I finally passed the Platelet Bar

Back in January, I flunked out of platelet donation, when my veins were too skinny for the one-needle machine. I tried again this morning, dropping by the American Red Cross center behind Senora’s. The staff was really nice, and we jumped through all the absurd medical hoops together: “Mister Young, sir, are you male or female?” the phlebotomist asked me during the computerized interview, looking as apologetic as I’ve ever seen a phlebotomist look (not very.) I looked startled, and almost dropped my Georgia O’Keeffe mug, which would have spilled Red Zinger all over my sensible shoes.

Anyhow, with all the questions out of the way, they put me on the two-arm machine, this time, and they gave me the Elite Phlebotomist Team, the ones with their own roll-y carts with their names on them: “Hazel’s cart DO NOT TOUCH!”, one Elite Phlebotomist per arm, and the whole thing went very smoothly this time. It was a lot harder than I remember it being, though — I got pretty cold (though they were really nice with the blankets), and the anticoagulant made my lips tingle a lot (though they fed me Tums), but overall it was just… harder than I remember it being five years ago.

I did it on an empty stomach, though. I think I’ll try ONE more time after some breakfast, and see if that helps. On the plus side, you get bandages on each forearm, which is a societally-approved way to get that hawt, hawt duelling armbands look.

I finally passed the Platelet Bar

My Dad, the UFO Hunter

1976, at an unpublished location in the hills around Austin, Texas:
In the background, my dad and the other members of Project Starlight International are readying the UFO/VECTOR system they created for a night of UFO hunting.
The “UFO/Video Experiment Console for Transitional Overt Response” system assists Project Starlight in detecting, recording, and communicating with extraterrestrial spacecraft. The team members are wearing white jumpsuits — to better protect from flash burns — and green goggles. Besides looking cool, the goggles protect from the laser, which is transmitting information at 300 baud along a joystick-guided path. There’s a magnetometer that can detect the movement of ferrous objects overhead, and a 100-yard circle of computer-controlled spotlights flashing “pi pi pi” into the Texas sky.
The team’s white jumpsuits have “PSI” logos embroidered on them. They look damn sharp. Who says science on the fringe of respectability can’t look good?
Meanwhile, that’s me in the foreground, gathering rocks in my hat. My mom is taking the pictures, and made the smiley-faces on my knees. I think she was taking pictures that would appear in a Texas Monthly article.
You can some more photos of the hunt for alien life. My favorite is when Ray Stanford, the leader of the project, would stand on his platform, making hand gestures into the sky: “we have no weapons”, he would sign to the stars. “Land over there!”


About an hour after posting those pictures to Flickr, I heard from Ray, who clarified some of my anecdotes (see comments on this post) and let me know what he’s up to now.

I’ve also heard from other members of Project Starlight International, who — in addition to sending me pictures of the kit-build stunt aircraft they’re making in their garages, the R&B groups they’re playing with, and their online rabbinical ministries — and that’s all in one email message — who, I say, have linked me to more information about all the Badass Seventies Technology they were using. Pictured at right: the ring of spotlights used to draw attention to the landing site. I think, but I’m not sure, that the white dots are actually paint carefully added by my mom with a retouching brush.

You can also read about the

Communicate with UFOs by transmitting signals along a joystick-guided laser.

Track and record moving ferrous objects (see comments for correction from Ray) magnetic fields overhead. It’s pictured below — check out the tape drive! And the big capacitors!

Other tech articles are on the main PSI tech page here.

Ray Stanford, the head of the project, urges that UFO to stop begging the government to “WAAH give us the truth”, and instead go out there and GATHER it. Using awesome instrumentation, with giant capacitors, naturally. He needs to be given some kind of Doc Emmett Brown award, especially since he’s now a successful dinosaur hunter(!!!)

What’s the term for stylish seventies science?

Steampunk” is the name applied to mustachio-ed, waistcoat-ed gentleman scientists of the Victorian age, who were half science, half showman, and ALL AWESOME. Project Starlight clearly falls into that mold: Kitty Bo (Hello, Kitty Bo!!!) just weighed in in the comments that they used to be called “Ray Stanford and his Lilly White Space Cadets”. What’s the term for seventies steampunk, done in embroidered jumpsuits?

My Dad, the UFO Hunter

Milking lesson at Seven Stars farm!

Last month, I wrote that we were looking for a milking trainer, so that Barb won’t be one of the Comedically Clueless about Cows at the Pennsylvania Farm Show Celebrity Milking Competition coming up this Friday. Barb has a hands-on approach to legislating (when she needed to learn more about the challenges of trash collection in West Chester, she spent two entire shifts working on the trash truck, not just a photo op.) So I figured she’d be game for some lessons. My ulterior motive is that I wanted a Mister Rogers adventure with Kate and Lydia. And we got one!

