31 August 2012


There is much talk in social media about tonight's full moon being a blue moon ~ it may or may not be, depending on whose definition you use.  The earliest reference is in Middle English (16th century), in which the spelling is belewe which can mean the color, or it can mean "betray".

Why betray?  Because a 12-month solar year usually includes 12 full moons, three per season, each with its own unique name.  However the lunar cycle is only 28 days long, not 30 or 31, so periodically (every two or three years) an extra full moon occurs within a calendar year.  To keep the nomenclature of the other 12 full moons straight, this 13th full moon was belewe or false (or blue).  Hence the expression "once in a blue moon" refers to an event that will take place only on rare occasions.

In North America, this definition of an extra full moon in a season which normally had three full moons was formalized as the "Maine rule" in the Maine Farmer's Almanacs, as far back as 1819.  In strict astronomical terms, it remains the correct definition.

But things took an unexpected turn in a 1946 Sky and Telescope magazine article in which astronomer James Hugh Pruett unintentionally mistook how blue moon had been used in the Almanac, and mangled the definition to become the second full moon in a given month.  His error was perpetuated in the 1980s on a public radio show called StarDate, where Deborah Byrd made reference to Pruett's 1946 misinformation, popularizing the mistake into accidental folklore.  The idea stuck.

Another meaning for blue moon actually refers to its color, a rare event resulting from smoke or dust particles in the atmosphere.  Forest fires and volcanic eruptions are the most identifiable sources of visibly blue moons.

Below you will find the original positional and old English names for each month's full moon.

  • January ~ Early Winter Moon ~ Old Moon
  • February ~ Mid Winter Moon ~ Wolf Moon
  • March ~ Late Winter Moon ~ Lenten Moon
  • April ~ Early Spring Moon ~ Egg Moon
  • May ~ Mid Spring Moon ~ Milk Moon
  • June ~ Late Spring Moon ~ Flower Moon
  • July ~ Early Summer Moon ~ Hay Moon
  • August ~ Mid Summer Moon ~ Grain Moon
  • September ~ Late Summer Moon ~ Fruit Moon
It is worth noting that since there are on average 12.37 full moons in a year, a blue moon must occur on average every 2.7 years by either definition.  Since tonight's full moon is the second to occur in August, it conforms to the modern folklore version of a blue moon.

For several weeks my western Montana skies have been obscured by seasonal wildfire smoke.  Last night when I went outside, the almost-full moon was a pale salmon color due to the smoke.  I'll have to rely on my imagination, or on images like the one above (click to enlarge) to witness a truly blue moon.  

Check here for an informative Washington Post article.  It includes an embedded NASA video on blue moons, as well as a video on making blue moon martinis. Cheers.

30 August 2012


I'm a veteran of the Vietnam War.  I served from March 1968 to March1969, during the height of our military presence, when half a million Americans were in-country at any given time.  I saw my share of carnage (though not as much as many veterans did), and experienced terror, boredom, rage, confusion.  I was the target of rockets, mortar rounds, and sniper fire.  Due to the nature of my job (high security communications), I had a bounty on my head.  Within two weeks I became radicalized against the war, and deeply cynical toward anyone who espouses war without a compelling reason.  Most of the reasons we hear are not adequately compelling.

When I came home, there was no counseling, no time spent sharing experiences or venting feelings, no adjustment period.  One day I was in a jungle war, and twenty-four hours later I was discharged and released into civilian society in San Francisco.  "Turn in your gear, sign here and here and here, take your pay, see ya."

Like many returning veterans, I was reviled by strangers who learned I'd been in Vietnam ~ a far cry from the honor shown to World War II veterans.  I quickly learned to trust no one, to stuff my feelings, to blend in.  And feelings I had in abundance.  The concerns of American society seemed completely alien, shallow, irrelevant to what I'd just been through.  It took ten years before I (or the nation) mustered the courage to begin to read about, think about, remember Vietnam.  By then, unaware, I'd developed chronic PTSD.  I was superficially functional, but couldn't understand why certain stimuli created instant fear or anger, nor why relationships were so difficult to maintain.  I tried to compensate through hedonism, but that only masked the deeper struggle within.

Over time, my reading, counseling, and thinking have given me insights into the shadows which haunted me.  The process is ongoing.  Recently I came across two resources which share the most evolved thinking about war and its effects on warriors.  One is a piece written by Nan Levinson called Mad, bad, sad ~ what really happens to U.S. soldiers.  She introduces the concept of moral injury ~

"It's a concept in progress, defined as the result of taking part in or witnessing something of consequence that you find wrong, something which violates your deeply held beliefs about yourself and your role in the world.  For a moment, at least, you become what you never wanted to be.  While the symptoms and causes may overlap with PTSD, moral injury arises from what you did or failed to do, rather than from what was done to you.  It's a sickness of the heart more than the head.  Or, possibly, moral injury is what comes first and, if left unattended, can congeal into PTSD.

" .... Of course, to have a moral injury, you have to have a moral code, and to have a moral code, you have to believe, on some level, that the world is a place where justice will ultimately prevail.  Faith in a rightly ordered world must be hard for anyone who has been through war.  It's particularly elusive for soldiers mired in a war that makes little sense to them, one they've come, actively or passively, to resent and oppose.

" .... In trying to heal from a moral injury, people struggle to restore a sense of themselves as decent human beings, but the stumbling block for many veterans of recent U.S. wars is that their judgment about the immorality of their actions may be correct.  Obviously, suffering which can be avoided should be, but it's not clear what's gained by robbing soldiers of a moral compass, save [as] a salve to civilian conscience.  And despite all the gauzy glory we swathe soldiers in when we wave them off to battle, nations need their veterans to remember how horrible war is, if only to remind us not to launch them as heedlessly as the U.S. has done over these past years.

" .... Recognizing moral injury isn't a panacea, but it opens up multiple possibilities.  it offers veterans a way to understand themselves, not as mad or bad, but as justifiably sad, and it allows the rest of us a way to avoid reducing their wartime experience to a sickness or a smiley face.  Most important, moral repair is linked to moral restitution.  In an effort to waste neither their past nor their future, many veterans work to help heal their fellow veterans or the civilians in the countries they once occupied.  Others work for peace so the next generation of soldiers won't have to know the heartache of moral injury."

This narrative resonates deeply in me.  In the 43 years since I returned from Vietnam, I've learned to anticipate and avoid situations likely to induce PTSD panic attacks ~ like Fourth of July celebrations, which are little more than stylized warfare seen from a safe, festive distance.  But I've never found a way to reconcile the cognitive dissonance between the standards for ethical behavior I learned growing up, and the abandonment of those standards by those who wage war.

