Monthly Archives: August 2009

Incredible still life from staples

I am always very impressed when people can transform very ordinary objects into something anything but ordinary. This amazing sculpture is made with the common staple. Fantastic.

From one of my favourite blogs, oliveloaf design. Go see her blog for more photos and details.


Canon schmanon, or letting kids read what they want to read

I mostly agree with the approach put forward by the teacher in this article in the NYTimes (The Future of Reading – ‘Reading Workshop’ Approach Lets Students Pick the Books).

I think the important thing is to first get kids to read, and then secondly get them to read books that teach them how to read better. Reading stale classics from the Canon will discourage reading. But kids should also be challenged to read more than what they like.

In High School I read and loved all of the Shakespeare plays that I had to read. But the list of those plays that we read was very short. And if I had decided to read King Lear instead of Romeo and Juliet, or Henry V instead of Julius Caesar, would that have been a bad thing? Same with poetry, short stories, etc.

With the coming of digital books and other means of accessing the classics, it would be better if kids had more freedom to pick what they want to read, with the teachers providing them guidance as to what they are reading and why it is relevant.

Later skaters!

I am off on vacation, but I wanted to post this series of very smart ideas in one smart video. Kudos to Element Skateboards for running with this. Check it out.

Plus it has a great track over it (from the Postal Service).

YouTube – Claim it!

Quote of the day

From 52Books

I had rather be shut up in a very modest cottage with my books, my family and a few old friends, dining on simple bacon, and letting the world roll on as it liked, than to occupy the most splendid post, which any human power can give.
— Thomas Jefferson

Now THIS is a bike I would like to have

Yes, its a Wood-Framed Bicycle. You can see more photos and get the details from Gizmodo.

Late night music with the Plain White T’s – Hey There Delilah

I like how the director of this video uses split screen really effectively to make what could be something very static — an acoustic guitar player — something very dynamic. It also gives it a nice 1960s vibe, though it feels new. I wonder if the musician likes Paul Simon? Anyway I like this song, and I really like this video.

YouTube – Plain White T’s – Hey There Delilah

Alone in the kitchen with an eggplant

Sounds vaguely ominous, yes? In fact, it is a title of a great looking book, containing essays and articles by writers talking about dining solo.

Here’s what the author says:

“Dinner alone is one of life’s pleasures. Certainly cooking for oneself reveals man at his weirdest. People lie when you ask them what they eat when they are alone. A salad, they tell you. But when you persist, they confess to peanut butter and bacon sandwiches deep fried and eaten with hot sauce, or spaghetti with butter and grape jam.” —Laurie Colwin, “Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant”

Sounds like the perfect thing to eat with eggplant parmigiana. 🙂 Actually I confess that the thing I like to make when I am eating alone is steak frites with a rich glass of red wine, followed by some good dark chocolate. Or an omelet and a green salad and a glass of white.

Found at the great blog, A CUP OF JO

Crowdsourcing Opera

And now for something completely different! According to BBC NEWS:

The Royal Opera House is to stage an opera created through social networking site Twitter. Members of the public have been invited to submit their “tweets” online – messages of up to 140 characters – which will form the new libretto.

The first scene of the as-yet-untitled work has already been completed and features a man who has been kidnapped by a group of birds.

Now for some, this is a great way of engaging more people in Opera (assuming the libretto comes out well). For others, they may say: well, the libretto doesn’t count for much anyway! Either way you look at it, it promises to be a novel and innovative way of connecting opera with…well, everyone.

Go to the BBC article for more info.

Seeing a doctor in Canada vs. the U.S.

James Fallows has alot of good things to say about many things, including the recent debate about health care in the U.S. In this post,
On why I can’t get in to see my doctor, he quotes a writer from Nova Scotia, Parker Donham, who wrote:

I live in a tiny Nova Scotia community, about 45 minutes from the nearest small city. When I want to see my “good-but-normal” doctor (the same one I’ve had for 35 years), I don’t make an appointment. I call and ask what hours he will be in the office that day, then show up at a time convenient for me. I bring The Atlantic to read for the 10-20 minutes it takes to see him.

As we watch Americans debate the future of their health care system, it’s galling for Canadians to hear opponents of reform demonize our single-payer system with discredited tales of health care denied. I am in good health, and enjoy excellent medical care. A close relative whose serious congenital heart condition leads to frequent, sometimes grave emergencies and occasional surgical interventions likewise receives superb care.

