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Runt Farm – The Movies!

WARNING: This is a shameless plug for the Runt Farm books!

Since our primary website, in all its fullness, is not up yet, I decided it would be okay to talk here about the first two books in the series and show you the book trailers too.

Trailers – Not Just for Hauling Anymore

This summer I had some fun finding out about making movies and producing the two book trailers you see here. They make trailers for movies and now many publishers are doing them for books too. Why do they call them trailers, I wonder? Maybe it’s because after the movie (or book) is made the ‘trailing’ work left is to tell people about it. And that means more movies, little ones like this one.

Here’s the Runt Farm: Under New Management book trailer.

Did you have your speakers on? The music is an original score. Yes, I found out I can make music too. Well, actually I knew I could make it. What I really discovered was how to score, record and add the music to a movie file. Whew, more fun that a barn full of mice!

Here’s a look at part of the score, which was created using Sibelius, a music scoring software package.

Runt Farm Book 1 Trailer     Copyright 2009

Runt Farm Book 1 Trailer Copyright 2009









And finally here is the trailer (with music) for Runt Farm: Beatrice and Blossom. Thanks for watching!

Read On!
Amanda Lorenzo

Water Works – More from MIT

After yesterdays adventure with the folks from MIT I just couldn’t resist another plug for some of their amazing projects. Hey, we love MIT, right?

This video was taken at the Digital Water Pavillion, a display at the Zaragosa, Spain World Expo in 2008. Digitally controlled switches allow for precise control of thousands of water control units, allowing designers to create art and text with water drops. As you can see it also allows visitors to play in the water, a universal pastime of our species.

Reminds me of what Cletus did in the Runt Farm barn. You’ll get to read about it when Runt Farm Book 3 comes out next month.

Read On!
Amanda Lorenzo

Trashing the Place – Part 2

It’s not everyday one gets to rub elbows with guys from MIT. Today at the Seattle Public Library I hit the jackpot and learned about the coolest project going on in Seattle today. The engineers pictured here with me are tagging our trash with tiny transmitters and then tracking it to see where it goes and how long it takes to get there.
Amanda with Carlo Ratti, Kristian Kloecki and Assaf Biderman of the MIT Senseable City Lab

Amanda with Carlo Ratti, Kristian Kloecki and Assaf Biderman of the MIT Senseable City Lab

The goals of the project are to learn more about the “removal chain”, to promote new social behaviors relative to trash, and to ponder the feasibility of 100% trackability of material. Someday you may be able to push a small button on your old TV set, put it out at the curb, and it will call the manufacturer with a message that says, “I’m at such and such location. Come and get me.”

As Tim Croll of Seattle Public Utilities says, we are entering an era of “product stewardship” that no longer stops with the Supply Chain, but also includes the Removal Chain.  Rita Smith, the education director for Waste Management, another sponsor of the project, says that her company and the citizens of Seattle are happy to be airing our dirty laundry as we move beyond the “out of sight out of mind” mentality and become more aware and informed about where trash is taking us and where we are putting it. The citizens of Seattle are dedicated recyclers. In fact 50% of our yearly throw aways (400,000 tons in 2008) gets turned back into useable stuff. But can we do more?

Have you ever asked yourself when throwing something away – “Where is away?” As we become more aware of our planet, and our responsibility to it and to each other, this question is becoming more and more important. In truth there is no “away” there is only someplace else or as we are discovering, some other “new life” for our trash.


electronic trash tag - it's a tiny cell phone!

Here’s a look at the tag this team has developed. It can literally “phone home” to tell data gatherers where it is. Each device has a motion sensor and it’s really a tiny cell phone that calls out when it is moving. This weensie device, about the size of a pack of gum, will work for up to two months. A new version in the works could be transmitting for as long as 6 months.

Marrying the data to Google Maps allows the team to display real-time images of the route our stuff takes from our trash can to its destination.  Thus a tossed out pop can in Seattle can be seen arriving at a metals recycling center (Because it was disposed of properly in a recyling bin!) This, by the way, busts the urban myth that our stuff all gets dumped and not recycled!

