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How to Investigate Blackwater USA

The minute the Congress called my name
I'd say, "Now who do
Who do you think you're fooling?"

Paul Simon, "Loves Me Like a Rock" (1973)

"We're a private company, and there's a key word there -- private,"

—Erik Prince, Owner and CEO of Blackwater USA, testifying before The US House Oversight & Government Reform Committee, 10/2/07 when asked to share Blackwater's financials with Congress

That rumor you heard about me trying to kill at least one savage everytime I left the wire? TRUE.


Ben Thomas, aka Mookie Spicoli, formerly employed by Blackwater USA in Iraq, as he posted April 8, 2006 to the discussion board Get Off the X.

So at long last, Congress has started to investigate Blackwater USA in earnest. That's great, but way too late.

Hauling Erik Prince in to testify before Congress was a necessary first step but won't get anyone very far. Prince has made a fetish of his privacy, and with the State Department's collusion, there isn't much that our elected representatives can get Prince to say on a public forum. But Prince did say one big important thing: What Blackwater does when its contractors run amok is fire them.

So here's how Congress should go about investigating Blackwater: They should subpoena all personnel records that resulted in the firing of their security contractors, and all documents related to the firings, and they should subpoena the entire group of ex-Blackwater security contractors who were let go for cause.

That is, as it were, where the bodies are buried. I also suggest they start their list of ex-Blackwater subpoenas with Ben Thomas.

How to survive your own beheading

SurvivebeheadingI can't tell you how, but if you give these guys in Las Vegas a bunch of money & three days of your life, they'll teach you how.

Perhaps there are prerequisites for the course. Such as thinking with some other part of your anatomy. I wonder if the course is guarenteed and whether they've actually tested the technique. Did they get a celebrity endorsement from Ted Williams or Ichabod Crane?

Can you learn to survive your own beheading? I guess you never know until you try!

How to Write an Author Bio: A Tutorial for Wikipedians & Others

We write three kinds of author bios in this household:

  1. short story introductions for year's best collections (which have tight wordage constraints);
  2. longer author notes for our larger historical anthologies. (A complete set of our author bios from The Ascent of Wonder is available online.) These give more detail on the author and are also usually used to carry on the overall argument of the book.
  3. And the occasional longer biographical essay, which usually ends up in some form in The New York Review of Science Fiction.

Because of my recent experience with Wikipedian "editing," I am considering releasing the complete set of author bios from the anthologies of both David Hartwell and Kathryn Cramer to the Internet under Creative Commons in order to raise the level of author bio discourse. (There is a certain amount of hard labor involved in this, and I haven't figures out how to do it yet. Suggestions welcome.)

Since our story notes usually go with a particular story, I'm going to skip the discussion of how to position the story in the note, and instead focus on what information needs to be assembled about the author.

Here are the basic pieces of info we collect before writing a note:

  • The author's correct name and any known pseudonyms
  • year of and place of birth and death (if deceased)
  • where the author lives and minor family details
  • the URL of the author's website. Failing that, the URL of the best tribute site. If the author has a blog, the URL of the blog.
  • A brief summary of the highlights of the authors career and life. This may or may not include a summary of awards.
  • An interesting quote from the author, usually taken from online interviews but sometimes elicited in correspondence. Do collect listings of interviews,  the more the better.
  • The author's three most recent books, with brief descriptions (I love Amazon as a source for this info!)
  • The author's three most important books or stories
  • Relationships to others in the field or other notable people (Greg Bear is married to Poul Anderson's daughter; Rudy Rucker is the great grand son of Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel; etc.)
  • The authors significance in terms of trends within the science fiction field (Bruce Sterling was the chief spokesman for the cyberpunk movement)
  • Other interesting aspects of an author's life. Other areas of achievement.
  • I suppose I should add "in the tradition of . . ." but that is such a tried cliche of flap copy that we usually leave it out.

Lists of authors' awards and complete bibliography are usually available elsewhere. Link to them. But if the usual sources are inaccurate, provide better info. And finally, cover good new writers and cover people no one knows much about.

The most important thing to understand about writing an author bio is that this is a form of literary characterization. Details that enhance the bio by making the author a more rounded character may be crucial even if not otherwise relevant.

