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The Last Train Home

L.A.'s new Metro is inching its way west.             my photo
Who knew? According to this story in the Huff Post, at one time, Los Angeles had a more extensive subway system than New York City does now. Fortunately for us all, L.A. seems to be well on its way toward building it back up again (story and a superb 1961 video of a ride on the last Red Car):

Trompe L'Oeil

A bucket list of 10 of the world's most extraordinary natural optical illusions:

Stress Out

I may be the only person left who hasn't heard of tapping, or EFT (emotional freedom technique), but just in case I'm not (story and video):

Build a Better Password

It's not the length, it's bad grammar that make a password more secure:

Fights of Fantasy

The warriors of Elidor regroup after battle.       Sean Gallagher
I am SO0ooo not into fantasy books/movies/video games, but by third paragraph of this story, I was ready to sign up for the next Bellum Aeternus. Now. Where did I put my bodice and trebuchet?:

Mind Bender

If 8809 = 6
7111 = 0
2172 = 0
6666 = 4
1111 = 0
3213 = 0
7662 = 2
9312 = 1
0000 = 4
2222 = 0
3333 = 0
5555 = 0
8193 = 3
8096 = 5
7777 = 0
9999 = 4
7756 = 1
6855 = 3
9881 = 5
and 5531 = 0,
What does 2581 equal?

Cold Fronts

David Schalliol

The recent warehouse fire in Chicago took place during a cold snap so piercing that the water from the firefighters' hoses froze. The result was these chillingly beautiful "sculptures" reminiscent of scenes from Doctor Zhivago (slideshow):


Screen shot from Cirrus                            Bonobo
If you didn't already dream it, you will. Bonobo's Cirrus (official video) is like a merry-go-round ride through a house of mirrors from the '50s ~ betcha can't watch just once!:

Cities in Heat

New studies find that the heat generated in and by large cities can warm rural areas halfway around the globe ~ by as much as 2°F:

Baby Tech

It's not your parents' paraphernalia. From a cry-analyzer app to a sub-mattress monitor to a onesie that signals when a diaper should be changed, the electronics surrounding baby purport to make parenthood a piece of patty cake (video):

Snow Scenes

Simon Beck
English artist Simon Beck relies on his orienteering compass, his own eyes, his snow shoes, and his appreciation of fractals as he creates large, beautiful geometric patterns in the snow (slideshow):

Student Journalism Competition

Earth Day Network, the Edible Schoolyard Project, and the Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism are hosting a writing competition for students ages 13-18 on the subject of the importance of healthy, sustainable school food. The deadline to submit your article is Feb. 28:


The Maserati Quattroporte      Brett Berk
They all have four wheels and come in cool colors, but beyond that, the cars at this year's North American International Auto Show in Detroit all have their ways of setting themselves apart from the crowd (story and slideshow):

A Word About Awards

Yet another of Vanity Fair's famous educational charts, this one about how to distinguish one of this season's many award shows from another:

But Siriously, Folks

By now, we all know about Siri, the little elf (some would say Genius) in the iPhone. But where did she come from, and perhaps more importantly, where is she going? “The future of virtual personal assistants is to make it so we don’t have to think so much and work so hard to do things that are possible,” says Dag Kittlaus, co-founder and chief executive of the company Siri, which was bought by Apple. “It’s less about survival and more about exploring the world” (story and videos):

Plus Ça Change

We humans change more than we think we do and more than we ever think we will ~ even when we're older, according to a new study:,0,1671789.story

Cheese Challenge

Years ago, my husband and I attended a couple of tastings at a wine shop in West L.A. We sat at a long table with other oenophiles and sipped and swished and babbled. One description of a red (don't ask because I can't remember) stuck with me. A young woman at the end of the table said it tasted "like a dusty cowboy." Well, of course, the obvious question is, How did she know?(!), but one must admit, it's an original and very evocative description.
   Apparently, somewhat of the same thing is happening with cheese these days, and the New York Times is challenging its readers to scale new heights of adjectival acumen regarding the cheeses of their dreams:

Watercolour in the Rain

"They went to another concert last night," my husband said of a couple we know as I heated up the morning coffee. "Someone, I think his name started with a 'J' ~ he had a couple of hits you'll recognize. Can't remember them now."
   So we looked on the McCabe's website and found him on the schedule: Al Stewart. No 'J' in sight. And while the name that meant nothing to me, his songs surely did.
On a morning from a Bogart movie
In a country where they turn back time
You go strolling through the crowd like Peter Lorre
Contemplating a crime

She comes out of the sun in a silk dress running
Like a watercolour in the rain
Don't bother asking for explanations
She'll just tell you that she came
In the year of the cat ...

