Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Blog recalls WWII tank battles

Internet huzzah for retired hussar

This story was first published by OhmyNewsInternational. To read their version, with interesting illustrations and live links, please cut and paste this address:

You can't blame Doug Mayman and his fellow crew members of a British Cruiser tank for wanting to keep out of the way of enemy German Tiger tanks in World War II.

A shot from a Tiger’s 88mm gun could penetrate the front armor of a Cruiser 2,000 metres away, but a Cruiser’s 57mm gun couldn't penetrate the front armor of a Tiger one metre away. (This fact has been revealed only recently. Was it known in 1944?).

Mayman, a member of the tank regiment, the 15th /19th King’s Royal Hussars, kept secret wartime diaries recounting his Army life from November 5, 1943 until his return home from Germany on leave on April 21, 1945.

The diaries, already published as a book, Led Soldiers, are now being posted day by day as a blog on the internet, to the delight of exservicemen - not all of them Brits - and military historians around the world.

These diaries provide a living account of Mayman’s conscription, induction and training, leading up to his experiences under fire as his regiment fought its way through France, Belgium, Holland and into Germany.

The diaries are being posted 65 years after the events they describe, just as Harry Lamin's letters from the Western Front in the first World War have thrilled a worldwide audience 90 years after they were written.

Mayman, now 85, unearthed his forgotten diaries two years ago, while rummaging in the loft of his home in Aughton, West Lancashire, UK. He thought no-one would be interested in them but gave them to his two daughters, Merron Mitchell and Joy Murphy, to look at.

“As soon as I started to read them, I was enthralled," Joy told Gemma Jaleel, a feature writer of a local newspaper, the Ormskirk Advertiser

"My dad was only 19 when he started to keep a diary of his war experiences. Every day he would make an entry, however difficult it was. Sometimes he would be writing under a tank after days fighting, always with a fountain pen* and whenever he could with illustrations.

“Given the high mortality rate of his regiment, I think it was a way of trying to leave something behind in case of his death. Fortunately he survived, as did the diaries."

Mayman left school at the age of 15, and began work as a wages clerk for Rycroft and Hartley Ltd, a local textiles company. He then found a better-paying job in a Royal Ordnance Factory which manufactured aircraft shells in nearby Steeton.

He met his future wife Dorothy at the Methodist Youth Club when they were both 17. Two years later, on September 3, 1942, he was conscripted into the Army.

Doug and Dorothy married on April 23, 1945. They have four grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.

These days, at 85, Doug describes himself

as "a retired finance director - very much EX financial consultant. All jobs too big. Available for social occasions."

Harking back to the first World War: at least one soldier celebrated Christmas 1917 in the trenches in style. Here's an extract from a blog posted by Dumdad, an English journalist living in Paris:

Private William Jackman was a servant to Captain Morrison who was a multi-millionaire. Morrison arranged for hampers of food from Fortnum and Mason’s to be delivered to the trenches regularly and for a bottle of 1900 port from Berry’s to be sent out every three days plus cases of whisky and brandy. These were in boxes marked Red Cross.

By the time Jackman’s Battalion went to the Somme, Captain Morrison had left but he never cancelled the order and the stuff kept on coming. Private William wrote in his diary: “It used to arrive in batches and sometimes we’d have as many as a dozen boxes arriving from Fortnum and Mason’s at the same time. There were boxes of tinned stuff, mostly, like galantine of chicken, soups, puddings, tins of fruit, tins of grouse and pheasant, ham – everything you could think of for the Officers’ Mess.”

Imagine, sitting in a trench with fetid water lapping at your boots and rats scurrying hither and thither and thousands of lice crawling all over your body and shells exploding above your head yet dining out on a tin of grouse washed down with fine port.

What a crazy world!

* Doug Mayman wrote all his diaries with an ink-filled fountain pen. Ballpoint pens were unknown until after the war ended.
... on an October morning in 1945 when a crowd of over 5,000 people jammed the entrance of New York’s Gimbels Department Store. The day before, Gimbels had taken out a full-page ad in the New York Times promoting the first sale of ballpoints in the United States. The ad described the new pen as a "fantastic... miraculous fountain pen ... guaranteed to write for two years without refilling!" On that first day of sales, Gimbels sold out its entire stock of 10,000 pens-at $12.50 each! - From
Anyone wanting a copy of Doug Mayman's book should email OR OR telephone (UK) 01633 676629.

Harry Lamin's book, based on his blog, is complete and has been sent to the publishers, Michael O'Mara Books Ltd. It will go on sale on April 2, 2009 and major booksellers are accepting pre-orders at a discount.

You can see letters and a Christmas card Harry sent home in 1917 in this story in the London Daily Mail.


Sunday, December 7, 2008

Supercentenarians (112) share same birthday

This story was first published by OhmyNewsInternational. To read their version, with interesting illustrations and live links, please cut and paste this address:

By a strange coincidence, Britain's oldest man, Henry Allingham, and America's oldest man, George Francis, were born on the same day - June 6, 1896. That means they are 112 years and six months old this week.

Famous in their own countries, they are little known to the rest of the world. They have never met, and are probably unaware of each other's existence.

Henry Allingham is one of only four remaining British survivors of World War 1 (1914-1918) in which nearly a million of his comrades died.

As a teenager, he enlisted with the Royal Naval Air Service as a skilled mechanic and a year later, in 1916, he was involved in the greatest naval battle of the war, the Battle of Jutland.

In 1917, he was posted to France to support the Royal Flying Corps, and helped service and rescue aircraft which had crashed behind the trenches.
In 1919, he married 22-year-old Dorothy Cater in Chingford, Essex. [In another strange coincidence, the writer of this article was born there... in 1919.]

Henry's wife died 38 years ago, while his two daughters both died in their 80s. He has five grandchildren and 12 great grandchildren. Eight of his descendants and their partners flew from their homes in the United States to join him for his 112th birthday.

A report in London's Daily Telegraph,-Europe's-oldest-man,-celebrates-112th-birthday.html says:

To mark Armistice Day in 2005, Mr Allingham travelled to St Omer, near Calais, France, to lay wreaths to fallen comrades.

A year later, aged 110, as the oldest British World War I veteran, Mr Allingham met his German counterpart, Robert Meier, 109.

The men greeted each other warmly and laid a wreath at the war memorial near Witten town hall.

Mr Meier said it was "amazing" that both men were still alive and went on to say: "Why did we have to have a war?"

In 2007, Mr Allingham marked his 111th birthday on board the Royal Navy's oldest warship, HMS Victory, at Portsmouth.

A military flypast of aircraft from the Royal Navy's historic flight and the RAF marked the occasion.

Henry lived in Eastbourne, East Sussex, on the south coast of England for many years, but when his eyesight began to deteriorate he moved to the nearby St Dunstan’s care home for blind ex-service personnel.

America's oldest man, George Rene Francis, lives in a nursing home in Sacramento, California. Last month he voted for Barack Obama, whose victory, he declared, “made democracy work.”

"... Francis has lived through 19 U.S. presidents and six decades of Jim Crow laws, when he and all black Americans were forced to endure racial segregation," says a report in the Sacramento Observer

"This week, a beaming, wheelchair-bound Francis told his daughters he felt like jumping up and down after helping to elect the nation’s first black president. 'He is going to give black men a break in the world, and give them a better opportunity to live and make more money,' Francis said.’’

The report says that Francis grew up listening to Louis Armstrong play trumpet on his front porch in New Orleans’s Seventh Ward.

A lifelong Democrat, Francis cast his first ballot in the early 1930s, when he voted for Franklin Roosevelt.

In 1949, before the civil rights movement, he moved west to California seeking a better job.

His wife of four decades, Josephine, died in 1964 at age 63. But Francis’s extended family — which includes four children, 18 grandchildren, 33 great-grandchildren and 16 great-great grandchildren —say the man they call “Papa’’ never lost his spirit, nor his interest in politics.

An article about American supercenturians (people aged 110 and over) in Wikipedia says: "He credits his longevity to nature, and enjoys a rich diet of pork, eggs, milk and lard. He gave up smoking cigars at the age of 75."

On the other hand, according to the London Daily Mail, Henry Allingham has joked that his secret to longevity is "cigarettes, whisky and wild women".


Henry Allingham:

George Francis:

FOOTNOTE. The world's oldest living person is Maria de Jesus (115) of Portugal, born on September 10, 1893. The oldest living man is 113 year-old Tomoji Tanabe of Japan, born on September 18, 1895.

Sadly, George Francis died on December 28. "Francis, who lived in Sacramento's Eskaton Care Center Greenhaven retirement community, passed away Sunday after being hospitalized recently for heart problems," Sacramento TV.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Fast Falcons Thrill Thousands

But spare a thought for the pigeons

This story was first published by OhmyNewsInternational. To read their version, with interesting illustrations and live links, please cut and paste this address:

Will Londoners fall in love with the pair of pregrine falcons nesting in the House of Commons building to the extent that Brisbane's citizens adore Frodo and Frieda?

A team led by London wildlife volunteer David Morrison spotted the parlimentary pair and reported them to the London Wildlife Trust, which promptly issued a news release.
Peregrine falcons are raptors (birds of prey), and can reach a speed of 322 km/h (200 mph), making them the planet's fastest animal.

