Saturday, October 26, 2013

Hooping the Night Away

In my world, there are often lulls in the action for all involved. During them, it's not uncommon to see a member of the crew sitting quietly by themselves. Most spend the time staring at their smartphones, catching up on email or surfing the web. Some bring a book, or read the newspaper. Colleen was – well – what was she doing? While it looked like knitting, on closer inspection it involved wires and tubing and LED lights. I had to ask, and the answer was not what I was expecting: she was making lighted hula hoops.

That's because Colleen has a company called Hyperbola dedicated to world of hooping. ("Unfortunately, it sounds a lot like 'pooping' when you say it fast. I have gotten some strange looks from people who ask what I do when I forget to enunciate.") She got interested in hooping after a friend she met in Las Vegas on a job invited her to a poi-spinning gig. She explained: "Poi is a Maori performance art originating in New Zealand which uses weighted balls on long strings swung around your body, and are often lit on fire. I am (still) a very bad poi-spinner." But a cousin of poi-spinning is hooping, and it turns out she was (and is) a very good hoop spinner. And so an interest turned into a hobby turned into a business.

Coleen's background in music and dance was a natural fit for twirling a ring around your body. While the basic idea is no different from when you swung a cheap plastic Wham-O model around your waist as a kid, more recently it has been raised to an art form and formal physical fitness discipline, helped along by things such as the Zumba craze. Such well known groups as Cirque du Soleil have integrated it into their shows. And it has even achieved the ultimate in validation, as it is a regular feature of the Rhythmic Gymnastics event at the Olympics.

Colleen has slowly grown the business, though it's hardly full time yet. As a certified instructor, she teaches classes on hooping as part of an overall active and healthy lifestyle. She occasionally does performances and events, often demoing her custom product. And that's what I saw her working on that day: constructing and selling a professional grade piece of equipment, including weighted ones of various sizes and colors, as well as a line that has LED lights, perfect for hooping the night away.

But the question comes of what else can you do other than roll it down the street with a stick or swing one around to a Chubby Checker song. Watch Colleen (and others) in YouTube performances, and you can see how far it can go. To be sure, there are those who can twirl it effortlessly, around not only their waists, but their arms, legs and necks, transitioning from one to the other almost magically. But it's more than that. In one video featuring Colleen called "Laid to Rest," she is shot in a cemetery mostly in silhouette. With a slow, building yet haunting soundtrack from an English band called Dusky that sounds like an electro pop version of Kenny Rankin, it looks less like dance then kinetic sculpture, as she twirls and sweeps the hoop up and around, creating an optical illusion of a rotating circle that stands out against a blue sky. There's something simultaneously relaxing and mesmerizing in the movement.

Right now Hyperbola is a sideline, but Colleen is seeing how far she can take it. During her busy summer season, she makes and sells a lot of hoops at festivals, fairs and the like. Year round she holds classes, teaching and the spreading the gospel of hooping. Overall, Colleen says her goals are several: "I want to share and help others achieve some of the benefits I have reaped from hooping, like a better awareness of my body and how I need to care for it. There's also the self-discipline and structure of practice, and a sense that everything I do is a journey TOWARD but never all the way TO perfection. And it's great connecting with a community of like-minded people that make me love all of my silly ‘faults' and insecurities." But the real kicker? "Hooping is FUN; just try to be sad when you're hooping!"


Marc Wollin of Bedford was never really good at hula hoops. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, The Scarsdale Inquirer and online at, as well as via Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Wish List

My wife and I, we're a little out of the toy market. With our kids in the their twenties, it's been a while since we spent any serious time perusing the latest in games or crafts or things that need "C" or "D" batteries. And since we had boys, we mercifully never got into doll territory: dolls that is, as in babies and Barbies, as opposed to action figures. I'm pretty sure if you root around in our attic, we have at least one complete set of Leonardo, Michelangelo, Donatello and Raphael, known even to non-parents as the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

Still, there are no current occupants of our house that clock in under five decades. And so it's hardly surprising that we missed the rollout of the "must have" lists of playthings published by the big retailers for the holiday season. Yes, it seems we just passed "back to school," haven't yet made it to Halloween and Thanksgiving is still a distance mirage. But after Labor Day, all that matters is that the Christmas shopping season is upon us, and so Walmart, Kmart and Toy R Us have already published their "this is what your kids will whine about until you are ready to go out and kill other parents who stand in your way of buying them" manifests for this year.