  How could I have not known this man's name? I wandered through his website. He's written dozens and dozens of songs ~ poems, really. The man is a poetic genius. Very post-WWII-Europe in his allusions and influence and thoughts (he was born in Scotland in 1945, so how could he not be?). A bit melancholy and a deep, deep thinker, and I'm grateful to have found him again.
   The lyrics to his poems:

Now Hear This

It's not just about what we listen to, it's about how we're hearing so much more (text and audio versions):

Men in Heels

The Sun King ~ Louis XIV of France

From horsemen in Persia to royalty in Europe to nude postcard models in Paris ~ the history of the high heel and how it morphed from symbol of machismo to the ultimate sexy women's accessory:

Move Over, Walt

There's going to be a new theme park in town. Well, in a different town, in a different country, but still ... Plans are underway in India's Wardha district for "Gandhi for Tomorrow," a park centered around the Mahatma's appreciation of technology:
   Gandhi, who was assassinated on Jan. 30, 1948, is revered by many for his courage and his message of peace and peaceful resistance:

Causes of the Crisis

Many years ago, when my son was young, we sponsored a little girl from Mali through Save the Children. We sent a monthly donation and corresponded with her. It took a long time for letters to go back and forth, but we were faithful writers, and so was she. We put her picture up on the refrigerator: a lovely little girl of about 7 (her actual birth date was unknown) with bright eyes and a sweet smile. That was her first picture. The next year, a new photograph came. In it, she looked much older and was no longer smiling. She looked tired. And then, shortly after we got that picture, we got a letter from Save the Children saying that she had been dropped from the program because her parents were not abiding by their part of the contract. I think about her whenever I hear about Mali, which is often, these days.
   A National Geographic senior writer who has traveled throughout northern Africa explains the three major causes of the current crisis in Mali (video):

Street Art

When I was in San Francisco not too long ago, I saw these two vents on a wall (above). Someone had glued a plastic fork and knife next to one of them. Clever, I thought, and took a pic. There's a street artist in a town in France who does the same kind of thing. Some of his "additions" are funny, some are a little gory, but all are clever. His "Alphabet" is particularly good, reminiscent of that butterfly-wing alphabet we've all seen. He goes by OaKoAK, and according to something I read when looking him up, he has a regular desk job during the day:

Room for Ingenuity

A wine cellar by Beckwith Interiors                Kim Sargent
Those of you interested in architecture and home and garden design but who may not know of the houzz website are in luck, because now you do! Here's a great collection of photos gathered into a post about unique and creative rooms. Be inspired to think outside the box!:

The Same, Only Different

The countryside has not changed, the author writes.      Emma Hardy
A spell-binding account by the son of the former first secretary to the British ambassador to Cambodia of his return to Phnom Penh with his father for the first time since they had to flee. As is explained in his father's private letter written at the time, "Our government continues to behave abominably, not daring to take any step without first getting permission from Washington, and as a result we are now being even more bitterly attacked by [Cambodia's Prince Norodom] Sihanouk than the Americans for doing the Americans’ dirty work for them."
   What they found is at once heart-rending and frustrating and exotic and tragically beautiful ~ a place of gentle yet brave, wounded people haunted by the past and oppressed and suppressed in the present:
   (BTW, "Il y a des jeunes filles ici dedans qui ont très, très peur" means "There are some young women inside who are very, very frightened.")

Tiny Bubbles

Fence  J. Powers Bowman, via Flickr

It's hard to find much information on this artist. All I know, or think I know (because it's mostly second-hand and unconfirmed), is that J. Powers Bowman is a he (the "J." stands for "Joe"), he works primarily in ink but also creates collages, and he's L.A.-based. What I do know for sure is that his work is detailed ~ almost busy or cluttered (in a good way), one could say ~ and pretty awesome:

It's the Little Things

Oh, those quantum physicists, always out to prove how important they are! The randomness we experience all around us, they are now saying, is based on the random behavior of the quantum particles that are all around ~ and inside ~ us. And that makes quantum physicists that much more indispensable than probability theorists:

T. Gondii and You

I don't really know how to tell you this, but there's a good possibility that you may not be in total control of your body, your brain, your future. There's a good chance (one in four, in the United States) that it's all down to a microscopic, single-cell parasite that's made a home in ... you:

We're Complicated

From a remarkable childhood encounter with a German SS agent, Nobel Prize-winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman learned that humans are complex creatures. The lesson informs his views of life and how we make decisions, including (this is in Forbes, after all) on investing. "We think, each of us, that we’re much more rational than we are," he says. "And we think that we make our decisions because we have good reasons to make them. Even when it’s the other way around. We believe in the reasons, because we’ve already made the decision" (video and transcript):

Can I Has Art Exhibut?

screen shot
You knew it had to happen eventually. A lolcatz exhibit (or "Exhibishun," to be precise). In London. Curated by a self-described dog lover (video):

Before There Was Steve Jobs ...