London birdlovers may not share Morrison's delight about the newly found pair, if the birds swoop on Trafalgar Square's famous pigeons for a tasty breakfast. (Falcons have been seen on other London landmarks including Tate Modern, Battersea Power Station and the Millennium Dome).

In Brisbane, Australia's third largest city, thousands of web vievers have eagerly watched Frodo and Frieda building nests and raising chicks every year since 2003.

Ever since 1999, the birds have lived on a ledge on the 27th floor of the Admiralty Towers building in the city's central business district. In 2003 the daily newspaper The Courier-Mail set up a camera website.
to keep track of their fascinating domestic life.

Right now, Frodo and Frieda seem to be looking around for a new home on a nearby tall building.,23739,24385730-3102,00.html Perhaps they're seeking privacy, away from the world's gaze.

London and Brisbane are by no means the only cities with peregrine falcon webcans. The raptors are found worlwide, and birdlovers flock to watch them on local webcams.

Appropriately, one of the best sites is Kodaks' world headquarters, Kodak House

in Rochester, New York state. Kodak recounts its history:
In 1998 a trio of enterprising Kodak employees-- Kenn Martinez, Brad Carney and Matt Bernius-- placed a video camera on the steeple of the tower, aimed it at the nest box, and connected it to the Internet. The stars of their new website- the Kodak Birdcam - were a pair of Peregrine falcons, the fastest animals on the planet.

To honor their legacy as masters of the air, the falcons were given wind-themed names by the Kodak Birdcam team. Mariah, for the female, after Kodak founder George Eastman's mother and the 1951 Lerner and Lowe song "They Call The Wind Mariah".

Cabot-Sirocco, the male, was hatched in Toronto and named Cabot by the folks at the Canadian Peregrine Foundation (in honor of the French explorer of the same name). Kodak named him Sirocco (a dry desert wind), and his US & Canadian names were combined as "Cabot-Sirocco".

In 2002 a new male joined Mariah when Cabot-Sirocco failed to return that spring. A high resolution digital camera, installed only weeks before, revealed that this new tiercel, or male falcon, wore no identification bands on his legs, unlike Cabot-Sirocco. The new arrival was named Kaver, after a gentle breeze that blows in the Hebrides islands near Scotland.
Elsewhere in the US, peregrine falcons' nests have been found on skyscrapers in New York City, Columbus Ohio, Harrisburg Pennsylvania, and Atlanta Georgia, to name just a few. In many cities, webcams attract vast numbers of viewers.

In downtown San Francisco, California, in 2005, a camera was set up to spy on a peregrine falcon nest on the northwest corner of the Pacific Gas & Electric Company headquarters building . A pair of peregrines, dubbed George and Gracie, built a nest on the 33rd floor ledge of the building, and reared three chicks. Then tney moved across the street to 201 Mission St. and so did the webcam.

In 2007, George and Gracie built a nest on the Bay Bridge, off camera. Fearful biologists removed the eggs from that perilous site and took them to a Santa Cruz facility to hatch in greater safety.

In fact, people are still grieving over George and Gracie's disappearance, after the falcons were driven away by another pair. "People actually saw the battle taking place in the air between the falcons," wildlife biologist Glenn Stewart said, "but I guarantee no one would ever have noticed if we hadn't let them get involved through the webcams."

Also in California, a pair of falcons named Carlos and Clara are raising three healthy chicks in a nest box at San Jose City Hall. A webcam has averaged 18,000 visits daily.

A press
release says:
San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed and his office have been enthusiastic participants in this online reality show, issuing regular press releases with updates on the City Hall falcon family. For weeks the mayor's web site promoted a "Name That Falcon" contest for San Jose kids to name the three chicks. The City of San Jose also provides funding ($45,000 this year) to support SCPBRG [Santa Cruz Predatory Bird Research Group] 's work with the falcons and its outreach programs in local schools.

On May 16, crowds gathered to watch along with the mayor and local media as SCPBRG researcher Brian Latta rappelled down to the nest box from the top of City Hall to place identifying bands on the legs of the chicks...

[Glenn] Stewart has roped in four research interns to help "drive" the webcam in San Jose--remotely operating the camera from their computers--because viewers don't want to miss any of the action going on in the nest box...

While the chicks are certainly cute, viewers aren't spared the grisly sight of hungry falcons feasting on their favorite prey: smaller birds.

"They've even seen a parent return with prey that was still alive and twitching," said Jaime Jansen, one of Stewart's interns and a junior majoring in anthropology at UCSC [University of California at Santa Cruz]. "But that's real life. People need to expect that not everything is going to be pretty."


Map IP Address

Friday, October 31, 2008

Army Newspaper Scooped the World

Guinea Gold veterans recall wartime in jungle

This story was first published by OhmyNewsInternational. To read their version, with interesting illustrations and live links, please cut and paste this address:

Giant air transports dropped food, tobacco and copies of Guinea Gold. If anything, this little newspaper was more eagerly sought than rations. To troops practically marooned in the thick of the jungle swamps this link with news of the outside world came almost as tidings from another planet. - From the book "Jungle Warfare" (1944).

Newspaper scoops are no longer possible. Today's instant worldwide communication means that any important newsbreaking story is immediately copied, rephrased or translated, to be posted on thousands of news websites in dozens of languages within minutes.

But 66 years ago, in World War II, in the tropical jungle of Papua-New Guinea, where Allied troops were fighting Japanese invaders, a unique newspaper called Guinea Gold published a record number of world scoops.

That was because US General Douglas MacArthur, Supreme Commander of Allied Forces in the South-West Pacific, had given Guinea Gold permission to publish his communiques 20 hours before the news was released for the rest of the world's media.

New Guinea was the only war zone where the US armed forces did not produce a local edition of their own newspaper, Stars and Stripes. Guinea Gold, with separate American and Australian editions, fully met their needs.

Earlier in 1942, Melbourne Herald war correspondent Reg Leonard had suggested that the Australian Army should produce its own daily newspaper. Promptly crowned a major, he became Guinea Gold's foundation editor.

Years after the war had ended, Mr R.B. Leonard, O.B.E., managing director of Queensland Newspapers Pty. Ltd., said that Guinea Gold's success was due very largely to dedicated people below officer rank - men who toiled uncomplainingly and for long hours in the ramshackle buildings that housed its overworked plant.

He spoke of soldiers intercepting radio news by matchlight during bomber raids, some who set type by hand when mechanical equipment broke down, and others "whose brawny arms provided power for the presses when the electrical power failed."

That was the memorable occasion when Japanese bombers attacked Port Moresby powerhouse at 2am.

Horace ("Chis") Chisholm, the paper's last editor, also recalled the event: "Officers and men and natives toiled and sweated together as they turned the heavy press over by hand, but every unit received its share of the 5000 copies they produced.

"Overcoming incredible production problems, the newspaper came out seven days a week without missing a single day, from November 1942 to June 1946. Its 1,320 days' continuous publication was easily a world record for service publications. At its peak in 1944, it produced 64,000 copies (US edition 37,000, Australian 27,000). Maximum readership was estimated at 800,000.

"The front and back pages concentrated on up-to-the-minute news from around the world, including coverage of major sporting events on the back page. Page 2 was devoted to extracts from Australian and US newspapers published a few days previously, which air transport crews delivered to Guinea Gold.

"Soldiers with newspaper experience, who had been transferred from other units when Guinea Gold was established, wrote news stories by taking shorthand notes of shortwave radio bulletins from Australia, the US Armed Forces station in San Francisco, the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), All-India Radio, and others.

"At Lae, the second-hand Miller high-speed flatbed press ran 20 hours a day, printing 34 million copies in little more than two years. When it was retired after the war, it had 50 welds. It's now an exhibit at the National War Museum in Canberra."

You can see a photograph of th sturdy press in action here:

Writing in Sydney's Weekend Australian Magazine in 1982, Chisholm recalled:

The worst crisis in Guinea Gold's life was the day that the Port Moresby linotype and the Dobodura press broke down simultaneously.

The problem was overcome by having the type set in Dobodura, flying the type 100 miles over the Owen Stanleys [mountains], and the paper printed on the Moresby press. Papers for the northern edition were then flown back over the Owen Stanleys.

It was a good example of the co-operation received from the air forces. RAAF pilots flew almost daily over the Japanese lines to drop small bundles to forward fighting areas, and the day after the American forces landed at Cape Gloucester, New Britain, Flying Fortresses dropped Guinea Golds to them.

Always we thought of the men we served: men fighting in the lonely, dank, rugged, slimy jungle depths, hauling guns up steep mountainsides, repairing shell-torn signal wires under fire.

On a lighter note, "Chis" recalled that when the newspaper promoted a "Girl I Left Behind" contest, 1700 photos of wives, sweethearts and baby daughters swamped the editorial office.

It was a beauty contest, with full-page portraits of gorgeous girls on the front pages of a Sunday supplement, and smaller photos daily. It proved so popular that it ran for more than four months. An Australian/US judging panel decided the winners were (Australian) Miss Dorothy Faull, Federal Capital Territory, friend of Leading Air Craftman M.J. Jones, RAAF and (US) Mrs G. B. Osmun, wife of Captain G. B. Osmun, US Army.

