Thursday, May 31, 2012

Black Hat SEO: Keyword String Usernames

Imagine my surprise when a few days ago I received a message from a company that in the past had SPAM'ed my website using keyword strings as their name. They needed to ask me to remove their old SPAM comments to help get them out of trouble with Google!

The SEO company this company hired used a keyword string username and blog comments to create links back to their website to try to trick Google into thinking their site was more popular than it was.

So, how did this happen? Have you ever heard the term "Black Hat SEO?"

It's the practice of using unethical means to either obtain a higher search engine page rank or to trick people into coming to your website using deceptive means. It can be a common practice among the types of companies that send you emails promising you first page placement on Google, for a fee.

One of the Black Hat tricks that irks me is when people use a string of keywords (a type of keyword stuffing) when leaving a comment on my blog instead of their real, user or business name. Why? Because using a keyword string says in an overly obvious way that you are using my blog to try to increase your own search engine ranking. I even blogged about it before.

An example of what I mean is when I leave a comment on someone's blog I use one of the following names: Stacie Tamaki, The Flirty Girl (my Twitter handle) or The Flirty Blog or The Flirty Guide because that's my real name, online usernames and business name. My rule of thumb is how would I introduce myself to someone in a face to face meeting? If I wouldn't say it, I shouldn't post it.

I would say I'm the Flirty Blog or Guide because that's how some people know me.

If I was going to be spammy I would post my name on other people's sites as one of the following strings of keywords with the name being a link back to my own website:

SF Bay Area Blogger
Custom Website Design and Development
Volunteer National Bone Marrow Donor Recruiter
Halloween Dog Costume Designer

So it's something that can be considered bad form to use a keyword string in place of your name. I'll often delete these comments if they're off topic but sometimes I let them slide if it's obvious the person at least read the post.

The moral of this story is when someone contacts you and says they can improve your search engine ranking for a fee, make sure what they're going to do isn't going to get you in trouble with Google. Black Hat SEO is a short-sighted solution (gaming the search engines for a higher page rank) to a long term problem, getting banned by the search engines so that your site isn't indexed at all. It's like that old saying "If something sounds too good to be true. . ." The way I look at it, they're sending out the email they sent to you to thousands of other website owners. So how can they promise thousands of people they can place all of them in the top ten on Google? Only ten people can be in the top ten.

Some of these pitches may be legit but the buzz words raised red flags for me.

The best way to increase your page rank is to create useful, informative content and update your website or blog on a regular basis. If you really want to hire someone make sure they are using only White Hat SEO (ethical techniques) to achieve your higher page rank. It will be you, not them, who pays the price for any shady games a Black Hat SEO company uses to damage your online page rank and reputation for their own monetary gain.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Great food and fun at the Castroville Artichoke Festival

Sometimes the sheer number of festivals I'd like to attend in the Bay Area can feel overwhelming:

Artisan Cheese Festival - March
Stockton Asparagus Festival - April
Maker Faire - May (attended 3 times)
Calavaras Jumping Frog Jubilee - May
Union Street Eco-Urban Festival - June
San Jose Obon Festival - July (attended once)
Gilroy Garlic Festival - July
Courtland Pair Fair - July
Fresno Fig Fest - August

Most years I'm lucky if I make it to one. But this year I was going to attend the Castroville Artichoke Festival sponsored by Ocean Mist Farms no matter what. I was so determined that even when my foodie friend Carl said he may or may not be able to meet me there, I decided to go alone. And I was in good company! There were people who came from as far away as Los Angeles, Chicago and Denmark to attend the festival.

FIrst of all I have to say I was shocked at how easy it was to get to Castroville and the festival. I took HWY 17 south, HWY 1 south turned left onto Merritt Street directly off HWY 1, drove 4 blocks, parked and walked the final block to the festival gate.

It took one hour to get there from San Jose. On weekends, especially when the weather is perfect, traffic can be a bear going over the hill (HWY17) towards Santa Cruz so I left just after 10:00 AM, made a stop for gas then hit the highway to beat the beach-goers who would likely clog up HWY 17 by noon.

Upon my arrival street parking was so plentiful I was able to park just a block and a half from the festival gate. The parking was free but there was a $10.00 admission fee to attend the fair.

Just some of the food available at the Castroville Artichoke Festival.

I came for the food. Carl was doing a huge bike ride that morning but said he would be coming after he was done and he'd be bringing his wife and daughter. But then the ride went long so he had to cancel. No worries, I completely understood.

But the only bad thing about going to a food fair alone is that you can only eat so much. The ideal situation would be to come with three friends so you can order four things and sample each of them. Since I was alone, and hadn't brought any tupperware and a chilled ice chest in the trunk of my car, I had to choose wisely.

The Artichoke Taquitos were soooooo tempting! I saw someone eating one. The crisp, golden brown, deep fried exterior was filled with ooey gooey cheese and chunks of artichoke on the inside. An order consisted of two taquitos for $8.00. Each looked around 10" long. I asked if I could order just one instead of two and was told with a smile "Sure you can, but the price is still $8.00 for one." Dude! Way to crush a girl's dream. So with regret, I passed on the taquitos.

