Apr 02, 2019
Apr 02, 2019
it was amazing
“We choose to go to the moon--we choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard “We choose to go to the moon--we choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because the challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win.” – JFK at Rice University- September 12, 1962
“The Eagle has landed.” – Neil Armstrong, July 20, 1969
JFK delivering his “we choose to go to the moon” speech at Rice University – image from History Hub
Public Affairs Officer – Three minutes, 45 seconds and counting. In the final abort checks between several key members of the crew here in the control center and the astronauts, Launch Operations Manager Paul Donnelly wished the crew, on the launch teams' behalf, "Good luck and Godspeed."
There have been many events in American history that can bring one to tears, decades later. There is no shortage of dark moments in our violent past, domestic and international. I was alive in 1963 when JFK was murdered, and when RFK and MLK were killed by sinister forces. Recalling those moments can bring tears of grief, a sense of a blow to us all, as well as a feeling of personal loss. 9/11 was a Pearl Harbor trauma for the 21st century. I choke up even thinking about it. But there have also been moments when threatened waterworks were of a very different sort. Moments of joy and pride, being at Woodstock, the 1969 and 1986 Mets, (OK, so maybe those two were not national events in the same way, fine) the election of Barack Obama and that day in July 1969 when a promise was kept, an ages-long dream was no longer deferred, and in the name of our global humanity, a human being first set foot on the moon. For me, in my lifetime, there has never been a prouder moment to be an American.
Saturn C-1 - a predecessor to the Saturn V that would boost the Apollo missions - Image from This Day in Aviation
Public Affairs Officer – Two minutes, 30 seconds and counting; we're still Go on Apollo 11 at this time.
Douglas Brinkley has been charting the history of the United States since the 1990s. The guy has some range. He was a mentee of Stephen Ambrose, which should be recommendation enough. In addition, he was literary executor for Hunter S. Thompson, and was the authorized biographer for Jack Kerouac. He has been active in and has written about the environmental movement, and has been attacked by occasional Republicans, which usually means he is doing something right. Brinkley is CNN’s goto expert on things presidential, having written books about many of them. His focus here is on the brief, but impactful presidency of John Fitzgerald Kennedy, and how he led the nation to the signal achievement of transporting a man to the moon and bringing him safely home.
Douglas Brinkley - image from politicaldig.com
Public Affairs Officer – We just passed the 2-minute mark in the countdown.
Brinkley follows JFKs early life, from so-so student, enduring considerable medical miseries and enjoying a very active social life, both in two prep schools and then in two different colleges to someone with a keen interest in and talent for public policy. Of particular interest is the impact of seeing the face of fascism in 1932 when he toured Germany in a bit of a reconnoiter for his politically connected father, who would be appointed the US ambassador to the United Kingdom a few years later.
Wernher von Braun - image from Space.com
Public Affairs Officer – T minus 1 minute, 54 seconds and counting. Our status board indicates that the oxidizer tanks in the second and third stages now have pressurized. We continue to build up pressure in all three stages here at the last minute to prepare it for lift-off
For much of the book, Brinkley parallels JFK’s rise with the career of Wernher von Braun, the German rocket expert who had overseen the development of the V-1 and V-2 rockets that Hitler used in attacking England. Von Braun is a fascinating character, however much his Hitlerian expedience marked him as a war criminal. Thousands of slave laborers perished in the Peenemünde rocket development site that he ran. He had dreamed of making space flight a reality ever since he was a child, and was willing to do whatever it took to move this goal forward. Post World War II, with the USA and the Soviet Union gearing up for the possible next great war, von Braun’s expertise was in high demand. He found his way to American forces in Germany, bringing with him a considerable supply of materials and research. Under a program called Operation Paperclip, von Braun and many other technically expert Germans, were brought to the United States to aid in the impending showdown with the Soviet Union. You will appreciate Tom Lehrer’s parodic ditty about him.
