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July 27, 2011

Jason Hutt's Mos Eisley Cantina

Screen Shot 2011-07-25 at 8.09.02 PM

Wrote Rachel Hobson in Make magazine (volume 27) of Jason Hutt, a father of three whose day job is at NASA's Space Station Mission Control at Johnson Space Center, "When Jason Hutt was just two years old, his mother took him to see 'Star Wars' at the movie theater. He sat in rapt silence throughout the entire film, and an lifelong obsession was born."

"'There's never really been a time in my life when I didn't love 'Star Wars,' he says."

"His penchant for DIY projects led him to creating a massive and intricate diorama of the Mos Eisley cantina scene [top]."

The project took him about an hour each evening for nearly four months.

July 27, 2011 at 04:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Vintage Cassette Case for iPhone 4


From the website: "For a lot of iPhone 4 users, this cleverly disguised silicone skin is as close as they'll come to handling an actual long-play compact cassette tape."

I won't argue.


"It fits snugly around the edge of the iPhone and helps protect all the edges and corners from accidental drops and dings. Its chintzy retro look might even discourage would-be thieves from snatching your phone."


$6.99 ("iPhone not included").

FunFact: "The iPhone 4 has about 150 times the audio storage capacity of a cassette."

July 27, 2011 at 03:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Helen Shapiro — Once upon a time she was so big the Beatles opened for her


What a fascinating story by Marc Myers in today's Wall Street Journal about Helen Shapiro.

Excerpts follow.

Settling in for tea at the posh Langham Hotel here, Helen Shapiro put both elbows up on the table and flashed the same smile she made famous on British television back in the early 1960s. "How did you ever hear about me?" the 64-year-old asked, mystified that anyone from the U.S. would know of her earlier fame in Britain or even care.

Fifty years ago this summer, Ms. Shapiro was a 14-year-old pop sensation in the U.K. The singer—with her upbeat manner and swinging, soulful delivery—was more popular than the Beatles in Britain prior to their 1964 arrival in the U.S. So big that during a joint tour of the U.K. in early 1963, the Fab Four opened for her.

But as the British Invasion unfolded in the '60s, Ms. Shapiro was left behind. With a beehive hairdo, young face and Jewish last name that she refused to change, Ms. Shapiro lacked the willowy maturity of Petula Clark and Dusty Springfield, who swept the U.S. charts.

Ms. Shapiro first formed a band at age 10 in 1956 with a cousin and a couple of friends, including Mark Feld—who later became Marc Bolan of T-Rex.

By 1960, Ms. Shapiro came to the attention of Norrie Paramor, a powerful Columbia Records executive in London who had produced hits for British pop star Cliff Richard. At first listen, Paramor thought Ms. Shapiro was a boy, given her basso-profundo voice on a demo of "Birth of the Blues." Signed to a six-month contract, she recorded "Don't Treat Me Like a Child" in January 1961. After her appearance on a British TV show, the tune shot to No. 3 in May.

Her U.K. follow-up, "You Don't Know," was released in June, hitting No. 1 by August and selling 500,000 copies. Promoted as the British Brenda Lee, Ms. Shapiro became red meat for the London tabloids.

Ms. Shapiro's third single, "Walkin' Back to Happiness," came out that September and rocketed to No. 1 in October.

After Ms. Shapiro's next single, "Tell Me What He Said," sailed to No. 2 in March 1962, she was cast in two teen-rocker films. A subsequent summer concert tour of Australia, New Zealand and Canada was a success, capped by an "Ed Sullivan Show" appearance in October.

A pop tour of the U.K. was arranged for February and March 1963, featuring five other acts, including the Beatles, who were billed last.

But Ms. Shapiro's good fortune was already getting wobbly. Halfway into the tour, the Beatles' "Please Please Me" hit No. 1 on several U.K. charts, putting the band on equal footing with Ms. Shapiro. "It was all just good fun," she said.

As the British Invasion unfolded without her in the U.S., Ms. Shapiro continued to record singles in the U.K. When pop-rock cooled in the late '60s, she performed on the stage in London's West End, sang with English jazz stars and toured world-wide.

One last question for Ms. Shapiro [below, c. 1967, about 20]:


Why was the charismatic Mr. McCartney missing from her October 1963 appearance on the British TV show "Ready Steady Go" [top]? On the YouTube clip, Ms. Shapiro is seen singing her hit "Look Who It Is" to only three of the four Beatles, whose backs are to the camera until she motions for each to turn around.

"The song had just three verses, so only three of them could appear," she said. "They flipped a coin or something to see who would be on, and Paul came up short."

July 27, 2011 at 02:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

4-in-1 Printer Cleaning Paper


That's different.

I never knew such a thing existed till I espied it in the latest Cyberguys catalog.

But there it is, on page 33 (of 159, for the annoying person out there who silently asked how many pages are in their catalog. You're probably related to the guy — initials WL, who also became an anesthesiologist, oddly enough, and might take out a contract on me if I used his full name — who sat in the front row of every class during the first two years of med school and invariably, as Friday afternoon's final lecture of the week ended at 5 p.m., in response to the teacher's "Are there any questions?", would shoot up his hand and proceed to ask one, with the rest of us wishing the guy would just drop dead).

How could I not want to try these sheets out?


Anything to make the output from my crummy Epson 88+ printer better than the dismal pages that emerge.

You say maybe if I paid more than $80 for a printer I might get better-looking printing?

Go away.

