Who you gonna call? BEN FRANKLIN!

In the late fall of 1777, hundreds of Continental Army soldiers huddled deep in the sepulchral casemates of Fort Mifflin during a brutal five-week siege and naval bombardment, delivered by every ship His Royal Majesty King George could throw at them.

Stymied by Ben Franklin’s clever system of underwater spikes, the ships had no choice but to crack the fort if they were to proceed up the river to Philadelphia. And so they concentrated on capturing it- or smashing it. That’s bad enough, if you’re inside that casemate, with a few blocks of stone and a scant foot of earth between you and King George’s cannon. But it gets worse.

The bombardment, the attacks, even the design of the siege engines used against the Fort — all of these were masterminded by Captain John Montresor, the VERY SAME MAN WHO HAD DESIGNED THE FORT ITSELF, before he quit in disgust when the Continental Congress granted him less than half the funds he needed to do the job right.

Now this man, with all the mighty resources of the Empire behind him, was in charge of cracking the fort so the English navy could sail up the river to Philadelphia and crush the fledgling nation. Can you imagine the terror of knowing that every sledgehammer stroke delivered against the walls was guided by the man who best knew all the Fort’s weaknesses? Can you imagine wondering whether, at any moment, a new flaw will be exploited, a secret sally port revealed?

During that attack, one of every five soldiers holding the fort was killed or wounded. Can you imagine being killed in that assault, and forced to haunt the smoking, underfunded ruin on a Delaware River mudflat for hundreds of years?

Yeah, that would SUCK. And I expect you’d be ready for a good laugh. Which is EXACTLY what I plan on providing to those ragged Revolutionary specters tonight. Want to know more? DM or message @guerilladrivein on Twitter!

Dave Perillo sent me this; I love it!

PS. During the siege and bombardment, 85 of the 405 soldiers garrisoned at the Fort were killed or wounded. But they succeeded in their mission: the fort delayed the British navy long enough for Washington’s Continental Army to escape to Valley Forge and safety. Fort Mifflin is called “the fort that saved America”, and for good reason.

Who you gonna call? BEN FRANKLIN!

The only stupid question is THE ONE YOU JUST ASKED HAW HAW HAW

Today, we had Coworkout at Shofuso, the seventeenth-century Japanese house in Fairmount park

I arrived first, a few minutes before the house is opened to the public. I walked around the fenced garden, watching volunteers dig holes for new azalea bushes. The house looked IMPOSSIBLY, UNBELIEVABLY, INCREDIBLY awesome. This is the photo I took with my iPhone:

Shofuso

Once the gates opened, but before the other folks arrived, I walked all around the house, looking for power outlets. I mean, I know there were not power outlets in seventeeth-century Japan, but this house was designed and built in 1954, and assembled in MoMA’s courtyard in NYC. Even though there are no nails in its construction, I thought there might be utility plugs hidden away somewhere for use by someone.

I did not want to ask if there were outlets, because I was afraid that the answer to "excuse me, is there an outlet around?" would be "HA HA HA, YOU IDIOT! SEVENTEENTH-CENTURY JAPANESE HOUSES DIDN’T HAVE POWER OUTLETS."

“But I thought maybe you wanted to vacuum?” I pictured myself asking, followed by them guffawing in my face: “HO HO HO YOU FOOL! SEVENTEENTH-CENTURY JAPANESE HOUSES HAD NO VACUUM CLEANERS!!!

So I didn’t ask. We sat on the veranda, smelling the sun on the cedar, the sweet-hay smell of the Tatami mats, and enjoying the shade under the deep eaves:

Shofuso veranda

I worked as long as I could on my mostly-charged battery. Finally, when the last ounce of battery juice was gone, we started packing up, and struck up a conversation with Prudence, the friendly executive director of the house. I got comfortable enough to ask:

"Say, there’s no, you know… power jacks or anything hidden around here, are th…"
I was so afraid that I was about to get ridiculed, I trailed off.
"Oh, power outlets? Sure! You were sitting on one!" she said.
"Ha ha ha", I agreed shamefacedly. It was a stupid question, and I felt silly for asking. I’m not surprised she answered sarcastic —
"No, seriously, you were sitting on one!" she said. She cheerfully pointed at a teeny tiny little metal dealie in the floor, which clearly (I thought) was a part of the door hardware:

17th Century Japanese Power Plug

We all stared at it.

Jon Bettscher slowly reached down and twisted the little tiny middle of the dealie — a metal disk the size of a quarter.

Two familiar little slots appeared.

BECAUSE OF MY FEAR OF GETTING LAUGHED AT, I had spent two hours carefully marshalling my laptop battery. Dimming the screen to the point where I could barely read my screen. Composing only short emails, and using only antialiased fonts, to conserve electrons.

ALL WHILE I WAS LITERALLY — literally, as in "my bottom was touching it" — LITERALLY SITTING ON TOP OF THE POWER OUTLET.

I bet there’s a life lesson in here somewhere.

Too bad I’m too afraid of looking like an idiot to ask what it is.

The only stupid question is THE ONE YOU JUST ASKED HAW HAW HAW

Shofuso House in Fairmount Park

I’m going to do some hyperventilating here.

For a while, I’ve known that there’s a Japanese house in Philadelphia’s Fairmount Park called “Shofuso” (literally, “Pine Breeze Villa”), and I knew it was built in a traditional sixteenth-century style, and I wanted to hold a coworkout session there, or maybe show “Ran” for the Guerilla Drive-In, but I had never visited. Lydia and I went there yesterday, and OH MY GOD I’m suffering from Stendahl syndrome trying to process all the amazingness that we found there.