Edwin Land  © Michael Cardinali; courtesy MIT Museum
For many years, our block was the place to go trick-or-treating. We'd get about 200 kids, most of them from outside our area. One of the treats they all looked forward to (maybe the parents more than the children!) was the one given out by the couple across the street: They took a Polaroid picture of each child to give him or her, and there was always a gaggle of them standing on the sidewalk below their garage light, oohing, aahing, and laughing as the pictures developed. (I still have one on our refrigerator.) What a special gift; what a great memory.
   So before there was Steve Jobs, there was Edwin Land, the genius (and Harvard dropout ~ see " 'I Saw the World a Certain Way,' " Jan. 22!) behind that magical camera. An interview with the author of Instant: The Story of Polaroid (video):

Fair Share of Bad Air

The American Lung Association has an interactive map detailing air quality around the country. Information includes change since 1996 and 2000 and who's most at risk and why:

The Grander Dander

This fascinating little tidbit is from (And, btw, notice that they say "fewer people," as opposed to "less people." These few are people after my own heart ~ they got that absolutely right!):

While most of us know that people can be allergic to animal fur or feathers, fewer people know that pets can be allergic to human dander. In fact, people can be allergic to other people too, specifically the skin cells and hair found in dust. Pet allergies to human dander are actually not so rare, and there are a number of veterinary facilities that run allergy panel tests on pets. A pet's allergic reaction to human dander, which can take months or years to develop, usually results in extreme itching, rather than the respiratory problems that human allergies often manifest as.
   Additional information about pets and allergies:

Clothes Force

Skirt of textile remnants Sean Michael

A unique project ~ part art, part rallying cry, all inspiration ~ exposes the joys of sartorial sustainability. Author and, by her own definition, "change-maker" Kate Fleming and her team are visiting cities around the world to photograph anyone who wants to take part and has a good story about a piece of his or her clothing, be it a hand-me-down, a found item, a repurposed article, or any combination of those or other concepts:

Training Video

A composite shot shows all four seasons.
The Norwegian Broadcasting Corp. shot four videos of the country's northernmost train route, one in each season, for your edification ~ and use. You're invited to cut, paste, fade, meld, and otherwise manipulate downloaded copies of the footage to create your own work of art. Examples included (story and videos):

Garage Banned?

First it was the emails, the websites, the phones. With how easy it is to order just about everything online, what are hackers and extreme DIYers cooking up now? Here's a hint: It's called biohacking. Three science writers decided to find out just how easy it is to play around with DNA in your own garage:

'I Saw the World a Certain Way'

Now, that's precocious. We all know that many, if not most, of our most prolific and successful inventors and entrepreneurs dropped out of college. Tumblr founder and CEO David Karp did them one better. He dropped out of high school. An interview (video):

Seneca Falls, Selma, and Stonewall

In his inaugural speech, our president said, "We, the people, declare today that the most evident of truths — that all of us are created equal — is the star that guides us still, just as it guided our forebears through Seneca Falls, and Selma, and Stonewall ... " Audience members "of a certain age" will catch those alliterative allusions, but for those who might be wondering, a few brief explanations:
   Seneca Falls: site of the first women’s rights convention, in upstate New York, 1848:
   Selma: city in which police attacked peaceful civil rights marchers, in Alabama, 1965:
   and Stonewall (Inn): gay bar in which patrons resisted a police raid, in Greenwich Village, New York, 1969:
   The full text of President Obama's speech:

A Spacious Home

Astronauts at the Space Station may soon have more room to move, thanks to BEAM, the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module. It's an inflatable module that can be packed into a 7-foot tube for the journey up, then inflated. It is still in the testing stage, but company founder and CEO Robert Bigelow has high hopes. He foresees space hotels and homes:

Party On

A rundown of a few of the 34 (not a typo) political parties that are vying for seats in the Israeli Knesset in the Jan. 22 election:

Who Burned the Cheese?