Among his other memories, "Chis" wrote: "On one occasion a consignment of crossword blocks and clues failed to arrive from the mainland. Staff-Sergeant E. Shackle (the Telegraph, Sydney) solved the current one and compiled one on a pattern previously used."

A few years after the war ended, one of Guinea Gold's printers, Paul Jefferson Wallace, of Sydney, compiled and published a 32-page history of the newspaper, which is now one of my most prized souvenirs. It also provided useful material for this article.

Wallace reported that on moonlight nights in its early days, production of the newspaper was often interrupted by air raids, but deadlines were still met. Blow-lamps were used to melt linotype metal during frequent power supply breakdowns.

Because the hand-set type was so badly worn, it had to be packed with layers of gummed paper underneath, to raise it to type height. On one occasion, the printers ran out of T's. A native Papuan chiselled some out of wood. When there was a shortage of R's, editor Reg Leonard added tails to P's by cutting them from L's.

Wallace also explained why an Army newspaper was needed in New Guinea. "In 1942, isolation was a morale-destroying disease in New Guinea" he wrote. "Radio sets were few and far between, men were cut off from day-to-day news.

"The result was a flood of false rumours which swept along the Owen Stanley trail when Australian troops were just starting to push the Japanese back from their mountain strongholds.

"From the first edition on November 19, 1942, until the presses rolled to a stop on June 30, 1946, with the enviable record of 1,320 days of continuous publication, Guinea Gold daily brought to the news-hungry men of the Australian and American forces serving in the steaming jungle, topics of interest to allay their boredom and boost their morale."

In all, 237 Australian soldiers worked on Guinea Gold for varying periods. Not one of them was there for the full three and a half years' life of that unique and vital newspaper.

FOOTNOTE. Greg Ray described OhmyNews reporter Eric Shackle's army career, in a 2004 feature story in the Central Coast Weekend Herald

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The Queen WAS amused!

She giggled at a laughing baby clip

This story was first published by OhmyNewsInternational. You can view it (with better links) at

Britain's grandmotherly Queen Elizabeth II giggled when she watched a video of William Nilsson, Sweden's famous laughing baby, while visiting Google's London office last week. If she had been shown a video of Ethan, America's famous laughing baby, she would have laughed out loud.

If you doubt that statement, try to keep a straight face when you watch Ethan's hilarious but brief YouTube clip Little things please little minds, and Ethan had tremendous fun tearing magazine pages.

"You can tell that he is going to be one of those guys that falls out of his seat in laughter at movies," one online viewer commented.

Ethan's father, Greg, shot the film in 2004, before anyone had heard of YouTube. " I was at home playing with Ethan when he ripped an old magazine and started to laugh," Greg recalls on his web site "I wanted to get him laughing on film for his mom, who was at work, so I grabbed the camera and started to tape. The result is the 'Laughing Baby' video."

Greg put a clip on the internet in January 2007. It won YouTube's 2007 "most adorable" award, and has received almost 20 million hits. It has inspired thousands of other proud parents to post similar clips on the web.

Ethan is now four years old.
Asked how Ethan was coping with his world fame, his father told OhmyNews: "Ethan was born in September 2004. He has no idea about the 'world fame.' I think it will be a few years yet before he can grasp that reality. 'Internet famous' is about as far as I would stretch his actual level of fame.

"As for other info, since Ethan is only 4, we try to keep as much privacy as possible with respect to our names, jobs and location. Obviously, we didn't expect this level of attention for our kid when we posted him on YouTube, so we try to be as careful as possible."

Ethan's parents are both in their mid-30s and Grag has been a stay-at-home Dad since Ethan was born.

The Swedish Laughing Baby video that so amused the Queen was posted on YouTube in August 2006, and quickly became one of its top clips. So far it has attracted an amazing 64 million hits.

William's father shot the film in his kitchen, apparently getting his son to laugh by saying "boo" to him. Comments range from a sweet "isn't he cute" to a sour "this baby sounds as if it has asthma."

Not everyone is happy about the spate of laughing babies. "Look Who's Laughing: Giggling babies have taken over YouTube. Next stop: Madison Avenue" was the heading over a story by Janelle Nanos in Slate online magazine on Dec. 31, 2007.

"Turning found video into good advertising is harder than it looks," Janelle wrote. "The danger of using YouTube footage in a television ad is that if the spot isn't well-executed, viewers feel shortchanged, since they know they can see the same spot online without a corporate logo tacked onto the end of it."

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Rain Man Inspires London Stage Play

This story was first published by OhmyNewsInternational. You can view it (with better links) at

Twenty years after his moving story was told in the Oscar-winning film The Rain Man, Utah's modest prodigy Kim Peek, who will turn 57 on November 11, is again being impersonated in an updated stage play with the same title at London's prestigious Apollo Theatre.

British stage actor Adam Godley has won critical acclaim for his sympathetic portrayal of the autistic Raymond, a character inspired by Peek and played in the film by Dustin Hoffman (who won an Oscar for the Best Actor in a Leading Role).

Thanks to the film and countless TV, radio and press interviews, Peek has long been the world's favorite and best-known savant (learned scholar).

"Described as a confounding mixture of disability and brilliance, Kim is in love with knowledge," says the Multiple Sclerosis website Extraordinay People.

"... Kim was diagnosed as being mentally retarded at birth, but with father Fran's unflagging support he has developed a memory that is without equal.
"Born and raised in Salt Lake City, Utah, Kim has lived there all of his life. The local library is Kim's favourite place in the world. Kim devours books on anything and everything, as many as eight in a day.

"He reads at a phenomenal rate, a page that may take you or me three minutes will take Kim about 10 seconds. He reads the left page with his left eye and the right page with his right eye and will retain about 98% of it.

"He has 15 subject areas but about the only thing he can't do is, he can't reason out mathematical problems."

Another autistic savant, who can reason out mathematical problems, is Britain's Daniel Paul Tammet (29). Born in London, the first of nine children, he has written in a memoir, how having epilepsy, synaesthesia and Asperger syndrome all deeply affected his childhood.

He can calculate huge sums in his head in seconds and instantaneously recognize prime numbers, but he finds emotions difficult to understand and has trouble telling left from right.
He says he sees numbers as complex synaesthetic shapes with color, texture and motion. Thirty-seven, he says, is lumpy like porridge, while eighty-nine reminds him of falling snow. Sequences of digits form visual landscapes in his mind.

In March 2004, Tammet set a European record when he recited the famous mathematical constant Pi from memory to 22,514 decimal places in five hours.

He has been studied by scientists at California's Center for Brain Studies and at the Cambridge (UK) Autism Research Centre, and has been described as "autism's Rosetta Stone".

You can read about his life and achievements in his regularly updated blog, Optimnem to Wikipedia, Tammet and his domestic partner, software engineer Neil Mitchell, live together in Kent where they have a quiet regimented life at home with their cats, prepare their meals from their garden, and prefer their privacy.

They operate the online company Optimnem, where they create and publish language courses. Tammet has publicly discussed his relationship with Mitchell, his savant abilities, and his sexual orientation.

On the other hand, Kim Peek and his father, Fran, who is now 81, have spoken to five million people and traveled more than two million miles, sharing their story. Last Saturday, they were in Portland, talking with autistic children and their parents and friends at a function arranged by the Autism Society of Maine.

Earlier this year, they entertained a packed house in their home state of Utah. Nexy day, the Provo Daily Herald published this interesting report :

Has Utah's Kim Peek ever met Britain's Danial Tammet? Yes. You can view their meeting by playing this YouTube video:

In another video, Peek hugs Tammet and tells him “Some day you will be as great as I am.”


Saturday, September 20, 2008

Self-Powered Electric Car Is a World First

This article was first published by OhmyNewsInternational. For easier reading and access to the numerous links, please click on

A strange-looking vehicle is tipped to attract world attention when it's unveiled at the Paris Motor Show (Oct 4-9). It's the first solar and electric autonomous car in the history of the automobile, French carmaker Venturi claims.

Dubbed the Eclectic, it's a revolutionary vehicle powered by the sun's rays or, when there's no sun, by a wind turbine (an optional extra).

"Eclectic... opens up a new era in the field of mobility," says Venturi, which plans to market the car next year.

"Reserved for daily driving in urban areas, its low energy consumption makes it the most economical environmental vehicle ever built."

A British filmmaker named Danny, who drives his own electric car in London, shot a news-breaking video showing the Eclectic prototype on a test run in Monte Carlo, the city in which it was built.

Until it's unveiled officially, the Eclectic is still a concept vehicle. It was featured in the movie Babylon A.D., where it was seen as a police car of the future.

But there are still problems to be overcome before the car will be allowed on British roads.. One critic, Auto IT, commented : "Great video and great to hear that the Eclectic might come to London. Photovoltaics will work in overcast conditions - they just don’t generate as much juice. More importantly, the Eclectic will need some mudguards to be legal on UK roads (and to stop the rear passengers getting a faceful of puddle). Doors might be an idea too."