They both tasted as good as they looked!

Instead I played it safe ordering a basket of deep fried artichoke hearts ($8.00) and went a little wild trying an artichoke cupcake ($3.00)! After grabbing a seat, breaking out my macro camera lens, and photographing my order at a communal picnic table, I offered some of the hearts to the people sitting beside me. They happily obliged which I was grateful for because I hate throwing away food. There was no way I could eat the entire order and a cupcake all by myself!

The cupcake was light, delicious and moist! You could see bits of artichoke in the cake but I was a little disappointed that I couldn't taste them. Think carrot cake or zucchini bread. Its flavor was a light spice cake. It was so good I ate the whole thing.

There was also non-artichoke fair food too like tacos, burritos, quesadillas, curly fries, teriyaki chicken, corn dogs, classic french fries and more.

After dining I toured the rest of the fair.

There were lots of classic cars on display. This was my favorite. A 1950 Dodge Coronet owned by Joe Micheli Sr. I loved the clean, understated, classic look and the color. You'll see a profile shot of it in the montage below between two blue cars.

The thing is, I don't even really care about cars but these were all so beautifully maintained and restored it was like looking at works of art. Take this 1934 Dodge, 4 door owned by Robert L. Marcos. Gorgeous. And red. And perfect.

Some, like this purple, Oldie '54 II, Chevrolet, pickup owned by Gilbert Casares, were jaw dropping. The paint job was incredible. Technical specs can be found in this Lowrider article.

There were literally dozens upon dozens of cars and trucks to look at. If you have a beautifully maintained or restored classic car you can register to display your car too. There's a nominal fee that entitles you to two free fair admission tickets and you must leave your car there during the festival hours. I'd imagine it's just a lot of fun chatting with all of the other car owners, most of whom are members of the Castroville Midnighters Car Club.

When I arrived Berta Olivia y El Mariachi Mexicanisimo had just begun performing. Berta Olivia is a well known, award winning, ranchera vocalist. Her website says: "Whether she is pounding out a “grito” or tinkling away at a bolero or balada, she is Mariachi, and yet she’s Ranchera with a dab of Cumbia added for good measure."

Even though she was singing in Spanish, and I don't understand Spanish, I could tell right away Berta was a great performer and she was also very entertaining. She received a great laugh from the crowd when, between songs, she welcomed the audience (in both English and Spanish) and reminded us to turn every 15 minutes while watching the show so that they we would get an even tan :D

And there was plenty of creativity on display at the Ocean Mist Agro Artichoke Food Sculpture Contest. There were many more veggie sculptures but these were some of my favorites. How fun are they? Entrants had three hours to construct their sculptures onsite. The winner was chosen at the end of the competition and over $6500 in prize money was awarded! Judging was broken down into professional and non-professional categories, individuals and teams as well as adult, high school, middle school and grammar school categories by age. Congratulations to the winners and to all of the entrants for creating such fun and whimsical designs.

The stilt walker was so tall!

Pets aren't allowed but this service dog arrived in festival colors.

This was fun! An artichoke eating contest. Each contestant was given a pre-weighed plate of artichokes and three minutes to eat as much as they could. It wasn't as fast paced as the famous Fourth of July Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Contest but it was just as much fun, and far less gross to watch. Three minutes later their plates were re-weighted and the winner was. . . *insert drum roll here*. . .   Why the previous six time champion who even had a huge artichoke winner's belt! Hugo (20 oz) joined second place finisher Joe (19 oz) and third place finisher Joann (15 oz) to receive their winners' certificates. That makes Hugo a seven time champion!

The Artichoke Festival is a family friendly event. There were lots of rides for the kids. Tickets could be purchased at this colorful booth.

The most unusual were the big, inflatable, clear plastic balls that kids were zipped into, inflated then rolled onto a wading pool so they could crash into each other. There were more bouncy houses and slides than I could fit into a single picture and some small amusement park rides for kids like the spinning tea cups and the ship that swings.

There was a farmer's market. I was going to buy some artichokes but decided to wait until I was leaving so I wouldn't have to carry them around all day.

For a fee there was wine, beer and tequila tasting! The wine growers I spoke with, Cima Collina, Otter Cove, and Chateau Marie Antoinette, all use grapes grown in Monterey County to produce their wines. Ale and beer lovers could enjoy 8 different samples by Marina English Ales Microbrewery.  And tequila lovers weren't left out. Alderete was there with shots ready to go.

But the highlight of the festival for me was the $5.00 Field Tour. I'd read about it online and knew I wanted to get out there in the dirt and see the artichoke plants up close and personal. We boarded the bus and took off for three stops on an hour long tour with our guide Lionel Handel.

