28 June 2007

Forever and Forever

Two stories that are best described as "forever" stories:

First, fantastic design that has lasted the decades and will probably last forever.

Second, a fantastic find of fossilized trees that have already lasted forever.

26 June 2007

Cute and Cuddly? Try "Killer"

Please read this really interesting article on some fossils found recently of giant penguins that lived 40 million years ago in the area where Peru is. They stood taller than five feet, and had a spear-like bill. Cute and cuddly? Um....

25 June 2007

My Town

Back in 1961, a fantastic new shopping mall opened.

It was called Chris-Town.

I was two years old.

This was no ordinary shopping mall: it was the biggest in the Phoenix-metro area, the brightest, the swankiest, the funnest, the neatest of all malls to be found -- as well as the only place you could go to buy better-than-middle-class items without going to the fancy stores where the upper crust would shop.

It was the height of style, too, complete with huge arrangements of George Nelson Bubble Lamps, an area with live birds in moderne cages -- even a fountain.

For some reason, my parents told me that this grand mall was named after me. And, being only two, I believed them.

Whenever you needed to shop for something special, you went to Chris-Town. I spent my Saturday mornings at the Fox Chris-Town Cinema at the "Wallace and Ladmo Show" with the hosts of the after-school television program where we saw cartoons and movies (usually B-list programmers, serials, and the occasional sci-fi film).

Chris-Town was so much a part of my life that my first job out of school was working at the Broadway Department Store -- in the location that was originally Korrick's (pictured), a swanky store indeed.

By then, however, Chris-Town was already beginning its inexorable decline into the second rate which came swiftly starting in the 1980s. Since then, the fancy stores have made way for the common (Wal-Mart, Costco, etc); in 2001 the name was changed to (get this) Spectrum Mall; in 2006 a huge chunk of the middle of the mall was removed to allow construction of the coming-soon metro rail system. (The rail construction also spelled the end of the building where I spent so many Saturday mornings: the cinema was torn down just two weeks ago.)

Sigh. It's been a sad time.

However, there is at least a little good news to report: It was announced today that the owners of the mall were changing the name (again) to Christown Spectrum Mall -- bowing, I would hope, to the thousands who protested the name change in the first place, to those of us who never called it "Spectrum Mall" and, perhaps, to the fact that numerous businesses in the areas still had the old name in theirs: Chris-Town Dry Cleaners, Chris-Town Bowling, etc.

More about the new old name will be found

24 June 2007


I love plastics -- mostly vintage plastics, but plastics rock!

Today's CBS "Sunday Morning" news program did a fascinating piece on the problem of recycling all materials -- including plastics, but especially plastic shopping bags.

Where we live (Phoenix) the local Safeway grocery store has a drop-off bin to deposit used plastic bags for recycling. This is a good thing; but it would be better if we all used paper bags or re-usable canvas bags. I used to do the canvas bag thing when I lived in San Francisco and did my grocery shopping each day. Now, we shop once a week, and we would need a lot of canvas bags. It is doable.

You can read about the story

21 June 2007

My Face Looks Like This :-(

Remember the baby giant manta ray I told you about on 17 June 2007? Well, the baby died. The father apparently attacked it. This is very sad. More details will be found here.

20 June 2007

News IQ

I'm note sure whether there is any value in knowing how up you are on certain national news stories, but the good people at the non-partisan Pew Research Center think it's important -- so much so that they offer a quiz (and the results of the national survey) on their web site.

Take the quiz and see how you stand up to other respondents.

I was in the 91 percentile -- which scored me higher than college graduates with degrees (take that, Yalies!). I missed one question -- the one about the number of additional troops that will be sent to Iraq. I thought it was one or the other. I picked one, and it was the other.

18 June 2007

One Life to Have Lived

Read a fascinating article in the Los Angeles Times on the death and life of radio sound effects artist Ray Erlenborn.

17 June 2007

Wanta Manta? Don't You Wanta?

The New York Times has an article about the first giant manta ray ever born in captivity (pictured) -- at the Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium, Japan.