Electric cars are making more impact in Europe and Asia than in America and Australia, where few people have even seen one. The latest electric cars have lighter batteries and greater range than previous models, a trend that is sure to continue.

In the US, Genenal Motors' keenly-awaited Chevrolet Volt, "a new plug-in electric car that could save a struggling GM" to quote Time magazine,8599,1841374,00.html?imw=Y will not be available until the end of 2010.

Australia expects to have its first plug-in electric car by the end of next year, when Mitsubishi intends marketing its baby i MiEV in that country.

Electric cars are no novelty on the roads of India, China, Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, Germany, Norway, the UK and other countries where they are made.

India is turning out thousands of electric cars, including the Tara Tiny, "the world's cheapest car," that sells for just under one lakh (100,000 rupees, or $US2146).

Ten electric cars already on the market are illustrated and described here.

In South Korea, CT&T exports electric vehicles to Canada , USA, Indonesia and China. Millions of TV viewers worldwide saw the Korean cars in use at the Beijing Olympics.

CT&T is about to build a large plant in Fiji, for the local market and for possible export to Australia and New Zealand.

The giant South Korean firm Hyundai plans to launch its first LPG/electric vehicle next July, and is thinking of marketing it in China and Australia.

In India, the G-Wiz is manufactured by the Reva Electric Car Company ( Reva was formed in 1995 to manufacture environmentally friendly, cost effective electric city cars. Designed in California, the car was developed and tested in India and launched there in May 2001.

The car is designed as a nimble, no-frills electric vehicle for non-polluting urban travel. It can carry two adults and two small children, and is designed for inner city use.

GoinGreen began importing the car into the UK in 2003 and has since sold about 1000 of them.

The latest model - the G-Wiz i - has a range of up to 48 miles, a top speed of 50mph, better braking, improved interior and a newly designed crash cell jointly developed with Lotus.

The three-wheeled German-built Twike (the name is a cross between Twin and Bike) is a light electric vehicle for two passengers. Buyers can select an all-electric version, or choose a model with pedals to save electricity, extend the range, and provide exercise for the driver (sometimes called the pilot).

"The combination of muscle power and electric motor, together with
the joystick steering, imparts a completely new driving experience," says the
Twike website

Dr. Andreas Schroer, in charge of the company's UK sales division, says
"The Twike transports its passengers into a new vehicle dimension. With a maximum range of 90 miles per charge and a top speed of 53mph a Twike easily meets your daily needs.

"At the same time the Twike is 10 times more efficient than a normal car. The futuristic joystick steering is easy and fun to use. The optional pedal drive adds to the fun and fitness of the passengers and saves even more energy."

Twikes were first made in Switzerland in 1996. Two years later,
the FINE Mobile GmbH launched the German production line and finally became the exclusive producer.

London eletric car owners don't have to worry about the soaring cost of liquid fuel., since they don't have to pay road tax or the London congestion charge of eight pounds a day - all-electric cars produce no carbon emissions.

Many UK councils also offer free parking for electric car users. In parts of Central London electric vehicles can park for free, and some places even offer free charging. EDF Energy is installing 250 on-street charging points nationally.

You can see many of the latest electric cars by visiting and Channel 4's Top10 Skeptics and conspiracy believers ask "Who killed the electric car?" in this now well-known video


Thursday, September 4, 2008

Bearskin Blitz Misses Mark

If the British Government bows to pressure from Animal Rights, and orders Buckingham Palace foot guards to remodel their iconic black bearskin helmets with false fur, not a single bear's life will be saved.

The sad truth, conveniently overlooked by well-meaning but highly emotional animal lovers, is that the famous, 18-inch (45.7cm) high helmets are made from skins of bears culled because they have reached pest numbers in parts of North America, or were victims of roadkill.

Britain's Minister for Defence Procurement, Baroness Ann Taylor, is responsible for acquiring all of the British Army's equipment. She has just met the animal rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) to discuss the possible use of synthetic materials and new designs.

Robbie LeBlanc, PETA director in Britain, who spoke to Baroness Taylor, said "It's important to show that Britain is a modern nation and you can still have great traditions, but not have that level of cruelty involved in slaying bears to make hats.

"It's so incongruous that Britain and all of Europe are modern nations here and still you have the Queen's guards ... walking around with an entire dead bear on their heads."

"New Palace Bearskins May Spare the Bear," the London Guardian newspaper announced on Sep 1, with an eye-catching photo of guardsmen flaunting their top-heavy (one and a half pounds) headdress.

Millions of tourists visiting London eash year photograph members of The Queen's Foot Guards whose shining black bearskins offset brilliant scarlet tunics on ceremonial parades.

It's just another round in a long drawn out battle. Five years ago, Caroline Davies reported in the London Daily Telegraph:

"For two centuries the Sovereign's Foot Guards have been distinguished by the foot-high bearskins that top their scarlet ceremonial uniforms. But now, to appease animal rights campaigners, defence officials are seeking an alternative to the traditional headgear, which dates back to the Battle of Waterloo.

"Complaints to the Queen that her soldiers should switch to faux fur have resulted in a search for a synthetic bearskin - so far without success."

The wonderfully British-named Lieutenant-Colonel Peter Dick-Peter was quoted as saying "We have tried artificial fibres to try and get away from using bearskins. But nothing works. It either doesn't hold its shape, or it cannot withstand the weather, or it fails to retain the right colour, or it stands up in a very surprised manner in the wrong electrical conditions."

Next, in 2006, some 70 PETA activists staged a naked protest against the use of bearskins.

Lieutenant Colonel Peter Dick-Peter again made the headlines. He told BBC London that fake fur does not have the same qualities as the real thing.

"It looks like a 60s Beatle wig," he said. "It just doesn't look right and if the wind blows it sticks up. The rain soaks into the fibre and it ends up an extremely heavy piece of sodden material on somebody's head. In hot electrical conditions, all the hair will stand up - a really bad hair day."

Caroline Davies wrote that the bearskin cap could be traced back to the Grenadier Mitre cap, which, in 1712, replaced the three-cornered (tricorn) hat when it was discovered that for a Grenadier to throw his grenade, he had to sling his firelock across his back, which invariably resulted in his hat being knocked off.

Fine, glossy pelts from female bears are reserved for officers. Other ranks have to make do with rougher male pelts. Helmets can last a century, and are sometimes passed from father to son. A good bearskin "should look like an apple in front, and a pear from the back."

Black bears live in the wild in 41 of the 50 U.S. states and in every Canadian province bar Prince Edward Island. In Canada, about 500,000 black bears mainly inhabit forested areas, according to figures from the British Fur Trade Association. The Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada says the black bear is "not at risk."

If you are not an animal lover, you may like to join a bear-shooting expedition at Rick Dickson's Black Bear Hunts, in Wawa, Ontario, Canada:

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Wednesday, July 16, 2008


Thousands of bloggers around the world are mourning the death on July 12 of Australian great-great-grandmother Olive Riley, who was the internet world's oldest blogger. She would have been 109 on October 20.

Messages of condolence have caused her website to crash, although it still displays a moving eulogy from her friend and scribe, Mike Rubbo.

Heartwarming emails expressing affection and admiration for Olive and sympathy to her family and friends have poured in to her proxy website They came from dozens of countries, from young and old, Christians, Moslems, Hindus and atheists, united in their love, admiration and sorrow at the passing of a simple soul with a mighty spirit.

Here's a small selection from more than 200 emails:

the Razzler (Johore, Malaysia) said... Oh gosh.. I am so sad!! A message for Olive. Though we've never met, you have always been my inspiration to be strong, to live life to it's fullest! We love you so very much Olive!! We'll continue to sing happy songs.. May your soul rest in peace!

Alireza Ashtari (Iran) said... i found out about you and your intersting blog in an iranian newspaper! God Bless you.

Texas 1st (Dallas, Texas) said... I read about Miss Olive late last year, and was not able to find her blog until I saw the story today. As I read the stories, they touched me very deeply, and bring back memories of listening to my Gramma Lee tell her stories of growing up in the Oklahoma Territory, USA. It was a sad day when she left us. And it seems a sadder day still now that Miss Olive has left. Mine and my family' thoughts and prayers are with you all. Miss Olive seems to have reached out and touched the whole world. I'm glad she touched me...

Rod Landaeta (computer scientist, Caracas, Venezuela) said... Condolences from Venezuela... The world has just lost a great blogger.

Shaan Jadhav (Pune, India) said... Sad to hear the news about olive. My condolences.

kassy pajarillo (23-year-old hoterlier and nanny, Jackson Hole, Wyoming, US) ) said... My condolence to Mrs.Riley. She's such a woman of might and love.

FxDi@mOnD (Paulo Faustino, "23-year-old gambler and tipster", Leiria, Portugal): said... My condolences from Portugal to Miss Riley. All bloggers from Portugal and Brasil already know there history and she's loved by is amazing life history. All the best to the family.

Christine (54-year-old semi-retired theatrical costume-maker, Sydney, Australia)said... I'd like to send condolences to Mike and Katya, and all Ollie's family and friends. Also to the staff at the nursing home, my deepest sympathy and good wishes to you all.

Devonshire Dumpling (care assistant, Devon, England) said... Thank you for sharing your memories Olive, what an inspiration you were.

