Monthly Archives: November 2008

Interview with the Segway Guy

He’s apparently gotten a bit weirder since the last interview/visit to his lair that I read. But it’s fun and funny weird. Anyway, he not only has a super-spectacular water filter now, but also a few things to say.

That business started six weeks ago, when the Coast Guard cut the cable to North Dumpling. They only maintained the cable to run the lighthouse and now they’re running it on photovoltaics, so Kamen had the option of crying in his beer or making lemons into lemonade, which is when he decided to deploy the Slingshot.

The “sling” is Lord Dumpling’s revolutionary new version of the Stirling engine, a no-emission power source that engineers have been trying to perfect for almost two hundred years. Instead of the tiny explosions that drive the pistons of a standard internal-combustion engine, the Stirling drives its piston by forcing gas from one chamber to another in a perfectly closed system. He’s pretty much got it nailed, aside from a few tweaks and a few niggling questions about who will pay for it.

The “shot” is his equally revolutionary vapor-compression water distiller, which can make pure medicinal-grade water out of anything that’s wet, even urine or toxic waste — water so clean you could inject it into your arm. Together, the sling and the shot could save millions of lives. That’s why he spent $50 million of his own money developing the prototypes and testing them in Third World villages, and they work, and we have to get the word out because 50 percent of all human illness is caused by waterborne pathogens.

… Here’s the vapor-compression distiller. The vapor goes through this hose and comes into the turbine heat exchangers here and there’s no noise and no consumables and no activated charcoal and no chemicals and no filter and no membranes. It makes a million liters of water in a thousand days with no human intervention. The goal is to get volume up and cost down. Maybe Wal-Mart can help? Coca-Cola?

And here’s the Stirling, handcrafted by some of the most brilliant engineers in the world. It’s running on propane now but a piece of burning cow dung will generate enough power to run a small refrigerator and charge a cell phone and run all the house lights — and remember, more than 20 percent of the people alive today have never used electricity. They need the tools. So who’s going to step up? Who will spend the millions and millions it will take to put this baby into production?

Also, this truism:

if some foreign power came into this country to pervert our kids from doing the things that sustain our quality of life the way sports does, we would find them and prove that they were treasonously undermining our way of life and kill them.

(Naturally, he’s talking about the crazy year-round, seven-day-a-week sports worship by today’s parents and kids, not ‘a sound mind in a sound body’.)

The amusing thing about his private island is that, as I read, I kept being reminded of the folks over at and their elaborate fanfic universe. The ‘okay, let’s build a solution, and let’s do it tonight’ spirit. The acronyms. The emphasis on sharing and education.

Come to find out, he went to the same school in Worcester, Massachusetts as the people did, and apparently managed even more to bend it to his will. Obviously, there’s something in the water in that town.

I’m also strongly reminded of Buckaroo Banzai. 🙂

He designed the house, too, shaping it around a three-story steamboat engine once owned by Henry Ford. He spent fifteen years rebuilding the engine himself, cutting every nut and bolt in the vast machine shop just below his living room. “Eighty-seven thousand pounds of love,” he calls it. Because there’s nothing so soothing as cutting a piece of steel when it’s late and you can’t sleep because you’re trying to work out some problem in your head. Because machines are more than machines, they’re a road map to the people who built them. They tell you what kind of problems they had and what they wanted. Just as Kamen’s inventions are his own autobiography in steel — every one designed to cheat gravity, to declare independence, to make every man the king of his own empire.

…This is why he never got married or had children. He loves being away from everywhere, completely alone. He can watch planes land at the airport. He can watch the weather change. And it doesn’t bother him that he usually comes home at nine or ten and drops into bed exhausted. It’s like the private island he rarely visits, the girlfriend he rarely sees, the vacations he never takes. It’s the idea that counts. Just knowing he has it is enough. Anyway, what should he stop doing? FIRST? Water? Power? Medical equipment? “I can’t stop,” he says. “As a practical matter, I can’t put the world on hold.”

He really can’t. There’s just too much he wants to do.

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Unknown Pilgrim Fact

Everybody remembers that the Pilgrims nearly starved the first winter. And honestly, it was no more than they deserved. They left later in the season than was sane, they got there too late to plant, and they were mostly town people with urban trades. They had no clue how to gather or hunt, and the harshness of the climate didn’t help. We also learn that the best way to fertilize fields in that area was to bury fish in the ground where you’re planting. Like codfish, for instance.

But as the book Cod points out, the Pilgrims moved to Cape Cod because it was known to have cod there, and they were hoping to get into that industry. But they didn’t start right away, for some reason, and that was their big mistake. And not for fertilizer, either.

See, right offshore of Plymouth and along the coastline, there’s one of the few places in the world where you can catch large quantities of cod just by rowing offshore in a rowboat and sticking in a line. It’s also possible to catch cod until fairly late in the winter, and cod of course dries and keeps well. (That was how Europe had a cod industry, when the cod were out by Newfoundland and New England.)


