Hole in the Clouds
Jun 1, 2011
Recently, Newsweek magazine singled out the three rustiest, dying-est dying rust belt cities in America; coming in at number three, behind Detroit and Flint, Michigan, was Grand Rapids, Michigan.
Grand Rapids–hometown of President Gerald Ford, corporate headquarters of Amway, hub of western Michigan's peach orchards and blueberry farms–didn't take that kind of ranking sitting down. Thousands of city residents stood up and took to the streets, lip-synching Don McLean's anthem all over town, producing the anti–rusty-dying video shown below.
Roger Ebert dubbed it the greatest music video ever. And Newsweek apologized, even going so far as to declare the published rustiness ranking to be methodologically flawed.
The picture above is Tranquilitea, a mosaic by Grand Rapids artist Peggy Kerwan made from thousands of tea bags. The bright colors are from tags and paper wrappers on the tea bags; the subtler shadings are from the translucent tea bags themselves.
(Art by Peggy Kerwan)
Jun 2, 2011
A few minutes after commencement and commissioning last Friday, in the parking lot outside the Naval Academy's football stadium in Annapolis, Maryland, the new ensign in his choker whites and shades got his first salute, from midshipman Aaron Kalil, who still has a year to go until his own graduation and commissioning.
Per tradition, the new ensign bought this first salute, handing Aaron a silver dollar.
Ensign Stein now begins five years of active duty in the navy. Midshipman Kalil begins a year as captain of the U.S. Naval Academy wrestling team. There was champagne all around.
(Image credit: Norman Stein)
Jun 3, 2011
Like most American local governments, the city of Philadelphia is pretty much broke and can't afford to operate its public swimming pools.
Two summers ago, the pools never did open. Last summer, neighborhood fundraising financed a few weeks of swimtime in July and August. This summer, we're told, fundraising has been successful enough to open the pool in our neighborhood for a few extra weeks, beginning in mid-June when school lets out.
Rumor has it that one Philadelphia neighborhood is financing its pool operation with a high-stakes Cowpie Bingo game. If you're not familiar with Cowpie Bingo, it's really one of the best games you can play with a rented cow. You mark a grid on a small field of grass and sell chances on squares in the grid; half the take goes to the cause–in this case, lifeguard salaries and tanks of chlorine–and the other half goes to the lucky person who bought the square where the cow deposits whatever she deposits.
The Philadelphia swimming pool cowpie bingo game is said to offer $10,000 to the winner, if the cow cooperates by depositing her pie neatly within a single square of the grid.
This may or may not prove a good financial model for twenty-first-century urban government. Until we know for sure, that No Diving thing is probably a really good idea.
Jun 5, 2011
Cap'n Norman takes the helm of the schooner Woodwind last week in the Chesapeake Bay near Annapolis.
As sunset approached, the breeze was perfect for sailboat racing in the Severn River, just off the bay. Woodwind raced her sister ship, Woodwind II, and whupped her.
Jun 7, 2011
At the University of Montana, students can earn academic credit for assignments like this. Hank got an A last semester in Intermediate Rock Climbing.
Jun 9, 2011
On April 28, 2011, the visible-light and infrared sensors of NASA's ASTER satellite captured this image of Tuscaloosa County, Alabama, which had been raked by an especially large and powerful tornado just the day before.
Infrared sensors are useful for distinguishing between vegetated and non-vegetated land cover. The pink areas in the photo represent vegetation–forests, pastures, cropland, golf courses. Areas that show up as aqua are non-vegetated or very lightly vegetated–cities, highways, rivers, strip mines, recent clearcuts.
The tornado track is obvious here: a straight aqua-colored streak running from the southwest to the northeast. Vegetation in this streak that was not directly destroyed by the storm was so littered with pieces of buildings and household objects that satellite sensors could barely detect it.
Just north of the storm track is the twisting course of the Black Warrior River, which shows up in aqua. The city of Tuscaloosa is mostly south of the river, at the left edge of the picture. In the upper left corner of the picture is Lake Tuscaloosa, a dammed-up tributary to the Black Warrior that provides the city's drinking water.
NASA's spokespeople assert that images such as this one can be useful in the aftermath of storms. They may help identify storm-damaged places outside of populated areas, where tornadoes might escape public awareness. And by proving the time and location of tornado paths, they could help homeowners support their insurance claims for storm damages.
