October 15, 2005
Punkin Chunkin World Championship — November 4–6 in Millsboro, Delaware
If it's fall it must be punkin chunkin (no apostrophe, thank you very much) time.
What — you don't have that in Prague or Phuket?
Punkin chunkin is the sport of using a special "gun" to propel pumpkins great distances through the air.
The current world record is held by one Ray Tolson (above) whose Second Amendment, a 20,000–pound gun, set the mark of 4,434.28 feet (0.84 mile) at the 2003 world championship.
This year he's preparing Second Amendment Too (above, with a protective bucket over the muzzle), which took him 5,000 hours to build.
It's a glistening black steel structure 100 feet long and cost Tolson $200,000 to create but who cares about stuff like that when you're having fun?
The upcoming competition will attract 40,000 spectators who will pay $25 apiece to witness epic feats of punkin chunkin.
So popular is the event, now in its 20th year, that about 60 teams had to be turned away from participating because there simply wasn't enough space for them.
100 teams will compete.
FunFact: Chunkers train with frozen turkeys, bowling balls, melons and water–filled basketballs.
Michelle Boorstein wrote an entertaining front–page story about the sport for today's Washington Post; it follows.
- With Pressure and Perseverance, Pumpkins Do Fly
Virginia 'Chunker' Aims to Set Record
There once was a time when Ray Tolson thought the sport of "Punkin Chunkin" sounded as crazy as can be, when the notion of spending as much as $200,000 to build a 100-foot-long "gun" designed to fire a pumpkin nearly a mile seemed silly.
But that was another Ray Tolson, a Ray Tolson who didn't study air pressure and cloud speed in search of the perfect "air shelf" where an 8- to 10-pound pumpkin could sail perfectly.
Who didn't commission university horticulturists to breed pumpkins that are precisely 9.5 inches in diameter, round and with a thick skin -- the perfect projectile.
With the World Championship Punkin Chunkin and a chance to best his world record of 4,434.28 feet less than three weeks away, Tolson, 61, was in his yard in Culpeper County on Friday, furiously fiddling with the gun.
He said he has spent 5,000 hours building the glistening, black steel Second Amendment Too, which is why, he said, the grass has grown tall on his five acres, partially obscuring the half-dozen vehicles he used to spend his free time tinkering with.
"I haven't had time to mow," said Tolson, a small man who calls himself a high-tech redneck.
"The point is to use the maximum G4 force on the pumpkin without destroying it."
His blue eyes twinkle.
A smile lifts his bushy, brown-and-gray beard.
"There's nothing like it!"
Tolson's fanaticism is hardly unusual in a sport that went from a casual fall contest 20 years ago among friends throwing anvils (then pumpkins, once their backs started hurting) to a $25-a-head event that draws 40,000 people and corporate sponsorship.
This year, all machines are required to comply with American Society of Mechanical Engineers standards.
Any increase in bureaucracy hasn't hurt popularity.
About 60 teams were turned away from participating in the Nov. 4 to 6 contest because there just wasn't space for them in Millsboro, Del.
One hundred teams will compete.
Since the original Punkin Chunkin began in Georgetown, Del., 40 to 50 similar events have sprung up across the country.
These chunkers describe themselves as "renaissance rednecks," people who are into engineering, ballistics and gadgets to the degree that the championship Web site lists this as one of its top questions attendees may ask: "What are the GPS coordinates of the Chunk location?"
Frank Shade, president of the Punkin Chunkin championship event, said the growth hasn't changed the essential character of a chunker: "Chunkers are fun-loving, gregarious people. At the drop of a hat, they're going to go chunk."
Despite increasingly taking on the tone of a big, corporate festival, Punkin Chunkin is essentially a service organization.
Everyone who helps put on the event is a volunteer, and all the profit goes to college scholarships and to St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis.
The event gives away about $80,000 each year.
Tolson may look like the native Culpeper boy he is when he is scurrying around on the "big gun," but he's hardly small-town.
As the top service engineer for the U.S. office of Kaeser Compressors Inc., he is sent worldwide to troubleshoot on the company's devices, which use air power in manufacturing.
Always a problem solver, Tolson was spending his free time fixing the home he built and toying with cars back in 1997 when he was asked to join a Michigan-based team that was building a Punkin Chunkin gun and wanted his expertise with the science of air power.
He was hooked.
The team of nine people, including Tolson as air tech, won the world championship in 2002 and 2003 with a 20,000-pound gun called the Second Amendment.
The 2003 record still stands.
Two years ago, Tolson began working on the Second Amendment Too.
And while he has let his cars and his lawn go, he said, the sport has inspired him to bring the joys and challenges of Punkin Chunkin to today's youth.
He has helped some budding engineering students and is hoping to start a more regular project with a high school class, so students can enter the event and learn everything from metalworking and physics to T-shirt design.
"If I can take one kid who might have been a bad apple and turn him around ... I've accomplished a lot; I've given something back," he said.
Keeping things simple and fun has become increasingly difficult.
With some people holding pseudo-Punkin Chunkin events and not donating the money, the group has hired an attorney, and Shade said the organization is in litigation over the trademark of its name.
The list of safety rules gets longer every year, and last year after a barrel made of PVC pipe exploded, the group banned all substances but metal.
But at their essence, chunkers are innovators.
They train not only with pumpkins but also with melons, bowling balls and frozen turkeys.
On the ground in Tolson's yard was a pile of basketballs he filled with water and fired for practice toward the Blue Ridge Mountains in the distance.
