From the archives…

Hay-on-Wye

The Town of Books

Guest Article by Morgen Jahnke

As anyone who knows me can attest, I am a sucker for books. I’ve had my nose perpetually stuck in a book for as long as I can remember, and I can go absolutely stir crazy if I have to endure a two-hour flight (or ten-minute bus ride) without sufficient reading material.

Although I don’t own a car, and my wardrobe may be threadbare in places, buying books (used or new) is, along with travel, one of the luxuries I will not willingly forgo. Thus it was with great joy that I discovered a place where my bibliomania would not seem out of place: the Welsh town of Hay-on-Wye, home to 1500 inhabitants and four million books. [Article Continues…]

•••••

From the archives…

Vulcan, Alberta

The town that’s out of this world

Guest Article by Morgen Jahnke

More than many other pop culture phenomena, Star Trek seems to inspire the most extreme displays of fan commitment. From Star Trek conventions, to the perennial popularity of Trek movies and TV series, on through the huge success of Star Trek: The Experience in Las Vegas (a town with no shortage of other entertainment options), Trek fans have an intense interest in replicating (so to speak) the world of Captain Kirk, Mr. Spock, and all the other distinguished members of Starfleet.

A sociologist might find it interesting to study this devotion; what is it about the Star Trek universe that compels ordinary people to live large parts of their non-virtual lives in its sway? Paradoxically more adult and yet less dangerous than the Star Wars universe, one answer may be that Star Trek predicts a future that seems to make sense, with science and reason in ascendancy. [Article Continues…]

•••••

From the archives…

National Novel Writing Month

Becoming a novelist in 30 days

Like many authors, I have a “vanity shelf” in my home, with copies of all the books I’ve written (or contributed to). Well, at least it contains copies of all the printed books I’ve written—a lot of what I’ve done in recent years has been in the form of ebooks and magazine articles. Among the 11 titles currently on that shelf are several recent books about Mac software, a bound copy of my Master’s thesis, and even—no kidding—a copy of Arnold and Sam, the Two Dragons, which I wrote in October 1974 at age 7. This 12-page book was my first work of fiction, and it was as bad as you might imagine, but I was understandably proud of it at the time. My mother typed it up, my dad photocopied it, and my elementary school library even kept a copy on its shelves, with cover art hand-drawn by the author. By the time I left that school a few years later, it had been checked out nine times, only a few of which were by me.

In November 2005, I made my second attempt at writing fiction. I participated in National Novel Writing Month, which has been held annually since 1999. Along with more than 59,000 other aspiring novelists, I attempted to write 50,000 words of fiction between November 1 and November 30. I was one of almost 10,000 participants who reached that goal. However, what I wrote during that month is not sitting on my vanity shelf. I’ve declined requests to read it even by close friends and family members, who will love me regardless of how bad my writing is. In fact, I haven’t even looked at it myself since then. It’s so bad that it makes Arnold and Sam look like literary genius. And I don’t merely mean that it needs a few rewrites and a thorough going-over by a good editor. It is profoundly, utterly, and irredeemably awful. Humanity will be better off if no one ever sets eyes on that manuscript again. [Article Continues…]

•••••

From the archives…

Fernet-Branca

Italy’s mystery liqueur

Guest Article by Morgen Jahnke

While some companies are moving toward greater transparency regarding the ingredients of their products (to allay fears about trans fats, for instance), in some cases the secret of a product’s makeup is not only closely guarded, but promoted as a key part of its allure. Mysteries can be a great advertising gimmick.

The proprietors of Antoine’s restaurant in New Orleans were clearly operating from this idea when they created their famous recipe for Oysters Rockefeller; although it has been widely speculated upon, this recipe has remained a secret since it was first developed in 1899. Having sampled Oysters Rockefeller at Antoine’s, I would say that I greatly enjoyed their taste, but I got more enjoyment out of trying to guess the elements of the recipe. [Article Continues…]

•••••

From the archives…

Kite Sails

A second wind for large ships

We’re well into the 21st century, and one of the big things on the minds of the world’s technologists is improving propulsion. Cars, trucks, and buses are moving from conventional gasoline-powered internal combustion engines to hybrid engines, diesel engines running on vegetable oil, and fuel cells. Airplane manufacturers are designing better and more powerful jet engines. Submarines are being built with engines that require no moving parts. And rocket scientists are trying to figure out the best means of propulsion to use for sending spacecraft to Mars and beyond. High-tech solutions to get from point A to point B with greater efficiency and lower cost are appearing constantly.

And yet, sometimes the best way forward is to go back. Steam power for cars is making a comeback, for example. What was thought to be a dead-end approach a century ago has turned out to have some redeeming qualities after all, now that technology, materials, and engineering methods have caught up with it. The latest blast from the past, though, really blows my mind. The brightest and best in the field of marine propulsion have come to the startling conclusion that if you want a reliable, inexpensive, and efficient way to move ships across the ocean, you might try…the wind. [Article Continues…]

•••••

From the archives…

Rarely Blooming Plants

The Titan Arum lily, the Kurinji plant, and the Talipot palm

Guest Article by Morgen Jahnke

Although many years have passed since then, there are certain things I can remember clearly about the year 1986. That was the year of the World’s Fair, Expo ‘86, in Vancouver, British Columbia, the year of the space shuttle Challenger disaster, and the year that Halley’s Comet (or Comet Halley) made its closest approach to the sun since 1910.

I remember being impressed at the time that I was going to witness an event that had last occurred so long in the past, before my grandparents were born, before the large-scale wars of the 20th century had taken place. In relation to the human lifespan, 76 years is a long time. When the comet finally did appear, it was not as spectacular as I’d hoped, but I didn’t want to miss it, knowing that it would not appear again until 2061, when I would most likely not be around to see it. [Article Continues…]

•••••

From the archives…

Teatro La Fenice

The phoenix of Venice

Guest Article by Morgen Jahnke

Throughout the night of January 29, 1996, a fire raged in the center of Venice, Italy, and by morning it had consumed its victim: the Teatro La Fenice, often called simply La Fenice. Luckily, the fire did not travel beyond the walls of La Fenice, but the destruction was profound. One of the great opera houses of Europe was gutted, and the city of Venice lost a treasured civic landmark.

Arriving by chance in Venice just days after the fire, celebrated author John Berendt set out to document the aftermath of the Fenice fire, interviewing local residents and city officials to find out what led up to the fire, and what long-term effect it might have on the city. As with his previous bestseller, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, which centered around a lurid murder in Savannah, Georgia, Berendt found many colorful characters and community intrigues in Venice to write about in addition to his main story. The result of Berendt’s research is the 2005 book The City of Falling Angels. [Article Continues…]

•••••

From the archives…

Anopsology

The raw facts about the raw-food movement

I’ve always liked the expression “all things in moderation.” I’m not sure it represents some sort of universal law, but it seems to be a reasonable attitude with which to approach most situations in life. It suits my personality, too, because I like novelty and variety while I resist both excesses and prohibitions. When it comes to food, this sort of mindset means I wouldn’t categorically say no to any class of food—vegetables, meat, dairy, alcohol, junk food, and genetically modified organisms are all valid options. However, I try to be aware of the nutritional properties and likely health implications of what I eat, and to make food choices deliberately. So I’ll eat that occasional crème brûlée without guilt, but I’ll probably also back off on sugars and carbs the next day.

The problem is, I can’t always figure out whose opinions about nutrition and health I should believe. Among the many paths to optimal health I’ve heard are these: avoid all carbohydrates and eat mostly protein; eat only plant products; eat only fruits; eat just one particular fruit; take vitamins; stay away from vitamins. I’ve heard that eggs are bad for your health; I’ve heard that they’re great for your health. Ditto for coffee and wine. I’ve heard that foods like honey and tea will help you live to be 100 and that they’ll lead to an early grave. Many of these contradictory claims were made by trained health professionals with years of experience, and have a stack of studies and anecdotal reports supporting them. For this reason, I take any proclamation about a particular diet’s virtues with a large pinch of kosher salt. [Article Continues…]

•••••

From the archives…

Skara Brae

House of sand and rock

Guest Article by Morgen Jahnke

The 2001 documentary Rivers and Tides showcases artist Andy Goldsworthy, who creates ephemeral works of art out of the natural materials around him. Whether it’s leaves, twigs, or icicles, Goldsworthy crafts them into breathtaking constructions that add to the beauty of the landscape while still remaining part of it. Although Goldsworthy invests significant effort in each work, after its completion he leaves it at the mercy of the natural processes of wind, rain, sun, and water, only taking a photo to document its momentary perfection.

Some of Goldsworthy’s most arresting works are the ones he creates out of stone. The film follows the progress of a few such projects, including one in which he creates an egg-shaped structure out of split pieces of stone, and another where he works with stonemasons to create a long serpentine wall in a park in New York state. While the wall is meant to be a permanent installment, the egg-shaped structure Goldsworthy creates in the film is destined to be carried away by the rising tide, showing the vulnerability of a material that most people would take to be among the most solid. [Article Continues…]

•••••

From the archives…

The Dalahäst

Symbol of Sweden

Guest Article by Morgen Jahnke

I confess that I am something of a fan of the Swedish home furnishings store IKEA, having spent countless hours wandering its shiny showrooms in three different countries (Canada, the U.S., and France). As evidence of this, you need only stand in the middle of my apartment and look around; you can’t help but see an IKEA product anywhere you look.

Although some may decry its mass marketing approach, I like that there is a consistency to the IKEA shopping experience. Whether I visit a store in central France or the suburbs of Vancouver, I know that I will see the same kinds of products, laid out in the same way, according to the same floor plan. This sameness might bother me in other settings, but there is a quirky charm to the world of IKEA that counterbalances the monotony. From its amusing product names to the ubiquity of kitschy Swedish foodstuffs, I always feel like I’ve found a tiny corner of Sweden wherever I happen to be in the world. [Article Continues…]

•••••

From the archives…

Micronations

Starting your own country

I know plenty of people who generally approve of the current U.S. government and plenty who don’t. But I’ve never met anyone who agrees with and supports every single government policy and regulation—in this country or any other. The very nature of democratic government makes this virtually impossible, and I think it’s fair to say that every legislator could produce a long list of things he or she might wish to be different. We all accept certain laws and taxes in exchange for the considerable benefits government provides in the way of economic structures, a justice system, education, public works, national security, and so on. For most of us, that’s a reasonable trade.