I think I may have found a way toward reconciliation in the second resource I discovered, a book titled What It Is Like to Go to War, written by Karl Marlantes, author of the Vietnam novel Matterhorn.  From the book jacket ~

"In 1969, at the age of twenty-three, Karl Marlantes was dropped into the highland jungle of Vietnam, an inexperienced second lieutenant in command of a company of forty Marines who would live or die by his decisions.  Marlantes was a bright young man who was well trained for the task at hand but, as he was soon to discover, far from mentally prepared for what he was about to experience. In his thirteen-month tour he saw intense combat.  He killed the enemy and he watched friends die.  Marlantes survived, but like many of his  brothers in arms, he has spent the last forty years dealing with his experiences.

"In What It Is Like to Go to War, Marlantes takes a deeply personal and candid look at what it is like to experience the ordeal of combat, critically examining how we might better prepare our soldiers for war.  War is as old as humankind, but in the past, warriors were prepared for battle by ritual, religion, and literature ~ which also helped bring them home.  Marlantes weaves riveting accounts of his combat experiences with thoughtful analysis, self-examination, and his readings .... He makes it clear just how poorly prepared our nineteen-year-old warriors ~ mainly men but increasingly women ~ are for the psychological and spiritual aspects of the journey."

I've read scores, possibly hundred of memoirs, histories, and novels about war in general and Vietnam in particular.  If I had to recommend one book to anyone, military or civilian, to provide insight and provoke introspection about the emotional, intellectual, and spiritual disconnects which soldiers endure, this book would be my choice.  He specifically explores the spiritual (not to be confused with religious) conflict characterized earlier as moral injury, with penetrating insight and gentle care.

Here are the chapter headings, which give an idea of the breadth and depth of Marlantes' exploration ~

  • Temple of Mars
  • Killing
  • Guilt
  • Numbness and Violence
  • The Enemy Within
  • Lying
  • Loyalty
  • Heroism
  • Home
  • The Club
  • Relating to Mars
The tone of Marlantes' text is conversational, sharing.  He invites the reader into his train of thought without lecturing, and he asks questions which our culture has forgotten need answers.  His recognition of the duality of human nature, the capacity of every human to commit unspeakable acts of violence, and luminous acts of humanity, is central to the journey each of us travels.  Each of us carries a shadow self.  The act of recognizing the shadow, understanding it, thus transcending its influence over us, is an act of grace.

For a taste of conversation, here is an interview Bill Moyers conducted with Karl Marlantes.

29 August 2012


This illustration (click to enlarge) shows the size of the sphere that would hold all of Earth's water in comparison to the size of the Earth.  The sphere includes all the water in the Earth's oceans, seas, ice caps, lakes, and rivers as well as all the groundwater, atmospheric water, and even the water in you, your cat, and your tomato plant!

The blue sphere sitting on the United States, reaching from about Salt Lake City, Utah, to Topeka, Kansas, has a diameter of about 860 miles (about 1,385 kilometers), with a volume of about 332, 500,000 cubic miles (1,386,000,000 cubic kilometers).

From USGS - Water Science for Schools.
Illustration by James Cook, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, USGS.
Data source ~ Igor Shiklomanov's chapter "World fresh water resources" in Peter H. Gleick (editor), 1993, Water in Crisis:  A Guide to the World's Fresh Water Resources (Oxford University Press, New York)

28 August 2012


The members of my book club are reading Erik Larson's non-fiction In the Garden of Beasts.  The narrative recounts events in Adolf Hitler's Berlin from 1933-1937, and centers on the lives of American Ambassador William E. Dodd and his family (particularly his adult daughter Martha).  The time period is critical, in that it spans the years of Hitler's rise to power, prior to the outbreak of World War II.

It has long been a mystery to me how Hitler, a figure of terror and psychosis, became so popular among the German people.  I can begin to wrap my imagination around the nationalist feelings which Hitler roused, following Germany's humiliating defeat during World War I.  Any defeated people longs for vindication, for a return to self-esteem, even to notions of glory and superiority.  Hitler offered all this, wrapped in the flag of Nazi National Socialism.  For a time, one can understand his initial appeal.

Yet the pendulum of the Nazi machine continued its swing past pride and into a vicious brand of supremacy, one which called for the subjugation and ultimately the extermination of Jews, gypsies, homosexuals, any group which did not live up to the "pure" Aryan ideal.  How could ordinary Germans rationalize such extreme cruelty?

One hears responses that generally fall into two categories.  Either (a) all Germans supported Hitler's militant racism, or (b) most Germans were simply unaware of how bad thing had become.  If (a), then the German people were as evil as Hitler, and if (b), then the German people were living in a state of willful denial, fueled by their need for self-esteem.  Either explanation could lead to the "I was just following orders" defense.

There is evidence that, with variations, both explanations carry weight.  A recent study suggests that social identification, not blind obedience, might motivate unspeakable acts.  In short, if one identifies with the culture and values of a given authority figure, then one would be predisposed to do whatever is demanded.  Conversely, if one identifies with the culture and values of a given victim, then one would be predisposed to question and perhaps resist authority.  If the truth boils down to this simple dichotomy, then clearly Germans were choosing to identify with Hitler's nationalism, and did not feel the cognitive dissonance that one would hope for from ethical people.

Lest we indulge in self-congratulation, let us recall that during the very years of Hitler's rise to power, it was no secret that Germany was re-arming in violation of the terms of the Treaty of Versailles.  Further, those Europeans and Americans who, at the time, claimed ignorance of the bestiality of the Holocaust were themselves indulging in inexcusable denial.  The memory of the horrors of World War I were fresh, and those memories accounted for America's determined stance of isolationism.  But those same memories should have served as red flags when reports of Nazi atrocities and aggression began to surface.  It took excruciating years and, finally, Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor, to finally provoke the U.S. into the last war in which evil and good stood in such stark contrast.  During our delay, millions of lives were lost and much misery inflicted.  Let us not be too proud of our eventual victory

Long story short, no one should rely solely on their government, their religion, or their culture for a reliable moral compass.  That must come from within, and must grow with time and experience.  Any nation, any individual is capable of killing or committing atrocities.  All it takes is the wrong conditioning and the right opportunity.  Resisting the impulse toward our darker side is the mark of a mature, integrated person ~ and a mature, integrated society.

27 August 2012


Sights (and sounds) to intrigue, charm, or challenge your imagination.

Stick Insect's Impossible Birth ~ video, 2:56 minutes.  The birth of a stick insect had never before been filmed.

Underground Bicycle Messenger Racing ~ video, 2:10 minutes.  A preview of a longer production filmed around the world.  Races between bicycle messengers through traffic are dangerous, and in many places illegal.

Tuna Fishers' Underwater Camera Lures Curious Dolphins ~ video, 4:02 minutes.  Pacific white-sided dolphins, to be exact.  In my eyes, the most beautiful of dolphins (image above, click to enlarge).  I saw one in the wild during my summer in Alaska, riding the bow wave of the ship I worked on.

Tea Partier and Irish President Heated Interview ~ video, 4:21 minutes.  President Michael D. Higgins' laser observations are brilliant.  TP radio host Michael Graham, not so much.  Wisdom and experience leave ignorance and naivete in the dust.

