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22
Oct

National Motto for the US

Our national motto ought to be: Since 1620, anything possible, indeed likely."

– from Boomsday by Christopher Buckley

I read this book a while ago, but recent events made me go back and look up the quote which I vaguely remembered.  To me, it’s perfect.

I’ve always believed that what makes Americans great is our desire to almost blindly try new things and virtually ignore obstacles.  While the rest of the world often looks at this as ignorance or stupidity, and sometimes it truly is, it’s the mentality that built this country into the world’s latest and greatest empire.  Yeah, sometimes we do things that look really bad in retrospect, but we mostly learn from our mistakes and move forward – they are rarely a reason to sit on our laurels or to delay our progress.  And, for the most part, as a result of our driving and exploring culture, the vast majority of things the country does are good and right.

My fear is that this approach and attitude have been waning over the last decade.  I feel like Americans have become more fat, dumb and lazy than lean, aggressive and driven.  My hope is that this is because of the dearth of leadership that the people of the US have had over that period and not because of some fundamental societal change that has taken place.  But I really don’t know . . .

All empires eventually fall.  I’d like to believe that this one is still on the incline and that new leadership in this country can move us further and faster in a positive direction.  I just don’t know if a new president, alone, is sufficient.  A new president won’t be able to change how things are done in Washington directly.  All I can hope for is that the new president will be a strong enough leader to get 300 million some-odd people behind him to drive a larger scale change – at least enough to get everyone to believe that anything in this country is, indeed, possible if we make it happen.

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 October 22nd, 2008  
 Will  
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01
Sep

Quote of the Day

The first person to walk on Mars could be alive today.  If so, she’s most likely two years old and living in China.”

– Andrew Zolli – Futurist

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 September 1st, 2008  
 Will  
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24
Jul

Golden Shellback Miracle Coating

Fortunately, I’ve never dropped my cell phone in a puddle or poured coffee on my laptop, but I know loads of people who have.  Typically, they spend a few days with a blow dryer trying to bring their electronic gadget back to life.  Sometimes it works, but most often I hear that it “sorta” works.

Well, the Northeast Maritime Institute claims to have solved this problem with its Golden Shellback splash proof coating.  From their web site:

Golden Shellback coating produces a vacuum deposited film that is nonflammable, has low toxicity and has the ability to weatherproof electronic devices and other surfaces. It contains no volatile organic combustibles (VOCs). The clear, nearly non-detectable, uniform film is insoluble in solvents. When applied to clean, moisture free surfaces, such as plastic, copper, aluminum, metal, ceramic, steel, tin or glass, the coating is transparent with excellent weather proofing and anti-corrosion properties.”

Check out the video.  It looks incredible, but it raises as many questions for me as it answers.  Very cool stuff if it works though.


Golden Shellback Waterproof Coating from gCaptain.com on Vimeo.

 July 24th, 2008  
 Will  
 Gadgets, Misc Thoughts  
   
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14
Jul

If it’s Tuesday it Must be Venice

My family and I just returned from a two week, if it’s Tuesday it must be Venice, death march through Europe.  We packed as much stuff as possible into a two week “vacation.”  My wife and I thought this might be the best time to introduce our teenage kids to people who don’t think that the world rotates around North America and, perhaps, to teach them that important things happened before 1620.

The trip was great, although my kids are now convinced that there are as many churches and museums in Europe as there are people.  It was fun to see there reaction to all things – big and small.  From my son’s disappointment with the postage stamp size of the real Mona Lisa to my daughter’s jaw dropping at the massive size of St. Peter’s.

My kids also think that I’m the most unreasonable father on the face of the planet since I made them leave all their communication gear, including cell phones and computers, at home.  Somebody call Child Protective Services, I clearly should be in shackles.

After two weeks, we’re all a little tired of the travel and the memories of the sites and experiences are all sorta blurring together – which Roman emperor had those baths constructed?  Was it King Henry XIII or Napoleon Bonaparte?