But what if you could tailor a government to your exact specifications? Exercise strict control over the currency, imports and exports, immigration policies, defense programs, foreign relations, and everything else? What if you could tailor laws to support those things you care about most and disallow the things you’re against? What if, in fact, you had your very own country, in which you—along with, perhaps, your family, friends, or business associates—ran the whole place from top to bottom? [Article Continues…]

•••••

From the archives…

Churchill, Manitoba

Polar bear capital of the world

Guest Article by Morgen Jahnke

When I was in college, I went hiking with a group of friends in Riding Mountain National Park, located in southwestern Manitoba. We decided to hike quite a distance into the park before making camp for the night. Having had some camping experience, I looked forward to the adventure, but for one fact: the certain presence of black bears.

Compared to grizzly bears, black bears can be relatively harmless, and I had seen them from a distance many times, most often scouring the garbage dump near our family cabin in northern Saskatchewan. But I had never gone this far from civilization, into the bears’ territory, surrounded by the wilderness. [Article Continues…]

•••••

From the archives…

The Swedish Ship Götheborg

Rebuilding history

Guest Article by Morgen Jahnke

Not long ago I had the chance to view an exhibit of artifacts raised from the wreck of the Titanic. These artifacts included personal possessions of the passengers, such as glasses, hats and jewelry, as well as glassware and plates from the ship’s stores. To give context to these items, the exhibit’s creators had reproduced different parts of the ship, including the Dining Room and the Grand Staircase.

The centerpiece of the exhibit was a colossal piece of the ship’s hull, weighing 30,000 pounds, and taking up the majority of the large room that housed it. Although it seemed enormous, diagrams indicating its position on the intact ship showed the piece to be just one tiny part of the whole. [Article Continues…]

•••••

From the archives…

The Golden Spruce

Tragic fall of a legendary tree

During the three years I was living in British Columbia, Canada, I worked in an office overlooking the Fraser River. Just a few doors down from our building was a Weyerhaeuser lumber mill, and I regularly saw logs being towed down the river and floating in a holding area just off the river bank. I was vaguely aware of various political issues involving the wood, such as the ongoing conflicts between loggers and environmentalists and the tariffs imposed by the United States on imported soft wood lumber. But as I was a temporary resident, these problems held little interest for me, and I never formed much of an opinion one way or the other. The only thing that truly puzzled me was the fact that the logs sometimes went in the direction of the mill and sometimes in the opposite direction. I never did figure that one out.

What I did not know at the time was that in 1997, less than two years before I’d arrived, one particular tree in a distant corner of the province had been at the center of a huge news story. One way of framing the story was that an important cultural icon had been destroyed by an ecoterrorist, who may still be at large today. Whether or not that’s an appropriate spin on the tale is open to debate, but it’s certainly true that an old tree known as the Golden Spruce met an untimely end for reasons that are dubious at best, sending an entire community into an uproar. [Article Continues…]

•••••

From the archives…

Doble Steam Cars

The steam engine’s last stand

Back in the mid-1980s when I was in college, I had a car whose gas mileage routinely reached 40 miles per gallon. At that time, most people assumed that as technology advanced, cars’ average mileage would steadily improve. But of course, that didn’t happen, and today, except for hybrids and a few other small cars, the sort of fuel efficiency I got 20 years ago is the exception rather than the rule. I’m well aware of all the technological, political, and financial issues that have combined to create this reality, but every time I think about it I just shake my head. History could have unfolded differently, and high-mileage, low-emissions vehicles might have been the norm today.

More than 80 years ago, you could buy a car that was highly fuel-efficient (even by today’s standards), produced almost no pollution (again, even by modern standards), required very little maintenance, and was virtually silent. It used kerosene as fuel to power a steam engine, and even though the car weighed more than today’s average SUV, it accelerated rapidly and handled smoothly. The car would have been one of several Doble steam car models designed and manufactured by Abner Doble and his three brothers. [Article Continues…]

•••••

From the archives…

Hay-on-Wye

The Town of Books

Guest Article by Morgen Jahnke

As anyone who knows me can attest, I am a sucker for books. I’ve had my nose perpetually stuck in a book for as long as I can remember, and I can go absolutely stir crazy if I have to endure a two-hour flight (or ten-minute bus ride) without sufficient reading material.

Although I don’t own a car, and my wardrobe may be threadbare in places, buying books (used or new) is, along with travel, one of the luxuries I will not willingly forgo. Thus it was with great joy that I discovered a place where my bibliomania would not seem out of place: the Welsh town of Hay-on-Wye, home to 1500 inhabitants and four million books. [Article Continues…]

•••••

From the archives…

Vulcan, Alberta

The town that’s out of this world

Guest Article by Morgen Jahnke

More than many other pop culture phenomena, Star Trek seems to inspire the most extreme displays of fan commitment. From Star Trek conventions, to the perennial popularity of Trek movies and TV series, on through the huge success of Star Trek: The Experience in Las Vegas (a town with no shortage of other entertainment options), Trek fans have an intense interest in replicating (so to speak) the world of Captain Kirk, Mr. Spock, and all the other distinguished members of Starfleet.

A sociologist might find it interesting to study this devotion; what is it about the Star Trek universe that compels ordinary people to live large parts of their non-virtual lives in its sway? Paradoxically more adult and yet less dangerous than the Star Wars universe, one answer may be that Star Trek predicts a future that seems to make sense, with science and reason in ascendancy. [Article Continues…]

•••••

From the archives…

National Novel Writing Month

Becoming a novelist in 30 days

Like many authors, I have a “vanity shelf” in my home, with copies of all the books I’ve written (or contributed to). Well, at least it contains copies of all the printed books I’ve written—a lot of what I’ve done in recent years has been in the form of ebooks and magazine articles. Among the 11 titles currently on that shelf are several recent books about Mac software, a bound copy of my Master’s thesis, and even—no kidding—a copy of Arnold and Sam, the Two Dragons, which I wrote in October 1974 at age 7. This 12-page book was my first work of fiction, and it was as bad as you might imagine, but I was understandably proud of it at the time. My mother typed it up, my dad photocopied it, and my elementary school library even kept a copy on its shelves, with cover art hand-drawn by the author. By the time I left that school a few years later, it had been checked out nine times, only a few of which were by me.

In November 2005, I made my second attempt at writing fiction. I participated in National Novel Writing Month, which has been held annually since 1999. Along with more than 59,000 other aspiring novelists, I attempted to write 50,000 words of fiction between November 1 and November 30. I was one of almost 10,000 participants who reached that goal. However, what I wrote during that month is not sitting on my vanity shelf. I’ve declined requests to read it even by close friends and family members, who will love me regardless of how bad my writing is. In fact, I haven’t even looked at it myself since then. It’s so bad that it makes Arnold and Sam look like literary genius. And I don’t merely mean that it needs a few rewrites and a thorough going-over by a good editor. It is profoundly, utterly, and irredeemably awful. Humanity will be better off if no one ever sets eyes on that manuscript again. [Article Continues…]

•••••

From the archives…

Fernet-Branca

Italy’s mystery liqueur

Guest Article by Morgen Jahnke

While some companies are moving toward greater transparency regarding the ingredients of their products (to allay fears about trans fats, for instance), in some cases the secret of a product’s makeup is not only closely guarded, but promoted as a key part of its allure. Mysteries can be a great advertising gimmick.

The proprietors of Antoine’s restaurant in New Orleans were clearly operating from this idea when they created their famous recipe for Oysters Rockefeller; although it has been widely speculated upon, this recipe has remained a secret since it was first developed in 1899. Having sampled Oysters Rockefeller at Antoine’s, I would say that I greatly enjoyed their taste, but I got more enjoyment out of trying to guess the elements of the recipe. [Article Continues…]

•••••

From the archives…

Kite Sails

A second wind for large ships

We’re well into the 21st century, and one of the big things on the minds of the world’s technologists is improving propulsion. Cars, trucks, and buses are moving from conventional gasoline-powered internal combustion engines to hybrid engines, diesel engines running on vegetable oil, and fuel cells. Airplane manufacturers are designing better and more powerful jet engines. Submarines are being built with engines that require no moving parts. And rocket scientists are trying to figure out the best means of propulsion to use for sending spacecraft to Mars and beyond. High-tech solutions to get from point A to point B with greater efficiency and lower cost are appearing constantly.

And yet, sometimes the best way forward is to go back. Steam power for cars is making a comeback, for example. What was thought to be a dead-end approach a century ago has turned out to have some redeeming qualities after all, now that technology, materials, and engineering methods have caught up with it. The latest blast from the past, though, really blows my mind. The brightest and best in the field of marine propulsion have come to the startling conclusion that if you want a reliable, inexpensive, and efficient way to move ships across the ocean, you might try…the wind. [Article Continues…]

•••••

From the archives…

Rarely Blooming Plants

The Titan Arum lily, the Kurinji plant, and the Talipot palm

Guest Article by Morgen Jahnke

Although many years have passed since then, there are certain things I can remember clearly about the year 1986. That was the year of the World’s Fair, Expo ‘86, in Vancouver, British Columbia, the year of the space shuttle Challenger disaster, and the year that Halley’s Comet (or Comet Halley) made its closest approach to the sun since 1910.

I remember being impressed at the time that I was going to witness an event that had last occurred so long in the past, before my grandparents were born, before the large-scale wars of the 20th century had taken place. In relation to the human lifespan, 76 years is a long time. When the comet finally did appear, it was not as spectacular as I’d hoped, but I didn’t want to miss it, knowing that it would not appear again until 2061, when I would most likely not be around to see it. [Article Continues…]

•••••

From the archives…

Teatro La Fenice

The phoenix of Venice

Guest Article by Morgen Jahnke

Throughout the night of January 29, 1996, a fire raged in the center of Venice, Italy, and by morning it had consumed its victim: the Teatro La Fenice, often called simply La Fenice. Luckily, the fire did not travel beyond the walls of La Fenice, but the destruction was profound. One of the great opera houses of Europe was gutted, and the city of Venice lost a treasured civic landmark.

Arriving by chance in Venice just days after the fire, celebrated author John Berendt set out to document the aftermath of the Fenice fire, interviewing local residents and city officials to find out what led up to the fire, and what long-term effect it might have on the city. As with his previous bestseller, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, which centered around a lurid murder in Savannah, Georgia, Berendt found many colorful characters and community intrigues in Venice to write about in addition to his main story. The result of Berendt’s research is the 2005 book The City of Falling Angels. [Article Continues…]

•••••

From the archives…

Anopsology

The raw facts about the raw-food movement

I’ve always liked the expression “all things in moderation.” I’m not sure it represents some sort of universal law, but it seems to be a reasonable attitude with which to approach most situations in life. It suits my personality, too, because I like novelty and variety while I resist both excesses and prohibitions. When it comes to food, this sort of mindset means I wouldn’t categorically say no to any class of food—vegetables, meat, dairy, alcohol, junk food, and genetically modified organisms are all valid options. However, I try to be aware of the nutritional properties and likely health implications of what I eat, and to make food choices deliberately. So I’ll eat that occasional crème brûlée without guilt, but I’ll probably also back off on sugars and carbs the next day.