History: On the tour we learned it was the Italians who brought the perennial Green Globe artichokes to Castroville in the 1920's. While immigrants from other countries may have tried first, they didn't bring the type that were able to flourish in California's soil and weather conditions so it was the immigrants from the first country to successfully to bring the right variety and raise them, not the first to try, who are credited with creating the artichoke industry in Castroville.

Types: We learned there are two kinds of artichokes.

Seeded (annuals) are hybrids. The seeded artichoke plants produce in 45 days. They can be easier to grow and can produce more artichokes per acre than the perennial plants.

After harvesting, seeded plants are mowed then plowed under creating their own compost. The benefit of using the seeded annual plants is that they can be timed to produce on a different cycle than the perennials. Seeded have the benefit of producing off-season so fresh artichokes can be had in late summer or early fall, well outside the normal production time for perennial artichokes.

Seeded are a rotated crop meaning a different harvestable crop (like lettuce or cauliflower) will be grown in the same fields so as not to deplete the soil by planting artichokes over and over again.

A seeded field after harvest.

Perennials are grown by separating the crown (roots) of an existing plant. A new plant won't produce until its second year. The perennials can live for many years. Online I read that 5-10 is the typical age for commercial plants though they can live as long as 10-20 years. While their weight of yield per acre may be lower than the seeded variety, they produce "meatier" artichokes.

Irrigation: Water is at such a premium that all of the crops we saw are watered by drip irrigation. We also learned that many fields in Castroville are irrigated with water obtained from the Castroville Sea Water Intrusion Program where waste water is cleaned and recycled to be used to irrigate crops.

Pests: While deer will eat the centers of artichokes while still attached to the plant, the crops worst pest is called a Plume Moth. The adult moths cause no harm but in its larval stages it will chew through the exterior of leaves, stems and buds. By doing this it gains access and burrows into the buds damaging the interior edible areas of the artichokes.

Nutrition: Artichokes are high in fiber and potassium. Did you know an artichoke has as much potassium as a small banana?

He taught us so much more about each of these topics. If you take the tour next year you'll learn about each of them in much more depth than I've presented here.

Pezzini Farms, 460 Nashua Road (Just off HWY 1), Castroville, CA 95012

Our second stop was at Pezzini Farms, a grower and purveyor of perennial artichokes. You can enjoy Pezzini artichokes by purchasing them at their farm stand. They also sell to restaurants and if you don't live in the Bay Area you can still enjoy Pezzini's fresh artichokes by ordering them online. They're shipped right to your door!

Lionel took us to the field behind the farm stand and taught us more about the artichoke plants.

New roots (bottom left) and a new bud (bottom right).

He showed us the root system and explained how perennials are grown from splitting the root section called the crown. After the harvest the plants are "stumped" cutting the leaves off near ground level. It's a method used to keep the plants reproducing healthy new leaves and buds for the following harvest.

Inside the farm stand he showed us how the artichokes come in from the field, are dumped into a large bin (upper right) and are then sent down a chute (left) to be separated, using rope lines the smallest fall through the narrow ropes first and the largest make it all the way to the end where the ropes are spaced further apart, into four different sized bins (bottom) for packing.

After leaving Pezzini's we drove over to Sea Mist Farms (part of Ocean Mist Farms, the largest producer of artichokes in the United States). Out in the field Lionel demonstrated how the pickers wear a bag called a canasta, cut the artichokes with a knife and toss them into the canasta over-the-shoulder style. The bags hold up to 85 lbs of artichokes so I don't think I could be a professional artichoke picker. I think I'd collapse at 60 lbs. He gave us the opportunity to try out the bag. One woman did. She got the bag on, cut the choke then overshot the bag when she tried to toss it in so it fell on the ground. We all had a good laugh at her expense :D

At that point Lionel invited us to pick as many artichokes as we could in about a minute and a half. It was seriously like one of those game shows where they put you in the booth of money with the fan blowing the dollar bills around. He said we could take as many as we could carry and if we had a bag of any type to go ahead and fill it up. I had my cloth grocery bag in my purse but no knife. There were only three knives available and I was too slow pokey to grab one so I had to use my hands to twist the baby and small artichokes straight off the plant. It worked pretty well except my left hand ended up covered in sticky goo. It dried pretty quickly and I was able to wash it off later with just soap and water.

Lionel declined accepting any gratuities but encouraged us to feel free to tip our driver. I did because the experience was worth far more than $5.00. So, I tipped what I felt the tour had been worth.

And with that, after a perfectly enjoyable day, I headed back to my car with my bag full of artichokes.

I took my little artichokes home and showed them to hubby.  He commented on their small size and when I said they were baby artichokes he accused me of bringing home the "veal" of artichokes. *Insert eye roll here.* LOL. I made sauteed artichoke pasta three times until I'd used them all up. It was so good. And now I want to go back to buy a case of baby artichokes! The recipe is simple and you can find it by CLICKING HERE.

