta be honest, though: I've long been ambivalent to such measures, not because I don't agree that consumers should be informed (and certainly not because I'm any sort of fan of the fast food industry) but because it seems a little silly to be drawing a line at only fast foods. I mean, there are plenty of amazingly fatty and calorie-laden foods at non-fast-food restaurants, yet these businesses are getting a pass at having to advertise just how much sodium and just how many calories that double cheeseburger with bacon and a side of garlic mashed will cost you. I dunno, I kind of think it's unfair. And I mean, if this does go all the way through, who's to say that one day my mom won't have to hand me a spreadsheet every time she serves up her delicious yet diet-busting baked ziti? That would be kind of insane. That said, I suppose if people stop eating all that fast food crap it will serve a good purpose...I'll be interested to see what the numbers say five years from now. By the way, here's an interesting take on the debate, from CBS's 60 Minutes. What do y'all think?

Sunday, January 20, 2008

hello, mercury!

I was very excited last week when NASA's MESSENGER probe flew by Mercury on its Herculean journey toward the sun. The mission has already been three and a half years in the making, and it will ultimately land the probe in orbit around the solar system's smallest planet.

For those who aren't up on their planetary exploration history, until last week Mercury remained the only planet in our solar system that we hadn't seen in detail all the way around. We'd seen the surface of small moons hundreds of millions of kilometers further away, but until last week, we'd only seen about half of Mercury's surface—planetary scientists could only guess at what the rest looked like! Luckily for us, the waiting game is largely over. While the mission doesn't officially begin for another three years (this was just the first close flyby), I'd say it can already be called a success with the data that has been sent to mission scientists back in the U.S. The image you see above (full size available here) was one of about 1,200 snapped by MESSENGER on its brief visit. All of these are currently being analyzed by the MESSENGER team, but it looks like they've already noticed some interesting features in the newly observed areas, including geologic features called "rilles" and strange-looking craters.

In case you were wondering why the probe just flew by instead of going directly into Mercury orbit, keep this in mind: The problem with getting a spaceship to Mercury is that anything that goes anywhere near it has to take into account the massive gravitational pull of our star. In order for MESSENGER to get into orbit around Mercury without being sucked into the sun, the spacecraft had/has to follow a dizzying flight plan that slips it into Mercury orbit after making circular orbits that get closer and closer to the sun. Here's a rendering of the trajectory, by the way, and here's a good article that describes the mission. Anyway, congrats to the MESSENGER team, and I'll be looking forward to a successful orbit insertion in 2011!

Sunday, January 06, 2008

interweb shoutout: margaux lange

Barbara Millicent Roberts made her worldwide debut on March 9, 1959. Love her or hate her, the blonde-haired blue-eyed character better known as Barbie has, in the ensuing years, made an undeniable mark on the world. One artist who has taken her Barbie fascination to the next level is the imaginative Margaux Lange, a jewelry designer from Brooklyn, NY. A friend of mine brought Margaux's work to my attention a few months ago, and I've been entranced ever since. Her official website offers a sleek Flash-enabled portfolio of some of her work, which literally breaks Barbie down into parts that are often strung together like prime cuts at a butcher shop (Sweeney Todd would be very proud). The effect is mesmerizing: multi-colored smiling lips offer a shimmer of life from the center of a cold-enamel necklace; two dozen pasty white amputated arms join together in Rockette-like formation in a spiral broach; ring-bearing hands dangle from silver-topped earrings; and bare breasts and androgynous nether-regions are surrounded by silver and strung up like Christmas ornaments. Ms. Lange doesn't only use Barbies, by the way—Kens, as well as Latina and black Barbie lookalikes, join the mix. I have a really hard time picking favorites, as Lange's creations all offer a whimsical and unique look. In case you're interested in purchasing any of these bombshell beauties, you can click on the link to Lange's Etsy website. She also provides a link to her own blog, which includes thoughts on her work, more examples of press coverage, and kudos to other artists she admires. Any way you slice it, Margaux Lange and her website kick (Barbie's) ass!

Saturday, January 05, 2008

a squash god lives on

As the dieting industry well knows, the new year usually gets people inspired to get their butts into the gym. My favorite way to work out is with a game of squash, racquetball's sophisticated older brother. So I was psyched and humbled to read a recent article about Hashim Khan, a squash legend and one of the sport's most revered spokespeople. I first found out about Khan when I was learning how to play the game myself. Already into his 80s at the time, Khan had amassed not only an impressive professional career, he was also well known for continuing to be a fierce competitor despite his advanced age and diminutive 5'4 stature. Now 93, Khan simply can't let squash go. The article describes how he recently hurt himself after falling on the court but refused doctors orders to hang up the racquet for good. If that's not inspiration for getting me out on the court, I'm not sure what is!

Sadly, Khan once again will not be watching nationally-ranked squash players taking part in the Olympics later this year. The drive to get squash accepted as an Olympic sport has been gaining momentum in recent years—but it's still got a ways to go. In 2005, it came agonizingly close to being voted in, but it fell short in a second round of voting by the IOC. Former pros like Peter Nichol and Jahangir Khan (Hashim's cousin's son) continue to lead the charge, believing they have a real chance of getting squash accepted into the 2016 Olympics in Singapore. I have a hard time taking seriously the process by which equestrian, in which a horse does most of the work, and kayaking and shooting—which may be nice hobbies but which really don't seem like sports—get picked over squash as Olympic events. Nevertheless, rules is rules. Hopefully, squash will get it's due very soon. It's just too bad that the sport's living legend won't get to see it. &infin