The problem is, I can’t always figure out whose opinions about nutrition and health I should believe. Among the many paths to optimal health I’ve heard are these: avoid all carbohydrates and eat mostly protein; eat only plant products; eat only fruits; eat just one particular fruit; take vitamins; stay away from vitamins. I’ve heard that eggs are bad for your health; I’ve heard that they’re great for your health. Ditto for coffee and wine. I’ve heard that foods like honey and tea will help you live to be 100 and that they’ll lead to an early grave. Many of these contradictory claims were made by trained health professionals with years of experience, and have a stack of studies and anecdotal reports supporting them. For this reason, I take any proclamation about a particular diet’s virtues with a large pinch of kosher salt. [Article Continues…]

•••••

From the archives…

Skara Brae

House of sand and rock

Guest Article by Morgen Jahnke

The 2001 documentary Rivers and Tides showcases artist Andy Goldsworthy, who creates ephemeral works of art out of the natural materials around him. Whether it’s leaves, twigs, or icicles, Goldsworthy crafts them into breathtaking constructions that add to the beauty of the landscape while still remaining part of it. Although Goldsworthy invests significant effort in each work, after its completion he leaves it at the mercy of the natural processes of wind, rain, sun, and water, only taking a photo to document its momentary perfection.

Some of Goldsworthy’s most arresting works are the ones he creates out of stone. The film follows the progress of a few such projects, including one in which he creates an egg-shaped structure out of split pieces of stone, and another where he works with stonemasons to create a long serpentine wall in a park in New York state. While the wall is meant to be a permanent installment, the egg-shaped structure Goldsworthy creates in the film is destined to be carried away by the rising tide, showing the vulnerability of a material that most people would take to be among the most solid. [Article Continues…]

•••••

From the archives…

The Dalahäst

Symbol of Sweden

Guest Article by Morgen Jahnke

I confess that I am something of a fan of the Swedish home furnishings store IKEA, having spent countless hours wandering its shiny showrooms in three different countries (Canada, the U.S., and France). As evidence of this, you need only stand in the middle of my apartment and look around; you can’t help but see an IKEA product anywhere you look.

Although some may decry its mass marketing approach, I like that there is a consistency to the IKEA shopping experience. Whether I visit a store in central France or the suburbs of Vancouver, I know that I will see the same kinds of products, laid out in the same way, according to the same floor plan. This sameness might bother me in other settings, but there is a quirky charm to the world of IKEA that counterbalances the monotony. From its amusing product names to the ubiquity of kitschy Swedish foodstuffs, I always feel like I’ve found a tiny corner of Sweden wherever I happen to be in the world. [Article Continues…]

•••••

From the archives…

Micronations

Starting your own country

I know plenty of people who generally approve of the current U.S. government and plenty who don’t. But I’ve never met anyone who agrees with and supports every single government policy and regulation—in this country or any other. The very nature of democratic government makes this virtually impossible, and I think it’s fair to say that every legislator could produce a long list of things he or she might wish to be different. We all accept certain laws and taxes in exchange for the considerable benefits government provides in the way of economic structures, a justice system, education, public works, national security, and so on. For most of us, that’s a reasonable trade.

But what if you could tailor a government to your exact specifications? Exercise strict control over the currency, imports and exports, immigration policies, defense programs, foreign relations, and everything else? What if you could tailor laws to support those things you care about most and disallow the things you’re against? What if, in fact, you had your very own country, in which you—along with, perhaps, your family, friends, or business associates—ran the whole place from top to bottom? [Article Continues…]

•••••

From the archives…

Churchill, Manitoba

Polar bear capital of the world

Guest Article by Morgen Jahnke

When I was in college, I went hiking with a group of friends in Riding Mountain National Park, located in southwestern Manitoba. We decided to hike quite a distance into the park before making camp for the night. Having had some camping experience, I looked forward to the adventure, but for one fact: the certain presence of black bears.

Compared to grizzly bears, black bears can be relatively harmless, and I had seen them from a distance many times, most often scouring the garbage dump near our family cabin in northern Saskatchewan. But I had never gone this far from civilization, into the bears’ territory, surrounded by the wilderness. [Article Continues…]

•••••

From the archives…

The Swedish Ship Götheborg

Rebuilding history

Guest Article by Morgen Jahnke

Not long ago I had the chance to view an exhibit of artifacts raised from the wreck of the Titanic. These artifacts included personal possessions of the passengers, such as glasses, hats and jewelry, as well as glassware and plates from the ship’s stores. To give context to these items, the exhibit’s creators had reproduced different parts of the ship, including the Dining Room and the Grand Staircase.

The centerpiece of the exhibit was a colossal piece of the ship’s hull, weighing 30,000 pounds, and taking up the majority of the large room that housed it. Although it seemed enormous, diagrams indicating its position on the intact ship showed the piece to be just one tiny part of the whole. [Article Continues…]

•••••

From the archives…

The Golden Spruce

Tragic fall of a legendary tree

During the three years I was living in British Columbia, Canada, I worked in an office overlooking the Fraser River. Just a few doors down from our building was a Weyerhaeuser lumber mill, and I regularly saw logs being towed down the river and floating in a holding area just off the river bank. I was vaguely aware of various political issues involving the wood, such as the ongoing conflicts between loggers and environmentalists and the tariffs imposed by the United States on imported soft wood lumber. But as I was a temporary resident, these problems held little interest for me, and I never formed much of an opinion one way or the other. The only thing that truly puzzled me was the fact that the logs sometimes went in the direction of the mill and sometimes in the opposite direction. I never did figure that one out.

What I did not know at the time was that in 1997, less than two years before I’d arrived, one particular tree in a distant corner of the province had been at the center of a huge news story. One way of framing the story was that an important cultural icon had been destroyed by an ecoterrorist, who may still be at large today. Whether or not that’s an appropriate spin on the tale is open to debate, but it’s certainly true that an old tree known as the Golden Spruce met an untimely end for reasons that are dubious at best, sending an entire community into an uproar. [Article Continues…]

•••••

From the archives…

Doble Steam Cars

The steam engine’s last stand

Back in the mid-1980s when I was in college, I had a car whose gas mileage routinely reached 40 miles per gallon. At that time, most people assumed that as technology advanced, cars’ average mileage would steadily improve. But of course, that didn’t happen, and today, except for hybrids and a few other small cars, the sort of fuel efficiency I got 20 years ago is the exception rather than the rule. I’m well aware of all the technological, political, and financial issues that have combined to create this reality, but every time I think about it I just shake my head. History could have unfolded differently, and high-mileage, low-emissions vehicles might have been the norm today.

More than 80 years ago, you could buy a car that was highly fuel-efficient (even by today’s standards), produced almost no pollution (again, even by modern standards), required very little maintenance, and was virtually silent. It used kerosene as fuel to power a steam engine, and even though the car weighed more than today’s average SUV, it accelerated rapidly and handled smoothly. The car would have been one of several Doble steam car models designed and manufactured by Abner Doble and his three brothers. [Article Continues…]

•••••

From the archives…

Hay-on-Wye

The Town of Books

Guest Article by Morgen Jahnke

As anyone who knows me can attest, I am a sucker for books. I’ve had my nose perpetually stuck in a book for as long as I can remember, and I can go absolutely stir crazy if I have to endure a two-hour flight (or ten-minute bus ride) without sufficient reading material.

Although I don’t own a car, and my wardrobe may be threadbare in places, buying books (used or new) is, along with travel, one of the luxuries I will not willingly forgo. Thus it was with great joy that I discovered a place where my bibliomania would not seem out of place: the Welsh town of Hay-on-Wye, home to 1500 inhabitants and four million books. [Article Continues…]

•••••

From the archives…

Vulcan, Alberta

The town that’s out of this world

Guest Article by Morgen Jahnke

More than many other pop culture phenomena, Star Trek seems to inspire the most extreme displays of fan commitment. From Star Trek conventions, to the perennial popularity of Trek movies and TV series, on through the huge success of Star Trek: The Experience in Las Vegas (a town with no shortage of other entertainment options), Trek fans have an intense interest in replicating (so to speak) the world of Captain Kirk, Mr. Spock, and all the other distinguished members of Starfleet.

A sociologist might find it interesting to study this devotion; what is it about the Star Trek universe that compels ordinary people to live large parts of their non-virtual lives in its sway? Paradoxically more adult and yet less dangerous than the Star Wars universe, one answer may be that Star Trek predicts a future that seems to make sense, with science and reason in ascendancy. [Article Continues…]

•••••

From the archives…

National Novel Writing Month

Becoming a novelist in 30 days

Like many authors, I have a “vanity shelf” in my home, with copies of all the books I’ve written (or contributed to). Well, at least it contains copies of all the printed books I’ve written—a lot of what I’ve done in recent years has been in the form of ebooks and magazine articles. Among the 11 titles currently on that shelf are several recent books about Mac software, a bound copy of my Master’s thesis, and even—no kidding—a copy of Arnold and Sam, the Two Dragons, which I wrote in October 1974 at age 7. This 12-page book was my first work of fiction, and it was as bad as you might imagine, but I was understandably proud of it at the time. My mother typed it up, my dad photocopied it, and my elementary school library even kept a copy on its shelves, with cover art hand-drawn by the author. By the time I left that school a few years later, it had been checked out nine times, only a few of which were by me.

In November 2005, I made my second attempt at writing fiction. I participated in National Novel Writing Month, which has been held annually since 1999. Along with more than 59,000 other aspiring novelists, I attempted to write 50,000 words of fiction between November 1 and November 30. I was one of almost 10,000 participants who reached that goal. However, what I wrote during that month is not sitting on my vanity shelf. I’ve declined requests to read it even by close friends and family members, who will love me regardless of how bad my writing is. In fact, I haven’t even looked at it myself since then. It’s so bad that it makes Arnold and Sam look like literary genius. And I don’t merely mean that it needs a few rewrites and a thorough going-over by a good editor. It is profoundly, utterly, and irredeemably awful. Humanity will be better off if no one ever sets eyes on that manuscript again. [Article Continues…]

•••••

From the archives…

Fernet-Branca

Italy’s mystery liqueur

Guest Article by Morgen Jahnke

While some companies are moving toward greater transparency regarding the ingredients of their products (to allay fears about trans fats, for instance), in some cases the secret of a product’s makeup is not only closely guarded, but promoted as a key part of its allure. Mysteries can be a great advertising gimmick.