Map:  Voter ID Laws by State ~ interactive map courtesy of Bill Moyers.  Click on any state of interest, and learn the following ~
  • when you can vote
  • where you can vote
  • registering to vote
  • voting early & by absentee ballot
  • identification requirements
  • if you have moved within your state
  • if you are in the military or are an overseas voter
  • if you have a felony conviction
  • election protection materials
Props to Bill for the first three links.  Enjoy.

26 August 2012


I have an unconfirmed report from a correspondent on Google+ that both Barack Obama and Mitt Romney have agreed to address ScienceDebate's top American science questions during one of the presidential debates.  If so, the entire evening could easily (and constructively) be devoted to SD's questions alone.  I can think of no clearer way to judge a candidate's actual understanding of the issues, and his position on responding to the challenges we face, than in an unscripted, open debate.

Here are the issues which SD proposes as topics ~

  • Innovation and the economy
  • Climate change
  • Research and the future
  • Pandemics and biosecurity
  • Education
  • Energy
  • Food
  • Fresh water
  • The Internet
  • Ocean health
  • Science in public policy
  • Space
  • Critical natural resources
  • Vaccination and public health
Notice that virtually every controversial issue which has long-term consequences is included in this list of science topics.  Science is (or should be) at the center of policy and law making in Washington.  Too often it is not, replaced by partisan political or religious agendas with no basis in fact.  It speaks volumes that most members of Congress are lawyers, with very few scientists (very few PhDs in any field) representing the interests of the electorate.

An issue which is glaringly absent from this list is wilderness and wildlife.  Globally, humans drive entire species to extinction daily, and entire ecosystems disappear weekly.  All living things are connected.  The temperate and tropical rain forests which we cut down are the lungs of the planet, converting carbon dioxide (a greenhouse gas) into breathable oxygen.  We should be not only preserving all remaining wilderness, we should be expanding it.  The same holds true for the birds, mammals, reptiles, insects, and microbes which inhabit the world ocean and all continents.  They (we) form an intricate and fragile web of life.  Disturb one element, and you interrupt the lives of all those beings connected to it ~ and all the beings connected to them ~ and on and on.  There's a reason by biodiversity is the hallmark of a healthy planet.

Check out the link to learn more about the science questions proposed for debate.  What are your thoughts on each topic, and what evidence would you present to back up your position, if you were participating in the debate?  Because in a very real sense, we truly are participants ~ as voters.  An informed electorate is the foundation of our republic.  Those who choose to remain uninformed are not merely remiss in their responsibility as citizens, they are not worthy to vote.  As screwed up as our political and economic system is, we allowed it to become that way.  It is ours to repair, or ours to lose to those few wealthy Americans who would see our way of life become a rapacious oligarchy.  If reform fails, this observer will incite for revolution.

25 August 2012


Neil Armstrong, the first human to walk on the moon, died earlier today from complications following heart surgery.  He was 82 years old.  Armstrong was a US Naval aviator, test pilot, NASA astronaut, aerospace engineer, and university professor.

As an astronaut, Armstrong participated in both the Gemini program and the Apollo program.  Apollo 11 was the spaceflight which landed Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin on the moon on July 20, 1969, as command module pilot Michael Collins orbited above.  The feat was the result of expert support by thousands of professionals at NASA, but it was Armstrong's historic words upon first setting foot on the lunar surface which were heard by a transfixed audience around the globe ~ "That's one small step for (a) man, one giant leap for mankind."  All of humanity celebrated.  Here is NASA's video of the descent and landing of the lunar module Eagle, and the first step taken by any human onto a celestial object other than Earth.  The video includes the riveted focus and then celebration among millions of live viewers around the world ~ the largest audience in history to witness a single event.

You can find a Washington Post retrospective on Armstrong's life here.  He was a quiet man, dedicated and courageous and skilled.  He will be missed.

High Flight

Oh!  I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings
Sunward I've climbed, and joint the tumbling mirth
Of sun-split clouds ~ and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of ~ wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence.  Hov'ring there
I've chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air.
Up, up the long delirious burning blue,
I've topped the windswept heights with easy grace
Where never lark, or even eagle flew ~
And, while with silent lifting mind I've trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand and touched the face of God.

24 August 2012


In the past I've posted and commented upon an assortment of personal vehicles adapted for flight, including cars, humvees, motorcycles, gyrocopters, crossover designsradical airplane designs, and a jet pack that fastens to one's body.  I'm fascinated with all forms of flying, from hovering hummingbirds to soaring sail planes.  Day dreams and dreams during sleep often feature me flying, with or without mechanical assistance.

Today, two more alternatives for those of us who wish to slip the surly bonds.  Anyone who has seen the 2003 film Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life will recall the heart-stopping sequence during which the characters played by Angelina Jolie and Gerard Butler flee their pursuers to the top of a Hong Kong skyscraper, quickly don odd-looking outer garments, and then escape by leaping out into space ~ where their garments transform into wingsuits (see image above, click to enlarge).  The fabric membranes between arms and torso, and between legs, allow a human to glide through the air much like a flying squirrel, though the human needs a parachute for landing.

Wingsuit flying has transformed into a competitive sport in which participants strive to break records for distance (16.3 miles), altitude (37,265 feet), duration (9 minutes 6 seconds), and speed (226 mph).  One can find videos on YouTube of extreme wingsuit flight which starts on a high perch, much like BASE jumping, and then zooms downward parallel to the steeply-sloping terrain, often within feet of contact.  Here is one such video, courtesy of my Chicago friend Bill.  Warning ~ do not try this at home.

A more recent development is a Star Wars-like hover bike.  The rider sits or crouches on a platform which is lifted into the air by two rotors.  Direction is controlled by leaning, much like a motorcycle.  Alas, the manufacturer, Aerofex, has no plans to produce these small hover craft for individual recreation.  Instead they see robotic versions used for transport of supplies or equipment to military special forces units, or to search-and-rescue teams.  Here is a link to a description of the craft, with an embedded video of its first test flight in the Mojave Desert.  Below is an image of the prototype.

23 August 2012


There are more than 80,000 dams across the United States.  They are constructed for a variety of reasons, including the generation of hydroelectric power, stabilizing the water flow of a river, and assuring a reliable water supply for agricultural irrigation or for urban consumers.

Dams create serious problems, however.  The presence of such a substantial barrier interferes with the migration and spawning of native fish (notably salmon).  Similarly, commercial and recreational boat traffic is blocked.  The lakes and reservoirs which form behind dams drown both human communities and entire riparian ecosystems beneath hundreds of feet of water.  Further, by impounding a river's flow in the extensive reservoir behind a dam, then releasing the trapped water at a regulated rate, we create unintended consequences for downstream habitat and wildlife.

