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Ozark Locavore: About Your Chicken… February 26, 2012

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The pilot episode of the comedy “Portlandia” sends up local foodies.

Two locavores start off in a restaurant and spend an interlude of several years on a farm. They begin this odyssey checking up on the resume of their chicken. In the name of humor they take locavore to an extreme, but this is a very real and growing motivation among consumers to know where their food comes from.

It also highlights the growing popularity of this term among the restaurant trade and among food reviewers.

More vendors want to let you know just where they get their food as well.

My Google Alerts on the word locavore have become noticeably more restaurant-oriented. At the same time, they have become more politicized.



No one expects Stalins Mongol raiders… February 21, 2012

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Lately, I’ve been thinking about history and games, especially the relationships between technology and history. One of the classic games to take on this topic is is Sid Meier’s Civilization. I had already wasted a chunk of my youth playing the Avalon Hill game of the same name and theme by the time “Civ” came out on the computer. Apparently the Avalon Hill game was very influential with both the late Danielle Bunten Berry (MULE) and Don Daglow (Neverwinter Nights) credited with starting their own versions.

This is the genre of computer game I miss most, and similar games used to abound. One early quirk of Civ I found charming where the “leaders” of factions. I used to love playing Boudica and rolling down on all opposed witha  little Celtic whoop-ass. early in the game, she looked suitably period. Later, she seemed fashionable retro in her mode of dress. Not so the characters of the 19th and 20th centuries.

There is nothing quite like facing off agains Stalin and his mongol hoards or Abraham Lincoln’s deadly Centurions. Behavior can be quirky to the extreme. Ghandi has a “thing” for nuclear weaponry. Ah well, there is always the next life…

I’m looking at older games right now trying to identify which ones have tech trees that make interesting historical observations. The choice of technologies represent an active choice by the designer and reflect some apocryphal cultural assumptions about how technology works. One fact that comes through loud and clear though, technological superiority is usually followed by victory and domination.

Such an end state precludes other strategies that may have worked historically. Technology suppression in the form of the Imperial Chinese and technology assimilation, like post-war Japan are harder to pull off. Generally, the plan is to reorganize your entire culture like the Manhattan Project and make for Alpha Centauri.

I’m thinking about this and looking for more exploration and colonization games. If you have ideas, or war stories, let me know.

SCRAM – How I Spent my Childhood in Fukashima February 18, 2012

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I remember it like it was yesterday. When I was 12 or so, I  spent a  lot of time listening to warning Klaxons after earthquakes damaged the light-water reactor in my basement.  When Fukushima failed so spectacularly last year, I had an eerie atomic sense of Deja-Vu. I had played this scenario out in the game SCRAM, noisily and painstakingly loaded onto my Atari 400 via cassette tape.

Apparently I’m not the only one. I just came across this great blog post over at Electron Dance that discusses the game. You can read a description of the game here at the New Gamer.

As a Kid I enjoyed that reactor simulation a lot. Growing up near Oak Ridge, I was very much of the opinion that Nuclear = GOOD and a childhood spent playing in the halls of the American Museum of Science and Energy had me convinced there were no downsides to nuclear power. I can even remember thinking the “earthquake-cripples-reactor” scenario was just a gameplay gimmick to give you something to do in what was otherwise a simple simulation.

The game was the brainchild of physicist and game developer Chris Crawford, and I devoured most of what he produced from the Atari graphics handbook, De Re Atari to the Mindscape Game, Balance of Power. (I played it on a Mac Plus) In between were Tanktics and Legionnaire and Eastern Front. To this day, I still think Eastern Front is one of the best applications of a classical counter-based wargame on the computer.

If you are a fan of the old-school of computing, if your first computer measured RAM in Kilobytes, you may get an intense nostalgic twinge from his “Dragon Speech” given in 1992:

I find it really sad that this kind of software toy or simulation like SCRAM has waned. You see pale echos of it on the subroutines and background behavior of critters and worlds in games today, but the interface to this sandbox appears to have been co-opted by the first person shooter. It has followed the general decline of strategy games and the entire genre of wargames in general.

Last year, as millions fled the coasts in terror and NHK flashed graphics of the Fukushima design on the screen, I realized that I may have learned more about the actual balancing act that is Nuclear power from my Atari than I ever did at the old Atomic Museum.

Cobol – Egyptian Mystic. February 16, 2012

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A recent conversation with Andy got me thinking about childhood toys and I learned that both Rom and Starbird were designed by the same man. This sent me poking around and now you can benefit from my assimilated geekery. You will find the ROM patent here. Originally he was to be an “Egyptian Mystic,” but somehow in the heat of late-1970’s Sci-Fi madness, he became a “Space Knight.” Then he was to be COBOL, but got changed to ROM.

It has me in mind of an art project, “COBOL: Egyptian Mystic.” Anyone want to mock-up a box while I track down a ROM figure and some gold spray paint?

Designer Bing McCoy is interviewed here.

End of an era… February 16, 2012

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IBM shut down its last mainframe this week. Goodbye big iron.

This month marks the end of an era in NASA computing. Marshall Space Flight Center powered down NASA’s last mainframe, the IBM Z9 Mainframe.  For my millennial readers, I suppose that I should define what a mainframe is.  Well, that’s easier said than done, but here goes — It’s a big computer that is known for being reliable, highly available, secure, and powerful.  They are best suited for applications that are more transaction oriented and require a lot of input/output – that is, writing or reading from data storage devices.

