The Daily Traveler: Strange Festivals

Today is Phil Collins Day, But That’s Not the Oddest Festival in the World

Today, Greenpoint, Brooklyn, holds its annual Phil Collins Day celebration. Though the former Genesis drummer has no direct connection to the neighborhood, Collins fans will still feel it in the air tonight, donning homemade masks and spilling their secrets in a confessional booth created for the occasion (video of the confessions will be sent to Collins).

The singer-songwriter may not seem like a natural peg to plan a festival around, but he's certainly not the only unusual thing to be fêted. Check out these other weird celebrations around the world…

Tunarama Festival
Port Lincoln, Australia
Held each year over the Australia Day long weekend in late January, Tunarama has people looking at the fish in a whole new light—namely as projectiles. The festival's signature event, the Tuna Toss, has competitors seeing how far they can hurl the fish across the beach. (The current world record is 37.23 meters, or a little more than 122 feet.)  If the prospect of fish-throwing doesn't excite you, there are also food and wine events, foot races, sand-castle-making, and live music.

Click through to read the rest of the article online at the Condé Nast Traveler's website.

 

Photo by Jasper Juinen/Getty Images.

The Daily Traveler: Beauty Advice

I did a round-up of travel tips from beauty experts. Each one recommended a product that works well for travel and can be taken through airport security. I'll give you the  one for free:

 Beauty Experts' Favorite 3 oz. Travel Products

"The best beauty item to take through security: Burt’s Bees Hand Sanitizer. It’s natural, it smells faintly of cinnamon, it gets rid of germs without creating antibiotic resistance—and it’s about 7 billion times cleaner and more glamorous than airplane-bathroom faucets." —Jean Godfrey-June, beauty director at Lucky

To read the rest of the story, click through to read it on the Condé Nast Traveler website, or download the PDF above.


Business Issue: How I Did It Feature Package

For the "How I Did It" cover package in our ancillary business publication, I profiled two local business owners who faced obstacles and turned their companies into unexpected successes.


How I Did It
11 Inspiring Tales of Unexpected Success


Featured on the Cover:
CHARGED UP
Lew Hoff
President, Bartizan Connects; Chairman, Addressograph Bartizan


...“If I had any brains, I would’ve said that I’m not going to compete with these other companies,” says the Yonkers resident. “I knew nothing about manufacturing. I didn’t have any money. I wasn’t bright enough to evaluate my obstacles. But not knowing anything meant anything was possible.” Armed with no knowledge and diving headlong into his company, Hoff was able to create a business that sold millions of credit-card imprinting machines and today employs more than 20 people.

After graduating with a degree in economics from UMass Amherst, Hoff did a four-year stint in the Air Force and held a couple of sales jobs when he returned. When one of the companies went under in 1970, Hoff and coworker Ed O’Reilly decided to form their own business. “He had an idea for a portable credit-card imprinting machine,” Hoff says. Though they knew nothing about manufacturing, the duo jumped into an industry that already had stiff competition; indeed, two businesses that made the same devices were Fortune 500 companies. “Out of the five companies that made these machines, we were number five,” Hoff says.

Hoff and O’Reilly manufactured the machines out of a converted stable on 76th Street in Manhattan. Hoff also lived there, illegally. A floating crew of friends, actors, and the unemployed worked at assembling the machines, and Hoff and O’Reilly got jobs waiting tables at nearby O’Brien’s Tavern to make ends meet. “I’d work at O’Brien’s until four am and get home at four-thirty,” he says. “The people who worked for us would show up at about eight am. I’d have to be up when they arrived. Then I worked with them until I had to be back at O’Brien’s.”

PICTURE PERFECT
Anthony Trama
Owner/Operator, Creator’s Media Group


...Trama’s accomplishments become all the more impressive when you consider his background. When he was 9 years old, his parents went through a rough divorce—one that was especially tough on his mother. He was sent to live at Andrus, a residential school in Yonkers. “It’s tough being so young and without your family,” he says. “It’s like going to college when you’re nine years old. I had to take on a lot of responsibilities and learn how to take care of myself. When I left, I was twelve, and I was pretty self-sufficient.”

That sense of independence led Trama to start working when he was 13, caddying at a local golf club. “It was one of the best jobs you could have at that age.” He caddied every summer while he attended Valhalla High School. Then, in 1999, when he was 19, he enrolled in night classes at The Westchester Business Institute (now The College of Westchester) so he could intern at Creators, shooting and editing videos, which almost immediately became a full-time job. “Video was the medium you could do the most with,” he says. “It tested my creative skills.”

Click through to read the rest of the cover package online, or download the PDF of Lew Hoff's profile above.


Profile: FaTye

My profile of a local resident who went from near-homelessness to starring in regional theater.

