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Tuesday, April 29, 2014

A Gathering for Science Geeks, Math Nerds, and Really Brainy Boys and Girls of All Types

With the stirring theme march of Star Wars and the loud pops of state-of-the-art science experiments as aural background, thousands and thousands of budding young scientists, technologists, engineers, and mathematicians packed the Walter E. Washington Convention Center this past weekend for the free 2014 USA Science and Engineering Festival.

From astrophysics to zoology, if a subject involved science it was represented somewhere on the vast convention floor.

And when we used the word packed in our opening paragraph, we were engaging in understatement. How packed was it, you ask? Well, one of the guest speakers was basketball great and African-American student encourager Kareem Abdul Jabbar.  Now you would expect it would be easy to find a 7 foot, 2 inch man, right? Wrong. Despite searching for more than a half hour, the convention was so crowded we weren't able to find Jabbar's book signing spot.

But here is a pictorial capturing of some of what we did see:

You could learn about the science of sound ...
... or make some really loud music of your own.
Did we mention the crowd was large?
But there were a few quiet places to relax
You could explore something as big as the world ...
... or as small as a part of an atom.
There were robots that could do flips ...
... and robots that could fling frisbees.
You could build things and take them home ...
... become part of the big picture ...
... or use your nerd skills to create a weapon from scratch to stave off the Zombie Apocalypse.
You could visit the STEM Fab Lab ....
... or the giant Vortex welding truck.
You could see big name scientists like Bill Nye the Science Guy from a distance.  ...
... or  the less well-known science guy up close and personal.
You could encounter characters from science like Booker T. Washington and Nicola Tesla.
You could even get a hug if you needed one.
You could visit big space ships  ...
You could check out your favorite bugs ...
... or pick up some favorite science books.
But no matter what you chose to do, you found that Geek (and all its derivatives ) was not only the good word for the day, but a great way to use your talents and live your life.  So let's hear it for Brain Beats Brawn and Go Nerds.

Monday, April 28, 2014

It's The End of the World ... Again ... and Again ... And Again ... and Again ... And Again ... And Again

Everyone from everywhere wanted to be at Disasterthon! in DC
If you love disaster films and Apocalyptic movies, then the Hirshhorn was the place to be on Saturday as the museum presented Disasterthon! An All-Day Marathon of Cataclysmic Classics.

A total of 6 films were shown during the event, which began at noon and concluded after midnight.  Disasterthon! was scheduled to coincide with the Hirshhorn's current exhibit Damage Control: Art and Destruction Since 1950.

Five of the movies were selected by museum officials and they offered varying possibilities for the end of the world as we know it. They were:

  • Miracle Mile (1988) - Nuclear destruction. Message from film - if a pay phone rings really early on a dark morning, don't answer it 
  • The Host aka Gwoemul (2006) - A Korean toxic-chemical altered walking, climbing, bridge-swinging giant mutant lake creature. Message from film - don't dump environmentally unsafe liquids down the drain, even if ordered to by an American scientist upset with dusty bottles.
  • War of the Worlds (2005) - Invading Martians intent on capturing Earth. Message from film - keep watching the skies and keep Tom Cruise nearby if you want to survive. 
  • Sharknado (2013) - A Sci-Fi camp classic in which LA is threatened by sharks brought from the sea and dropped from the sky and one of the worst premises for a film (so bad it is actually good) ever created. Can't wait for its spawns - Sharknado 2 and Zombeaver) ever. Message from film - always have a big chainsaw handy for battling sky-dropping sharks. It works much better than a red-stooled, cast-iron bar seat.
  • 28 Days Later (2002) - Speedy zombies take over England. Message from film - If you wake up in a hospital all alone, be prepared to encounter the environmentally-created living dead.
The 6th and final film was selected by online voters from a list of 25 titles submitted by the Hirshhorn. The winner was Dr. Strangelove or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964). The Stanley Kubrick atomic-era classic captures the hilarious horror when an insane general triggers a path to nuclear holocaust that a war room full of political leaders frantically tries to stop. It  is filled with messages. Here's just one - if you are bent on unleashing a nuclear air attack, make sure you have at least one Cowboy character like Slim Pickens on board so he can ride the plane to destruction in the event of a mechanical failure.

