MagSampler

These are "Reports from the Newsstand," my comments on the publications in our catalogue at MagSampler.com. We offer sample copies of our publications, not subscriptions. Each sample copy costs $2.59, well below newsstand cover prices (if the publication is available on your newsstand at all). A $2.00 shipping charge is added to each order. Publishers use MagSampler.com to get their publications into the hands of potential subscribers.

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Ed Rust, proprietor of MagSampler.com, has worked in publishing in a variety of capacities for decades. He started as U.S. circulation director of the Financial Times "way back when they flew the papers into Kennedy Airport from London a day late." He most recently was managing editor of publications at the General Society, Sons of the Revolution.

Monday, April 02, 2007

FAMILY MOTOR COACHING: On the Road


You've seen them on the interstate highways, those big colorful buses with odd window configurations and without bus company markings. If you glance at the driver, you see he's no harried Ralph Kramden, but a carefree-looking middle-aged guy in a golf shirt. He's probably a reader of Family Motor Coaching, a monthly for people seeking the good life on the road.

The publication is put out by the Family Motor Coach Association, an organization based in Cincinnati with 120,000 member families.

Those private buses represent the high end of the industry, and their cost can run into the upper six figures. Some of the interiors of those motor coaches are truly
spectacular, and in the pages of the magazine you'll find ads for luxury housing developments that feature gigantic carports for the family bus.

But the bulk of the membership and readership rides in more modest recreational vehicles. They tend to be retired, they seek warmth in the winter, and they apparently love to congregate together.

The tone of the magazine is practical, with articles on vehicle maintenance and recipes that take into account the limited storage and access to cooking ingredients when on the road.

A good deal of the March issue of Family Motor Coaching is devoted to the Association's 77th International Convention later that month at the Georgia National Fairgrounds in Perry. With thousands of motor homes converging on Perry, the magazine contains a slew of articles about nearby attractions.

The list of companies exhibiting their products and services at the convention provides insight into the concerns of motorhome owners: on-board air conditioning and sanitation systems, RV insurance and financing, hot water heaters, awnings, kitchen appliances, towing systems, low-maintenance travel clothing, massage units, and, of course, RV-friendly resorts and motorhome manufacturers.

The issue contains a dozen pages of small-type listings of gatherings of RV enthusiasts around the country over the next few months.

There's an interesting column in each issue called "Full-Timer's Primer." A full-timer is someone who has bravely cut off ties to a stationary home and lives only on the road. This month's column warns readers that it's getting harder to register vehicles and make financial transactions if your only address is a post office box. A couple reports that they've found some RV parks where they can work for a few hours a week and get to stay for free.

Each issue carries a column by the Association's executive director, Don Eversmann. His March column reports that membership growth has slowed recently, and he attributes it to the dip in the birth rate during World War II. This makes sense, for the average age of members is 62 to 66 years.

Eversmann dismisses "one notion that is being circulated," the idea that baby boomers are not joiners of organizations, unlike the "silent generation" that preceded it.

Family Motor Coaching is sent to members of the organization. Membership benefits are wide-ranging, and include access to numerous conventions and other gatherings, mail forwarding and group-rate emergency road service and motorhome insurance. Subscriptions are also available to non-members.

The magazine is a bit staid and old-fashioned in design, but executive director Eversmann promises "a more modern, lighter format starting in May."

An annual family membership in the Family Motor Coach Association is $45.00 and includes a subscription to the magazine (12 issues). A subscription alone is $30.00 from the publisher. We'll send you a sample copy of Family Motor Coaching for $2.59, even if your address is a P.O. box!

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Wednesday, March 21, 2007

BEAR HUNTING: Sometimes the Bear Wins


I've read somewhere that Bear Hunting is the only magazine in its field. If so, it disproves the notion that monopolies lose enthusiasm and grow careless. This well-done bimonthly, published in Clear Lake, Minnesota, does a good job for its small but ardent readership.

The March/April issue, like all hunting magazines, is filled with accounts of hunting trips. But bears are special: they're big, they're most abundant in remote places, they're smart, and there are serious restrictions on hunting them―when they can be taken at all. So going on a bear hunt is a big and expensive deal, and it's the lucky bear hunter who can afford the money and time to hunt even once a year, usually at a hunting lodge specializing in the animal.

I learned a lot about the sport from this one issue. Bears are hunted in one of three ways: with hounds that sniff out and hopefully tree a bear; "spot and stalk," where the hunter uses field glasses to spot a bear from afar and then stalks his prey; and―most popular, from the reports in Bear Hunting―using bait to attract the bear and waiting in an elevated stand for it to approach.

The weapons of choice are a rifle, shotgun or bow. The hunters who write in these pages stress how important it is to fire only when the bear is close enough and at a proper angle to provide the best chance of a fatal shot. A lot of these hunt stories are about the agony of waiting, often fruitlessly, for the bear to turn in the right direction for that shot.

One hunter uses bait consisting of licorice, doughnuts, sunflower seeds, dog food and meat scraps, all soaked in used cooking oil. This mixture is placed in five-gallon buckets. The oil serves the purpose of soaking a bear's paws and fur, so that when it departs the area it will leave a trail that will attract other bears to the site. I was surprised at the number of bears viewed from hunting stands that were allowed to go in peace, either because they were sows with cubs or not big enough for the hunter's ambitions. Since you're permitted only one kill if you have a legal "tag" or license, the hunter has to wonder whether a bigger bear will come along later. In bear hunting, size is everything.

Bear hunting has gone high-tech. Hunters use special suits that mask their scent from the bears. Hounds carry radio transmitters so the guide can track them after they disappear over a hill and into the woods. You can screw a camera that senses movement and body heat to a tree over your hunting stand, and get photos of visitors to your bait area for a week or two before you commit to putting yourself into the stand to wait like a statue for hours. Just be careful to use an infrared flash on the camera, for a bright flash will scare bears away from the baited trail for a long time into the future. You can even buy a rifle with a video camera attached, so you can record your hunt.

But experience counts for more than technology. Bears may not have electronics, but they do have good noses. Bill Vaznis writes of how morning hunters learn that air rises, so that "if you want to stalk a morning bear in mountainous regions, you must start out above the bruin." The opposite is true in the evening, when you must stay below your prey.

My favorite story in the issue is by Larry Lightner, a 61-year-old field editor for Bear Hunting. Despite a couple of heart attacks and surgery just two and a half months earlier, he went on an early morning hunt with a guide and hounds in the wilds of New Mexico. Within an hour he finds that "the two bony points at the base of my butt-cheeks are screaming in pain every time they come in contact with the saddle."

By noon two of the hounds tree a bobcat, but the other dogs have scented a bear. The guide tells the suffering Lightner what he doesn't need to hear: that it's probably a juniper berry-eating bear, which are leaner than nut and acorn-eaters and "tend to run farther, faster and harder."

It's now late afternoon, and the pair have been leading their horses up and down steep hillsides, aware of how close they are to the baying hounds and the bear. Lightner reports that "for the last 20 minutes my heart has felt like it is being squeezed into a huge vice but I do not take my nitro pills for fear that I will be too dizzy to continue." The guide sees his plight and orders him to rest. The hounds themselves give up the chase, and the day is over.

He closes the report with the old adage, "Some days you eat the bear and other days the bear eats you."

An annual subscription to Bear Hunting (six issues) is $20.00 from the publisher; we'll send you a sample copy for $2.59.

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Sunday, March 18, 2007

TWO FOR THE GARDEN




Shoveling out from a nasty St. Patrick's Day snowstorm here in New Jersey, my thoughts naturally wandered to warm, sunny days―and to the Spring issue of GreenPrints, a unique gardening quarterly in the MagSampler.com newsstand.

There are a couple of endearing qualities to GreenPrints, which is published in Fairview, North Carolina. One is its priceless tag line: "The Weeder's Digest." The other is that it isn't about gardening in the usual sense: no articles on techniques for pruning roses, the right fertilizer for evergreens, ten tips for a successful vegetable garden. GreenPrints is about gardening as a state of mind, a refuge, a happy part of life.

I found a quote in the issue, actually from the introduction to a book by psychotherapist Alice G. Miller, that nicely sums up the light and leisurely philosophy of GreenPrints: "This book ended up being less about horticulture and more about sanctuary. So, if you want a book about horticulture, close the cover very carefully, avoid getting any fingerprints on the pages and hurry back to the bookstore. You may still be able to get a refund."

In her book, To Everything There Is a Season, Dr. Miller writes about her garden as a "Green Cathedral," a crucial component of her spiritual and emotional life.

