Monday, December 31, 2012

My favorite articles of 2012

What a year. I published just over 400 articles in 2012, including more than 110 about endangered species, as well as hundreds more covering a variety of other environmental topics, a few dozen covering bleeding-edge technology, and more than a few about great people doing great things around the world. Here are my favorite articles from the past year:

Should YouTube Ban Videos of the Adorable but Endangered Slow Loris? (Scientific American) - The first of several endangered species articles on this list, and the one that generated the most discussion.

Sell or Keep - One of two articles on this list written for Lion magazine, although it was actually written in 2011 but published in January 2012. Putting this article together gave me the opportunity to speak with Lions Club members around the world as we looked at a subject many clubs are struggling with every day. This also includes my first published magazine photo.

Mini Livestock - My first article for Conservation magazine. A great, potentially game-changing idea.

Kalamazoo ospreys get safe new roost thanks to enterprising filmmaker (Mother Nature Network) - A nice article about some people who saw a chance to make a difference and embraced it.

First Responders Since 1951 - Another article for Lion magazine, and a very personal one. My dad was a member of this Lions club, and I probably rode on one of these ambulances on my way to being born.

3rd Annual Antelope Die-Off in Kazakhstan—Was a Spacecraft to Blame? (Scientific American) - I'm the only journalist in the West who has been following this story (except for the billion bloggers who ripped me off after this was published).

How do horses travel overseas to the London Olympics? (Mother Nature Network) - I had a chance to cover the horse-racing industry a few times this year. It's a weird, messed up industry populated both by scumbags and people who really, really care about their animals.

Every Engineer is a Green Engineer (Today's Engineer) - I interviewed some incredibly interesting and passionate people for this one.

Okapi Conservation Center Recovering after Militia Attack that Killed 6 People and 14 Animals (Scientific American) - Heroes and villains.

Romanian Teen Wins IEEE Presidents' Scholarship (IEEE's The Institute) - What a cool kid. You're going to be reading a lot more about this young man in a few years.

Cost to Prevent All Future Extinctions: $11 per Person? (Scientific American) - I love outside-the-box thinking. This was reprinted (and copied) in a few places and generated a lot of discussion.

What if climate-change doubters held a debate and nobody came? (Mother Nature Network) - I still laugh about this one.

Video: 2 Rhinos Fight for Life after Their Horns Are Chopped Off  (Scientific American) - I still cry about this one.

And my favorite article of 2012?

Prosthetics: A Career That Changes Lives (Today's Engineer) - Writing this article was an amazing experience. The scientists and engineers I interviewed for this article really touched me with their passion, compassion and drive to help people. That would have been enough in and of itself, but several readers have told me that this article made them decide to go into the prosthetic field. I can't imagine a better compliment.

You can find links to all of my 2012 articles here. Take a look -- and if you have any of your own favorites, I'd love to hear your picks!

Saturday, December 29, 2012

A few words about quite a few movies

We watched a LOT of movies on Netflix streaming over the past few weeks, most of which I'd recommend. In no particular order...

  • Stake Land - A rather inventive apocalyptic vampire movie. Maybe nothing new plot-wise, but tonally it's unique.
  • Bank Shot - A goofy but clever 70s crime caper movie, based on a novel by Donald E. Westlake. Not great, but enjoyable if you like George C. Scott in comedy mode and can stand the godawful laughing of Joanna Cassidy.
  • Reel Injun - Fantastic documentary about how "Native Americans" are portrayed in film, and how that portrayal affects the very people the movies depict. (I put "Native Americans" in quotes because a single quote by the great John Trudell in the middle of this movie really opened my eyes about something. Don't let me spoil it for you: watch it.)
  • Happy - Another great documentary. What does it mean to be happy, and what -- scientifically -- makes a human being happy?
  • Sleepwalk with Me - An astonishing fact-based drama by star, writer and director Mike Birbiglia. This movie embodies humor through pain.
  • Craigslist Joe - A documentary about a man who decides to live exclusively off of Craigslist for a month. Odd and inspiring. 
  • FDR: American Badass - Pure B-movie pulp and the latest work of "art" "inspired" by Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. Barry Bostwick has never been funnier (or raunchier). It's a truly awful film, but everyone involves knows that and has fun with it.
So, what have you seen recently?