The most notorious example is Glen Canyon Dam in northern Arizona.  The dam spans the Colorado River gorge upstream from the Grand Canyon.  Historically, spring floods from the Colorado River watershed swept away rocky debris which had washed down from side canyons, and during the rest of the year the river deposited sediment which formed sandbars and islands.  This cycle created a unique ecosystem, with mammals, birds, fish and reptiles living in a community unlike any other on Earth.  The dam changed all that.  Water releases do not approach the flood conditions of spring waters, thus are unable to carry away the rockslides common within the Canyon.  Releases tend to be timed to the hydroelectricity needs of cities as far away as Phoenix and Las Vegas, without regard for the riparian ecosystem of the Canyon.  Further, sediment is trapped behind the dam (which is slowly but surely filling the bottom of Lake Powell), robbing the Canyon of that alluvial resource.  Lastly, water is released from the colder depths of the lake, further altering conditions downstream for native fish and wildlife.

In recent years a movement has arisen which seeks to remove many of the dams which cause more problems than they solve.  In addition to the problems described above, dams present an often-ignored but very real threat ~ the possibility of rupture or failure due to faulty design, poor construction, aging, extreme inflow from spring snow melt, or an earthquake.  (E.g., in June 1964, not one but three dams on the east slope of the Rocky Mountains in Montana breached, sending flood waters hundreds of miles downstream.  The scale of the disaster was staggering ~ thirty thousand square miles (roughly 20 percent of the state) were affected.  Highways, railroads, ranches, livestock and wildlife were swept away.  Thirty people lost their lives.)

A few days ago I came across an article with an unexpected title ~ The Effect of Dams on Global Warming.  Here is the gist ~  "There is a lot of biological activity going on behind the dam.  This is where the natural flow of sediment and living things stop and therefore accumulate.  Through the decomposition of such creatures and organic material comes methane gas that builds up in the lake bed.

"As levels of water go down, the lake bed heats up because more sunlight is hitting it [or more accurately, more sunlight is penetrating to what was formerly deeper water].  The rising temperatures cause the methane to bubble up and out into the atmosphere.  This is particularly true in summer because low oxygen conditions at the depth of the reservoir create an ideal condition for microbial activity that creates methane .... In a study of the water column at such a reservoir, marine scientists found an astonishing 20-fold increase in methane emissions as water levels were drawn down.  Bubbles coming out of the mud and sediment at the bottom were chock full of this potent greenhouse gas."

Dams as contributors to global warming.  Who knew?  It is a vicious cycle ~ more methane leads to more warming, which lowers reservoir levels, which leads to the release of more methane.  One more instance of our excesses coming back to haunt us.

22 August 2012


As early as I can remember, I have been stirred by music.  In my early childhood, my only music source was listening to the radio (yes, I'm that old).  I was instinctively drawn to the aural and emotional expression found in music ranging from 1930s-40s big band to classical to pop standards of the era.

It was my great good fortune to attend a tiny rural school whose principal, a rancher and Renaissance man named Ira Perkins, devoted himself to a well-rounded education for his students ~ including academic studies, dance, physical activity, and both listening to and performing music.  How proud I was as a first-grader to don the purple cape and hat of our small band, whose modest instruments included recorders, triangles, and percussion.

Later, in a different community with a larger school, I started singing and playing instruments in fifth grade ~ passing up clarinet and baritone horn in favor of the French horn.  Music was always running through my head in quiet moments, the rhythm and melody of my young life.

Along the way I subconsciously began to understand important relationships ~ how the length of notes compared to other notes meant something, how certain pairs of notes played together produced a pleasing harmony, other pairs not so much.  Without realizing it, I was learning that math is one of music's foundations ~ duration, pitch, tempo.  I believe that my early experience in music reinforced how well I did in math and reading, and sensitized me to the world of sound ~ bird calls, the wind in the trees, the nuances of human voices speaking, learning languages ~ as well as to spatial relationships, hand-eye coordination, color, and emotion.

There is new evidence supporting this belief.  Researchers at Northwestern University have found that "a little music training in childhood goes a long way in improving how the brain functions in adulthood when it comes to listening and the complex processing of sound .... Compared to peers with no musical training, adults with one to five years of musical training as children have enhances brain responses to complex sounds, making them more effective at pulling out the fundamental frequency of the sound signal.  The fundamental frequency, which is the lowest frequency in sound, is crucial for speech and musical perception, allowing recognition of sounds in complex and noisy auditory environments .... Prior research on highly trained musicians and early bilingualists revealed that enhanced brain stem responses to sound are associated with heightened auditory perception, executive function, and auditory communication skills."

So one doesn't have to be a musician for years and years to reap the benefits of musical training.  Equally importantly, it seems to me, though maximum benefit is conferred by an early start in music, it's never too late to begin.  During my adult years I learned to play classical guitar, dulcimer, and African drums.  Rudimentary piano playing was present throughout.  Each new experience enhanced my listening and understanding.

Here is a wee treat for listeners of any experience level ~ Arthur Rubenstein's 1965 performance of Chopin's Nocturne in E-flat minor, Opus 9, Number 2.  Enjoy.

21 August 2012


Scott Barry Kaufman has been looking into The Cognitive Psychology of Pick-up Lines.  His findings are of interest to those who are looking for a partner.  When you introduce yourself to someone of interest, what should you say?

It turns out that studies show there are three main types of opening lines ~

  • direct gambits, which are honest and get right to the point ~ for example, "I'm a little shy, but I'd like to know more about you."
  • innocuous gambits, which hide a person's true intentions ~ for example, "How do you like the music tonight?"
  • cute/flippant gambits, which involve humor, but often in a cheesy way ~ for example, "If I told you that you have a great body, would you hold it against me?"
The degree to which one responds favorably depends on one's gender, on whether one is looking for a long-term relationship or a short-term hookup, and on one's state of cognitive alertness or fatigue at the moment.

Gender ~ "Both men and women agreed that cute/flippant pick-up lines were the least attractive.  Women, however, preferred innocuous lines and had a greater aversion to cute/flippant lines than men, while men had a greater preference for direct opening gambits than women.  This basic pattern has been found over and over again in a variety of settings .... Trait perception plays a crucial role.  We don't have direct access to a person's characteristics, so we infer underlying traits from overt behaviors.  One study found that people perceive those who use innocuous lines as smarter and sexier than those who use cute/flippant lines.

Relationship vs. hookup ~ the above generalizations apply to women and men who are looking for a long-term partner.  For those who are looking for a casual hookup, attraction led to success regardless of the content of the pick-up line.  In fact, many such individuals were more receptive to humor and sexually-charged openers.

Cognitive fatigue ~ "When your mind is taxed (or handicapped by too much alcohol), it is much more difficult to process information and regulate your emotions, thoughts, and actions.  Like a muscle, self-control is a limited resource ~ when fatigued, it's hard to flex it .... Those whose brains were cognitively taxed were less receptive to cute/flippant openers compared to those in the non-depletion condition .... In contrast, for innocuous gambits, depleted [individuals] were less likely to ignore the person.  Receptivity to direct gambits was unaffected by being cognitively depleted.