Susan B. Johnson includes a short essay in GreenPrints about how she became nervous after her Savannah garden was included in an upcoming historic garden tour. Would the mites and beetles make a shambles of her plants before the big day? A friend gave her advice that calmed her fears: "The committee chose your garden because it's charming. Not because it's exotic or perfect, but because it's a nice place to be."

There's an article about the little town of Carbondale, Colorado. The town council had passed an ordinance against using pesticides on athletic fields, but the high school football field was awash with dandelions. What to do? The answer was a community weed-the-dandelions day, which someone enlivened by passing around homemade dandelion wine. That was in 1999, and Dandelion Day has become an annual festival in Carbondale, with featured dishes at the affair including dandelion quiche, dandelion lasagna and tangy, golden dandelion cream pie.

Becky Rupp contributes a rumination on Democritus, a philosopher "born around 460 B.C.E. in Abdera in Thrace, an uncultured backwoodsy chunk of Greece, the sort of place the other Greeks told redneck jokes about." But Democritus went on to formulate the first coherent version of atomic theory, describing everything in the universe as being made up of tiny indivisible particles that are continually reassembling into new things.

The old philosopher's theory of the universe is Rupp's theory of her garden: "Every vegetable is a way station, a check in the cosmic action, a holding pen for atoms passing through. Those atoms have been stars, starfish, and squirrels; they're pausing now, back behind our barn, as butterbeans, before moving on to walnut trees or woodchucks, players in a vast dance to the music of time."

Since GreenPrints comes from North Carolina, I should also mention another gardening magazine from that state that does get into the nitty-gritty of soil testing, growing the perfect green bean and planting a successful shade garden.

It's
Carolina Gardener, published seven times a year in Greensboro. The drawback to most of us is that its coverage of plants, vegetables and trees is edited with a close eye on the soils and climatic conditions of North and South Carolina, from the seacoast to the mountains. Carolinians are fortunate to have such a valuable horticultural resource. It's been thriving since 1988, so there should be a market for similar regional magazines in other parts of the country.

There's an interesting report in the March/April issue about a controversial climate zone change. The country is divided into a bunch of different zones by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Most of North and South Carolina is in Zone 7, which indicates that certain plants will thrive there and others won't. But the Arbor Day Foundation has put out a climate map that revises the zones because of global warming, putting almost all of South Carolina and most of North Carolina into Zone 8, indicating it now has a more tropical climate.

An annual subscription to GreenPrints (four issues) is $22.97 from the publisher, and a year's subscription to Carolina Gardener (seven issues) is $21.95. We'll send you a sample copy of either publication for $2.59.

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Sunday, March 11, 2007

SCRIPT: Words That Become Movies


Script magazine is a bimonthly for writers of motion picture and television screenplays, which should guarantee its publisher, Final Draft of Calabasas, California, a circulation of millions in the Los Angeles area alone. It's also an eye-opening read for plain old movie fans.

The main way of telling a story to many people at the same time used to be writing a novel. A lonely business, but the novelist was God at the Creation until his editor showed up with a blue pencil.

Today the motion picture has overtaken the novel as the mode by which stories are told in this country, and hundreds of people are involved in its construction―you've seen how lengthy the credits can be at the end of a film. But most motion pictures at least begin with a solitary man or woman pecking at a computer keyboard, inventing and populating a world.

That's the art, craft and business celebrated in the January/February issue of Script, and I've let a couple of interesting Netflix movies―and a favorite old novel―gather dust as I've perused its pages these past couple of nights.

The prototypical article in the magazine might be the account of the making of Notes on a Scandal, a movie that came out late in December. It's based on Zoe Heller's 2003 novel. The timely plot, set in London, is about an affair between a high school student and his teacher, played by Cate Blanchett. An older teacher (Judi Dench) finds out about the affair. Will she tell?

The device used by screenwriter Patrick Marber to propel the story is famously difficult to steer: The Unreliable Narrator. The moviegoer naturally tends to accept a narrator's words as true. In this movie Dench's character is the narrator. It gradually dawns on the viewer that what she's describing doesn't match what her character is doing. In fact, she's psychotic, and is motivated by a jealous yearning for the Blanchett character. Among his many decisions, screenwriter Marber fashioned Dench's interest in Blanchett to be more overtly lesbian than in the novel.

Another story in the issue is about Michael Arndt's long road to his first screenwriting success, Little Miss Sunshine, which won the Academy Award for best original screenplay a couple of weeks ago.

Interviewer Zack Gutin asked Arndt if he had any advice for the young screenwriter. Arndt's reply was depressingly scientific and deterministic. It's worth quoting because he claims it applies to just about any endeavor:


Studies have been done of people who are experts in their field to determine what separates the great people from the mediocre. They've found that the key variable is the amount of time spent alone in deliberate practice―intense focused concentration, in this case toward trying to write a story. What was interesting was that it applied across any field―no matter what the profession. The amount of time spent in deliberate practice was the number one indicator of how successful you would eventually be.

The study put a number on it and said if you spent 10,000 hours alone in deliberate practice, you will get up to a professional level. You may not be the best of the best, but you will be at a professional level. Ten thousand hours, which is roughly four hours a day, five days a week for 10 years.


Arndt calculates that 10,000 hours are what he spent learning and honing his craft until his great success. He got paid for about half of those hours, toiling as a freelance script reader, what he describes as "the salt mines of the industry."

A nice feature in each issue of Script is a column that details what screenplays and books have been purchased by movie studios. I learned that Irene Nemirovsky's novel Suite Française, about the German occupation of France, has been acquired by Universal and will be adapted to the screen by Ronald Harwood, who wrote The Pianist. Borat co-writer Dan Mazer has been hired to script the comedy New Year's Steve, about "outrageous, life-changing resolutions made over New Year's Eve." See, you have a year or two lead on your friends on what to watch for.

There's more advice for writers from some "literary managers" at Benderspink, a new kind of Hollywood literary agency that gets a producer credit when it sells a screenplay. They urge writers to find their voice, tell their own story, not "chase the marketplace." After Benderspink's first big success, American Pie, the agency was inundated by a mountain of American Pie-inspired scripts. These were not tasty pies.

They also suggest you move to Los Angeles, work in those movie industry "salt mines," make many contacts, then try to sell your screenplay.

Script recently underwent an ownership change and a facelift, and management got rid of those pesky parentheses―the magazine used to be called Scr(i)pt. I like the changes, but the type's too small!

An annual subscription to Script (six issues) is $24.95 from the publisher. We'll send you a sample copy for $2.59.

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Sunday, March 04, 2007

DISSENT: Promoting the Left


With the presidential election season off to an early start, it's useful to get some background information from serious political journals like Dissent. This venerable leftist quarterly was founded in the tumultuous early 1950s, and was edited by Irving Howe until his death in 1993.

Dissent is published by the Foundation for the Study of Independent Social Ideas, located on Manhattan's Upper West Side, the Vatican City of the intellectual American left.

The table of contents of the Winter issue reflects the current preoccupations of Washington and the presidential candidates. Foreign policy problems dominate the journal's meticulously edited 144 pages, and the Middle East is the focus of many of the articles.

Iran gets the main cover headline, as Dissent presents a brave speech given at the Iranian Center for Strategic Research in Tehran last year by Joschka Fischer, the former foreign minister of Germany. It's the first time the speech has been published in English.

The topic he addresses is the European community's take on the Iranian government's apparent efforts to develop nuclear weapons. He also cites its leader's call for the annihilation of Israel and what are perceived as rampant violations of human rights and women's rights within that strongly Muslim country.

Fischer's warning to the Iranians to cool their military ambitions and rhetoric in the region is unequivocal. He recalls the German experience trying to challenge the European balance of power system twice during the first half of the twentieth century. Both attempts ended disastrously. "What was our strategic mistake?" he asks. "We followed hegemonial aspirations that relied on military might and prestige, and we miscalculated the anti-hegemonial instincts of Europe. And twice we underestimated the strategic potential, the power, and the political will and decisiveness of the United States."

The health and future of the left in American politics is very much on the minds of the editors of Dissent. The burning question is whether the precipitous fall in popularity of the Bush administration over the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, among other issues, means a resurgence of the left wing of the Democratic party.

Dissent's co-editor, Michael Walzer, doesn't think so. He writes that the Democratic left wing "is doing the best it can, I guess, given poll data that strongly suggest that if it prevails, the party will lose the next presidential election." He continues, "My views about the Democratic Party are simple: I want it to win, because any Democratic victory would be a setback for the far right."

