Aug 13

Bananas, me, and strange story of the Cavendish variety, on the BBC

They actually go to the Chatsworth Estate, where the Cavendish variety – the banana variety we eat – was developed.  Listen here




Feb 13

Photo Forensics and a Family Mystery – Solved.


This photo has been in my family for years. It depicts my grandfather, Morris Koeppel (left, in glasses), in front of the clothing store he owned in the 1930s. The picture has been around for years, but I’ve never known where the store actually was. I had always thought it was in Manhattan, but the rough consensus was that it was probably in Queens, and most likely in Kew Gardens Hills, near where my grandparents lived.

The argument against that was that the store address – we could see the number “1460″ in the image – didn’t follow the somewhat odd Queens borough numbering system, which break addresses into two-part designations indicating the nearest numerical cross street.

The only real clue I had – and it didn’t pan out – were the reflections in the mirror of the store. They were faint, but I could see that a shoe store was located across the street. And that was that. A dead end. A couple of days ago, I emailed the picture to Joe DeMay, who runs the now-archived “Old Kew Gardens” website. Within a few hours, Joe replied, and the mystery was solved.

He wrote: “I love mysteries. For this one I engaged the help of a Richmond Hill historian, Carl Ballenas, who is expert at tracking down such details. We independently came to the same conclusion…The store shown in the photograph is not in Kew Gardens, or even in Queens. It was at 1460 Broadway in Brooklyn. The world Triangle in the store’s name is appropriate because the streets there form a series of triangles along Broadway. The clues are to be found in the reflections in the store’s windows which are more easily seen if you flip the picture to see a mirror image and view at full size. Across the street was a Bohack and also a Sparber Shoe Shop shown at 1461. I found that there was a Bohack at the time at 1457 Broadway. Carl found an old Sparber ad for 1461 Broadway. That building at 1461 today matches what can barely be seen in the window reflections of your photograph including the pilaster columns and the second floor wall cutting catty corner across the first floor roof. Across the street, where your grandfather’s store was, now has no buildings.”

I have attached and enhanced some of the images Joe and Carl sent (Joe graciously says that Carl deserves “most of the credit” for the discovery; I’m grateful to both of them!)

The Google Maps image of the lot where the store once stood answers another question: why was it called “Triangle Clothing Company.” The shape of the existing lot gives that away: the store is named after the shape.

What’s most interesting about all this is how neighborhoods change. From the advertising circulars – as well as the look on my grandfather’s face – this was a thriving commercial area once. It appears less so, now, but the community garden that now sits at the location of my grandfather’s store shows that there’s still something vibrant there.

Now, the final mystery: who is the other person in the picture?


Jul 12

It took over ten years to get this story published…


That’s me and my friend Morgan Beeby; we ran the Nullarbor Plain in an attempt to prove that it could be done – and, in my case, to exorcise some old demons…

I’ve been obsessed with Robert Garside – who ran around the world, only to find that nobody believed him – for over a decade. I wrote the first version of this story in 2005, but it never got published, mostly because the story drove me a little bit insane. Proving that Robert Garside ran around the world became, sometimes, the most important aspect of my existence, something that created tension in my relationships, career, and especially my own sense of self. That’s because I was one of the people who didn’t believe Garside at first, and because my disbelief – publicly expressed – did great harm to what is, in my view, the greatest running achievement in history.

As part of my ongoing attempts to redeem myself and Garside, in 2010, with my friend Morgan Beeby, I ran a portion of Australia’s Nullarbor plain. The run is the framing device used in the published version of the story, which finally appeared in the August, 2012, issue of Runner’s World. The piece isn’t online yet, but you can find it on the newsstand via the magazine’s tablet editions. I’ve posted a link to a PDF of the piece below; please don’t redistribute it.

I’ll tell a little more of the story behind the story in a bit – I’m waiting for the RW version to appear at the magazine’s website – but I wanted to get the main story posted.

Download the story here.

Jul 12


After some weird and entirely avoidable database migration issues, I’m slowly rebuilding the site. Links and pictures are mostly broken; content and text are in fairly good shape. Hopefully all will be well soon.

Mar 12

LA DWP and sock-puppet vendor fall in love over winter wind crisis response…

LADWP proudly tweets a link to a story (below) that claims that it handled crisis communication perfectly during the windstorm last January. It even takes a dig at So Cal Edison for not doing the same.

So, as a DWP customer, let’s set the record straight:

- DWP’s Twitter updates and communications were a joke. In Northeast LA, we watched in darkness for three days as the number of homes without power in the agency’s update increased. There was almost zero presence in our neighborhood. Our normally not-so-effective city councilman actually had to call the agency and yell at them to get them out here.

- OK, so the agency was busy and doing the best it could. But why the dig at Edison? As far as I saw, DWP didn’t distribute fresh water; Edison did. DWP didn’t offer shelters and blankets; Edison did. I heard Edison people at least three times on local radio, once giving very concise explanations as to why these repairs took so long, explaining how the electrical grid works. DWP? Maybe it happened, but on that weekend, with little else to do but look at my phone for windstorm related news, I didn’t see it.

- And hey, best of all…the supposedly objective article saying how great LA DWP was, and how sucky Edison was…the author is a software vendor who happens to be the supplier of DWP’s emergency response system!

This is classic DWP. The agency really needs to review what went wrong in the wind response, as well as what went right; instead, it log-rolls with a vendor, pats itself on the back, and pretends that it was brilliant in the crisis.

Here’s the original tweet:

Here’s the article (read it.)


The authors bio…

And his client page

Isn’t transparency the key to effective public relations? Both LA DWP and the author aren’t being totally up front here….



Sep 11

Fresh Air Listeners, Welcome

This is Dan Koeppel’s blog. For my latest writing about bananas, please check out my recent story in The Scientist. If you’re looking for a copy of my book, and Amazon is sold out, I sell signed copies direct at retail cost (plus shipping.) Chinese, Thai, and Korean editions also available. Japan is coming soon.

I’m on Twitter here; Facebook here.