Big River, Big Journey

...Though FaTye is a natural singer and performer, he still had a lot of ground to make up in his training. Luckily, the Westchester theater community embraced him. “Ninety percent of my training happened in Westchester,” he says. FaTye worked with the Broadway Training Center in Hastings-on-Hudson, the Actors Conservatory Theatre in Yonkers, the Lighthouse Youth Theatre in Thornwood, and the Lagond Music School in Elmsford, among others. “He’s incredibly hard-working,” Mallah says. “At Children’s Village, on one snowy day, he just got up early and shoveled all the walks.”

After high school, he studied at the American Musical Dramatic Academy and the Collaborative Arts Project before attending NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. Not wanting to give up his apartment in Elmsford, he’d wake up at 4 am to commute to his 8 am classes. “I was never late,” he says.

Now, he’s starring as Jim in Big River, a show he calls “the pinnacle of my life” because of its parallels to his personal history. “Jim tries to get away from hardship, knowing something better is out there for him,” he says. “That’s who I am. I was always looking for the light, for the freedom.”

 

Click through to read the rest of the profile online, or download the PDF above.

The Daily Traveler: Solar Flares

 

How Solar Flares Interfere with Flights

Yesterday a massive solar flare—the biggest since 2005—had irksome consequences here on Earth, including forcing airlines to divert some of their flights. But how could the sun affect our air travel—and how big is the danger? We asked scientists to break it down for us.

First off, the phenomenon is not rare. "Solar flares happen all the time," says C. Megan Urry, chair of the Department of Physics at Yale University and director of the Yale Center for Astronomy & Astrophysics. "They have a range of brightnesses and most are too small to affect the Earth very much, but, occasionally, there are super big ones, like the flare of November 4 last year."

During the solar flares, Urry explains, "Much of the energy is emitted at very short wavelengths: X-rays and ultraviolet light. The largest ones involve 'coronal mass ejections', or CME, that also send very energetic particles our way."

These particles are the source of the troubles—especially for airplane equipment. "Energetic particles from the solar flare impact on the upper atmosphere of the Earth and ionize it, or release charged particles," says Jules Halpern, professor of astronomy at Columbia University. "The more ions there are, the more difficult it is for radio waves to propagate. This is particularly a problem for communication with flights going over the North Pole."

The equipment isn't the only thing at risk, however. "Exposing flight attendants and passengers to these particles is not a good idea," Urry says. "They could cause cell damage or mutations."

On the bright—no pun intended—side, Urry notes that "these particles should also cause unusually bright Northern Lights," for those lucky enough to be in areas that can see them.

PopMatters: The 40 Best Films of 2011

I voted, then contributed two blurbs for PopMatter's list of best movies.

The 40 Best Films of 2011

No. 27: Super 8

In a year full of film nostalgia, Super 8 does double-duty, recalling the Amblin movies of the ‘80s while also touching on the joy of making homemade low-budget movies (and the never-ending quest for “production values”). While the monster-movie aspect of Super 8 is its weakest facet, its ensemble of youngsters is as strong as you can find in this year or any other. They’re plucky without being typical “movie kids”, their feelings ring emotionally true for adolescents, and director J.J. Abrams really nails the way a group of kids all talk over each other. As much as Super 8 made me think about the movies from my 1980s upbringing, what it really made me nostalgic for is hanging out with a gang of awkward-but-creative  pre-teens.

No. 13: The Descendants

Alexander Payne’s most recent movie comes with the strong script we expect from him, effortlessly weaving one family’s personal tragedy into the history of Hawaii with a laid-back, island-time pace. But what’s most remarkable about The Descendants is how Payne coaxes great performances from unlikely places. Sure, George Clooney, who carries the meat of the storyline, is as good as ever. But supporting him are career-making turns from Shailene Woodley (best known from The Secret Life of the American Teenager), Judy Greer (normally relegated to playing rom-com best friends), and Matthew Lillard (most often used for his goofball qualities). You wouldn’t expect to be able to throw a teen soap star, a perpetual best friend, and the comic relief onto an island together and get something so emotionally rich from them, but Payne did.

Click through to read the rest of the list at PopMatters

The Daily Traveler: Urban Design Slideshow

Seven Genius Urban Design Innovations

No. 2: Cyclehoop Car Bike Rack
It doesn't take much to create a structure you can lock a bike to, so we’re impressed when a bike rack has a bit of creativity behind it. Cyclehoop's Car Bike Rack—which has been making the rounds at special events in the U.K., such as the Big World October Walk, one of the events leading up to London's Olympic Games—works anywhere you can parallel park a car, and it has space enough for 10 bikes. It gets bonus style points for the pop-art colors.