The proprietors of Antoine’s restaurant in New Orleans were clearly operating from this idea when they created their famous recipe for Oysters Rockefeller; although it has been widely speculated upon, this recipe has remained a secret since it was first developed in 1899. Having sampled Oysters Rockefeller at Antoine’s, I would say that I greatly enjoyed their taste, but I got more enjoyment out of trying to guess the elements of the recipe. [Article Continues…]

•••••

From the archives…

Kite Sails

A second wind for large ships

We’re well into the 21st century, and one of the big things on the minds of the world’s technologists is improving propulsion. Cars, trucks, and buses are moving from conventional gasoline-powered internal combustion engines to hybrid engines, diesel engines running on vegetable oil, and fuel cells. Airplane manufacturers are designing better and more powerful jet engines. Submarines are being built with engines that require no moving parts. And rocket scientists are trying to figure out the best means of propulsion to use for sending spacecraft to Mars and beyond. High-tech solutions to get from point A to point B with greater efficiency and lower cost are appearing constantly.

And yet, sometimes the best way forward is to go back. Steam power for cars is making a comeback, for example. What was thought to be a dead-end approach a century ago has turned out to have some redeeming qualities after all, now that technology, materials, and engineering methods have caught up with it. The latest blast from the past, though, really blows my mind. The brightest and best in the field of marine propulsion have come to the startling conclusion that if you want a reliable, inexpensive, and efficient way to move ships across the ocean, you might try…the wind. [Article Continues…]

•••••

From the archives…

Rarely Blooming Plants

The Titan Arum lily, the Kurinji plant, and the Talipot palm

Guest Article by Morgen Jahnke

Although many years have passed since then, there are certain things I can remember clearly about the year 1986. That was the year of the World’s Fair, Expo ‘86, in Vancouver, British Columbia, the year of the space shuttle Challenger disaster, and the year that Halley’s Comet (or Comet Halley) made its closest approach to the sun since 1910.

I remember being impressed at the time that I was going to witness an event that had last occurred so long in the past, before my grandparents were born, before the large-scale wars of the 20th century had taken place. In relation to the human lifespan, 76 years is a long time. When the comet finally did appear, it was not as spectacular as I’d hoped, but I didn’t want to miss it, knowing that it would not appear again until 2061, when I would most likely not be around to see it. [Article Continues…]

•••••

From the archives…

Teatro La Fenice

The phoenix of Venice

Guest Article by Morgen Jahnke

Throughout the night of January 29, 1996, a fire raged in the center of Venice, Italy, and by morning it had consumed its victim: the Teatro La Fenice, often called simply La Fenice. Luckily, the fire did not travel beyond the walls of La Fenice, but the destruction was profound. One of the great opera houses of Europe was gutted, and the city of Venice lost a treasured civic landmark.

Arriving by chance in Venice just days after the fire, celebrated author John Berendt set out to document the aftermath of the Fenice fire, interviewing local residents and city officials to find out what led up to the fire, and what long-term effect it might have on the city. As with his previous bestseller, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, which centered around a lurid murder in Savannah, Georgia, Berendt found many colorful characters and community intrigues in Venice to write about in addition to his main story. The result of Berendt’s research is the 2005 book The City of Falling Angels. [Article Continues…]

•••••

From the archives…

Anopsology

The raw facts about the raw-food movement

I’ve always liked the expression “all things in moderation.” I’m not sure it represents some sort of universal law, but it seems to be a reasonable attitude with which to approach most situations in life. It suits my personality, too, because I like novelty and variety while I resist both excesses and prohibitions. When it comes to food, this sort of mindset means I wouldn’t categorically say no to any class of food—vegetables, meat, dairy, alcohol, junk food, and genetically modified organisms are all valid options. However, I try to be aware of the nutritional properties and likely health implications of what I eat, and to make food choices deliberately. So I’ll eat that occasional crème brûlée without guilt, but I’ll probably also back off on sugars and carbs the next day.

The problem is, I can’t always figure out whose opinions about nutrition and health I should believe. Among the many paths to optimal health I’ve heard are these: avoid all carbohydrates and eat mostly protein; eat only plant products; eat only fruits; eat just one particular fruit; take vitamins; stay away from vitamins. I’ve heard that eggs are bad for your health; I’ve heard that they’re great for your health. Ditto for coffee and wine. I’ve heard that foods like honey and tea will help you live to be 100 and that they’ll lead to an early grave. Many of these contradictory claims were made by trained health professionals with years of experience, and have a stack of studies and anecdotal reports supporting them. For this reason, I take any proclamation about a particular diet’s virtues with a large pinch of kosher salt. [Article Continues…]

•••••

From the archives…

Skara Brae

House of sand and rock

Guest Article by Morgen Jahnke

The 2001 documentary Rivers and Tides showcases artist Andy Goldsworthy, who creates ephemeral works of art out of the natural materials around him. Whether it’s leaves, twigs, or icicles, Goldsworthy crafts them into breathtaking constructions that add to the beauty of the landscape while still remaining part of it. Although Goldsworthy invests significant effort in each work, after its completion he leaves it at the mercy of the natural processes of wind, rain, sun, and water, only taking a photo to document its momentary perfection.

Some of Goldsworthy’s most arresting works are the ones he creates out of stone. The film follows the progress of a few such projects, including one in which he creates an egg-shaped structure out of split pieces of stone, and another where he works with stonemasons to create a long serpentine wall in a park in New York state. While the wall is meant to be a permanent installment, the egg-shaped structure Goldsworthy creates in the film is destined to be carried away by the rising tide, showing the vulnerability of a material that most people would take to be among the most solid. [Article Continues…]

•••••

From the archives…

The Dalahäst

Symbol of Sweden

Guest Article by Morgen Jahnke

I confess that I am something of a fan of the Swedish home furnishings store IKEA, having spent countless hours wandering its shiny showrooms in three different countries (Canada, the U.S., and France). As evidence of this, you need only stand in the middle of my apartment and look around; you can’t help but see an IKEA product anywhere you look.

Although some may decry its mass marketing approach, I like that there is a consistency to the IKEA shopping experience. Whether I visit a store in central France or the suburbs of Vancouver, I know that I will see the same kinds of products, laid out in the same way, according to the same floor plan. This sameness might bother me in other settings, but there is a quirky charm to the world of IKEA that counterbalances the monotony. From its amusing product names to the ubiquity of kitschy Swedish foodstuffs, I always feel like I’ve found a tiny corner of Sweden wherever I happen to be in the world. [Article Continues…]

•••••

From the archives…

Micronations

Starting your own country

I know plenty of people who generally approve of the current U.S. government and plenty who don’t. But I’ve never met anyone who agrees with and supports every single government policy and regulation—in this country or any other. The very nature of democratic government makes this virtually impossible, and I think it’s fair to say that every legislator could produce a long list of things he or she might wish to be different. We all accept certain laws and taxes in exchange for the considerable benefits government provides in the way of economic structures, a justice system, education, public works, national security, and so on. For most of us, that’s a reasonable trade.

But what if you could tailor a government to your exact specifications? Exercise strict control over the currency, imports and exports, immigration policies, defense programs, foreign relations, and everything else? What if you could tailor laws to support those things you care about most and disallow the things you’re against? What if, in fact, you had your very own country, in which you—along with, perhaps, your family, friends, or business associates—ran the whole place from top to bottom? [Article Continues…]

•••••

From the archives…

Churchill, Manitoba

Polar bear capital of the world

Guest Article by Morgen Jahnke

When I was in college, I went hiking with a group of friends in Riding Mountain National Park, located in southwestern Manitoba. We decided to hike quite a distance into the park before making camp for the night. Having had some camping experience, I looked forward to the adventure, but for one fact: the certain presence of black bears.

Compared to grizzly bears, black bears can be relatively harmless, and I had seen them from a distance many times, most often scouring the garbage dump near our family cabin in northern Saskatchewan. But I had never gone this far from civilization, into the bears’ territory, surrounded by the wilderness. [Article Continues…]

•••••

From the archives…

The Swedish Ship Götheborg

Rebuilding history

Guest Article by Morgen Jahnke

Not long ago I had the chance to view an exhibit of artifacts raised from the wreck of the Titanic. These artifacts included personal possessions of the passengers, such as glasses, hats and jewelry, as well as glassware and plates from the ship’s stores. To give context to these items, the exhibit’s creators had reproduced different parts of the ship, including the Dining Room and the Grand Staircase.

The centerpiece of the exhibit was a colossal piece of the ship’s hull, weighing 30,000 pounds, and taking up the majority of the large room that housed it. Although it seemed enormous, diagrams indicating its position on the intact ship showed the piece to be just one tiny part of the whole. [Article Continues…]

•••••

From the archives…

The Golden Spruce

Tragic fall of a legendary tree

During the three years I was living in British Columbia, Canada, I worked in an office overlooking the Fraser River. Just a few doors down from our building was a Weyerhaeuser lumber mill, and I regularly saw logs being towed down the river and floating in a holding area just off the river bank. I was vaguely aware of various political issues involving the wood, such as the ongoing conflicts between loggers and environmentalists and the tariffs imposed by the United States on imported soft wood lumber. But as I was a temporary resident, these problems held little interest for me, and I never formed much of an opinion one way or the other. The only thing that truly puzzled me was the fact that the logs sometimes went in the direction of the mill and sometimes in the opposite direction. I never did figure that one out.

What I did not know at the time was that in 1997, less than two years before I’d arrived, one particular tree in a distant corner of the province had been at the center of a huge news story. One way of framing the story was that an important cultural icon had been destroyed by an ecoterrorist, who may still be at large today. Whether or not that’s an appropriate spin on the tale is open to debate, but it’s certainly true that an old tree known as the Golden Spruce met an untimely end for reasons that are dubious at best, sending an entire community into an uproar. [Article Continues…]

•••••

From the archives…

Doble Steam Cars

The steam engine’s last stand

Back in the mid-1980s when I was in college, I had a car whose gas mileage routinely reached 40 miles per gallon. At that time, most people assumed that as technology advanced, cars’ average mileage would steadily improve. But of course, that didn’t happen, and today, except for hybrids and a few other small cars, the sort of fuel efficiency I got 20 years ago is the exception rather than the rule. I’m well aware of all the technological, political, and financial issues that have combined to create this reality, but every time I think about it I just shake my head. History could have unfolded differently, and high-mileage, low-emissions vehicles might have been the norm today.