Nopiedra (Nelson Piedra, 32, informstion engineer, Loja, Ecuador) said... Mis condolenscias desde Ecuador.

barbara (born in US, grew up in Hawaii, living in Paris) said... I'm very touched to read about Mrs Riley and her blog. I'm of course a blogger & I salute this incredible lady. She is a living example that one is never to old to try things in life. Rest in peace.

81duz1d0 - 81duz1d0 (biduzido), Programmer, Brazil said... R.I.P. Olive. You can be gone, but your posts will last forever in the internet.

With Olive's depature from the blogosphere, the Spanish media have rejoiced that Maria Amelia Lopez has apparently regained the title of the World's Oldest Blogger, a ranking that Olive took from her 18 months ago.

Maria Amelia is 96 years old, although her blog is confusingly titled A mis 95 anos/ 95 years old blogger.

The now outdated heading reads "My friends in Internet, today I am 95 years old. My name is Amelia and I was born in Muxia (A Coruna - Spain) on December the 23rd of 1911. Today it's my birthday and my grandson, who is very stingy, gave me a blog."

Amelia, like Olive, has an amazing memory. She writes entetainingly about her girlhood, Spanish politics past and present, and any other subject that interests her alert mind. Her grandson Daniel records and transcribes her observations, then posts them word for word on the internet.

Her website has attracted nearly 1.3 million hits. If only someone fluent in both Spanish and English would find the time to tranlate her words and her many reader' comments into English,that number could double.

FOOTNOTE. To see a video of Olive Riley enjoying an oyster lunch with the author, click HERE.


Thursday, July 3, 2008

Pumpkins' One-Mile Barrier

This story was first published by the South Korean citizen reporters' journal OhmyNewsInternational:

Rival engineering groups in the United States are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars pursuing a bizarre dream: to be first in the world to hurl a 10-pound pumpkin one mile (5,280 feet).

A few party-poopers say it can't be done, because they believe no pumpkin can stand up to the G-forces involved. But horticulturists have now developed pumpkins with extra-thick skins -- not recommended for pies, but great as projectiles.

At least two groups have come close to reaching the one-mile barrier. According to a You-Tube video, Guinness World Record Pumpkin Chucker, Matt Parker's Aludium Q-36 Pumpkin Modulator, described elsewhere as "a giant peashooter with an 80ft. long tube," propelled a pumpkin 4,860 feet at Morton, Illinois, in 2001, setting a world record.

But the Delaware-based World Championship Punkin Chunkin Association (and that's not a typo) maintains that the world record is slightly less - 4,434.28 feet - achieved by a 14-ton air cannon named Second Amendment.

"The World Championship Punkin Chunkin Association does not recognise any shots other than those at the Association event" says WCPCA President Frank E. Shade.

"Vary factors such as weather, elevation and propellant used could drastically affect the distance. Example, a shot in Denver's thin air would go infinitely farther than one at sea level. We only allow compressed air by our rules and elsewhere they could use anything including rockets or explosives.

"Matt [Parker] competed here [Nassau, Delaware] with us but he never made that distance with us."

Parker's epic performance took place in his hometown, Morton, Illinois. (In 1978, the State Governor proclaimed Morton to be The Pumpkin Capital of the World.)

"Whoosh... A giant blast of air expels a pumpkin from an 80 foot-long tube. Traveling at nearly the speed of sound, the pumpkin follows a graceful arc towards the horizon. It will land with a splat nearly a mile away.," the Morton Times-News reported in 2001, adding:
The chuck that shook up the Morton Pumpkin Festival was made by the Aludium Q-36 Pumpkin Modulator, a giant contraption that looks like the results of cross breeding a howitzer with parts borrowed from the International Space Station.

One hundred feet long and tipping the scale at 36,000 pounds, the Q-36 is really a giant pea shooter. An 80-foot long tube is connected to a 1,800-gallon compressed air tank. "We can run up to a maximum pressure of 125 PSI," says Matt Parker, one of the designers of the Q-36. Matt punches numbers into a calculator and announces, "At atmospheric pressure that would be 18,000 cubic feet of air." That is the amount of air in a 2,250-square-foot house - all of it just to blow a 10 pound pumpkin out of an 80-foot tube. "Muzzle velocity is 1,000 feet per second," says Matt. Again the calculator springs into action. "It's traveling 681 miles per hour when it leaves the tube, but it loses velocity quickly."

Matt Parker is co-owner of Parker Fabrication, a family-owned machine shop in Morton's new industrial park. In addition to Parker, the crew of the Q-36 consists of Chuck Heerde, James Knepp, Rod Litwiller and Steve Young.

"The guys have had a lot of fun with it," says Bonnie Parker, Matt's mother. Bonnie is the office staff of the family business. She also is the chief cheerleader for the pumpkin-chuckers and serves as the archivist of the Q-36's exploits. Framed newspaper articles detailing the Q-36's world record shot adorn her office wall. In addition to the local papers, her collection includes a picture from the front page of the Wall Street Journal and an article from the London Times.

The entire Parker family takes their punkin' chuckin' seriously. "We don't have grandchildren, so this pumpkin chucker is our baby," explains Bonnie. When asked about the cost to build such a contraption, Pat Parker, Matt's father, is quick to point out, "It's not about sponsorship or advertising or money. It's about people putting their ideas together to solve a problem. A lot more people contributed to this than the five who have their names on the official entry form."
[Above extracts courtesy Morton Times-News.]
Q-36's main rival, the air cannon Second Amendment is owned by S & G Erectors, of Howell, Michigan. Last November it took part in the Punkin Chonkin contest for the fourth time.

"We were in competition with 106 machines, each utilizing various methods of propelling a pumpkin, such as centrifugal force, torsion, human powered, catapults, trebuchets and the ultimate, air cannons," says its website.

"The event had some 40,000 to 50,000 spectators and was covered by CNN, AT&T Dish, The History Channel, Costa Mantis, a documentary film producer from California, and several local TV channels...

"Our world record of 4,434 feet is still intact and we will work out the bugs, trying for that ultimate shot of one mile. Numerous times in practice, we achieved shots over 5,000 feet, just short of the 5,280 that we need to be the first to shoot the mile."
Towering over most contestants was the Big Ten-Inch air cannon , with an aluminum barrel 10 inches in diameter and 100 feet long. You can read about it at

FOOTNOTE. Pumpkin throwing is a popular sport in many US cities and small towns. Pumpkin festivals are held wherever these vegetables are grown and eaten, and that goes for most of the world. In Goomeri, Queensland, Australia, instead of being hurled by gigantic air guns, pumpkins are treated more gently, by being rolled down a hill. For more details and photos of the Goomeri festival, see


Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Slinging Limes From a Purple Bra

While most of the world's nations are hoping to outlaw cluster bombs small groups of engineers and students are modernizing a medieval war machine.

Called a trebuchet (pronounced tray-boo-shay), it was a huge mechanized catapult, a seesaw-like device powered by a counterweight, employed in attacking besieged castles.

Attackers were reputed to have hurled severed heads of their enemies over the castle walls. That may or may not be true. But this year's miniature machines have a peaceful purpose. They'll be used to hurl eggs various distances, to be caught, preferably unbroken, at an English village fair.

The home-made trebuchets will be a highlight of the third annual World Egg-Throwing Contest in Swaton, Lincolnshire, on June 29. Eggs will "fly through the air with the greatest of ease", and helmeted competitors will try to catch them at the end of their flight.

Three points will be awarded for a successful “hurl” when the egg is caught without touching the ground and is unbroken. If the “target” is struck and the egg broken, the unfortunate would-be catcher wins just one point.

Andy Dunlop, President of the World Egg Throwing Federation, is organizing the contest in aid of local charities. Full details are shown on the official website says:

Engineering students used trebuchets to hurl plastic limes at a not-to-scale replica of the Alamo. Billed as a re-enactment of the Battle of La Margarita, the teams were scored on distance and accuracy...

“Only at a women’s college can ... a trebuchet sling be a brassiere cup,” Sweet Briar assistant professor of engineering Scott Pierce observed, watching his students maneuver their medieval-era weapons into launch positions.

A C-cup, purple in color.

The two trebuchets made of two-by-fours represent the students’ end-of-semester projects. They had designed, analyzed, modeled, constructed and analyzed some more; it was time to see which machine would perform closest to their mathematical predictions. This is the point in the engineering process where reality and math intersect, Pierce said.

Team Jose Cuervo won the day, beating Team Los Positivo Fringe by a hairsbreadth. The prize was a candy-filled piƱata that came with the option to load it into the winning trebuchet and chuck it.

“We’re throwing this thing,” said Amanda Baker, a junior engineering major. Sophomore Jenna Wasylenko wasn’t so sure. “I don’t think it will fit in my bra.”

If the girls take their trebuchet across the Atlantic to Swaton and wrap their c-cup around an egg, it's a safe bet we'll all watch the TV news to see whether the catcher ends up with egg on her face.

Here are the latest updates, announced by Andy Dunlop on June 2:

At least 12 trebuchets have been constructed or are being built.

A Latvian led team is currently putting its final touches to a machine constructed out of aluminium in Peterborough.

