Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Lots of heart

Don't miss this. Click through to the trailer for the award-winning documentary The Heart of the Game about the girls basketball team at Seattle's Roosevelt High School.

The film opens June 9 in New York and LA; June 16 in Seattle.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Problem exists between bagel and cream-cheese brain

At the supermarket today I noticed the bins of bagels have a sign saying:

Regular bagels 79¢
Specialty bagels $1.29

The "specialty bagels" are the ones with melted cheese or cheese and tomato sauce all over the top. The regular bagels are plain, seeded, onion, etc.

The problem, apparently beyond the comprehension of the supermarket bakery manager, is that there are not just two types of bagels, there are two brand names of bagels:

Seattle Bagel Bakery
Specialty Bakeries

Thus the plain and seeded bagels from bins labeled Specialty Bakeries are not priced as Specialty bagels; they're priced as regular bagels. Got that?

And...you've probably guessed it...cheese-covered bagels from the bins labeled Seattle Bagel Bakery are priced as Specialty bagels.

Yes, I went and talked with a store employee (not the bakery manager) who agreed this might be a tad confusing. We agreed the pricing sign should refer to regular bagels and deluxe bagels (or perhaps cheese-topped bagels). Or perhaps there should be prices on the individual bins.

What puzzles me most is that the folks at Specialty Bakeries haven't been up in arms about this signage, which appears to render their (IMHO superior) bagels twice as expensive as the rival brand.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Folklife Monday

"This was the best Folklife ever."

That's what I've been saying every Memorial Day for 22 years. I'll post details tomorrow. Meanwhile, please enjoy some of Doug Plummer's fabulous Folklife photos.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Folklife: Saturday Sampler

I was on site at 11 a.m. to hear Bob Archer and Shepherd's Rho open the day of dancing in the Roadhouse. Experienced English country dancers loved the elegant set that encompassed many styles of English dance: fancy (with a rigadoon), fast-paced, and flowing.

Another highlight of the morning in the Roadhouse was a contra set with Thursday Night Special. The caller, Morna Leonard, told me later fiddler Alan Roberts had chosen the music, which was some of the freshest, most distinctively Western contradance music I've ever heard. It was like dancing to something scored by Aaron Copland.

I caught the Louisiana incarnation of Bellingham's versatile Happy Valley Sluggers in the afternoon (the photo shows vocalist and accordion player Mike Schway and fiddler Laurel Bliss). Their set of traditional Cajun songs had people dancing on the grass.

On the way home at 7, I heard Portland's March Fourth Marching Band's performance titled "Punk as Folk: Trad Strikes Bank." Sassying, swinging, and accompanied by stiltwalkers, this was clearly Fremont-Solstice-Parade-Meets-Folklife. M4 is headed for Germany for the World Cup and Battle of the Carnival Bands competition in June.

Still haven't found any really exciting new food at Folklife -- but there are still two days of the festival yet to go. Any recommendations?

Friday, May 26, 2006

Folklife: The Crafts Report

After a three-hour volunteer shift, I spent the afternoon dancing in the Roadhouse and checking out the crafts booths. There are several new crafts vendors -- or at least, several who are back after a hiatus of some years -- with some very cool stuff. Here's leatherworker Linda Avery of Blachly, Oregon, with her mandolin bag. No, this is not a mandolin, it's a bag.

Jewelry displays abound, but one with a distinctive new look is Earthwork Jewels, featuring the stone-and-silver work of Bellingham artist Beate Degen.

I'm not much for pottery, but Liz Russell's work, R Honey Pots, was eye-catching, particularly her teapots. Two of her teapots are in the famous Kamm Collection.

You'll find crafts in several locations at Folklife:
  • The Crafts Marketplaces, on the walkway just east of the fountain, in Founders Court (outside the Exhibition Hall), and in Alki Court (below the Northwest Court). These are primarily regionally crafted items.

  • The UnCommon Markets on the Bagley Roadway, the Fisher Terrace, and near the Mural Amphitheatre. These are primarily imported items, with lots of cotton, rayon, and silk dance clothing.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Northwest Folklife Festival tradition

Tomorrow I head off to the 35th Northwest Folklife Festival for the weekend, where I'll be volunteering for the 22nd year.