Sociologist Frances Fox Pliven contributes an interesting short history of the traditional American left, an amalgam of labor unions and a powerful Democratic party that dominated urban America and the South. She calls it the "New Deal Left." That's pretty much gone now, she writes, as business elements have combined with "the populist right"―read Christian fundamentalists and those unhappy with gains made by African-Americans and women―to control a resurgent Republican party and the American South. Pliven sees the best hope for a new left movement in the antiwar movement, coupled with the unmet social and economic aspirations of racial minorities and women.

Political scientist Sheila Croucher writes about the town of San Miguel Allende, nestled in the mountains of central Mexico. In recent years this beautiful community has been largely taken over by as many as 12,000 foreigners, mostly retired Americans, who have moved there because dollars go a long way in Mexico. Americans with even modest resources can buy a nice house and employ a maid. Everybody in San Miguel speaks English. The Mexicans have mostly sold their houses to the rich foreigners and now live outside the town.

Croucher contrasts this with the opposite movement of younger Mexicans over the American border, and wonders if an American crackdown on Mexican immigrants will have repercussions on the Americans in San Miguel, many of whom work illegally within the town as architects, psychotherapists, financial advisers and the like.

They're not all senior citizens. Croucher says an increasing number are young professionals whose high-tech skills enable them to provide services to American companies from very well-equipped offices in their homes. No one has to know where they live. They use Voice Over Internet Phone services from companies like Vonage that allow them to choose an American area code when they dial out.

She adds that most Americans maintain post office boxes in Laredo, Texas, and have companies forward mail to their San Miguel homes. That way they can continue to get Medicare benefits, Netflix videos, eBay shipments and American magazines without postal and bureaucratic hassles.

I was surprised to read that "Pinche Bush" buttons are popular in San Miguel Allende. The polite translation given is "Screw Bush."

An annual subscription to Dissent (four issues) is $20.00 from the publisher. We'll be happy to send you a sample copy for $2.59.

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Friday, March 02, 2007

YRB: City Vibes and Threads


YRB is an exceptionally well put-together bimonthly aimed squarely at the street-smart urban sophisticate who's into rock music and clubs and worries about the right threads to wear to those clubs. It's edited in the basement of 480 Broadway in Manhattan's trendy SoHo district.

YRB's origins are at Yellow Rat Bastard, a clothing store at the same Broadway address. That curious name comes from a particularly slimy character in Sin City, the graphic novel by Frank Miller later made into a memorable motion picture with Mickey Rourke, Bruce Willis and Jessica Alba. As YellowRatBastard.com explains, "the parent store spawned baby rats and the YRB store catalogue, magazine and website were born." Don't worry, it's several blocks away from the infamous rat-infested Taco Bell.

Issue No. 72 of YRB, identified as the "Spring Preview" issue, has just arrived at the MagSampler.com newsstand. From my grazing through Issue 72, I've saved the best for first. It's the opening Jump Off section, which identifies trends, products and technology of interest to young urbanites.

That's where I learned about the "nap helmet," a fascinating Japanese invention perfect for the weary subway rider. It's a hard hat with a suction cup on a stick projecting from behind. If you're lucky enough to find a window seat on the train, you suction yourself to the window, and can then nod off without fear of knocking your noggin against the window or falling onto the shoulder of your neighbor. There's a placard on the front of the nap helmet for you to write your stop, so if you believe in the kindness of strangers, you'll be awakened in time to get off.

The other technological marvel that intrigued me comes from Germany. You've probably heard of spray-on hair for that bald spot. This is a spray-on condom. As YRB instructs, "insert the given organ into the aerosol can, push the button, and presto chango, you're covered. Literally." The magazine notes that the product is still in development, and warns that the aerosol can won't fit into your wallet.

Once you get past the Jump Off section, YRB is mostly clothes and music, with attention also paid to television, movies, video games and other entertainment.

The clothing is casual and colorful, with a strong hip-hop influence. Design inspirations include graffiti, Andy Warhol and Keith Haring. There are jumpsuits from Holland, a skateboard-influenced line from England, and some very short skirts.

The featured bands in the issue are My Chemical Romance (the cover story) and Good Charlotte. I learned from Tim Brodhagan's profile of My Chemical Romance that the group enjoyed early respect and got gigs just because it was from New Jersey, which "has had a near 30-year lock on the American musical scene" because of rock icons like Bruce Springsteen and Bon Jovi.

The article describes Gerald Way, the punk group's lead singer, as "one of the world's most intriguing rock figures of the moment." Way is certainly quotable. For instance, he explains that "a lot of the reason that the lyrics are about death is because being in your early twenties in New Jersey is a lot like feeling dead."

The Jersey theme carries over to a story about rap artist Aliaune "Akon" Thiam, born in Senegal and raised in the mean streets and housing projects of Jersey City. After a three-year prison term for grand theft auto, Akon has become a star at 25, and gave his interview to YRB's George Hagan in his chauffeur-driven black Escalade as it whispered down Eighth Avenue.

There's a feature on the 10 fastest cars on the planet, such as the 1,001-horsepower Bugatti Veyron that will gulp its entire gas tank in 12 minutes when you're driving it at 250 mph, which means you're not on Eighth Avenue.

YRB is a treat just for the photography and art design. The cover has an interesting matte (non-glossy) finish that makes it stand out on a crowded news rack.

An annual subscription (six issues) to YRB is an amazing $9.00 from the publisher. You can get a sample copy from us for $2.59.

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Wednesday, February 28, 2007

THE GLITTERING WEST




As I steel myself to review Tahoe Quarterly and Desert Living, two luxury regional magazines from the West, my mantra is not "No Fear," but "No Envy." Both magazines celebrate living the very good life in some of the most beautiful parts of our country. What's to envy?

Tahoe Quarterly, published in Incline Village, Nevada, is new to the MagSampler.com newsstand. Its Winter issue focuses on three elements: gorgeous Lake Tahoe, the ski resorts off to the northwest, and Reno to the northeast.

The issue contains a couple of articles about Alex Cushing, who died recently at age 93. Apparently a Robert Moses-type master builder, he turned nearby Squaw Valley into a major ski resort, making the area's reputation and fortune when he convinced the Winter Olympics to come there in 1960. He stepped on a few toes in the process, and some environmentalists claim he stepped on a few mountains as well.

Lake Tahoe is the centerpiece of the area and of the magazine. Leo Poppoff writes of what goes on in the famously blue water during the winter, as marine life moves around, nutrients are brought up to the surface after settling to the bottom during the summer, and oxygen in turn moves down into the depths.

The clarity of the water is measured by dropping a dinner plate-sized "Secchi disk" into the water and watching it until it disappears. Right now it disappears at 65 feet, and the goal of environmentalists is to get Lake Tahoe so clear you'll be able to see it 100 feet down. Poppoff explains that the lake remains ice-free in winter because of its depth and because of the heat stored in its 40 million gallons.

That's good news for Scott Gaffney, a ski cinematographer who provides a short essay on one of his favorite recreations: surfing the north shore of Lake Tahoe during old-fashioned blizzards. Snug in his wetsuit and gloves, he notes how tourists stop their cars and gawk at him from the shore, until the raging wind and snow drive them back into their vehicles.

There's a sweet article about John "Snowshoe" Thompson, born in Norway, who saw an employment ad in a Sacramento newspaper in 1855 for a mail carrier. This was no ordinary route, but a 90-mile trek in the Sierra Nevada Mountains starting at Placerville, California. In the winter, of course, the snow made the route all but impassable.

But not to Snowshoe Thompson, who from his Norwegian childhood remembered the long boards used to glide across snow-covered ground. He carved skis from green oak planks, and carried more than 80 pounds of mail on his back on the route for 20 years. Old-timers said he reached 60 miles per hour going downhill and could ski-jump 100 feet.

Of course, Tahoe Quarterly has a lot of articles about fine restaurants, glorious spas, places to ski, chalets to buy. Real estate rules the ad pages. But its heart is in the land and lake.

We move south to Phoenix, Arizona, home base to the monthly
Desert Living. It covers a fairly broad territory, from Arizona through New Mexico.

The spine of the January issue describes it as the "2007 Luxury Issue," so maybe the editors do go a bit overboard this one month a year.

Take the opening section, about "what's new, what's hot, what's now." We learn that something called the Rocket Racing League is forming, with ex-Air Force jet jockeys to race thunderous rocket-propelled airplanes on a two-mile course over the desert. Also in the works is a high-tech personal watercraft that resembles a porpoise. It's powered by a 425-horsepower Corvette engine, will reach 55 mph on the surface, can roll 360 degrees and, yes, will even work underwater.