Brunost cheese. Apparently quite flammable.
A truckload of brown goat cheese catches fire in a tunnel in northern Norway. The fire burns for five days. It's still not safe to enter the tunnel because of toxic fumes. And this is not an Onion story!:

The Power To Move

Who here has heard of Jewish French singer Monique Serf, aka Barbara (1930-1997)? And yet, according to this article, the woman with so much sadness in her own past once sang a beautiful song that made history, that maybe changed history, by helping to bring two enemy countries a little closer together after the wrenching devastation of World War II:
   Göttingen (video):

Freeway Fever

Misfortune befalls East Coast roadway, but there is hope. (Do I need to add that, this being the Onion, the story is a parody?):,30893/

It's How They Roll

Alex Halperin/Christian Science Monitor, 2008
Who needs FedEx when you've got a chikudu? A story of the little wooden scooter-bike that could ~ and does ~ in the Democratic Republic of Congo:,0,5015244.story

The Fur Effect

photo by Kuba Dabrowski
 A quick bit of research into author, entrepreneur, etc., Huang Hung (see previous post "身份 (Identity)," Jan. 22) led me to a fashion page, because she's into that as well. There, I found an outfit that nearly took my breath away (at right). I am not a lover of fur except in cases of genuine necessity, like, for example, in Siberia or the Arctic, so I'll pretend to myself that this skirt is made of the faux version. Also, of course, one needs to have man-size hips (in other words, none whatsoever) in order to pull this off. This fashion vision appeared on the streets at Paris Fashion Week:
(And, yes, I guess I am just that shallow!)

身份 (Identity)

"China is not a political theory," says Chinese author/actress/blogger/entrepreneur/publisher Huang Hung in attempting to explain her country. "It is a very complete social-economic system that has been in the working for 2,000 years." The authoritarianism that many in the West associate with China, she continues, is not a Communist imposition but an integral part of Chinese culture.
   Still, as the country approaches its 18th Party Congress (which, btw, has a code name in Chinese, because if you refer to it by its proper name in social media, your post will be censored), Hung says, China is at a crossroad. "The decisions that the next generation of Chinese leaders make will determine, for, probably, the rest of the 21st century, whether China is going to become more powerful, more prosperous, very peaceful, build a happy society, or China is going to disintegrate. And I think it is that important. We are at that crossroad, where every single Chinese has to make that decision."
   The ultimate question, she says, is "Can Chinese still find what our ancestors [have] taught us, or have we forgotten all of it, along with the prosperity, along with our MBAs, along with our wonderful growth and everything?"
   N.B., This is a college alumni association interview, so the first few minutes are the usual chitchat about how it feels to come back to campus after 30 years. The real interview starts at about 4:20 (video):

It's a Lamp, It's a House!

Is this the best reading lamp you've ever seen?

Stop me if I've said this before, but I love Mental Floss. Somehow (it's a mystery to me), I ended up on their pages again, and it's a good thing I did, because look what I found (you're welcome!):

Double the Double Helix

After 10 years of investigation, scientists have announced the existence of quadruple helices ~ four-stranded DNA ~ in human cells. As there seems to be a connection between these and the DNA replication process, researchers are optimistic that containing these structures could block runaway cell division, the root cause of cancer:

The Inauguration, Moment by Moment

from Alan Hanson

Real-time tweets and reports, filled with interesting tidbits, from BBC reporters on the ground, from 1200 through (so far) 1734. Also a video collage of the ceremony, for those who may have missed it:

One Sky Over All

An autobiography by Richard Blanco, who wrote and read the poem at Barack Obama's second inauguration:
   Interestingly, he is only the fifth poet to read at an inauguration ~ and every one before him was invited by a Democrat: Robert Frost by John F. Kennedy, Maya Angelou and Miller Williams by Bill Clinton, and Elizabeth Alexander by Obama four years ago.

Open House

by AR Design Studio Ltd.
 The conundrum: the owners of a renovated 1860 stone barn in England's Cotswolds wanted a view of a nearby lake, but local regulations didn't allow for large windows in a historic building. The solution: a modern yet complementary living area on the lake almost entirely of glass, with a wrap-around deck and accessed by a winding, rustic boardwalk:

Hush Little Baby

The earliest lullaby we know of is written in cuneiform and comes from Babylonia. We don't know the tune, but the words are oddly familiar in that they tell a rather dark story. And that is just one of the many characteristics that so many lullabies have in common, no matter when or where they originated. Unfortunately, each of the six click-able lullabies on the page is preceded by a Microsoft ad that's so annoying that I listened to only two, but I can tell you that the Indian one is lovely (story and audio):

Presidential Party

The family-run company Hargrove has worked on every presidential inauguration since Harry Truman's second, in 1949. "This year," says chief executive Tim McGill, "it’s about simple elegance—clean lines, patriotic colors, nothing ostentatious”:

