Sunday, October 25, 2009

How to Build a Canoe the Old Way

As someone who really likes canoes, and who loves the beauty of wood, and who appreciates the skills it takes to build anything, I found this to be the most fascinating video I've seen in quite a while. It follows a native American (well, Canadian actually, but you get the idea) as he cuts down a birch tree to make a birch bark canoe. There is no narration and just a few subtitles to announce the various stages of construction, but the film lets you easily follow each step. I could not stop watching this quiet drama unfold. While his kids play with the dog and pretend to battle each other with wooden swords, Cesar uses no power tools or written instructions while he creates and assembles his canoe - only an axe, a hammer, a hand drill, a hand saw, and a few knives. He says very few words during the whole process, but works steadily as though it is the hundredth such canoe he has made. The video is an hour long, but worth every minute as the vessel took shape before my unbelieving eyes. Take the time to watch this, and let me know what you think.

How to Build a Canoe the Old Way

Sunday, October 11, 2009

What Would You Do With $1.4M?

So, President Obama received the Nobel Prize for Peace which includes a cash prize of approximately $1.4 million. Arguments aside about whether he should have received it or not, the fact remains that the Nobel Committee chose him to receive this honor and the associated purse. True, this is not the kind of money to reshape today's world, but perhaps it could be leveraged to reshape a part of the world.

My question is this: What should President Obama do with the $1.4 million?

Should he spend it to do the most good toward promoting peace? Or should he use it for some other purpose? Share your ideas in the comments below.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Mortality By 3's

Deaths of famous people supposedly come in threes. My question is always: When do you stop counting? I mean, if you always reset the counter when it reaches 3, then, of course it does!

Anyway, Eunice Shriver, Les Paul, and Andy Kessler managed to check out within a few days of each other this week. So I've been trying to gain some lesson from that convergent coincidence.

In her long life, Eunice Shriver did some great things besides being JFK's younger sister and Arnold Schwarzenegger's mother-in-law. Most notably: as someone who controlled a great deal of wealth, she advocated charities that fought children's disabilities and promoted children's health, and was a key founder of the Special Olympics.

Les Paul, born Lester William Polsfuss (good Lord! no wonder he changed his name) is credited with almost all the important innovations that made Rock 'n Roll and modern music what it is today. His creative tinkering combined with his musical talent to achieve great accomplishments. Some of his guitars are valued at over a million dollars apiece because of their historical significance in the world of music.

Andy Kessler was famous for his feats on a skateboard. He not only was a master of the board, but also instrumental in building several skate parks in New York and Long Island.

Eunice was 88, Les was 94, and Andy was 48 at the time of their deaths. The deaths of Eunice and Les did not come all that unexpectedly given that they were both fighting some afflictions, and were considered "elderly". Andy's demise, however, came suddenly in the form of a heart attack that occurred as the result of a wasp sting. Murder by insect, so to speak.

As we all will eventually pass into whatever awaits us after this life, I wonder what is in store for us. Is it better to live to a nearly feeble state or to check out suddenly and unexpectedly at the hands of some quirky fatality?

My brother recently wrote to me: "Wouldn't it be wild if the Afterlife was a place where you had to live out all the scenarios presented in jokes on the internet?" He added, "I think I'd want to be either a priest or a rabbi; at least they spend a lot of time in bars."

An afterlife is a fairy tale to me. If some part of us lives on after our body dies, then physical sensation would be meaningless. Any description of "Heaven" that involves any of the five senses sounds to me like something made up by a child. Golden lyres, pearl gates, silk robes - all things easily imagined by someone living by their senses every day, but not very important to a spiritual being.

Same thing goes for "Hell". Burning would be fairly insignificant to a spirit that cannot sense temperature. Plus, it always seemed to me that eternal damnation was a very hefty price to pay for a sin (even for murder) committed by a being who lives less than a hundred years.

My current take on the metaphysical plane and religion is that God is a concept created by man. The human mind is able to see patterns where none exist. Just as we see patterns in the clouds that represent faces or animals, so, too, do some people look at the abundant diversity of life on this planet and see some magical laboratory where it all began.

"All things have a beginning, so the Universe must also have a beginning. And that beginning was started by God."

What started God?

"He has no beginning and no end. He has always existed and always will."