I read about the restaurateur in Scottsdale who also caters meals on private jets, such as "Kobe beef with a side of foie gras layered with black truffles and 24-karat gold." Then there's a new eau de toilette for canines, part of Fruit & Passion's HOTdog collection, "with notes of fruit, fig leaves and cedar." We're assured that the ingredients are all hypoallergenic.

Some mighty fancy cars are reviewed in the issue, including a Bentley Arnage (MSRP: $242,000) and a Rolls-Royce Phantom (MSRP: "If you have to ask…").

But there are well-written, serious articles in the issue, such as an analysis of Phoenix's new "skewed halo" 9-11 memorial, which includes a piece of mangled steel from the World Trade Center, rubble from the Pentagon and earth from Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

You'll also find a detailed look at the Beaulieu house in North Scottsdale, powered by hydrogen and designed to capture rainwater and sunlight. It's an environmentally friendly 6,900 square-foot mansion built into a mountainside. It has garden roofs, swimming pools and fantastic views of the desert.

What's to envy?

An annual subscription to Tahoe Quarterly (six issues—that's what the magazine says) is $29.95, but a bind-in card in the issue promises two years for the same price. An annual subscription to Desert Living (10 issues) is $12.00 from the publisher. We'll send you a sample copy of either magazine for $2.59.

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Sunday, February 25, 2007

MONITORING TIMES: For Those Who Like To Listen In


This morning I've been reading the 25th anniversary issue of Monitoring Times, a neat monthly devoted to scanners, shortwave radio, ham radio, computers and antique radios. It's published by Grove Enterprises in Brasstown, North Carolina.

Publisher and founder Bob Grove starts off the anniversary issue with a couple of columns recounting his early interest in radio as well as the history of the magazine. I was impressed to learn that his was the first publication to confirm existence of the "Stealth" aircraft. Readers of Monitoring Times had been listening in on transmissions from its test flights!

My own roots in shortwave radio are old but shallow. Back in the late 1950s, as a Long Island teenager, I loved to check out the high end of the AM radio dial at night to pull in stations from exotic places like Cleveland and Montreal. Then I ordered a simple Heathkit vacuum-tube shortwave receiver, soldered it together, and listened excitedly to "The Internationale," the theme song of Radio Moscow, the ponderous chimes of Big Ben announcing the hour on the BBC, and even the chatter of pilots coming into nearby Idlewild Airport.

I took up an on-air offer from Radio Sofia and wrote to the station requesting a Bulgarian pen pal, a heady activity for a Catholic school student during the Eisenhower era. I corresponded for several years with a girl of my age in Sofia. In 1968 I got the chance to knock on her door. Unshaven and grungy, I was on my leisurely way back to New York from a two-year stint teaching English in South Vietnam and dodging the draft. It turned out that her daddy was a barrel-chested major in the Bulgarian Army, his uniform heavy with medals and ribbons. An awkward Cold War encounter.

Monitoring Times devotes 13 pages to a guide to shortwave broadcasts in English, giving time, frequency and radio station. There are also pages of reports from readers on what they've been hearing on the shortwave bands. Did you know that the Voice of Croatia plays jazz, funk and pop tune oldies in the afternoon?

My own somewhat belated shortwave report from my days in Vietnam: I remember listening to Radio Australia on the day that country's prime minister disappeared while swimming. Apparently the sharks got him. In between reports of the fruitless search they played music, including―I kid you not—"A Good Man Is Hard to Find."

This issue of Monitoring Times includes a fascinating history of the early use of shortwave radio in Arctic exploration in the 1920s. A sidebar explains how authors Harold Cones and John Bryant were researching early Zenith Radio Corporation products and were appalled at the lack of relevant material in the company's archives. But in 1993 they were exploring a soon-to-be-closed television assembly plant and discovered, up in the rafters, 138 file drawers covered with pigeon droppings. They were the personal files of Zenith's founder. The files became the basis for the article, which includes schematics of the radios used in the Arctic expeditions.

You'll find an extensive scanning column, full of inquiries from readers about how they can eavesdrop on their local police and fire departments. Other columns deal with monitoring military communications, developments in domestic commercial radio, and listening in on boat, airplane and train frequencies.

There are also several articles devoted to ham radio, a hobby that's probably taking it on the chin from the growth of the Internet. But it's not an area that the publisher of Monitoring Times is going to neglect. His byline includes his ham radio call letters: "by Bob Grove W8JHD."

An annual subscription (12 issues) to Monitoring Times is $28.95 from the publisher. We'll send you a sample copy for $2.59.

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Thursday, February 22, 2007

FIERY FOODS & BBQ: One Spicy Magazine


Am I glad that I don't hold down a boring job like photo editor of Playboy! I'd never have the time to review magazines like Fiery Foods & BBQ, which qualifies for the "died and gone to heaven" award for lovers of spicy foods.

Fiery Foods & BBQ is published bimonthly by Pioneer Communications in Des Moines, Iowa, an area more traditionally known for tuna casserole. But the magazine's heart is in the South and Southwest, as well as the Caribbean. Africa, Asia and anywhere hot chiles are lovingly grown, cut up and consumed.

The January/February issue, just into the MagSampler.com newsstand, opens up with Nancy Gerlach's column, "Nancy's Fiery Fare." She devotes it to "sizzling sandwiches," and sandwiches are something that a low-level chef like me can appreciate.

She starts the column off with a history lesson. Although combinations of bread, meat and cheese can be traced back to Biblical times and the Middle Ages, the main credit should go to John Montague, the fourth Earl of Sandwich. This 18th century fop had what would today be called a "gambling problem" at his London gentleman's club, refusing to leave the gaming tables for lunch or dinner. Gerlach writes, "His valet would bring him snacks of meat and cheese between two pieces of bread so he could continue to play cards with one hand while eating with the other." Other dissolute types at the tables started asking for "Sandwiches," and the name stuck.

Gerlach gives us several pages of sandwich recipes that almost made me drool on the pages, potentially ruining a saleable sample magazine. I liked a grilled cheddar cheese and chile-marinated onion sandwich, to be cooked (carefully) on a barbecue grill. I loved a recipe for a muffuletta, a sandwich invented by a Sicilian grocer in New Orleans in 1906. Gerlach notes that "Muffulettas are hard to find outside of New Orleans, and everyone there closely guards their recipes." Her spicy version involves a pimiento-stuffed green olive salad containing such ingredients as celery, red bell peppers, wine vinegar, mashed anchovies, crushed red chiles and lemon juice, to be slathered on a sandwich with such main ingredients as Genoa salami, smoked ham and mozzarella cheese.

Next in the issue is the announcement of the winners of the 2007 Scovie awards, Fiery Foods & BBQ's annual hot foods competition. To start off this 12-page article, the magazine reports there were 742 entries in such categories as Barbecue Sauce American Style, Barbecue Sauce World Beat, Bloody Mary Beverages, Mustard Condiments, Salad Dressing Condiments, Meat-Required Marinades, Meat-Required Wing Sauce, Salsa Hot, Prepared Pasta Sauce and Prepared Stir-Fry Sauce. The entries are from tiny companies all over the country, some from abroad, and virtually all the winners have Internet addresses, obligingly supplied by the magazine, where their products can be ordered.

My favorite category was "Most Outrageous Label," which was won by Tijuana Flats Hot Foods in Longwood, Florida for a hot sauce named "Smack My Sweet Ass & Call Me Sally," although to my deep disappointment no photo of the label is supplied. The "Grand Prize Tasting" winner was the "Byron Bay Chilli Company Fiery Coconut Chilli with Curry & Ginger" from Australia, which the magazine calls "one of the world's truly unique sauces" for your barbecued chicken or salad.

There's an interesting profile of Jack Aronson, who founded his Garden Fresh Gourmet company at his struggling Detroit restaurant a decade ago. Garden Fresh now is one of the country's renowned makers of salsa, dips, chips and salad dressings, and is looking to go national through retailers like Costco and Kroger. Its entries won 13 of the 24 salsa categories in this year's Scovie awards.

An article examines the various festival foods of the nations in the Caribbean, noting that they're all subtly different and have been influenced by African, Indian, Chinese and European cuisines. The biggest influence, author Jessica McCurdy Crooks notes, is from Africa, so many dishes involve cassava, yam, bananas and jerk. Curry came from Indian laborers on the islands, and of course the environment furnishes lots of seafood and fruits.