To recap I would say that the Castroville Artichoke Festival was definitely worth the hour drive and $10 price of admission. The only thing I'll do differently next year is make sure more friends come with me so I can sample more of the food! My only regret is that I'm still wondering if I made the right decision choosing the deep fried artichoke hearts over those cheesy artichoke taquitos. LOL. Next year will be the year of the taquito!

Maybe I'll see you there in 2013!

Monday, May 28, 2012

With Gratitude on Memorial Day

Our country has been at war for so long now it often feels as if every day is a memorial day with the loss of American lives we read about in the news and see on television. But when we haven't been at war for nine years, seven months and 28 days, the significance of Memorial Day stands out with more contrast than we have become accustomed to in recent years.

Memorial Day is a Federal holiday that recognizes and pays tribute to all of the men and women who have died serving our armed forces since the Civil War. Flying the flag at half staff symbolizes our country's collective grief and mourning.

So I write this post to pay my respects to those who have died defending the rights and liberties our country believes in. They were willing to stand together fighting for human rights to try to make this country, and the world, a better and safer place for all. For that, I can only give them, and their families, a sincere and heartfelt thank you on this day of remembrance.

How to Fly the American Flag at Half-Staff

In the morning raise the flag to full-staff at the top of the flap pole for just a moment then immediately lower it to half-staff.

The flag remains at half-staff throughout the morning.

At noon the flag is raised back up to its full-staff position for the remainder of the day.

When to Fly the American Flag at Half-Staff

Memorial Day - Sunrise to Noon on the Last Monday each May

Peace Officers Memorial Day - Sunrise to sunset each May 15th

Patriot Day - Sunrise to sunset each September 11th

Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day - Sunrise to sunset as a yearly proclamation on December 7th

At the Direction of the President

At the Direction of a State's Governor

On GettysburgFlag.com there is also a reference to citizens choosing to display the flag at half staff as a symbol of respect:

Private citizens and non government buildings may choose to fly their flags at half staff to honor more local leaders. The Flag Code does not exclude any citizen, whether they belong to an organization or not, whether they are recognized very locally or regionally. Examples of deceased citizens that might be honored with by lowering the Flag to half-staff include local religious leaders, youth leaders, honored teachers or sports coaches, local politicians, or a local hero. There need be no authorization from the government for the private sector (non-government) to use the Flag to honor any citizen.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

A plant even I cant' kill

Despite my most neglectful efforts there are certain house plants that just won't die. My spider plant, Christmas cactus, pregnant onion, two orchid plants (one was a thank you gift the other about to be thrown away because it was done blooming), and a large lucky bamboo (a wedding gift) all have the stamina that more fragile plants lack. So why would I add an addition to my menagerie of barely-eeking-along house plants? Sentimental reasons.

I bought this little African Violet on a whim last year because it reminded me of my mom and aunties who for years each had fairly sizable collections of African Violets. They nurtured and cared for them even going to the trouble of installing grow lights on their kitchen counters to keep their violets happy and blooming.

It had been years, decades really, since I'd thought about them so when I saw this little violet in a the Stanford Florists' shop last year I purchased it on an impulse. Then I almost killed it by not watering it. Twice. Last week is started blooming for  the first time since I purchased it last summer.

The blooms remind me I need to take time out to nurture it and myself. So this year I'll be taking better care of both of us :)

Saturday, May 26, 2012

A fast and easy, DIY, Baby Artichoke Pasta recipe

This past week I learned how to make this easy sauteed baby artichoke pasta recipe. It's simple and definitely more delicious than pastas I've ordered in most restaurants.

For starters it was super fresh because I picked the artichokes myself while attending the Castroville Artichoke Festival field tour last weekend. I learned there are three sizes of artichokes: Primary (the big artichokes you see at the grocery store) grow at the top of a main plant stalk. Secondary (aka small) grow from the stalks coming off the main stalk. And tertiary (aka baby artichokes) grow off the stalks of the secondary artichokes.

I was able to pick a few small secondary and some of the tertiary artichokes from a field in Castroville and brought them home to have a go at cooking them. I decided to saute my artichokes and toss them with pasta so I looked up "how to sautee baby artichokes" instructions on Google.

Because it only takes about three to four minutes to saute the thin petals and slices of artichokes and about ten minutes to boil the pasta (5 minutes to bring the water to a boil and 5 minutes to boil the pasta) I put a pot of water on the stove top to heat as I peeled the chokes.

I chose using a combination of thin spaghetti, half classic white flower pasta and half whole wheat, for this dish.

I used three baby artichokes for this serving for one.

To prep the artichokes:
  1. I began by pulling off the exterior green petals by hand. With babies you want to peel them all the way down until you hit the bright yellow petals. Stop there and trim the the stalk with a knife or potato peeler to remove the green exterior of the stem.
  2. Also trim off the bottom of the stalk and top 1/2" or so of the tip.
  3. I then cut the artichoke off at the base of the petals then sliced it in half and quarters lengthwise. One had the start of a fuzzy choke so I simply removed it by pulling out the petal directly behind it and the fuzz came with it.
  4. I then sliced the tiny heart into thin pieces.
Tip: Once peeled, artichokes will brown faster than a banana so if you want to preserve their color you should drop them in lemon or vinegar water as soon as you've peeled them. I was going to cook them so quickly I skipped this step.