A soda can travels on its way to be reclaimed 

A soda can travels on its way to be reclaimed


At the end of their presentation today one of the researchers mentioned how this project has changed his thinking about trash. Kristian Kloecki observed that an object may at some point be considered useful, then someone decides it is no longer useful, and though the object itself remains unchanged in many cases, it is viewed as trash and then thrown away. If it’s a piece of furniture and we move it out to the curb it’s possible someone will come along who in fact sees it as useful and they take it away to its new life. So trash in a very real sense is based on our perceptions and our actions. As our perception becomes more refined we can see beyond our own needs and act accordingly to place an object into the removal chain with respect for it’s continuing value and usefulness.

What would our world be like if each one of us took responsibility for our “stuff” from before we acquire it to after we no longer need it? Would we be more thoughtful about what we buy? Would we see the value of things even after we don’t want them? Would we do more to ensure that reusable materials re-enter the technosphere and that what goes back into the biosphere is not harmful to it?

The next Seattle deployment of tagged garbage will go out in a couple of weeks. You can vounteer to be a tagger by contacting senseable-volunteers@mit.edu. Trash is also being tagged in London and New York.

Read On!
Amanda Lorenzo

Trashing the Place – Part 1

Today I am off to check up on the MIT project team that has been tagging garbage to see where it goes. Can’t wait to tell you more, so stay tuned! In the meantime check out these women in Kenya who are not only cleaning up their environment, but turning plastic bags back into useable items with thier crochet hooks. Hmmm, I have crochet hooks . . .

Read On!
Amanda Lorenzo

Banking On Cheese

You may have seen the recent article on MSNBC about the bank that stores cheese for Milano’s parmesan producers. Take a look here Parmesan producers bank on cheese for the complete story on interest bearing wheels of aging cheese and the bank employees who are expertly trained in the art of maintaining the proper environment for same.

“Fascinating! Inspiring! Genius!” said Cletus, of Runt Farm.

Though I tried to warn Credito Emiliano bank of Cletus’ undue interest in their product and security systems, they seemed only slightly amused. I can’t really be blamed for the unfortunate incident pictured below, but I have asked Tooth to have a word with Cletus about this. Rest assured that despite the apparent breach, no parmesan was in fact pilfered, nor was it compromised in any way by the intrusion of one of my beloved characters. Cletus insists he was only there to test the vault systems and did not lay a paw on that particular luscious round of you-know-what! I for one believe him, for though he does get in a bit of a muddle when it comes to this particular foodstuff, he is an honest fellow and would not lie.

That being said here is the recently leaked photo that tells all.

CletusInTheCheeseBank copy

Read On!
Amanda Lorenzo






                                                                                                                        Marco Vasini / AP

Fantastic Music Machine – It’s No Fake

Take a gander at this facinating instrument. Cool, huh? The first time I saw it I was really impressed. The write up said it was made mostly from farm equipment, a la John Deere, and that a team spent thousands of hours perfecting it. The combination of music, machine, and art really grabbed me. Plus I loved that all the balls had a place to go after they were done and didn’t just fall all over the floor!

Then I dug a bit deeper. I noticed that some people thought this beautiful machine was a fake. I found myself not liking those people. Fools, I thought. This is genius! How dare you try to bring it down! Then I looked and listened more closely, both to the video itself and to the comments. Hmmm, some of those balls actually disappear in mid air and the sound of the melody doesn’t always correspond to the length of the xylophone-like bars. My research led me to the real creators of this piece, Wayne Lytle and David Crognale of Animusic. 

Yes, it is an animation and not a physical machine. But that doesn’t mean it’s a fake. The faker is the person or persons who for some reason decided to add a bunch of hooey to it. Hooeey producers have been around for a long time. We should be used to them by now, I guess.

This vid is still and always will be in my list of favorites. Because to me real means more than something existing in time and space. There are so many things that are real that I cannot touch, see, taste, smell or hear. Much of my experience of life exists now only as memory, but it is real to me. The way my first puppy looked at me, the smell of my dad’s pipe, the shimmery blue sparkles on fresh fallen snow.