There is trouble in paradise, however. Crooks reports that "One Trinidadian friend, when asked what Trinis eat during carnival, shouted out, 'KFC!'" She adds that Trinidad is indeed the Caribbean island with the distinction of consuming the most Kentucky Fried Chicken. But she then soothes our pain with recipes for such delicacies as Crab Callaloo, Jamaican Curry Goat and Trindadian Chicken Pelau.

In this issue of Fiery Foods & BBQ you'll also find an informative article on the intricacies of smoking meats (you can even use an ordinary Weber charcoal grill if you're especially vigilant) and another on Mexican mole sauces, which don't necessarily involve chocolate.

An annual subscription (six issues) to Fiery Foods & BBQ is for a limited time only $14.95 from the publisher through its Web site,
www.fiery-foods.com. We'll send you a sample copy for $2.59.

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Tuesday, February 20, 2007

ARCHAEOLOGICAL DIGGINGS: Finds in the Middle East


A colorful, interesting, but much too little-known magazine in the MagSampler.com newsstand is Archaeological Diggings, a bimonthly from Australia that reports on recent archaeological finds in the Middle East.

We've been looking through the new January/February issue, which carries well-illustrated accounts of digs from across that region, as well as descriptions of relevant museum exhibitions from around the world.

In the latter category is a report from an exhibition of Egyptian antiquities from the Louvre now open in Canberra, Australia. Assistant editor Marie Carter fills the reader in on a lot of the history of the artifacts on display.

For instance, we learn that some of the rituals of the Egyptians―they were into ritual as much as we are―turned a bit empty over time. When an Egyptian of note was buried, his embalmed corpse was initially accompanied by canopic jars, filled with the deceased's also embalmed lungs, liver, stomach and intestines. For some reason, later on in Egyptian history the viscera were returned to the body before burial. But the canopic jars remained part of the ritual, and continued to be interred with the deceased, even though they were now made of solid wood! The magazine shows some of these gorgeously painted "dummy" canopic jars from the Louvre.

There's a report from the magazine's Jerusalem correspondent, Daniel Herman, about an ongoing excavation at Ramat Rachel, between Jerusalem and Bethlehem and in the vicinity of the Biblical tomb of Rachel. It's an Iron Age palatial complex first discovered by Dr. Y. Aharoni in 1954. Recent work at the site has uncovered a Persian-style garden, and the archaeologist now running the site has issued an international call for volunteers during the summer of 2007.

Herman adds a bit of color to the story, or, in the current archaeological vernacular, "dishes some dirt." Dr. Aharoni engaged in a long and vociferous dispute with another leading Israeli archaeologist, Yigael Yadin, about the dating of the site. They were a couple of hundred years apart in their estimates. Ramat Rachel was just one of many arguments between the two, who "were known for being in perpetual academic rivalry." Herman puts a nice coda on the story: "After Aharoni passed away Yadin turned to politics and became a member of parliament and head of a political party. The rumor was that he did so because with the death of Aharoni, Yadin had no one to fight with in academia."

A story from Cairo describes a recent project in Alexandria that involved drilling a core out of the mud in the sea bottom. The core contained a lot of sea shells, which were analyzed for carbon-dating purposes as well as for lead content. The lead content of the shells was high for Egypt's Old Kingdom period, for the years from 1000 to 800 BC, and again about 300 BC, when Alexander the Great founded his city there. The theory is that the lead originated in the weights used by fishermen as well as in onshore building projects, and that lead content of sea shells is a good index to the economic life of the area over time.

The issue contains the bittersweet story of early 19th century German-born explorer Johann Ludwig Burkhardt, who loved to roam a very dangerous Middle East. In 1812, dressed as a local, he traveled overland from Damascus to Egypt. The high point of his life was the one day in August, 1812 that he spent in the fabulous lost city of Petra, carved out of rocky cliffs near the Dead Sea in present-day Jordan. He was the first modern European to see the city. His guide, fearing that Burkhardt would be identified as an infidel and killed, urged him to leave. He did, but continued his eccentric explorations and journal-keeping, treasured today by historians. He died in Cairo in 1817 at age 33 of dysentery. The article is illustrated with several breathtaking photos from Petra.

Archaeological Diggings editor David Down contributes an entertaining review of the book Ancient and Medieval Siege Weapons by Konstantin Nossov. Battering rams, catapults and siege towers were part of a fascinating arms race in the ancient world. For instance, when one side used elephants to attack a walled city, the ingenious defenders tied a piglet to a rope and lowered it down over the wall. The squeals from the piglet spooked the elephants, who turned on their masters and stampeded.

My favorite story is how King Cyrus of Persia solved the problem of javelins and arrows frightening his bullocks while they were pulling a siege tower on a rope toward a city's wall. He had pulleys staked into the ground along the wall, so the bullocks could happily pull away from the wall while the siege tower went in the opposite direction!

Archaeological Diggings is distributed in the United States by the Review and Herald Publishing Co. in Hagerstown, Maryland. An annual subscription (six issues) from them is $19.90. We'll send you a sample copy for $2.59.

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Sunday, February 18, 2007

TWO MAGS FOR WOMEN WITH CAREERS




Women with strong career interests can turn to a couple of magazines for solace and advice: Pink and Working Mother. We've received new issues of each in the MagSampler.com newsstand, and have found that they are as different as boardroom and family room.

The more buttoned-down of the pair is
Pink, a nicely designed and edited business bimonthly with oversize pages. You can tell a publication is for women when the letters section is titled "Femail." The magazine, now in its second year, is published in Atlanta, Georgia.

Pink is clearly for an executive audience, for women who are making high incomes or hope to get there soon. What high-finance story ideas do the editors come up for such a readership?

You'll find advice in the February/March issue of Pink that could be in any magazine for business managers and entrepreneurs: how to keep your employees from idle surfing on the Internet, ways to get your product or service talked about on television, ideas for diversifying your portfolio. But what other business publication has a profile of Gloria Steinem, an article extolling the virtues of meditation for busy executives, or a look at how women are advancing (slowly) to positions of prominence in a number of American churches?

I slammed on the brakes at an article titled "Alimony Blues," warning readers to get pre-nuptial agreements lest they wind up paying substantial alimony to their ex-husbands. The first example cited by writer Betsy Schiffman is 47-year-old businesswoman Kim Shamsky, who "is outraged at having to pay thousands of dollars a month to her ex." That this a magazine for women is obvious when that lucky ex-husband is identified simply as "a 65-year-old retired major league baseball player." I think he can only be Art Shamsky (I looked it up and he is indeed 65), beloved to New York Mets fans for his role in the team's 1969 world championship. To a baseball fan, omitting his name in the article is like writing that "Senator Clinton is having problems with her husband, a retired politician who declined to be interviewed for this article."

There are plenty of case histories of successful women, as well as ideas (and ads) on the stuff to buy with those big bucks. A feature in this issue focuses on the autos that such women are driving, and what their car choices say about them.

And yes, there is an astrology column! February 14 through March 8 are "challenging days for business," so hunker down.

Working Mother is a magazine with a decidedly different orientation: it describes itself as "the only magazine for balance seekers." Achieving that delicate balance of family and working life is the theme of this New York-based magazine, which gets a lot of press for its lists of the best companies to work for if you're a mother. Working Mother is published nine times a year.

A read of the February/March issue shows that Working Mother is more along the lines of a traditional women's and parenting magazine, with the difference that its articles assume the reader is a bit more tired and harried, and perhaps guilt-ridden for unavoidable neglect of children and hubby. She's also assumed to have substantially more disposable income.

The sex article in the issue is the classic tale of the working mother who compiles a list of things to do that day, including "have sex." But it's on the bottom of her list, probably never to be checked off as completed. If her husband were to keep such a list, writer Lisa Armstrong says, "have sex" would probably be close to the top. She offers a sad statistic from Working Mother's survey of 800 working moms: 22% report they have sex fewer than 12 times a year. Armstrong explores some of the reasons that working mothers avoid sex, and suggests a few ways to get back in the swing.

There's a nice feature in each issue called "Learning Curve," with separate pages dealing with problems of children of different ages. For children under 2, the topic in this issue is an unhappy child in day care. In the 3-5 years section, it's how to deal with a child's intense attachment to one parent. For those with children 6 to 10 years old, you'll get tips on how to be at your best for a parent-teacher conference. And if your child is 11 or older, you'll be gently prodded to play more with the kid.