Described more benignly as "Wish Lists," there are several toys that appear on each, and so would seem as though they will be very much in demand. And while it seems forever from now, the holiday will come sooner than you think. On top of that, if you are of the Jewish persuasion, note that this year your clock is seriously advanced: in this year of 5774, the first candles of the Chanukah will be lit the evening before Thanksgiving. So perhaps it's not too soon to drop a line to Amazon, and get the UPS driver headed your way before he gets too overworked.

What's on the lists? Some new stuff, to be sure, but perhaps more surprising, some variations on oldies that seem to define the term "staying power." For instance, one of the top draws is expected to be the Big Hugs Elmo doll. At 22", he's big indeed, bigger than some of the kids who will get him. He sings 3 different songs, has 50 different sounds and phrases, and encourages kids to make-believe with him in the roll of an astronaut, horse, rabbit or frog. If you hold him up and hug him, he hugs you back. And when done playing with him, just put him on his back: he sings a lullaby and flops his arm as he falls asleep. Personally, I think it looks like he's dying, but hey, I'm not three years old.

Another variation on an old favorite is the latest Furby, called Furby Boom. A cuddly looking egg shaped doll with an outsized personality, it really only comes to life with the associated iPad app. If you put the iPad near the Furby, they pair up, and you can use a virtual shower app to clean it, an x-ray app to diagnose what ails it, and even a toilet app to help it relieve itself, the doll reacting appropriately in each case. Thankfully, you can also virtually flush the loo, and then spray some air freshener. I wish I was kidding; I am not.

Perhaps in the spirit of Obamacare, there's the Doc McStuffins Check-Up Center, encouraging your budding health care worker to operate on and fix up their stuffed animals. There's this year's new Nerf weapon, the Heartbreaker Bow, aimed squarely at girls taken with "The Hunger Games." And the Flutterbye melds a Betty Boop looking elfish creature with a gyro helicopter, resulting in one fairy doll that really does fly.

But proving that there is a toy for everyone, my fav has to the Daft Punk action figures. Even though they're not on the published lists, they are available for pre-order. Each of the two dolls in the "life like" set (sold separately) features the current French darlings of electro-pop in their signature cyber-biker outfits made of black vinyl, topped off by their iconic chrome plated helmets. According to the manufacturer web site, they also come with 7 pairs of interchangeable hands so you can pose them in the manner most likely to help them Get Lucky.

I promise to act surprised when I open it.


Marc Wollin of Bedford really only wants food for presents. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, The Scarsdale Inquirer and online at, as well as via Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Pick Your Column

Forecasting is a fool's errand. That being said, it is often necessary, especially in the world of publishing. After all, deadlines require that pieces be written and submitted before outcomes are known, whether the topic is sports, elections or Nobel prizes. True, it all depends on the medium in question. If you were writing for the old Farmers' Almanac, you had to predict the weather a year or more out. Contrast that with electronic media today, where you can have a prognostication hit the screen moments before something actually happens, and immediately thereafter. It's gotten so that many watch TV with the clicker in one hand and their iPad in the other, instantly commenting, updating and flaming what's going on. Just watch a Jets game and follow the Twitter commentary: it's Mystery Science Theatre in real time.

And so writing something about the current goings-on in Washington in this space is fraud with peril. By the time I get this down and whipped into shape, all will be back to what passes for normal, or we will be in the midst of THE GREATEST ECONOMIC COLLAPSE IN HISTORY. So to obviate the problem, following are two different musings: pick the one most appropriate to the situation as it stands.  

IF ALL IS RESOLVED AMICABLY. See, that wasn't so hard, was it? Now that this current crisis is behind us, we see that we're not really all that different. Sure, some want more government programs, some less. Some want a greater social safety net, some trust the free market to rise and lift all boats. But all of us want the same thing, which is peace and prosperity. And as anyone who has a significant other knows, compromise is the name of the game. Nobody gets everything they want. And the key to making any relationship work is to give a little and get a little.

Most important, now that we're done yelling at each other, we have to dial it down a little. I heard someone says that the key to making a marriage work is not what you say every day, but the five things you don't. Knee jerk reactions just makes us jerks: just because we disagree doesn't mean we're wrong. The trick is to listen and think about where is the common ground. We all like National Parks. We all think veterans deserve special treatment. We all like Frank Sinatra. So let's start there. And see what we can do so this doesn't happen again.  

IF THINGS DON'T WORK OUT. What are you people, idiots??!! A pox on both your houses! While polls show the Republicans are being handed the lion's share of the blame, don't you Democrats think you're innocent! We out here in the real world, we have finite incomes and regular bills and budgets that we can't stretch by printing money!. And so every day we make tough choices to prioritize what we can afford. And dammit, so should you!