Apollo 11 en route to Launch Pad 39A - image from NASA
Public Affairs Officer – One minute, 25 seconds and counting. Our status board indicates the third stage completely pressurized.
Von Braun was, and remained a key player in the USA’s space program, being the force behind the development of the huge Saturn-V launch vehicle that sent most of the Apollo missions on their way. He remained a subject of considerable controversy, which he parried by becoming as American an immigrant as he possibly could. He had a gift for public relations, which led to a TV show promoting space travel, and a consultancy with Walt Disney to help design Tomorrowland at Disney’s new theme park. His articles appeared in many national magazines, which helped keep the space program in the national consciousness, a beautiful thing for those who supported American space efforts. It also made him a powerful friend in the new president. The two men were more than just convenient allies.
Apollo 11 at Launch Pad 39A - image from NASA
Public Affairs Officer – We're approaching the 60-second mark on the Apollo 11 mission.
We get a good overview of JFKs career, his heroism in the Pacific, and the subsequent fame he received for his PT-109 adventure, after a book written about the episode became a national best-seller, with help from his father. On domestic policy he was certainly of a liberal bent, but his foreign policy placed him much more in a conservative posture. He had seen what authoritarianism looked like and was eager to challenge it wherever possible, seeing the Soviet Union as the major authoritarian threat in the world.
The crew heads to Launch Pad 39A - image from NASA
Public Affairs Officer – 55 seconds and counting. Neil Armstrong just reported back: "It's been a real smooth countdown".
Brinkley catches us up on the progress, or lack of same, in the USA’s space program in the 1950s, as it was fraught with military branch in-fighting and was short on successes. But the launch of Sputnik was the wakeup call it took to refocus American interest in space. There remained naysayers, and many who believed that resources targeted to space exploration and development would have been better spent on more earthbound pursuits. But there was a growing sense that the country needed to make some serious headway in the exploration of space, lest the country be left in the dust by the Soviet advances, with repercussions that were not only military, but political and economic as well.
Spacecraft communicators in mission control - image from NASA
Public Affairs Officer – We've passed the 50-second mark. Power transfer is complete - we're on internal power with the launch vehicle at this time.
What Brinkley captures here is Kennedy’s view of the whole enterprise as a main act in the Cold War, the peaceable competition of the Western states, led by the USA, with the Eastern bloc, led by the Soviet Union. The East and West were not only doing kinetic battle in proxy wars like Vietnam, but struggling to win hearts and minds across the planet. Kennedy saw that US success in the space race would elevate the status of the West, leading many to tilt West instead of East when looking for alliances. He also emphasizes that Kennedy saw the space effort as a form of Keynesian economy-boosting similar to the infrastructure development of the FDR era. Kennedy was also quite aware of the likelihood that the research undertaken in this project would leapfrog the USA ahead in technological development, with impact in fields across the economy. Brinkley offers an impressive list of some of the developments that were created or boosted by the space program.
Apollo 11 at ignition - image from NASA
Public Affairs Officer – 40 seconds away from the Apollo 11 lift-off. All the second stage tanks now pressurized. 35 seconds and counting.
Just as Trump is a clear master of the new tech of Twitter, JFK was an early master of the PR potential of television, holding press conferences every sixteen days to make sure the messages his administration wanted in the public eye remained there. The focus on locating much of the NASA program in southern states was his version of a Southern Strategy, looking to build support for himself and Democrats by channeling federal investment where it was likely to do the most political good. But also, the nation was emerging from a recession, and a big public works project, like Eisenhauer’s national highway program, would pump enough money into the sluggish economy to get it moving again. It succeeded wildly in that.
Launches - image from NASA
Public Affairs Officer – We are still Go with Apollo 11. 30 seconds and counting. Astronauts report, "It feels good". T minus 25 seconds.