You'll also find recipes (length of cooking time is an important factor), descriptions of family-oriented resorts and profiles of interesting working mothers, such as actress Marlee Matlin.

An annual subscription to Pink (seven issues) is $19.95 from the publisher. You'll get an annual subscription (nine issues) to Working Mother for a bargain $9.97 from the publisher. We'll be happy to send you a sample copy of either magazine for $2.59.

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Friday, February 16, 2007

AMERICAN ROAD: Two-lane Blacktop


The great American interstate highway system is anathema to the editors of American Road, a quarterly that's dedicated to "celebrating the two-lane highways of yesteryear. . .and the joys of driving them today." It's published in Mt. Clemons, Michigan by the Mock Turtle Press.

American Road is geared to the recreational vehicle driver, motorcyclist and automotive tourist with the time to travel the byways instead of the highways, and, of course, to the armchair tourist. Its holy grails often have numbers: Route 66, Route 1, Route 101, plus the Lincoln Highway, America's first great cross-country road.

A typical story from the Winter 2006 issue is about the "Bigfoot Scenic Byway," a stretch of Route 96 in northern California near the Oregon border that stretches from Happy Camp to Willow Creek. One of my peeves about the magazine is that while it often shows some sort of map of the area in question, I still have no idea where that area is, and am forced to get out my tattered Rand-McNally road atlas to place a burg like "Happy Camp" relative to entities I can readily identify, like Los Angeles or the Pacific Ocean. A small state outline with a shaded area showing the spot under discussion would be appreciated.

Back to Bigfoot. This 89-mile ribbon of highway is hard by the Siskiyou Mountains, the Klamath Mountains and the Klamath River, and is the area where many of the "sightings" of Bigfoot and castings of his pawprints have originated. The scenery is fantastic, and so is the devotion of local shopowners to the legend, since it brings in the tourists.

The next story is about Route 6, the poor cousin to Route 66. Route 6, known as the Grand Army of the Republic Highway, stretched from Cape Cod to California in the old days, passing through 14 states on its way. Back in the 1960s California did the unforgivable: it lopped off 300 miles of the road, giving it other names and numbers.

Writer Joe Hurley recounts efforts by a few diehards to get the state to at least place historic markers along the old route, and describes some of its attractions today, such as the Owens Valley, the Mojave Desert and the 200 jetliners in storage at the Mojave Airport. He writes of the many Western films shot in the surrounding countryside. The old route continues through Burbank and Los Angeles into Long Beach.

Roadside diners were an important part of the pre-Interstate American road system, at least in the East, and they're important to American Road as well. The issue contains a diner-by-diner count of the cross-country Lincoln Highway today, although a number of them are closed, in decay or have been turned into barbecue joints. There are great stretches without a diner at all, such as from mid-Indiana through Illinois, Iowa and Nebraska, all the way to Wyoming. Clearly a diner freak, author Brian Butko identifies each diner by factory and year of manufacture.

Living in New Jersey, I especially enjoyed Peter Genovese's account of his record-setting 50-revolution drive around one of the state's infamous traffic circles. He reports it took 23 minutes, covered 12 miles, and involved only a few near-accidents. I was reminded of a visit I made to Ireland a few years ago, renting a car with the steering wheel on the right and driving (white-knuckled) on the left side of the road. All went surprisingly well until I encountered a "roundabout."

An annual subscription (four issues) to American Road is $16.95 from the publisher. We'll send you a sample copy for $2.59.

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Tuesday, February 13, 2007

A BARNYARD QUARTET














I like to think of them as our "barnyard quartet." They are four endlessly interesting bimonthly magazines from Countryside Publications in Medford, Wisconsin: Countryside & Small Stock Journal, Backyard Poultry, Dairy Goat Journal and Sheep! Reflecting the neighborly sharing ethos of rural America, they're filled with communications from readers asking and offering advice on all things from dealing with varmints to canning techniques. All are popular sellers in the MagSampler.com newsstand, reminding us urban and suburban types that it's a big country out there!

Countryside & Small Stock Journal is subtitled "the magazine of modern homesteading." The new March/April issue is heavy with articles about the promise of spring: "The Secrets to Growing Delectable Sweet Corn," "Growing Fruit on Your Homestead" and the cover story, "Getting Started with Bees."

I enjoyed a fellow's story about building his dream log cabin for his family on a 14-acre spread in New York State. There's a roadblock in his path: the mortgage on the property is owner-financed, and under its terms the seller forbade our hero from cutting any trees on the land. So he cut the pine logs on a small plot he owned in North Carolina, and schlepped them 600 miles in rental trucks. He figures the cabin, completed pretty much single-handed over a couple of years, cost him less than $3,000. The article is illustrated with the anonymous author's drawings of the log sled and log hauler he made, as well as the layout of the cabin's foundation pillars and a cross-section of the chinking process, which included mortar and fiberglass strips.

I've been pecking my way through the February/March issue of
Backyard Poultry, designed for the farmer with a few dozen chickens or other fowl. The magazine starts off with a sobering report on avian influenza warnings from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Chickens have to live somewhere, and the issue provides well-illustrated articles about several types of movable chicken coops, as well as one designed to be built in a pasture for grass-fed range birds. Actually, the issue contains a raft of articles about raising pastured fowl, which apparently benefit mightily from a "salad bar" diet. Not only do free range chickens taste better, so do their eggs, the yolks of which are a much darker orange than those of their henhouse cousins. So farmers can charge more for these products, but they have to worry about predators of both the four-footed and winged varieties, as well as parasites and winter weather.

What I don't know about goats would fill a good-size magazine, and that would be
Dairy Goat Journal. The January/February issue contains an account of a cattle, hog and crop farm run by a family in Iowa. They also have a herd of 30 registered Toggenburg dairy goats, basically raised as a hobby for showing purposes. What to do with all that goat milk, especially since the farm is far from any market for the stuff? Of course, the (goat) kids come first, but they feed the surplus milk to calves on the farm, who grow nice and fat and bring more money when they're sold.

I was a little confused when I started reading an article titled "How to Make a Customized Goat Coat," until I understood that author Maxine Kinne was relating how she had been caring for her sick mini-goat and realized that the shivering Chloe would benefit from a layer of clothing. "Human clothing doesn't fit goats," she explains, "and if you manage to get it on a goat, it won't stay put." The article describes her design for a very simple, low-cost polar fleece goat coat, complete with webbing and quick-release snap rings.

The January/February issue of
Sheep! features a nice article by John Kirchhoff, who runs a 150-ewe operation in Missouri. He frequently has to vaccinate, worm and select his flock. "I dreaded those sheep working days," he remembers. "I knew at the end of the day every stitch of my clothing was going to be soaked with sweat. I'd be covered in sheep manure, mud and hair from the waist down. I would be physically exhausted and my kids wouldn't speak to me for a week." So, being of an organizing disposition, Kirchhoff sat down and designed an ideal barn-working system.

His plan involved lighting, windows, air movement, gates and chutes, among other factors. A working knowledge of animal psychology is essential for such a task. For instance, sheep and other animals are attracted to light. "Many years ago," he writes, "I learned something the hard way: install windows higher than your animal's MLA (maximum leaping altitude)." Want to get your sheep to go through a chute with purpose and joy? Put a bright window at the end, and that's the direction they'll want to go. After a couple of years of designing, redesigning and building, Kirchhoff now has a near-perfect barn system, and offers the flow diagrams to prove it.

An annual subscription (six issues) to any of these publications is $21.00 from the publisher. We'll send you a sample copy for $2.59.

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Sunday, February 11, 2007

SKEPTICAL INQUIRER: Don't Believe Everything You Read


Always ready to throw a pail of cold water on the public's―and the mass media's―pet beliefs, the Skeptical Inquirer is into its 31st year and going strong. The bimonthly is published by the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, a loose organization of science types based in Amherst, New York, close by the University of Buffalo.

The organization recently changed its name, and therein lies a tale.

Until last fall, it was the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal, CSICOP for short. Editor Kendrick Frazier devotes a long editorial in the new January-February issue to the reasons for the change, which have a bit to do with publicity but also with a subtle reorientation of the Committee and its publication.

Back in the mid 1970s when CSICOP was started, psychics, astrologers, faith healers and UFOlogists were getting a lot of attention. Frazier writes that "our original core focus on the 'paranormal' was partly because that was where a lot of misinformation and intentional disinformation existed. Also, paranormal topics had broad appeal to the public and the media, and the scientific community was basically ignoring them, allowing promoters of the paranormal to go unchallenged."