It was easy to keep in touch with the US, though.  My daily (sometimes even more frequent) visits to ATMs always helped me remember home.  I first took money out with a shovel.  By the end, I was withdrawing it with a dump truck.  It’s not just that the exchange rates are out of control, stuff throughout Europe is just plain expensive, especially in the big cities.

I’m no travel neophyte, I’ve been to Europe on business and vacation dozens of times and never felt this raped before.  I spent half the GNP of many countries south of the equator on this trip and I’ve worn out the magnetic strip on my American Express card.

Even though I’m going to have to sell a car or kidney to pay for the trip, I think we all got a lot out of it.  Loads of great sites and experiences.  One, in particular, will stick with us for a long time.  While visiting the Vatican, our tour guide was able to grease the appropriate palms to get us behind the scenes of the Sistine Chapel. 

Just the four of us plus our guide and a Papal underling (the recipient of the aforementioned bribe).  We first went into the Sacristy, connected to the Chapel and which I sacrilegiously refer to as the Papal locker room (really, that’s what it looks like with it’s 500 year old vertical wood lockers where stuff is stored).  All the Pope’s robes and bling are there.  Shockingly, we were allowed to handle a lot of current and past Pope’s accouterments.  At one point, the underling removed a huge gold cross from a cabinet and hung it around my daughter’s neck proclaiming, in Italian of course, that it was the cross that Pope John Paul II wore when giving mass.  The Queen of England has all her stuff behind 12″ of Plexiglas, surrounded by guards with Uzis.  I guess the Pope has God watching to make sure a 15 year old girl doesn’t break for the exits with his priceless jewels.

We spent about an hour touring others rooms connected to the chapel including what appeared to be the private Pope museum with robes, chalices and tiaras (those pointy hats the Pope wears) plus other memorabilia from the last, geez, I dunno, 15 centuries or so.  Totally mind blowing.

On the flight home, I asked my kids what they remembered most from the trip.  Even after the experience we had at the Vatican, they both agreed that it was, ” the amount of walking you made us do.”  I can only hope that their memories of our journey grow better with time and that helps them understand why I wiped out their college funds to pay for the trip.

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 July 14th, 2008  
 Will  
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23
Jun

George Carlin Dies at 71

I just read that George Carlin died from heart failure yesterday.  Carlin’s comedy and social commentary had a huge impact on my life.  Other than watching Monty Python during my adolescence, Carlin’s humor and views made me laugh more than anything.  I don’t think I go through a day without relating something going on in my life to a George Carlin comedy routine.  So young, too.  Very sad.

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 June 23rd, 2008  
 Will  
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05
Jun

One Day University

This past weekend, my wife and I attended One Day University, a day at a local college with sessions taught by a variety popular professors from top universities.  These one day events are offered throughout the year at several locations with a different “curriculum” taught at each one.  As they say, there are no tests, no final exams and no diplomas.  What they offer, though, is a terrifically stimulating day of learning new stuff or, at least, new perspectives on stuff.

I love learning.  Nothing else gives me the rush I get from absorbing new facts and ideas.  Especially ones that I don’t think I would have picked up during my routine, everyday life.  Of course, the set of things I don’t know is, apparently, limitless so wrapping my head around today’s lunch menu is even somewhat invigorating.  As such, One Day University is a blast for me.  Cool information supplied in reasonably small and focused chunks and communicated by great teachers.

Interestingly, the qualifications for those that present at ODU are not the number of Nobel or Pulitzer prizes they’ve received but, rather, the number of teaching awards they’ve been awarded by their students at their respective universities. 