I made a number of phone calls to find a trainer. We ended up going out to Seven Stars Farm today. Seven Stars makes organic yogurt — up to 200 quarts a day, six days a week — on their organic farm, which they lease from the Kimberton Waldorf school across the road.

Seven Stars’ co-owner and manager Edie Griffiths, who is a pioneering and veteran biodynamic farmer, showed us the ropes. We got to milk a placid older cow named Renaissance, who was low-key and helpful. And then we got to see the milking machines, the calves, and the yogurt-making operation! All in all, it was a TOTAL Mister Rogers visit, and I had an awesome time. You can see the photoset on Flickr here!

Incidentally, Edie and Seven Stars welcome visitors, and Edie said that she’d give more milking lessons if people are interested. If you want to come out and learn how to milk a cow, let me know! You West Chester Dish folks are very much invited.

Anyhow, a million thanks to Edie and all the hard-working folks at Seven Stars for taking time out of their day to show us around. Their work day starts at THREE. THIRTY. IN THE MORNING, washing the cows down and getting ready for a four AM milking.

PS. there were no kittens around for us to squirt the milk directly into the mouths of, but once I saw how Edie milks, I think it’s just as well there aren’t — she could knock a kitten over at twelve feet with the powerful streams she was urging from those teats at lightning speed.

Milking lesson at Seven Stars farm!

Hello, my name is: LEGION

For about the past six months, I’ve been working with an interaction designer named Grace Perez on one of my biggest projects. She’s really quite on the ball — her work is precise, she quickly understands the exception cases that result from a particular design, and she’s able to quickly envision and document page flows that also look beautiful. I’ve really enjoyed working with her — she reminded me a little bit of working with Grace Cham, who’s an interaction designer that used to sit just outside my office when we were all on the fourth floor, before we all shifted floors.

Grace Perez is so good over email, in fact, that I hadn’t even met her in person — we’ve been swapping questions, designs, and technical documentation back and forth over the lifecycle of a pretty sizeable project. In fact, I’m not even sure where she sits.

So today, in the course of clearing up some page flows, I asked Henry Min to show me where Grace sits. He took me to the wrong Grace though. “Oh, sorry!” I said to my old friend and colleague Grace Cham, sitting in her plant-filled cube on the tenth floor. “I asked Henry to take me to Grace Perez. I’ve been working with Grace Perez for about eight months now, she’s really good, and…”

“…why are you looking at me like that?

OH MY GOD EMBARASSMENT. Congratulations on your wedding last year, Grace! Sorry that I’ve been communicating with you over email AS TWO DIFFERENT PEOPLE since December! For what it’s worth, I really like both of your work.

Hello, my name is: LEGION

Bill Irwin on Sesame Street

Thank God for YouTube. Thank GOD for the network effect that turns the entire Internet into one giant distributed network of citizens putting content up. Because at last — AT FREAKING LAST — someone has put up the thing that I’ve been searching for since the day I discovered Netscape Navigator 0.8 in 1994.

This is an incredibly important ingredient of my psyche. If my life ever flashes before my eyes, the walk down the street at the end of it is what’s going to be at the end. I first saw this i-don’t-know-when, but I was too young to know that this was Bill Irwin and that he’s doing a rocket-propelled Charleston. Okay, enough, here’s the damn movie. Ignore the static at the beginning; you just miss the part where he’s taking a boom box out of his briefcase BLAH BLAH BLAH here it is. Kieran, I think you’ll appreciate this insert from Sesame Street:

The other jaw-dropping charleston I found through BoingBoing.
And man, did I spend a lot of time studying this routine while wearing the baggy Marithe Francois Girbaud pants I stole from my dad.

Bill Irwin on Sesame Street

Future shock

I had a moment of pure, Neal Stephenson style future shock last night, and I want to try to tell you about it.

First of all, you probably know that I commute between West Chester, PA and New York City every day, five days a week. I get on a train at 6:11 AM, and I step off the train at 6:18PM. For two and a half hours each way, five hours a day, I sit in an Amtrak seat with my nose buried in a laptop, wrapped in a digital bubble.

My laptop has a Verizon card, so I get reasonably fast internet the whole way. I wear a set of two-ear Bluethooth headphones that talk both to my computer and my phone: I know that the phone is ringing because iTunes mutes itself. The landline phone in my office is forwarded to my SkypeIn number, so if someone calls my extension, a notification pops up on my computer screen (which runs both OS X and Windows XP simultaneously) letting me know about it and asking if I want to take the call. I can take cameraphone pictures, upload them to Flickr, and maybe get picked up by national news media — all without ever having to be in any particular place. I am a Samurai Warrior of Dweeb.