Tonight I performed my own personal Folklife tradition. It involves frantically hemming or altering some item of dance clothing to wear during the weekend. That's done (two skirts and a pair of jeans), though if my mother saw the workmanship, she'd disown me.

Friday is a wonderfully mellow day at Folklife -- the crowds don't materialize until Saturday afternoon -- and some excellent workshops and performances are scheduled:

  • 2:30 p.m. - Ballard High School Jazz Band on the Mural Amphitheatre stage

  • 3 p.m. - Sengalese rhythm workshop in the Rhythm Tent

  • 7 p.m. - Arab dance party (DJs and live music) in the Center House Court (til 11 p.m.)

  • 7 p.m. - Honky-Tonk and Hot Twang on the Northwest Court Stage (til 11 p.m.)

  • 10 p.m. - Les Fabulous Girls Du Ouest Coast w/ David Kaynor calling New England contra dancing in the Roadhouse

Bring your drums, your dance shoes, and -- if you really want a great time at Folklife -- go up to Festival Services on the third floor of the Center House and volunteer to work a shift behind the scenes as a greeter or on an info booth team.

Friday night is also an ideal time to eat dinner at Folklife. The food vendors are chosen through a competitive juried process, and there is some outstanding ethnic and homestyle American food. My fave is the Kenyan Kitchen, but I'm hearing great things about Warthog Barbeque and La Jitana (Lebanese). And I know that somehow I'll end up at the strawberry shortcake stand.

If you are reluctant to come to Folkife during the weekend because of the crowds, try this "low stress" festival: Enter from 1st Ave North at Key Arena, turn left, and go up the stairs to the Northwest Court. The Northwest Court stage will be on your right; on your left, a building that features the Rainier Room performances, the Olympic Room workshops, and uncrowded bathrooms. At the back of the Northwest Court stage you'll find a beer garden. I know some folks who spend the whole weekend at this "mini festival."

Another way to enjoy a low-stress festival (and plenty of parking) is to arrive just as the stages open at 11 a.m. Check out some performances, have lunch, and head out as the crowds arrive at 2 p.m.

I'll be posting Folklife information all weekend. Feel free to send questions.

Positive thinking about saving the environment

Al Gore, quoted in today's Seattle P-I (but, oddly, this sidebar from the story is not in the online edition):
"Granted, America has been slow to recognize the problem and that's depressing. But when it does recognize a problem we're capable of incredible amounts of energy. In 1941, it was absurd to think the U.S. could build 1,000 airplanes. But in 1943, it was really easy. You can look at lots of similar examples of how we, as a nation, came to a shared understanding that our national survival was really at risk. Then everything extraneous to the effort gets put aside. We have two gears in America: slow and lightning. Shifting into that other gear is not easy, but once it happens -- stand back! Because we're gonna move."

As much as I admire Gore's positive spin on this deeply troubling situation, I don't share his optimism. No matter how fast we move, I doubt we can roll back much of the damage we've set in motion. And, even if America "gets in gear," our effect is limited because we no longer hold an economic or political leadership role in the world. An increasing amount of environmental damage is being caused by rapidly industrializing third world countries who, thanks to our centuries of exploiting them, have no respect for the U.S. and Europe and little likelihood of sudden getting interested in our goals or leadership.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Grab a towel

May 25 is Towel Day, in tribute to the late Douglas Adams. His Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy reminds travelers that a towel is "about the most massively useful thing an interstellar hitch hiker can have."

ISP pulls plug on writers' info site

Absolute Write, a website where writers exchange tips and information (including comments about bad agents) went down last night. According to Making Light, one of agents who made the site's Twenty Worst Agents list called the site's Nashville ISP, alleged that posting her name and business email address on the Absolute Write site violated various laws, and as a result the ISP pulled the plug on the site.

I found this a very odd scenario...I mean, if you pay money for an ISP for hosting, aren't they in breach of contract if they shut you down for content (short of terrorism or child pornography)?