How to Make Polonium

This morning I blogged an article from the Guardian connecting the poisoning of Alexander Litvinenko with the trade in poorly guarded nuclear materials from the former Soviet Union. Given the half-life of Polonium, over the course of the day as the situation was dicussed further in the media, this scenario was beginning not to seem very plausible.

The New Scientist reports a different possible source of the lethal dose of Polonium, remarking that Polonium is usually made by bombarding the element Bismuth with neutrons:

To poison someone, polonium would most likely have been chemically combined in some type of dissolvable salt, for example polonium nitrate, experts told New Scientist. In this form the material could easily have been added to his food and ingested.

Polonium is a radioactive element that is used industrially as an anti-static material. It is difficult to get hold of and not used regularly by research scientists, but very small traces of it occur naturally. The metal is usually made by bombarding the element bismuth with neutrons.

"To poison someone, large amounts of polonium-210 are required and this would have to be manmade, perhaps from a particle accelerator or a nuclear reactor," said Dudley Goodhead at the UK's MRC Radiation and Genome Stability Unit.

The online description of a 1972 article, Investigation of the purification of black bismuth from polonium, gives a little more detail:

Title    Investigation of the purification of black bismuth from polonium.
Creator/Author    Kirgintsev, A.N. ; Koslyakov, V.I. ; Prokhorov, L.A. ; Aloi, A.S. ; Selivanov, I.M.
Publication Date    1972 Jan 01 . . .
Resource Relation    Sov. Radiochem. (Engl. Transl.) ;14: No. 2, 307-312(1972).; Translated from Radiokhimiya;14: No. 2, 296-302(1972).
Related Subject    POLONIUM ISOTOPES Po-210/content in black bismuth;POLONIUM/separation of bismuth from, by direct crystallization and zone melting;BISMUTH/purification from polonium by direct crystallization and zone melting;BISMUTH/polonium-210 content in black

Timeline_photo1 Sounds like something not to try at home. (For starters, where are you going to keep your particle accelerator? In the fridge? Next to the sushi, right?)

Interestingly, the IAEA notes circa 2004 produced and recovered polonium by irradiating bismuth as a component of Iraq's nuclear program. The report does not give a time frame for this. There have also been more recent reports that Iran is producing Polonium 210 at the Lavizan II military site.

AN ODD BUT IRRELEVANT DETAIL: Polonium apparently has a special significance for Creationists.


My Dad Is Cooler than Your Dad: "If the experiment works, a signal could be received before it's sent"

My Dad is Cooler than Your Dad

From yesterday's Seattle PI: Going for a blast into the real past: If the experiment works, a signal could be received before it's sent

If his experiment with splitting photons actually works, says University of Washington physicist John Cramer, the next step will be to test for quantum "retrocausality."

That's science talk for saying he hopes to find evidence of a photon going backward in time.

"It doesn't seem like it should work, but on the other hand, I can't see what would prevent it from working," Cramer said. "If it does work, you could receive the signal 50 microseconds before you send it."

Uh, huh ... what? Wait a minute. What is that supposed to mean?

Roughly put, Cramer is talking about the subatomic equivalent of arriving at the train station before you've left home, of winning the lottery before you've bought the ticket, of graduating from high school before you've been born -- or something like that.

Yaaay for the home team!!! (See also my previous post: Retrocausality.)

SEE ALSO Slashdot. (Daddy's been Slashdotted!)

My favorite blog post on this subject is from Correntewire: Science for Republicans! which first quotes from the article on my dad and then quotes John McCain' electoral regrets:

“We departed rather tragically from our conservative principles,” McCain lamented recently, offering his take on why the GOP fell from power in Congress. He urged a return to what he called the foundation of the Republican Party — restrained spending, smaller government, lower taxes, a strong national defense and family values.

Sorry guys, not this time out. This is just a physics experiment.

My dad, also a publshed novelist,  explains the excitement of experimental phsyics:

Even if this does fail miserably, providing no insights, Cramer said the experience could still be valuable. As the author of two science-fiction novels, "Twistor" and "Einstein's Bridge," and as a columnist for the sci-fi magazine Analog, the UW physicist enjoys sharing his speculations about the nature of reality with the public.