More than 80 years ago, you could buy a car that was highly fuel-efficient (even by today’s standards), produced almost no pollution (again, even by modern standards), required very little maintenance, and was virtually silent. It used kerosene as fuel to power a steam engine, and even though the car weighed more than today’s average SUV, it accelerated rapidly and handled smoothly. The car would have been one of several Doble steam car models designed and manufactured by Abner Doble and his three brothers. [Article Continues…]

•••••

From the archives…

Hay-on-Wye

The Town of Books

Guest Article by Morgen Jahnke

As anyone who knows me can attest, I am a sucker for books. I’ve had my nose perpetually stuck in a book for as long as I can remember, and I can go absolutely stir crazy if I have to endure a two-hour flight (or ten-minute bus ride) without sufficient reading material.

Although I don’t own a car, and my wardrobe may be threadbare in places, buying books (used or new) is, along with travel, one of the luxuries I will not willingly forgo. Thus it was with great joy that I discovered a place where my bibliomania would not seem out of place: the Welsh town of Hay-on-Wye, home to 1500 inhabitants and four million books. [Article Continues…]

•••••

From the archives…

Vulcan, Alberta

The town that’s out of this world

Guest Article by Morgen Jahnke

More than many other pop culture phenomena, Star Trek seems to inspire the most extreme displays of fan commitment. From Star Trek conventions, to the perennial popularity of Trek movies and TV series, on through the huge success of Star Trek: The Experience in Las Vegas (a town with no shortage of other entertainment options), Trek fans have an intense interest in replicating (so to speak) the world of Captain Kirk, Mr. Spock, and all the other distinguished members of Starfleet.

A sociologist might find it interesting to study this devotion; what is it about the Star Trek universe that compels ordinary people to live large parts of their non-virtual lives in its sway? Paradoxically more adult and yet less dangerous than the Star Wars universe, one answer may be that Star Trek predicts a future that seems to make sense, with science and reason in ascendancy. [Article Continues…]

•••••

From the archives…

National Novel Writing Month

Becoming a novelist in 30 days

Like many authors, I have a “vanity shelf” in my home, with copies of all the books I’ve written (or contributed to). Well, at least it contains copies of all the printed books I’ve written—a lot of what I’ve done in recent years has been in the form of ebooks and magazine articles. Among the 11 titles currently on that shelf are several recent books about Mac software, a bound copy of my Master’s thesis, and even—no kidding—a copy of Arnold and Sam, the Two Dragons, which I wrote in October 1974 at age 7. This 12-page book was my first work of fiction, and it was as bad as you might imagine, but I was understandably proud of it at the time. My mother typed it up, my dad photocopied it, and my elementary school library even kept a copy on its shelves, with cover art hand-drawn by the author. By the time I left that school a few years later, it had been checked out nine times, only a few of which were by me.

In November 2005, I made my second attempt at writing fiction. I participated in National Novel Writing Month, which has been held annually since 1999. Along with more than 59,000 other aspiring novelists, I attempted to write 50,000 words of fiction between November 1 and November 30. I was one of almost 10,000 participants who reached that goal. However, what I wrote during that month is not sitting on my vanity shelf. I’ve declined requests to read it even by close friends and family members, who will love me regardless of how bad my writing is. In fact, I haven’t even looked at it myself since then. It’s so bad that it makes Arnold and Sam look like literary genius. And I don’t merely mean that it needs a few rewrites and a thorough going-over by a good editor. It is profoundly, utterly, and irredeemably awful. Humanity will be better off if no one ever sets eyes on that manuscript again. [Article Continues…]

•••••

From the archives…

Fernet-Branca

Italy’s mystery liqueur

Guest Article by Morgen Jahnke

While some companies are moving toward greater transparency regarding the ingredients of their products (to allay fears about trans fats, for instance), in some cases the secret of a product’s makeup is not only closely guarded, but promoted as a key part of its allure. Mysteries can be a great advertising gimmick.

The proprietors of Antoine’s restaurant in New Orleans were clearly operating from this idea when they created their famous recipe for Oysters Rockefeller; although it has been widely speculated upon, this recipe has remained a secret since it was first developed in 1899. Having sampled Oysters Rockefeller at Antoine’s, I would say that I greatly enjoyed their taste, but I got more enjoyment out of trying to guess the elements of the recipe. [Article Continues…]

•••••

From the archives…

Kite Sails

A second wind for large ships

We’re well into the 21st century, and one of the big things on the minds of the world’s technologists is improving propulsion. Cars, trucks, and buses are moving from conventional gasoline-powered internal combustion engines to hybrid engines, diesel engines running on vegetable oil, and fuel cells. Airplane manufacturers are designing better and more powerful jet engines. Submarines are being built with engines that require no moving parts. And rocket scientists are trying to figure out the best means of propulsion to use for sending spacecraft to Mars and beyond. High-tech solutions to get from point A to point B with greater efficiency and lower cost are appearing constantly.

And yet, sometimes the best way forward is to go back. Steam power for cars is making a comeback, for example. What was thought to be a dead-end approach a century ago has turned out to have some redeeming qualities after all, now that technology, materials, and engineering methods have caught up with it. The latest blast from the past, though, really blows my mind. The brightest and best in the field of marine propulsion have come to the startling conclusion that if you want a reliable, inexpensive, and efficient way to move ships across the ocean, you might try…the wind. [Article Continues…]

•••••

From the archives…

Rarely Blooming Plants

The Titan Arum lily, the Kurinji plant, and the Talipot palm

Guest Article by Morgen Jahnke

Although many years have passed since then, there are certain things I can remember clearly about the year 1986. That was the year of the World’s Fair, Expo ‘86, in Vancouver, British Columbia, the year of the space shuttle Challenger disaster, and the year that Halley’s Comet (or Comet Halley) made its closest approach to the sun since 1910.

I remember being impressed at the time that I was going to witness an event that had last occurred so long in the past, before my grandparents were born, before the large-scale wars of the 20th century had taken place. In relation to the human lifespan, 76 years is a long time. When the comet finally did appear, it was not as spectacular as I’d hoped, but I didn’t want to miss it, knowing that it would not appear again until 2061, when I would most likely not be around to see it. [Article Continues…]

•••••

From the archives…

Teatro La Fenice

The phoenix of Venice

Guest Article by Morgen Jahnke

Throughout the night of January 29, 1996, a fire raged in the center of Venice, Italy, and by morning it had consumed its victim: the Teatro La Fenice, often called simply La Fenice. Luckily, the fire did not travel beyond the walls of La Fenice, but the destruction was profound. One of the great opera houses of Europe was gutted, and the city of Venice lost a treasured civic landmark.

Arriving by chance in Venice just days after the fire, celebrated author John Berendt set out to document the aftermath of the Fenice fire, interviewing local residents and city officials to find out what led up to the fire, and what long-term effect it might have on the city. As with his previous bestseller, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, which centered around a lurid murder in Savannah, Georgia, Berendt found many colorful characters and community intrigues in Venice to write about in addition to his main story. The result of Berendt’s research is the 2005 book The City of Falling Angels. [Article Continues…]

•••••

From the archives…

Anopsology

The raw facts about the raw-food movement

I’ve always liked the expression “all things in moderation.” I’m not sure it represents some sort of universal law, but it seems to be a reasonable attitude with which to approach most situations in life. It suits my personality, too, because I like novelty and variety while I resist both excesses and prohibitions. When it comes to food, this sort of mindset means I wouldn’t categorically say no to any class of food—vegetables, meat, dairy, alcohol, junk food, and genetically modified organisms are all valid options. However, I try to be aware of the nutritional properties and likely health implications of what I eat, and to make food choices deliberately. So I’ll eat that occasional crème brûlée without guilt, but I’ll probably also back off on sugars and carbs the next day.

The problem is, I can’t always figure out whose opinions about nutrition and health I should believe. Among the many paths to optimal health I’ve heard are these: avoid all carbohydrates and eat mostly protein; eat only plant products; eat only fruits; eat just one particular fruit; take vitamins; stay away from vitamins. I’ve heard that eggs are bad for your health; I’ve heard that they’re great for your health. Ditto for coffee and wine. I’ve heard that foods like honey and tea will help you live to be 100 and that they’ll lead to an early grave. Many of these contradictory claims were made by trained health professionals with years of experience, and have a stack of studies and anecdotal reports supporting them. For this reason, I take any proclamation about a particular diet’s virtues with a large pinch of kosher salt. [Article Continues…]

•••••

From the archives…

The Dalahäst

Symbol of Sweden

Guest Article by Morgen Jahnke

I confess that I am something of a fan of the Swedish home furnishings store IKEA, having spent countless hours wandering its shiny showrooms in three different countries (Canada, the U.S., and France). As evidence of this, you need only stand in the middle of my apartment and look around; you can’t help but see an IKEA product anywhere you look.

Although some may decry its mass marketing approach, I like that there is a consistency to the IKEA shopping experience. Whether I visit a store in central France or the suburbs of Vancouver, I know that I will see the same kinds of products, laid out in the same way, according to the same floor plan. This sameness might bother me in other settings, but there is a quirky charm to the world of IKEA that counterbalances the monotony. From its amusing product names to the ubiquity of kitschy Swedish foodstuffs, I always feel like I’ve found a tiny corner of Sweden wherever I happen to be in the world. [Article Continues…]

•••••

From the archives…

Micronations

Starting your own country

I know plenty of people who generally approve of the current U.S. government and plenty who don’t. But I’ve never met anyone who agrees with and supports every single government policy and regulation—in this country or any other. The very nature of democratic government makes this virtually impossible, and I think it’s fair to say that every legislator could produce a long list of things he or she might wish to be different. We all accept certain laws and taxes in exchange for the considerable benefits government provides in the way of economic structures, a justice system, education, public works, national security, and so on. For most of us, that’s a reasonable trade.

But what if you could tailor a government to your exact specifications? Exercise strict control over the currency, imports and exports, immigration policies, defense programs, foreign relations, and everything else? What if you could tailor laws to support those things you care about most and disallow the things you’re against? What if, in fact, you had your very own country, in which you—along with, perhaps, your family, friends, or business associates—ran the whole place from top to bottom? [Article Continues…]

•••••

From the archives…

Churchill, Manitoba

Polar bear capital of the world

Guest Article by Morgen Jahnke

When I was in college, I went hiking with a group of friends in Riding Mountain National Park, located in southwestern Manitoba. We decided to hike quite a distance into the park before making camp for the night. Having had some camping experience, I looked forward to the adventure, but for one fact: the certain presence of black bears.