Sure, I like new highways and moon missions and national defense as much as anyone. But I don't want to pay any more taxes that I have to. And so maybe I can't have it all. Yeah, it's a tough call. And there will need to be hard explanations as to why Social Security can't go up or a new weapons system can't be built. But push has finally come to shove. We were just starting to get back on our feet after the last financial mess. And while you can blame greedy corporations or bad loan officers or lax government oversight for that one, this one is all on you!

You tried a "Super Committee" which wasn't so super. You tried a mandatory haircut, the so-called sequestration, which just made stupid cuts. You tried shutting down the government. Each was supposed to force the other side to say "uncle," to make it so unpalatable so as to drive you to compromise. But you didn't get the hint. Hint? It was a 2X4 upside the head! Is it any wonder that your disapproval rating is 89%! More people trust Miley Cyrus than you. So enough! Make a deal and get back to work!

So there you have it: the yin and yang of columns. And by the way, if things change while you're reading, feel free to skip to the other version. It could well happen.


Marc Wollin of Bedford, like most people, has had enough. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, The Scarsdale Inquirer and online at, as well as via Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

Saturday, October 05, 2013

A Hard Six

The story was published by the AP, and was picked up by The Washington Post, online at Slate, and even made an appearance in The Times of India. Still, for all its distribution it really didn't get a lot of play, and that's not surprising. After all, there was a terrorist attack in Kenya, and the opening session of the UN. Both Mariano Rivera and Andy Pettitte were making their almost-final appearances in the Bronx, and it was Emmy weekend. To top it off, the events in question didn't take place yesterday or even last week, but more than 50 years ago. So when The Guardian newspaper in Britain published some declassified pages about a long-ago nuclear mishap as detailed in Jonathan Schlosser's new book "Command and Control," it's hardly surprising that it barely made a ripple.

But it was almost the end of everything.

Well, that's not technically true. It would have been the end for millions of people who lived anywhere near Goldsboro, North Carolina, not to mention those who would have been in the radiation plume that drifted north and east towards Washington, Philadelphia and New York. For the incident in question was the almost accidental detonation of a thermonuclear device over US soil, a friendly fire incident that would have rewritten history.

Seems that in January of 1961, a B52 carrying two MK39 Mod 2 hydrogen bombs had a fuel leak, and broke up in midair. As it did, the two devices were thrown clear, effectively "dropped" as if they were being used. One stayed inert, and plummeted to the ground. The other, however, sensed the conditions that it was supposed to sense in actual use, deployed a parachute and started to go into its detonation cycle.

Even at that, setting off a nuclear bomb is a lot more complicated than what Wile E. Coyote does with his Acme munitions. One does not just light a big fat fuse, which burns down and goes "BOOM!"  Rather, in the case of the MK39 Mod 2, in order for it to explode, a series of 4 triggers have to activate. Each is designed to be fail safe; that is, without a positive signal to the contrary, they are not supposed to work. But in this particular case, one mechanism didn't work in the air, and two others were rendered ineffective when the plane broke up.

So if you do the math that means we were already 75% of the way towards catastrophe. That would seem scary enough, but it gets worse. It turns out that the one switch that was still operational was a low voltage trigger, and had been tested for failure rates. As the monologist Mike Daisey explains, the tests showed that it actually remained intact at a rate close to 17%; that is, in tests it didn't fail just 17% of the time. As Daisey recounts, he played a lot of "Dungeons and Dragons" as a young man. And when you play that game, you roll a lot of dice, and so you learn to equate percentages to the roll of a six-sided die. And that 17% is about the odds of rolling a six. He puts it this way: "In order to get the world you live in right now, we had to roll a hard six. Right then. No warning. Just right then, there had to be a six. If there was a one, a two, a three, a four or a five, all this - all this - is gone."

Try it yourself. Go to the cupboard or the closet or the shelf in the basement where you stash the kids' games, and rummage through the boxes until you find a single die. Take it up to your kitchen table and cradle it in your palm. Look around at all that is your world: the little plate you bought at that crafts fair, the picture of your family from last Christmas, the drawing your daughter did in first grade. Then roll the die on the table. If it comes up six, then good for you. But it comes up anything else - anything else – all of that might not be. And after you've considered that, go find your wife, your kids or your significant other, and hug them. Because it's likely that someone somewhere else is rolling the dice again tomorrow. And they might not get that hard six.


Marc Wollin of Bedford looks forward, sort of, to reading "Command and Control." His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, The Scarsdale Inquirer and online at, as well as via Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.