A USA team from Houston is completing its final planning. The American team has a real problem flying the machine over, as “weapons of mass destruction” are not allowed on normal passenger planes. They intend to construct from scratch once they arrive.

The Welsh team from Cardiff is preparing, for the first time since 1294, to invade England with its homemade trebuchet. This fearsome team consists of the current World Record Holder for Dry Foam Flinging and Runner up in the World Pea Shooting Championship.

One English team is arriving from Northumbria University, to help beat off the Welsh challenge, with machines designed and constructed as part of a degree course.

FOOTNOTES. Here's another story about trebuchets, written five years ago: Pigs Can Fly; So Can Pianos, Horses, Cars.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Anagram film wins award

(in other words, flaw winds a grammarian)

An eight-minute film about anagrams has won the American Documentary P.O.V. Short Film Award at this year's Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Film Festival in Toronto. Its title, ARS MAGNA (Latin for Great Art) is an anagram of the word ANAGRAMS.

It features two of the world's best anagrammers, Anu Garg and Cory Calhoun. As someone long fascinated by this form of word play, I first wrote about them nine years ago.

I praised Cory, who was then a 22-year-old student at Western Washington University, for having composed what I thought (and still think) was the world's best anagram, based on Hamlet's famous soliloquy:

Original phrase (Shakespeare). :
To be or not to be, that is the question, whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.

In one of the Bard's best-thought-of tragedies, our insistent hero, Hamlet, queries on two fronts about how life turns rotten.

"Believe it or not," Cory told me by email in 1999, "I created that anagram phrase without any aid from a computer program. I started by arranging all the letters in a more or less alphabetical order, then thought of several Shakespeare-related words. I created a list, then (as I often do with anagrams) let the letters 'speak to me', as to what word would go around the mainly Shakespearian words.

"All along, I tried to yield a phrase that made a direct comment about the play itself. Often, and much to my fright, I'll look at words and phrases and almost instantaneously come up with an anagram of it. For example, I once saw the word Spectrum on a car, and Crumpets sprang to mind."

Today Cory, now 31 and living in Seattle, is a man of many talents and interests. He describes himself as an anagrammatist, puzzlesmith, designer, writer and artist. He says on his website:

"I'm currently living in West Seattle with my gorgeous wife Miriam. We're both arts majors; my day job is chef at the Essential Baking Company; hers is HR operations at Tommy Bahama. That is, until A) I get a publishing deal, B) she gets a gig in either nutrition or music, or C) both.

"I’ve got eclectic tastes and embrace my inner geek. I make crossword puzzles and anagrams ...belt out karaoke with the gang, scrutinize and revel in the latest 'Lost' theories, and rock out to the odd TMBG track."

Anu Garg, the India-born Wordsmith who founded the global newsletter A Word A Day, has long been intrigued by the magic of anagrams. "They never lie," he quipped several years ago.

Researching the web in 1999, I discovered to my surprise that the letters spelling ANAGRAM GENIUS could be shuffled to show that his NAME IS ANU GARG. That was confusing, as William Tunstall-Pedoe, a clever Cambridge (UK) software developer and entrepreneur, runs a commercial website called Anagram Genius, and markets software with that name.

Anu also lives in Seattle, with his wife and daughter. In addition to composing his daily newsletter, he writes books about words, and designed and runs the Internet Anagram Server,

Tap in your name (or anyone else's) and in a flash you'll see myriad anagrams using those same letters.

Anagrams have provided amusement for many centuries, and in numerous languages. Thousands of clever anagrams in English are listed on hundreds of websites. Here are a few favorites:

Elvis = Lives

Eleven plus two = Twelve plus one

New York Times = Monkeys write

Dormitory = Dirty Room

Mother-in-law = Woman Hitler

The Detectives = Detect Thieves

Schoolmaster = The Classroom

Presbyterian = Best In Prayer

A Decimal Point = I'm a Dot in Place

The Countryside = No City Dust Here

Listen = Silent

A Telephone Girl = Repeating "Hello"

The Morse Code = Here Come Dots

And here's a classsic anagram composed years ago by Steve Krakowski, that has just become topical again: "That's one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind." Neil A. Armstrong = A thin man ran; makes a large stride; left planet, pins flag on moon! On to Mars!

"Ars Magna" starring Anu, Cory and his lovely wife Miriam, was produced earlier this year as an entry in the International Documentary Challenge.

One hundred and twenty-two film makers from sixteen countries set out to make a documentary in five days. "Ars Magna" is travelling on the festival circuit and will be screened at the Northwest Film Forum in Seattle on July 10.

To view it now, click HERE

DISCLOSURE. The author of this article is Anu Garg's copy editor.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Citizen Reporters in World War I

Harry Lamin, a British soldier who endured the horrors of life in the trenches of the Western Front in World War I, was one of the world's first citizen reporters. His homely despatches are now being posted on the internet, exactly 90 years after he wrote them.

His letters to his family, posted one at a time, read like a serial cliffhanger, causing thousands of present-day internet surfers worldwide to worry about his welfare. 'Where is he?" one frantic viewer wrote a few days ago. 'What's happened? I need the next letter! Is he dead? Is he alive? It's been 8 days and no word from him!'

Three years ago, Bill Lamin, now 59, an information technology teacher living in Cornwall, England, read a bundle of letters his grandfather, Private Harry Lamin, had written from the western front in 1917-18. He sorted them into chronological order, and just one year ago began posting them as a blog. which has attracted more than a million hits.

Bill rightly says, 'What has been produced is a moving and poignant account of an ordinary man's experiences in an extraordinary situation. I have edited nothing. The spellings and grammar are exactly as Harry wrote them.'

Harry was conscripted in 1917, at the age of 30, and served with the York and Lancashire Regiment. He survived historic and bloody battles including Messines Ridge and Passchendaele, , which are still remembered for the appalling loss of lives of soldiers fighting on both sides.

'It is a rum job waiting for the time to go over the top - and without any rum too,' Harry commented in one letter. On June 11, 1917, he wrote to his brother Jack about the battle of Messines Ridge.

'We have had another terrible time this week the men here say it was worst than the Somme advance last July. We lost a lot of men but we got where we were asked to take. It was awful I am alright got buried and knocked about but quite well now and hope to remain so.

'We were praised by the general and all, everybody said we had done well, quite a success. I will tell you more when I see you.'

Today, hundreds of thousands of web surfers are anxiously waiting to learn whether Harry was wounded or killed in the closing stages of the war, when he was stationed in Italy.

Grandson Bill is keeping that secret, letting readers share the anxiety the family must have suffered while awaiting another letter from Harry... or a fateful telegram from the War Office.

On a happier note, here's a letter Captain Charles S. Normington, a 24-year-old American World War I soldier, wrote from Paris to his parents on Armistice Day, 11 November, 1918. His daughter, Lois Haugner, of Appleton, Wisconsin., recently posted it on the internet.

Dear Folks:

Arrived here last night, and was on the street today when the armistice with Germany was signed. Anyone who was not here can never be told, or imagine, the happiness of the people here.
They cheereed and cried and laughed and then started all over again.

Immediately a parade was started on the Rue De Italiennes and has been going on ever since. In the parade were hundreds of thousands of soldiers from the U.S., England, Canada, France, Australia, Italy and the colonies.

Each soldier had his arms full of French girls, some crying, others laughing, each girl had to kiss every soldier before she would let him pass.

When those early citizen reporters Harry Lamin and Charles Normington wrote to their folks 90 years ago, they could not have imagined their letters would be read by countless netizens around the world in 2008.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Niagara Falls on Deck

Mild-mannered Bostonian Jeff Deck crossed the United States unmolested, blithely correcting hundreds of typos displayed in public places , but as soon as he crossed the Canadian border last week he was threatened by "two very large, chain-bedecked men," who told him: "Keep walking, or we’ll fix it so you can’t walk anymore.”

"This sounded like a persuasive argument, so Benjamin and I kept walking," Jeff reported in his whimsical blog on 9 May. " I decided that the whole town [Niagara Falls, Ontario] could go to hell, for all I cared.

"In our first three encounters, we’d been rebuffed, threatened, and condescended to, and from here on I would feel no obligation to point out mistakes to those who had wrought them."

Instead, he contented himself with photographing numerous typos he found in Niagara Falls, and displaying them in his popular blog.

Calming down, the 28-year-old crusader wrote: "My indignation died down when we made our way out of the wretched tourist area and to the Falls themselves. They seemed a bit smaller than they had looked to me the last time I visited, but then again, I’d been around twelve or thirteen at the time."

Before crossing the border, Jeff amended a sign in a fruit store in Erie, Pennsylvania, offering MACINTOSH apples for sale. He changed the spelling to McIntosh.
"We’re not talking about one of the computing products put out by my much-loathed nemesis, after all, so an a is unwelcome," he said.

He's right, of course. McIntosh Red apples were named in honor of a Scottish immigrant's son who discovered seeds of a marvelous new apple in Canada more than 200 years ago. His name was John McIntosh, and today his apples are one of the world's favorites. You can read about him in Wikipedia:

There's an interesting link between McIntosh apples (the fruit) and Mac Apples (the computer), explained by TAM, The Apple Museum:

Steve Jobs came up with the name in early 1976. At the time, he was often visiting and working on a small farm friends of his owned. It was a hippie commune where Steve spent a few months of the year.