Compared to grizzly bears, black bears can be relatively harmless, and I had seen them from a distance many times, most often scouring the garbage dump near our family cabin in northern Saskatchewan. But I had never gone this far from civilization, into the bears’ territory, surrounded by the wilderness. [Article Continues…]

•••••

From the archives…

The Swedish Ship Götheborg

Rebuilding history

Guest Article by Morgen Jahnke

Not long ago I had the chance to view an exhibit of artifacts raised from the wreck of the Titanic. These artifacts included personal possessions of the passengers, such as glasses, hats and jewelry, as well as glassware and plates from the ship’s stores. To give context to these items, the exhibit’s creators had reproduced different parts of the ship, including the Dining Room and the Grand Staircase.

The centerpiece of the exhibit was a colossal piece of the ship’s hull, weighing 30,000 pounds, and taking up the majority of the large room that housed it. Although it seemed enormous, diagrams indicating its position on the intact ship showed the piece to be just one tiny part of the whole. [Article Continues…]

•••••

From the archives…

The Golden Spruce

Tragic fall of a legendary tree

During the three years I was living in British Columbia, Canada, I worked in an office overlooking the Fraser River. Just a few doors down from our building was a Weyerhaeuser lumber mill, and I regularly saw logs being towed down the river and floating in a holding area just off the river bank. I was vaguely aware of various political issues involving the wood, such as the ongoing conflicts between loggers and environmentalists and the tariffs imposed by the United States on imported soft wood lumber. But as I was a temporary resident, these problems held little interest for me, and I never formed much of an opinion one way or the other. The only thing that truly puzzled me was the fact that the logs sometimes went in the direction of the mill and sometimes in the opposite direction. I never did figure that one out.

What I did not know at the time was that in 1997, less than two years before I’d arrived, one particular tree in a distant corner of the province had been at the center of a huge news story. One way of framing the story was that an important cultural icon had been destroyed by an ecoterrorist, who may still be at large today. Whether or not that’s an appropriate spin on the tale is open to debate, but it’s certainly true that an old tree known as the Golden Spruce met an untimely end for reasons that are dubious at best, sending an entire community into an uproar. [Article Continues…]

•••••

From the archives…

Doble Steam Cars

The steam engine’s last stand

Back in the mid-1980s when I was in college, I had a car whose gas mileage routinely reached 40 miles per gallon. At that time, most people assumed that as technology advanced, cars’ average mileage would steadily improve. But of course, that didn’t happen, and today, except for hybrids and a few other small cars, the sort of fuel efficiency I got 20 years ago is the exception rather than the rule. I’m well aware of all the technological, political, and financial issues that have combined to create this reality, but every time I think about it I just shake my head. History could have unfolded differently, and high-mileage, low-emissions vehicles might have been the norm today.

More than 80 years ago, you could buy a car that was highly fuel-efficient (even by today’s standards), produced almost no pollution (again, even by modern standards), required very little maintenance, and was virtually silent. It used kerosene as fuel to power a steam engine, and even though the car weighed more than today’s average SUV, it accelerated rapidly and handled smoothly. The car would have been one of several Doble steam car models designed and manufactured by Abner Doble and his three brothers. [Article Continues…]

•••••

From the archives…

Skara Brae

House of sand and rock

Guest Article by Morgen Jahnke

The 2001 documentary Rivers and Tides showcases artist Andy Goldsworthy, who creates ephemeral works of art out of the natural materials around him. Whether it’s leaves, twigs, or icicles, Goldsworthy crafts them into breathtaking constructions that add to the beauty of the landscape while still remaining part of it. Although Goldsworthy invests significant effort in each work, after its completion he leaves it at the mercy of the natural processes of wind, rain, sun, and water, only taking a photo to document its momentary perfection.

Some of Goldsworthy’s most arresting works are the ones he creates out of stone. The film follows the progress of a few such projects, including one in which he creates an egg-shaped structure out of split pieces of stone, and another where he works with stonemasons to create a long serpentine wall in a park in New York state. While the wall is meant to be a permanent installment, the egg-shaped structure Goldsworthy creates in the film is destined to be carried away by the rising tide, showing the vulnerability of a material that most people would take to be among the most solid. [Article Continues…]

•••••

From the archives…

Hay-on-Wye

The Town of Books

Guest Article by Morgen Jahnke

As anyone who knows me can attest, I am a sucker for books. I’ve had my nose perpetually stuck in a book for as long as I can remember, and I can go absolutely stir crazy if I have to endure a two-hour flight (or ten-minute bus ride) without sufficient reading material.

Although I don’t own a car, and my wardrobe may be threadbare in places, buying books (used or new) is, along with travel, one of the luxuries I will not willingly forgo. Thus it was with great joy that I discovered a place where my bibliomania would not seem out of place: the Welsh town of Hay-on-Wye, home to 1500 inhabitants and four million books. [Article Continues…]

•••••

From the archives…

Vulcan, Alberta

The town that’s out of this world

Guest Article by Morgen Jahnke

More than many other pop culture phenomena, Star Trek seems to inspire the most extreme displays of fan commitment. From Star Trek conventions, to the perennial popularity of Trek movies and TV series, on through the huge success of Star Trek: The Experience in Las Vegas (a town with no shortage of other entertainment options), Trek fans have an intense interest in replicating (so to speak) the world of Captain Kirk, Mr. Spock, and all the other distinguished members of Starfleet.

A sociologist might find it interesting to study this devotion; what is it about the Star Trek universe that compels ordinary people to live large parts of their non-virtual lives in its sway? Paradoxically more adult and yet less dangerous than the Star Wars universe, one answer may be that Star Trek predicts a future that seems to make sense, with science and reason in ascendancy. [Article Continues…]

•••••

From the archives…

National Novel Writing Month

Becoming a novelist in 30 days

Like many authors, I have a “vanity shelf” in my home, with copies of all the books I’ve written (or contributed to). Well, at least it contains copies of all the printed books I’ve written—a lot of what I’ve done in recent years has been in the form of ebooks and magazine articles. Among the 11 titles currently on that shelf are several recent books about Mac software, a bound copy of my Master’s thesis, and even—no kidding—a copy of Arnold and Sam, the Two Dragons, which I wrote in October 1974 at age 7. This 12-page book was my first work of fiction, and it was as bad as you might imagine, but I was understandably proud of it at the time. My mother typed it up, my dad photocopied it, and my elementary school library even kept a copy on its shelves, with cover art hand-drawn by the author. By the time I left that school a few years later, it had been checked out nine times, only a few of which were by me.

In November 2005, I made my second attempt at writing fiction. I participated in National Novel Writing Month, which has been held annually since 1999. Along with more than 59,000 other aspiring novelists, I attempted to write 50,000 words of fiction between November 1 and November 30. I was one of almost 10,000 participants who reached that goal. However, what I wrote during that month is not sitting on my vanity shelf. I’ve declined requests to read it even by close friends and family members, who will love me regardless of how bad my writing is. In fact, I haven’t even looked at it myself since then. It’s so bad that it makes Arnold and Sam look like literary genius. And I don’t merely mean that it needs a few rewrites and a thorough going-over by a good editor. It is profoundly, utterly, and irredeemably awful. Humanity will be better off if no one ever sets eyes on that manuscript again. [Article Continues…]

•••••

From the archives…

Fernet-Branca

Italy’s mystery liqueur

Guest Article by Morgen Jahnke

While some companies are moving toward greater transparency regarding the ingredients of their products (to allay fears about trans fats, for instance), in some cases the secret of a product’s makeup is not only closely guarded, but promoted as a key part of its allure. Mysteries can be a great advertising gimmick.

The proprietors of Antoine’s restaurant in New Orleans were clearly operating from this idea when they created their famous recipe for Oysters Rockefeller; although it has been widely speculated upon, this recipe has remained a secret since it was first developed in 1899. Having sampled Oysters Rockefeller at Antoine’s, I would say that I greatly enjoyed their taste, but I got more enjoyment out of trying to guess the elements of the recipe. [Article Continues…]

•••••

From the archives…

Kite Sails

A second wind for large ships

We’re well into the 21st century, and one of the big things on the minds of the world’s technologists is improving propulsion. Cars, trucks, and buses are moving from conventional gasoline-powered internal combustion engines to hybrid engines, diesel engines running on vegetable oil, and fuel cells. Airplane manufacturers are designing better and more powerful jet engines. Submarines are being built with engines that require no moving parts. And rocket scientists are trying to figure out the best means of propulsion to use for sending spacecraft to Mars and beyond. High-tech solutions to get from point A to point B with greater efficiency and lower cost are appearing constantly.

And yet, sometimes the best way forward is to go back. Steam power for cars is making a comeback, for example. What was thought to be a dead-end approach a century ago has turned out to have some redeeming qualities after all, now that technology, materials, and engineering methods have caught up with it. The latest blast from the past, though, really blows my mind. The brightest and best in the field of marine propulsion have come to the startling conclusion that if you want a reliable, inexpensive, and efficient way to move ships across the ocean, you might try…the wind. [Article Continues…]

•••••

From the archives…

Rarely Blooming Plants

The Titan Arum lily, the Kurinji plant, and the Talipot palm

Guest Article by Morgen Jahnke

Although many years have passed since then, there are certain things I can remember clearly about the year 1986. That was the year of the World’s Fair, Expo ‘86, in Vancouver, British Columbia, the year of the space shuttle Challenger disaster, and the year that Halley’s Comet (or Comet Halley) made its closest approach to the sun since 1910.

I remember being impressed at the time that I was going to witness an event that had last occurred so long in the past, before my grandparents were born, before the large-scale wars of the 20th century had taken place. In relation to the human lifespan, 76 years is a long time. When the comet finally did appear, it was not as spectacular as I’d hoped, but I didn’t want to miss it, knowing that it would not appear again until 2061, when I would most likely not be around to see it. [Article Continues…]

•••••

From the archives…

Teatro La Fenice

The phoenix of Venice

Guest Article by Morgen Jahnke

Throughout the night of January 29, 1996, a fire raged in the center of Venice, Italy, and by morning it had consumed its victim: the Teatro La Fenice, often called simply La Fenice. Luckily, the fire did not travel beyond the walls of La Fenice, but the destruction was profound. One of the great opera houses of Europe was gutted, and the city of Venice lost a treasured civic landmark.