One thing that the book makes eminently clear was that Vice President Johnson was not only all in on supporting the Apollo program, he in fact was much more knowledgeable about the realities of space exploration challenges than JFK ever was. In addition, while Kennedy, privately, was more concerned with the potential military advantages of the space program, Johnson was more firmly in the peaceful-uses camp.
Liftoff - image from NASA
Public Affairs Officer – LIFT-OFF! We have a lift-off, 32 minutes past the hour. Lift-off on Apollo 11.
One of the great joys of reading a well-researched work of history is the opportunity to pick up some nuggets of odd intel here and there. For example, where the term “moonshot” originated, JFKs fondness for Joe McCarthy, the existence of a program that you probably never heard of that preceded and spurred US manned space flight, who was really the first man to orbit the earth, and a new update on the first words from the Moon.
Apollo 11 clears the tower - image from NASA
Public Affairs Officer – Tower cleared
The 1960s was certainly a very exciting time in the USA. There was a lot going on, not all of it wonderful, but there was a drive to move beyond, to move forward, to fulfill not only the dream of our fallen leader but a dream that had been shared by humanity for as long as people had looked up and wondered about that thing in the sky. Douglas Brinkley has given us an insightful and informative look into the nuts and bolts of how Apollo 11 came to be, into some of the geopolitical forces of the Cold War, into the domestic political battles that were being engaged, into the economic considerations that fed JFKs need to push forward, and into the personalities that proclaimed the mission as achievable and then used all their powers to drive the mission forward to a glorious fulfillment. He shows the impact of the program on our relationship with the Soviet Union, and the impact the program had on our economy. In doing this, he has captured the feel of the time, the excitement about, as well as fear for, the manned space missions, and ultimately the joy in seeing the dream realized. He has given us a sense of who the people involved really were, and what drove them. It is a very readable history, and for someone who has been a lifelong fan of space exploration, it is no exaggeration to say that American Moonshot is out of this world.
Apollo 11 at about 4,000 feet - image from NASA
Review posted – April 26, 2019
Publication date – April 2, 2019
Lunar Module at Tranquility Bay – image from NASA
Brinkley’s personal site
He has a twitter page, but it has not been updated since 2013. I found no personal Facebook page for him.
Brinkley non-book writings and/or appearances (partial)
-----The Reading Life with Douglas Brinkley with Susan Larson – audio – 28:56
Really, this one should do
Items of Interest
-----V-1 flying bomb
-----A 1955 video in which von Braun describes his plan for not only a manned moon mission, but a permanent space station
-----The NASA log of the Apollo 11 flight from which I extracted the “Public Affairs Officer” announcements included in the review
-----JFK’s We choose to go to the moon speech at Rice University – Video – 18:15
-----A transcript of that speech
-----C-SPAN – a nice documentary on the 25th anniversary of Apollo 11 mission
-----Telestar - by The Tornadoes ...more
Notes are private!
Apr 11, 2019
Apr 21, 2019
Mar 16, 2019
Mar 19, 2019
really liked it
Within groups, selfish individuals win against altruists, but groups of altruists beat groups of selfish individuals.
Within groups, selfish individuals win against altruists, but groups of altruists beat groups of selfish individuals.What we understand about the mechanisms of evolution has to do mostly with competition, one-on-one, or one-on-many dueling, whether in actual combat, which leads to bigger, tougher, stronger, faster characteristics, or sexual selection, which gets pretty extreme in other ways. But it was not so obvious, even to folks like Darwin, how it was possible for altruism to evolve. Where is the gain for a worker ant that does not reproduce? How are there still any worker ants at all? This is the focus of Edward Osborne (aka E.O.) Wilson’s latest book, Genesis. In case you have been living inside a termite mound for the last 60 years or so, Wilson is the world’s greatest expert on ants.