When he returned from one of those stays, he told Steve Wozniak about his idea. Jobs probably was working on apple plantages. Or he just wanted their startup to be in front of Atari in the phone book. Or it was a tribute to Apple Records, the music label of the Beatles.

Well, perhaps the computer should have been labelled the Apple Mc!

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Jeff Deck's Fearless War On Typos

Mild-mannered New Englander Jeff Deck, 28, from Manchester, New Hampshire, hated typos so much that he founded the Typo Eradication Advancement League (TEAL). Then on March 5 he set out on "a crusade to edit America", an epic journey that took him to the U.S. west coast. He's now in Wisconsin on his way home.

He has stopped off at more than 100 cities, towns and villages, fearlessly using a paintbrush and marker pen to correct the thousands of typos he spots wherever he and his "cuddle partner" Jane go. His friends Benjamin and Josh accompanied him for parts of the journey.

Sadly, his well-meant help (cynics might call it nitpicking) isn't always appreciated, and has led to some tense situations. Here's an extract from Jeff's amusing blog, describing his visit to a bar in Spokane, Washington:

There were only a couple of other customers in the place, and the music was plenty loud enough to go around. A big dude manned the bar inside. I approached, and he said, "What can I do for you?"

"I... uh... I noticed that your sign outside for margaritas spelled it M-A-R-G-I instead of M-A-R-G-A."

"Yeah, and?"

"I was wondering if you had an extra A, so that the sign could be corrected."

"Does it really matter?" He had a kind of threatening joviality in his responses, like he was either amused or ready to explode or both.

"Yeah, it does. I'm actually going around the country fixing typos, and thought I could... help you out."

"Well," said the bartender, still perched on the edge of volcanic emotion, "I don't have any extra letters, or the key to open that sign. I'll let my boss know that he can't spell, though. Is this really what you came in for? You're not going to order a drink?"

"Noooo," I said, and it was time to skedaddle.

In Las Vegas, Jeff noticed posters at the Circus Circus casino (including one in lights) announcing 'Welcome to the world's Greastest Greastest Circus!' Jeff wrote in his blog:

GREASTEST! GREASTEST! An abomination against all that is right and true. We needed to inform someone in charge. It was our only hope for seeing this perversity wiped from the land. The problem was, we couldn't actually find anyone in charge... everyone in the garb of Circus Circus was trying to sell us something. We wandered around until, finally, someone directed us to a thick-necked man scowling at some register tape. His reaction to our crucial piece of intelligence?

A blank look, then: "I'll... uh... have to tell someone about this."

Which you can recognize by now, cherished readers, as a synonym for thudding indifference. We tried to help you, Circus Circus. We wanted to end the era of you looking like a fool. But it seems that era will go on into the foreseeable future.
Reading of those encounters prompted us to send an email to Jeff, asking if he had been assaulted by any unrepentant misspellers. He replied: 'No, no violence or police involved anywhere, thankfully. We did encounter someone in LA who called us a naughty word, though.'

Asked if he thought his epic trip had been worthwhile, he said: 'Certainly it's been worthwhile! There are a lot more people out there now carrying Sharpies [a brand of markers] around with them.'

Jeff's well-written blog attracts a healthy following by some of the world's many other typophobes. Here are comments from two of them:

Bless your heart for reassuring me that I am not the only spelling and punctuation nut left in North America! The print media, mainly newspapers but not excluding books, magazines, and the internet, make me crazy with their pretense of proof-reading, and the poor spelling (and general indifference to spelling) of today's generations infuriate me on a daily basis. I rant and rave about it, but have never had the guts to do what you are doing to bring it to folks' attention. Way to go, Jeff! - Ruth M. Newton.

Thanks for the laughs, and cringes too! I can barely read our local newspaper without finding typos in the first few moments of sitting down to read. It's so highly annoying, I stopped reading the local newspaper and currently get most of my news online instead. Not that there aren't typos online...- Kathleen.

Thanks to Jeff Deck for permission to publish extracts from his TEAL Web site:

To see a Good Morning America video of Jeff fixing misspelled signs, visit The Human Spell Check:

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Centenarian Columnist's Californian Comeback

Thirty years ago Californian Frank Pelatowski decided that as he had reached the age of 70 he would stop writing his weekly column in his local newspaper, the Mariposa Gazette, and enjoy retired life. Now, as a sprightly centenarian, he has revived the feature, which means he is probably the world's oldest columnist.

His nearest rivals for the title are thought to be Australia's Ken Sillcock (97) and Britain's Henry Jackson (95)

'I decided to come back because I've lived long enough to set one record and the Gazette has been in print long enough to set another,' he says. 'You see, not only is the Gazette an old paper, it's the oldest continuously-published weekly newspaper in all of California. On Jan. 20, 2004 it turned 150 years old, having never missed an issue.

'Some people say I have a lot of energy for a 100-year-old man. They may be right. I'm not only going to write new columns, but I'm still doing other writing, including a book titled "The Wit and Wisdom of Frank Pelatowski", which will be in bookstores later this year.'

Frank was born in Massachusetts on August 10, 1907, when Theodore Roosevelt was his nation's president. His parents were Polish immigrants. He grew up in Connecticut, with 10 brothers and sisters.

In 1923, after leaving High School at 16, he joined the U.S. Navy - so young that he needed a note from his parents. He served on the then new battleship USS West Virginia, cruising down the Atlantic coast, through the Panama Canal and across the Pacific Ocean to Australia and New Zealand.

Nearly 20 years later, in World War II, the Navy recalled him to serve a second term, as a chief petty officer.

Here are extracts from Frank's website:

I've been married twice, both wives died while married to me. I have no children, but consider many children to be like grandchildren to me.

Like my father before me, I spent most of my life as a builder. I was also involved in the community; I even ran for office once - and lost.

That was enough of politics; but I served for years as an officer in the Veterans of Foreign Wars, Lions Club and other groups right here in Mariposa.

I've been a writer all my life, and my work has appeared in several publications. I've completed children's books and have two or three unfinished manuscripts in my files.

Though I moved 'down the hill' and have lived in Merced for many years, I have fond memories of Mariposa County and have many friends in the area.

I'm hoping to visit often, to renew old friendships and create new ones. I want to meet Gazette readers and learn about their lives.

Frank lives in an old folks' home in Merced. Like most centenarians, he has failing eyesight. He dictates his columns to his friend and fellow writer David Burke, who hopes to syndicate them to other newspapers as well.

Frank's first column written after he turned 100 was titled 'World's oldest column returns to the Gazette'

His second column was a nostalgic story about his Navy days, called 'Rollin' in my sweet hammock's arms'

Frank has also made a YouTube video that's well worth checking out:

He says he likes writing stories with happy endings.

FOOTNOTES. Merced (population 210,554) is a county in California's Central Valley, north of Fresno and and southeast of San Jose. Mariposa (population 1,373) is the county seat (administrative center) of Mariposa County. Its name is the Spanish word for 'butterfly', after early explorers saw flocks of Monarch butterflies there. Mariposa and Merced, 40 miles apart, both call themselves 'The Gateway to Yosemite.' Mariposa being 30 miles from the national park.

The passenger liner SS (Steam Ship) Mariposa maintained a regular service linking the US west coast with Australia and New Zealand before WWII, when she became a US Navy transport troopship.

Here's another centenarian journalist!

Mildred Heath, of Overton, Nebraska, is only five months younger than Frank Pelatowski. Born on January 4, 1908, she works five days a week as the Overton correspondent of the Beacon (Nebraska) Observer. She may be the world's oldest working journalist, but her present job does not qualify her to compete for the 'oldest columnist' crown.

'Residents of Overton, a farm town of 646 people east of Lexington, marvel at Heath's energy,' says Omaha World-Herald staff writer Paul Hammel. 'The only concession to her 100 years is an electric scooter she rides one block to work. She broke her hip five or six years ago...

'Her main chores are answering the phone and filing photographs, although she still calls local residents to check for news of their families. She asks most people to write up their items and drop them off at the paper, but she still uses an electric typewriter regularly.'

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Is Ken (97) world's oldest columnist?

London's famous journalist Henry Jackson (95) is probably Britain's oldest columnist, but Australia's Ken Sillcock has trumped him by two years for the world title.

"Hey, we have a bonzer 97-year-old columnist," (Bonzer is an Australian slang word meaning excellent) Alan Wheatley, editor of Melbourne's Bonzer! webzine ("The Online Monthly Magazine by, for and about Wise Elders") exclaimed when he read our story about Henry Jackson.

During World War II, Ken (born 8 Oct., 1910) was a wireless (radio) operator in the Royal Australian Air Force. He served in the UK in Bomber Command, in Lancaster aircraft making perilous destructive raids over Europe.

Checking some of Ken's recent stories in the Bonzer! archives reveals much about his varied and eventful life.

He has written a biographical book called "Three Lifetimes of Dairy Farming in Victoria" about his grandfather and father and his own work as a dairy herd tester before he became Deputy Chief of Agriculture for the state of Victoria.