Crime and Punishment

Ned at age 15
 The DNA identification of the remains of Australian outlaw Ned Kelly, who was buried in a mass grave after his hanging at age 25, has revived an old question: Was he an anti-establishment hero or a vicious thug? A more recent question is, Would he have gotten the same sentence today?:
   The view from closer to home:
   A biography of the man:

Proust in India

Mayank Austen Soofi
It was a very circuitous route that led me to a table at a little coffeehouse in Delhi. And there, via his blog, I "met" a young man whose persistence in trying to share his love of (or at least profound interest in) Marcel Proust's A la recherche du temps perdu (In Search of Lost Time or Remembrance of Things Past) with anyone willing to join his weekly forays into the novel is at once poignant and admirable. The comments that follow are equally wonderful (this is his first entry; I believe there are more than 30 now):

Colorful People

Erdal Kamahli
How much can your favorite color say about you? I'm not talking about a color you choose because you think it's cool or looks good on you. I'm talking about the color you're automatically drawn to first, before you have time to think about it:

Can You Do the Fandango?

An excellent BBC documentary on the making of that quintessential Queen opus Bohemian Rhapsody (video; this is Part 1, but it you'll find the rest of it there):

The Gift of Reading

The deadline to apply for free books to give away (see "Need to Read," Jan. 6) has been extended to Jan. 25! It's a lovely opportunity to share your love of reading with someone who may not have discovered that joy yet (I, personally, want a book I can give to both children and adults and am wavering between The Phantom Tollbooth and Favorite American Poems.):

What (and How) You Eat, You Are

An interview with Bee Wilson, who wrote a book about how changes in dining accessories and cooking methods have changed us. Did you know that the introduction of the pot saved teeth from wear and tear but also gave us more cavities?:

The Pits

Among the many ... shall we say ... intriguing findings in this study is this: People with dry earwax (yes, apparently, there are both dry and wet kinds) do not have smelly armpits:

An L.A. Life

"Gorgeous Gussy"  A. Jones / Getty Images
Sometimes obits are fun to read because you get to learn about people you otherwise would not have heard of, like Gussy Moran, whose bio is the ultimate Los Angeles saga: She grew up in a Victorian home just steps from the ocean in Santa Monica. She was a stellar tennis player, and among the people who encouraged her in the sport was Charlie Chaplin, who also helped her get a small role in a Katharine Hepburn/Spencer Tracy film. She ended up at Wimbledon, where she caused an uproar by wearing a short, short skirt. And (this is L.A., after all) ... she was married three times, the first time when she was 19. How long will it be, I wonder, before her story is made into a movie?:,0,1457993.story

Seven-Year Niche

Courtesy First Run Features
The Seven Up kids are back, only now they're 56 Up. This is the latest in what is probably the longest-running documentary series ever ~ a fascinating study of 13 Brits that began in 1964, when they were 7 years old, and has revisited them every seven years after that:,0,5807042.story
   Here's the video version of the review, which includes some clips, albeit very brief ones, from the documentaries:,0,5807042.story
   And here's an interesting piece from the New Yorker, which gives some more details about the individual characters:

Birds of a Feather

The recent passing of "Dear Abby" twin Pauline Friedman Phillips (whose nom de plume was Abigail Van Buren) reminds me of the passing of another half of a more locally famous twin couple. Vivian Brown and her sister, Marian, were known in San Francisco for their consummate sense of fashion. These petite women strolled the streets in impeccable style, always identically dressed and coiffed. I remember seeing them often around Union Square when I would visit the city with my mother, and it was hard to take my eyes off them. They seemed always to be content, a self-contained unit, and seemed to know everyone ~ or, at least, everyone knew them, and they responded politely to every hailing. Catching a glimpse of them was one of the highlights of my trips into the city. They made me smile, and for that ~ and their delightful insistence on high sartorial standards ~ I thank them:,0,7541274.story

National Day of Service, Jan. 19

 This year, how about honoring Martin Luther King Jr. in a meaningful way ~ by volunteering your inspirational presence and/or usable discards to help others?:
   Not sure how this can count as volunteering somewhere, but maybe it falls under the category of Helping Oneself, which is also valid ... in a roundabout sort of way. Still, what a superb opportunity: The dancers of the Los Angeles Ballet will be giving dance (ballet, alternative) and yoga/pilates lessons all day!:

Castle in the Pines

Made with aluminum pipes and repurposed wood

Channing Glover just may be the coolest dad on the planet, at least when it comes to building the dream tree house (excuse me, Sky Barn) ~ and it's green, too. Next up, a zip line and solar panels (story and video):

Standing on Top of the World

This is truly a world-class rug!:

In Support of Tibet

Chinese soldiers in Tibet       from
A Tibetan Cultural Week of Celebration and Education, presented by the Santa Barbara Summit for Tibet, will take place at the Santa Barbara Public Library and other locations during Tibet Week, Jan. 19-26. Events, which are free, will include the building of a sand mandala and a Silent Walk for Tibet:
   For more information about Tibet and its occupation by China:

Flu Fever

Not to succumb to or escalate the hype about this year's flu, but FYI, the Weather Channel has a site devoted to it. You can find out how widespread it is in your state, symptoms, and other "fun facts":

A Tisket A Tasket

A green and wooden picnic basket. That becomes a picnic table. And a bike pannier. Just in time for spring:

This Book'll Take You There

Here's a novel idea: A serial for the iPad or iPhone that unfolds one story per day, with extra "chapters" that can be read only at particular locations around the world (story and video):

Time Matters

A UC Berkeley physicist has developed an instrument that measures time based on the mass of a single particle ~ the only such mechanism to do so. Sounds like a clock, yes? Not so fast, say some other researchers:

Brain Check

A new study suggests that some newborns' brains carry markers of possible future illness such as Alzheimer's and schizophrenia:

2's Company, 100 Million's a ...

Pilgrims gather in Allahabad.           Pardaphash Today
 ... monumental all-time world record? Every 12 years, a Hindu pilgrimage called Maha Kumbh Mela takes place, and 2013 is one of those years. There are a few sites for the ages-old festival, but the largest by far is in Allahabad, and this year, it's even more momentous than usual, thanks to planetary alignments:
            The Maha Kumbh website:

Depict the Light Fantastic

A new contest invites photographers of all stripes to submit "light-inspired photos":

Once U-pun a Time

A Buddhist refuses his dentist's offer of Novocaine before a procedure because he wants to transcend dental medication. Oooooohhhhh ... Is the much-maligned pun the epitome of wit or the lowest form of humor?:

Hot Ice Sculptures

Harbin International Ice and Snow World festival, China  REUTERS/Sheng Li
Think you've seen some spectacular ice sculptures over the years? To borrow a line from an old song, You ain't seen n-n-nothin' yet (slideshow):

Building Beauty

Mason Lane Farm © Roberto de Leon

The breadth of the talent, creativity, and vision of some members of the human race is simply breath-taking ~ and much of it is on display through the AIA's 2013 Honor Awards:

The Tap-Water Dance

So there's been this big push to get people to give up bottled water and head straight for the tap. Understandable, from many angles. Not so much, necessarily, from the angle of health. Want to know whether your tap water is safe enough to drink and why or why not?:

A Gift Given, Gone

All too often, it is only after someone is taken from us that we come to learn how much the rest of us owe him or her. Such is the case (at least for me) with Aaron Swartz, whose genius, coupled with the profound sense of fairness and justice that is one of the hallmarks of giftedness, gave us so much more than we realized:

Ahr, Go On!

Alan Arkin, Ben Affleck in Argo Warner Bros. Pictures
Argo is a good movie. It's thrilling, it seems realistic, and it got Director Ben Affleck a Golden Globe (take that, Academy!). But just how closely does it mirror reality? One of the American diplomats who was there breaks it down for us:

A Minor in the Major Leagues

Twelve-year-old Cullen Little calls 'em like he sees 'em on a Baltimore sports radio show. His audience of 25,000 listeners and 20,000 who download the podcasts call him a football savant:

Come On In ~ the Water's Fine

Sun Valley Lodge pool
There is very little in life to rival the sheer comfort and joy of soaking in a steaming pool surrounded by mounds of snow, especially after a day on the slopes, but, really, anytime. To the list on this site, I would simply add the pool at the Sun Valley Lodge. It's round, about 101 degrees (F), and it has cocktail service! (slideshow):

Out of Africa

Journalist Paul Salopek is following the path of the first humans, from southern Africa to South America. And we can follow him ~ for all seven years of his journey (story and video):

K-Pop's Big C

Busker Busker

So this kid from Ohio gets a gig teaching English in South Korea, ends up as the only Caucasian (or one of the very few) in that country's growing pop music industry, and teaches his band mates how to negotiate, homeland-style (story and video):
   P.S., The lead singer's got a great voice!

Your Fine Feline

In case you're curious about your cat's ancestry (and, honestly, aren't we all?), you might want to find out for sure with a DNA test. All it requires is an inner-cheek swabbing. Good luck with that:

Bigger Than a Breadbox

Astronomers have found the largest known structure in the universe, a so-called large quasar group. It's 4 billion light years across ~ substantially bigger than the Milky Way, which is 100,000 light years across:

THIS Is Sick!