But the organization's main mission, as it sees it now―to promote the application of rational thought to public discourse―was being hindered by its awkward moniker. Scientists were reluctant to have anything to do with an organization with "paranormal" in its name, even if that organization was dedicated to its debunking. And, as Frazier points out, respectable publications see the need to spell out an organization's full name at least once in any article, and who has space (and patient readers) for a name that long?

It's interesting to note that this past weekend Princeton University announced the closing of its laboratory devoted to the study of extrasensory perception and telekinesis since 1978. The development is apparently being greeted with relief by scientists at the university. It looks like the paranormal is fading from public consciousness.

There's a little bit of the good old stuff in this issue, such as a roundup and pooh-poohing of Sasquatch and Cadborosaurus sightings. The latter is a Loch Ness-type sea serpent supposedly spotted at various times since 1933 in Cadboro Bay, on the southeast coast of British Columbia's Victoria Island.

But the new meat-and-potatoes for the Skeptical Inquirer is investigating phenomena that the mass media swallow and regurgitate without even a burp of indigestion. An example is the belief that those who worked and lived in the dust of the collapsed World Trade Center suffer from a variety of serious respiratory and other illnesses.

Michael Fumento writes that the origin of the story, a report from the Mount Sinai School of Medicine, has a faulty premise: it is based on health statistics from people who came forward voluntarily to have their health checked, not on a random sample. He argues that such people come forward because they're worried about their health, and thus are more likely to exhibit symptoms based on stress-caused psychogenic illness.

A major modern enemy of rational thinking, according to the Skeptical Inquirer, is "intelligent design," the theory of creationism that denies evolution. It's a core belief of many millions of Americans, and is becoming an ideological battleground in school districts around the country. This issue features a long report from one such conflict in Dover, Pennsylvania.

The cover story is an interesting appreciation of the life of Carl Sagan, one of the founders of CSICOP. It's been ten years since the vastly popular scientist died, and colleague David Morrison recounts his successes in science and in the media. Sagan was the guest of television talk show host Johnny Carson show 26 times. He called The Tonight Show "the biggest classroom in history."

I was surprised to read that Sagan had been in a bit of an eclipse during the 1990s, caused in part by the near-stoppage in the NASA space program after the 1986 Challenger accident. Morrison writes that the main problem was Sagan's scientific blunder in 1990, when he predicted that the threatened burning of the Kuwaiti oil fields by Iraq could cause a mini "nuclear winter" in the region and possibly on a worldwide scale. The oil fields burned with no discernable effect on the weather anywhere.

Massimo Polidoro, head of an Italian skeptics organization, writes a witty column about "The Devious Art of Improvising." Imagine you're on Barbara Walter's television show and you foolishly tell her that you can reproduce a drawing never seen by you that lies concealed in an envelope on her desk. . .

An annual subscription to the Skeptical Inquirer (six issues) is $35.00 from the publisher. We'll send you a sample copy for $2.59.

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Thursday, February 08, 2007

THREE REGIONAL TREASURES







This morning we'll take a look at some regional magazines that have just sent new issues to the MagSampler.com newsstand. They're from diverse points of the eastern United States: Vermont Life, Georgia Backroads and Delaware Beach Life. These are all treasured regional publications that are more interested in what makes their home areas unique than in what can make your kitchen or bathroom yet more ornate and luxurious.

It's nice on a frigid February morning to get our first magazine dated Spring 2007. This issue of
Vermont Life focuses on music in the Green Mountain State: the surprisingly many places to hear it played live, famous and up-and-coming musicians who live there, and a list of the "14 essential Vermont CDs," including the 50th Anniversary Album of the Marlboro Music Festival and Phish's A Picture of Nectar.

There's a glorious photo spread showing spring coming to the Vermont countryside, as well as an interesting study of Vermont's biggest trees and the team of volunteers that finds and catalogues them. I was sad to read that Vermont Life editor-in-chief Tom Slayton is leaving his post after 22 years, but I think we can assume his successor will continue the magazine's fine record.

I concur with a letter to the editor in the Winter issue of
Georgia Backroads that begins, "Wow, what a great magazine! For the first time in my life, I was disappointed that my wait at the local veterinarian's was short." The magazine shows an intense interest in the state's fascinating history, especially that of its rural areas.

Daniel Roper has fashioned a a dramatic story in the issue about unrequited love. Back in the 1830s, George Tecumseh Sherman was a West Point cadet from Ohio. His roommate, Marcellus Stovall, was from Georgia. One day Stovall's younger sister Louisa came visiting the military academy, and Sherman was smitten by the Southern belle to the point of proposing marriage. Louisa declined, explaining, "Your eyes are so cold and cruel. I pity the man who would ever become your antagonist. Ah, how you would crush an enemy!"

The obviously dashing Cadet Sherman replied, "Even though you were my enemy, my dear, I would love and protect you."

Fast forward three decades, and we find Marcellus is a general in the Confederate Army, his old roommate the leader of the North's pitiless March Through Georgia.

The story goes that as his troops planned to burn the abandoned Shelman House, a mansion near Cartersville, Georgia, General Sherman learned from slaves that Louisa Stovall Shelman was mistress of the house. Sherman ordered his plundering soldiers to return everything they had taken, and left a card which read, "You once said that I would crush an enemy, and you pitied my foe. Do you recall my reply? Although many years have passed, my answer is the same now as then, 'I would ever shield and protect you.' That I have done. Forgive me all else. I am only a soldier."

We now scoot back up north to check out a recent issue of
Delaware Beach Life, a bimonthly that always serves up an entertaining blend of fine photography, good writing and interesting themes.

The Delaware coast is one of those pleasant places to live that struggles to maintain its small-town ways in the face of surging real estate prices and an influx of moneyed full- and part-time residents from the big cities of the East. The magazine sees part of its mission as educating its readership with entertaining studies of the coast's history.

An example is the article in this issue about the old Rehoboth Ice House, which used to supply Rehoboth Beach with ice year-round until the 1950s, when everybody finally got their own refrigerator. The big brick building is now being transformed into a museum for the Rehoboth Beach Historical Society.

The artistry of such a story is in the details. Author Lynn Parks writes of how home delivery of ice was made: "Customers would place a small black-and-white placard in their windows to indicate how many pounds of ice they wanted on a given day. Ice delivery was a thrill for neighborhood children, who would collect the chips and shavings that fell off as the iceman cut the correct size from the large chunk in the truck."

Forgive me for this, but I watched the Warren Beatty movie Reds the other night, with Jack Nicholson playing Eugene O'Neill, and I can hear the children of Rehoboth Beach joyfully screaming, "The Iceman Cometh!"

An elderly resident remembers that for a small charge families could store their watermelons in the cool of the icehouse. The melons would be carved with the family's initials, and a couple of the kids would be dispatched in the heat of a summer's afternoon to collect one.

You can get a sample copy of any of these magazines from us for $2.59, no matter where in this great country you live.

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Tuesday, February 06, 2007

THE GLORY DAYS OF THE AMERICAN AUTOMOBILE











The American automotive industry has a clouded future, but a very bright past. That glorious history is evident in several magazines that have just arrived in the MagSampler.com newsstand.

We carry three titles from Auto Round-Up Publications in Jane Lew, West Virginia (be careful, this can get confusing): the biweekly
Auto Round-Up Magazine and its companion monthlies, Truck Round-Up Magazine and Auto/Truck Round-Up Monthly. We'll get to the fourth magazine, Antique Automobile, a little later.

All three Round-Up magazines use newsprint stock. They are filled with ads for cars, trucks, motorcycles and a great miscellany of automotive paraphernalia. These are national magazines, so the ads are not for people looking for an old Honda Civic to use to drive to the train station every morning. The cars being offered (and being sought) are classics, antiques, muscle cars and street rods, or at least the shells that can be turned into something very special. Almost all the ads are illustrated, some in color.

Looking through the recent issue of Auto/Truck Round-Up that's come into the newsstand, I find a 1940 Chevy coupe in Mankato, Kansas, "barn fresh" (I love that!), needs restoration, $5,000 or best offer. A few pages later, an ad from Mountain Home, Arkansas offers my very first car, a 1976 AMC Pacer. As expected, it's described as "not running," but for just $995 you can get it―and another Pacer thrown in for free!

On page 23 there's an ultra-cool 1931 Ford Model A street rod, gussied up with automatic transmission, rack and pinion steering, disc brakes, tilt steering wheel and CD player, just $34,800. Maybe that's what Ford should be making today.