I sauteed my artichokes in grape seed oil.

Heat a pan to medium high heat, add the baby artichokes, and saute them for 3-4 minutes. I skipped lidding the pan and flipped and stirred them occasionally, every minute or so. They picked up a beautiful, caramelized, golden brown color as they cooked. When they were done I turned off the heat, moved the chokes to the side of the pan and waited a minute or two for the pasta to finish cooking.

After draining the pasta I put a pat of butter in the pan, let it melt then tossed the pasta in it moving the artichokes from the side of the pan, into the pasta. If I had olive oil I would have skipped the butter but I didn't have any olive oil on hand.

The final step was to sprinkle some freshly ground black pepper and truffle salt on the pasta while it was still in the pan.

It only took ten minutes to whip up this dish of artichoke pasta

It was delicious and so easy to make! This is definitely my new favorite way to enjoy artichokes. The flavor is lighter and sweeter than when I've used the jarred varieties. Instead of being strongly flavored like a pickle, they're much more subtle and nuanced.

Baby artichokes are definitely a treat when they're in season, which is right now, during the month of May. So if you see them at the store or at your local farmers market pick some up and give them a try!

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Recap of Maker Faire 2012: This is why I go!

Ah Maker Faire. I love attending this once a year event held at the San Mateo fairgrounds each May. Keep in mind what you see here is the tip of the iceberg. I couldn't possibly feature every exhibit I saw. Well I guess I could if I featured nothing but Maker Faire posts for a week. LOL

Maker Faire was created by Make Magazine to "celebrate arts, crafts, engineering, science projects and the Do-It-Yourself (DIY) mindset". It's a place to see inventions, artistic creations, flaming sculptures, robots, electronics, engineering projects, science, crafts, music, eco-friendly, recyclable and sustainable ideas, fashion and more jaw dropping things than I usually see the entire rest of the year.

This year I opted to park in one of the free parking lots with free shuttle service instead of paying $20 to park in the fairgrounds' lot. (You can also take Caltrain and a free shuttle.)

All in all I have to say the time I lost by doing this wasn't worth the money I saved. It took almost an hour to be picked up and driven the mile to the fairgrounds at which point we were dropped off not at an entrance, but at a corner of the main parking lot meaning we then had to walk a short distance to get to the entrance. I could have arrived faster by walking the entire way but by the time I realized it I didn't want to leave because a shuttle could come at any moment. Once it arrived it was a traffic jam trying to get from the lot to the drop-off point. With approximately 100,000 attendees over two days there simply isn't enough room for all of the cars or the traffic they create at peak arrival times.

So while the free parking is a great and generous idea in concept, I have to say if you arrive early enough to be able to get a paid spot it's worth the money if you can fit it in your budget.

This year I'm kicking off my recap with my three most favorite exhibits. I'm doing this because my favorite exhibit was one of the last ones I saw and I can't wait until the end of the post to share it with you.

It had been a very long day. It was 6:00 PM and my feet were tired when I happened to notice this short hallway. It looked so non-descript I almost skipped it. I actually walked past it. But, wanting to give full event coverage, I went back and made my way through the doors.

As I walked down the hallway I was completely unprepared for what I was about to see. The room opened to this! My jaw literally dropped. "OH NO WAY!" I exclaimed aloud to no one in particular. At first I was just wowed by the colors and scope of the 25' x 30' installation.

Upon closer inspection I realized it was a cityscape with tiny buildings, a river, green grass and blooming flowers.

And it was all made out of tape! Mostly masking tape. Yes way! (That's for those of you who just thought or said "No way!" LOL. Artist Danny Scheible has been creating art from tape and making the individual elements you see in this installation for seven years!

The flowers, water and grass are made of different kinds of colored tapes. Each piece, whether masking or colored tape, is finished with an acrylic coating to protect and give it longevity.

Can you even imagine making all of these little forms or transporting and setting them up for that matter?

The Tapigami Gardenscape

As I viewed the the flowers I couldn't help but think they looked Japanese, like the colorful print you'd see on a child's kimono or the handmade, silk, and fabric flowers used to make kanzashi, the hair ornaments worn by geisha. I love kanzashi flowers so much I used them to embellish the back of my wedding gown. Danny's flowers were colorful and lovely and I could have sat there and stared at them for hours.

Artist Danny Scheible taught Maker Faire attendee how to create with tape.

Also on display and available to purchase were these lampshades. They cast a warm glow as the light passes through the tape flowers. Lovely!

I suspect where many people see a maddening or mind numbing amount of effort and detail, for me, seeing Danny's work made me feel peaceful and calm. Having made over 14,000 origami cranes (most of them miniature) I kind of understand the commitment it takes to create small objects over and over again. In my experiences precision becomes more important the smaller an object is so I immediately recognized and appreciated the fine finishing details in the work that stood before me.