If you're an internet free speech enthusiast, you might want to dig more deeply into the details in the Making Light blog entry. I confess, this flap is a bit beyond me.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

One little problem with online package tracking

When my mom returns to her summer place in Seattle, she ships a few boxes of stuff by UPS and takes just a small suitcase on the plane.

Her stuff was scheduled to arrive at my place Friday, the day before she flew in, but nothing was delivered.

She arrived Saturday night, handed me the UPS documents, and asked me to go to the UPS site and look up the packages. Despite being sent three-day air from Naples, Florida, four days later the packages still appeared to be in Jacksonville, Florida.

The packages didn't arrive Monday, either, and this morning my mom called UPS and let them have it.

"Your packages aren't lost," the UPS customer service drone told her. "We just don't know where they are."

My mother isn't a patient soul at the best of times, and she really lost it when the UPS person told her she could check for updates on the packages' status by logging on to the UPS site with the tracking number.

"And just how am I supposed to do that?" my mother demanded. "One of the packages you've lost has my computer in it!"

According to the UPS tracking service, the package with the computer arrived in Redmond at 1 a.m. Tuesday morning. But there's no indication it was ever put on a truck, and they certainly didn't deliver today.

I have a bad feeling about this, and am wondering if the package was vandalized in transit and they're scrambling to figure out what happened to it and come up with an explanation.

(UPDATE: The "three-day delivery" packages arrived safely -- 8 days after they were sent.)

Sunday, May 21, 2006

How to get your emails read

As I brace for the Monday morning email onslaught, I can only hope that the people writing to me have read this excellent writer's guide from Blue Flavor.

A couple excerpts:

"For god's sake, have a subject line." -- Amen. Emails with meaningless subject lines like "Hey!" and "Help!" so deserve a quick click of the Delete button. Heaps of thanks to the folks who respect my time (and intelligence) with informative subject lines such as:
  • Need help staffing Thursday's meeting
  • Just checking in after the conference
  • Found partial funding (was Re: re: re: will summer program be cancelled?)
  • Lunch Wednesday at 1?
  • Fun: Three ways to get your cat to do the dishes
  • FY review: First two chapter drafts
"Make your requests clear. You should set them apart from the rest of the message by paring them down to one sentence, with white space before and after." -- Again, amen. In fact, consider making them the subject line itself.

Bad news? Well at least you can dance to it

Here's what happens when you try...putting the headlines to music. I like the very Beatles-esque "Google Launches Calendar" and the funk-heavy "FBI Searching Michigan for Jimmy Hoffa's corpse." Nice old-timey rendition of "NSA Collected Massive Database of Phone Call Records," too.

(Thanks to the blog Making Light for this tip; they credit iblog, you blog, they blog, weblog.)

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Wright light

Last year, while in Phoenix for my cousin Alex's wedding, Zorg and I toured Taliesin West, Frank Lloyd Wright's desert studio. In the late 1930s, Wright had led a team of students building the place to fit the site: local stone, designs that channeled cooling breezes through the residence area, and an amazing studio with a ceiling made of canvas panels.. According to our guide, the canvas blocked the heat while allowing a soft, natural light that was perfect for working on architectural drawings.

All I knew was that I loved that light.

Our house in Ballard has a bedroom with a cathedral ceiling and French doors that face West. Above the French doors, the previous owner installed (rather crudely) a sizeable (6 feet wide) triangular window. In the summer, the afternoon sun coming through the glass doors and window bakes that room. We pull linen drapes over the French doors, but what to do about the triangular window?

I explored triangular shades (a square one won't fit, because the wall is triangular) and they're expensive. The first year, I put cardboard over the window -- the effect was pure trailer park. The second year, I got a thin piece of white foam insulation, trimmed it with clear packing tape, and fastened it in place with wingnuts. It was sturdy enough to be put into use last year as well. This year, I decided to make a Taliesin West canvas panel. (The panel would go inside of, not in place of, the glass window -- this being the Pacific Northwest and not the desert.)