"I want people to know what it's like to do science, what makes it so exciting," he said. "If this experiment fails in reality, maybe I'll write a book in which it works."

Physicists John Cramer, left, and Warren Nagourney work in the lab. Nagourney says he has

(Also, I've added a Restrocausality photoset to my Flickr account!)

Earthquake in Tokyo, plus How to Document Human Rights Violations Using Flickr

I just noticed via my Flickr photo-feed for the tag earthquake that there has been an earthquake in Tokyo (5.1 magnitude). I looked at my earthquake Flickr badge and saw all these photos of the Tokyo subways, And sure enough, there was an earthquake today.

This reminds me of something I've been meaning to mention for a while: how easy it would be to document human rights violations using systems like Flickr. And to some extent this is already being done. I wrote this up a while back in private correspondence, meaning to revise. But I think I'll just put this out there now. The world needs to know that there are much better ways to document human rights violations than sending documents via email to Westchester housewives like, say, me. Here's a rough outline of what I was thinking:

I am working from how I tracked info on the situation in Pakistan following the earthquake, but  this would work just as well for human rights violations. There's some really gruesome stuff in Flickr documenting the arrival of medical teams in remote places weeks after the earthquake that had had no relief whatsoever. I had never seen three week old untreated wounds before. And the people in the pictures look so grateful to finally be getting help.

To document human rights violations, all they have to do is take digital photos and upload them to Flickr; tag them with relevant tags, like say HAITI and MASSACRE and such; geotag them: i.e. give lat and lon coords, or street address, or other really specific info. The photos come in date stamped in the first place with the data from the camera, but sometimes the camera is set wrong, so they want to be sure. And my additional advice to any one doing that wold be to add little or no political rhetoric, because what is important is for the objective observer over the Internet to ascertain that something happened and what it was.

In Flickr, one can make what are called Flickr badges. I have a couple on my site. You can make Flickr badges with feeds for specific tags. I've got one for "earthquake", and one for "Google Earth" and also that's how the photos at the top of my page work.

So you get the photos uploaded to Flickr. Then you can set up blogs all over the place with Flickr tags that will broadcast those pix. You can, at your leisure, add info to those blogs to go with the pix. Also, you don't have to have just one Flickr account. You can set up a new one each time you want to upload if your really want to. And there are other photo uploading services. That's just the one I know best and used to get hard info out of Pakistan after the earthquake and out of NOLA before that.

One of my new years resolutions is that certain things are going to be different and better in the 21st century. This is a start, and it's only February 1st.

How can you tell if a Panama corporation actually exists?

Research question: How can you verify that a corporation registered in Panama actually exists? There is a thicket of web sites trying to sell you on the idea that you need to register a corporation in Panama because of all the amazing benefits, like "100% confidentiality." And many of these mention the existence of a "Public Registry" of Panama corporations. Trying to parse it all this morning, I was unable to penetrate the thicket to find out just where this Public Registry exists and just what information it contains. (There is plenty of mention of what isn't in it, such as lists of stock holders.)

So. How do I check whether a corporation that claims to be registered in Panama actually is in fact registered there? And can I find out the date on which they came into existence?  If Panama corporations are actually good for anything (like saving you big bucks on corporate taxes), then it should be possible to check these two thing.

Anyone know how?

Also, if you can find out all that, is it possible to distinguish between what's called a "shelf corporation" and an active one, chronologically? If a "shelf corporation" is registered and later activated, is it possible to determine when it became active?

How to Put Your Wolfram Tones in Your Sidebar on Typepad

ZiporpsTheme.jpgCurrently, if you save a bunch of Wolfram Tones, you can go back and listen to them, but if your friends go to the "My Tones" page, they get theirs, not yours. So lets say you want other people to be able to listen to them, and you want this accessible from your blog's sidebar along with the results from your latest Quizilla experience. Here's how you can do it on Typepad:

First, go to Wolfram Tones and create a bunch of compositions which you save as "My Tones." Then, using Typepad, create a Typelist which you might want to call something like "My Wolfram Tones." (You will want to select the "Link" kind of list. This means that you need to go to the Typelist's Configure page and tell it to "Display Notes as Text," but the advantage is that you can specify the number of tones to disply.)