While Tolson will talk generally about the skills involved in becoming a world champion -- meteorology, proper pumpkin selection, thousands of hours of mechanics -- there is a limit to how much he will say.
He won't say the precise pressure in his air cannon, nor the velocity of the fruit.
The secret is a cocktail of air and pressure.
"I'll just say it's controlled power."
King Tut Tissue Box — "How do you say 'gesundheit' in hieroglyphics?"
Digital v Analog: It's so over — except in everyday life
As I gear up to create my treadmill workstation it occurs to me that entertainment — that is, enjoyment emanating from elsewhere as opposed to from within my brain case — is by far the most difficult and expensive thing to configure.
1) I'm going to have to have both the cable guy and the satellite TV guy come to my house, drill holes in my living room wall, and snake in fat black cables connecting the media to my TV–to–be.
2) For my computer workstation I won't need a single wire: the laptop I'll be using (an Apple 15" PowerBook running OS X 10.3.9) works via Bluetooth anywhere in my house and around the property — the back yard, the side yard, the front yard, up the street — and the wireless keyboard and mouse also run on Bluetooth.
3) After the upcoming installations I will have a total of 9 wires running through 9 separate holes drilled through the walls of my house to support all the places where I might watch TV: upstairs there are 3 cable and 2 satellite TV holes/wires; downstairs there will be 2 of each. (3 + 2 + 2 + 2 = 9.)
4) Contrast this with 1 hole/wire for my cable modem yielding "All Access" to my high–speed wireless internet.
Like I said in the headline above, regardless of whether the government decrees, as a draft of new Senate legislation reported yesterday dictates, that analog TV in the U.S. will cease on April 7, 2009, from that point forward being broadcast only digitally, the whole media business is living in the Paleolithic era.
What do you want to bet that in the spring of 2009 one cable brings in all my TV to anywhere in the house — and out in the yard as well, if that's where I choose to watch?
Comfortmeter™ — 'It's not the heat, it's the humidity'
How many more times do we have to listen to this tired refrain?
If you have one of these nifty devices you'll be able to tell people exactly how much moisture is in the air instead of being vague like everyone else.
Be the first on your block to know exactly why everyone's dripping wet.
Displays temperature in Fahrenheit or Celsius and humidity levels in %.
Stand it up or mount it on a wall.
Requires one AA battery (included).
"Where you buy your watch is as important as the watch you buy."
That was the tag line of Wempe, a New York City jeweler, over its 1990s New York Times ads for insanely expensive timepieces.
I used to burst out laughing every time I read it because it so perfectly encompasses everything I detest: pomposity, self–importance and the belief that any one person on this planet matters one iota more than any other.
But I digress.
So when I first came across the Comfortmeter™ in a paper catalog mailed to my house by this company, I figured, oh, OK, $29.98 is what it costs.
But then I did what I always do these days: had a look on froogle to do a price comparison.
Boy, tell you what — the difference astounded me, even more than is usually the case.
Because not only is there the nearly 300% price differential in the product's price: amazon provides free two–day shipping through its amazon prime feature whereas the catalog charges you a bundle extra for ground shipping that might take weeks to reach you.
It's a no–brainer: where you buy your Comfortmeter™ — or anything else — is absolutely unimportant compared to the price you pay.
MorphWorld: Bettany Hughes into Julie Taymor
As I watched British historian/author/TV personality
the superb theater and
Never underestimate the power of joehead nation, is all I've gotta say.
Because the ink wasn't even dry on yesterday's TV–on–a–Stick post when in came what appears to be the answer to my treadmill work–station prayers: the striking Orbit Computer Station pictured above.
From the website:
- Discover our efficient, expandable workstations!
Versatile, space-saving computer workstation provides access for multiple users and easily expands to include monitor platforms, CPU holder, footrests and work surface to meet your specific needs.
Super-strong 5" x 5" steel post holds cables and bolts directly to the floor for maximum stability.
Floor mounting hardware not included.
It sounds just great — except for three small problems.
1) "Easy assembly" — Surely they must be joking 'cause here there ain't no such thing. I have difficulty extracting the prize from a box of Crackerjack, much less trying to assemble this 152–lb. stainless–steel beast.
2) "Floor mounting hardware not included" — Even if it were, I'm not inclined to start drilling into the lovely oak floor.
3) Feng shui issues — True, the color is correct, an understated matte black that goes perfectly with my treadmill, but the form factor still appears somewhat problematic. Nevertheless this is an excellent starting point for further bookofjoe investigations and innovations in this arena.
[via Matt Penning and Matt's Place]
MI6 comes in from the cold: First ever help–wanted ad for Britain's ultra–covert Secret Intelligence Service
What does "ultra–covert" mean?
How about an agency that denies its own existence?
That's precisely how MI6 presented itself — or, rather, didn't — to the outside world in the past.
But that's then and this is now.
What would George Smiley say?
Jordan wrote that the website says that "being a British spy is a 'stimulating and rewarding career which, like Bond's, will be in the service of their country.'"
No question that it's already a smash hit: the site recorded 3.5 million hits in its first few hours.
Here's a link to Richard Norton–Taylor's related story in the Guardian.
Here's a link to Alan Cowell's story in yesterday's New York Times.
I find it of interest that language options in which to access the site include Spanish, Russian, French, Arabic and Chinese.
Möbius Strip Backpack
French designer Jérôme Olivet, who spent three years collaborating with Phillippe Starck before going out on his own, created it.
The straps have a "clever twist" to rest your thumbs in.
"Anyone who uses a backpack will know how sore the hands can become when pulling the straps to take some weight off the shoulders."
£126.50 ($224) here.