"What explains these effects?  The researchers argue that when it comes to cute/flippant openers, less mental effort is required to figure out the person's intentions.  Mix that in with the fact that a depleted, frazzled individual may have less tolerance for obvious pick-up attempts, and you have an enhanced aversion to cheesy lines.  When it comes to innocuous pick-up lines, however, the person's intentions are much more ambiguous.  This requires more cognitive resources to decipher intent, sometimes too much.  As the researchers note, it's less socially awkward for the brain-depleted individual to continue the conversation until the person's intentions become more obvious."

All of which may be useful as guidelines, but situations and individuals vary from event to event, sometimes from moment to moment.  I'm far from being an expert at breaking the ice with a stranger, but I do trust my instincts.  Simplicity and honesty feel more comfortable to me than putting on a slick act.  So I apparently fall within the gender findings about men preferring direct gambits, and would do well to become more fluent in innocuous gambits.  

Thanks to Andrea Kuszewski for the link to this research.  For some quick comebacks to flippant gambits, click on the image at top.

20 August 2012


Today marks the 24th anniversary of Black Saturday, the worst single day of conflagration during the 1988 Yellowstone wildfires.  Hotshot firefighting crews from around the nation were flown in to battle the blazes, which blackened 793,880 acres ~ 36 percent of Yellowstone National Park.

Under conditions with no human interference, wildfires are part of a natural cycle which consumes dead trees, shrubs, grasses, and downfall in habitats ranging from forest to prairie, clearing space and adding nutrients to the soil so that younger growth can gain a foothold.  However, a misguided policy within the National Park Service and US Forest Service called for the suppression of all wildfires, regardless of size or lack of impact on humans.  The result, over the course of decades, was an accumulation of dry, dead fuel within the nation's forests.  It was a disaster waiting to happen, and in the dry, hot drought of 1988 conditions were ripe for a perfect firestorm.

After the 1988 battle was over, policy was changed to allow wildfires within the nation's parks and forests to run their course, so long as they do not threaten human life or property, and so long as they are not started by human carelessness or arson.  Pulling back from suffocating over-management is a healthy step, one which ought to be applied to wildlife as well.

As it happens, I was clued in to the importance of fire as a cleansing agent in nature, long before the Yellowstone fires.  From 1978-1982 I worked for The Nature Conservancy as caretaker at the Canelo Hills Cienega Preserve, am upland marsh with a permanent spring-fed stream, surrounded by oak/juniper woodland and grassland.  The community (see image above) is a relict ecosystem, a surviving remnant of habitat that was once more widespread throughout southern Arizona.  In their turn, Spanish, Mexican, and American ranchers allowed overgrazing which contributed to soil erosion and the lowering of the water table, draining many cienegas.

Canelo is home to several endangered species of fish and flowers, an oasis for native wildlife and for migratory birds.  My work there included maintenance of the historic adobe ranch house, outbuildings and fences, greeting visitors, monitoring the resident flora and fauna, and patrolling against poachers during hunting season.  My TNC supervisor was H.L. Bill, a quiet and very wise man who once worked cruising timber in the South.  It was he who taught me the need to allow most wildfire to run its course.

As it happened, the marsh grasses of the cienega had accumulated a dead overstory, much like the forests in Yellowstone.  No natural fire had swept the cienega in many years, and the overlying dead grasses were smothering the endangered Canelo Ladies Tresses, a low-growing orchid.  It was decided to invite a nearby Forest Service fire crew to do a controlled burn, to rejuvenate the cienega.  I was present to direct the operation, choosing which areas to burn and which to protect with the crew's water trucks.

The burn was a huge success by any measure.  Those blackened acres were a riot of green by the following spring, as marsh reeds, grasses, and sedge repopulated.  And the numbers of orchids quadrupled over the pre-burn count.  The Forest Service crew did a superb job of containing the burn so that no riparian growth was threatened.  It was good practice for them, and much-needed assistance for the cienega.

I often think of those years.  I left the preserve to pursue my degree in Ecology & Evolutionary Biology at the University of Arizona, and thence to other pursuits.  But the cienega appears from time to time in my dreams, always being threatened by human encroachment.  And in my heart I'm always right there to protect this remnant wetland, and always will be.

19 August 2012


Researchers discover gene that permanently stops cancer cell proliferation ~ here.

First evidence for photosynthesis in insects ~ here.

Singing has a positive effect on health ~ here.

Make love not porn ~ a website which will pay people to post videos of themselves having real sex ~ here.

Einstein IQ test ~ here.  (Not a true IQ test, but a puzzle in which fragmentary clues must be used to fill in a grid.  I don't know the term for this type of puzzle, but it is one of the most challenging types for me ~ I finished it in seven minutes.)

Want your own island?  Or a luxury yacht?  Why not combine them ~ here.  (see image above, click to enlarge)

The closing statements of defendant Nadezhda Tolokonnikova at Russia's Pussy Riot trial ~ here.

An exotic, ethereal tune ~ here.

18 August 2012


On this date in 1920 the Nineteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was ratified, ending the disenfranchisement of women.  The amendment was proposed on June 4, 1919, and over the course of fourteen months the required 36 of the then-48 states ratified the amendment into the law of the land.  No longer could women be barred from voting based on their gender.

I'm proud to say that my home state of Montana took less than two months to ratify, making it the 13th state to do so.  Not too surprising ~ prior to 1920, nearly all the states which already accorded full sufferage to women (the green states in the map above ~ see the color key in the Wikipedia entry) were in the West.  One of the foremost people in Montana history was Jeanette Rankin, was the first woman to serve in the U.S. Congress.  True to her pacifist beliefs, she was the only member of either house to vote against U.S. entry into both World War I and World War II.

Here's to women voters ~ you've made a difference in many important elections, and you'll be a vital factor in the 2012 Presidential and Congressional elections.  In the present case, your interests are the nation's interests, a view clearly not shared by the Romney/Ryan ticket.

17 August 2012


From the intro page of a most fascinating website ~

"The web today is a growing universe of interlinked web pages and web apps, teeming with videos, photos, and interactive content.  What the average user doesn't see is the interplay of web technologies and browsers that makes this possible.

"Over time web technologies have evolved to give web developers the ability to create new generations of useful and immersive web experiences.  Today's web is a result of the ongoing efforts of an open web community that helps define these web technologies, like HTML5, CSS3 and WebGL, and ensure that they're supported in all web browsers.

"The color band in this visualization represent the interaction between web technologies and browsers, which brings to life the many powerful web apps that we use daily."

Click on "visualization" above, and watch internet history unfold.  Simply place your cursor over any term, icon, or line to read more about that particular development.  And away we go!