I emphasized the line in bold because I feel exactly the same way. After a recent accident, I phoned up to see my doctor (who is in Toronto) for a checkup. It wasn’t an emergency, so it took me a few days to see her. (Somedays I have gotten in on the same day, but she is busy, so it usually takes me a day or two. And by the way, I have a harder time getting a haircut appointment or a plumber.) I had to get an X-ray and an ultrasound. I literally walked out the door to the office building 1 minute away and put my name down for both. They said the wait would be an hour. I went and had lunch and then got it done. I was called by the nurse with the results in two days. Total cost for all this care: $0.

Can our health care system be better? Certainly. I don’t think there is a country in the world that would not say that. But the nonsense and propaganda I read about our health care system by some American writers amounts to lying. I don’t see how that helps the debate in the U.S. or the health of Americans.

Boneheaded comment of the day

On many blogs, people are having great fun mocking this criticism of How House Bill Runs Over Grandma:

People such as scientist Stephen Hawking wouldn’t have a chance in the U.K., where the National Health Service would say the life of this brilliant man, because of his physical handicaps, is essentially worthless.

What is ridiculous about this comment is that Hawking lives in the U.K. Perhaps the N.H.S. just has caught up with him yet? 🙂

There are lots of valid ways to criticize the upcoming House Bill in terms of costs, conflicts of interest, quality of service, etc. But if you include stuff like this, the rest of your arguments quickly lose their credibility. And of course, the whole “death panel” concept is equally ridiculous.

And at the End, All the Comforts of the Carlyle

Good fiction is open to interpretation. Great fiction inspires interpretation.

I did not think obituaries could also inspire such things, until I read this one in the It starts:

Marie-Dennett McDill loved the Carlyle Hotel.

She stayed there whenever she was in New York, and adored the regular entertainers like Bobby Short and Eartha Kitt at the Café Carlyle, and the pianist Loston Harris in the lively Bemelmans Bar. She loved the uniformed elevator men and bellmen and the family of longtime staff. She loved that Central Park was only a short block away.

So when Mrs. McDill, who grew up in society in Washington and was enjoying an outdoors life in South Woodstock, Vt., learned she had terminal cancer this summer, her family immediately booked her a suite on the eighth floor for an open-ended stay, but one they sadly knew would not be open-ended enough.

The entire obituary reads like a synopsis of an great fictional story, but it is true. I’ve read it a number of times, and everytime that I have, I have reflected upon it in different ways.

Try reading it, then reading again some time later.

Why aren’t people looking for “Peace” anymore?

I put “peace” in quotes because for the last few weeks, people have entering “peace” into search engines and landing on my site. Each day 50-100 or more people would land on my site that way. Suddenly this week, that all went away!

The search engine giveth, and the search engine taketh away. 🙂 I can’t believe suddenly people stopped being interested in peace.

The great Roger Ridley, Playing for Change

Roger Ridley, a great performer, performs Bring It On Home, a great song,  as well as anyone. Take a listen….

There are many mediocre performers in the world who get far too much attention. And there are great performers like Roger Ridley, performers who, when you hear them, you think: man, more people ought to hear this person! That’s what I thought when I heard him. I hope you feel the same way.

Thanks to Playing for Change for bringing Roger to our attention. You should check them out, too.

Iran: The Rooftop Project

Iran: The Rooftop Project from is

meant to be the most complete possible collection of recordings of nighttime protest in Iran since the beginning of the uprising. Its goal is to locate and profile at least one video for each night primarily focusing on the nightly chanting of Allah-o-Akbar from the rooftops whenever that footage is available.

It is haunting to hear the nightly cries of Iranians protesting what has become of their country. We should listen.

More great animation: The League of Super Evil

I am fortunate to have kids for alot of reasons. But one is that I get to watch animated TV like The League of Super Evil!

The League is a wonderful send-up of superheroes and supervillians, all told with wonderful wackiness and superb animation (especially considering it is a TV show, not a big budget film). Plus great characters: I mean, look at these guys! 🙂 (I love the name “Red Menace” as an evildoer name, and “Voltar” and “Dr. Frogg” are laughably ridiculous “villians”.)

There is nothing super about them of course, and at there worst they are mildly annoying, not evil. (In one episode they try to prevent a pizza delivery from arriving on time so that they can get free pizza.) They drive around in a scooter and are regularly thwarted by the 6 year olds in the neighborhood. And they are very funny.

You can get some appreciation of it from the web site, but watching a 15 minute episode is better. It really is screwball comedy, and that takes some time to build up. If you have, find an excuse to watch it.

Why you should watch The Iron Giant

Last night over dinner I was talking about animated films and how some of them are pure entertainment for children and a rare few are something much more. Those rare few include the Pixar films such as The Incredibles, as well as The Iron Giant. It turns out, The Iron Giant is 10 years old this year. It didn’t do well financially, but it won critical acclaim, and its creator, Brad Bird, went on the create other great films for Pixar.