You'll find all sorts of great stuff for sale in these magazines: collections of state license plates covering many decades, old gas station signs, even old gas pumps. There are also listings for hundreds of automotive events throughout the country.

We've also received the January/February issue of
Antique Automobile, the classy bimonthly published by the Antique Automobile Club of America (AACA). These are serious people writing about their collections of serious autos. In this issue alone you'll find articles about a 1904 Oldsmobile, 1961 Ford Starliner, 1956 Divco Model 13 (that's your classic milk delivery truck from "Leave It to Beaver" days), 1972 Triumph TR-6 and 1940 Nash Ambassador Eight, among others. All the articles are nicely illustrated in color, and many discuss the finer points of restoration and maintenance.

What blew me away was the cover of the issue, which we've placed in our Web site's
gallery of covers that have caught my eye for one reason or another. This automotive mastiff is one of a dozen General Motors Futurliners, streamlined trucks created in 1940 and refurbished in 1952 to tote around the latest technological marvels for exhibit at GM's "Parade of Progress" in various cities throughout the country. The company continued the exhibitions into the mid-1950s, but interest in them gradually died out—the victim, ironically, of one of those futuristic marvels the Futurliners had been carrying around for a decade: television!

In the cover article, AACA member and long-time GM employee Don Mayton writes of how he discovered one of the nine surviving Futurliners in 1998, at an automotive museum in Indiana. It was in a
sad state of decay, but Mayton was able to borrow it with the promise of restoring it to glory.

The article is about how members of the organization—with significant help from General Motors—accomplished that
restoration.

In the news notes column early in the issue, you'll find a reprint of a delightful
1907 ad for dog goggles. Remember, they didn't have windshields in those days!

You can get sample copies of any of these publications from us for $2.59. Add $2.00 per order for postage.

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Monday, February 05, 2007

KNUCKLEBONES: For Board Game Enthusiasts


Board games, old and new, are the subject of Knucklebones, a bright bimonthly magazine from Jones Publishing in Iola, Wisconsin that debuted just over a year ago. A look through the new March issue shows that this baby has its act together.

The magazine takes its name from an old Greco-Roman board game that was played with sheep's knucklebones, as well as with more civilized bronze, ivory and silver pieces.

What I like about Knucklebones is its inventiveness, an essential quality if it is to appeal to serious game enthusiasts.

For instance, there's a regular column called "Quick Fixes," where readers share game tips and offer their own suggestions as to how to change a game's rules to make it faster, slower or just more interesting. I confess that I've tinkered with the sacred rules of Scrabble and Monopoly during my misspent past.

This issue reviews 19 new games for children and adults, and the reviews are enhanced with a helpful side bar of publisher name and Web site, designer's name, type of game (board, strategy, party, chess variant, etc.), number of players, length of play, age range, price, learning curve and degree of challenge.

That the designer's name is included with each new game review is significant, for Knucklebones is aimed at the game maker as well as the game player. The March issue carries a couple of stories about what it takes to create and test a game, as well as to successfully seek a publisher.

Ethan Goffman, designer of a word-play game to be published in mid-2007 called AmuseAmaze, writes of the many fanciful games he's invented in his head, such as "cheating the giant corporation you helped to build" and "being the most successful wino in a run-down city." He's only had one game previously published, "by a tiny Internet-only company." Goffman stresses that you have to have extraordinarily patient friends willing to test-play your game ideas, adding that "my first recommendation to a wannabe game designer is to find a faithful game-playing spouse."

I was interested to learn there's a Web site for game designers at
www.bgdf.com, where you'll find the Board Game Designers Forum.

The issue contains a fabulous five-page introduction to chess by Bruce Whitehill, who summarizes the international origins and variants of the ancient game, its basic moves, a list of books on the subject, and a sidebar on live chess, in which real people act as the chess pieces. You may have seen live chess at a medieval fair.

According to Whitehill, the traditional beginnings of live chess go back to Marostica, Italy, which was part of the Venetian Republic. In 1454 two noblemen sought the hand of the daughter of the Lord of Marostica, and were about to fight a duel. The girl's father forbade the duel and decided the rivals should play a public chess game with live pieces to decide his daughter's mate. The town still holds that traditional chess game every two years, with more than 500 townspeople participating with lavish costumes, pageantry and parades.

I was fascinated by the lone book review in the issue. The book, titled The Turk, by Tom Standage, is about the famous chess-playing automaton developed in the mid-18th century, which, ludicrous as it sounds, is said to have impressed such notable figures as Ben Franklin, Napoleon, Poe and Charles Babbage. That less-familiar last fellow―perhaps inspired by the concept of The Turk―was to become known to history as "the father of computer science."

In keeping with that theme, the issue also contains an interview with Murray Campbell, one of the lead scientists in IBM's Deep Blue project, the chess-playing computer that defeated reigning world champion Garry Kasparov in 1997.

This issue contains a nice account of Spiel, the annual game fair in Essen, Germany. During four somewhat chaotic days in October the public is invited by manufacturers to learn about, play, rate and buy their new games, as well as to enjoy beer and wurst. Knucklebones notes that one of the most successful games from the 2006 Spiel is based on Ken Follett's novel, The Pillars of the Earth. The game will be published in English later in 2007.

An annual subscription (six issues) to Knucklebones is $27.95 from the publisher; we'll send you a sample copy for $2.59.

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Thursday, February 01, 2007

DIE CAST DIGEST: Racing Car Replicas


NASCAR auto racing has become a major sport in the United States, spreading from its deep roots in the South to national attention through the magic of television. And with it has arisen the collecting and trading of die cast metal race cars models, chronicled in the pages of Die Cast Digest.

Published monthly in Knoxville, Tennessee, Die Cast Digest consists of two sections: a bunch of columns on the sport and on the collecting aspect, and a massive price guide giving current market values for thousands of brightly painted tiny metal cars.

I've been looking through the February issue, recently arrived at the MagSampler.com newsstand. In it you'll find a helpful schedule of the year's Nextel Cup series and the lesser Busch series, as well as a current roster of the Nextel Cup cars: their numbers, drivers, sponsors, owners and crew chiefs.

One column examines the changes in the NASCAR races this year, such as the entrance of Toyota cars into the fray and the gradual introduction of the "car of tomorrow," apparently a change in the spoiler and in some mechanical aspects of the vehicles.

I was intrigued by special packages being offered to the public by Direct TV and by Sirius Satellite Radio. At the Daytona 500 later this month the satellite television company will unveil "NASCAR Hotpass," which gives viewers access to five special channels. Each channel will have up to six cameras and two announcers focusing solely on one driver for the entire race, as well as access to in-car audio communications. Hotpass will cost $99 for races throughout the year, with no advance guarantee as to which drivers will be featured.

Sirius offers 10 driver channels that will combine the overall race radio broadcast with driver-to-pit crew chatter.

Only two columns in the issue dealt with collecting. One was a brightly written description of some models of European race cars now on the market, accompanied by postage stamp-sized photos. The other offered analysis of a couple of die cast vehicles―a race car and a car transporter―with the writer in his text comparing the models against some photos of the actual vehicles. Die Cast Digest illustrated the column with a few miserable photos of the models, still encased in their plastic packaging!

Were I asked for advice by the publishers, I'd tell them to focus more on the collectibles than on the sport, and to provide more and better photographs of models. And to work on the writing, editing and proofreading, which are substandard for a magazine today.

The price guide takes up 62 of the issue's 82 pages, covers excluded. I'd estimate that some 13,000 car models are listed, by manufacturer, car number, driver and on-car advertiser. There's another number in each row, never explained, which I take to be the number of copies of that model produced. The cars seem to range in size from 1:24 scale to 1:64.

There's nothing in this issue to indicate why a particular model becomes more or less valuable over time, a subject that I think every issue of a collectible magazine should deal with in some fashion. From my brief study of the price guide, I suspect that price has a lot to do with the driver, as Dale Earnhardt models have a high relative value, as do those of Jimmie Johnson, who won the Nextel Cup in 2006. I'm sure the number of copies made of a model is important, as is the quality of the product and the detail of its paint job. I'm intrigued by whether the sponsor name on the hood of a model is a significant factor, and if so, why.

Prices for die cast cars in the price guide range from the low teens to the thousands. Picked at random, a 1:24 1997 Elite #3 Dale Earnhardt car with “Goodwrench” on the hood is valued at $603, a #21 Mike Skinner with “Lowes” on the hood is valued at $57.

An annual subscription to Die Cast Digest (12 issues) is $29.95 from the publisher; we'll send you a sample copy for $2.59.

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