Sometimes a hat just speaks to you

Mega Mission Helmet

Hey, there’s another talking helmet on the market, and this one’s got a cool feature.  The Power Ranger’s Jungle Fury Mega Mission Helmet has a USB cable so you can download 50 brief secret missions and act them out while you run around with lights flashing and sounds going off in your ears.  There’s also a Power Rangers Operation Overdrive Mega Mission Helmet (say that name five times fast) which costs less and only gives you 20 missions.  As the Bandai press release notes:  “With lights and sounds, each adventure guides you through training exercises, Power Rangers moves and more.” At the Jungle Fury webpage you can print out Mission Certificates (nice, but do little boys really want pieces of paper?).  “Good luck, Young Ranger. It’s good to have you on our Jungle Fury team.”

Optimus Prime Next on the cool helmet list is the Transformers Optimus Prime Voice Changer Helmet which lists as one of its Product Features “Lead your fellow robots in a battle to save the AllSpark from the cruel hands of mighty MEGATRON!” —which seems to be smudging the line between reality and fantasy.  Or maybe not.  I guess I’d have to put on the helmet to find out.

There’s a lot to be said for a good hat.  Or helmet.  It can change your whole persona.  In under a minute, you can be a new you—with or without the secret missions and fellow robots.  Maybe your hat speaks only to you.  Maybe no one knows its secret powers.  Coco Chanel started her career designing hats.  The Cat in the Hat never goes anywhere without his.  So I’m keeping my eyes open for developments.  Stay tuned.

Falling for Science

A new book has come to our house, Falling for Science: Objects in Mind, edited by Sherry Turkle.  It’s a book about scientific curiosity, and about the role objects play in the creative process.  In it, Turkle collects essays written by scientists and by students at MIT over the course of 25 years. All were asked the same question: “Was there an object you met during childhood or adolescence that had an influence on your path into science?”

We first learned about Falling for Science while listening to NPR’s Robert Krulwich.  He interviewed two of the writers from this collection, and as soon as I heard his first report about Easter eggs in a basket, I ran to my computer to see if the library had a copy of this book.  If I’ve piqued your interest, start with that story, then go to the one about a young boy’s fascination with a stop sign and what it revealed about the order of the universe.  As with all of Krulwich’s science stories, you have to listen to these, not just read the transcript.  The way he puts the audio together is an essential part of the storytelling.

But back to this idea of objects that Turkle explores.  We all had toys we loved, but not every toy was an object that led us to inquiry or fashioned us in some way.  I got to thinking about the objects that fascinated me as a child. Objects that were important to who I have become, though I am not a scientist.   I came up with three.

The first object was a glass prism.  It was about 6 inches long, and I remember enjoying the heft of it and its good solid smoothness.  I would press the prism to my eyes and walk drunkenly about the house through a distorted rainbow world.  It was drug-free psychedelia, and it was so much fun.  I don’t think I ever used the prism to cast rainbows on the wall the way many people do.  I wanted it to transform the world.

The second object was a kaleidoscope:  abstract, changing, beautiful, and interesting.  It was something to enjoy and to think about—patterns and colors that moved in time and space.  I still love them, though it is difficult to find kaleidoscopes with good optics and a sufficient variety of patterns.  There’s a real art to choosing the pieces to put inside them.  I find that most kaleidoscope software doesn’t appeal to me either.  The images those programs make too often look like just the same algorithm expressed in different colors.  It’s not the same as closing one eye and looking into the magic tunnel.

The third object I remember was a View-Master.  I could spend hours with that bakelite viewer held to my head, clicking the lever with my right hand, sometimes going slowly so I could see the dark spaces between the rectangles of film.  The stories the pictures came from were not the object.  The experience was not about the narrative.  I just wanted to peer into those miniature worlds presented in color and three dimensions.  The View-Master was a hole in the fence or a door into a doll house.  It was a window into a world.

I have wandered through many disciplines and occupations in my life, and with the exception of books themselves, there is no single object that sparked a passion and changed my life forever. But I still like Things-that-make-you-Think and Things-that-take-you-Somewhere-Else.  And almost always, I love the light that comes through a colored pane.  What about you?

Skymall Wonders

There’s been a whole lot of flyin’ goin’ on since The Move—which means there’s been a whole lot of waiting and wondering. (When will the flight take off?  What’s the problem now?)  Seems like the only happy time in air travel these days is the time you spend at the SkyMall.

If you haven’t flown lately, SkyMall is the mail order catalog in the seat pocket in front of you on the airplane.  Numerous vendors select products to contribute to the catalog—Hammacher Schlemmer, Improvements, Wireless, Toscano—and then at the back are a group of items in the “SkyMall Collection.  Going Beyond the Ordinary.”  At first it looks like any other mail order catalog–they’ve got some neat jewelry and cool toys.   But SkyMall is not like any other catalog.  Its audience is a captive audience, and most of them would rather be Some Place Else.  It’s a tough crowd.

So I know that SkyMall means business.  These products are carefully chosen for the target audience.  No doubt there are Experts who labor over these selections.  Which brings me to the most intriguing questions about the SkyMall Experience: “Who do these people think we are?”  and the even more troubling, “If these people know what they’re doing, then who am I flying with?

I’ll show you what I mean by offering you a sampling of the many Wonders of SkyMall.

As you’d expect there are the usual travel organizer and comfort items for all those people who are thinking, “Next time I fly I’m gonna get one of those (fill in the blank).”  There’s a Stealthplug USB cable and software package so you can record your electric guitar directly onto your laptop if you make it to the hotel, and there’s a “Mini Motel” Portable Tent for the times you get stuck overnight in the airport.  SkyMall has a lot of items to help you throw the party you’ll be having if you ever get home:  wine chillers, speakers for your iPod, pool toys, and even the Dough-Nu-Matic (“Great for large parties and ideal for fundraisers since this machine makes easy-to-sell treats for pennies apiece.”).

There are delightful products for the pets you’ve left behind, including the Pet Crate End Table (so your pet can truly become part of your decor)

and the Pet Observation Dome

for all those dogs frustrated by privacy fences. (I wonder how my next door neighbors would feel if one of these appeared in the fence between us.)

SkyMall has products for the suspicious and the unhappy:  consider the Cam Color Video Spy Camera (“What happens while you’re away?  Let’s face it.  Our vision is limited to what we can see in the moment.”) and the HairMax Laser Comb, a “revolutionary handheld Laser PhotoTherapy device” that will free you from the “misery of thin, weak-looking hair” for only $495.

And then there are the Lawn Sculptures for customers who want to make a statement.  Come on, you would love to put some of these up around the house.  Maybe the Meerkat Gang Sculpture

or Big Foot the Garden Yeti, or perhaps your tastes go more toward the Risen Jesus Christ (nearly 5 ft. tall and 92 lbs.) or the Sister Gloria Nun Sculpture.  Or maybe just a simple Sumo Wrestler.

There’s the NoseAid (pictured above) in case you ever need to drive the car while your child is having a nosebleed, and the InnerScan Segmental Body Composition Monitor Scale which “will accurately determine individual composition reading for each body part—trunk, right arm, left arm, right leg, and left leg” (because knowing that at least my left arm is losing weight would be a comfort).

And at the end of the day, you can be safe and secure in your Bright Feet Lighted Slippers—“slippers with headlights that light your way in the dark!”

What more could you possibly want?  Okay.  Maybe lots of things.  But SkyMall is great.  It’s part shopping, part in-flight entertainment, part anthropological study.  It won’t make up for the tasteless, expensive food or the lack of leg room, but trust me, and next time you fly take a few minutes and escape to the SkyMall.

Living across the Zones

When I lived on the East Coast, I didn’t really need to think about the time outside my zone.  I wasn’t a high-powered global investor.  Most of my friends and family were nearby.  I changed my watch to spring forward and fall back, and moved through time like a fish that doesn’t know it’s wet.

But now I live in Central Time, while my son and my parents and many friends and loved ones remain in Eastern Standard.  Now I find that my time is no longer The Time.  I calculate before I call, “If it’s ten o’clock here, it’s eleven o’clock there. Is that too late?”  And when it came time to ring in the New Year, at my house we did it twice:  once as the New Year hit New York, and then again when it rolled into Texas.  We couldn’t find a station broadcasting Time Square at 11 p.m. CST, so we tuned to Univision and counted down in Spanish.  Even in another language it seemed right, and somehow more real, to celebrate when the New Year came to America and to our kin, and not just to our town.

If our only communications were letters or emails, things might be different.   Then I could ignore our temporal differences and think only of miles–our degree of separation only one, not two—only miles and not so many miles as to become Time.  But as it is, though the time differences are ever-present in my mind, I go through my day surrounded by a cloud of loved ones pulled together by text messages and phone calls.  You are there but you are here.  The miles are undeniable. Our hours go by different names. And yet we move together through time—forward, fluidly, back and forth across the Zones.