Surprisingly, there were no references to canvas ceiling or window panels anywhere on the web (except for some sites about Taliesin West itself).

Because of the convoluted trim on our triangular window, the frame for the canvas would need to be shallow -- less than an inch thick. I got some high-quality 3/4" x 1-1/2" fir from Limback Lumber, used a miter box to make the sides of the frame, and fitted these to the not-quite-symmetric window. When it appeared there was a fit with all three pieces, I put together the pieces using a staple gun and 1/2-inch staples.

Ballard being a nautical center, there was no problem getting canvas (Canvas Supply on Ballard Avenue). I got a 4 x 4-foot piece for $12, stapled that to the frame, and, with a little snarling, got it wedged in to the window box and secured with the wingnuts. Here's a picture of the canvas frame, followed by a shot of the bedroom in the natural canvas light.





Someday I want a studio with canvas skylights.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Ultimate Friday night music

In honor of my 30th college reunion next weekend (which I won't be attending): the music the guy across the quad from me used to blast from his dorm room on Friday nights...The Grateful Dead "Live at the Hollywood Palladium."

The concert recording is courtesy of Live Music Archive, pointed out by Wil Wheaton's blog. As Wheaton notes, if you've had doubts about the Grateful Dead, this recording will dispel them.

The Live Music Archive also introduced me to the delightful Hot Buttered Rum String Band, with a concert recorded in California in 2004.

The sound of one wheel, exploding

I've always taken wheelbarrows for granted, and that, I learned today, was my mistake. Reading Consumer Reports and scouring the wheelbarrow reviews on Amazon, I learned that there are a lot of poorly designed wheelbarrows out there. Lightweight plastic ones that crack; one-wheeled barrows that tip over under heavy loads. And, the case of our old metal hardware store wheelbarrow, ones with wheels that explode.

I went off to Home Depot to get a replacement wheel, but found there were several variations on wheel size and axle length. It was back home to get the wheel off ours and bring it in for comparison. Unfortunately, the wheel was attached to the wheelbarrow structure by two steel braces, and each of the braces was held in place by two long threaded bolts, and each of those bolts was kept in place by two rusty nuts. The nuts were cleverly positioned right up against the braces and the metal barrow itself in such a way that it was impossible to get two wrenches, or one wrench and one pair of pliers, into postion to hold one nut while loosening the other. (Are there such things as needlenose wrenches? That was one of the more pleasant thoughts that crossed my mind during this episode.)

With the wheel still firmly attached to the wheelbarrow, I relinquished my grip on the wrenches and I went inside to do some online research. It was not as conclusive as I'd hoped. One of Consumer Reports' top three wheelbarrows was roundly slammed by five irate buyers on Amazon. All five gave it the lowest possible rating, and one seething review concluded: "After two months with no response from the manufacturer, I left it at the curb for the trash pickup."

Sigh. The Brentwood Industries Double Wheel wheelbarrow got top ratings from Amazon buyers and, since we have Amazon free shipping, I ordered it -- after first scrutinizing the photos to make sure it has a better system for attaching the front wheels. (Yes, it has double front wheels for stability.)

How can a wheelbarrow get this complicated?

Still haunted by the wheelbarrow experience, I headed down to the basement tonight to see about assembling the little 20" glass occasional table I bought for my mom's condo balcony. I unpacked it and discovered that you just pop the legs into little plastic braces under the table; no screws, no bolts, no nuts, no fuss. Divine. I wonder if they make wheelbarrows.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Tristan Louis on the future

Here's some well-reasoned speculation about technology-driven social changes likely to occur in the next decade. I was particularly interested in the section on virtual worlds:
As computing power continues to increase, this blurring is going to become more and more scary. At the current time, videogame platforms like the Xbox360 or the PS3 are presenting us with videogames that look close to reality. When those types of things start appearing in online community models, the lines will become so hazy that it will be difficult to tell what is the real world and what is a virtual one.
The blogger is Tristan Louis, formerly the publisher of iWorld and, more recently, involved in the development of technology standards for things like RSS.