Here are the four sessions from our day at ODU:

  • Political Science: The 2008 Presidential Election – Why It’s the Most Important Election in Decades – Wendy Schiller, Brown University
  • Positive Psychology: The Science of Human Potential – Shawn Achor, Harvard University
  • Communications: IS THE First Amendment Under Attack?  9/11 and Freedom of the Press – David Rubin, Syracuse University
  • History: Where Do We Come From? From Creation Myths to the Big Bang – Marcelo Gleiser, Dartmouth College

All of them were great.  Good speakers and good information.  My wife and I have already signed up for three more sessions.  Highly recommended.

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 June 5th, 2008  
 Will  
 Misc Thoughts  
   
 5 Comments
13
May

The Garnish is the Spice of Life

Although I’ve worked hard all my life, I’m an inherently lazy person.  This is especially true when it comes to doing small, everyday things for myself.  Why bother?  Doing them will just slow me down and since they’re small, anyway, it won’t really matter in the end.  Right? . . . Right?

Well, while making a martini recently I had a breakthrough which, as it turns out, I often have while drinking.  My drink was naked and I don’t mean only of the vermouth.  It didn’t have a lemon peel.  I love a peel of yellow in the drink, the slight fragrance it gives the liquid and the tangy first taste it transfers to the glass when rubbed along its rim. 

All this from the skin of a piece of fruit that would happily sacrifice it’s otherwise short life for my drinking pleasure.  Problem is, I’m generally too lazy to drag my ass to the fridge and slice a chunk off of a lemon to fulfill this deep desire.  How long would it take me?  Thirty seconds?  Geez, what a loser I am.  It’s such a small thing. 

While I sipped my lemon-less martini, avoiding doing something similarly significant and garnish-like, I’m sure, I began seeing the lemon peel as a metaphor for life and realized that maybe it’s the small things we do that are often the most important.  Without some of the small stuff, the big stuff loses a lot of its significance; its flavor; its romance; and even its value.  The garnish is almost imperceptible in the big picture, but makes all the difference.  Without the garnish, is life any fun?

So, I’ve been thinking about it.  I’m going to start stepping back and taking more time to create and enjoy the garnish in life.  Since it all started with drinks, though, it seems like that’s where I’ll focus my initial attention.  While peeling a lemon for today’s martini, I’m going to throw in olives and onions too.  As my friend Rick says, “the whole garden salad.”  After all if a little garnish is good, a lot of garnish is better, right? 

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 May 13th, 2008  
 Will  
 Misc Thoughts  
   
 8 Comments
07
Apr

Speed Racer’s Back!

Speed Racer Movie For those of you who are less inclined to keep track of such things, I’m here to tell ya’ that Speed and the Mach 5 are back.  The new Speed Racer movie will fill a big screen near you on May 9.

The Speed Racer movie was written and directed by the Wachowski brothers of Matrix trilogy fame.  That alone should make it cool.  The movie appears to be a wild combination of colors, animation, and visual effects with real (non-animated) actors.  I’m sure it’s a trip given the people responsible for it.

Speed Racer was my Luke Skywalker long before Luke was a gleam in George Lucas’ eye.  He was my hero.  And the Mach 5.  What can I say . . . In elementary school, I covered every notebook I had with renderings of the car.

The Mach 5 could do everything and was not bound by the laws of physics.  At least not those of this planet.  All this power was placed in the driver’s hands through buttons on the steering wheel.  Year’s ago, I reproduced a diagram of the buttons for my kids.

Speed-Racer-Steering-Wheel

My favorite feature was the rotary saws that extended through the front bumper.  They could mow down a forest at 100mph.  Oh yeah.  The best example is when Speed escaped impending danger in the famous Mammoth Car episode.

YouTube Video – Speed Racer & MAMMOTH CAR

I rarely attend movies on the opening day, but I think I’m going to make an exception for this one.  You can check out the trailers for the movie here.

Maybe the modern Speed will even make out with Trixie.

 April 7th, 2008  
 Will  
 Misc Thoughts, Stuff with a Motor  
   
 15 Comments
27
Sep

Turn a Pencil Into a Light

When I was a teenager, I felt that I made my fair share of MacGyver-esque moves. I could do a complete carburetor replacement on the side of the street using duct tape (in-a-pinch gasket replacement) and pencils (for the vacuum lines, of course). I circumvented the security on my high-school’s teletype machine using a paperclip and a telephone cord and I made a canon that fired potatoes using a plastic tube, an old barbeque igniter and a can of aerosol antiperspirant.

My moves always paled in comparison to what my friend John could do, though. John had and has the ability to diagnose a problem and then take an almost instantaneous inventory of the tools he has at hand to deal with it. This was never more clear than when the two of us hopped into a rental car late one night in a San Francisco parking garage. When I turned the key to start the car, nothing happened. We could see that there was plenty of power – lights and accessories worked great – but there was not even a hum from the engine compartment. We popped open the hood and saw . . . nothing.

To make a long story somewhat shorter, John diagnosed that the solenoid that engages the starter motor wasn’t moving into place. He then went at how to fix it with the tools we had at hand which, in a rental car, don’t amount to much.  John then – don’t try this at home – pulled out the oil dipstick and used it to short the starter motor directly to the battery (you only need one connection because the starter motor, like most of the car’s electronics, is grounded through the chassis), routing the roughly 1 zillion amps of current through a skinny piece of metal that although wiped fairly clean, was still covered with a layer of flammable liquid.  The car started, we didn’t die in the process, John saved the day.

I thought of John when I was pointed to this YouTube video by a post on Toolmonger.  It demonstrates how you can create an emergency light source out of just a pencil and a couple of pieces of wire.  Very handy.

 

(Misspellings courtesy of YouTube poster)
 

Did I ever mention how I once used my then girlfriend’s pantyhose as a fan belt replacement?  I’ll leave that for another post.

 September 27th, 2007  
 Will  
 Misc Thoughts, Stuff with a Motor  
   
 4 Comments
20
Sep

White House Dinner

White House Dinner

Recently, very good friends invited us to a dinner at their home that was catered by Walter Scheib.  Scheib was the chef at the White House for both Clinton administrations and the first G.W. Bush administration.

The food was fabulous and unique, as you would expect.  Mr. Scheib’s stories about the First Families and serving upwards of 1,000 guests in America’s first home, were terrific.  Between courses, he talked about what it’s like to work with the families of the President in close quarters as well as the culinary likes and dislikes of each.  How Chelsea Clinton enjoyed “helping out” in the kitchen and how the Bush twins were, unsurprisingly, given to having last-minute parties which had to be catered by the White House staff.

His discussion about how Hilary Clinton drove the change in White House cuisine from the European-oriented style established by Jacqueline Kennedy to a modified American style (foods from around the US combined with styles from other US locales) was fascinating.  As was his discussion of how Hilary insisted on fresh food, leaner meals and natural ingredients, much to her husband’s chagrin and how George Bush’s culinary tastes mostly includes those meals prepared with cheese sauce.

He never discussed the politics of the Presidents nor did he offer his opinion about the families in any political way.  He repeatedly stated how both First Families he worked with were good people and how he enjoyed working with them.

At the end of the meal, there was an open question and answer period.  As you would expect, the guests tried to bait the chef into revealing unseemly stories about the families.  He did not.  While there were many interesting questions and answers, I thought the most interesting came about when someone asked how large the White House kitchen is.  Apparently, it’s only about 900 square feet.  The follow-up was obvious – how do you cook so much food (for a state dinner, for example) in such a little kitchen?  Chef Scheib didn’t miss a beat when he said, “it’s nice to have the Army at your beck and call.”  It seems that with very short notice, the chef had 18-wheelers filled with refrigerators and stoves backed up to the White House.  Wouldn’t you like to have those at your disposal at your next barbeque?

If you ever get the chance to taste some of the fantastic food Chef Scheib creates or even just get a chance to hear him speak, do not pass Go, do not collect $200 . . .

 September 20th, 2007  
 Will  
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