If you click on the picture to see the larger version, you can follow numerous roads out into the countryside and observe that many of them seem to end with a little dot of aqua, indicating a non-vegetated spot. These are well pads for methane rigs. About fifteen years ago, the Black Warrior basin was the scene of one of the nation's first methane gas drilling booms. Coalfields underlie much of west Alabama, including almost all of Tuscaloosa County, but until recently the methane gas associated with coal deposits was considered a danger rather than an economically valuable fuel. "Fracking" technology, in which high-pressure liquids are injected deep into the earth to crack open the rocks hosting methane, was developed and refined in Alabama; drilling for methane is now under way all over the world. Unlike oil or traditional natural gas, methane is best extracted by small wells located within a few hundred feet of numerous other small wells; thus, the countryside is speckled with hundreds or thousands of separate well pads.
(Image credit: NASA ASTER satellite)
(h/t: Chuck Horowitz
Jun 10, 2011
Joe tickles the ivories, playing a lullaby he composed for a friend's new baby.
Jun 11, 2011
When our four-year-old neighbor went to the baseball game Monday night, she got to wear her Phillies dress, and she got to hang out with her preschool buddy, who wore his Incredible Hulk shirt. And not only that, the Phillies beat the Dodgers.
Jun 12, 2011
It's good to know that the truck full of tootsie-roll pops is still out there, rolling on down the road.
Tootsie Roll Pops
Jun 21, 2011
The postcard had a Belgian stamp on it, and a message: "I think this is self-explanatory."
Fortunately or unfortunately, additional explanation was at hand, in the caption in the lower left-hand corner, in French and some other languages. It turns out that the artist is Anu Tuominen, and the work is Fleur de Sel, completed in 2002–2004. The medium, if you must know, is saltshakers and travail de crochet.
From the intertubes, I see that the artist was born in Finland in 1961, and that she doesn't always work in saltshakers and crochet. Sometimes she uses a cheese slicer and knitting, sometimes mittens and socks, sometimes clothespins. In closing today, we have a work by Anu Tuominen done all in red and blue pencils.
Fleur de Sel
Jun 22, 2011
Rarely do we get to say good morning to the folks in one of these pictures while they are still there, where they are pictured, in real time.
Allen just sent this phoneshot of Hank stirring the embers at their campsite in the sandhills of western Nebraska. The boys are westward bound, crossing the country from Maine to Seattle via Colorado. Wednesday morning, they'll wake up here at the lake, break camp, and hit the highway, aiming straight for the Rocky Mountains.
(Image credit: S.A.S.)
Jun 23, 2011
Believe it or not, yesterday was Go Skateboard Day in Toronto, where this fella was truckin on down College Street.
(Image credit: Sam Javanrouh)
Jun 24, 2011
These horses were attending to one another in the schoolyard in the village of Ghorepani. The roof on the schoolhouse, like all the other roofs in Ghorepani, is painted blue. A few kilometers back down the mountain, in the village of Ghandruk, all the roofs are painted white.
Jun 25, 2011
One afternoon in Kathmandu, we saw the men and then the women and then the car, all dressed up with clearly some place special to go. A recent wedding we heard about had twelve hundred guests, but all we saw of this one was the procession on the street, complete with a marching band. The band looked and sounded just like a western marching band and is not pictured here.
Nepalis claim they have more official holidays than any other country on earth. They know how to party.
Jun 26, 2011
Last week, baby Calla's visit back in Pennsylvania with the family included a little time on all fours out in the yard. A good time all around, according to Grandma. But on Friday, it was back to the airport for a long, long ride on a plane–back home to Zambia, in Africa.
Jun 27, 2011
Glenwood Green Acres sits hard by the railroad tracks in north Philadelphia, on a strip of land where abandoned warehouses burned down in 1984. Ninety-six families in the neighborhood till plots in this community garden; some of them work at it full time, selling their produce or giving it to the hungry.
Their crops include: collard greens, peppers, eggplant, squash, string beans, okra, blackberries, cotton, and tobacco. The southern character of what is grown reflects the southern roots of many people in the north Philly neighborhoods surrounding Glenwood. People like to grow what they grew up growing.
Room to garden in is hard to come by in most of Philadelphia, where row houses line the streets with little or no yard space. There are community gardens all over town–an estimated 400 active ones–but most are tiny, typically occupying just a few hundred square feet in a vacant lot that the gardeners don't own and can't protect from development.
Glenwood is huge by comparison: 3.5 acres. And it's owned by a citywide land trust and operated by a neighborhood organization. The garden is deeded as public green space forever.
The number of vacant lots in the city is thought to be well over 30,000, and most of them are derelict. But after twenty years of struggling to purchase and protect land for Philadelphia's community gardens, the trust now owns just 22 parcels totaling less than 10 acres.
Meanwhile, for what it's worth, in my little one-pot garden, I have a golf-ball-sized tomato, plus 4 flowers on the plant and more buds than I can count. I'm so optimistic I'm not fit to be around.
Glenwood Green Acres