Modify_1On the My Wolfram Tones page, click on the Modify button on the tone you would like to add to your sidebar.

This will take you to the page for the individual tone. Copy  the URL and then go to your My Wolfram Tones Typelist. Click on Add a New Item. Then paste the URL of your tone into the Box that labeled "Enter a URL to quickly add a new link." This will add your link to the Typelist, but it will come out with the name "Wolfram Tones: Generate a Composition." You want yours to have a better name, something evocative that is going to make your friends want to click there. So call it something like REVENGE OF THE ANDROIDS! and click "Save Changes."

Repeat this process until you've added all the tones you want in your sidebar.

Then, go to the "Edit Current Design" screen for your blog and click on "Change Content Selections." Check the box to add your new Typelist to the sidebar, and then click "Save Changes." This will take you back to the "Edit Current Design" screen. This time, click "Change Ordering" and drag your Wolfram Tones sidebar to where you want it. Then click "Save Changes." And when you are back to the "Edit Current Design" screen, republish your weblog.

Once you've go the Typelist placed, you can add your new Wolfram Tones whenever you want.

WtsidebarHere's a screen shot of my Typelist. How I added the graphics is left as an exercise for the reader.

How to Make a Google Earth Overlay Using CommunityWalk (Even if You Are on a Computer that Can't Run Google Earth!)

CommunityWalkI wrote up these instructions for an earthquake relief group this morning, but it seems to me that they are of general interest to the Internet maps community.

First of all, CommunityWalk is a Google Maps API site run by Jared Cosulich, a software engineer in San Fransico. (Currently, it will crash Safari, but Jared says he's fixing that.) Here he explains the general idea of the site:

Despite [the Internet's] ability to make the world seem so much smaller, the Internet has done surprisingly little for the smaller worlds around us; for our neighborhoods and communities. The idea for CommunityWalk was founded around these thoughts. When Google released its Google Map technology and Paul Rademacher hacked it, presenting the world with HousingMaps, a mashup of Craigslist and Google Maps, I saw the potential to bring my idea to a reality. Initially the idea was to make a site that allowed realtors to describe the communities around their listings. My mother, a realtor, saw great potential in this idea and has been using CommunityWalk for her listings ever since. As I developed CommunityWalk, though, I realized that CommunityWalk could be made customizable, providing a means for other people to share their communities. In fact there is no reason that CommunityWalk should be limited to local neighborhoods, it can easily be used to show the community of Major League Baseball Ball Parks in America or the community of dive sites that exist at a given lake.

On the morning of October 8th, following the Paksitan/Kashmir Earthquake, I reached to CommunityWalk as my tool of choice for making information about the disaster publicly available. So, OK, I've got all this information in there and you can add some too if you want. How can you, personally, get this info out again and deploy it as a Google Earth overlay?

(Note that the following instructions work as well for a CommunityWalk map showing the location of your cousin's wedding and reception as they do for my quake info.)

The files Google Earth uses as overlays are called KML files and have a ".kml" at the end. KML is a specialized type of XML and stands for Keyhole Markup Language.

Exporting from CommunityWalk to KML is pretty easy. Click on the Share button on the lower right:


... and then click the Google Earth button:


A KML file is generated which can now be used as an overlay in Google Earth. Note that at no time did you lay hands on Google Earth itself. Now, Google Earth's people swear that their Macintosh version is coming out real soon now. But until that time, Mac users can't operate Google Earth.

But with CommunityWalk, you can make, on a Mac, overlay files for your friends (or relief organization or garden club) who can use Google Earth. Neat, huh?

How to Find Out if Your New Orleans House Is Under Water, Part 2: We Really Need to Integrate Topo Maps and Known Water Depths into the System

126353main_pia04175516I've been thinking about this all day, and I have a few ideas, some of which I'm a bit too tired to try. But here is the problem. The question is not whether grandma's wedding pictures are getting ruined. The question for many people writing to me is whether their stranded relatives are dead, or at least the nature of their chances of survival. I am reminded of a 9/11 account we published in the 9/11 special supplement to the New York Review of Science Fiction. The husband of a friend, who worked on the WTC's 22nd floor, walked around looking for someone who could answer questions. An official asked, "What kind of questions?" My friend's husband replied, "Like whether my wife is dead." The information about depths and currents is absolutely crucial to those who might still have a relative trapped.