From the Cyberguys website:


Help keep your laser printer, inkjet printer, plain paper FAX machine or photocopier operating cleaner, longer and with less maintenance with Cleaning Paper.

Treated to attract and remove toner residue, paper dust, debris and other foreign matter from the paper path of your machine, Cleaning Paper is non-toxic and will not leave any residual chemical.

Regular use, especially after changing a toner cartridge or extensive copy output, can help prolong the life of your equipment and ensure better reproduction of clean, crisp and professional looking documents.

Easy-to-use sheets run through the same paper path as regular paper for simple one-step cleaning.



12 pieces of 4-in-1 Clean Paper for Laser or Ink Jet Printers cost $10.79.

July 27, 2011 at 01:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

The Nostalgia League


"Nostalgia isn't what it used to be" has always been one of my favorite phrases.

July 27, 2011 at 12:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Toaster Oven Grill Accessory


Correct me if I'm wrong but didn't toaster ovens used to come with a grill accessory that you could place on the baking pan to simulate real grilling?

Because I don't think the toaster oven I'm using now (bottom of the line Black & Decker) came with a grill.

Perhaps it did and I lost or misplaced it but I don't think so.

Anyhow, I find the grill quite useful for sausages and their ilk, with a piece of foil underneath on top of the pan to make cleanup easy.

I went to Amazon to see what was available and the best I could do was the 3-piece accessory set pictured above and below.

I didn't need the other two pieces but sometimes you just have to accept things as they are.

The set arrived, the grill accessory does what it's supposed to do, and now I have two toaster oven-sized baking pans I have no use for.


Maybe I'll give them away as prizes for my "What is it?" feature.

July 27, 2011 at 11:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

The long, strange path of St. Cuthbert's Gospel

St Cuthbert Gospel, Copyright British Library Board 9

Excerpts from a July 14, 2011 Economist article follow.

The book [above] fits into the palm of your hand. Barely three inches across, it weighs no more than a few ounces and opens with words familiar through the ages: In principio erat verbum ("In the beginning was the word"). It was written more than 1,300 years ago in a neat hand using ink made of oak-gall nuts mixed with carbon. On July 14th news came that St. Cuthbert’s Gospel, the earliest intact European book — looking exactly as it did when it was made at the end of the seventh century — will be bought for Britain for £9m ($14.3m) from the Jesuit order. It will be on display half the time at the British Library in London, and half the time in the north-east of England.

What is remarkable is not the price; though a record for a religious book, it is still considered a bargain. The real story is the object itself. The gospel was commissioned to honour St. Cuthbert, a monk, hermit and then reluctant bishop of the Northumbrian island of Lindisfarne, whose life and miracles were set down by the Venerable Bede, an early medieval chronicler. Bede lived and worked on the mainland at Wearmouth-Jarrow, the monastery where the book is believed to have been made by a man trained in the tradition of Egyptian Coptic bookbinding and decoration. Shortly after Bede's hero, Cuthbert, died in 687, the book was placed in his coffin.

When the Vikings began raiding the north-east of England, the monks of Lindisfarne fled their island home with Cuthbert's bones and wandered, like the Israelites in the desert, until they found sanctuary in Durham. In 1104 another chronicler, Simeon of Durham, records how Cuthbert's coffin was opened in preparation for formal reinterment in a new church, the precursor of Durham cathedral. Cuthbert seemed not so much dead as sleeping, wrote Simeon. His limbs were flexible and his body "gave off a very pleasant odour". By his head lay the book. Durham became a place of pilgrimage, and Cuthbert's relics competed with those of the later Thomas à Becket in Canterbury.

Encased in its leather wrappings, Cuthbert's gospel was protected from misadventure. Following the dissolution of the monasteries in the 16th century it passed into the hands of collectors. In 1769 it was given to the Jesuits, who packed the book in a small oak box and placed it in the library of their boys’ school, Stonyhurst College.

Since the 1970s the gospel has been on long-term loan to the British Library. Says Scot McKendrick, head of history and classical studies at the British Library, who has led the negotiations to buy Cuthbert's gospel, "We have no other book that has such a strong, unassailable, unimpeachable association with a major saint. This book is not just rare; it's unique."

July 27, 2011 at 10:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Pin-Probe Mechanical Stud Finder


Sean Michael Ragan reviewed this tool in the latest issue (volume 27) of Make magazine as follows.

Garrett Wade's Japanese-made Stud Finder is entirely mechanical, requiring no batteries. It combines a classic magnetic "click" sensor with a spring-loaded pin, shielded by a graduated depth gauge that physically probes the space behind the wall and confirms or denies the presence of a stud pretty much unequivocally. Unlike a capacitative stud finder, it will never have problems working through plaster, foil insulation, or wire lath.

The probe does leave a small hole in the drywall, but it's tiny — a spot of paint will fill it without any spackle at all. Plus, as a bonus features that't (I think) unique to to this type of stud finder, the depth gauge provides an accurate measurement of the thickness of the drywall. This can be a crucial bit of information when choosing fasteners, whether they're screws going into the studs or anchors going into the drywall.

The tool unscrews in the middle, which allows for removal of the pin and/or access to a store of replacement pins in the handle (the device ships with 2 pins and a pack of 10 costs $8.80). The pin plunger has a rotary safety lock to keep the sharp end safely covered when not in use. The're also a lanyard hole in the pommel in case you want to hang it up.


Remember yesterday's advice re: wearing a tool around your neck to the airport?


July 27, 2011 at 09:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

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