Well, if that concept can apply to God, why can it not also apply to the Universe? If it applies to the Universe, then it needs no creator.

I can easily imagine early men wondering what caused the tree to fall on their uncle, or what caused the sky to rain, and so on, and as a result of thinking about these things crouched around the fire in their cave conceiving of a god that had the power to do what they could not or could not explain. As different god concepts evolved, then it became a question of which god did what.

The concept that one God is the big kahuna and god of all gods to me sounds more like the winner at the "My God Can Kick Your God's Ass" contest.

MY God is all-powerful, all-seeing, and endless. He is not only the kindest, gentlest, most generous God, but also the biggest Prick you can imagine. He has a Plan that neither you nor I can understand, so floods, hurricanes, asteroid strikes, and pestulence are aspects of this "Plan" that we just don't understand.

While I do hope that dying is the start of something interesting, I cannot justify spending much time pretending to know what it is like until I've had some taste of it. Not that I want to find out right away, mind you. There are many Happy Hours and Jamborees to attend before that.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Good News

With a number of cherished celebrities dying recently, rising unemployment, and other melancholy events usurping the headlines, it was very refreshing to see some good news.

Random acts of kindness will get us through times of peril, and this New York group Improv Everywhere creates scenes of chaos and joy in public places. One of their best missions was adding a little jazz to a mundane little league game.

When I was much younger, I did such things, not quite so elaborate as these skits, but little impromptu scenes with my friends that most onlookers would view as weird or amusing. The satisfaction of doing that was so much fun, I'm now thinking of how to do that again.

Saturday, July 4, 2009


My amateur fireworks show received rousing applause last night (components pictured aside). Next year, I'll spend a little more time in preparation so that the show goes a little faster. Last night I spent a lot of time fumbling in the dark unwrapping components and trying to work the extra fuses.

My show started with some simple pop bottle rockets (Moon Travelers, Jumbo Whistling Wolf Pack Bottle Rockets, and Assorted 8-oz Wolf Pack Rockets), and I worked my way through about 50 of those from smaller to larger models eventually trying to launch up to three or four at a time by wrapping fuses together. Then I set off three dozen single-mortar shells (Red, White, and Blue Aerial Shell Show) one at a time for a while and gradually progressed to launching doubles and finally triples using all three launch tubes. The big "finale" was a pair of aerial multi-shots (Thermobaric Warheads) that I fused together. Each one had 16 mortars fused in a successive series. By fusing them together, I was able to light both fuses simultaneously and shoot all 32 roughly two at a time. It lasted for over a minute and worth every penny. I love that FOOM! sound of the rocket launch, and nothing is more satisfying than a big colorful boom visible for miles. I feel so American.

Tonight we go to watch a professional show.

Zambelli Gallery

How Fireworks Work

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Spelling Be

As one who writes on paper, walls, sidewalks, sand, and several places around the "Internets", I've always partly understood the popularity of tattoos even though I have none myself. They combine art and message in a nearly permanent form that suggest the wearers (tattooees?) have put a lot of thought into the choice of what goes on their skin forever.

However, you have to wonder about some people when they got some of their tattoos. I mean, what the hell were they thinking?

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Mexican Coke

Perhaps you already know this, but the latest Consumer Reports magazine (June 2009, pg 9) says that Coke makes a version sweetened with sugar instead of high fructose corn syrup (HFCS). Costco carries both, and you can spot the difference by reading labels, or noticing that the sugar version comes in a green tinted glass bottle. Some people prefer one taste over the other, but the preference for either seems about equal.
Pepsi has also introduced Pepsi-Cola Throwback, a sugared version in 1960's style packaging, and Pepsi Natural, sweetened with a blend of beet sugar and cane sugar.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

One More Thing

Along with the upgrade to IE8, comes a free blog app, so I thought, why not? What is one more technical thing to play with? Thus is born: Aardverk (rhymes with "hard work", but in no way resembles anything approaching real effort).

This blog site was very easy to set up, but I was a bit amazed at all the names I thought of that were taken. It seems more and more difficult to think of something that hasn't already been thought of, posted online, and defined, discussed, and mutated into something else.

So, in spite of having many other outlets for my finger spasms to etch my thoughts into the online ether, I've created yet another thing to spend time updating. Let's hope that this is not the last technical straw on the luddite camel's back.