Friday, December 14, 2012


I found myself quite literally starstruck last night. I took the pups out for their last walk at about 9:30, looked up, and stopped dead in my tracks. What seemed like billions and billions of stars hung above us, shining brighter than I have ever seen them before. For that moment, surrounded by their peaceful glow, I felt at one with the universe.

The dogs were not as impressed.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

What's inside this little red notebook?

This little red sketchbook was my constant companion for most of September and October. Two nights ago, I filled the last page. Between its covers now sit 232 new cartoon ideas, all awaiting their opportunities to be drawn into final form.

Well, maybe not all. Out of 232 ideas that I sketched out, I'd estimate that 50 or so are funny to me but probably wouldn't make a lick of sense to anyone else. Another 50 of them are just brain farts: ideas I had to get out of my head so I could move on to the next (and hopefully better) ones. Maybe 25 or so would have been funny to the rest of the world on the day that I drew them; now, not so much. More than a few are too dark and angry to share with the world (I get my anger out of my system with a pen and paper). A half-dozen or so are too ambitious for my meager cartooning skills and may need to be handed off to other artists.

But the rest? They're gold, Jerry, gold!

So, some time soon (depending on when I complete my latest batch of writing deadlines) I shall sit down with these sketchbook and start transforming some of these 232 sketches into finished artwork. I'll also be tapping into the huge file of other cartoon ideas I have sketched out. I've got enough gag ideas to keep my busy for another few years -- especially at the rate at which I draw.

But meanwhile, the idea pile keeps getting thicker. I started a new sketchbook last night. That one only has three sketches in it so far, but there are 119 more pages to fill.

I love a challenge...

Monday, September 24, 2012

Monday morning news x 2

Well this is cool -- I just found out that my short poem "Necropsy" from Space and Time Magazine # 115 is a finalist for the 2012 Dwarf Stars Award from the Science Fiction Poetry Association. The poem will be reprinted in a book containing all of the finalists some time later this year.  -- thanks to editor Linda D Addison for accepting it for the magazine!

In other cool news, my request to be invited to the TEDxDirigo conference in October has been accepted so I'll be going in late October. I don't know what this really means beyond sitting in the audience, but I think it will be a great opportunity to see some inspiring speakers and meet some cool folks from around Maine. We've been watching a lot of TED Talks online over the past month, so I'm excited to see some in person. Who knows, maybe I'll shoot for actually giving a TED talk some time in the future!

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Free story!

Hey folks, my short story The Sweet Smell of Success is free for Kindle today and tomorrow. I hope you'll check it out. This was first acquired for Amazon a few years ago for their short-lived online publishing program, where it was (very briefly) a top seller. It was then one of the first books from that old program converted to Kindle.

After Friday, it goes back up to the bargain price of 99 cents -- which, coincidentally, is the same price as the Kindle version of my entire short-story collection, Die Laughing.

I don't write much fiction these days, but who knows, that might change. So give The Sweet Smell of Success a read and let me know what you think!

Sunday, September 2, 2012

John Dreams of Sushi

There aren't many places in micoast Maine to get good sushi. Or any sushi, for that matter. But even if I can't eat it, I can salivate over the images in "Jiro Dreams of Sushi," a truly wonderful documentary that I watched on Netflix Instant last night.