Arriving by chance in Venice just days after the fire, celebrated author John Berendt set out to document the aftermath of the Fenice fire, interviewing local residents and city officials to find out what led up to the fire, and what long-term effect it might have on the city. As with his previous bestseller, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, which centered around a lurid murder in Savannah, Georgia, Berendt found many colorful characters and community intrigues in Venice to write about in addition to his main story. The result of Berendt’s research is the 2005 book The City of Falling Angels. [Article Continues…]

•••••

From the archives…

Anopsology

The raw facts about the raw-food movement

I’ve always liked the expression “all things in moderation.” I’m not sure it represents some sort of universal law, but it seems to be a reasonable attitude with which to approach most situations in life. It suits my personality, too, because I like novelty and variety while I resist both excesses and prohibitions. When it comes to food, this sort of mindset means I wouldn’t categorically say no to any class of food—vegetables, meat, dairy, alcohol, junk food, and genetically modified organisms are all valid options. However, I try to be aware of the nutritional properties and likely health implications of what I eat, and to make food choices deliberately. So I’ll eat that occasional crème brûlée without guilt, but I’ll probably also back off on sugars and carbs the next day.

The problem is, I can’t always figure out whose opinions about nutrition and health I should believe. Among the many paths to optimal health I’ve heard are these: avoid all carbohydrates and eat mostly protein; eat only plant products; eat only fruits; eat just one particular fruit; take vitamins; stay away from vitamins. I’ve heard that eggs are bad for your health; I’ve heard that they’re great for your health. Ditto for coffee and wine. I’ve heard that foods like honey and tea will help you live to be 100 and that they’ll lead to an early grave. Many of these contradictory claims were made by trained health professionals with years of experience, and have a stack of studies and anecdotal reports supporting them. For this reason, I take any proclamation about a particular diet’s virtues with a large pinch of kosher salt. [Article Continues…]

•••••

From the archives…

The Dalahäst

Symbol of Sweden

Guest Article by Morgen Jahnke

I confess that I am something of a fan of the Swedish home furnishings store IKEA, having spent countless hours wandering its shiny showrooms in three different countries (Canada, the U.S., and France). As evidence of this, you need only stand in the middle of my apartment and look around; you can’t help but see an IKEA product anywhere you look.

Although some may decry its mass marketing approach, I like that there is a consistency to the IKEA shopping experience. Whether I visit a store in central France or the suburbs of Vancouver, I know that I will see the same kinds of products, laid out in the same way, according to the same floor plan. This sameness might bother me in other settings, but there is a quirky charm to the world of IKEA that counterbalances the monotony. From its amusing product names to the ubiquity of kitschy Swedish foodstuffs, I always feel like I’ve found a tiny corner of Sweden wherever I happen to be in the world. [Article Continues…]

•••••

From the archives…

Micronations

Starting your own country

I know plenty of people who generally approve of the current U.S. government and plenty who don’t. But I’ve never met anyone who agrees with and supports every single government policy and regulation—in this country or any other. The very nature of democratic government makes this virtually impossible, and I think it’s fair to say that every legislator could produce a long list of things he or she might wish to be different. We all accept certain laws and taxes in exchange for the considerable benefits government provides in the way of economic structures, a justice system, education, public works, national security, and so on. For most of us, that’s a reasonable trade.

But what if you could tailor a government to your exact specifications? Exercise strict control over the currency, imports and exports, immigration policies, defense programs, foreign relations, and everything else? What if you could tailor laws to support those things you care about most and disallow the things you’re against? What if, in fact, you had your very own country, in which you—along with, perhaps, your family, friends, or business associates—ran the whole place from top to bottom? [Article Continues…]

•••••

From the archives…

Churchill, Manitoba

Polar bear capital of the world

Guest Article by Morgen Jahnke

When I was in college, I went hiking with a group of friends in Riding Mountain National Park, located in southwestern Manitoba. We decided to hike quite a distance into the park before making camp for the night. Having had some camping experience, I looked forward to the adventure, but for one fact: the certain presence of black bears.

Compared to grizzly bears, black bears can be relatively harmless, and I had seen them from a distance many times, most often scouring the garbage dump near our family cabin in northern Saskatchewan. But I had never gone this far from civilization, into the bears’ territory, surrounded by the wilderness. [Article Continues…]

•••••

From the archives…

The Swedish Ship Götheborg

Rebuilding history

Guest Article by Morgen Jahnke

Not long ago I had the chance to view an exhibit of artifacts raised from the wreck of the Titanic. These artifacts included personal possessions of the passengers, such as glasses, hats and jewelry, as well as glassware and plates from the ship’s stores. To give context to these items, the exhibit’s creators had reproduced different parts of the ship, including the Dining Room and the Grand Staircase.

The centerpiece of the exhibit was a colossal piece of the ship’s hull, weighing 30,000 pounds, and taking up the majority of the large room that housed it. Although it seemed enormous, diagrams indicating its position on the intact ship showed the piece to be just one tiny part of the whole. [Article Continues…]

•••••

From the archives…

The Golden Spruce

Tragic fall of a legendary tree

During the three years I was living in British Columbia, Canada, I worked in an office overlooking the Fraser River. Just a few doors down from our building was a Weyerhaeuser lumber mill, and I regularly saw logs being towed down the river and floating in a holding area just off the river bank. I was vaguely aware of various political issues involving the wood, such as the ongoing conflicts between loggers and environmentalists and the tariffs imposed by the United States on imported soft wood lumber. But as I was a temporary resident, these problems held little interest for me, and I never formed much of an opinion one way or the other. The only thing that truly puzzled me was the fact that the logs sometimes went in the direction of the mill and sometimes in the opposite direction. I never did figure that one out.

What I did not know at the time was that in 1997, less than two years before I’d arrived, one particular tree in a distant corner of the province had been at the center of a huge news story. One way of framing the story was that an important cultural icon had been destroyed by an ecoterrorist, who may still be at large today. Whether or not that’s an appropriate spin on the tale is open to debate, but it’s certainly true that an old tree known as the Golden Spruce met an untimely end for reasons that are dubious at best, sending an entire community into an uproar. [Article Continues…]

•••••

From the archives…

Doble Steam Cars

The steam engine’s last stand

Back in the mid-1980s when I was in college, I had a car whose gas mileage routinely reached 40 miles per gallon. At that time, most people assumed that as technology advanced, cars’ average mileage would steadily improve. But of course, that didn’t happen, and today, except for hybrids and a few other small cars, the sort of fuel efficiency I got 20 years ago is the exception rather than the rule. I’m well aware of all the technological, political, and financial issues that have combined to create this reality, but every time I think about it I just shake my head. History could have unfolded differently, and high-mileage, low-emissions vehicles might have been the norm today.

More than 80 years ago, you could buy a car that was highly fuel-efficient (even by today’s standards), produced almost no pollution (again, even by modern standards), required very little maintenance, and was virtually silent. It used kerosene as fuel to power a steam engine, and even though the car weighed more than today’s average SUV, it accelerated rapidly and handled smoothly. The car would have been one of several Doble steam car models designed and manufactured by Abner Doble and his three brothers. [Article Continues…]

•••••

From the archives…

Skara Brae

House of sand and rock

Guest Article by Morgen Jahnke

The 2001 documentary Rivers and Tides showcases artist Andy Goldsworthy, who creates ephemeral works of art out of the natural materials around him. Whether it’s leaves, twigs, or icicles, Goldsworthy crafts them into breathtaking constructions that add to the beauty of the landscape while still remaining part of it. Although Goldsworthy invests significant effort in each work, after its completion he leaves it at the mercy of the natural processes of wind, rain, sun, and water, only taking a photo to document its momentary perfection.

Some of Goldsworthy’s most arresting works are the ones he creates out of stone. The film follows the progress of a few such projects, including one in which he creates an egg-shaped structure out of split pieces of stone, and another where he works with stonemasons to create a long serpentine wall in a park in New York state. While the wall is meant to be a permanent installment, the egg-shaped structure Goldsworthy creates in the film is destined to be carried away by the rising tide, showing the vulnerability of a material that most people would take to be among the most solid. [Article Continues…]

•••••

From the archives…

Hay-on-Wye

The Town of Books

Guest Article by Morgen Jahnke

As anyone who knows me can attest, I am a sucker for books. I’ve had my nose perpetually stuck in a book for as long as I can remember, and I can go absolutely stir crazy if I have to endure a two-hour flight (or ten-minute bus ride) without sufficient reading material.

Although I don’t own a car, and my wardrobe may be threadbare in places, buying books (used or new) is, along with travel, one of the luxuries I will not willingly forgo. Thus it was with great joy that I discovered a place where my bibliomania would not seem out of place: the Welsh town of Hay-on-Wye, home to 1500 inhabitants and four million books. [Article Continues…]

•••••

From the archives…

Vulcan, Alberta

The town that’s out of this world

Guest Article by Morgen Jahnke

More than many other pop culture phenomena, Star Trek seems to inspire the most extreme displays of fan commitment. From Star Trek conventions, to the perennial popularity of Trek movies and TV series, on through the huge success of Star Trek: The Experience in Las Vegas (a town with no shortage of other entertainment options), Trek fans have an intense interest in replicating (so to speak) the world of Captain Kirk, Mr. Spock, and all the other distinguished members of Starfleet.

A sociologist might find it interesting to study this devotion; what is it about the Star Trek universe that compels ordinary people to live large parts of their non-virtual lives in its sway? Paradoxically more adult and yet less dangerous than the Star Wars universe, one answer may be that Star Trek predicts a future that seems to make sense, with science and reason in ascendancy. [Article Continues…]

•••••

From the archives…

National Novel Writing Month

Becoming a novelist in 30 days

Like many authors, I have a “vanity shelf” in my home, with copies of all the books I’ve written (or contributed to). Well, at least it contains copies of all the printed books I’ve written—a lot of what I’ve done in recent years has been in the form of ebooks and magazine articles. Among the 11 titles currently on that shelf are several recent books about Mac software, a bound copy of my Master’s thesis, and even—no kidding—a copy of Arnold and Sam, the Two Dragons, which I wrote in October 1974 at age 7. This 12-page book was my first work of fiction, and it was as bad as you might imagine, but I was understandably proud of it at the time. My mother typed it up, my dad photocopied it, and my elementary school library even kept a copy on its shelves, with cover art hand-drawn by the author. By the time I left that school a few years later, it had been checked out nine times, only a few of which were by me.