After each film, viewers got a stamp on a special Disasterthon! passport from "an official government signatory" attesting to the fact that they had seen the film. Those who made it through all six would be eligible for special prizes. (For the sake of full disclosure. I had fully intended to watch all 6. I made it thorough and enjoyed Miracle Mile, The Host, and War of the Worlds. But I only lasted half-way through Sharknado, which, unfortunately I had seen twice before. You know a film is pretty bad if even Tara Reid's frequently bouncing breasts can't keep you in your seat for a 3rd viewing.)

Disasterthon! was designed to be an interactive event so live tweeting was encouraged. As you can imagine from the subject matter, the tweeting was both clever and engaging. Here are some of my favorites from the day. (To see all the tweets, click here and begin with April 26)
  • OK, now you’re just wasting ammo.
  • Ever since George Romero’s original Dawn of the Dead, shopping as a respite from the waves of undead has held a special charm.
  • In a zombie movie, whenever there’s a discussion about the relative safety of routes, they pick the wrong one.
  • An adult chimp can rip your arm off and beat you like a dirty rug. A chimp infected with rage…
  • Shouldn’t there be a sealnado and a manateenado as well? Seaweednado? Sandnado?
  • I ripped it off from that mute chick who rode around with Charlton Heston in Planet of the Apes.
  • Collin should know better than to be a total d-bag in a shark movie.
  • 20 minutes in and they shoot the oxygen tank. SMH
In between films, nuclear safety short films prepared by the government were screened, including one of my all-time favorites "Duck and Cover." I am certain the absurdity and inanity of Civil Defense propaganda films like these contributed to why so many of us took to the streets in protest in the 60s and early 70s. You can check out my theory by clicking on the "Duck and Cover" link above. This was actually produced and released by a government that expected to be taken seriously?

Here Deborah Horowitz (center) is with museum public information officer  Glenn Dixon, who has just realized that Saturday marks the 4th anniversary of Hirshhorn employment, and Rhys Conlon of the publication department.
And while the day was a fun event, there was an artistic purpose behind it, says Deborah Horowitz, the Director of Curatorial Administration and Publications for the Hirshhorn.

"The notion of end-of-the world destruction is terrifying, yet it is mesmerizing, too," Horowitz said. "The whole notion of spectacle is important to our culture. In many ways, we have become a culture of spectacle.  While this was fun, it also has weight."

So as one of the Hirshhorn's now-leading experts on damage and destruction, does Horowitz have a chosen way she would want the world to end?

"Quickly and not for a long time," she says. 

A Prices Do DC Extra
What else could you do at Disasterthon! beside watch end-of-the-world films? Here's a pictorial sample.

You could view the movie posters  created especially for the event by Hirshhorn artists




 You could picture yourself in Sharknado 2.


This is me meeting Jaws ...
... and this is Zoe, Deborah Horowitz''s 6-and--half -year-old fearless daughter
You could compete for Hat-astrophe prizes for best disaster-themed head wear.



 You could buy special Disasterthon! t-shirts and other end-of-the-world items.

Glenn with his Hat-astrophe and Deborah model the for-sale event t-shirts
Or you could view the art from the exhibit that started all this day of disaster-movie madness.


Sunday, April 27, 2014

Damage Control: How Artists Destroy to Create Art


A woman strolls down a city street, wearing a flowing turquoise dress and red shoes straight out of Oz. She’s happy, carefree and carrying a torch lily—which she proceeds to swing, with glee and the greatest of ease, into the window of a parked car.
This 1997 video installation, Ever Is Over All, by Swiss artist Pipilotti Rist, encapsulates the beauty, irony and transgression at the heart of “Damage Control: Art and Destruction Since 1950,” now on view at the Hirshhorn Museum. 
The exhibition traces the theme of destruction in contemporary art from the early atomic age to the present. The show begins, aptly enough, with a bang: Harold Edgerton’s footage of nuclear detonations.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Are Trout and Harper the Next Mantle and Mays?

Each week in our Saturday Supplement, The Prices Do DC re-posts an entry of interest to both residents of the Washington area and visitors to DC that first appeared in another publication's website.

