Sunday, June 11, 2006

The Real Thing

I took out my Strathmore sketchpad and a Prang charcoal pencil. I made two sketches of the victim. Three triangular shards of glass pierced his face, one, right through his iris spread, his left eye unnaturally wide open, another barely held on to his lower lip like a stylized joint, and the third made his check, smooth and beardless, look like a torte glazed with chocolate, drizzled with cherry sauce and garnished with a crystal wafer. His feet were twisted into the bar stool holding his torso inches above where his head had hit the hard floor.

I sketched the bar counter, beaded rivulets of drink radiating from a circle of glass that was all that remained of his drink. The black granite still life included a stainless-steel iPod, a few dollar bills, a bowl of mixed nuts, surprisingly unaffected by the explosion, and a maraschino cherry. The iPod, impervious to the mayhem, still played, randomly selecting a new tune every three or four minutes.

Around me, the anti-terror squad gathered evidence: hi-def video, DNA samples, fluid samples, and recorded interviews.

“Slow down guys! Watch what you’re doing.”

“Give us a break. You know this isn’t the only crime scene.”

I knew. This was the second explosion in Boston, we’ve had probably a dozen across the country, and worse, more around the world - all similar, exploding drinks, varying only as to container. No container seemed safe, not glass, not plastic, not paper, not ceramic, not even aluminum cans.

“All the more reason to be careful here.”

In my years as a detective I’ve learned that in our chaotic, fractal world there is as much information in a corner as in a room, as much in the room as the entire house. As the black jacketed team packed their portable labs, computers, and cameras, I made a final sketch of the scene, ignoring the big picture, bar, stool, shelves of bottles, but concentrating on the details. Three glass darts stuck into a single lemon. A terminal moraine of crystal pieces rested where the large mirror met the back counter. One drop of dark liquid hugged a tin ceiling tile, perhaps waiting for the crowd to clear before it rained down.

I walked home sure that the answer was in my sketchbook. However, this was my second set of sketches for the drink bombs or whatever the press would call them when they decided. The answer came the following morning. The high-tech nerds figured it out and the Globe reported: “Coke® Bomb Strikes Again.”

That afternoon I was on a plane to Atlanta. The computer geeks discovered that every drink contained Coca-Cola®, not Pepsi®, not Dr. Pepper®.

Where is this going? Who are the bombers? Terrorists? Sure, but are they ideological or commercial terrorists? Is the famous “secret ingredient” to blame, or is the global icon also a victim? The answer is tied up with globalization, sonoluminescence and, possibly, cold fusion, leaving only the most pressing question of our time: Does technology make the world safer or more dangerous?

Saturday, June 10, 2006

School of the Future - The Future of School

The teacher’s assistant takes attendance for me: 84.3% of my 1,423 third graders on school today. After teaching for twenty years, I know when to increase parental emails, PEMs, to ramp attendance up in time for the year-end testing.

I still remember my first year, almost my last year, when I wanted 95% attendance every day. Whenever attendance dropped, I increased my PEMs and introduced new simulations. Unfortunately, by midterm I had used all the third-grade simulations and the parents were rejecting my PEMs as SPAM. I had only 47.6% attendance for the week of government testing. Bad, very bad.

Stage Crew Magic

The crew unloaded the trucks. First came the rolls chicken wire and long pine strips. Popcorn, all Johnny could think was popcorn and the Makitas snapped and popped and the frame of wood and wire expanded to fill the stage. Next came the tubs of flour and water. The children’s choir tore mountains of newspaper into long strips and dunked them in the paste. The crew setup the ladders and scaffolds. Johnny joined them as they scurried up and down covering the frame with paper and paste.

The truck pulled closer to the loading dock to unload the three-meter fans. Four of them blew a storm around the mountain peak still covered with election stories, baseball scores, and Memorial Day sales.

As the sun rose outside the theater, the paint team fired up the compressors and sprayed the slopes with grass and snow and ice crystals. As the transformation completed, the stage sagged from the weight of the granite and Johnny’s brow protruded as he huddles in his protected niche pulling a mastodon skin around this broad shoulders. He thought, “Winter, colder this cycle, more snow.”

The Man Who Finds Things

On his way to the office, Archimedes found a lost wallet, a diamond stud earring, a purple-footed goose, previously thought to be extinct, a fossil of a crustacean with seven legs from the Cambrian and three mismatched socks.

Population Maintenance Board

Benloh, a forensic geneticist, and his girlfriend, Concha, a neurosurgeon, have been engaged for year, but the population maintenance board continues to withhold approval until they can demonstrate reproductive compatibility.