So here is a case in point. I have someone writing from Kosovo who works for the UN saying:

Can you help me? I have a brother-in-law who is trying to stay in a warehouse two blocks from the River in New Orleans. I've lost contact with him by telephone and am trying to get an idea of the water level around his building, and thus how dangerous his situation is.

It's a white two-story warehouse occupying the full block between Royal and Chartres Streets (on the north and south), and Press and Mantegut Strrets (on the west and east; address 2916 Royal St, zipcode 70117-7362).

Its an almost square building with the northeast corner cut out for a small parking lot. The way to locate it on a photograph is that it's on the northside of the Mississippi at the last big bend in the River before it leaves New Orleans, between Mandeville and Louisa Street Wharfs. You'll see a railroad track that runs along the river by Mandeville Street Wharf and then turns inland; the warehouse is a block inland next to the track.

Well that's probably too much information. But if you can get any idea from scanning photographs as to how much water is around the building, it will be very helpful to us in make decisions about what action to take. (I'm in Eastern Europe at the moment and doing what I can from the internet and telephone contacts, but I've gone about as far as I can for now.)

Lets help her. This seems like a case in which someone might potentially be alive, is known to have been at that location, and so conceivably might be rescued. First of all, here is the Google Maps neighborhood view.


On the face of it, things are not looking too good, since it's within the FEMA designated flood area. But how deep is the water? This is a two-story warehouse. Depth matters. It really matters.

Now a look to see what DigitalGlobe thinks. The results are not too bad. DigitalGlobe's image suggests that the building was not flooded at the point where their picture was taken:


Here is the DigitalGlobe shot from further away:


Note that the stain of flooding starts a block away. Water levels apparently vary with the tides and other factors, so it may be flooded at this moment, but it is crucially important that it is in an area where the water is not very deep, if there is any.

How can we make this better? Ideas, please.

A further example: Mike Moore asks in the comments of the previous post,

Flooding status at 6300 Paris Avenue
In Lake Terrace
Corner of Paris and Frankfort Thanks Mike

Here's his visual answer, a screenshot composited from Google Maps & a DigitalGlobe shot:


Definitely flooded, but what does that mean? Four feet? Or 20? If it was 4 yesterday when the picture was taken, is it 20 today at high tide?

Continue reading "How to Find Out if Your New Orleans House Is Under Water, Part 2: We Really Need to Integrate Topo Maps and Known Water Depths into the System" »

How to Find Out if Your New Orleans House Is Under Water

IMPORTANT UPDATE, 9/7: There is now a clickable depth map for New Orleans at

Here is my discussion of how to use it in combination with Google Maps to check out your house. Also, my Katrina album has some some more sample images. Furtehr UPDATE: the depth map is now searchable by address.

IMPORTANT UPDATE, 9/17: VirtualEarth's Katrina Flyover  has excellent aerial photos searchable by street address. The interface does not work on all browsers. If you have trouble, see my post describing a workaround.

Another IMPORTANT UPDATE, 9/17: Much more detailed instructions for using Google Earth to check on your house are posted HERE.

The best way to check if a New Orleans address is under water is by using Google Earth and the techniques and overlays created by the Google Earth Current Events Community.  Since GE doesn't have their Mac version out yet, I myself can't do it that way.

UPDATE: Here are the promised Google Earth instructions from our hero Shawn:

1) Install Google Earth
2) Click the NOAA Overlay Link from Google Earth Community BBS
a) Mississippi Coast -
i) Click "Open This Placemark"
ii) Either open file or save to disk and double click.
c) Check the Current Events Board for many more overlays of specific areas.
3) Once overlay is open in Google Earth, Enter your full address in the search field in the upper left corner.   That will center the view on your address.


If you can't or don't want to do it that way, here is a shot-cut.