We're all hearing (ad nauseam, appropriately enough) about this year's flu du jour, the norovirus, and we're all just a little freaked at the thought of becoming its next victim. It might help you to know that Vomiting Larry is on the case:

Now You Know

What better way to spend a cold winter afternoon than by clicking through Mental Floss magazine's Amazing Fact Generator with your honey? I ask you:

Give a Little Whistle

Student at a school on the island of La Gomera     screen shot from video
An ancient language consisting of whistles is being revived on its home island of La Gomera, off the coast of southern Morocco. In fact, in one school, it's compulsory learning (story, video, audio):

The Ultimate Newspaper Ad

I have always loved and appreciated British wit, but perhaps never (or almost never) as much as now. Oh! and with proper credit where it's due ~ to my friend Val (video):

I Believe He Can Fly

Potter takes off from Mount Butte, BC  Mikey Schaefer

 If you have acrophobia and/or a strong conviction that humans are a land-based species, you may want to refrain from watching this documentary about rock climber, BASE jumper, tightrope walker, and wing-suit flier Dean Potter (video):

The GMO 10

For those who are interested, below are the 10 companies that donated the most to defeat California's recent GMO-labeling proposition. The information includes the donation total and the labels each company owns that base much of their identity and advertising on being "natural" (from the Organic Consumers Association):
• PepsiCo (Donated $2.5M): Naked Juice, Tostitos, Tropicana, Tazo, Looza, Izze, Sabra, Smartfood, Stacy's, Mother's, and Near East
• Kraft, which recently became Mondelez (Donated $2M): Boca Burgers and Back to Nature
• Safeway (Member of Grocery Manufacturers Association, which donated $2M):“O” Organics
• Coca-Cola (Donated $1.7M): Honest Tea, Odwalla
• General Mills (Donated $1.2M): Muir Glen, Cascadian Farm, Larabar

The Language of Love

It's the little things, like "an," "the," "though," "I," and "and." A recent study of speed-daters points to language use being a better predictor of compatibility than things like job or hobbies (print and audio versions):

Beast of the Southern Wild Indeed

Benh Zeitlin, director of Beasts of the Southern Wild, lives very much like his characters ~ which makes him a bit of a character as well:,0,2054321.story

Token Vote

The Monopoly tokens are getting a bit of an update, and someone's gotta go to make room for the new token in town. Shall it be the battleship or the top hat, the dog or the iron? Hasbro's giving the lowest vote-getter the boot:
  A brief history and some fun facts about Monopoly:

Fashion's Fortune

Filmmaker Leah Borromeo
Twenty-nine leaders in the world of eco-fashion offer their predictions for the new year:

With a Little Help From New Friends

Every year, I took my students for a tour of the local recycling center. Every year, we had the same guide, and last year, he said something that comes back to me almost every day. He took us to see the mountain of things they find that can't be recycled. There were beds, TVs, chairs, tables, lamps, appliances. Most of them looked to be in very good condition. And then he asked the kids, "What are we Americans really good at?" And they answered with him, "At throwing stuff away."
   A couple of days ago, I visited my boy in the Bay Area. He rides his bike ~ which he found at a second-hand store ~ a lot, and the derailleur had gone out. "It's an old bike," my husband said. "Ditch it and get yourself a new one." "Take it to a bike shop and have it fixed," I said. How old school are we? I ended up driving him and his bike to a DIY fix-it shack in Oakland. When I came back for him two hours later, he was riding up and down the street, smiling. He had fixed it himself.
   Unrelated to that place except in concept, Peter Mui started Fixit Clinics in 2009, and they've gotten so popular, he's expanded from his hometown of Albany, CA, to Minneapolis, Knoxville, and Boston. "I'd like to get as many going as possible," he says. "It's a ton of fun just to watch people fix something they'd given up on":

No Reservations Whatsoever

The Huilo Huilo Montana Magica Lodge, Chile  photo courtesy of lodge
Pack your bags! Sandstone, ice, salt: five hotels, made from natural materials, you might want to check out ~ and check into:

Follow That Cat!