The moral of the story is that perseverance and patient endurance are good, yes. But the other moral is that if you’re prepared and look around, maybe you’ll find something to eat before you start to starve.

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Italian Thanksgiving

The Anchoress fills us in about Italian Thanksgiving (in her combox):

[Yankee Thanksgiving is not much different from yours, but ITALIAN Yankee Thanksgiving goes like this: antipasto including cheeses, dried sausages, vegetables, olives, fennel. A nice plate of stuffed mushrooms as an appetizer. Maybe some stuffed clams. Shrimp cocktail. Salad. A pasta dish (usually lasagna, or manicotti or – if they’re keeping it “light” a little pasta primavera, which is penne pasta with veggies). After pasta, the turkey. And a ham or a roast beef, “because sometimes not everyone likes turkey,” or maybe a little bracciola. Sweet potatoes…not usually in a pie, but I’ve gotten them used to the pie, by now…5-6 vegetables, “because maybe someone doesn’t like a few, and you should eat at least four.” Eggplant Parmesan. (I’m making the eggplant tomorrow) Mashed potatoes “because maybe someone doesn’t like sweet potatoes in that pie thing.” Stuffing. Gravy. Cranberries. Italian bread with lots of butter. There might also be some meatballs being passed around. You have to try everything, or someone is offended. Also, drink the wine, the wine is good for you. After the dishes, comes the fruit and nuts. After the fruit and nuts comes the rice pudding, the cookies, the cakes and pastries, and a few pies, but not pumpkin, because only Elizabeth likes pumpkin. With the dessert there is coffee, or espresso, and maybe a little cordial, “oh, watsamatter, have a little drink! You want sandwiches? Anyone hungry? I can bring it all out again for sandwiches!”

I’m not kidding. That’s Italian Thanksgiving. At Christmas it’s pretty much the same, but with more fish. – admin]

I think I’d have to bring along all of Rich’s kids to eat my plate. We used to have some pretty food-filled Thanksgivings when more family members lived closer. But man, I’d never eat manage a bite of all this.

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Computer Game Thoughts.

The trouble with puzzle adventure games is that all the puzzles are stuck at the difficulty level first invented by the game designers. So if you blow through the first riddle or matching game but Cousin Bob finds it really hard, they don’t make the next riddle harder for you but easier for Cousin Bob.

And I still say that multiplayer online roleplaying games ought to come with some automatic relationships between characters (subject to severing if your brand new Cousin Ifthalion turns out to be annoying or a stalker). Folks can’t all be orphans who are the sole survivor of their villages.

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Piper Saint?

As I predicted, my Porta Ceili picture idea has found favor in the eyes of The Inn at the End of the World. Yes, there’s a real lack of pictures of angels merrily making music to the Lord, and particularly with folk instruments.

As for musician saints, I would add the missionary, composer, and violin/fiddle player St. Francisco Solano, who was Ven. Solanus Casey’s namesake. He was also a polyglot and a prophet, in his copious spare time. 🙂

There are a good number of known saints from Irish poet families, partly because there was a graceful overlap between the poet’s religious and secular functions and the work and education expected of an Irish monk. I’m not really too knowledgeable on saintly bards, harpers, or other professional musicians. However, the vast majority of Irish monks apparently knew and played tiny portable harps, because it was a good way to pass time when walking or singing psalms.

Bagpipes go across a lot of cultures, so logically there’d be some piper saints! I wonder who the McCrimmons had as a patron saint….

However, Sabine Baring-Gould’s Lives of the Saints (the volume on March) notes the story of St. Philemon and St. Apollonius, set in the city of Antinoe in Egypt, during Diocletian’s persecution. (Yes, Egyptians play bagpipes!) It seems that Deacon Apollonius was deathly afraid of torture. So during the persecutions, he went to a local piper, actor, and dancer named Philemon — a guy from the governor’s household — and hired this pagan guy to go sacrifice to the Emperor and claim to be named Apollonius. That way, Apollonius could have his papers saying he’d done his imperial duty, but wouldn’t actually have to lie or apostasize himself. (St. Cyprian wasn’t too hep on this tactic, of course!)

So Philemon said, “Okay,” and went to see the local magistrate, all muffled up in a cloak. And, claiming to be Apollonius the deacon, he refused to sacrifice.

Just then, Philemon’s brother Theonas showed up and recognized him. He told the judge that it was just his brother, playing a joke, and Philemon was decloaked to much laughter. But Philemon insisted that he was serious about not sacrificing, and that he was Christian even though he hadn’t been baptized. He prayed that Christ would baptize him, and a miraculous cloud appeared and sprinkled him.

Unsatisfactorily for pipers, the story then relates that he proved his conversion by breaking his pipes and throwing them away.

(Did I mention that bagpipes and flutes were associated with lasciviousness in the classical world? I get that impression, anyway, from all those flute girls and satyrs….)