Step 1: Go to Google Maps and enter the address. Click on the button that says "Hybrid" on the upper right. You will get an image with a speech ballon pointing to a thumbtack showing the location of the address on the satellite photo.
[IMPORTANT UPDATE: Bless their hearts, Google Maps has added a "KATRINA" button to New Orleans areas searchs, so they have automated some of the process I descibe here! Yee haw!]

Step 2: Click up and down the vertical ladder-like bar to see the image at various scales until you feel you can find the place on a satellite image.

Step 3: Compare your image to this superimposition of the FEMA flood map on a New Orleans satellite photo, created by the Google Earth Current Events Community. Here is a small version. Click on it for a much bigger picture.


If the address you are checking is fairly centrally located, you can also check your address image against the DigitalGlobe satellite picture of the flooding.

I hope to post some good Google Earth instructions later. I'll be out for several hours, so if you have some, post 'em in the comments until I get back.

OR PERHAPS I'VE BEEN TO OPTIMISTIC: While I was out driving around Pleasantville a little while ago, a reporter on NPR described all of New Orleans as being flooded. Perhaps she was being hyperbolic. But the more important question for those who need to know about specific addresses in New Orleans may be how deep the water and how swift the current; this all combined with information about the rise and fall of the tides.

BY THE WAY: If you get ahold of Before and After pictures of your house, BE SURE TO KEEP COPIES so you can submit them with your homeowners insurance claims, applications for FEMA aid, and other such. It seems to me that providing physical evidence specific to your address would be likely to expedite claims processing.

Teaching Perfect Squares with Legos

Lego_pyramidOne of my summer projects is to teach Peter his multiplication tables before school starts. Our exceptionally fine school district had an extremely difficult time teaching him his basic addition and subtraction facts in the first and second grade, and I have no reason to believe that they will have more success in the third grade with multiplication. Peter has David's amazing associative memory, and while associative memory is great for learning about, say, red efts, since calling to mind all the information you have about surrounding concepts such as salamanders and newts gives you context and allows you to interpolate information you don't know. But for recalling information about, say, the number seven it is a disaster (as my Google search link handily illustrates: nearly a billion results for the numeral 7; only a hundred and sixteen million for the word seven spelled out).

I have arrived at this formulation: Memory is something I do; memory is something that happens to David and Peter. So in order to get Peter over certain academic hurdles, I need to teach him how to work at memory. Simple recitation does not do it for numbers. The public schools have a slightly more complex technique that boils down to repetition which has failed us utterly, so far.

So I have been looking for alternatives. One of the alternatives, has been assigning multiplication problems to particular places in a classically organized "memory palace" structured around the pool area and grounds of the hotel where the International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts is held. Each memory place is a place where he found a memorable creature. (The iguana he spotted by the whirlpool is given the spot 7 X 7 and is names Fortunine to invoke 49; the place he found a favorite caterpillar is designated 8 X 8, and the caterpillar is named "Sticky Boy" to invoke 64.) This was succeeding up to a point, but lacked a structure that could be extrapolated upon.

So this afternoon, I hit upon the idea of building a Great Pyramid, complete with a Lego Pharaoh, to illustrate the concept of perfect squares in a way that could be generalized to other multiplication problems, and would also allow us to deduce the existence of prime numbers.

The hardest part was sorting his vast and diverse collection of Legos for the collection of 200-odd square Legos with four bumps on them. This allowed us the make the first 8 layers of the pyramid. Starting with one, I had him tell me what the product of each number was when multiplied by itself; then we collected the right number of square Legos,; then we built the next layer of the pyramid. (Because of the tightness of the fit needed for the Legos near the middle, I did the middle parts, and he did the perimeters.) Having verified that the square of each number indeed yielded a square, we moved on to rectangles; and then we demonstrated experimentally that there are some numbers of blocks that can't be made into rectangles (the example we tried was 19). Then I explained about prime numbers.

I am pleased with this Lego activity, but also think that it would not have worked if I had not first helped him memorize the perfect squares using the pool-side memory palace. I was taking things he had memorized as arbitrary concepts and giving them a more conceptually based architectural structure which can be extrapolated from.

PS: I must say I'm rather hardpressed to understand the intended mneumonics of the "Fact Triangles" in the Everyday Mathematics curriculum that Peter's school uses.