I wrote about how films by Brad Bird should be watched the same way you watch films by Scorsese or Welles or Hitchcock. If you have enjoyed Ratatouille or The Incredibles, then you owe it to yourself to watch The Iron Giant. You will gain a new appreciate for those films, and you will have a great time in the process. For more on why this film is great, see this post: A Decade Later, The Iron Giant’s Weaponized Soul Still Stirs | Underwire |

P.S. Found via BTW, I was going to post the trailer for the film, but to see it, you might think: oh, kid’s film. It is a film about a boy that would appeal to kids, but there is nothing childish about it.In fact, it is very sophisticated.

P.S.S. Here is a clip from the film. It shows a theme common to Bird’s films, namely how those who are great  (in this case, the Iron Giant) are misunderstood and attacked by the others.

Nice animation, too. More in line with typical WB animation than the later Pixar films, which benefit from more advanced technology. But that fits in nicely with the Cold War / 1950s era it is portraying.

Good weekend morning music: Her Morning Elegance / Oren Lavie

I like this song: it’s a good song to slowly wake up to on a lazy weekend morning. As for the video, it is another stop motion animated short feature. It’s worth a look as well as a listen:

YouTube – Her Morning Elegance / Oren Lavie

What do MS-DOS, Lotus 1-2-3, Dot Matrix printers have in common?

1) They are very old
2) They are still in use!

I found that hard to believe, but read this: 25 Computer Products That Refuse to Die. I was amazed to see all of these old technologies still kicking around. For example, dot matrix printers have two features that laser printers do not: continuous feed and the ability to print on multipart forms. Check out the list: you’ll be amazed what people are still using. Remember Prodigy? Netscape? Yup, all on the list. Like I said…amazing! 🙂

John Hughes

John Hughes died today. He wasn’t a great director, like Scorsese or Hitchcock, but he was a very good director. He managed to encapsulate a time — the 1980s — in a way few directors can. And he made some really enjoyable films, like Planes, Trains & Automobiles. It seems right that his films had great soundtracks, because like a good pop song, his movies managed to capture something that was both light and timeless.
Here’s Steve Martin and John Candy…enjoy.

In the 21st century, the center of religion and religious thought will likely be Africa

Why? Shifting demographics is the main reason. As this article, Conceptual Trends and Current Topics, points out,

“The centers of the church’s universality [are] no longer in Geneva, Rome, Athens, Paris, London, New York, but Kinshasa, Buenos Aires, Addis Ababa, and Manila.”

Likewise, with the decline in birthrate in the “canonical Muslim” countries now. It goes without saying that this will have a major affect on the world. What religious leaders in those emerging regions think now will likely be how the rest of the religious world thinks towards the middle and end of the century.

How to fix/revive your dishwasher

I am writing this for anyone who feels their dishwasher is dying or about to die and who has no little or no knowledge of dishwashers. It might help.

I have a Bosch dishwasher. It is about 5 years old. Interestingly, it has four buttons for settings like “extra hot” and a knob — a timer, really — to set it. The knob is actually not digital but analog.

Recently it started making terrible grinding noises. Furthermore, it would not drain properly. Water would come in ok, but when it came time to draining, it has a problem. Plus the dishes would often come out dirty. I thought: rats! I need to get a new one. Instead, I did the following:

— Drained the water. You must do this. If you don’t, eventually you will get mold in your dishwasher. You don’t want that. For one thing, it is gross. For another, it might lead to other problems. So drain your dishwasher and hand dry it with towels.
— Cleaned out the drain area. This should be obvious if you have a clog. Also, don’t put dishes with lots of small things left on them, like rice. That’s often asking for trouble. Wipe them off first.
— Called a plumber. This didn’t help much, actually. In fact, by the time he came, the problem started to improve! He did teach me one thing though…
— Poured white vinegar in the dishwasher. If you have any clogging in the dishwasher (likely from soap), this will help dissolve the clog without damaging the dishwasher. (I don’t think you should use a strong declogging agent like Mr Plumber.) Pour in the vinegar in an emply dishwasher without soap and then run it like a regular load.
— Started using liquid soap. I was using a cheap powder and this may have led to clogging. Also, I heard that those all in ones lead to clogging. I have been using liquid soap for some time now and I find it works better.
— Fixed my soap cup. Mine was broken, and I think this lead to problems with when soap entered the machine and led to problems. By fixing the cup — really, just adjusting the spring that opened the cup door at the right time — my dishes started getting cleaner.
— Powered off the dishwasher. Yes, that’s right. Alot of these dishwashers have microchips in them. I am not sure about mine, but mine seemed “confused” about where in the wash cycle it was in. After powering off the dishwasher, the confusion went away. I believe it actually reset the chips. I could be totally out to lunch here, but try it.