Marvel’s Ant-Man - image from movieweb.com
He is a biologist, naturalist, theorist and author. He is also an authority on and originator of the theory of sociobiology, which looks at the genetic basis for social behavior of all animals, including you, me, and our peeps. ( From an early age I was fascinated by the parallels between the worlds of insects and humans. We seem to have so much in common.) He originated the theory of “character displacement”
a process in which populations of two closely related species, after first coming into contact with each other, undergo rapid evolutionary differentiation in order to minimize the chances of both competition and hybridization between them. – from the Britannica profileHe has been a proponent of theories that have drawn considerable criticism. In 1990 Wilson was awarded the Crafoord Prize. The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences offers this award to support areas of science the Nobel Prizes do not recognize. He has won two Pulitzers for his writings. I leave it to Wikipedia to list his publications, far too many to show here. Wilson is, arguably, the closest living person we have to Charles Darwin, in terms of his impact on his field(s) during his lifetime.
Edward O. Wilson- the real Ant-Man, shown with some of his closest associates - image from Cosmos Magazine
He begins at the beginning, noting the first appearance of life on Earth, probably somewhere near an oceanic vent. Step 2 was invention of complex (“eukaryotic”) cells about 1.5 billion years ago. (bya) The division of labor within cells allowed for more and more complexity. Step 3 was the arrival of sexual reproduction, leading to a controlled system of DNA exchange and the multiplication of species. (and discos) Lots more potential for adaptation to get supercharged. Next up was when organisms began being made up of multiple cells, about 600 mya. Now we begin to get to specialized organs within a larger critter and lots of variety in size and shape of movable beasts. Almost there, just a couple more, hang on. From multiple organs we move up to multiple critters forming what are called “eusocial” groups. This is where we begin to get “altruism,” the origin of societies. The termites were the first that we know of, about 200 mya, ants had such groups at 40 mya, and hominids (not all, but beginning with Homo habilis) about 2 mya. The strangeness here being that some members of society behaved in socially cooperative ways that did not always leave them with baby antlings, tiny termites or babies, but which promoted the well-being of the nest, with a bit of extra attention to helping out close family members. And finally, ta-da, comes, well, for us anyway, speech and then literacy, which makes every thought potentially global. (not saying that many of those thoughts should go global, but the potential exists.)
In looking at how we (homo sap) have evolved to be what we are today, (insert snide comment here) it is instructive to look at other creatures to see how they evolved. Individual genetic selection will not keep producing non-reproductive creatures. By definition biological entities that do not reproduce offer only a dead-end for their DNA. So how do worker ants keep getting made? Is there a unit of the reproductive mechanism that exists at a higher level than the individual, maybe at, say, a group level? Wilson argues that this is indeed the case. Not all societal creatures are “eusocial.” (pronounced you-SO-shul, although I can imagine rugged individualist sorts pronouncing it EWWW, SO-shul) In fact, only about two percent of social groups develop this capacity.
Not all shirkers get off easily. Some non-contributors are killed and eaten by the colony (By the way, how much tax has Trump paid in the last ten years?) – Image from Coffee Table Science
The key here being that there has to be a large enough gene pool in the group to provide a sufficient base of reproducing DNA that the needed traits (in this case the altruism element) will keep coming along even if the worker ants are not making more worker ants. Overall, if the group, taken as a unit, is successful, the favored altruism genes will keep generating worker ants, but if the group is producing say, lazy bum ants who do no work and just feed off the labor of the others, the group as a whole will be less able to survive in the world. And therein lies the Darwinian selection. Voila! Darwin had also alluded to such a solution in the 19th century.
There is plenty more in here, of course, interesting bits on the growth in hominid brain size, our changing posture and diet, the impact of grassland vs forest/jungle living. Considering how slender this volume is, it is quite packed with information. Wilson is a good writer (two Pulitzers), so this is readable pop science. It did seem to get a bit thick here and there, enough that it might put off some casual readers. The main audience for Genesis would be anyone interested in the science and theories of biological and social evolution, and people with an interest in the mechanisms of nature. Definite brain candy.