The idea that only physical things are real can leave us feeling lost and alone or even ripped off in life, if we let it. Especially when those things we like and people we love move on, move away or pass from this life. It always helps me to remember that many things in this world started out as unreal, as ideas in someone’s mind.

I had an idea once to create a quilt to commemorate some co-workers who had died. That idea was shared with a few other people and they added their notions to it. We gathered raw materials together and before long a real quilt existed in the world. An object that could be seen and touched, but that would never have existed without the original idea.

How many more things can you name that began as thoughts? Houses, cars, books, countries? And what about the earth, the solar system, the universe and we ourselves? Did we exist first as thoughts in the universal creative mind? And if we did is there someone out there on the sideline yelling “Fake, it’s all fake! It was all made out of nothing!”

Funny, don’t you think?  I sort of like thinking I was made from nothing, just as much as I like this fantastic music machine. That way I can be as real as I want without too much bother or fuss.

Read On!
Amanda Lorenzo

Playing Makes You Smarter!

Hey, it’s official, Stuart Brown, an expert on play (wish I’d thought of becoming one of those) says that play makes us smarter. Problem is kids are getting less and less play time, the up-and-out-the-door kind that is. We’re spending a lot more time in front of screens it seems. And yes, I am acutely aware that I’m in front of one now as I compose this little ditty. But I promise to race out the door as soon as it’s done. Cross my heart.

In his recent article for the New York Times FreeFun2FinalStuart says, “True play may seem pointless — it is done for its own sake, because it’s fun — but ultimately it is also useful. From an evolutionary perspective, the smarter the animal, the more they play. For humans, play reinvigorates us not because it is down time, but because it gets us in touch with our core selves and the joy of life.”  Catch his full post here Let the Children Play (Some More)

Earlier today I played a game with myself. I was in a nearby but unfamiliar neighborhood and decided just to look around to see new stuff I’d never seen before. I headed down a street I’m sure I’ve never been on and just looked around. I’ve lived in the same town for a long time and as I wandered around I got to wondering just what percentage of streets I’d actually visited around here. Then I came to the corner and looked up at the signpost — Alien St.

Ha, bet you don’t have an Alien Street in your town! It’s a short street, only two blocks long. No wonder I haven’t seen it before. I began to wonder just who might be living on this street! Did they have three eyes and blink in and out of existence from time to time? Were they . . . friendly? Or were they growing creepy pods in their back gardens, ready to take over the native population and me with it?

I hurried along, lost in my playful mood, looking for a non-alien street and a meal. I decided to play I’m New Here and asked the first person I met “Hey, where’s the best place for breakfast around here? In an English accent she directed me to a local coffee chain store. She must live on Alien St I thought.

I thanked her politely and silently rejected her advice. The next guy I asked, without hesitation suggested the Rusty Pelican, a couple of blocks down on the left. I figure when a guy answers that fast it’s either a really good place or he owns it.

Sauntering up to the RP I noticed that the awning outside was indeed rusty, but the inside was light and airy with a country kitchen kind of charm that wasn’t over done with too many geegaws. (Using just the right amount of geegaws is a lost art in some parts.)

The food was great, the service fast and friendly. Best part (close your eyes if you’re counting calories) they serve you not half and half, but heavy cream with your coffee. Hmmm.

Okay, so I know this is a post about play and my kind of play today might be kinda mundane, but hey I was out in the sunshine, I used my imagination, explored uncharted territory, conversed with the locals, avoided being slurped up in an alien invasion, and I foraged for food. I figure these skills will come in handy if I ever decide to grow up! Not promising, mind you.

And I’m feeling quite a bit smarter than I was yesterday!

Read On!
Amanda Lorenzo

A New Hat for the Occasion

Rosie2When meeting with chickens for the first time I find that it’s best to wear a new hat, and be firm, but polite. Down on Runt Farm we always try to maintain a bit of decorum even when facing new situations. You never know when a new acquaintance may become an ally or even a lifelong friend. In this case by being friendly I came away with a new understanding of “life in the pen” and 3 eggs. And my new friend Polly also admired my jewelry (which you cannot clearly see here, as she is in the way!)