16 August 2012


Many years ago, I worked as a surveyor for the Tucson, AZ, water department.  One of the men who trained me had lived in the region all his life.  He had witnessed the skyrocketing growth of the city's population, the increased demand for potable water, and the subsequent drawdown of the aquifer underlying the metro area.  Whether for mining, for agriculture, for landscape watering, or for direct human consumption, our water wells were removing water far faster than it could be replaced by the then-average 12 inches of rainfall per year (the amount of rainfall which defines of a desert).  The result ~ over time the water table was falling (see illustration above, click to enlarge), and wells had to drill deeper and deeper to reach that precious resource.

This was forty years ago.  Population growth has continued to outrun the ability of the water cycle to replenish subsurface water reserves.  To make matters worse, the area now suffers from the effects of a sustained drought, with temperature records falling across the Southwest, the Midwest, and much of the rest of the nation.

The situation in Tucson is a microcosm of planet-wide aquifer depletion, according to Sophia Li in the NYTimes. In Stressed Aquifers Around the Globe, she stresses that the grim situation isn't merely a result of one or two years' overuse, but rather the unsustainable depletion of groundwater reserves over many years, especially in agricultural areas.  As with so many other natural resources, we humans seem to act only for today, with little thought to long-term consequences until we must respond to an avoidable crisis which we ourselves created.

Groundwater supplies from India and Pakistan to China, Mexico, and the U.S. are under siege. How do we possibly justify building water-intensive golf courses and maintaining home lawns, in low-rainfall environments?  How can we answer the stares of starving children when we continue inefficient agricultural practices which we know are sucking the earth dry?  The day will come, sooner rather than later, when water use in distressed regions will be strictly monitored and rationed.

The root cause of the groundwater problem is the same root cause of so many other problems in society ~ human overpopulation (see graph below, click to enlarge).  At 7 billion souls and counting, our numbers are ten times what the planet can sustainably support.  Crunch the numbers ~ the maximum number of humans living on Earth should be 700 million, preferably fewer.  The longer we avoid addressing our cancerous, irresponsible proliferation, the more suffering we inflict on ourselves and our fellow creatures.  So insatiable is our appetite for land and for resources that we drive other species to extinction daily, destroy entire ecosystems weekly.  These precious beings cannot be replaced.  The cruel irony (and perhaps poetic justice) is that our own survival depends on theirs.

15 August 2012


Ernest Hemingway, when asked if there was one quality above all others needed to be a good writer, replied "Yes, a built-in, shock-proof crap detector."  It seems to me that, increasingly, just about everyone needs such a sense ~ being able to spot a statement that is phony, specious, avoident, or patently false.  Whether one is parsing out the posturing of politicians, oil company executives, televangelists, a cheating spouse, an errant child, or anyone trying to sell you anything, it pays to be able to spot a lie, a come-on, the long con.

There's a new book out called Spy the Lie, written by three CIA veterans and a former NSA analyst, which purports to teach us just that skill.  I have not yet read it, but I did read the review by Susan Adams in Forbes online.  According to Adams, "First the authors discuss how we all have built-in barriers to detecting the truth.  For one, most of us simply believe that people are not prone to lying .... The book offers strategies to counteract these natural tendencies and lays out a methodology for spotting liars, by accounting for behaviors and statements that can offer clues to whether someone is telling the truth."

Adams offers several descriptive examples from the book, then summarizes what she sees as the main points ~

  • Look for deceptive behaviors and responses within the first five seconds of asking a question.
  • Someone telling the truth will say immediately and plainly that they did not commit the crime.
  • Liars often respond to questions with [irrelevant] truthful statements that cast them in a favorable light.
  • Liars often repeat a question to stall for time, go into attack mode against the questioner, or butter up the questioner with compliments.
  • Nonverbal cues to lying include hiding the mouth or eyes, throat clearing or swallowing, grooming gestures like adjusting shirt cuffs, shifting weight around, and sweating.
I think I'd like to read this book, partly to sharpen my own skills at spotting a con artist (the election season is always good practice), and partly to see whether the book itself may contain partial or misleading information.  When I do, I'll report back.

13 August 2012


The Republican political landscape has become increasingly surreal during the past decade.  We had eight years of fiscal and foreign policy catastrophe under Bush-Cheney.  We had the serio-comic spectacle of the "maverick" McCain-Palin ticket in 2008.  We had 8-10 presidential nomination candidates eating each other for lunch during the 2011 primaries.  Along the way we've picked up the circus freak show known as the Tea Party.  And now we have Mitt Romney, the Wall Street wiz who outsourced jobs to other nations, who keeps his wealth in offshore accounts where it can't be taxed or audited, and who won't reveal his tax returns, as the presumptive Republican presidential candidate in 2012.

Just when I thought things couldn't get any more trippy, Romney revealed over the weekend that he's chosen Paul Ryan as his running mate ~ the same Paul Ryan who has authored exactly two successfully-passed bills during his 13 years in Congress ~ the naming of a post office and changing the excise tax on hunting arrows.  Oh, and who has proposed what is arguably the most devastating federal budget in history.  The Romney-Ryan team would love to increase taxes on the middle class, decrease taxes on the wealthy, eliminate Social Security and Medicare, and in ways too numerous to count turn America into an oligarchy.  Well, more of an oligarchy than it already is.  And by the way?  The word "veteran" can be found precisely nowhere in the Ryan budget.  Nice.

For years I've favored a single descriptor for each political party ~ Republicans being corrupt, and Democrats being inept.  Democrats, bless their little hearts, have their values more or less straight when it comes to looking out for the best interests of the citizenry at large.  Nearly any social reform you can name has been supported by Democrats, and opposed by Republicans ~ civil rights, women's rights, decent health care, a living wage, clean air and water, restraints on the robber barons of industry and commerce.  Not that Democrats are saints.  Anyone in power will be tempted to abuse it, and many legislators cannot resist.  I can name members of both parties whom I admire (more among Democrats), and members of both parties whom I despise (more among Republicans).

But when it comes to sheer, shameless lunacy, greed, irrationality, venom, and a willingness to fleece the public, the Republicans take the gold medal.  Literally and figuratively.  Here's an example ~ Meet Paul Ryan ~ Climate Denier, Conspiracy Theorist, Koch Acolyte.  This is the man who names Ayn Rand as his primary influence on how society should work.

If Romney had his head on straight (but when has that ever happened?), strategically he would have named a more centrist Republican as his running mate, not someone even more out on the radical fringe than he himself is.  It's called balancing the ticket.  Romney's myopia in seeking to appease the ultra-conservative wing of the party is probably the best gift he could have given Barack Obama.  More and more mainstream Republicans are agreeing with me.

Take a peek at Five Adjectives That Scream "Don't Vote Republican!".  They are ~

  • obstructionist
  • vindictive
  • delusional
  • hypocritical
  • inept
The article provides plenty of behavioral and legislative evidence to back up its claim.  Long story short, the G.O.P. ship has lost its rudder.  Abe Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, Dwight Eisenhower, even Ronald Reagan would not recognize the alien spawn into which the party has morphed.  