Ballard loves a parade

Spent more than an hour this evening at the Norwegian Independence Day Parade on 24th Ave. NW in Ballard. It's a big, colorful event that benefits from Scandinavian enthusiasm and organization.

Marchers assembled on 62nd Ave. NW and headed south on 24th at precisely 6 p.m. There were marching bands, including the outstanding Ballard High School band, a band from Vancouver, Wa., with a terrific rhythm section, and the band from Olympic View Middle School, which must be the largest marching band in the planet (and certainly the one with the most wind instruments). Floats included two fire-breathing (well, smoke-breathing) dragons, several beauty queens and princesses, and a hydroplane (hey, this is Seattle). The drill teams were rather hideous (now we know where the army finds female drill sergeants) with the exception of the one from the Ballard branch of the Seattle Library, which did a precision formation with red library carts to wild applause. Groups represented in the parade included two or three of the local Scandinavian retirement homes; the Foss Home and Village had borrowed the Duckmobile! Here are a few more photos of the marchers.

The spectators were just as interesting as the parade, but I didn't think I should take pictures. I saw a massive, red-nosed Viking-lookalike with long gray hair watching the parade from the doorway of a dark sports bar. The parking strips were filled with families who had brought folding beach chairs and complete picnic meals. The balconies of the apartment buildings along the route were packed with elderly Ballardites obviously attending their annual parade-watching parties. Up by the parade assembly area, virtually every driveway and yard had a barbecue grill going and a picnic table filled with goodies. On my walk back home people kept offering me food. I ended up carrying some flags for an elderly woman in Norwegian costume so she could use both hands to eat a barbecued chicken drumstick on her way to her car.

Ballard really knows how to party.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

iMac with built-in Roomba?

I just installed version 1.0 of the iMac SMC Firmware Update on my Intel iMac.

This process involves quitting all apps and restarting the computer. At restart, the machine briefly makes a sound unlike anything I've every heard from a Mac...sort of like a fan running, or a Roomba. It's accompanied by an animated graphic of a white bar turning gray.

Sign of summer

The 2004 blog entry with the directions for using the Waring Ice Cream Parlor is suddenly the most popular page in the Mysterious Traveler archives.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Berry good tomatoes

You've seen cherry tomatoes in salads. You've heard of pear (shaped) tomatoes if you make authentic Italian tomato sauces. Last year the grocery stores had tiny grape tomatoes for salads. This year, it's "strawberry tomatoes" from Dole. They come in sort of scarily symmetric vines that nestle into a long plastic clamshell box like eggs in an egg carton.

They're delicious.

The back story is that they were bred in Holland, and are now grown in hothouses in Canada. Super sweet and meaty, they need to be kept on the counter, not in the refrigerator. Who knew?

You can get the seeds and grow them yourself. Or pick the Dole variety up at the Ballard Market.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

The wild world of online pricing


Barbeque season is upon us.

Problem: rusted grate (grill) on the four-year-old Char-Broil gas grill

Solution: replacement parts available online

Paradox: online replacement parts pricing

The first site I checked wanted a hefty $41 for the larger of the two grill grates we need to replace. Ouch.

I was quite relieved to find a second site that wanted just $28.

Relief changed to delight when I checked a third site, bbqparts.com in Florida. Not only was it the easiest site to search by model number and part number, but it wanted only $10 for the same grill grate. Got both grill grates and splurged on new grease clip for $2. Very reasonable shipping price, too, considering that these grills are hardly lightweight items.

(Keywords: Replacement parts for gas grill)

More bad news on the Ave.

In the 20-odd years I've lived here I've watched The Ave. transform from shabby chic to soul-less wasteland. It made another huge leap in that direction this month.

This is not a whine about something neutral like a Starbucks going in, either. Frankly, gentrification, Yuppification -- all of that would be welcome at this point. I'm talking about something butt-ugly with Aurora Avenue-style, garish red-white-and-blue signage and whole wall of sidewalk-to-ceiling black security gates. This store on the corner of 50th looks like it should be an all-night convenience dive across the street from the King County jail, but it's apparently a PC repair place.