In November 2005, I made my second attempt at writing fiction. I participated in National Novel Writing Month, which has been held annually since 1999. Along with more than 59,000 other aspiring novelists, I attempted to write 50,000 words of fiction between November 1 and November 30. I was one of almost 10,000 participants who reached that goal. However, what I wrote during that month is not sitting on my vanity shelf. I’ve declined requests to read it even by close friends and family members, who will love me regardless of how bad my writing is. In fact, I haven’t even looked at it myself since then. It’s so bad that it makes Arnold and Sam look like literary genius. And I don’t merely mean that it needs a few rewrites and a thorough going-over by a good editor. It is profoundly, utterly, and irredeemably awful. Humanity will be better off if no one ever sets eyes on that manuscript again. [Article Continues…]

•••••

From the archives…

Fernet-Branca

Italy’s mystery liqueur

Guest Article by Morgen Jahnke

While some companies are moving toward greater transparency regarding the ingredients of their products (to allay fears about trans fats, for instance), in some cases the secret of a product’s makeup is not only closely guarded, but promoted as a key part of its allure. Mysteries can be a great advertising gimmick.

The proprietors of Antoine’s restaurant in New Orleans were clearly operating from this idea when they created their famous recipe for Oysters Rockefeller; although it has been widely speculated upon, this recipe has remained a secret since it was first developed in 1899. Having sampled Oysters Rockefeller at Antoine’s, I would say that I greatly enjoyed their taste, but I got more enjoyment out of trying to guess the elements of the recipe. [Article Continues…]

•••••

From the archives…

Kite Sails

A second wind for large ships

We’re well into the 21st century, and one of the big things on the minds of the world’s technologists is improving propulsion. Cars, trucks, and buses are moving from conventional gasoline-powered internal combustion engines to hybrid engines, diesel engines running on vegetable oil, and fuel cells. Airplane manufacturers are designing better and more powerful jet engines. Submarines are being built with engines that require no moving parts. And rocket scientists are trying to figure out the best means of propulsion to use for sending spacecraft to Mars and beyond. High-tech solutions to get from point A to point B with greater efficiency and lower cost are appearing constantly.

And yet, sometimes the best way forward is to go back. Steam power for cars is making a comeback, for example. What was thought to be a dead-end approach a century ago has turned out to have some redeeming qualities after all, now that technology, materials, and engineering methods have caught up with it. The latest blast from the past, though, really blows my mind. The brightest and best in the field of marine propulsion have come to the startling conclusion that if you want a reliable, inexpensive, and efficient way to move ships across the ocean, you might try…the wind. [Article Continues…]

•••••

From the archives…

Rarely Blooming Plants

The Titan Arum lily, the Kurinji plant, and the Talipot palm

Guest Article by Morgen Jahnke

Although many years have passed since then, there are certain things I can remember clearly about the year 1986. That was the year of the World’s Fair, Expo ‘86, in Vancouver, British Columbia, the year of the space shuttle Challenger disaster, and the year that Halley’s Comet (or Comet Halley) made its closest approach to the sun since 1910.

I remember being impressed at the time that I was going to witness an event that had last occurred so long in the past, before my grandparents were born, before the large-scale wars of the 20th century had taken place. In relation to the human lifespan, 76 years is a long time. When the comet finally did appear, it was not as spectacular as I’d hoped, but I didn’t want to miss it, knowing that it would not appear again until 2061, when I would most likely not be around to see it. [Article Continues…]

•••••

From the archives…

Teatro La Fenice

The phoenix of Venice

Guest Article by Morgen Jahnke

Throughout the night of January 29, 1996, a fire raged in the center of Venice, Italy, and by morning it had consumed its victim: the Teatro La Fenice, often called simply La Fenice. Luckily, the fire did not travel beyond the walls of La Fenice, but the destruction was profound. One of the great opera houses of Europe was gutted, and the city of Venice lost a treasured civic landmark.

Arriving by chance in Venice just days after the fire, celebrated author John Berendt set out to document the aftermath of the Fenice fire, interviewing local residents and city officials to find out what led up to the fire, and what long-term effect it might have on the city. As with his previous bestseller, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, which centered around a lurid murder in Savannah, Georgia, Berendt found many colorful characters and community intrigues in Venice to write about in addition to his main story. The result of Berendt’s research is the 2005 book The City of Falling Angels. [Article Continues…]

•••••

From the archives…

Anopsology

The raw facts about the raw-food movement

I’ve always liked the expression “all things in moderation.” I’m not sure it represents some sort of universal law, but it seems to be a reasonable attitude with which to approach most situations in life. It suits my personality, too, because I like novelty and variety while I resist both excesses and prohibitions. When it comes to food, this sort of mindset means I wouldn’t categorically say no to any class of food—vegetables, meat, dairy, alcohol, junk food, and genetically modified organisms are all valid options. However, I try to be aware of the nutritional properties and likely health implications of what I eat, and to make food choices deliberately. So I’ll eat that occasional crème brûlée without guilt, but I’ll probably also back off on sugars and carbs the next day.

The problem is, I can’t always figure out whose opinions about nutrition and health I should believe. Among the many paths to optimal health I’ve heard are these: avoid all carbohydrates and eat mostly protein; eat only plant products; eat only fruits; eat just one particular fruit; take vitamins; stay away from vitamins. I’ve heard that eggs are bad for your health; I’ve heard that they’re great for your health. Ditto for coffee and wine. I’ve heard that foods like honey and tea will help you live to be 100 and that they’ll lead to an early grave. Many of these contradictory claims were made by trained health professionals with years of experience, and have a stack of studies and anecdotal reports supporting them. For this reason, I take any proclamation about a particular diet’s virtues with a large pinch of kosher salt. [Article Continues…]

•••••

From the archives…

The Dalahäst

Symbol of Sweden

Guest Article by Morgen Jahnke

I confess that I am something of a fan of the Swedish home furnishings store IKEA, having spent countless hours wandering its shiny showrooms in three different countries (Canada, the U.S., and France). As evidence of this, you need only stand in the middle of my apartment and look around; you can’t help but see an IKEA product anywhere you look.

Although some may decry its mass marketing approach, I like that there is a consistency to the IKEA shopping experience. Whether I visit a store in central France or the suburbs of Vancouver, I know that I will see the same kinds of products, laid out in the same way, according to the same floor plan. This sameness might bother me in other settings, but there is a quirky charm to the world of IKEA that counterbalances the monotony. From its amusing product names to the ubiquity of kitschy Swedish foodstuffs, I always feel like I’ve found a tiny corner of Sweden wherever I happen to be in the world. [Article Continues…]

•••••

From the archives…

Micronations

Starting your own country

I know plenty of people who generally approve of the current U.S. government and plenty who don’t. But I’ve never met anyone who agrees with and supports every single government policy and regulation—in this country or any other. The very nature of democratic government makes this virtually impossible, and I think it’s fair to say that every legislator could produce a long list of things he or she might wish to be different. We all accept certain laws and taxes in exchange for the considerable benefits government provides in the way of economic structures, a justice system, education, public works, national security, and so on. For most of us, that’s a reasonable trade.

But what if you could tailor a government to your exact specifications? Exercise strict control over the currency, imports and exports, immigration policies, defense programs, foreign relations, and everything else? What if you could tailor laws to support those things you care about most and disallow the things you’re against? What if, in fact, you had your very own country, in which you—along with, perhaps, your family, friends, or business associates—ran the whole place from top to bottom? [Article Continues…]

•••••

From the archives…

Churchill, Manitoba

Polar bear capital of the world

Guest Article by Morgen Jahnke

When I was in college, I went hiking with a group of friends in Riding Mountain National Park, located in southwestern Manitoba. We decided to hike quite a distance into the park before making camp for the night. Having had some camping experience, I looked forward to the adventure, but for one fact: the certain presence of black bears.

Compared to grizzly bears, black bears can be relatively harmless, and I had seen them from a distance many times, most often scouring the garbage dump near our family cabin in northern Saskatchewan. But I had never gone this far from civilization, into the bears’ territory, surrounded by the wilderness. [Article Continues…]

•••••

From the archives…

The Swedish Ship Götheborg

Rebuilding history

Guest Article by Morgen Jahnke

Not long ago I had the chance to view an exhibit of artifacts raised from the wreck of the Titanic. These artifacts included personal possessions of the passengers, such as glasses, hats and jewelry, as well as glassware and plates from the ship’s stores. To give context to these items, the exhibit’s creators had reproduced different parts of the ship, including the Dining Room and the Grand Staircase.

The centerpiece of the exhibit was a colossal piece of the ship’s hull, weighing 30,000 pounds, and taking up the majority of the large room that housed it. Although it seemed enormous, diagrams indicating its position on the intact ship showed the piece to be just one tiny part of the whole. [Article Continues…]

•••••

From the archives…

The Golden Spruce

Tragic fall of a legendary tree

During the three years I was living in British Columbia, Canada, I worked in an office overlooking the Fraser River. Just a few doors down from our building was a Weyerhaeuser lumber mill, and I regularly saw logs being towed down the river and floating in a holding area just off the river bank. I was vaguely aware of various political issues involving the wood, such as the ongoing conflicts between loggers and environmentalists and the tariffs imposed by the United States on imported soft wood lumber. But as I was a temporary resident, these problems held little interest for me, and I never formed much of an opinion one way or the other. The only thing that truly puzzled me was the fact that the logs sometimes went in the direction of the mill and sometimes in the opposite direction. I never did figure that one out.

What I did not know at the time was that in 1997, less than two years before I’d arrived, one particular tree in a distant corner of the province had been at the center of a huge news story. One way of framing the story was that an important cultural icon had been destroyed by an ecoterrorist, who may still be at large today. Whether or not that’s an appropriate spin on the tale is open to debate, but it’s certainly true that an old tree known as the Golden Spruce met an untimely end for reasons that are dubious at best, sending an entire community into an uproar. [Article Continues…]

•••••

From the archives…

Doble Steam Cars

The steam engine’s last stand

Back in the mid-1980s when I was in college, I had a car whose gas mileage routinely reached 40 miles per gallon. At that time, most people assumed that as technology advanced, cars’ average mileage would steadily improve. But of course, that didn’t happen, and today, except for hybrids and a few other small cars, the sort of fuel efficiency I got 20 years ago is the exception rather than the rule. I’m well aware of all the technological, political, and financial issues that have combined to create this reality, but every time I think about it I just shake my head. History could have unfolded differently, and high-mileage, low-emissions vehicles might have been the norm today.

More than 80 years ago, you could buy a car that was highly fuel-efficient (even by today’s standards), produced almost no pollution (again, even by modern standards), required very little maintenance, and was virtually silent. It used kerosene as fuel to power a steam engine, and even though the car weighed more than today’s average SUV, it accelerated rapidly and handled smoothly. The car would have been one of several Doble steam car models designed and manufactured by Abner Doble and his three brothers. [Article Continues…]

•••••

Archives

August 2007
December 2006
November 2006
September 2006
May 2005
April 2005
March 2005
February 2005
January 2005
December 2004
November 2004
October 2004
September 2004
August 2004
July 2004
June 2004