Now, this will not always fix your dishwasher. Before this one, I had an old one that also broke down. When my repair man came over, he looked at the computer board and it was black. It had overheated and fried itself. The cost of fixing it was so much, buying a new dishwasher made sense.

The Homeless and the Internet –

You might not believe that the homeless need access to the Internet. You might think it is a luxury for them. I thought that, but now I think the opposite. While it may not be the best way to help them rise from the streets, it certainly is a good way. The Internet gives them the ability to stay in touch with people and not become even more isolated. It allows them to apply for jobs. It helps them learn and develop skills. It gives them purpose.

There may be more essential things the homeless need besides the Internet. But it’s more important than you or I might think. For more on this, see On the Street and On Facebook: The Homeless Stay Wired –

The beer cocktail

This might seem odd or even blasphemous for some, but these Top Five Beer Cocktails at aren’t really all that unusual and they sound delicious. Of the five, one of them is a shandy, which is quite common in the U.K. and likely available in pubs worldwide. The others might be harder to find, but none of them would be hard to make. Some are quite simple and some are really sophisticated. Check them out, especially now that summer is here (though you wouldn’t know it living in Toronto).

The greatness of Ron Rivera, potter, public health champion

Ron Rivera died almost a year ago. During his lifetime heused his pottery skill to promote public health, which, when I first read it, thought: that’s odd. Once I read it, it made perfect sense: he developed pots that were ceramic water filters.  As the says:

Ron Rivera liked to call his ceramic water filters “weapons of biological mass destruction.” For 25 years he traveled to poor villages throughout Latin America, Africa and Asia teaching local potters to make what appears to be a big terra-cotta flower pot but is in fact an ingenious device for purifying water.

“You put dirty water in — gray water that many communities still drink — and it comes out crystal clear,” he told an audience last year at the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum in Manhattan, where his filters were included in an exhibition called “Design for the Other 90 Percent.”

Design matters. And sometimes the simplest of design matters most.

I recommend the article/obituary in the The world needs more people like Ron Rivera.

On the importance of teaching poetry in school

I am wondering if, when you go to and look at the most popular poems, you see alot of poems that you were taught in school. I did. I would be willing to bet that if someone where to compile a list of poems in anthologies and see how many students read each one, it would correlate to this list.

Assuming that is true, it is a good argument for teaching poetry in school, for it may be the only poetry people come across. With the exception of the New Yorker and Harper’s, I don’t know how many mainstream magazines publish poetry anymore. I would also bet that most people don’t read it casually either. And I am also willing to bet that people will recall good poetry that they read, and how it had a positive influence on them.

I think we need people to be aware of more good poems like these.

It’s Sunday, and if you go to church…

…be glad you don’t have to go to this one!

According to this blog, it’s “perhaps one of the most remarkable sights in France, a chapel perched on a volcanic plug. This is the Rock of Aiguilhe, on the edge of the town of Puy en Velay, in the Auvergne. The Chapelle Saint-Michel has stood there for 1042 years, since Bishop Gothescalk had it built in 962 on his return from a pilgrimage to Santiago del Compostella in Galicia. In 1955 workers found relics under the alter that had been there since it was built.”

Needless to say, parking is difficult. 🙂 Seriously, check out 20 Unusual Churches (Part II) | Village Of Joy which has more fascinating church structures (and I say structures because some of them are barely buildings).

Leaf Portraits

I like these, especially I one on the right: it looks like  heart in the leaf.

Thanks to swissmiss

Chernobyl, or the world without us

This photoessay, Chernobyl Today: A Creepy Story told in Pictures | Village Of Joy, has striking images of a destroyed city frozen in time. Well, not really frozen. As you can see, the trees are reclaiming the area, despite the still high levels of radiation from the disaster.

If the neutron bomb was used, this would be the way the world would look.

It’s well worth seeing the entire photoessay.

How To Use Bacon To Make Your Life Incredible And Amazing

See the helpful guide at

(Thanks, Laurie! :))

Where can you find happiness?

Mike Arauz knows the answer….

ummm…..sure….or How to Behave: New Rules for Highly Evolved Humans

I think — hope — these are a joke. Regardless, enjoy WiReD magazine’s How to Behave: New Rules for Highly Evolved Humans

It’s news to me that “Cartoon profile pics went out with rickrolling.”  But I think this advice, “Give credit when repeating tweets and blog posts.” and “Back up your hard drive. Right now.” are great advice. That said, they also advise you to “Kill your zombie brother. He’s not your brother. He’s a zombie.” Clearly, this is a stupid rule. You should kill any zombie, regardless of their relationship with you, be it your mom, sister or significant other of any kind.

So there you go: you know how to behave in the 21st century.