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It's a Small World After All

The Mini Issue


Published June 18, 2008 at 5:06 a.m.


Remember in the late 1990s, when big was all the rage? SUV sales were skyrocketing. McDonald's urged us to supersize. Everybody seemed to be living large.

Things have certainly changed.

Now that gas is topping $4 a gallon, it looks like the Hummer is headed for extinction. Widespread obesity, and rising food prices, have popularized portion control. And in the midst of the subprime-mortgage crisis and the accompanying credit crunch, downsizing is the latest trend.

So it's time to start thinking smaller. But shrinking our stuff doesn't have to mean lowering our expectations, or eliminating our pleasures. With this week's Mini Issue, Seven Days celebrates the beauty and complexity of the little things in our lives.

What's to like about small stuff? For starters, little things are freaking cute - and we're not just talking about babies and puppies. Miniature horses are also adorable, as Mike DiBiasio discovers when he visits a breeder in the Northeast Kingdom. Then there's mini food. If you think sushi is a design triumph, check out Meghan Dewald's mini-BLTs - cunning little lunch classics with just a fraction of the fat.

Making small stuff often demands maximum skill and craftsmanship - it's gotta look as good under the magnifying glass as it does to our untutored eyes. Alison Novak interviews a pair of local engravers who specialize in teensy inscriptions. Pamela Polston profiles two fine artists who make peewee paintings. And Meghan Dewald investigates the University of Vermont's unique miniature book collection.

Shrinking our carbon footprints is good for the planet, too. Mike Ives rides along with a Burlington woman who's trying to reduce her environmental impact by driving a "smart" car. You can fit two of 'em in one standard parking space.

In the realm of technology, really small stuff is cutting-edge - witness the ubiquitous iPod Nano. But you can make movies with elfin equipment, not just watch them - here, Online Editor Cathy Resmer offers a video review of the new Flip Mino video camera. It records an hour of high-quality video, plugs directly into your computer and lets you upload clips directly to YouTube. It's roughly the size of a cellphone.

Staffer Ken Picard goes even smaller - he interviews a University of Vermont physics prof who studies particles that are measured in nanometers. That's a billionth of a meter - the unit we use to describe wavelengths of light.

You don't have to be a quantum physicist to see that, on a deeper level, creating miniature facsimiles of our world allows us to exercise control in a way we can't in real life. Modelers and hobbyists may spend a long day at the office taking orders from the boss, but at home they're the ones who set the parameters of their diminutive domains. And that can be fun, especially when you're piloting your own jet in your own backyard, FAA be damned. The radio-controlled plane pilots that Matt Scanlon meets seem to be flying high.

Shrinking everyday objects is all well and good, but being small can be a challenge when you live in a big world. In this week's "Stuck in Vermont" video, Eva Sollberger interviews Burlington actor Rene Kirby, who was born with spina bifida.

Despite his reduced stature, Kirby is more mobile than many of us. He skis, hunts, boats, drives and does carpentry on his house. You may have seen him riding around Burlington on a bike he pedals with one hand. You may have also seen him on the big screen - he appeared in the Farrelly brothers film Shallow Hal.

Back in the day, philosophers wore themselves out explaining the appeal of mountains, tornadoes and other big, untameable phenomena - they called it the "sublime." Maybe little things have a more primal attraction - animal behaviorists suggest that we're hardwired to go Awww when we see something whose reduced scale reminds us of our own vulnerable offspring. But while babies grow up and leave the nest, the allure of the small lasts forever.


Itty-Bitty Equines: Miniature Horses

by Mike Dibiasio

Intimate Art: Miniature Art

by Pamela Polston

Reinventing the Wheels: Smart Cars

by Mike Ives

Teeny Tomes: Miniature Books

by Meghan Dewald

Bitty Bites: Mini BLTs

by Meghan Dewald

Remote Possibilities: Model Airplanes

by Matt Scanlon

Short on Words: Engraving

by Alison Novak

Size Matters: Nanotechnology

by Ken Picard

Handmade Tales: Lindsey Lu Kids' Clothes

by Amy Lilly

Stuck in Vermont: Rene Kirby

by Eva Sollberger

7dTV: Flip Mino Camcorder Review

by Cathy Resmer

Speaking of Mini Issue