In my first stint at NASA, I was at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center as a mainframe systems programmer when it was still cool. That IBM 360-95 was used to solve complex computational problems for space flight.   Back then, I comfortably navigated the world of IBM 360 Assembler language and still remember the much-coveted “green card” that had all the pearls of information about machine code.  Back then, real systems programmers did hexadecimal arithmetic – today, “there’s an app for it!”

But all things must change.  Today, they are the size of a refrigerator but in the old days, they were the size of a Cape Cod.  Even though NASA has shut down its last one, there is still a requirement for mainframe capability in many other organizations.

NASA CIO Linda Cureton

Wattles, War and the Frontier Home February 13, 2012

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Right now I’m in the midst of digitizing the correspondence of the Wattles Family of Kansas for Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield. You can see some of the connections on Pinterest. Augustus was an abolitionist and his family wrote a number of letters during the war. You can find a picture of Augustus here: http://www.kshs.org/p/cool-things-free-state-battery-photo/10208 He is third in front the front of the cannon. (You can like the cannon here: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Old-Sacramento-Cannoneers-Association/103722183039587 “Old Sacramento” has its own history.)

Right now I am in the midst of letters from his daughter Emma to just about everyone else in the family. They seem to be quite mobile for the time, spreading out from bloody and contested Kansas to Newark over the early years of the war. It is fascinating to see Emma engage in the war. Over the course of the letters so far, she goes from concerns over her cousin’s views on piety to imploring her sister to get their cousins to enlist in the Union cause. Have they no patriotism she asks. It is very much Little Women go to war.

Wattles has strong connections to John Brown and political discussion in that household is lively. The mother, Agustus’ wife Susan, is active in the Moneka Women’s Rights Association. You’ll find a letter of hers here: http://web.northnet.org/minstrel/moneka.03.htm. She also includes her notes on the raising of children and growth of Sarah and Emma in the papers I’ve scanned so far.

The connections to the political life of the nation and the awareness of their existence on the edge of the frontier are every bit as apparent as their reliance on the industry of the east. Taken together, they are a window into the lives of women, at least as they presented themselves in print. They are also windows into the flow of information, the partial knowledge and wartime rumors that made up knowledge at the time. If you find yourself in Springfield, MO, you should take time to visit and check them out. If you have time on your hands, I’d like to put you to work on transcription. These are worth sharing.

Locavores in Kenya February 13, 2012

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I wanted to share some global locavorism. I really enjoy Jill Richardson’s posts at La Vida Locavore, but they seldom fit the Ozark theme. I especially found the sign at the end of this post interesting.

We are only 150 years or so from this sort of subsistance farming in Springfield, MO. I also shudder to think of what a diet of 2.5 kilos of vegetables per day would do to the average American colon.

If you get the chance, explore the wider global food perspective offered in La Vida Locavore.

Culture Foam February 13, 2012

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Oh how the time flies…

I was an active blogger until social media hit. As a freelance writer, I was always noticing things I couldn’t use in my published work. About five years ago, I began to think of all this activity as the froth of curiosities upon the sea of culture. I registered the name Culture Foam.

Two years later I was working on a product called Culture Waves for Noble in Springfield. I got the job by pointing out their offices looked like the inside of my head. All surfaces were magnetic and dry erase and all around, culture was being knitted into insight. I spent a year writing, editing, and trying to manage a complex data mining technology engine in a world of constant layoffs and dwindling resources. When I finally got the ax, the day my daughter was born, they were the size they had been in 1998.
I spent a year freelancing and unemployed. Now I’ve spent another year retraining and retooling for public history. I want to make myself useful in and around the sciences, hopefully in a science museum or historic site. I’m a practicum away from graduation, deans list, and I managed to get a lot of paid and volunteer museum experience in the year.
This brings me back to Culture Foam. Now I have even more stray threads. I really admire what Suzanne Fischer has done at her Public Historian blog. Even sporadic and intermittent, her posts are always of interest. You can see her sweeping up the stray experiences of her field. That’s my intention here.

Apple, Inc. and Food February 13, 2012

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Apple, Inc, the makers of ipads and ipods, has been facing criticism for the behavior of its suppliers. They have recently started a program to clean up those suppliers:


I find this really interesting because of the similar way in which the food supply chain dominates agriculture and what you can buy. Bad practices are cloned and expanded if they offer a business advantage, and there is little you can do to stop it. It is part of the “system,” and if you opt out of that system, you will be criticized.

Apple shows a pretty good way to respond. If they roll through with demands for changes in labor practices, we could see things much improved in that industry. Imagine of Walmart took a similar stand on food labeling and farm practices. You’ve seen them start to dabble in it, because when you become the biggest, you take ownership of the “system’s” problems, be they in corn chips or computer chips.

Also, here are a few of the other companies using Foxconn’s services that have not asked for an independant audit of labor practices: Acer Inc., Amazon.com, AS Rock, Asus, Barnes & Noble, Cisco, Dell, EVGA Corporation, Hewlett Packard, Intel, IBM, Lenovo, Logitech, Microsoft, MSI, Motorola, Netgear, Nintendo, Nokia, Panasonic, Philips, Samsung, Sharp, Sony, Ericsson, Toshiba, and Vizio.

Part of my locavorism comes from a desire not to feed a system of abusive farm labor. There is a point to be made here. If you won’t accept these labor standards in your iphone, why are they OK for your chicken?