How to Make a Thylacine Costume


Peter wanted to be a thylacine  for Halloween. (A thylacine is an extinct marsupial carnivore also known as the tasmanian tiger; its closest living relative is the tasmanian devil.) I made some non-committal noises and changed the subject. That sounded like real work, and I am quite overwhelmed at the moment.

But yesterday morning, a vision of how I could make a thylacine costume quickly and easily came to me. The key element of a thylacine costume is the tail: a long, stiff stripped tail. I knew I needed foam rubber, a material that would make a suitable thylacine hide, and something to stripe it with. After disappointing visits to a fabric store and an upholstery store, I would my materials at the hardware store: a yard of 72 inch-wide tan naugahyde, a linear foot of 18 inch-wide white foam rubber, and a role of dark brown duct tape. Peter is 48 inches tall, so one yard of naugahyde was enough. For someone taller, you'll need more.

When Peter got home from school, I measured the naugahyde against him and folded it over so that the doubled portion was long enough to make a jacket. I made a slit opening on the front and then cross-wise slits for the neckline. Then I draped the folded naugahyde over his shoulders (wrong side out) with his arms out to the sides and I drew in where the seams needed to be. I quickly sewed the seams with the eager children looking on. (This involved a certain amount of barking and snarling on my part: Don't step on that pedal! Put down the scissors! etc.) I had never sewed naugahyde before and I was much easier than I had expected. Then I clipped the extra fabric away from the arms and torso and drew the remaining cutting lines for the tail using the full length of the fabric, which when initially cut out looks a bit lite the tails on a tux. I sewed the two sides of the tail together and then turned the whole garment right side out. Next, I stuffed the tail with foam rubber so it was good and stiff.

Peter and I worked together with the duct tape to make the stripes on the tail and the back. Then I clipped the edges of the jacket portion to give it a more pleasing shape. Next, I set the kids up with something else to do and used the brown duct tape to finish seams and edges. I used foam rubber and duct tape to pad the shoulders and the chest so that the jacket hangs better.

After the tail and the stripes, a thylacine's other most striking features are its jaws -- which opened amazingly wide, its ears, and its dark eyes. It is my belief that a picture of a thylacine with its mouth way open was one of the inspirations for the alien in Alien. It was a scary-looking creature which is, I think, one of the reasons it is now extinct.

The design for the head is a hood in which the child looks out through the open mouth. I snipped some frightening teeth out of the foam rubber. I got Peter's raincoat and looked at the construction of the hood to see how to make the head. I made a naugahyde hood based on that. Then I made big ears out of two naugahyde triangles using duct tape and them sewed them to the hood using the machine. The two rows of teeth were attached to the inside of the hood using the duct tape. Then I snipped the (somewhat anime-influenced) eye shapes out of duct tape and stuck them to the head. I added a visor to the hood to lengthen the snout and made the dark nose with duct tape over lumps of foam rubber left over from making the teeth.

I'll take some pictures this evening when he wears it to a Halloween party. This morning -- after the fact -- it occurred to me to look for other designs for thylacine costumes on the web and I didn't find any. So I though as a public service I ought to write this down before I forget how I did it. I'm really pleased at how it turned out.


Cooking with Bugs

According to the BBC, young cicadas taste like canned asperagus. And if you are into that sort of thing, because we are expecting a large hatching of 17-year cicadas in the Northeast, this summer will be a time of good eating:

It makes things easier for people who like to eat them - young cicadas are said to taste like canned asparagus.

But curious diners should take advantage of the glut as the next monster swarm is due in 2021.

Gee. It never would have occurred to me to wonder how they would taste. Seventeen years ago, when the last cicada swarm occurred, I was living in Brooklyn. No one mentioned eating them. I guess I missed out.

For those at a loss as to how to cook them, the Washington Post (back on April 16th) offered a few helpful suggestions: one easy way to serve cicada is apparently sauted with butter and parsley.

To harvet your prey, the WP suggests the following method:

There they will molt, taking about an hour to squeeze out of their dust-colored skins. Once they have broken free, it is your moment to strike: Pluck the creamy white adults off the trees. Gather as many as you desire for the culinary adventures ahead. Admire their red eyes and furled wings.