The magnitude of Danny's installation was awe inspiring and was made even more so by the thousands of hangers covered in recycled fabric (repurposed from his "Leviathan" installation) placed behind the city as a colorful backdrop.

I was thrilled and feel very fortunate to have made that turn down the hallway to meet Danny. I'm really looking forward to seeing more of his work in the future. Be sure to check out his website www.Tapigami.com and like him on Facebook at Facebook.com/Tapigami.

500,000 volts of electricity will make your hair stand on end!

I also got a real kick watching the Jack SparX (and friends) booth at work. Using Van de Graff (electrostatic) generators Nannette only needed to rest his hand on the metal globe to make his long hair stand on end. Try to touch his outstretched fist, and you could see a small, glowing arc of white electricity that would shock the recipient. I watched as person after person stepped over to receive a small shock that they could feel, and the rest of us could hear and see. The crackle of the *zap* as they were shocked was quite entertaining.

SAM Academy teaches kids through hands on experiences.

As soon as I understood the mission of the SAM Academy on Wheels bringing Music, Art and Science to school kids in California's Central Valley I had to feature it here on The Flirty Blog. In this day and age of budget cuts many schools are now going without art and music programs so this struck me as a vital resource to help keep them in a school's curriculum even if only on a part-time basis.

Their website describes the SAM Academy this way:

"SAM Academy is a fully self-contained mobile classroom that can drive into any community in the Central Valley of California. Our educational program is staffed with highly qualified educators and paraprofessionals that are caring, passionate and have extensive experience in classrooms and with informal Science, Art and Music institutions. SAM Academy makes learning fun and exciting, very different from the traditional classroom setting. Our classroom includes: Internet; Large Screen TV-Visual inside and outside of the vehicle; Sound System, and much, much more."

It isn't hard to imagine how excited the kids must be when they see the SAM Academy on Wheels pull into their schoolyard. After chatting with Executive Director Jerry Valadez and Science Director Manual Hernandez I came away wishing every community that needs one could have a SAM Academy.

Thank you to San Francisco's Exploratorium and Maker Faire for making it possible for SAM Academy to be an exhibitor at Maker Faire 2012.

In the West Lot there was a 69 foot fire breathing dragon putting on quite a show! Gon KiRin was made by co-creators Ryan Doyle and Teddy Lo.

Just behind it was a flaming, spiral, volcano shaped sculpture called the Cochlea Fountain created by The Flaming Lotus Girls.

Another favorite piece was The Museum of Unnatural Selection a large collaborative piece made by 15 local artists. In particular I liked the little skeleton-dinosauer-thing with the flaming mouth.

This year when I went to the Bazaar Bizaare almost immediately I found something I'd been looking for for over a year! I'd wanted a black belt but didn't want to buy leather. Faux leather belts fall apart after a few months and the one nylon belt I bought a few months ago always felt too flimsy.

Thin, thick, heavy and light tread, bike tire belts for men and women.

But at Maker Faire I found belts by the Rebicylist. They're super cool and made out of bike tires. Some are even used tires that have been recycled from garbage into fashion. They have the weight of leather and designer Julien Jaborska told me the one he had on he's been wearing for six years. And it still looked new! I'll show you mine after I get a picture of me wearing it. I have several bike riding friends who I think will LOVE the Rebicylist belts.

In the Homegrown Village I learned about bee keeping chatting with Gabrielle at the G&M Honey booth. Here are the key points of what I learned if want to keep bees in my backyard:
  1. You have to collect the honey. Setting up a bee hive isn't like hanging a birdhouse. The bees need you to take care of them.
  2. To purchase a hive kit, a colony of bees, a bee suit and necessary equipment you can expect to invest around $300 as an entry level investment.
  3. On average you need to be willing to commit approximately 40 hours a year to care for your bees.
  4. Bee's and hives can become infested with Varroa Mites. They will sicken the bees and can collapse a colony if left untreated. Eradication of the mites can be done through chemical and non-chemical means but if your bees have them they do need to be addressed or you can lose your colony.

Thank you to Mike Harrel at G&M Honey for allowing me to use this photo he took of his bees. It's such a beautiful image, the bees look so healthy and busy, I just had to share it with you!

At the University of California Cooperative Extension booth I learned cool ideas of how to create garden friendly designs that give beneficial bugs places to live and nest in your yard. It's called integrated pest management when you don't have to use pesticides to control pests.

In the Make Pavilion there was plenty to see in the Expo Hall. 

From pros to dads and daughters anyone can be a maker.

Microsoft Robotics was there with winners from their Robotics @Home competition. While the Grand Prize Winner invented a really incredible Smart Tripod that gives non-professional videographers, professional capabilities, it was the Team Elderly Assistant that caught my eye. Designed to allow seniors to live independently it also allows them to be carefully monitored so that if they are in distress whoever is listed as the contact person will receive notification and the ability to almost immediately interact with their loved one through a Skype video connection.