"Jiro Dream of Sushi" presents us with a truly unusual character, Jiro himself, an 85-year-old sushi chef who runs a tiny, 10-seat restaurant in a Tokyo subway station that may be the most expensive restaurant in the world. Jiro has been making sushi since he was ten years old and continues to strive to improve, setting enormously high standards for his staff and himself. He will settle for nothing less than being the best. Roger Ebert said in his review of the film that this is a sign of tunnel vision, and to a degree he's right -- Jiro almost never saw his children growing up because he worked from 5am to 10pm -- but it's also the hallmarks of a true artist and innovator. As a writer who tries to craft gems out of the same ingredients everyone else uses, I found the film's (and Jiro's) messages about passion and reaching for new plateaus to be quite inspiring.
Outside of its messages, this is also a beautifully filmed and flawlessly told documentary. It's truly great film making.

Of course, "Jiro Dreams of Sushi" won't be for everybody. For one thing, it's entirely subtitled. If you don't like reading your movies, you won't like "Jiro."

For another, vegetarians and vegans definitely won't care for the film. Fishing -- mush of it unsustainable -- is a key ingredient in the sushi and the movie. But for me, this actually made the film even more important and resonant. A key sequence of the documentary discusses how many of the fish species that were used in sushi until a few years ago are now unattainable. They've been fished into oblivion. Others are on their way. Key species are harder and harder to find -- even shrimp is a rarity -- and the quality of the fish that remains is rapidly declining. As Jiro and his son say, if tuna disappears, so will sushi.

There aren't many people like Jiro, and there aren't man documentaries like "Jiro Dreams of Sushi." It gets my highest recommendation.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Certifiably painful

Last night's movie: "Certifiably Jonathan" -- a painfully bad, unfunny, artless "mockumentary" starring Jonathan Winters. What a missed opportunity. A real documentary about Winters would have been amazing. You see flashes of what could have been in this crapfest -- moments of great humor whenever Jonathan is allowed to riff free and loose and be real. But the fake story about Winters trying to get into the Museum of Modern Art and suffering after a painting of his is stolen (he's really a fantastic artist) is both unconvincing and devoid of humor. Robin Williams livens things up a bit once or twice. There's a decent scene of Winters and Howie Mandell shopping in Target looking for where they can buy "funny," and the scene where Winters tries to hire a hitman to recover his lost sense of humor almost achieves something, but the rest is awful. I kept watching for glimpses of Winters being Winters, which you get, but I definitely don't recommend this film. Watch Winters clips on YouTube instead.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Movies I can watch over and over and over again

Like most of us (I assume) there are a few movies that I get sucked into watching every time I come across them on TV. They might not necessarily be the best movies in the world, but they do the trick for me.

1. The Fugitive. Holy crap, I must have watched this move 527 times. "I didn't kill my wife." "I don't care!" Gets me every time!

2. Hellboy. The second film is superior in some ways, but the first one grabs me every time I see it. Unrequited love, father issues, painful destinies, big guns and bigger monsters. Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes.

3. The Quick and the Dead. Oh baby, Sam Raimi at his finest. Sharon Stone at her all-too-rare best. Gene Hackman at his sleaziest and edgiest. Bang, bang, bang. (The only downside to this flick is that Lance Henriksen dies too early. Alas.)

4. Trading Places. A near-perfect comedy, except for the really awful gorilla suits. I think I saw those same suits in a Bowery Boys movie from the 1930s. Painful.

5. Anchorman. The jazz flute. The news team rumble. "I killed a man with a trident." Musk. A comedy that stays classy all the way through. And yes, I still quote that line and you can't stop me. I'm already in line for the sequel.

What about you? What movies keep you coming back over and over again?

Monday, July 23, 2012

Cash Mob!

I attended my first cash mob a few nights ago and enjoyed the hell out of it.

If you haven't heard of them yet, cash mobs are kind of like the old flash mobs only less flashy and far less prank-oriented. Instead, they're designed to help the local community.

Here's how a cash mob works: A bunch of people find out about an event though social media and show up at an appointed time and place with the expectation that they're going to spend about $20 at a local independently owned retailer. The store isn't announced until everyone gets there, so there's a great deal of mystery wrapped around it. Once the crowd gathers the store is announced and off we go, $20 bills in hand. It's a cool way to meet local people and support local retailers at the same time.