"Science for me seemed to end in 1930, two years into a four-year degree course, when the Great Financial Depression intervened," he recalled last November.

"Through life, skills which seem unrelated can combine to change one's destiny. For me, this happened in music. Until the end of 1924 my mother taught me to play the piano tolerably well. Ten years later I joined the local brass band as a learner and bought a cornet, just as a hobby, until I joined the AIF [Australian Army] in 1940 as a bandsman/stretcher bearer. This, together with my background in science, led to me being chosen for anti-malaria training.

"My elementary training in entomology was put to use in 1940 when the AIF sent me to a school on malaria control conducted in the Jordan Valley, where the disease was endemic and control work was in place. We applied our new skill in Lebanon and, later, in Sri Lanka.

"That ceased, for me, with our return to Australia, but in 1943 my previous studies of Physics and Mathematics were most helpful when I transferred to the RAAF and studied Radio Theory as a major subject in the Wireless Operator course. Science became a dominant interest again when, in 1945, I had the opportunity to complete my degree course, and in my subsequent career."

Ken attracts young as well as old readers to his writing. Here's a tribute written by Sarah, a 24-year-old Brisbane blogger

"We still have old guys like Ken Sillcock alive at the moment, who are trying their best to pass on to us the lessons they took away from their painful experience of war. But we're not even listening, and soon, there'll be nothing to remember."

Here's a sample of Ken's lucid writing, from his latest column in the April edition of Bonzer!

Our money was fairly reliable when it consisted of alloys of gold, silver and copper, which only a metallurgist could fake, and genuine coins were minted only by the legal government of the nation. In my grandfather's lifetime he carried sufficient money for his daily needs in a spring-loaded case in a waistcoat pocket at the end of a chain.

On one side it held five sovereigns (pounds) and on the other five half-sovereigns. Banks with secure vaults were set up so that people could have their money stored safely when not needed. A fee had to be charged to pay the people who provided this service.

Things started to go wrong when banks started to make the rules. At first they were required to hold in their vaults gold to the value of five-sixths of the gold they held on behalf of their clients. Then note-printing was introduced when the Bank of England was given a licence to print them, and lend them out at interest.

Ken has a word of advice for his readers. He says old people who remain active and interested in their community tend, as a group, to remain more healthy than those who think they are ''too old, over the hill, or finished."

Last December, he sent this email to his friends and admirers:

I havIe an important message for the world, and I ask that you pass it on, especially to those who do not have email. It is: Don't be in too much hurry to help those who are disabled.

That sounds a bit at odds with the Christian spirit and with the beliefs of other codes of life, until I add: First, find out what help they need which will not cause them further damage.

Our bodies were designed long before the wheel and the hydraulic lift were invented. They work on a system of levers well understood by those who studied Physics or Mechanics to Year 10.

Every lever has to move through part of a circle around its pivot. It cannot, for instance, go immediately from the horizontal to the vertical position, but must arrive at it in two stages.

In a chair with arms my technique was to push myself halfway up, then change my grip to include a forward thrust and then steady myself on a firm object or with a walking stick.

So there I was, in my 97th. year, the oldest at our annual Air Force Europe lunch. The chairs didn't have arms, so I sat down through the toasts etc. At the end, when I had to get up, without warning, the two young and fit blokes, barely in their eighties, grabbed me under the armpits and, with the kindest of intentions, hauled me straight up, in defiance of the Law of the Lever.

In the days following I learned that a "crook back" is not just a dull sort of pain. It is that much of the time but. if you make a wrong move, it hits you with an uncontrolled spasm which really hurts. The only way to avoid that is to stand up or sit down in a slow spiral, not straight up or down.

I have just moved out of hospital into my own home, a separate house on my son's block. Indoors I use a wheeled walking frame and have a few grab bars installed, and have help calling to check on me, but I am not yet allowed to go outdoors unaccompanied. Time will heal a cracked vertebra and an apparently strained muscle on my left side.

On the positive side, I have gained this knowledge to pass on, extra compassion for those worse off than I am, and especially for those who have similar injuries much earlier in life.

I can still enjoy some independent living, still in touch with the whole world through Internet.

My family have been most supportive, even sacrificing time they should have given to their work, and the Department of Veterans' Affairs has sometimes anticipated my needs.

Ken moved into a 24-hour serviced aged care facility just before Christmas. He told one of his friends: "As I have to be here I aim to contribute something to the life of the place. I guess that’s what we should aim to do, whatever life deals up to us."

With the approach of Anzac Day (April 25) Australians (and others) may like to read Ken's moving poem, The Jinx Kite

Saturday, March 29, 2008

World's oldest columnists' sexpert tease

London's Henry Jackson (95) is the favorite to succeed Rose Hacker (101) as the world's oldest columnist. Rose, a socialist, sex educator, writer and social justice campaigner, died on February 4.

"Mrs Hacker had her first column published [in the Camden New Journal] in September 2006 - when she was 100," said a BBC report

The Camden newspaper is continuing to publish her articles:

Henry Jackson, her probable successor to the Oldest Columnist crown, has been in the newspaper trade all his life, starting as a junior reporter on a local newspaper, then working for Odhams Press, the Associated Press of America, the Daily and Overseas Mail, the Sunday Dispatch and The Observer. He launched his own motoring magazine in 1953 and then added more titles to what became the Bugle Press Group.

These days he's a weekly columnist for Britain's daily literary newszine Open Writing, published in Huddersfield, Yorkshire.

"Henry's entertaining mixture of news and memories, prose and poetry, makes for one of the best reads in any week," says editor Peter Hinchliffe, who often writes feature stories about life in Britain for OhmyNews.

Henry and Peter have given us permission to publish these extracts from three recent columns in a series of candid confessions headed "Looking Back: The Women in My Life":

I was just 23 and working hard five days a week at a job I loved, and to earn more money I took an extra Saturday job on the Sunday Dispatch newspaper. Eileen had her clients and most evenings I would bring her home from somewhere in Chelsea or Kensington. Later on I taught her how to drive and she drove me to work then used the car during the day and brought me home at night.

I was a total sex novice and Eileen was an accomplished teacher. But I was too young and unpractised in the complex art of love making and never achieved sexual equality with her and this caused me great sorrow...

I changed jobs twice quickly on my way up the publishing ladder, each time for more salary, and when the war came I had three jobs at the same time---as a sub editor on the Daily Mail, as a sub editor on the Sunday Dispatch, and as assistant to the Editor of the Overseas Daily Mail. I earned a lot of money and worked seven days a week.

I also changed cars and bought a family car, a Morris saloon, that took us all over the country on holidays. And after I crashed it in the wartime blackout at 1a.m. on my way home from the Daily Mail I bought a Fiat 500 which ran on a whisper of fuel.

Then I left my rented house in Hampstead Garden Suburb and bought a three bedroom house for £16,000 in Mill Hill, on the northern outskirts of London, just when London became a target for German bombers. I built a concrete bomb shelter in the garden and continued on the Daily Mail until I received a call to join the Navy.

Eileen drove me to Paddington Station and I took a train to Torpoint in Cornwall and joined HMS Raleigh, a Royal Navy training camp, as an Ordinary Seaman. My pay was a pitiful 24 shillings and sixpence a week, one fifteenth of my previous weekly earnings. While at Torpoint the camp was bombed by German planes and during the attack one bomb demolished the shelter next to mine and killed all 46 occupants.

From Torpoint I was moved to HMS Raleigh, the Navy barracks at Chatham, then to HMS Wildfire training centre at Sheerness and finally to HMS Auricula, a Flower Class corvette engaged in Atlantic convoys and based in Liverpool.

The war at sea was at its peak and leave was rare but Eileen drove up to Liverpool once to spend the night with me at the aristocratic Adelphi Hotel where they did not like letting rooms to ordinary seamen but the manager changed his mind when he discovered that I was a friend of the owner of the world famous Grosvenor House Hotel in London.

[Fast forward nine years.] The year 1944 was an important year for me. I had returned home after two-and-a-half years abroad in the Royal Navy and the war at sea was still raging. I came home to find my wife living in my house with a Canadian soldier and she refused to give him up.

I was serving in a Fleet minesweeper at the time and the Normandy invasion had just begun. After a minor scuffle with a German mine off Arromanches we came in for repairs at the Royal Albert Dock in London and I managed to scrape some leave. I was 32, angry with the war, angry with my wife, lonely and bitter. My life had fallen to pieces.

The latest instalment of this real-life soap opera begins:

Last week I described my return from overseas during the War to find my wife living in my house with a Canadian soldier so I telephoned Joan, a former neighbour.

I obtained Joan’s number from the new occupants of her house and she gave me such a warm welcome that I went round to see her. The shapely Joan was still an attractive blonde but she had put on a pound or two and she wore a flowery apron that made her look exactly like her mother.

From the bottom of a cupboard she produced a bottle of wine and we drank to Old Times. Then she produced another bottle of wine and we drank to More Old Times. Then the outlook became very misty and there was no outlook and I woke up in bed with Joan. We were both naked....

To find out what happened next, you'll have to read Henry's entertaining column in Open Writing: