The Tip Top, located just across the street from the firm, always has good Saturday signage. Today’s effort was a particularly strong one and got a chuckle from me. If only all decisions were so easy!
The Tip Top, located just across the street from the firm, always has good Saturday signage. Today’s effort was a particularly strong one and got a chuckle from me. If only all decisions were so easy!
Many airports now have animal relief areas. Often, the areas are just a square of bright green astroturf out in some corner of the concourse with a plastic red fire hydrant. Phoenix’s Sky Harbor airport is the first airport I’ve seen where the animal relief zone is a separate room with a closing door.
I think it’s a good idea, and I hope that more airports adopt it. Obviously, the room isn’t in deference to the privacy interests of dogs, who don’t seem to care much who can see them while they do their business — or where they do it, for that matter. Instead, it’s a nod to the sensibilities of those of us who are traveling and don’t particularly want to see a squatting dog 50 feet away from where we’re sipping our Starbucks Cafe Grande and trying to tune out the blaring CNN broadcast from the TV sets overhead.
More and more people are traveling with “comfort animals” these days, and the animals are coming in all shapes and sizes. As I moved through the Phoenix airport yesterday, I saw more dogs than ever before, ranging in size from a Shih Tzu clutched by her human pal to a fully grown standard poodle striding down the concourse. I’ve even read about passengers traveling with miniature horses as “comfort animals” — which seems to really push the “comfort animal” envelope and show just how blurry the lines have become.
With the undeniable increase in animals in airports, airport facilities need to change to keep pace with the trend — and obviously making sure that there are places where the “comfort animals” can take care of their own comfort has to be part of that process. It shouldn’t be an issue, because airports always have plenty of space and seem to be under construction at all times — so why not a simple room to let dogs, cats, miniature horses, cockatoos, and the rest of the traveling menagerie answer the call of nature?
My Phoenix hotel has an interesting way of reminding guests that they are in the desert — as if the near-constant sunshine weren’t enough of a clue. No, the hotel keeps wheeled racks of little barrel cactus plants and other desert flora at hand, ready to wheel out to remind us that we’re in an arid zone.
I like desert plants, so I think it’s pretty cool. In fact, I wish I had one of these gadgets for my office.
What do hotels consider when deciding whether to decorate their elevators — and, if so, what to use for elevator art? You’re talking about a space that every single guest uses multiple times during their stay, when they may be in multiple mindsets: when they first arrive after a day of travel, first thing in the morning when they’re heading down for breakfast, and when they’re heading back up to their room after a long day. How much care and attention goes into the decision of how to decorate that very unique setting?
You could, of course, choose to leave your elevator unadorned, with just standard elevator walls, the basic mirror facing the door so that people entering can check their hair and their tie, and some information about the hotel restaurant and the daily weather forecast by the row of floor buttons. Or, as has been the case with some hotels I’ve visited, you could turn the elevator into a kind of tropical rain forest, with photos of exotic birds and insects and foliage and an accompanying sound track with the gentle patter of raindrops and distant thunder to soothe the jangled nerves of your guests. Or, you could feature compelling photos of noteworthy places to see in the city where the hotel is located, to entice the traveler to leave the hotel premises and explore the city they are visiting.
Or, if you’re the proprietors of the hotel in Phoenix where I’m staying for meetings, you could post this big photo of a reclining woman wearing ripped blue jeans kicking up her heels, with a cowboy hat on her airborne foot.
What message are you sending this this image in an otherwise generic hotel elevator? The cowboy hat signals that we’re in the western United States, for sure, in case the guests had forgotten that fact. But what else? That the friendly folks in Phoenix often lie down and balance their hats on their feet, just for kicks? That, in a world where ripped jeans seem to be everywhere, in Phoenix they are really destroyed?
I’m guessing that the choice of the kicky gal’s legs was the product of a careful process that included some other potential choices. Wouldn’t you like to know what some of the other finalists were?
Back in the ’70s, futurist Alvin Toffler coined the phrase “Future Shock” to refer to the mindset of many people in modern societies. According to Toffler, “Future Shock” occurred when constant technological advancements and other changes in the world produced a peculiar psychological state in which individuals were overwhelmed by experiencing too much change in too short a time.
Me, I’ve just encountered “faucet shock.”
That’s the baffled condition you experience when you go into a bathroom in a hotel where you’re attending meetings and the sink complex looks like the controls of a motorcycle, or maybe a video game, with nary a lever or handle or anything labeled with a C or an H in sight. So, what do you do here? Which gleaming device supplies water? Do you grasp the wings sticking out of the central column and twist or turn? Or just wave your hands around underneath the whole complex, hoping that there are photoelectric cells somewhere that will activate the water flow?
If you’re confronted with this bathroom set up, here’s what I learned after some embarrassing “faucet shock” trial and error. First, you stick your hands under the little unit to get a dollop of soap foam, then insert your hands under the central column to activate the water flow — with no option to change the lukewarm temperature of the water, incidentally. Then, after your hands are soaked, you place them under the wing pieces to have a Dyson unit blow-dry your hands.
Or, if you feel silly doing that, as I did, you just grab a few paper towels, briskly dry your hands the old-fashioned way, and back away from the whole enterprise.
Most Americans have been to the Smithsonian Institution museums on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. — whether it was on a family vacation, or on their 8th grade field trip to the nation’s capital, or because they lived or worked in the D.C. area as Kish and I did back in the ’80s. The museums are a great way to spend a Sunday afternoon and are filled with interesting things and insights.
But you can only enjoy them if you are on the National Mall. Until now, that is.
The Smithsonian is releasing 2.8 million images from its collection in all of its museums, libraries, and archives into the public domain. The massive release includes both two-dimensional and three-dimensional high resolution images that have been downloaded onto an open-access online platform, which you can find here. The on-line platform invites the public to “download, share, and reuse millions of the Smithsonian’s images—right now, without asking.” The first download is just the beginning, as the Smithsonian continues an effort to digitize its collection of more than 155 million items and artifacts.
The Smithsonian’s release is part of a growing effort by museums to move their collections into the public domain, where they can be perused and enjoyed by anyone with access to a computer. The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City and more than 200 other museums across the world are part of the effort, although the Smithsonian release is by far the most extensive. The Smithsonian magazine article linked above explains that the materials in the Smithsonian on-line platform are now covered by a Creative Commons Zero license, which frees the items “from all restrictions, copyright or otherwise, enabling anyone with a decent Internet connection to build on them as raw materials—and ultimately participate in their evolution.” And the on-line platform is easy to use, with a simple search function. I like dinosaurs, so I did a search for an allosaurus, and downloaded the image above — which is now in the public domain.
I’m a museum lover, and can happily spend hours browsing through exhibitions, so I hope there is always a place for the quiet, thoughtful, in-person museum experience. But I also am a proponent of putting things into the public domain and increasing access, and applaud the Smithsonian and the other museums participating in the effort for taking a leadership role in making their collections accessible to everyone.
Let’s say we’ve moved some time into the future, when interstellar space travel has become commonplace. You’re on board a Virgin Galactic or SpaceX or Blue Horizons or Heinlein Enterprises flight down to Nimbus, in a solar system in the Orion constellation, when you look down at your destination and . . . it’s a planet that looks like a giant, unblinking eyeball against the dark, star-filled sky.
That would make your cool little space voyage even cooler, wouldn’t it?
Scientists believe that there may be “eyeball planets” out there, just waiting to be visited. They would look like eyeballs because they would be tidally locked with the star they are circling, so one side of the planet always faces the star — just like one side of the Moon always faces the Earth, so that we Earth dwellers never get to see the Dark Side of the Moon. In such circumstances, the “light side” of the planet facing the star and absorbing the brunt of the sun’s radiation, heat, light, and solar wind, is bound to be a lot different than the “dark side” — hotter than the dark side, for sure, and probably different in other ways, too.
Scientists theorize that there could be at least two kinds of eyeball planets out there, and probably more. Hot eyeballs would be planets located close to their sun, where the sun side is totally dry because the heat has caused all of the moisture on that side to evaporate, and the dark side is one enormous ice cap — with a temperate ring caused by melting ice, in perpetual, unchanging twilight, separating the two sides. Icy eyeballs would be farther away from the star, where the dark side would be one huge glacier but the sun side would still have liquid water — perhaps with a few islands and continents thrown in for good measure, just to give the eye an even creepier appearance.
As coronavirus continues to spread, with the total number of reported cases now exceeding 77,000 people worldwide, stock markets plummeting because of the impact of the virus on the global economy, and the World Health Organization saying that the world should be prepared for a pandemic, scientists are trying to figure out exactly how the virus spreads.
According to the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, one of the apparent pathways for the disease is through the fecal matter of infected people. The Chinese CDC “recommends strengthening sanitation and hygiene measures to prevent fecal-oral transmission” in areas where the coronavirus is present, with the hygiene measures to include “drinking boiled water, avoiding eating raw food, implementing separate meal systems, frequent hand-washing, disinfecting toilets, and preventing water and food contamination from patients’ stool.” The concern is that infected persons’ “stool samples may contaminate hands, food, water” and cause infection when the microbes enter the mouth or eyes, or are inhaled.
What does the apparent transmission route through fecal matter tell us about who is at risk in the event of a serious outbreak in the United States — something that hasn’t happened yet? It seems that one logical course should be to target specific populations where sanitation and disposal of human waste aren’t well controlled. If I were a public health official in America, I’d therefore be considering what can be done to anticipate and prevent a nightmare scenario in which coronavirus reaches one of the colossal homeless encampments found in some U.S. cities, like Los Angeles. Public health officials have already identified poor health conditions and contact with fecal matter in “homeless zone” as the source for transmission of diseases like typhus, typhoid fever, and tuberculosis in Los Angeles. What would happen if a rapidly spreading disease like coronavirus were to reach one of the densely populated, squalid encampments?
America hasn’t shown much of an appetite for tackling the issue of homelessness, which has become the unspoken of elephant in the room in many American cities. When it comes to public health and disease prevention, however, we’re all in this together, and potential avenues for rapid disease transmission can’t simply be ignored away.
I’m hoping that the potentially disastrous implications of coronavirus reaching homeless populations will cause local, state, and federal officials to finally work out a solution that helps the homeless find places that are safe, secure, and healthy, with adequate sanitation facilities and running water. If we’re going to get a grip on the spread of coronavirus, or the next disease coming down the pike, it’s time to be proactive and to act to protect the vulnerable and the rest of us as well.
In 79 AD, Mount Vesuvius erupted, burying nearby Pompeii — a thriving Roman village during the height of the Roman Empire — killing the inhabitants, and covering the town in a thick and deep coating of volcanic ash.
Hidden under its ashy cloak, Pompeii lay undisturbed, and forgotten, for hundreds of years. The blanket of ash had the effect of preserving the town as it existed on the date of the eruption. Excavation of the site at Pompeii didn’t begin until the mid-1700s, and continued haphazardly until the mid-1800s, when systemic, organized preservation efforts began and Pompeii became known as a unique opportunity to get a glimpse of what everyday life was like during the heyday of Rome.
Interestingly, Pompeii is still disclosing her secrets. A huge, hundred million dollar preservation, restoration, and excavation project is underway at the site, which is aimed at repairing the parts of Pompeii that were crumbling and making new discoveries. And new discoveries have been made, including uncovering an inscription that helps archaeologists better date the eruption of the volcano, a tavern with a vivid fresco of a bloody but victorious gladiator, and other colorful paintings and decorations. And there are still areas that remain unexplored where the preservationists hope that excavations will yield additional surprises.
We visited Pompeii on our trip to Italy years ago. It was a hot day, we stupidly did not bring bottled water with us for the visit, and the combination of broiling temperatures and the volcanic dust that still is found at the site made that day the thirstiest day I think I’ve ever experienced. Still, it was fascinating to get that peek at life in the distant past. With new discoveries being made, it may be time to make another visit to the town that time forgot.
Creative people who put their creativity out before the public have to deal with one thing that the rest of us don’t: reviews of their work. Whether it’s an artist overhearing comments about their paintings at a gallery, or a novelist, playwright, movie director, or musician reading newspaper reviews of their efforts, creative people have to get used to the idea that some people, at least, won’t like what they are doing. And if the creative people can’t get past that issue, they probably aren’t in the right line of work.
Part of developing an artistic thick skin about bad reviews is realizing that the opinions of a critic are just that — one person’s opinion — and that critics are often just wrong. In fact, sometimes a critic is so wrong about a particular piece of work that their opinions, read years later, seem comically and historically misguided.
I thought about this when I read about the New York Times review of the Beatles’ album Abbey Road, published right after it was released in 1969. To his credit, the reviewer, Nik Cohn, found that the nine-song medley on side two was the most impressive music the Beatles had recorded since Rubber Soul — even though he thought the individual songs within the medley were “nothing special” and, for the most part, “pretty average stuff.” In fact, he thought “some of the lyrics are quite painful,” and “most of the lines here are steals.”
Continuing his critique of the lyrics on side two, Cohn wrote:
“The great drawback is the words. There was a time when the Beatles’s lyrics were one of their greatest attractions. Not any more. On “Abbey Road,” you get only marshmallow. * * * On “Abbey Road” the words are limp-wristed, pompous and fake. Clearly, the Beatles have now heard so many tales of their own genius that they’ve come to believe them, and everything here is swamped in Instant Art. ”
And remember that side two of Abbey Road is the side Cohn sort of liked. The rest of the album, he wrote, was an “unmitigated disaster.” Come Together, he concluded, “is intriguing only as a sign of just how low Lennon can sink these days.” Cohn also got it wrong that John Lennon, and not Paul McCartney, sang Oh! Darling. Cohn thought the two songs by George Harrison — those would be Something and Here Comes the Sun — were “mediocrity incarnate.” Cohn opined that “[t]he badness ranges from mere gentle tedium to cringing embarrassment.”
I doubt that the Beatles, firmly atop the rock god firmament at the time, paid much attention to Nik Cohn’s views, and of course his opinions have been disproved by the test of time. Abbey Road is generally regarded as one of the greatest rock albums of all time, and songs like Something, Here Comes the Sun, and Come Together are viewed as all-time classics beloved by millions for more than 50 years.
I guess I would say that Nik Cohn got it wrong. When creative people are putting themselves out there for critics to chew on, it’s something they should keep in mind.
Lately Kish and I have experienced a weird phenomenon: every time we go out to buy towels, the towels we bring home don’t work very well. In fact, you might say they suck — except that “sucking” suggests a moisture absorbency that these towels totally lack.
Rosie, the waitress from the old Bounty TV commercials, would tell you that the key quality of towels — paper or cloth — is their ability to soak up fluids. That’s why she was always accosting customers, butting into their conversations to yammer on about the “quicker picker-upper,” and sticking Bounty towels into half-filled glasses of water to show how much water the towels could absorb without dissolving into wet paper nubs.
But modern towel manufacturers seem to have forgotten — or perhaps they never learned — this essential lesson about what a towel should be. They make towels that look delightfully warm and fluffy and soft, but that don’t actually soak up water. It’s as if the cloth has a kind of coating on it that prevents it from sucking up fluids. So when you use the fluffy towel after taking a shower, you’re just smearing water around on your arms and legs, and your hair stays wet. The difference between the old towels in our house and the new breed is like night and day — or, most aptly, dry and wet.
It’s absurd. It’s like buying a pillow that is hard and jagged, ordering a drink that is so brackish it doesn’t quench your thirst, or purchasing a vacuum cleaner that doesn’t actually suck up dust and dirt. Modern towel manufacturers consistently produce a product that doesn’t even perform its principal purpose. How in the world did this happen?
No one knows when human speech began, but estimates are that human speech has existed for tens of thousands of years, and perhaps since as long as 150,000 years ago. Writing — a system which allowed humans to store and organize information without the need for human speech — didn’t exist until cunieform was created using clay tablets in what is now Iraq 3,200 years ago, followed quickly, and independently, by the development of writing in China and Mesoamerica.
So, how did our early human ancestors bridge that gap and preserve information for those tens of thousands of years? Obviously, they did so through oral communication and memorization. Through talks around campfires and in hunter-gatherer villages, the early humans learned of the useful plants and herbs in their areas and how they could be used to treat illness or injury, were taught about successful techniques for hunting prey, and undoubtedly spoke of legends and heroes and creation stories. The Iliad and the Odyssey, attributed to the blind poet Homer, were part of the ancient Greek oral tradition and were told for generations before being reduced to writing. The ancient tale of Gilgamesh and countless creation tales also date back to the era before the written word. The evidence is that the oral tradition can be a remarkably durable way of preserving and conveying information.
Scientists believe they may have discovered the oldest existing piece of oral tradition on Earth — one that dates back 37,000 years and countless generations. It is the tale of Budj Bim told by the Gunditjmara people in eastern Australia, one of whom is shown above. Like other Aboriginal peoples in Australia, the Gunditjmara have a rich oral tradition in which all kinds of ecological information is conveyed through tellings and re-tellings. In the story in question, an ancient creator-being is transformed into a volcano called Budj Bim. Scientists have now determined that two volcanoes erupted in the area in which the Gunditjmara lived 37,000 years ago, and suspect that the tale of Budj Bim is actually an account of the explosions. And if their hypothesis is true, the correlation of the legend and the volcanic eruptions would be confirming evidence that humans lived on Australia 37,000 years ago.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful to sit down with a member of the Gunditjmara and hear her tell the tale of Budj Bim, as she heard it from her mother who heard it from her mother, understanding that it was told in the same way, in an unbroken line of generations, going back 37,000 years? It would be almost like sitting around the campfire with our early human ancestors, hearing the tale directly in their voice. I would like to hear that tale.
In 1950s America, people spoke of “keeping up with the Joneses.” The phrase captured the desire of suburbanites to match whatever they noticed their neighbors were doing in the area of home or family improvements. If the Joneses bought a new car or one of those newfangled TV sets, the pressure was on for the Smiths to make the same upgrade.
In hotel management classes these days, you might talk instead about “keeping up with the devices.” It refers to the efforts of hotels to equip guest rooms with all of the plug-ins that a traveler might need to hook up the array of electronic gear they might be lugging along.
This effort by the New York City hotel I stayed in this week is a good example of what hotels have tried to do — and why it seems forever doomed to failure. It offers one measly electrical outlet, but a smorgasbord of other options that seem awfully dated — and hence not usable (by me, at least). It’s got a labeled plug-in for an iPod, for example, the three yellow, red, and white holes that I associate with TVs from the ’90s, an old-fashioned phone jack, and a weird, bulky white plug that looks like it might be needed to power a Russian listening device. And that curious gadget just highlights the additional challenge facing hotels in cities where foreign travelers are commonplace — it’s bad enough to try to keep up with American technology, but it becomes overwhelming if you add in the different kinds of connectivity people from other countries might need for their gizmos.
Of course, most of these options were useless to me; I used only the electrical outlet for my laptop and then had to search for another outlet elsewhere to charge up my iPhone. And that, I suppose, might be a good takeaway for hotels. Give up the self-defeating quest to identify and anticipate what your guest might need so that you look like you’re on the cutting edge of personal technology, I say! It’s never going to really work, and within a nanosecond you’ll just be dating yourself. Since all of devices currently known to man need electricity, do yourself a favor: supply plenty of outlets and leave the other hook-ups to the traveler.