In this recent cash mob case, the store wasn't the best choice for me (Etc. in Bath, a gift store that serves a fairly narrow clientele), but I had fun. There were about 35 mobbers, and if we each spent $20, then the store made a good $700.  (I actually spent $17.89, but I'm sure things averaged out.) I have heard of other cash mobs bringing in tens of thousands of dollars for retailers!

You can find cash mobs in your area here: Many of them have Facebook pages, Twitter feeds or other ways you can sign up to get notified. Keep an eye out or start one of your own!

Friday, June 1, 2012

IFAW's Animal Action Awards 2012

About a week and a half ago I made the journey from Maine out to Cape Cod, where the International Fund for Animal Welfare presented me with one of their Animal Action Awards for 2012, which recognized my writing about endangered species, climate change, wildlife trafficking and related issues. The award is quite the honor -- especially since IFAW does phenomenal work themselves.

I didn't get to see as much of the Cape as I wanted -- we had rain, fog and storms pretty much the whole time -- but I did get to quickly visit a local wildlife preserve (in between cloudbursts), the Edward Gorey House Museum (which wasn't officially open, but the curator gave me a personal tour), and a shopping mall (I needed some Tums after too many on-the-road meals).

But I wasn't making the trip for sightseeing purposes. The real value came in the people I met: the other honorees and the great staff at IFAW. I left Cape Cod feeling energized and ready to keep covering the stories I am passionate about.

So much of what we do as writers or artists goes out into the great silent void. You rarely hear if your work has made an impact. I am glad to know that my writing has made a difference.

The IFAW just posted this short video from the awards ceremony. Check it out:

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

5 ways you can tell I'm 'from away'

Even though I have now lived in this corner of Maine for a little over five years, I will always be considered a "person from away" -- not because I don't have a Maine accent, but because my great-grandparents weren't born here.

But if you didn't hear me speak or have access to my pedigree, there are several other ways you can tell I'm not originally from here pretty darn quickly:

1. I don't pull out the shorts as soon as it hits 50 degrees. Heck, it's 55 today and I'm wearing long pants and a sweater. I feel no shame in this, only cold. I don't mind the cold, I just respect it. And keep it at least a few millimeters away from my skin.

2. You won't find me doing my banking at 7am. A lot of people here start their workdays pretty damned early. It isn't always their choice, but in general, folks are up with or before the sun. Me? I like the daytime, sure, but nothing is getting me out of bed before 7:15. (8 if I'm lucky.)

3. I don't have a camp. Mainers are awesome about going back to nature on the weekend, and most of people I know have cabins or whatever somewhere off the beaten track. That's fantastic, but I can barely keep up with one domicile, let alone two. Plus, there's a lot of good TV on during the weekend.

4. My wardrobe includes nothing from Columbia Sportswear, Carhartt or LL Bean. Again, this is pretty much because I'm not an outdoorsman, but it's also because I'm usually too cheap to buy this stuff. (Yes, I'm even more frugal than your average Mainer.) Although, having said this, I just got the new Bean catalog and some of the stuff looks pretty darn nice. Hmm...

5. And finally, I don't like lobster. I know lobster fishing is one of the primary economies of coastal Maine, but I can't stand the taste of those little red buggers. Give me a nice piece of chicken any day.

Monday, March 26, 2012

New cartoonage!

Because I do not update this blog nearly often enough (shameshameshameshame), I have neglected my authorial duty to inform you all that there are new Platt cartoons out there in the universe!

Yes, my Plattitudes webcomic has been relaunched, appearing here on this very same Blogger doohickey. I'm posting a new cartoon every Monday and a rerun cartoon (often re-scanned or otherwise reworked) every Wednesday. If things go well enough, I'll move to two new 'toons every week.

Right now, I have enough new cartoons in the hopper to run through mid-May. Tons and tons more await in the sketchbook, so I have enough material to last for at least a year. Assuming my drawing hand holds out, that is.

But that's the future. For now, you can read my new Plattitudes cartoons...