Oh, my…

Someone apparently thought that the Radioactive Boy Scout was a good idea.

Swede tried to split atoms – at home

Associated Press / August 4, 2011

STOCKHOLM – A Swedish man who was arrested after trying to split atoms in his kitchen said yesterday he was only doing it as a hobby.

Richard Handl said he had the radioactive elements radium, americium, and uranium in his apartment in southern Sweden when police showed up and arrested him on charges of unauthorized possession of nuclear material.

Handl, 31, said he had tried for months to set up a nuclear reactor at home and kept a blog about his experiments, describing how he created a small meltdown on his stove.

Only later did he realize it might not be legal and sent a question to Sweden’s Radiation Authority, which answered by sending the police.

The police raid took place in late July, but police have refused to comment. If convicted, Handl could face fines or up to two years in prison.

© Copyright 2011 Globe Newspaper Company.

Pro tip– if you cause a meltdown ON YOUR STOVE, you’re doin’ it wrong.


It’s that time of year again…

They’re invading and there is nothing we can do to stop them.  No proactive measures, no way to seal the entrances, nothing.  And you know what?  There are some people who think that their presence here is actually a good thing.

No, I’m not talking about cockroaches, though I might as well be.  I’m talking about tourists.

Today is the other day of the year when our fair city swells with the ranks of Townies, Suburbanites, and those dreaded infiltrators, Tourists.

When I worked in retail on Beacon Hill I used to have to work on the 4th of July.  It was absolute hell.  I worked in an antique store and that day we got hordes of two types of people, thieves and tourists.  The thieves were there for only one purpose, to steal from us or from the tourists.  The tourists were there largely to gawk or to ask us dumb questions.  The #1 top question was, “Do you have any silver by Paul Revere?”

For those of you not in the know, Paul Revere was a silversmith but not a prolific one by any means.  On the rare occasion that one of his pieces is unearthed in a private collection somewhere it is usually sold at auction and goes for big money.  The last time I remember a piece being sold it was auctioned off by a church and the proceeds were used to refinance the rehabbing of the entire sanctuary.  So, no, the tiny little shop I worked for did not and would never have a piece of silver by the most famous and one of the least prolific silversmiths in US History.

Charles St., where I used to work, leads directly to the Hatch Shell where the Pops play and the fireworks take place.  People who are really insane devoted actually camp out overnight so they can get a space on the Esplanade in front of the Hatch Shell the morning of the 4th and they sit there ALL DAY waiting for the festivities to begin.  That meant that at the end of the day on the 3rd and during the day on the 4th we’d be flooded on Charles St. with drunks, revelers, and all sorts of folks looking to make a dime off the tourists who’d flock to Boston for a “genuine American 4th of July experience.”

July 5th in Boston, and on the other side of the river in Cambridge, looks a bit like Time’s Square on January 1st each year.  Trash is strewn everywhere, food, bottles, and, of course, the results of people who drank too much and couldn’t, ahem, make it to a bathroom.  It is mayhem.  Most locals head out of the town for the 4th.  Or, they do what I do, stay inside and batten down the hatches.

Wherever you are, I hope you have a Happy 4th.  I’ll be at home in air conditioned comfort away from the tourist invasion and waiting for Geoff to come home from his patrol.  Think of him as you watch the fireworks, he’ll be out herding cats tourists.


As if I needed another reason to hate flying

The TSA, an organization rapidly on its way to becoming both a punchline and the most-hated Federal agency in the country, has committed yet another mind-bogglingly stupid act.  This time, they have forced an elderly cancer patient to all sorts of humiliating search procedures, including forcing her to remove her adult diaper.  How does this make anyone safer?  It certainly does not make anyone’s travel experience more fun.  This sort of thing is why I have decided I will not fly domestically anymore.  It’s either driving or the train.  And it is positively infuriating to see this sort of thing being condoned by so many people who should know better.  This is security theater, in the truest sense of the term.  it is an utter waste of time and resources, and it makes ordinary people mistrust the people entrusted to protect them.  It does not make flying more safe, it makes airports more unbearable.

The answer is, and always has been, better intelligence.  Have we made the creation of more interpreters in Arabic, Farsi, Pashtun, and other relevant languages a priority?  Not really, no.  In fact, until recently the policy of the government was to be more afraid of interpreters that might be gay than they were of the terrorists.  And we continue to collect huge piles of raw data that sit sometimes for weeks or months with no one looking at it because there is simply too much for the overworked analysts to do.  The data is useless unless someone can actually examine it.  Most of the time, that sort of data can be used to show trends and patterns.  It rarely if ever has everything all wrapped up in a neat little package like TV or the movies.  Just grabbing all the e-mails and tapping all the cell phones the way was done with AT&T is such a colossal waste of time it makes my head hurt. It’s not like by grabbing all the Tweets in the country the government is suddenly going to find the one that says “Terrorists Abdul Johannsen and Ali Ibn Humperdink are going to bring a suitcase bomb onto U.S.A. Airways Flight 2112 on December 25th.  Merry Christmas infidels!” And profiling of the most completely asinine sort has been policy, rather than behavior profiling, which is not only what is done in places like Ben Gurion airport in Israel, but is  what we already do in the FBI and other crime analysis units around the country.  And it works, people.  IT WORKS.  So stop trying to reinvent the wheel, and stop trying to insist for political expediency that the square wheel you invented really is better.


Never liked their pizza anyway

Upper Crust, a well-known local pizza chain here in Massachusetts, has had all sorts of legal problems in the last year or so.  I have never been a fan of their pizza anyway, since I think their sauce sucks and their pizza is shockingly overpriced, costing more than twice as much as pizza you might get from a local mom and pop place (where the pizza is better anyway).  So why anyone continues to eat there is beyond me.