Mike Trout makes the cover of SI ... 
... while Bryce Harper finishes  2nd in HR derby @All-Star game
Old enough to sign a seven-figure contract, too young to order a beer, the ballplayers were barely out of high school, single and carefree when they were dropped in the Arizona desert with nothing but monotony on their hands. Play a game, practice that game and then wait for the next game.
“The time we had there, it was so much fun,” Mike Trout says. “I’ll never forget it.”
“We had an absolute blast every single day,”Bryce Harper says.
Less than three years later, as Trout’s Los Angeles Angels prepare to visit Harper and the Washington Nationals for the first time for a three-game series that begins Monday, one has evolved into perhaps the best player in the game and the other into one of the most exciting. 
To continue reading this story that 1st appeared in The Washington Post, click here.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Courting the Good Life


Any good sales person will tell you you need to push a product while it's hot.

That's why, with the Washington Wizards in the NBA playoffs for the 1st time in 6 years, it wasn't surprising that the Verizon Center was offering private, personalized visits to encourage wealthy fans to buy complete playoff and full season ticket packages.

But what was surprising is that I got one of the invites. As a retired journalist and educator who now blogs about DC, I don't fit the profile of a DC-area elite. But hey - what's the old saying - you don't look a gift to spend an hour touring the Verizon Center in the mouth.

So with my wife Judy (who makes all the financial decisions for our family and I was still hoping that maybe I could see the playoff games for the $21 I had in my wallet) we headed by Metro (what did you expect - a chauffeur-driven limousine?) to the Center, which serves as the home for the Wizards, the ice hockey Capitals, the WNBA Mystics, and the Georgetown Hoyas basketball team.

We were met by our young, enthusiastic sales rep. I was upfront with him. I told him unless he had a $21-dollar package for the playoffs I wouldn't be buying. I was fairly certain of his response since I had spent much more for a sandwich dinner at the venue at a recent Sting/ Paul Simon concert. I prepared to head back out the door.

Instead, he offered a huge table of free refreshment (where was he at that Sting/Simon concert?) and proceeded to give us an engaging tour of the facility he knew extremely well. I told him I would be blogging about the visit and he had only one request - I couldn't use his name since he couldn't be quoted in an official capacity for the organization. So for the sake of this blog, I will call our guide RGS (for really good salesperson).

On the tour, we got freebies ...
... we saw under the floor area ...
... and the posh club rooms
We started at the top of the facility with the private and corporate boxes with their big screen TVs and individual bathrooms.  We moved down the sections, where still-available playoff seats were marked in white. We explored the 3 private clubs for season ticket holders, each one bigger than the next. One is located in the bowels of the building so you can feel even more a part of the action. In that section, we saw the stored-section-by-section floor for basketball and the zambonis that fix up the ice at hockey games. We visited the locker room areas. We even saw the in-site parking space for owner Ted Leonis.

The Prices sit court side
RGS then escorted us down to court side. We sat at the scorer's table. We sat in several different court side seats. And, may I say, the court side experience is much different than the in-the-heavens view I usually get.  My wife gave me her now-don't-get-used-to-this-kind-of-life-look. I knew she was right, but for a second or two, I closed my eyes and imagined what sports is like when springing for court side seats is no financial barrier.

RGS asked us if we had any final questions. We said we didn't and shook hands. Our tour was over.

But then a strange thing happened. As underdogs, the Wizards won both their away playoff games in Chicago against the Bulls. That means they will be returning tonight to the Verizon Center with a 2-0 lead in the best of 7 series. It also means that since my visit to the Center the Wizards are undefeated.

Seats for me: A slam dunk?
Now the sports world is well-known for its emphasis on lucky signs. Maybe I am one for the Wizards. So Mr. Ted Leonis, I have a special offer for you. I would be willing to become a season-ticket holder. Your salesperson RGS already gave me a great taste of what that life is like. I am sure I would be able to handle it.

Now I realize you are a business man. I am not asking for a free handout. I would be willing to pay $17.76 cents for the package. I would have paid you $21, but I bought an Arizona diet green tea drink.