Business Insider online says it has proof ~ Proof that Republicans Really Are Dumber Than Democrats.  The gist is that for every percentage point increase in college graduates within a state, the percentage of people who identify themselves as Democrats increases (see chart below, click to enlarge).  It seems a sweeping generalization to me, for there are surely many intelligent Republicans, and many less-than-intelligent Democrats.  Still, it's hard to argue with the reality that states which are more Democratic / more liberal tend to invest more in higher education and other human services, while states which are more Republican / more conservative tend to invest less.  

Disclaimer ~ I am not totally enamored with Barack Obama.  In particular, I believe he has really dropped the ball when it comes to environmental issues, climate change, and human rights internationally.  One reason Republicans have been so successful at stonewalling his agenda (and paralyzing the nation in the process) is precisely Obama's preference for compromise.  Republicans understand that it's easy to rigidly oppose someone who hasn't yet gotten the hang of playing hardball.  But based on the respective parties' values alone, I hope Obama is able to supplement his persuasive oratory and Constitutional acumen with a touch of ruthless legislative persuasion like that mastered by LBJ.  Sometimes it's the only way to break the logjam.  Because I'd far rather have four more years of slow but steady progress under Obama, than four minutes of the mediocrity and regressive policies of Romney.

12 August 2012


As soon as I became self-aware, and especially after I was plunged into the highly social environment of elementary school (no kindergarten existed where I lived), unavoidably I began to draw comparisons between myself and others.  Being shy, I was highly observant, and wished for friends, but I had no experience to guide me in connecting.  Any new situation, from being flirted with to being bullied, left me wondering how to respond.

Perhaps it was due to my family being somewhat nomadic during my early years, leaving me always the new kid in school when we moved.  Whatever, it took me many years to learn to make conversation easily.  Who am I kidding, I'm still learning.  But watching and listening made me realize that certain traits would be an advantage for someone who feels insecure or left out.

As I've grown older, my wish list of personal qualities has changed.  Many of the traits I once regarded with embarrassment, I now cherish with pride ~ like my ability to step back and see the larger picture, uncluttered by irrelevant details, which ironically may have grown from that itinerant life which left me feeling shy as a child.  Other personal features I would definitely trade in on a different model.  Among them ~

  • Height.  I'm an average 5'9" tall, of slender build.  That's useful for climbing trees or squirreling into small spaces, but in social gatherings it doesn't create a very imposing image (or at least that's how it seems when you're young).  Next life ~ 6' tall.
  • Eyesight.  My vision is unusual ~ I'm nearsighted in one eye, farsighted in the other.  When I got my first glasses at age 5, the eye doctor didn't understand the situation, and wanted to prescribe lenses so that my "good" nearsighted eye would match my "bad" farsighted eye.  Thankfully my parents said no.  In visual acuity, my good eye is 20/40 uncorrected, and my bad eye is 20/100 uncorrected.  Even with glasses, I've spent the past sixty years using mostly the good eye, and seeing only half the world that others see.  Next life ~ perfect vision in both eyes.
  • Freaking shyness.  I hate that I feel conversationally crippled when meeting new people.  It's only within the last decade or two that I've learned to carry myself with something resembling social grace.  I self-mockingly blame it on my siblings.  My brother is 8 years younger than I, my sister is 13 years younger.  I was in effect an only child, with very few kids near my age with whom to learn how to interact.  I didn't really get to know my brother or sister until they became adults.  Next life ~ one or two siblings much closer to my age, and not so much moving to new places.
  • Whistling loudly.  Maybe it's just me, or maybe it's one of those genetic traits like people who can roll their tongues into a rightside-up or upside-down U.  I can whistle a tune through pursed lips like most people, but cannot produce one of those piercing, attention-getting whistles heard over distance or noise.  (Here is a video which claims to show anyone how to whistle loudly.  I'm skeptical.)  Next life ~ you get the idea.  And no fingers needed, either.
  • Thinking quickly on my feet.  You know how, during a confrontation or discussion, the point arrives that simply begs for a witty rejoinder, but your plodding brain doesn't come up with it until two days later (or someone else beats you to the punch).  Life experience and being in a variety of situations are good training, but some people seem to come by the quick comeback naturally.  Oscar Wilde, Dorothy Parker, Winston Churchill, Groucho Marx.  Next life ~ confidence and rapid-fire neurons.
  • Allergies.  Pollens, dust and smoke can leave me incapacitated.  A home with air conditioning is a must during pollen season.  Next life ~ no allergies.
  • Memory.  I'm reasonably intelligent (IQ 135), but I have to use repetition and image association to retain most new information, whether it's scientific nomenclature or people's names.  I had to work hard for my good grades.  That's not a bad thing, but .... Next life ~ eidetic memory.
  • Languages.  I've formally studied Latin (2 years), Spanish (1 year), and French (1 year).  Each language took intense concentration, even though all three are etymologically related.  My difficulty might be rooted in memory function, or to some other manner of conceptualization.  I envy those who are fluent in multiple languages.  I suspect the nuances of vocabulary, syntax and grammar would come more easily if one were actually living in the culture.  Next life ~ immersion learning.
  • Money.  I grew up poor.  Long before it became common practice, my mother worked outside the home, as far back as I can remember.  Both my parents imparted a strong work ethic upon me, but they lacked the education needed for more remunerative jobs.  My own college education was put on hold until my late 30s, and my life since then has been (irony abounds) so nomadic that it wasn't often I could put my degree to use.  Long story short, in my retirement I'm barely scraping by, without inherited wealth or a lifetime nest egg on which to draw for travel or a cushy lifestyle.  Next life ~ born into modest wealth, or into a somewhat more urban setting with access to fine schools and culture, or into better opportunities to grow wealth on my own.
  • Identity.  No lack or complaint, but a mighty curiosity to experience life as another does.  Next life ~ born female, or in a different culture, or as a cat.
Having said all that, you might reasonably conclude that I lead a miserable life.  Far from it.  I thoroughly enjoy classical music, fine dining, quality books and movies and art, live theater, and the animated exchange of ideas..  I'm proud of my achievements, proud of my understanding of the natural world and the human world, immensely proud of the fine man my son has become, happy in my solid, lifelong friendships, and I take great satisfaction in my ability to parse out the nuances of everything from politics to relationships.  I've loved often and well, kayaked wild rivers, seen birds and animals which many people have not seen, gazed up into a prairie night sky lit by billions of stars, been transported by beauty, and faced death in many forms.  

So the gentle reader must understand that much of the above is presented with tongue in cheek, knowing that many, many people on the planet live in survival mode, without the advantages I enjoy.  I look back on my life, and see a colorful, challenging, satisfying journey.  'Course, I could see it so much better with perfect vision .... 

