TIME People

A Retired 9/11 First Responder Just Won $5 Million in the New York Lottery

"Everything is beautiful now," Carmelo Mercado says

A retired firefighter with a serious lung ailment has won $5 million in the New York lottery.

Carmelo Mercado, 63, won the top prize in the Cash X100 scratch-off lottery ticket, according to CNN. “Everything is beautiful now,” he said.

Mercado retired from Battalion 49 in Queen’s, New York, after serving at ground zero after the September 11th attacks. A doctor advised him to give up firefighting in 2004 due to the serious damage that work had done to his lungs.

Since then, he’s dedicated his life to his four children and plays the New York lottery regularly.

Mercado wasn’t so lucky the first time he tried Cash X100. But when he noticed that the next ticket was number 25, the inverse of his birth year, he thought he’d give the scratch card game another shot, CNN reports.

“I went down three rows and I thought it said 5,000,” he said, describing the moment he began scratching the winning lottery card. “And then there was another comma and then I saw the other three [zeros]. I said, holy mackerel! That looks like $5 million!”

He says he plans to purchase a vacation home at Disney, CNN says. At the same time, Mercado told reporters “I’m just pacing myself. I’m still in shock.”


TIME Culture

Pixar’s John Lasseter: How Technology Has Affected the Evolution of Storytelling

John Lasseter at premiere of "Toy Story 3" held in Hollywood on June 13, 2010.
Frederick M. Brown—Getty Images John Lasseter at premiere of "Toy Story 3" held in Hollywood on June 13, 2010.

The Toy Story director gave this speech in 1996

It is such an exciting time to be a filmmaker.

I do not believe the notion that the cinema is dying or dead because it’s amazing what technology can do to the cinematic storytelling.

What’s great about film is it constantly reinvents itself. It started as a sheer novelty, those images moving on the screen.

Then it went and every step of the way a new technology started being added — sound, color.

What happens is the film grammar of storytelling evolves and changes as well. The technology goes directly with the evolution of the storytelling.

The way films look —it started with old 35mm motion picture cameras, to color with the three-strip Technicolor, to cameras that weighed hundreds of pounds and had to be on dollies and cranes — that was the film grammar of the day.

The limitations of the technology being used to shoot the films set up what we’ve learned as film grammar.

Then, we came to lighter cameras, to handheld cameras, steady cams, and on and on, all the way down to now.

There’s a unique thing to a GoPro.

There’s a unique thing to an iPhone — the way things are shot and the way it’s held. It just gives it a vibrancy you’ve never been able to have before.

I believe new film grammar is going to come from these things.

It evolves, it changes, and it’s in great part because of the technology.

In my own field, in animation, a seminal film in the history of animation isSnow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Walt Disney’s first feature-length film.

People thought Walt was insane.

“People aren’t going to sit still for a feature-length cartoon. Are you nuts?”

But Walt was a visionary.

Walt saw beyond what people were used to. They were used to the short cartoon.

It’s interesting how people cannot see beyond what they’re used to.

There’s a famous statement by Henry Ford that before the Model T if you asked people what they wanted, they would say, “A faster horse.”

My own partner at Pixar for 25 years, Steve Jobs, never liked market research. Never did market research for anything.

He said, “It’s not the audience’s job to tell us what they want in the future, it’s for us to tell them what they want in the future.”

If you use technology correctly, you can change opinions overnight.

There’s a great statement I love. It’s that you only get one chance to make a first impression.

First impressions are nearly impossible to get people off of if they have the wrong impression.

I remember when I first saw computer animation. It wasn’t being used for much at the time. It was really geometric, sterile and cold, but I was blown away by it. Not by what I was seeing, but the potential I saw in it.

It was true three dimensionality with a control that we had in hand-drawn animation. I saw the potential in computer animation and was like, “This is great. Everybody, can you see this?”

But everybody was saying, “It looks like… It’s too sterile. No, I don’t like it.”

I realized they were judging from exactly what they were seeing.

People always push back saying, “It’s too cold, too sterile.”

In the early days of computer graphics, it found its way into special effects.

There were some people who didn’t understand the medium and thought it could do everything. There was this company that tried when they were making a movie called Something Wicked This Way Comes.

They had worked on Tron, did some effects, and they had a very charismatic effects guy that convinced them they could create this magical circus that would erect itself — this evil circus comes to town.

Disney bought in on it and they worked for a very long time. I had a very dear friend working on it.

It was way beyond what the computer could do at that time. They ended up cutting the entire sequence out of the film.

That set back computer graphics in the effects world years, because everybody remembered that experience.

It was because people didn’t understand what the technology could do.

About six years after that I was working at Lucas Film’s computer division and Dennis Muren, the brilliant Dennis Muren, Effects Director at ILM, came over to me and said, “We have this effect in a film called Young Sherlock Holmes, and we don’t know how to do it. I’m thinking computer graphics.”

It was only six shots. We said, “Let’s try it.”

It was some of the hardest things we ever did, but I’ll never forget when it came out — the effects industry, people from all over the world, had no idea how it was done.

But it worked. It fit in there. It was nominated for an Oscar for best visual effects.

We were so excited. But it was focusing on understanding the technology and pushing it to places that we couldn’t.

The goal was to make the technology invisible.

When we became Pixar in 1986 and we started working towards our first feature film, I remembered all those projects. I was blessed by, number one, loving the medium of computer animation.

I was just so interested in it and working with the people who basically had invented much of computer animation and we were pushing it all along.

We really understood what the computer could and could not do.

At that time when we rendered things, everything kind of looked plastic-y.

So we started thinking about a subject matter that lent itself to the medium at that time.

“Everything looks like plastic, so what if the characters were made of plastic? What if they were…toys?”

That’s one of the reasons why we leaned into toys becoming alive as a subject for our very first feature film, Toy Story.

It was about the toys that lent themselves to the medium at that time. We chose toys that worked for that.

In fact, it was better in CG than any other medium we could have done because we could make Buzz Lightyear feel like he was made of plastic and ball-and-socket joints and we had screws and scratches and decals and all this stuff you could not have done in any other medium.

When it came out, our main focus was not the technology.

What I was scared about was that people would be like, “Oh, it’s the first computer-animated feature film.”

We made sure Disney, and all around the world, didn’t sell it as “The First CG film.”

You sell it as a great motion picture, because that’s how we made it.

We focused on the story and hiding the technology.

It came out and people loved it. You watch it today and it’s just as entertaining as the day it came out.

Like I said, you’ve only got one chance to make a first impression.

Unlike Something Wicked This Way Comes, Toy Story was the number one film of the year it came out.

It was a huge hit and everybody started looking at this as a viable filmmaking medium.

Overnight, the opinion changed. Because the technology was used in the right way, telling the right story.

Alfred Hitchcock is one of my favorite filmmakers and one of the reasons why I’ve studied and admired his films is that guy used new technology in incredible ways, but it was completely invisible in everything he made.

You study his films and realize there’s no way he could have made that film, that shot, without that technology.

But he didn’t want you to notice it.

We focus on entertaining people in new ways, and if you focus on the technology too much you get caught up.

It’s not the technology that entertains people, it’s what you do with the technology.

It’s important, I believe, to make the technology invisible, but have it push to do something new.

That’s when you make real breakthroughs.

If you love a technology, if you really, really, really, really love a technology, then dig into it.

Learn as much as you can. It’s fun. That’s what I did with CG.

I was trained by these great Disney artists. I drew. It was all about story, character drawing, all that stuff, but when I got into computer graphics I was like, “Oh, my god, this is so much fun.”

I wanted to learn as much as I could.

The more you dig into the technology and the more you learn it, you are going to get ideas you would never have thought of without knowing your technology.

The kind of shots you can get from an iPhone that you cannot get with any other camera. Use it.

GoPros: use it. Be inspired by it.

Try things. It’s digital. Get another memory card, for God’s sake.

You will start creating ideas that lend themselves to these things and start looking new.

When you start doing something that’s truly new you will hear, “It’s not going to work.”

Walt Disney heard it. I heard it with CG.

“ Computer animation is so cold.”

Really? No, I don’t think so.

You think about it, it’s true for color, sound, feature length animation, CG.

The first feature film shot on an iPhone? “That’s not going to work.”

Yeah, it’s going to work. It’s going to be awesome.

The first feature shot with a GoPro? It’s going to be awesome in the hands of the right people.

The reason why they say this is because it’s not what people are used to.

Before the Model T, you ask people what they want and they’re going to want a faster horse. It’s not what they’re used to.

When I started working with CG, I could not wait for the tools to become commonplace.

In the early days, when SIGGRAPH was the only place you could go and see computer graphics, it was always fun. Everybody would cheer for reflective clear balls floating over a checkerboard and be amazed by it.

It was in a world where all of the art and the CG was being created by the guys who were writing the program.

There was no such thing as off-the-shelf software. There were no tools available.

They were writing their software and then creating it, and they were kind of the artistic guys within the computer world.

They were just showing off the technology. I kept thinking to myself, “Yeah, but they’re really ugly. This is like boring. Let’s entertain people.”

I couldn’t wait because I always viewed the technology as simply a tool.

Can you imagine the guy who invented the pencil and all of the things that that invention has brought the world?

That’s what I was feeling like with CG.

I couldn’t wait to get it in the hands of everybody to see what they would do.

The mediums we use are simply tools for expressing your art.

Your goal as a filmmaker is to entertain. And to entertain people is about story.

It’s about characters.

It’s about connecting with that audience.

It’s making that connection where you really deeply entertain an audience.

But it’s not just an art form that we’re in. It’s a business. Entertaining stuff simply just does better.

If you can make people laugh, cry and feel things with a film you make, you will be successful.

No matter what medium, any way you’ve distributed it — it all comes down to your knowledge skills.

What makes a good story? How can I tell it properly?

People get so excited about new technologies. I’ve had the question so many times from young people, “What software should I use?”

You know what? In your lifetime the software and the technology will change so drastically, it doesn’t matter.

What matters is when you’re young, you get excited about learning the fundamentals.

It sounds so boring to young people when they can make a movie so quickly and release it to the world and get millions of Likes.

“It’s so boring. I know how to do that.”

Trust me, you don’t.

The fundamentals of good storytelling, the fundamentals of film grammar, even though it was made with old Mitchell cameras and stuff like that, learn it.

Learn the fundamentals of animation. Learn the fundamentals of physics and things like that, of basic color, basic design.

This is the foundation of the building of your career.

Then, as you get into new technology, you’ll know exactly what to do.

And your work will not be about the technology. It will be about connecting and entertaining people.

No matter the length of your film — 30 seconds, five minutes, 22 minutes, feature length — it needs a story. It needs a beginning, a middle and an end.

It needs to deeply connect with people.

There are big differences between storytelling at 30 seconds or a feature film. Big differences.

We did a series of short films in the beginning of Pixar and we did television commercials.

We were thinking the next step for us was to do a Christmas special, but Disney threw us in the deep end, and we developed a feature film.

It was amazing what we didn’t know.

But I went back to my traditional training I had learned from my mentors — Frank Thomas, Ollie Johnston, and the great Disney animators that were still working at the studio when I started there — and the fundamentals of animation they kept talking about.

Ollie Johnston would turn to me and I was expecting something about arcs and lines and silhouette value and all that stuff.

He would turn and say, “John, what’s the character thinking?”

It was amazing to me, just that simple statement. It was not about the drawing.

It was never about the drawing to them. It was about that character and what it’s thinking.

Through pure movement they taught me to bring a character to life and give it an emotion, a personality, a uniqueness, and it was done through just pure motion.

So when I started working with a computer, I just brought that technology with me. As we started developing the story, it was always about emotion. It was always about emotion from day one with Toy Story.

It was about emotion, making you feel.

I’ve admired Walt Disney so much my whole life and part of it is because he entertained people like no other person in history has ever done. The way he makes you feel when you watch his movies, the way he makes you feel when go through that tunnel under the train station at Disneyland and you’re transported.

It’s about emotion and that connection.

Walt always said, “For every laugh, there should be a tear.”

It felt like that core emotion. That became the hallmark of what we tried to do at Pixar — to do it with the new technology.

I think the biggest thing for us is we studied films. We watched films religiously.

With Toy Story, it was a buddy picture. We watched every buddy picture we could find and analyzed it. Good ones, and it’s very important to watch bad ones too.

You start understanding what they did. Don’t copy things. It’s about understanding and learning.

Very, very, very important: Do not work in a vacuum.

You have to surround yourself with trusted people. You get so immersed in your work, you will not be able to see the forest from the trees. Frankly, you’ll be studying the pine needles and worrying about them.

You need someone to help you back up and take a look at the forest and see where things are working or not working.

And you need to surround yourself with people whose judgment you trust and they can be brutally honest with you.

As an artist, showing unfinished work to people is really difficult. It’s really hard. It always is hard. It always will be hard. It never gets any easier, but you have to do it.

Andrew Stanton, my creative partner at Pixar, has this fantastic phrase that I use all the time, “Be wrong as fast as you can.”

Trust me, when you go from an outline to a treatment, your first treatment sucks and you do revisions and talk to people and you get something working really great.

Go to your first draft of the script, it sucks. You do it a whole bunch of times.

For us, we go to story reels, the first story reel sucks. But the longer you say, “I’m not ready yet, give me a little more time, give me a little more time,” and like that, it’s not going to help the problem.

You’re just going to be polishing. You’re not going to see where it’s not working.

Get it up there. Throw it up there as fast as you can, talk about it, tear it back down, put it back up there. Keep doing this.

Surround yourself with people you trust.

Be thirsty for knowledge.

It will always make your work better. The market is changing really, really quickly.

Who knows what the business will look like ten years from now?

I know one thing for sure.

If you create characters people connect with and tell stories that deeply entertain and move them, the audience will come.

This article was originally published by The Academy on Medium

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Civil Rights

Montana Polygamist Seeks ‘Legitimacy’ After Supreme Court Ruling

"Ours is a happy, functional, loving family," Nathan Collier tells TIME

On Tuesday, Nathan Collier went to the Yellowstone County Courthouse in his hometown of Billings, Montana, to register to get married to his partner Christine. The problem? Collier has been married to wife Victoria since 2000. And under Montana law, bigamy is outlawed except for faith reasons; Collier is not marrying Christine and Victoria due to his religious beliefs, making his marriage license illegal under bigamy laws.

“Everyday, we have to break the law to exist as a family,” Collier said in an interview with TIME. “We’re tired of it.”

The Montana trio argue that under Friday’s landmark Supreme Court decision recognizing same-sex marriage across the country as legal, their polygamous relationship should be legally recognized and guaranteed the same rights as heterosexual and homosexual marriages. “If you read the justice’s statement, it applies to polygamists,” Collier said.

He’s referring to the dissent by Chief Justice John Roberts, who argued that the reasoning for giving same-sex couples the right to marry “would apply with equal force to the claim of a fundamental right to plural marriage.”

Spurred by Roberts’ words, the three decided to go to the courthouse Tuesday armed with the Supreme Court ruling. County clerks initially denied to give a marriage license upon learning that Collier’s marriage with Victoria had not been dissolved. But the clerk returned afterwards, saying that they would refer to the county attorney’s office before making a decision. The county’s chief civil litigator is looking to have a formal response by early next week:

Collier and his two “wives” have a long and complicated history since meeting in 1999. In 2000, Collier legally married Victoria; he and Christine had a “religious ceremony” that year as well. After breaking up, Christine legally married another man; that marriage ended in divorce in 2006. In 2007, Collier and Christine again had a religious ceremony, and Christine joined Victoria and Collier in their home. Together, the family has five children.

The way Collier, Victoria, and Christine were treated at the courthouse made the family feel “violated,” Collier said. “We feel entitled for a legal legitimacy and for [the Yellowstone County Courthouse] to deny this is a violation of our civil rights … We feel the marriage equality law applies to us.”

Collier says that all his family seeks to do is be legally recognized and not live in fear anymore. If that means that he can bring polygamous relationships to the national conversation, Collier says he’d be willing to be arrested or sue the state if his license gets denied. “Ours is a happy, functional, loving family,” he said. “I’m not trying to redefine marriage. I’m not forcing anyone to believe in polygamy. We’re only defining marriage for us. We just want legitimacy.”

TIME Culture

How I Rebelled Against the Marriage Tradition That Treats Wives Like Cattle

Getty Images

Aaron Grunfeld is a freelance journalist and stay-at-home dad in New York City. He writes about Shakespeare on his blog, The Fifth Wall.

Taking my wife’s name was a tiny gesture, my way of taking a social position on a cultural institution

When I got married, I decided to take my wife’s last name. This choice didn’t seem like such a big deal, and it still doesn’t. It’s a free country, getting freer all the time—at least when it comes to marriage. But according to a recent analysis, more people who get married are keeping their last names. The catch is, half of those people are grooms.

A New York Times Upshot survey shows that although more women are keeping their names, a lot more women still change their names than don’t. When they get engaged, many women wonder, “Should I keep my name? Hyphenate it? Bump it to the middle like Hillary Clinton did? And whose name will the kid have?” Most men probably don’t even consider these options unless they’re asked, usually by their fiancées.

If women have become more emancipated in their thinking about maiden names, it seems men have not. The Times didn’t even bother to mention men. It seems that this macho tradition is something that even feminist guys have trouble letting go of.

My name-change turned out to be one of the most fraught conversations in our wedding planning, up there with the size of the guest list. Not the talk or two with my wife, who casually accepted my proposal to take her name. But her father, a European Jew, was baffled, while my mother, a Midwestern liberal, was troubled. I tried to make it clear to her and my dad that my choice didn’t reflect on my love for them.

If you’ve ever planned a wedding, you already know that tradition is a lot more emotional than rational. I admit that I had cold feet about getting married. It wasn’t about my fiancée, who was (and is!) a great partner; it was the cultural baggage of the institution. In the past, a woman taking her husband’s last name marked her as property, and the exchange of her father’s name for her husband’s was part of a business transaction. Maybe her father threw in some cattle, too. But the concept of marital contracts has waned since then, prenups aside, so that the question of a woman’s surname feels vestigial.

Taking my wife’s name was a tiny gesture, personal yet public, my way of taking a social position on a cultural institution. I like to joke that changing my name is a feminist statement—Smash the Patriarchy!—and sure, that’s part of it. My wife and I have upended a few gender roles: She’s a full-time lawyer, I’m the stay-at-home dad who does the housework, shuttles our kid to her extracurriculars, and writes while she’s at school.

At the time, taking my wife’s name was a small, prank-like act of subversion. So I got a kick when I heard a few weeks ago that the husband of actor Zoe Saldana had taken her name. She said that she had tried to talk him out of it because she was worried that it would mean he was emasculating himself. I think that’s more revealing than his righteous rejoinder, “Ah, Zoe, I don’t give a s–t.”

I’m glad to hear that more women are retaining their given name. If we can learn anything from the Supreme Court decision to legalize same-sex marriage, it’s that marriage is not some monolith of tradition. As our culture evolves, our customs must keep up, or what are they good for?

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME advice

How to Make Your Own Sparklers

A fun DIY project for your family

There are many motivations to DIY. Sometimes, as with stock made from scraps, it’s an economical choice. Sometimes, like with yogurt, we might prefer the end product to something store-bought. Sometimes, like with soapmaking and sewing projects, making something by hand lets us exercise our creative impulses and customize our belongings. And sometimes, DIYing isn’t cheaper or easier or faster or higher-quality, but we still try it—just to see if we can.

That’s why, for this Independence Day, I made my own sparklers. Yes, there are some scary-sounding chemicals involved; yes, it’s more expensive than buying a pack at your neighborhood fireworks stand (unless you live in NYC, where even those are hard to come by). But it turned out to be fun and empowering to make something that I’d never imagined I could do myself, and I learned a few things about chemistry along the way.

Note: Before you get started, do check your state and local regulations to be sure that sparklers are legal to use where you live! All good? Let’s do this.

Rocky Luten/Food52

What You’ll Need to Make 25 Sparklers:

25 12-inch bamboo skewers
Corrugated cardboard box (such as the one your ingredients were shipped in)

200 grams strontium nitrate* (an oxidizer, necessary for the fuel to combust)
120 grams steel powder* (a metallic fuel that contains iron, which, in this case, makes the sparks)
32 grams aluminum*, bright flake, -325 mesh (another metallic fuel responsible for making the sparks)
2 grams airfloat charcoal* (additional fuel for modifying the burning speed of the sparkler)
6 grams boric acid* (suppresses a possible reaction between the aluminum powder and water)
40 grams dextrin* (a combustible binder used to hold everything else together)
25 mL denatured alcohol, a.k.a. ethanol (available at hardware stores as a fuel)

Wire cutters
Glass liquid measuring cup
Mesh sieve
2 medium glass bowls (the ones in your kitchen will work and can be safely washed clean afterwards)
Small glass bowl or additional measuring cup
Long spoon or spatula
Tall, narrow, preferably disposable container to hold your chemical mix, such as a tall water bottle, a canister of oats, or a Pringles can
Scale that can measure in grams
Rubber gloves
Safety goggles

*These chemicals are usually only sold by the pound, so the most cost-effective way to DIY sparklers is to double, triple, or even quadruple this recipe. Consider ordering a kit like this one containing most of the chemicals from a fireworks supplier, which provides enough to make two batches of this recipe with large leftover amounts of a few of them. By supplementing with extra orders of strontium nitrate, steel, and aluminum, you’ll have plenty of supplies to make another few batches.

How to DIY Sparklers:

1. Make a sparkler drying rack and trim the skewers. Use a skewer to poke 25 holes all the way through the bottom of a corrugated cardboard box, spacing them at least an inch apart, and trim the pointed ends off the skewers using wire cutters.

Rocky Luten/Food52
Rocky Luten/Food52

Set up the box in a location where it will be undisturbed for a few days, spreading out a layer of craft or newspaper underneath to catch any drips. Position it on its side so that the sparklers will stick out horizontally when you put them in the holes to dry (this will prevent them from dripping down onto their own handles), and secure it with a counterweight inside so that the weight of the sparklers won’t cause it to tip forward.

Note: Protect yourself during the next steps by putting on rubber gloves. Some of the powders you’ll use are very fine and can float up into the air, so you may want to wear safety goggles as well to protect your eyes from stray particles.

2. Prepare your wet ingredients. For the liquid medium holding all the powdered chemicals together, measure 25 mL of ethanol and 75 mL of water into a measuring cup and set aside to use in the next step. (If you’re planning to make a second batch, go ahead and double this batch while you’re at it.)

3. Mix the dry ingredients. One by one, use the scale and small bowl to weigh out the strontium nitrate, steel powder, aluminum, charcoal, and boric acid, and add them to the medium bowl. If any of the chemical powders are clumpy (stronium nitrate, especially), remove clumps using your gloved hand to press them through a sieve as you transfer to the medium bowl.

Rocky Luten/Food52

Stir everything together, then pour the mixture through the sieve into the second bowl. This step ensures a thorough mixing and lets you remove any missed clumps or large particles. I found it best to push the mixture gently through the sieve with my gloved hand rather than shaking the sieve, to prevent fine particles from flying into the air.

Rocky Luten/Food52
Rocky Luten/Food52

4. Make a dextrin slurry. That’s right—weigh out the dextrin into the small bowl and add about 25 mL of the ethanol/water solution you made in the last step and stir thoroughly to form a mustard-colored paste. Break up any large clumps in the paste using your spoon or spatula.

Rocky Luten/Food52
Rocky Luten/Food52

Stir this paste into the bowl of dry chemicals, then dribble in approximately 65 mL more of the ethanol/water solution. The exact amount may vary (and it’s okay if it does), so just add a small of ethanol solution a time until the mixture reaches a thick, smooth, molasses-like texture. Stir to combine, squishing out as many lumps as you can with your spoon or spatula, and watch as your powdered chemicals transform into a shimmery silver solution that makes all this weighing and mixing worth it.

Rocky Luten/Food52
Rocky Luten/Food52
Rocky Luten/Food52

5. Dip. Pour the mixture into a tall, narrow, preferably disposable container like a Pringles can for the next step.

Dip and roll the bottom 7 to 8 inches of each skewer in the sparkler mixture, leaving the other 4 to 5 inches bare for a handle, tilting the container of mixture to make it easier. Let as much mixture as possible drip off the skewer back into the container by holding the skewer upside down for a few moments and shaking it gently inside the container—the more thorough you are with this step, the smoother your sparklers will be.

6. Dry. Insert each sparkler into a hole in the drying rack, cover the container of mixture to save it, and let the sparklers dry out for 24 hours.

Rocky Luten/Food52
Rocky Luten/Food52

7. Repeat twice. To finish the sparklers, you’ll need to come back for two more dips (for a total of 3), allowing 24 hours of drying time between each. You’ll likely find that the mixture in the container has thickened a bit overnight, so thin it with a few mL of the ethanol solution if necessary and stir well. Follow the same dipping/drying procedure as before. You’re still aiming for as smooth a coating as possible, but some lumps and bumps are inevitable and won’t be a problem for the finished sparkler.

After a total of three dips and a final dry time of 48 hours, the sparklers are ready to use.

Clean your bowls, sieve, measuring cup(s), and stirrer with soap and water immediately after using them. These items should be easy to clean as long as you don’t allow any sparkler mixture to dry on them—but toss them in the dishwasher after if you want to be extra safe. Be sure to wipe out any metal remains from the bottom of the sink, where they can rust if left in standing water. If any of the solution gets on your skin, don’t fret but do clean it off immediately!

When you’re done dipping, carefully discard the dipping container since it’s been in contact with the chemicals for some time (and if the spatula you used is at all porous, discard that, too). To be safe when discarding your container, newspaper, and anything else with dried sparkler material on it, soak these items in water until they are thoroughly saturated and seal them in plastic bags before throwing them away. Use this same treatment if you need to dispose of any unburnt sparklers. In addition, check your local regulations for any rules applying to disposing of this type of waste.

Rocky Luten/Food52

Using the sparklers
These sparklers can be tricky to light, so it’s best to use a lighter with a long handle (to keep your hand safe) or a candle, rather than a short lighter or match. It’s also easy to light the sparklers off one another after the first one is lit. Unless your dipping technique is perfect, these will also burn a bit less evenly than store-bought sparklers—but that’s part of the charm! If they’re difficult to keep lit, try holding them pointing downward (with the handle above the burning part) for a moment.

Rocky Luten/Food52

Unlike commercial sparklers with wire cores, the bamboo cores of these sparklers will partially burn away as the sparkler sparkles. Because the sparkler material burns faster than the wood, they won’t completely disintegrate but they could drop hot ash, so wear shoes and use extra caution.

As with any fireworks, follow basic safety precautions: Only use them outdoors and have water or a fire extinguisher on hand. Once you’ve burned them, douse the sticks in water before discarding. If you’re storing unused sparklers for later, keep them in a humid place away from heat and flame, and check for rust before using them if they’ve been stored for a while.

Enjoy your homemade sparklers during your summer celebrations (they’re also excellent as gifts and favors). Not only are you making your chemistry teacher proud (and your parents a little scared)—you’re also celebrating your own sense of adventure! You’ve got this.

This article originally appeared on Food52

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TIME viral

Someone Photoshopped Nicolas Cage As 30 Game of Thrones Characters

Welcome to Cage of Thrones

Game of Thrones has been over for a few weeks now, but fans with a lot of free time on their hands have kept themselves entertained by getting creative — like when one superfan re-cut scenes to make the despicable Ramsay Bolton look like a really nice guy.

This week, a Reddit user by the name of CarlosDanger100 gave you something else you didn’t think you wanted to see: He doctored Nicolas Cage’s face onto 30 different characters from the HBO hit. Some designs (like Cage as Cersei) aren’t as convincing, but others (like Cage as Stannis) work so well you may not be able to un-see it.

See the pictures below.

TIME Culture

Why I Took My Wife’s Last Name

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Jacob Desjarlais is a director of talent marketing and lives in Los Angeles.

It was much cooler than Smith

The idea to take my wife’s last name when we got married started as a joke at first. We were sitting around sipping wine and talking about last names a few weeks after our engagement, six months after we began dating. My wife Devin’s last name—Desjarlais—is pretty amazing. It rhymes with Chevrolet and is French and full of tradition. My last name was Smith … rhymes with, I don’t know, fifth?

Devin never pushed the idea, but it was important to me. Once I considered it, not taking her name was never a realistic option.

The more I thought about it, the more I realized that names are something you can decide to keep or take for yourself. People choose nicknames—like Bob or Becky instead of Robert or Rebecca—or new last names because that is something they want to aspire to be. It’s a promise they make to themselves.

Making your own choice about who you are and what you wish to become is the first step in the journey to becoming that person. A recent report shows that more women are keeping their maiden names. But the idea that they’re doing this to rebel against tradition isn’t really the point. Changing—or keeping—your name is a personal identity issue. You should only take someone’s last name if it’s important to you.

I have a small family, just my mother and sister and myself. I always felt a bit of a disconnect with my past and family history. Maybe the name Smith is the beige of last names—there’s no instant cultural team that you can identify with. Devin’s family is vast in comparison: There are cousins in multiple cities, aunts and uncles spread all around the country, and there’s also a strong family history.

The first time I met Devin’s family, they instantly accepted me as a member and took me in with open arms the same way that their eldest daughter did when we first met years before. How do you repay that sort of kindness? To the shock of her family, we announced that the Desjarlais family name would continue (she is one of two daughters and no sons), and I would be changing my name, instead of Devin becoming just another Smith in the world.

One wedding, dozens of trips to featureless government buildings, and a few arguments at the DMV later, and I was a Desjarlais. It has now been 18 months since the wedding and official name change, and I have to say I am proud.

I sometimes face a stigma about this decision: A DMV clerk told me with a laugh he would never take his wife’s name. But I’ve also gotten positive responses: A night clerk at a hotel in Paris told me that he wished it was more common because men are “silly about these things.” It was never an issue with my own family.

As a Smith, I never felt a solid connection to my name. But now, people ask where my last name is from, and I delight in telling them that it wasn’t always my name, and yes, I know it’s difficult to spell and pronounce. Most women smile and say they think it’s amazing; most men either say it’s weird that I did that, or just, “cool.” I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about it either way because now it’s who I am and who I chose to be.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME psychology

How to Deal With Bias, According to David Foster Wallace

David Foster Wallace
Steve Liss—The LIFE Images Collection/Getty David Foster Wallace

Shane Parrish writes Farnam Street

"To really try to be informed and literate today is to feel stupid nearly all the time"

David Foster Wallace, who has brought us gems such as This is Water and insights into ambition and perfectionism, was the guest editor of the 2007 edition of Best American Essays.

His introduction explores why pre-formed positions are so appealing and how the role of having people decide for us has no clear alternative.

Commenting on how essays and other pre-packaged models of thinking help us deal with information and stimuli overload, Wallace writes:

Part of our emergency is that it’s so tempting to do this sort of thing now, to retreat to narrow arrogance, pre-formed positions, rigid filters, the “moral clarity” of the immature.

The alternative is dealing with massive, high-entropy amounts of info and ambiguity and conflict and flux; it’s continually discovering new areas of personal ignorance and delusion. In sum, to really try to be informed and literate today is to feel stupid nearly all the time and to need help.

That’s about as clearly as I can put it … That last one’s of especial value, I think. As exquisite verbal art, yes, but also as a model for what free, informed adulthood might look like in the context of Total Noise: not just the intelligence to discern one’s own error or stupidity, but the humility to address it, absorb it, and move on and out therefrom, bravely, toward the next revealed error.

This is probably the sincerest, most biased account of “best” your decider can give: these pieces are models — not templates, but models — of ways I wish I could think and live in what seems to me this world.

And commenting on the role of Google and curators alike as deciders for us Wallace writes:

I suspect that part of why ‘bias’ is so loaded and dicey a word just now — and why it’s so much-invoked and potent in cultural disputes — is that we are starting to become more aware of just how much subcontracting and outsourcing and submitting to other Deciders we’re all now forced to do, which is threatening (the inchoate awareness is) to our sense of ourselves as intelligent free agents. And yet there is no clear alternative to this outsourcing and submission. It may possibly be that acuity and taste in choosing which Deciders one submits to is now the real measure of informed adulthood. Since I was raised with more traditional, Enlightenment-era criteria, this possibility strikes me as consumerist and scary … to which the counterargument would be, again, that the alternatives are literally abysmal.

Still Curious? Check out the best book on the art of writing.

This piece originally appeared on Farnam Street.

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TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Culture

Monica Lewinsky Slams a Society Where ‘Shame Is a Commodity’

Cannes Lions : Day Five
Marc Piasecki—Getty Images Monica Lewinsky attends the 'Cannes Lions Festival' on June 25, 2015 in Cannes, France.

Urges brands to help build a more "compassionate society"

Monica Lewinsky made a powerful speech at Cannes Lions festival conference Thursday about how public shaming, media and advertising are connected.

“The more we click on this kind of gossip, the more numb we get to the human life behind it,” she said, according to AdAge. “And the more numb we get, the more we click. All the while, someone is making money off of the back of another suffering.”

Lewinsky has re-emerged as a public figure two decades after she was thrust into the center of a media maelstrom over her affair with then-President Bill Clinton. In the last year, she’s come out as a vocal advocate of online compassion—she even gave a speech at TED2015 where she called herself “patient zero”of internet shaming.

“Violation of others is raw material, efficiently and ruthlessly mined, packaged and sold at a profit,” she said Thursday at Cannes. “Whether tallied in dollars, clicks, likes, or just the perverse thrill of exposure, a marketplace has emerged where shame is a commodity, and public humiliation an industry.”

But Lewinsky was quick to add that her focus on shaming wasn’t an indictment of advertising—it was a call to action.

“Building a more compassionate society is going to be a bilateral exercise between individuals and the brands that represent their aspirations, their values and their truths. People make brands. If people are compassionate, brands will be compassionate in return.”


TIME faith

Noah’s Ark Theme Park Gets a Helping Hand From the Amish

noahs ark encounter park kentucky
Ark Encounter

Construction underway despite funding issues

An embattled ministry building a replica of Noah’s Ark in Kentucky is getting a boost, thanks to the Amish.

According to the Cincinnati Enquirer, Amish communities in Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio and Pennsylvania are helping Answers in Genesis—a non-profit Christian ministry that advocates creationism—build Ark Encounter, the multi-million dollar theme park that the ministry says will include a full-size replica of the Biblical ark.

The project, first proposed in 2010, experienced a setback late last year when Kentucky officials denied $18 million in tax incentives to the group. The state’s tourism board said the project had “evolved from a tourism attraction to an extension of AiG’s ministry” and that state incentives would violate the separation between church and state.

State officials cited the group’s hiring requirements, which mandated that future employees give a “salvation statement” and believe that God created the world. AiG sued the state, accusing it of discriminating against the group based on its religious views.

Still, construction is reportedly underway on the 510-foot-long ark even without the tax incentives with the help of a number of Amish workers, who are working on the ark’s wooden structure. AiG says any state incentives will go to future expansions of the park. It plans to open Ark Encounter in the summer of 2016.

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