No. 5: SFMTA Bus Shelters
The bus is often the most neglected form of travel, design-wise, getting neither the grand terminals of train stations nor the high-tech hubs of airports. At least San Francisco has a well- designed bus shelter, courtesy of Lundberg Design. The colorful, crimped roofs of the shelter aren't just there for visual whimsy; they harness solar energy that's used to power the LED displays, and excess energy feeds back into the grid.

Click through to see the rest of the slideshow at cntraveler.com.

PopMatters: Best Television of 2011

I contributed three write-ups to PopMatters's list of the best television shows of the year.

The Best Television Shows of 2011

No. 33: Beavis and Butt-Head

You might guess that Beavis and Butt-Head, with their slacker attitudes and penchant for music-video-viewing, were wholly a product of their time. It turns out that the same dim-wittedness (and, in some cases, animation) work in any era. Sure, they’re now plopped in front of Jersey Shore and Teen Mom—shows that are basically their own self-satire, so you’d think there’d be nothing else to say about them. But writer/voice actor Mike Judge knows just what to say—something so profoundly stupid, it’s stupidly profound—to wring out the most laughs out of any situation, including The Situation.

No. 32: New Girl

New Girl begins with a very typical fish-out-of-water premise: When Jess (Zooey Deschanel) breaks up with her long-time boyfriend, she needs to find a new living situation and winds up taking a room in an apartment with three dudes. The charm comes from how goofy all four roommates are. Sometimes the boys rightfully tease Jess for her quirky social blind spots, and sometimes they’re just as clueless as she is. And it’s always a good time watching Deschanel indulge her ultimate inner dork.

No. 23: Up All Night

NBC has best comedies on television because the network broadcasts shows about people, not premises. Up All Night is proof: There are no wacky reasons these characters are together (sorry, 2 Broke Girls) and no contrivances keeping them there. Instead, the show—about a couple raising a newborn, simple as that—draws humor from its characters not through their circumstances, but by being who they are. And, with the comedic chops of Christina Applegate, Will Arnett, and Maya Rudolph behind them, who they are is very funny indeed.

Click through to read the rest of the list at PopMatters.

DVD Review: Another Earth

'Another Earth' Applies More Thought, Less CGI

"Too often characters in movies reveal too much of themselves to each other, or describe exactly how they’re feeling to each other. Another Earth never falls into this trap. John doesn’t come out and discuss his dead wife and child with Rhoda, and Rhoda doesn’t talk about her time in prison. Those experiences weigh heavily on them, but go unremarked upon. They exist in the background, like Earth Two.

Other times, though, it feels as if Another Earth somewhat squanders its best idea. Once the concept of Earth Two is introduced, the mind races with questions: How similar is it to Earth One? Is there a second version of me on the planet? If yes, is that person identical to me, or are there differences? If there are differences, who has the better life? Another Earth raises all of these questions without really exploring them. Instead, it spends all of its time on Earth One, detailing a story about grief, loss, and guilt—a story that’s not as original or intriguing as the double-Earth conceit."

Click through to read the rest of the review at PopMatters.

PopMatters: Worst Films of 2011

I contributed two blurbs for PopMatters's list of the most terrible films that came out last year.

The Worst Films of 2011

No. 8: Abduction

True, spoilery fact: There is no abduction in Abduction. Sure, main character Nathan, played by Twilight’s second-fiddle Taylor Lautner, sees his own face on a missing-persons website. But it’s not because he was abducted as a child—and the real reason is almost too stupid to go into. (It was a trap so the bad guys could lure him out of his safe, secret-agent-led foster home?) What follows is a series of fights and chases led by the ultimately charisma-less Lautner, who doesn’t really sell his character ultra-trained CIA spawn, but is even less convincing as a normal teenager. What’s most confusing of all is how director John Singleton and actors like Maria Bello, Sigourney Weaver, and Alfred Molina got dragged down with him.

No. 3: Just Go with It

Let’s see what Adam Sandler had been doing surrounding Just Go with It. He played a rich guy with a hot wife in Grown Ups. He played a rich guy with a hot ex-wife in Funny People. Immediately following Just Go with It, he played a rich guy with a hot wife (and his awful twin sister) in Jack and Jill. Sandler’s most interesting comedies arise when he creates a character—either real people with real flaws that drive the action, like Billy Madison, or strange outlandish types like in Little Nicky. Now, he seems content with being the normal, rich dude who puts in the minimum amount of effort to woo whatever young actress is roped in to play his love interest. Just Go with It is the peak of this sort of Sandler laziness. He has to choose between the young paramour he’s been chasing (Brooklyn Decker) and his female best-friend-all-along (Jennifer Aniston). What’s unclear by the end of the movie is what, apart from his successful plastic surgery practice, either of them see in him.

Click through to read the rest of the list at PopMatters.