Probably the best way to do this is just to dump all my impressions, plus a late night of Wikipedia-ing and reading the house’s excellent website, in no particular order:

  • The house was designed and built in Japan in 1954 as a goodwill gift to the people of the United States. The house and garden were built for a two-season display in the courtyard of MoMA in NYC.
  • The rocks in the garden come from Japan. Once they were selected, they were WRAPPED IN PAPER to preserve the lichen and moss.
  • The house was re-assembled, and the garden was re-created, in Philadelphia in 1958, on the spot where the Japanese pavilion had been in the Centennial Exhibition of 1876. There had been a temple gate at the spot since then; this corner of Fairmount Park has always been Japanese.
  • You take your shoes off and put them in a rack before entering. The tatami mats smell sweet, like hay in the sunshine. Together with the smell of waxed cedar in the veranda, and the flowers in the garden, it smells WONDERFUL.
Lydia Running Down the Hall
  • The house is surrounded by a wall with a moat. Because this style of Japanese architecture runs seamlessly from indoors to outdoors (there might not even be any external walls during hot months, just room, then veranda, then garden), the wall around the garden kind of is the outside wall of the house.
  • The portion of the veranda outside the kitchen is carved into a non-slip surface, which is just about the best thing ever in the whole entire world
Bridge to the teahouse
  • There’s a small separate structure across a very short bridge.
  • A BRIDGE. OVER A STREAM. IN YOUR HOUSE. EXCEPT THAT IT’S ALSO OUTDOORS. OH, MY GOD.
  • The structure on the left is the teahouse, where tea ceremonies are held. The house is very small, almost hobbit-sized, and clearly not for standing up inside. It has the vibe of a playhouse, but it’s a sophisticated, grown-up playhouse vibe. Lydia was so excited by this little teahouse that she started visibly vibrating.
  • Oh, did I say Lydia? THAT WAS ME.
  • The Japanese started building small standalone teahouses in the Sengoku period, when the entire country was going to hell in a handbasket. Earthquakes, famines, armed uprisings — who would not want to build a small, simple rustic teahouse and sit in it, concentrating deliberately on small actions? Oh, MAN, I totally get this appeal.
  • The Japanese aesthetic of simplicity and appreciating imperfection, wabi-sabi… oh, that’s seductive. In many ways, it’s already very similar to Quakerism, and many have already drawn the line connecting Shaker aesthetics. But I did not know how much emphasis was placed on the natural world, and on embracing rusticity imperfection. I just finished reading “Shoes outside the Door“, about the San Francisco Zen Center’s troubles in the 1980s, and I read about Richard Baker’s expensive antique bowls, but I had imagined translucent eggshell china, not pottery that’s imperfect and asymmetrical and TOTALLY COMPELLING. OH, WOW.
  • I know what Thorstein Veblen would have to say about all this: “You’re looking at an aesthetic of curation built upon free time that in turn depends on economic oppresion!” But Veblen can stick his wet blanket WHERE THE SUN DOES NOT SHINE. Looking at the careful, clever, and irregular repairs made to the edges of the veranda brings to mind the “Repair Manifesto” that modern nerds are promulgating. Beautiful materials, carefully cared for, in a small, lovely environment? It’s totally amazing.
  • The reason it’s totally amazing is due to the dedicated work of a nonprofit group that took over a vandalized, under-maintained structure in the seventies and eighties, and loved it into the jewel that it is now.
Shofuso from across the pond

You can see a few more pictures that I took on Flickr, and you can read a lot more about the house on its website at shofuso.com. I’ve reached out to them about visiting for Coworkout, and I really really hope that we can spend a day pretending that it’s actually where we work.

I’m not quite sure how you manage yourself and your laptop when you can’t lean up against the wall, but I look forward to figuring it out!

Shofuso House in Fairmount Park

Kitty Bo’s Rodeo Pictures

Until I was six, my family lived in Austin, TX, because my parents were Official Scientific UFO Hunters. The folks at Project Starlight were really cool; I have shadowy four-year-old’s memories of a group of tall, capable Texans in denim clothes pouring concrete, welding rebar, lighting campfires to heat up coffee, and moving heavy UFO-detection equipment around.

Kitty Bo was one of the Big Shadowy Grown-Ups that I remember especially fondly. Her blog is in my RSS feed. I love glimpsing the slices of Texas that come through when she visits the rodeo with her Chihuahua Tink, and posts pictures.

As the father of a five-year-old girl, I especially like the images of Texas girlhood she catches:

You can see a whole bunch of photos that she just uploaded here on her blog, each photo with interesting comments. Go check them out!

This is one of the things that I think is most wonderful about blogging. You get to see a different slice of the world through someone else’s eyes. But the glimpse you’re given is not delivered in a carefully curated way. When you’re reading a book, you know that the author has thought very carefully about the impression they’re going to give and you keep a weather eye out for the author’s intention. The informality and shorter timeframe of blogging — well, it’s more like you’re looking through a window with that person, than that you’re being told a story by that person. You get to enjoy the view and the company, without there being the formal contract of a narrative. Or something. Anyhow, I love Kitty Bo’s pictures and her comments.

Kitty Bo’s Rodeo Pictures

Meatcards on “Attack of the Show”

Meatcards appeared on G4TV’s “Attack of the Show” yesterday. Their verdict? “Tastier than most business cards!”

Chris had made a prototype just for them, before leaving for Florida to watch the shuttle launch. Will is waiting to hear back from the USDA to see if we have to comply with the Full Weight of Government Regulation regarding meat manufacture (a USDA inspector on-site every day we make cards!), or whether this is a “not picked up on radar” kind of a thing, since all we’re doing is marking and repackaging already-manufactured jerky. We’ll see!

Meatcards on “Attack of the Show”