Check out the before-and-after images on Seattle Metroblogging.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Great cheese

The Seattle Cheese Festival began today with a seminar on Parmigiano-Reggiano, the pedigreed cheese commonly referred to as "Parmesan."

Most other Italian cheeses have names (Pecorino Sardo, Assiago) that are purely descriptive. The name Parmigiano-Reggiano means that the cheese has been made under the scrutiny of a regional cheese board that sets forth standards for everything from the care and feeding of the cows to the processing and aging of the cheeses themselves.

Selling in this country for prices between $10 and $20 a pound, the Parmigiano-Reggiano is marked on the rind with distinctive stamps that indicate its origin, its pedigree, and its age. Wheels of the cheese that have not passed the regional inspection can still be sold as grating cheese, but not under the coveted Parmigiano-Reggiano name. (These second-rate cheeses are scored along the rind so they can't be passed off as the true Parmigiano-Reggiano.)

Seminar attendees got to sample four freshly cut Parmigiano-Reggianos, shown in the photo: a two-year, a five-year, an organic version, and a Vache Rossa (red cow). The last is made with the milk of the red cow breed that provided the milk for the original Parmigiano-Reggiano. A vastly more productive Swiss cow is now used, but some artisanal cheese makers are returning to the red cows' milk. It has a higher protein content, and yields a more complex cheese that can be aged past five years.

(You'd think that after this presentation I'd have rushed off to make Aromatic Tagliatelle with Parmigiano-Reggiano Cheese, but, no, I bought some fresh cod at the Market and cooked it in olive oil with lots of garlic. Should have made the Tagliatelle instead. Or maybe the Parmigiano-Reggiano Chocolate Bon Bons.)

The festival runs through this weekend at the Pike Place Market. Look for cooking demos at DeLaurenti Speciality Food and Wine, which carries all the Parmigiano-Reggianos served at the seminar. I recommend the organic and the Vache Rossa.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Still there

At last, Paul Simon has another hit album, apparently one to rival Graceland. It's called Surprise.

And today three of the top 10 albums on the iTunes Music Store were by folks who were rock stars when I was in high school or college: Paul Simon, Neil Young (Living With War), and Bruce Springsteen (We Shall Overcome).

This is the day I was looking for

I was out early this morning, mailing packages to folks I'd sold things to via eBay, plus sending off a package of three favorite mysteries (The Death of a Lake by Arthur Upfield, One for the Money by Janet Evanovich, and Pictures of Perfection by Reginald Hill) to Terri and Rob, friends I stayed with recently in Bellingham.

I came across an unusual estate sale on 24th Avenue NW. It was in an apartment in a commercial building. The items were quite contemporary — beautifully framed posters of Broadway shows, coffee table books, lots of first edition hardcover fiction, and some lovely kitchenware. I got two first edition mysteries (one signed) and a big Pyrex baking dish to replace the one that wandered off with a new owner after a recent potluck we attended. It was one of those estate sales at which you want to buy something just to connect to the good karma.

I swung by the bank to deposit a payment from the marketing firm I've been writing for, and then whipped through Bartell for packing tape and through QFC for fresh roasted turkey and some major bargains on detergent. I'm still marveling at the convenience of weekday shopping, though the parking situation in Ballard verges on the insane. Parking for the bank only. Parking for Bartell only. Parking for QFC only. Or you can pay for street parking and deal with those annoying little stickers.

The weather was windy, threatening rain and occasionally making good on the threat. Not sure that there was enough rain to keep the garden happy, though. It did keep the cats inside, napping, instead of going in and out every five minutes.

I did a lot of bookkeeping, and ended up with heaps of paper all over the dining room, being sorted for filing. Fortunately, Hutch called a little after four and swung by to take me out for a drink at the Lockspot. It's been years since I've gone out for a drink after work; it's easier to do if you haven't been working at all.

Kaylee the little cat is now licking my ear. That's her early warning system. I can get up and feed her now--or she can demolish my bulletin board. It's nice to have choices.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

A hard-boiled lesson in economics

The Scaled Fang, Velvet Claw blog calls our attention to this very L.A. noir perspective on the economy racket.