Now one of their franchises has been slapped with an $80,000 fine for committing the same kind of employee abuse that got the company in trouble.  I guess that apple didn’t fall far from the corporate tree.


An open letter to Symphony Patrons

Last night I was lucky enough to attend one of the final open rehearsals of Berlioz’s  Roméo et Juliette conducted by Maestro Charles Dutoit.  In all the years I have lived here I have never been to a BSO open rehearsal.  Now I know why.

My gripes, listed below, have absolutely nothing to do with the performers.  Indeed, I was quite taken with the tenor, Jean-Paul Fouchécourt.  His performance was outstanding and clearly the best of the three vocal soloists.  Watching Dutoit work was lovely and, in all likelihood, far more fun from the perspective of a working professional performer than seeing him in concert, though I will have to wait to report back to you about that on another day.

However, what made the night almost unbearable were the patrons.  Here, in no particular order, are the problems that made me and my friend want to throttle the other people in the audience.

1) Dress.  You’re going to the symphony, gentlemen, even if it is “only” a rehearsal.  If you’re wearing Tiva’s, NAOT, or anything else that shows your toenails (which clearly haven’t been cut since the Nixon administration) you’re doing it wrong.  Also, to the man with the feces stain on the outside of the seat of his pants?  No, just no.  The rest of our outfit was fine, how did you miss that?  How did the woman you were with miss it?

2) CELL PHONES.  Wow, where do I begin here.  The BSO has for years projected that helpful slide up on the walls that reminds everyone, that means YOU, to please turn off your cell phones before the performance.  This INCLUDES open rehearsals.  When your cell phone rings during the pre-concert lecture the polite thing to do is to immediately TURN IT OFF.  Letting it ring because you are too embarrassed to reach into your pocket makes you a bigger jerk.  We all know it is you, lady in the white jacket.  Furthermore, if it happens a second time then you are just a consummate entitled ass, or you’re too deaf to have a cell phone that isn’t permanently set to vibrate.

Also, a note to the person in the 3rd row, stage right, orchestra section.  When the first violin section is pointing at you it’s time to TURN OFF YOUR RINGER.

3) Entitlement and Deafness.  We all know that the Classical Music crowd is about 80 – 90% blue hairs.  This is pretty much a fact of life.  What is NOT, however, is that they act like entitled pissy socialites wherever they go.  To the two 70+ year old ladies who came in during the pre-concert lecture and proceeded to have a very loud argument about where to sit, FAIL.  There were seats literally everywhere.  There were seats on the aisle.  There were handicapped seats.  You had your pick of seats that didn’t require climbing steps or moving very far.  This was not rocket science.  But, when you are talking AT each other so loudly that the entire orchestra section is shushing you because we can’t hear the lecturer, who was very interesting and engaging, you’re doing it wrong.  It makes me wonder, when you’re that deaf, how much you’re going to actually hear of the experience, anyway.  I mean, go ahead, enjoy yourself, but SHUT UP when other people are trying to listen.

4) Seats.  Anyone who has ever been to Symphony Hall, even once, knows about the seats.  The building is old (opened in 1900) and the seats are practically antiques.  Unlike other concert halls, the seats are not spring loaded.  There is a nice benefit to this, no squeaking when you sit down, no pressure from underneath when you sit, and no snapping shut when you stand up.  However, there is one major downside.  You have to actually set your seat down or it will fall down with a BANG.  When the hall is largely empty, like it was for the lecture, this sounds roughly like a cannon blast.  When the hall is full, like it was for the rehearsal, it sounds like a gun shot.

Now, imagine being on stage and trying to rehearse and hearing that over and over and over again.  By the end of the rehearsal my friend and I were about to start throttling people, and we were  in the audience.  I literally hadn’t been to Symphony hall in years.  She hadn’t been there in a while either, yet neither of us had a problem remembering to set out seats down quietly.  Most of the people around us were clearly regulars.  How hard is it to take an extra second and put your seat down quietly?  I’m surprised nobody got skewered with a baton or a bow for knocking seats down, dropping off their coats, and then swaning about and chitchatting while Maestro Dutoit was on stage getting the orchestra to tune.  Really??

5) The Audience as Furniture.  The BSO has a lot of reasons for holding these open rehearsals.  Off the top of my head here are a few:  It’s good for audience building, the bar for entry is low ($17.00 for a ticket, not bad), it’s a great way to test drive a new piece that you might otherwise not want to pay full price for, it raises money for the BSO, and most importantly, the orchestra needs it.

That’s right, as a performer it is a completely different experience to play or sing in a space that is empty than it is to play or sing in one that is full of bodies.  The acoustics, even in an “acoustically perfect” venue such as symphony hall, are different when the hall is full of warm bodies.  That is just a truth of performing, it sounds different, the reverb is different.  It IS different.  So, guess what folks?  We are there as furniture.  We’re listening furniture, and for our pains, we get a cool pre-concert lecture wherein we get to learn about the piece, but our job is to sit there, SHUT UP, and listen.  We’re there to help the orchestra so they have some practice with that piece in the space when it is full of people.  This is especially helpful when you are dealing with a piece that is not in the standard repertoire, such as Berlioz’s  Roméo et Juliette.

In summary, turn off your damn phones, shut up (you never know when he’s going to stop the rehearsal and you’ll get caught talking down there in the front row), dress appropriately, check your batteries in your hearing aids, and if you’re going to be a total tool, STAY HOME.