I faced a new situation just last week when I went to a big TV studio. I thought there would be lots of bright lights and many behind-the-scenes people, wearing headsets and carrying clipboards. And especially I thought there would be camera operators, their eyes peering into the depths of the big rolling behemoths, their ears listening intently for the next cue to pan left, pull back or go in for the big close-up.

None of it was true! The studio inside was enormous and painted black as the inside of a weasel’s heart. I wasn’t afraid though, not a bit. There was some light of course on the people who were reading the news, but mostly everywhere else it was dark. Heavy cables snaked across the floor and I tried to be extra-specially quiet as I tiptoed gingerly over to my place. I knew about such things of course, like not making noise when a show is “ON THE AIR.”

But what I didn’t know is that all the camera operators had been abducted by weasels. They were nowhere to be seen. As I peered around the room I realized that the snakey cables were connected to half a dozen silent robot cameras. Below the one nearest to me I could see the words the newscaster was saying on a screen. You see they don’t make that stuff up most of the time. They read it and it’s in really BIG print so they can see it from across the room from the robots. 

It was then that I sort of felt sorry for my new friends Brad and Carolyn, the news people. They have to sit all day in a mostly dark place with bright lights in their faces and hardly anyone to talk to. I could see why they were so glad to see me. But I jumped when Carolyn said, “Hi, Amanda . . . love the hat.”

I wanted to say, “Shh, you’re ON THE AIR.”  but then I realized it was a commercial or something and it was okay to talk. I even figured out later how she knew it was okay. The little screen, they call it a teleprompter, tells them everything. One time when I looked over it said [TWO SHOT]. It wasn’t a news story or a latte order, it was to tell them that the camera was showing both people. Pretty cool, eh?

I didn’t have much time to figure anything else out, because pretty soon Brad came over and sat down and we had a little chat. Then it was my turn to be ON THE AIR. That’s when I forgot about the cables and lights and the cameras and even the teleprompter. Brad made it easy. It was just like talking with an old friend, a new old friend.  That’s all there was to it, really.

You can see what happened next by checking this out: Amanda on TV

Don’t forget your hat!
Amanda Lorenzo

Hat Firmly On!

Dear readers,

When I was in Kindergarten we put on a play, The Four and Twenty Blackbirds. As I recall it was my first opportunity to wear a hat. Said hat had a long yellow bill and an attached sweeping black cape with fluttery edges. I think I was blackbird number 13. At any rate my fellow birds and I were all baked in this pie (I’m sure you remember the story, but if you don’t, ask your grandma!) . . . and when the pie was opened the birds began to sing.

This experience is etched into my consciousness to this day. I adored the king counting out his money, the maid hanging up the clothes, and of course the queen eating milk and honey. And I didn’t mind at all being a supernumerary in the big luscious pie. It was heaven. At the appointed time I leaped out with all the other black-hatted screechers to charm the socks off the king and his court and our collected doting parents.

Without a doubt that sweet pie leaping moment has forged an unbroken chain of events leading to this very night. A night as full of anticipation for me as when I huddled inside that butcher paper and chicken wire stage prop waiting to flap my wings and crow. Hats there are a plenty still, songs too, and endless opportunities to leap up and dance, to taste the blackberries of a newly unfurling life.

Wearing my favorite hat I sit this evening on the verge of another impossibly theatrical undertaking, one where I become that person I always wanted to be. I can just see her now, that mystery lady, about to step out of the wings.

In just one week my first children’s book and its sister will be rumbling along in a truck to various booksellers, capping off a parade that started at my little gingerbread house two years ago. I am in awe, amazed and moved by how it has come to be. By all the people who appeared almost out of nowhere to be part of it, by how much fun it has been, by how much work it has required, and by all those things I discovered about myself along the way.

It is yet to be seen how this offering of stories will be received, who they will touch, how they will serve. But the long time dream to be of some help to others has taken this form and now it must be released to find its way in the world. And I will follow, my hat in place, not in my hand.

To all who wish for a life of wonder, to those who yearn to break away if only for a hour, to you who long for a day made fresh by that one transforming moment I say, “Join me, hats on, let this be your day!

Read On!
Amanda Lorenzo