Autodesk® 123D was there with a large cardboard horse. The Autodesk® family of free, 3D, design apps work with each other to help you bring your ideas to fruition. They include 123D, 123D Catch, 123D Sculpt, and 123D Make.

I also saw the Zevrino, an automated cat feeder designed and constructed by Ella, a fourth grader, and Roger, her dad, who I met just a few weeks ago. There's a great article on the Makezine Blog that details the process Ella and Roger used to make the Zevrino.

And there were people in funny hats! Skallops makes small wood, construction toys that allow you to connect and build playing cards into a multitude of creations. From structures to spheres, spirals and hats the possibilities seem endless.

The Tinkering Studio, part of San Francisco's Exploratorium at the Palace of Fine Arts, was packed with kids working on "curiosity driven" ideas. It focuses on using art, science, and technology in experiments that help visitors explore ideas in a setting they liken to "an artist's studio, science lab and a neighborhood garage."

There were also retail products that makers had made. A few that caught my eye were the Combat Garden Gnomes holding tiny M16 and AK-47 assault rifles, cute crocheted octopus and kittens by Dorklandia and beautiful blown glass fish by Nightside Studios.

Instructables, a site for anyone looking for great tutorials of how to make things, was there offering educators free pro memberships Their site says:

"Instructables supports teachers by providing free pro memberships and awesome project ideas for your classroom. We provide plug and play hands-on projects to let you supplement your curriculum with the best projects that other teachers have to offer. You don’t need to be a traditional classroom teacher to participate, either. If you are an after-school teacher, a scouting leader, a librarian who runs programs, or anyone whose job is explicitly educational, you are invited to participate." Click Here to Read More. . .

The trains were running.

And the Bay Area LEGO User Group's Lego city was up and running. In the past it was really hard to photograph because you have to get close up to avoid the protective plexi-glass walls, but it's so wide I could never fit the whole thing in a single picture frame. I knew my Photojojo Fisheye Lens would do the trick!

TechShop was there with all of the equipment I featured in last year's Maker Faire recap. This year I watched Brent Thorne working on one of his Fractal Clockwork pieces. They're really beautiful and he has a blog you can visit full of images of his work and cat.

TechShop is running Maker Faire specials through June 17, 2012. It's a great time to get a discounted membership with free classes all rolled into one. CLICK HERE for the details.

Disclosure: Hubby and I are both members and investors in TechShop San Jose

I didn't notice as many robots this year. I'm not sure if I missed them or if there just weren't as many as the previous year. Above are: The Hexapod by ArcBotics and two unnamed robots I saw just wandering around. The one on the right played music which explains the little boy who couldn't stop dancing with it. So cute!

The Beignets looked delicious but I don't like donuts :(

While technology and creativity abound everywhere the one thing I wish Maker Faire would make more innovative is the food. If you love traditional fair food you'll probably be happy with the offerings.

But for me, this was my last year trying to eat the food at Maker Faire. As a health conscious vegetarian the past two years have been so disappointing I'm giving up. Next year I'm eating a big breakfast and bringing my own lunch and snacks to enjoy while I'm there.

Out on the Midway there were three really great interactive sculptures.

The Zome Builder by Rob Bell was literally covered with kids the entire day.

Across from it was Face Forward a 2011 Burning Man project by Christian Ristow. It's a 12 foot high, animatronic face whose individual features are controlled by joysticks. Anyone could take a turn at one of the 12 joysticks and help bring the face to life. Watch a video here.

And you couldn't miss the BrollyFlock sculpture by the Flux Foundation. The installation was 32 feet high and interactive using an Arduino (an open-source electronics prototyping platform) control system. As I watched, three kids were controlling the fire poofers that sent flames shooting out of the metal umbrellas.

Earth Amplified rocked the crowd at Rock The Bike.

I've covered it in past years but I had to feature the Rock the Bike pedal powered stage again because it's just so cool. All of the electricity to power the instruments and equipment for the performers on stage is generated by audience members hopping astride several bicycles and pedaling to power. The tandem over and under tree bike with speakers was definitely an eye catcher!

To top it off for the first time I really took notice of the performance onstage. It was rap. I don't particularly care for rap, but this band drew me in. It turns out Earth Amplified "plays hard, conscious Roots-Rap-Reggae to uplift the people and the planet." Ah! So I do like rap. It just has to be uplifting, hard, conscious Roots-Rap-Reggae rap!

The Ragtime Castaway Band was another one of those perfect Photojojo Fisheye Lens shots. There was simply no better way to capture the overhead suspension of the bands multitude of instruments than with a 180ยบ fisheye! The crowds loved this exhibit. You could stand around or beneath the instruments to enjoy the music being played on real instruments, robotically.

And there were all kinds of vehicles parked and roaming around the fairgrounds.

Top Left and Right: There was of course the ever popular Kinetic Pastry Science Mobile Muffins.