I do not say this to be boastful — first of all, this would be like boasting that you’re REALLY into stamp collecting or salamanders; even though I’m proud of the way I’ve managed to work out my commute, really all I’ve done is assemble tools other people have made into a coherent system. Second, there’s a lot of drawbacks to this lifestyle. For one thing, since Amtrak changed my departing train schedule from 6:30 to 6:11, there’s no time to go to the gym in the morning anymore. Second, while other dads can leave for work twenty minutes late and get to work twenty minutes late, if I leave for work twenty minutes late, I arrive THREE HOURS late, which means I’m not flexible at all. Third, I’m not sure that spending so much time jacked in to my little electronic envelope, on a moving train, completely separated from the, you know, constraints of physical location, is a good thing. Let me tell you about this moment yesterday.

My train runs from Harrisburg, through Lancaster (and Amish country), into Philadelphia, and up to New York. I live about ten miles from where Amish country starts, and there are often Amish commuters on the train, coming in to the markets in Philly. So often I’m sitting across the aisle from an Amish fellow with a Prince Valiant haircut, raucous hat head, and a big white beard. We’re pretty much doing the same thing — traveling a long way to or from work — and so our working lives are really similar in many ways. Plus, you know, we wear the same pants (Amish broadfall pants have a hammer pocket in the thigh that’s perfect for cellphones.)

Last night, there was a big family group, laughing and talking, and one of the regulars comes back holding his four-year old son up by the armpits, and the boy is wearing the conductor’s brimmed hat, and he looks like a miniature Amtrak conductor because of his neat black clothes and hat, and everyone laughs, and one of the women doing needlepoint holds up a little Razr cameraphone to take a picture, and I suddenly realize that it’s not a Razr cameraphone at all but a little plastic mirror so the boy can see himself, and I remember that OF COURSE an Amish family isn’t going to be using a cameraphone, and I realize that even though we’re in the same place, doing the same thing, and we’re all separated from reality in one way (taking the train a long way on a regular basis kind of messes with your concept of distance), but we’re completely different in another way.

The part that made me dizzy was remembering the lines that included us (we’re all road warriors) and the lines that separated us (I use Electronic Everything, they use Electronic Nothing), and realizing that those lines are really hard to see, sometimes. Especially because the Amish don’t hate technology; they just don’t want to be dependent. I wouldn’t be a bit surprised at all to find that this group DID, in fact, have a Razr cameraphone, but were just very intentional in the use of it. The part that shocked me was re-realizing that a group of folks that I had a LOT in common with were actually very VERY different from me, in both small and large ways. Which you might think is silly (they’re all wearing very distinctive clothes, duh!), but when you start commuting so far every day, you get funny ideas about where things are.

For example: earlier yesterday morning, when I got off the train, there was a glass-enclosed panel truck parked outside Penn station, with a ton of sand, palm trees, and three bikini models inside. It was intended to be a thousand cubic feet of Mexico Summertime Beach on the truck, in the middle of a gray rainy day, and it was a nice hack, but it totally set me up for feeling fragmented. “Oh look, a little piece of Mexico, teleported to Penn Station!” was the point of the truck. “Sure, you can commute a hundred miles to work. Look, these models instantaneously commuted TWO THOUSAND MILES to frolic on seventh avenue!” (Yes, I’m perfectly aware that they came from all of three blocks away, and probably had strong Greek accents or whatever.)

To make things even more difficult, I’ve been re-reading The Diamond Age, an a Sony Reader, for heaven’s sake, which means that I’m reading a book-that-is-not-a-book about a book-that-is-not-a-book, and I’m starting to get all crosseyed with the futuristicness of it. Physical space not important! Cultural boundaries disappearing, then suddenly reappearing! I think it’s either time to get a mohawk and spring for the neurosite cybernetic implant, or take a hard look at exactly, and in which ways, I want to make “divorcing myself from the constraints of reality” a big part of my day.

I’m still sticking with the Amish pants, though. Broadfall pants 4 ever!

Future shock


Okay, here’s my weekly weigh-in on my road to the Portland Marathon in October, 2007:

  • Current weight:224 pounds
    (one pound lost, whoop-de-do)
  • Target weight: 185 pounds
  • Workouts last week: four
    (mostly, jogging s-l-o-w-ly)

So I went to the gym at the crack of dawn on Tuesday and Thursday, and I’ve been watching my Weight Watchers points, and usually I get some big numbers because of that, but as it happens I’ve only lost a pound. Oh well, we marathon runners don’t obsess about that sort of thing — we know that muscle weighs more than fat (thanks, commenters!) and that it’s about the fitness, not about the number. (Still and all, one lousy pound? Sheesh! I feel like I endured at least, you know, three or four pounds’ worth of “no, marathon runners don’t eat ice cream.”

But that’s not what I wanted to tell you. I went for a 30-minute run on Saturday — a slow, lumbering 30-minute run at a 14-minute pace. I had meant to go to the Westtown cross-country course, but I decided to go to a closer, local park to save time. I figured I could just run around the soccer fields for a while.

Boy, was I wrong. I discovered a township park of such ornate, funky victorian awesomeness that I want you to click this image right now to see the Flickr photo set! Go! Go now!!!