National Geographic researchers attached little cameras to cats' collars and learned a thing or two that most cat owners already instinctively know (video):

The Fire Within

Steam from the Centralia, PA, coal mine fire, 1982  Leif Skoogfors, Corbis
Ah, "clean coal." Here's a dirty little tidbit: There are more than 200 fires burning above- and underground at coal mines around the country ~ many thousands more around the world ~ all releasing toxins including benzene, hydrogen sulfide, mercury, and arsenic, as well as greenhouse gases like methane and carbon dioxide. One of them, in Pennsylvania, has been burning for more than 50 years (story, slideshow):

To Laugh or To Cry

Reason, a Libertarian magazine, includes a section it calls "Brickbats." These are snippets about instances in which government ~ or private individuals ~ have crossed the line of, well, reason, and they make for very entertaining but also sometimes distressing reading:

365 Seconds of Fame

When Cesar Kuriyama quit his job, he started filming his life, one second at a time. That inspired him to create an app that allows others to do the same. Does choosing which second to add to the final product alter one's perspective? Does looking at one's life in one-second bits change how one lives? (story and video):

Under the Name of Saunders

George Saunders's fourth book of stories, Tenth of December, is out. An interview with and some excellently related background information on the man many believe is, in the words of this article, a superhero ~ "somehow a little more than just a writer":

Magical Big-City Tour

Timothy "Speed" Levitch on the double-decker                                screen shot
"You know, I'm learning slowly in my cruising career that you cannot expect people to transform in an afternoon. ... And yet I expect that. I expect the total transformation of their life, the entire rewrite of their souls. I am fighting minute to minute, every moment that they're on the bus, for every day they've lived thus far to seem an abstract wreckage that might have happened but is probably a delusion, and that this is the first real day of their lives." So says Timothy "Speed" Levitch. With very special thanks to my son, one of the best documentaries I've ever seen ~ The Cruise, which follows the fascinating ramblings and fact-strewn musings of a New York City tour guide (video):

1-derful T-shirt Projects

A lovely list (with links) of ideas for how to reuse/upcycle your old T-shirts:

Not So Horny After All

Interesting tidbits regarding the Vikings from wiseGEEK ( ):

Contrary to many popular depictions of Vikings, there is no good evidence that they ever wore horned helmets. The notion that Viking helmets were adorned with horns likely comes from 19th century representations of Vikings, such as opera costumes. Many historians also note that horned helmets just don't make much sense, because the horns could easily get tangled in foliage or could be grabbed by an enemy soldier.

More about the Vikings:

Beckett List

It's been 60 years since Samuel Beckett's classic Waiting for Godot (En attendant Godot) hit the stage and slammed into our cerebral cortices. Since that first night in Paris, it's played just about everywhere, including Sarajevo while it was under siege and San Quentin prison. And still we theorize about its longevity and its universality:

My Country Right or Wrong?

Here's a conundrum: At what point can an area's indigenous cultural values be called abusive and unacceptable? Where is the line between imperialism and moral obligation? A list of the worst countries in the world for women:

A Handy Species

Fourteen species of fish—handfish—some old, some new, use their fins to help them walk, not swim, along the ocean floor. While they are currently found only around Australia, there is evidence that they once lived around the world (slideshow):

A Lot Over the King's Head

I know it's beginning to look like this, but I am not obsessed with British royalty ~ honestly! It's just that, of late, I've been finding interesting stories having to do with them, like this one, about the unearthing of what seems to be the remains of King Richard III, from under a parking lot (which led one of the commenters to make what I feel can be rightly called the best pun of the new year ~ "looks like he was a sub-par king"!):
   Back in August, Richard Buckley, co-director of University of Leicester Archaeological Services, explained the project (video):!

Prince Albert in a Can

Yikes! In yet another happy myth exploded, that picture of marital bliss, Queen Victoria and her Prince Albert (also the name of a popular pipe tobacco, hence "in a can"), kind of were and kind of weren't. She, apparently, had a horrible temper and was without a doubt one of the least loving and least likable mothers in history:

Lose Weight Now ~ Ask Me How!

Book published in 1968
 And you thought the gastric bypass was extreme! Here are several .. ummm ... intriguing diet fads dating back to Victorian times (friendly suggestion: Don't try these at home!):
   Diet or Die (right) is out of print, but its subject, Celesta Geyer, made it to the Guinness Book of World Records for her huge weight loss, achieved by keeping her calorie intake to 800 per day and exercising. Her diet plan, while not as colorful as those listed in the above article, was effective, and according to the book description, she maintained her new weight for the rest of her life.

Hook, Pain, and Sinker

Why is this man smiling?
The other day, a friend told me she and her husband had gone fishing for the first time. They apparently had not fished for food but for the "sport" of it, throwing their catch back. In this way, she thought, she wasn't really causing any harm. A lot of people agree, but I'm not one of them. So I looked it up and found this article based on the book Do Fish Feel Pain? by a professor at Penn State. There is undeniable, scientific evidence that they do. CAUTION: While I don't know for sure, as I will not watch it, I suspect that the video below the story could be very disturbing (story and video):