I'll be blogging more about what I've been up to when Blogger's photo-upload feature resumes functioning.

What's hot in grilling

Wandering around Ballard this past weekend, my friend Chris and I came across a Big Green Egg, aka "World's Best Smoker and Grill" aka "The Original American Designed Ceramic Cooker." It was cooking two stuffed chickens and a some sausages outside the Sutter Home & Hearth store on Ballard Avenue.

According to the brochure the Sutter Home & Hearth fellow gave us, The Big Green Egg is based on a traditional Asian cooker called a "kamado." The idea is that it cooks at high heat without drying out the food it's cooking. It smokes at low temperatures and grills at high ones...up to 750 F...using coals, a lighter (but no lighting fluid), and a starter like a few sheets of newspaper. It comes in several sizes, including a Big Green Egg Chiminea. But it's always...green.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

The evolution of an online hoax?

What better way to study the evolution of an online hoax than to create one?

I can't help but wonder if that's what the new Shangri-La Diet is all about.

It has all the earmarks of a harmless hoax with Bay Area techno roots:

a lone-ranger Berkeley psych professor with a hip, geeky appearance
a harmless diet regimen that won't get the experimenters sued
• "seeding" of diet endorsements by high-traffic bloggers such as Creating Passionate Users
a book about the diet on Amazon

By following reader comments on the various blogsites where the diet is being discussed, and traffic to various blog pages about it, hoax researchers could easily track the rise (and eventual wane) of interest in it. It would also be possible for them to follow the effects when the glacial print media finally get the idea and the diet (or a debunking of it) hits the mainstream.

Of course, the first major report on the diet was in the print media, specifically an article by the Freakonomics folks in the New York Times in September, 2005. But that focused more on the researcher's highly personalized approach to self-improvement (including diet) than on the diet itself.

I think the Calorie Lab website puts it all perspective:

On the face if it, if you had to cook up the ultimate stereotype of a wacky fad diet for use in a comedic novel or film, the Shangri-La Diet would fill the bill. While we’re not necessarily saying it won’t work, the one-man lab rat nature of its development is far from proof of its effectiveness. And it suffers from the key flaw of most fad diets, in requiring a lifetime of somewhat unnatural behavior (e.g., calorie restriction) that, even if you yourself can maintain, will eventually drive the people around you crazy. On the other hand, if you are on the verge of deciding to undergo bariatric surgery, it might be worth a try before permanently modifying your body.


What do you think?

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Monday, May 01, 2006

Yes, that was his point

At the April 27 White House Correspondents' Association dinner, Stephen Colbert followed George Bush's humorous address to this press with a devastating satiric attack not just against Bush, but against the press corps that panders to him.

The embarrassed press corps, however, had the last word. And they buried it. Most of them who covered the dinnery glossed over Colbert's brutally truthful presentation, or simply didn't mention it at all.

Or did Colbert have the last word, tricking the press into acting out his point that if they don't print it, well, it couldn't have happened?

The way those of us outside the Beltway know it happened is that a few attendees wrote about it online. Here's the Washington Post's Dan Froomkin's excellent online story about what happened and his survey of the media's bizarre failure to report on it to the general public, along with links to independent bloggers who did write about it for the limited online audience. The reportage on the dinner runs 3 pages; be sure to click through.

Here's the video of Colbert (including his own vignette in which he plays the new White House press secretary relentlessly pursued by correspondent Helen Thomas asking "Why did we invade Iraq?"). It's the most brilliant performance I've seen since Colbert's colleague Jon Stewart destroyed Tucker Carlson on Crossfire. Colbert is a national treasure.

What, you're worried?

The Weather Channel has a new show that explores U.S. weather disaster scenarios, "It Could Happen Tomorrow." Here's the (very nicely designed) interactive website. The Weather Channel is creating templates for likely disasters; what's interesting is that they're sharing them with the public.

Reservations about the Federal Reserve?

A hip response to the new chair...from some students at the Columbia Business School. Makes me proud to be a Columbia grad.