At this point, Deacon Apollonius was hauled in, and directly challenged by the magistrate. The deacon, impressed by the Christian bravery of Philemon, said that he now knew better and would die before sacrificing. So the deacon and the retired piper were martyred together, and eventually the evil judge was converted by a miraculous healing and martyred, too. Feast day in the West: March 8.

St. Philemon the Piper on a Greek Orthodox bishopric’s page which describes him as a flute-player. Feast day in the East: Dec. 14.

However, bagpipes did get a better reputation in Christendom. Apparently, bagpipes (and shawms) were regarded as very merry instruments, and thus particularly suitable for keeping up people’s spirits on long pilgrim journeys. Bagpipes were good instruments for weddings. (Still are.) They were an instrument of war also, like trumpets and drums. Also, their reputation was enhanced by an epistle by a Pseudo-Jerome, which claimed that the “chorus” (bagpipe) was used as a liturgical instrument by the Jews in the Temple.
So logically, angelic and human angels were depicted often in and on churches, particularly on pilgrimage churches like Compostela’s.

Now, of course there are tons of named angel lists and named angel choir lists, so I’m sure your medieval scholar could easily deduce the choir to which angelic bagpipers belong. And there you’ll find a very satisfyingly large group of patron saints for pipers. 🙂

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St. Therese Out in Space!

Via Curt Jester, we now know that Colonel Ron Garan, mission specialist on STS-124 in May/June 2008, brought along a relic of St. Therese in his personal allowance, as a favor to and from some Texan Carmelite nuns. This has certain implications.


10. As was pointed out, St. Therese’s relics have now traveled around the world just as her message of God’s love has. Seeing as she had wished during her life to be able to travel to her sisters in Hanoi and other far places, but was unable to do so because of health and God’s rigorous training program for her, this is pretty fun!

“The sisters reported that the words of St. Thérèse came to mind: ‘I have the vocation of an apostle. I would like to travel over the whole earth to preach your name and to plant your glorious cross on infidel soil. But oh, my beloved, one mission would not be enough for me, I would want to preach the Gospel on all five continents simultaneously and even to the most remote isles. I would be a missionary, not for a few years but from the beginning of creation until the consummation of the ages.’

Likewise, “their sound hath gone forth into all the earth: and their words unto the ends of the world” (Ps. 18:5), as Dr. Thursday pointed out.

9. Simultaneously, she’s a Teacher in Space and a Doctor (of the Church) in Space!

8. Also from St. Therese’s autobiography: “O my only Friend, why dost Thou not reserve these infinite longings to lofty souls, to the eagles that soar in the heights? Alas! I am but a poor little unfledged bird. I am not an eagle, I have but the eagle’s eyes and heart! Yet, notwithstanding my exceeding littleless, I dare to gaze upon the Divine Sun of Love, and I burn to dart upwards unto Him! I would fly, I would imitate the eagles; but all that I can do is to lift up my little wings–it is beyond my feeble power to soar.”

7. Colonel Garan’s wife is named Carmel. I see a pattern here….

6. Traditionally, the spiritual life is compared to a ladder or stairway. St. Therese compared her “Little Way” to an elevator, because God was doing all the heavy lifting. So a rocketship is even more so!

5. Garan did a ton of spacewalk hours on this mission. If I were going to have to putter around doing work while floating in the depths of space, with very little between me and floating away forever, I think I’d want a relic along for company!

(Even if I were helping to deliver Kibo, a lab whose name means “hope” or “a good sign”.)

(Nothing at all to do with Leader Kibo. They swear.)

4. “When we were on the way home, I would gaze upon the stars which were twinkling ever so peacefully in the skies and the sight carried me away. There was especially one cluster of golden pearls which attracted my attention and gave me great joy because they were in the form of a -T-. I pointed them out to Papa and told him my name was written in heaven. Then desiring to look no longer at this dull earth, I asked him to guide my steps; and not looking where I placed my feet I threw back my head, giving myself over completely to the contemplation of the star-studded firmament!”

3. “God rejoices more in what He can do in a soul humbly resigned to its poverty, than in the creation of millions of suns and the vast stretch of the heavens.”

2. “With enraptured gaze, we beheld the white moon rising quietly behind the tall trees, the silvery rays it was casting upon sleeping nature, the bright stars twinkling in the deep skies… all this raised our souls to heaven.”

1. If the relic the Carmelites gave him was a first class relic, and if our astronaut friend should have happened to touch it to the space shuttle wall, would that mean that the whole space shuttle Discovery would then become a third class relic?

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The Eternal Sunshine of the Lime Green Font

Gmail now is available with themes, and most of them are the usual pretty-pretty pictures, blah-blah bland color bars, and chibi-chibi gratuitous ninjas.

But one of them — yes, one — has a black background, bright green font, and the Gmail logo done in ASCII art.

It’s not perfectly like the old days on the BBS or the Internet before the Endless September, but, oh, how calming! How freeing! How easy it is to delete whole pages worth of email, with those friendly, easy-to-read lime green letters motivating you to save space and bandwidth!

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