Middle Left: The bright green and multi-colored passenger trike I unfortunately don't know who made or its name. If you do please let me know and I'll update this post.

Middle Right: There was no shortage of people wanting to ride in the Battlestar Galactica Viper flight simulator that would spin in all directions. It was designed and constructed by teenagers in the Young Maker program! Awesomely creative guys!

Bottom Left: The Stanford Solar Car Project is currently entered in the BOCA BEARINGS 2012 INNOVATION COMPETITION. If they win they'll use the $10,000 prize to build their next car. You can help them win by voting at THIS LINK. Use an email address or Facebook to place your vote. No registration is needed but email verification is required if you vote by email.

Bottom Right: The Rallier Roadster, sponsored by Autodesk and made at TechShop is a speedy looking, bright silver car featuring design elements from the rally and race cars of the 1930's.

I loved the long, curved, graceful neck of the Dragon Wagon 

The FLUXcycle Dragon Wagon is a pedal-powered fire sculpture built by the FLUX Foundation artists. After visiting their website I realized this Oakland based design team is the same one who created the Fishbug I loved in 2010 and the BollyFrock sculpture I'd seen earlier in the day.

A three wheeled canoe tricycle and home built submarine were the coolest watercraft I saw. The Undersea Voyager Project was founded by Scott Cassell who is also the project's CEO. He's an explorer-film maker with impressive credentials. The submarine was designed to study the ocean's currents, our impact on them, and to share what it learns with a global audience.

The South Lot had a clock titled Time to Change made out of 12 complete bicycles. Almost al of the parts were recycled or repurposed. If you're a bike lover how cool would it be to have a huge bike clock in your house or backyard?

There was also a 12 bike, Cyclecide, bicycle carousel for grownups and a smaller one nearby for kids.

Back at the Fiesta Hall, which is kept in perpetual darkness, I caught part of the ArcAttack singing tesla coils light and music show. I've featured it every year in my posts because it's a real show stopper. Their website describes the experience as:

"Two custom engineered hand built Tesla Coils throw out electrical arcs up to twelve feet long, each one acting as an instrument with a sound reminiscent of the early days of the synthesizer. A robotic drum set accompanies the spectacle, it's high power LED's flashing bright colors with the stroke of each mechanically actuated stick, while ArcAttack's six members churn out rhythmic instrumental melodies."

Another crowd favorite was the Ball and Chain Project by Eugene Korsunskiy. People couldn't not walk through it. It was impossible to get a picture of the installation void of humans. The design was simple, elegant and irresistible to people of all ages.

There were lit vehicles like The Serpent Twins, with heads forged of metal and bodies comprised of glowing plastic drums lit internally with LED lights.

The flapping, three dimensional butterfly and El-wire lit clothing by Todd Williams were also very popular. Todd is also the maker of the neon Land Sharks I featured in last year's post.

Have you ever wished you could have your own planetarium? Engineer Ken Miller says you can build one as a hobby! He has built them for both a school district and a children's museum.

Simran Gleason's Fractal Furniture

The day has been long and we were ready to head out. As we walked towards the exit gate I noticed one last thing that caught my eye. It was something i'd been thinking about: Making furniture out of copper pipe.

Why? Because I'd like to make raised garden planters with legs made of copper to keep snails and slugs from accessing the plants they would love to eat. Copper gives them an electric shock when they come into contact with it so it can be used as an effective, non-chemical or lethal barrier. You see, I love snails and slugs and refuse to kill them. For years, wherever I've lived I've found plants that were able to withstand their presence. But if I want to venture into vegetable gardening or growing herbs like basil this summer I'll have to find a way to keep the two apart. I'd been thinking of making simple pipe legs for my planters but the Fractal Furniture is an attractive aesthetic I hadn't thought of. Plus I'll need to learn how to solder.

When the copper becomes covered with dust it will need to be cleaned with vinegar, or I'm guessing lemon juice would work, to prevent the dust from becoming a protective layer that the snails and slugs can then cross.

I'd met up with my friends Loretta and Keith so at the end of the day we waited for the shuttle bus to come pick us up.

This year's Maker Faire ended less than a week ago and I'm already looking forward to 2013! If you've never gone you should go. One of the coolest things about attending Maker Faire is the unbridled creativity that is brought to life. The "can do" attitude is pervasive and for some attendees it's enough to make them want to make or build something of their own. So whether you're there to celebrate the innovation and creativity of others, or to become a maker yourself, if you're like me you'll walk away feeling fortunate to have had the opportunity to attend such a unique and uplifting event.

For the first time I was an official media attendee as The Flirty Blog! I received my own media badge and was able to use the press lounge. The lounge has comfy chairs and couches where we could rest up and take breaks (needed when spending a ten hour day documenting as much as I possibly could). There were also laptops running in case we wanted to go online to post things. I'd been able to use the lounge in previous years as a correspondent for Fired Up Productions but it was fun being there for my own blog this year :)