Do hurry. The exoskeletons of the newly molted adults will turn black within about 12 hours and harden over the next couple days. Once that happens, the cicadas remain eminently edible but they lose their soft-shell cachet. They're also easier to apprehend in their just-molted stage. 

And here's a more elaborate thought:

At Fahrenheit, a restaurant in the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Georgetown, cicadas almost made the menu this year. "The soft-shelled cicada, it's done just like a soft-shelled crab," says executive chef Frank Belosic, describing how freshly molted cicadas should be rolled in flour, pan-fried in olive oil, and finished with a sauce of white wine, butter and shallots. Served as an appetizer, the dish would have cost diners $10 or so.

But for those truly interested, Amazon offers a number of coockbooks on cooking with bugs: Eat-A-Bug Cookbook by David George Gordon, Creepy Crawly Cuisine: The Gourmet Guide to Edible Insects by Julieta Ramos-Elorduy, photographs by Peter Menzel, and Man Eating Bugs: The Art and Science of Eating Insects by Peter Menzel & Faith D'Aluisio. There is also a YA novel on this subject, Beetles, Lightly Toasted by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor.

I haven't yet decided to bring up this subject with my children, though Elizabeth may discover the delights of cicada on her own.

UPDATE: Check out the Washington Post's Cicadacam! Don't they look yummy?

When you try to fix a TV, unplug it first.

When you try to fix a TV, unplug it first. Um, I knew that. But I've had a lot of things on my mind lately so I didn't. The TV David wanted to watch this afternoon is broken. I thought this was because it had blown a fuse, which it has done occasionally in the past. So I unscrewed the back, pulled out the fuses, acertained which one was bad, and started reinserting the fuses that were OK. I think I must have closed a circuit with my wedding ring, because when reinserting the second fuse, I got an unpleasant shock. Then I noticed that part of my white gold filligre wedding ring was missing. I think I'd accidentally used it as a fuse. I suppose I might have really hurt myself if I'd had a sturdier ring on. I'll have to be more careful. Now that I've replaced the fuses, the TV still doesn't work. OBVIOUSLY, I should have read my horoscope in My Excite first:
Trying to do too many things at once only adds to your sense of confusion and frustration. Take your time and really think about what you're doing before and why you're actually doing it.
If I'd really thought about what I was doing, the three middle fingers of my left hand wouldn't feel unpleasantly itchy now. DAVID UPDATE: He's occasionally up and around and then he lies down again. He appreciates the emails he's been receiving. We are cancelling our plans for the next week or so. We will not be attending the ALA (already in progress). Nor will we be at the SFRA next weekend. We had a lovely trip planned which we were looking forward to, but this doesn't seem the time. We may have to rearrange some other summer plans around this rescheduling. But right now we're trying to take things one at a time.

How to Move a Totem Pole

Ever wonder how people move totem poles? Quite unexpectedly, we got to find out this afternoon. After a successful morning of thrift shopping, we went to Seattle's Burke Museum, mostly so Peter could see the dinosaur exhibits.

A group of men were struggling to transport a half-carved totem pole up the front steps of them museum. It was big and it looked heavy.

I was standing right next to the camera man from channel 7 and a couple of press people with really expensive-looking camera equipment. I had borrowed dad's Nikon digital and so after a few moments of dumb-founded gawking, I began to snap pictures.

The totem pole is part of the exhibit Out of the Silence: Enduring Power of Totem Poles:

Demonstrations by Emerging Artists
Various artists, including Frank Fulmer and Lorene Kengerski
Selected Saturdays, 11 am - 3 pm, in the Special Exhibit Gallery
The Burke's "Emerging Artists Series" features up-and-coming Northwest Coast artists working on their own projects within the context of the special exhibition, Out of the Silence: The Enduring Power of Totem Poles. This is a unique chance to chat with an array of talented young artists, to ask questions about their craft, to observe the styles that have been passed down in their families, and to discover the vitality of contemporary Northwest Coast art.

As we were leaving, the channel 7 camera man was setting up lights and one of the artists whom I think was Israel Shotridge, one of Alaska's finest Tlingit carvers, was waiting, presumably to beging carving on camera.

It was all so interesting that Peter forgot his teddy bear in the museum and I had to go back for it.