I’m in New York City today for a quick trip, staying just next to Times Square. Last night I went for a walk before dinner and realized, again, what a special experience it is to take a walk in Manhattan in the midst of its extended pedestrian rush hour.
If you’ve only been walking recently on the sleepy streets of a city like Columbus, you’re really not prepared for the Big Apple pedestrian experience. Not only are there fewer people walking around Columbus — by a factor of about 50 or perhaps even 100, I’d estimate — but there aren’t as many sidewalk obstacles, either. No pop-up vendors shilling stocking caps, no dirty water hot dog stands, no mounds of trash bags waiting to be collected, no building scaffolding at some point on every block, no bike messengers zipping in and out. When you go for a walk in Manhattan, in contrast, you’ve got to be aware of all of those things as you navigate the crowded sidewalks. Your mental reflexes had better speed up considerably, or you’re going to find yourself in trouble.
Walking to work in Columbus is a reasonably pleasant experience, where you can put your brain on autopilot and let your mind wander a bit. In New York City, that approach would be fatal. You’ve got to adopt a much more active mindset, with all senses on high alert, as you calculate distances, scan for openings in the ebb and flow of pedestrian traffic, and make sure you don’t tumble into an open cellar door or invade the space of a homeless guy sitting at the foot of a building who wasn’t visible until the last second when the foot traffic parted to pass him.
It’s probably the closest I’ll ever get to experiencing the thought processes of a race car driver. If I speed up, do I have enough space to pass the slow-moving guys in front of me and get back to my side of the sidewalk before the people coming in the other direction start cussing me out for disrupting pedestrian flow? Should I cut around the street side of the scaffolding to avoid the woman with the baby carriage who’s blocking the way, or if I do that will I be able to get safely back onto the sidewalk before the approaching traffic arrives? And when you’re walking in the area around Times Square, there’s the ever-present possibility that the person in front of you will stop in the middle of the sidewalk without warning to take a selfie or a photo of the Allied Chemical Building, so that factor also has to be added to the mental matrix.
Walking in New York during a busy period isn’t for the faint of heart, but it does get your blood pumping. I can’t imagine, however, what it would be like to try jogging in this busy place, where everything comes at you even faster.
In 1957, Patti Rumfola was a student at Hoover High School, in Canton, Ohio. At some point that year, she lost her clutch purse while attending the new school, which was built just the year before. You can imagine her wondering what happened to the purse, but when you’re a freshman life moves on pretty quickly, and it probably wasn’t very long before the purse was forgotten.
It turns out that Patti’s purse somehow fell behind lockers at the school. Last year, a custodian at the school building — which is still in use, but now serves as the North Canton Middle School — was working on the lockers and found the dust-covered purse, which had been lost for 62 years. The custodian and some secretaries at the school took a look inside, found a library card, and tried to track down the former owner of the purse. They learned that Patti graduated from Hoover High in 1960, became a school teacher in Maryland, founded a theater arts guild and young women’s club in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, got married, had five children — but unfortunately died in 2013, at age 71.
The school district located Patti’s kids and delivered the purse to them, and they opened it last fall, to get a peek into the teenage life of their Mom through this inadvertent time capsule from the Eisenhower Administration. Inside they found old-fashioned black and white photos, including snapshots of family, friends, and a dog, membership cards, a football schedule, some religious medallions, a stick of Beech-Nut peppermint gum, make-up, a comb, a compact, some pencils, a pen, and an eraser, and some Lincoln wheat pennies that Patti’s kids kept as keepsakes of their Mom. Kudos to the school district for not throwing away the old purse and diligently working to find Patti and her kids.
Imagine finding a long-lost trove of bits of your life during your teenage years, or opening up your old school locker from your freshman year 50 years later, with its contents undisturbed during the intervening decades. What would you find — and what memories, fun or embarrassing, would the contents suddenly stir?