How big is "giant"? The baby was six-feet wide, (and the gestation period was 374 days)!

The article is

12 June 2007

Forward to the Past

Oh, what heady days they must have been.

The decade after the end of World War Two saw a prosperity boom the likes of which this country had never seen before or since. We had defeated the foe, and it appeared that all things were possible.

Support for this amazing victory came from plastics -- materials which, coincidentally, had just come into being a scant few years before they were needed to replace much more important and scarce metals. Aluminum, steel, iron, copper were all needed to win the war; and, where plastic could be used instead, it was.

In just a few years, plastics production increased many times over, with plastics being used to make parts of airplanes, tanks, and vehicles of all kinds.

Once the war ended, their use was turned toward consumer goods -- radios, televisions, dinnerware, light switches, combs, tumblers, dashboards, windshields -- hundreds and hundreds of items that were made more quickly, less costly, and that would endure forever.

Why not, then, build a house from plastic?

That is exactly what happened fifty years ago today -- 12 June 1957.

On that date, the Monsanto House of the Future (illustrated) opened in the then-new entertainment park called Disneyland.

It was, certainly, a marvel. Although touted as being made entirely from plastic, there were other materials used -- but mostly plastic. Companies of all kinds participated in this grand experiment -- American Motors (kitchen), Bell Telephone, Chemstrand (fabrics), Crane (bathrooms), Libbey Owens (glass). Mobay Chemical (insulation), Sylvania (lighting). Everyone, it seemed, wanted to be part of this wonderful moment in time when a new tomorrow was being envisioned for a country in which anything was possible.

Of course, that "tomorrow" never came to be.

Although much on display in the House of the Future did, indeed, come about, the world never saw mass production of this great housing design which would lower costs of living and allow pretty much every person to have a well-constructed home made inexpensively and quickly.

In fact, it has only been in the past few years that architects and designers have once again begun to explore the world of mass-produced modular homes -- although not keeping the commitment to "all plastic."

Is there an all plastic House of the Future again on the horizon? I certainly hope so.

You can learn more about the House of the Future at my website, PlasticLiving.com. Just visit my website, and click on the link for the House of the Future.

11 June 2007

Charles Harper RIP

Charles Harper (1922 - 2007)

We are very sad to report the death of artist Charles Harper.
This illustration is by the famed naturalist.

08 June 2007

Gee, "Whiz"!

It's hard to believe, but someone actually invented the cheese-like product "Cheez Whiz." It was Edwin Traisman, and it was 1953.

Traisman is dead now, but his legacy lives on.

You can hear an interesting history of this cheese-like product (which, I understand, contains no actual cheese)

06 June 2007


I don't know what to say: the CBS television network announced today that it is bowing to the incessant fan protest and ordering at least a partial second season of the critically hailed television series "Jericho."

While we are brooding about the end to the only other really great show to be canceled this season ("Studio 60"), we are heartened by the somewhat miraculous occurrence that a big, dumb television network like CBS would be able to take a step back and see what it had in "Jericho" -- and reverse its decision.

The same thing happened to the original "Star Trek" television series in 1968, and many other television programs have been similarly saved from the axe by a passionate fan base, but I seriously never thought we would see "Jericho" again.

So, it is with a sincere humility that I thank CBS for realizing that art is sometimes more important than commerce -- and that, believe it or not, it is possible for the two to co-exist.

You can read more about this rather stunning turn of events

02 June 2007

The Happiest Place on Earth?

In 2006 the British network ITV started airing a really cool show called "Prehistoric Park" (pictured).

Featuring really cool computer generated images, this show follows the adventures of a group of people who travel back in time and return with long-extinct prehistoric animals -- like the mammoth, the sabre-toothed cat, giant insects.

The show is a bit goofy, considering how time travel is not possible (time moves only in one direction); but it is a fascinating concept: bring, to the 21st century, animals that have been extinct for millennia -- raise them, study them.

However, if such a place existed I would so be there.

More about "Prehistoric Park" can be found

The show airs in America on the "Animal Planet" network.