11 August 2012


Wow.  It's not like I've been living in a cave, but I didn't realize that the roots of hip hop and rap music formed as long ago as 1973.  The narrative is fascinating to anyone who loves music.  Check it out ~

"Clive Campbell (born April 16, 1955), also known as Kool Herc, DJ Kool Herc, and Kool DJ Herc, is a Jamaican-born DJ who is credited with originating hip hop music in the Bronx, New York City (image above, click to enlarge).  His playing of hard funk records of the sort typified by James Brown was an alternative both to the violent gang culture of the Bronx and to the nascent popularity of disco in the 1970s.  In response to the reactions of his dancers, Campbell began to isolate the instrumental portion of the record which emphasized the drum beat ~ the 'break' ~ and switch from one break to another to yet another.

"Using the same two turntable set-up of disco DJs, Campbell's style led to the use of two copies of the same record to elongate the break.  This breakbeat DJing, using hard funk, rock, and records with Latin percussion formed the basis of hip hop music.  Campbell's announcements and exhortations to dancers helped lead to the syncopated, rhymed spoken accompaniment now known as rapping.  He called his dancers 'break-boys' and 'break-girls', or simply b-boys and b-girls.  Campbell's DJ style was quickly taken up by figures such as Afrika Bambaataa and Grandmaster Flash.  Unlike them, he never made the move into commercially recorded hip hop in its earliest years.

" .... On August 11, 1973, DJ Kool Herc was a disc jockey and emcee at a party in the recreation room at Sedgwick Avenue.  Specifically, DJ Kool Herc

  • extended an instrumental beat (breaking or scratching) to let people dance longer (break dancing) and began MC'ing (rapping) during the extended breakdancing.... [This] helped lay the foundation for a cultural revolution.   (source:  History Detectives)

Sadly, in much of white culture, hip hop and rap have become synonymous with an offshoot subgenre, gangsta rap.  Gangsta rap's violent images and free use of profanity are threatening to many, and the rest of hip hop and rap music have been broadly and unfairly painted with the same brush of censure.  That's like hearing Gregorian Chant and using it to exemplify all of classical music.  Totally inadequate.

Hip hop started out (and remains) being about dancing and celebration.  The addition of rap is sometimes used as accompaniment to the lyrics, and other times used as social commentary, which is fair game.  Lyricists and satirists throughout the 20th and into the 21st century have done the same.  In fact, prior to the arrival of hip hop, the word "rap" was used in the hippie counterculture to mean to discuss personal or social issues, or to achieve rapport (rap) through random talk..  An easy transition from that usage to rapping as syncopated, rhymed spoken accompaniment to music.  And also an easy transition from musical rap to freestyle or battle rap, in which competing participants improvise a cappella or to a rhythm background, often dissing (putting down) one's opponents in rapid-fire rhyme.  Rapper Eminem's film 8 Mile includes several powerful, pulsing rap battles.

Bottom line, if you've never really paid attention to hip hop and rap, you're missing out on a vital component of modern music.

09 August 2012


One of nature's most ephemeral sights may be a harbinger of climate change.  Noctilucent clouds (NLCs) form high in the mesosphere, 76 to 85 kilometers (47 to 53 miles) above the Earth's surface, at latitudes between 50 and 70 degrees north and south of the equator.  They are so faint and so high that they only visible when the sun is below the horizon.

The term "noctilucent" derives from Latin, literally translating as "night shining".  These wispy, pale blue clouds were first recorded by skywatchers in 1885, two years after the eruption of Krakatoa.  At first it was thought that volcanic ash might be responsible for their formation, but they have persisted long after the ash settled back to the surface.  Now scientists at NASA have announced a new connection ~ the dust around which sparse water vapor condenses at that altitude is space dust.

"The inner solar system is littered with meteoroids of all shapes and sizes ~ from asteroid-sized chunks of rock to microscopic specks of dust.  Every day Earth scoops up tons of the material, mostly the small stuff.  When meteoroids hit our atmosphere and burn up, they leave behind a haze of tiny particles suspended 70 km to 100 km above Earth's surface.  It is no coincidence that NLCs form 83 km high, squarely inside the meteor smoke zone.

" .... In the 19th century, NLCs were confined to high latitudes ~ places like Canada and Scandinavia.  In recent times, however, they have been spotted as far south as Colorado, Utah and Nebraska.  The reason is climate change.  One of the greenhouse gases that has become more abundant in Earth's atmosphere since the 19th century is methane.  It comes from landfills, natural gas and petroleum systems, agricultural activities, and coal mining.  It turns out that methane boosts NLCs.

" .... If this idea is correct, noctilucent clouds are a sort of 'canary in a coal mine' for one of the most important greenhouse gases.  And that is a great reason to study them.  Noctilucent clouds might look alien, but they're telling us something very important about our own planet."

Note that the first sightings of NLCs coincides with the advent of accumulating pollution from the Industrial Revolution, whose chief energy driver was burning coal (hence producing methane, boosting the abundance of water in the upper atmosphere and contributing to the formation of noctilucent clouds.  You can learn more in the original NASA announcement here.  Be sure to watch the embedded video explaining how "meteor smoke" seeds noctilucent clouds.  The image at top was taken from Earth's surface, in Estonia.  The image below was taken from the orbiting International Space Station.  Click on either image to enlarge.

08 August 2012


In the July 17 issue of Forbes online, writer, visual storyteller, and blogger (Indexed) Jessica Hagy summed up The 6 People You Need In Your Corner.  Here is her commentary ~

"Nothing incredible is accomplished alone.  You need others to help you, and you need to help others.  With the right team, you can form a web of connections to make the seemingly impossible practically inevitable.

  • The Instigator ~ someone who pushes you, who makes you think.  Who motivates you to get up and go, and try, and make things happen.  You want to keep this person energized and enthusiastic.  This is the voice of inspiration.
  • The Cheerleader ~ this person is a huge fan, a strong supporter, and a rabid evangelist for you and your work.  Work to make this person rewarded, to keep them engaged.  This is the voice of motivation.
  • The Doubter ~ this is the devil's advocate, who asks the hard questions and sees problems before they arise.  You need this person's perspective.  They are looking out for you, and want you to be as safe as you are successful.  This is the voice of reason.
  • The Taskmaster ~ this is the loud and belligerent voice that demands you get things done.  This person is the steward of momentum, making sure deadlines are met and goals are reached.  This is the voice of progress.
  • The Connector ~ this person can help you find new avenues and new allies.  This person breaks through roadblocks and finds ways to make magic happen.  You need this person to reach people and places you can't.  This is the voice of cooperation and community.
  • The Example ~ this is your mentor, your hero, your North Star.  This is the person whom you seek to emulate.  This is your guiding entity, someone whose presence acts as a constant reminder that you, too, can do amazing things.  You want to make this person proud.  This is the voice of true authority."
Wouldn't life be great if each of us were able to fill all those roles for ourselves?  But being human, very few can, and perhaps that's just as well.  Almost any project that has the active participation of a support network is a better project in the end.  Who are the essential members of your own team ~ in researching and writing a book, in completing a school or work assignment, in leading a fulfilling personal life?