I think you should seriously consider my offer. Imagine how much money you would make with an undefeated team. For a $17.76 outlay, that would be quite a bargain. In fact, that would make you one of the world's great financial wizards. I will wait your reply. By the way, I am also available for the Caps and the Mystics if you want to try for an undefeated trifecta.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Superheroes, Success. Kids, and Comic Books


Matt Zimmerman and Kyle Scott encounter comic superheroes
Even superheroes don't always succeed. Last weekend, organizers of Awesome Con issued a call for costumed crusaders to head to the Capitol Reflecting Pool in front of the Capitol Building to join together to break the Guinness World Record for the largest group of people dressed as comic book characters ever assembled in one place at one time.

The record was 1,531, set earlier in China. But the challenge failed as only 237 costumed comic fans showed up. Or did it? Did the good guys really lose?

Maybe not. At least if you look through the eyes of 2 young fans who trekked from Virginia to take in the attempt. Matt Zimmerman, 11, and his 10-year-old friend Kyle Scott. They didn't care  about records. They just wanted to see superheroes up close. And they did. A total of 231 in all.

Matt's favorite comic book legend is Spiderman. For Scott, it's Rocket Raccoon. So what did they think of the event?

"Having a lot of people dressed up seemed funny, so we wanted to come," Zimmerman said. So after seeing enough Spidermen in all shapes, sizes, and ages to play a football game, what did Zimmerman think?

"I'll dress up next year," he said.

Super driver Harry Faulkner
And then there was the case of 52-year-old Harry Faulkner ("just like the novelist," he will tell you). Faulkner could be spotted astride the pedi-cab he drives, hoping to entice a fare. He was dressed as Superman.

Faulkner said he initially thought about coming to the event as The Flash, but rejected that idea."Pedi-cabs aren't that fast," he said.  "It's more about strength than it is about speed."

When last seen, Faulkner was pedaling his way down Pennsylvania Avenue, transporting a costumed family to the Walter E. Washington Convention Center, where the actual comic book convention was being held.

And then there was Green Lantern (for the sake of full disclosure, my favorite comic book superhero of all-time.) Of course, the Green Lantern has to have a secret identity. In this case, when he wasn't on active In Brightest Day, in Blackest Night, No Evil Shall Escape My Sight. Let Those Who Worship Evil's Might, Beware My Power - Green Lantern's Light mode, he was Joe Sutliff, a comic book creator from nearby Virginia.

Green Lantern in DC
So, like me, Green Lantern was obviously Sutliff's favorite character, right? Well, actually no. Sutliff was exhibiting at Awesome Con and only decided to enter the record-attempt event at the last minute. He found a Green Lantern t-shirt at Target and fashioned the rest of his costume from things he had at home.

Like most avid comic enthusiasts, Sutliff discovered his passion at an early age. For him, it was the Superman he found at age 7. "I had an older cousin who was a collector and he dropped a pile on me and that was the end of it," he said.

The fact that Sutliff would be spending 3 days with about 20,000 other comic book devotees spoke to his enthusiasm. "My mother will be turning in her grave, but I'm going to be at Awesome Con on Easter instead of church," he said.

And in his guise as Green Lantern, Sutliff had an important message he wanted to impart. Pointing to the circle of rope that encased all the superheroes,  he said, "All the people outside the rope might be laughing, but all the people inside the rope believe in truth and justice and fighting evil. And wouldn't the world be a better place if everyone believed in that."

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Earth Day 2014 in DC's Union Station

Thousands of area residents, many of them school-age students, and travelers with time on their hands took in the annual Earth Day celebration at Union Station today.

The event, which featured interactive, eco-friendly experiences designed to raise awareness of environmental issues and encourage sustainability, was hosted by Earth Day Network and the National Air and Space Administration (NASA).

Here is a photographic sampling of some of what those who attended saw and did.

Just one of several lists of activities 
Young students learn about climate
Waiting to explore our Earth.
Jennifer Kennedy and Tony Springer explain atmosphere
A peep sacrifices itself for science 
THree layers of glove protects astronauts in outer space.
Washington DC as it looks from satellite photos. Now where is our apartment? 
The littlest ones made a special eco-friend
While NSA supplied budding young scientists with backpacks

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