E. O. Wilson has not only studied nature, and been a leading scientific theorist, he has become a champion for biodiversity, urging that half of our planet be set aside to save a majority of plant and wildlife species from extinction. He has changed how we see the world, changed how we see ourselves. At 90 years of age, it remains to be seen how much more we can hope for in Wilson’s contributions, but I expect we will be carrying the fruits of his labor back to our nests for as long as people keep making more people. If you are new to Wilson’s work, Genesis would be a great place to begin learning from one of the great minds of our time.
Review posted – April 12, 2019
Publication – March 19, 2019
Wilson’s foundation and FB page
-----The Academy of Achievement
-----PBS - a beautiful, feature-length biography- video - worth the time – check this out
-----My Wish: Build the Encyclopedia of Life - 22:21
-----Advice to a Young Scientist
Items of Interest
-----Smithsonian – April 2012 - Edward O. Wilson’s New Take on Human Nature by Natalie Anger ...more
Notes are private!
Apr 05, 2019
Apr 09, 2019
Mar 04, 2019
Mar 26, 2019
Mar 26, 2019
really liked it
The very gears that make Facebook socially wonderful—its ease of connecting and sharing—are the same ones that facilitate trolling, the flourishing o
The very gears that make Facebook socially wonderful—its ease of connecting and sharing—are the same ones that facilitate trolling, the flourishing of hate groups, the dissemination of fake news, and dirty political tricks. In a similar way, the gears that make science work—the fact that it is done by collectives, is abstract, and always open to revision--also provide fuel for science deniers…The chapters that follow will explain how the current state of affairs came about, and what will be necessary to change it. Aristotle, one of the most practical and wise of all philosophers, wrote that, while it is easy to become angry, it is harder to be angry “with the right person, and to the right degree, and at the right time, and for the right purpose, and in the right way.” This book is about how to get angry about science denial in the right way.
Robert P. Crease - image from Physics World
Crease is a world-renowned teacher and writer on things pertaining to philosophy and science. He chairs and teaches in the Department of Philosophy at Stony Brook University in New York, is co-editor-in-chief of Physics in Perspective, and, for almost twenty years, he has been writing a column called Critical Point in the publication Physics World. There is a lot to be learned in the very reasonably-sized The Workshop and the World.
Francis Bacon - image from Philosopher.co.uk
The core intent of the book is to show how, throughout history, science and math, what Crease calls “the workshop,” has had to contend with rival forces in the world. Some great thinkers have gone to considerable trouble to analyze this tension and attempted to figure out why that was, and still is. Each of these luminaries came up with interesting theories on how things should be vs how they are, and offered their takes on the forces underlying that battle. One primary core is that people will accept the findings of science if it is backed with the imprimatur of authority. At one time, authority vested mostly in trans-state entities like the Church. Thus, if the Church decried the findings of the workshop (meaning you, Galileo), authority was denied to the science being presented, and thus people at large were less likely to embrace new findings. There have been other sources of such authority over the years, each with interests that sometimes ran (still run) counter to the findings of the workshop. What constitutes authority today and how can science successfully gain its protection in order to best serve to inform and assist us all?
Galileo - image from Smithsonian
Crease traces the history of this conflict, taking us through brief bios of ten great thinkers. (which is definitely not the same thing as ten great people. Some of these folks you might want to admire from a great distance). There are some names here I confess were news to me. Giambattista Vico, of Naples, was an ardent defender of study of the humanities, fearing that reducing human interaction to mechanical and math-based rules would cause us to “go mad rationally.” Speaking of madness, the likely unbalanced Auguste Comte was a name I had heard, but frankly knew nothing about. He held a very high view of science, seeing it as a way to explain nature without reliance on gods of any sort. He promoted a theory called Positive Philosophy, where you might substitute the word “scientific” for “positive.” It did not help that the guy was a world class jerk, egocentric at a Trumpian level, unkind to his wife, getting into constant battles with employers and peers, generally detested. Think Ted Cruz anywhere outside a Texas voting booth. Edmund Husserl was another unfamiliar name. He argued for scientific exploration that was well attuned to immediate human experience and not locked away from the world of people in a lab.
Rene Descartes - image from Target Health Inc.
There are some core concepts to take away from this book. The authority thing is first, noted above. Science has innate uncertainty. Every observation, every experiment, every measurement, has the potential to be overturned by the next advance in observational, or analytical technology or the next great theory. Religion, despite the vast array of conflict within each brand, sub-brand, and sub-sub brand ad infinitum, claims its truths to be divinely revealed and eternal. Once you settle into whatever set of beliefs you choose, there is no need to re-adjust when extant circumstances change, or new ideas offer better explanations. There is comfort in holding close the accepted, the revered, the worshipped, and considerable distress to be had by allowing in alternate understandings. So, right off the bat, to many with a firm religious perspective, (and that religion could just as easily include ideologies as well), upending the extant scientific view of the world is gonna be a hard sell. Francis Bacon came up with an ingenious strategy, maintaining that nature was the other book that God gave to man, and it was up to us to use the tools we found in studying that book to better obey God.
Giambattista Vico - image from Wikipedia
Another core element is that there has to be an arena in which people with a contrary scientific view can take action, which, in this context means bringing their ideas to a public forum, where they can be examined, debated, refuted, maybe even improved, without the person bringing the new view being put in fear for his or her life. (publish and perish?) This has particular impact in places where there is limited or no free press, namely totalitarian countries. Our friend Galileo, for example, was denied the right to teach, or to espouse his views in any public way, by the Church. He espoused a third source of authority, independent of religious and civil, the scientific.
There is a gap between the world of science and the world of human experience. Go head, try explaining string theory to just about anyone. It makes science, a lot of it, anyway, almost entirely remote from day-to-day personal experience, and thus easier to dismiss. Also there is a real challenge with applying first-hand, worldly knowledge based on experience to research based on theory. There is not always, but certainly can be a tension there, if those on the ground feel that their perspective is not being heard.
Science does not exist in a sociopolitical vacuum. It requires interaction with the world outside the workshop, connection with human values. Mary Shelley certainly offered a resonant image of what science might do, uninhibited by social (meaning either state or religious/moral) control. We still think today about Franken-this and Franken-that as a dark result of science being done in the absence of adequate foresight and control.
Auguste Comte - image from Vision.org
In addition to the household names, others were familiar, the material here offering reminders of information once known, but adding other info that had never found its way through my personal screen of ignorance. Max Weber is a giant in the foundations of social sciences. Crease focuses here on Weber’s concern that the so-called rationalization of scientific and social enterprises would ultimately rob both of their humanity. He believed that it would take charismatic leaders to lift societies our of their bureaucratic ruts. Of course, that can lead to even bigger problems if your charismatic turns out to be a lunatic. The chapter on Hannah Arendt grabbed me the most. No doubt one element of this is that she is the most contemporary of the great minds under view here. Also, the subject matter to which she dedicated so much of her attention is alarmingly relevant today.
Factual truth is essential to the public space and the ability to act. “Freedom of opinion is a farce unless factual information is guaranteed and the facts themselves are not in dispute.” She concludes: “Conceptually, we may call truth what we cannot change; metaphorically, it is the ground on which we stand and the sky that stretches above us.” To threaten facts is to threaten human existence, and freedom itself.
Max Weber - image from Crisis Magazine
There are some fun details to be found in here. Galileo, for one, made a big deal out of trying to figure out the physical shape of hell that was described by Dante in The Inferno, and screwed up the math. The tale of Comte’s ongoing unpleasantness was entertaining if quite bleak. And the dark existences some of these folks endured, with less than happy endings, is interesting, if a bit bleak.
Hannah Arendt - image from WomensNews.org
Ok. Let’s be real here. People whose approach to science is to hold their hands over their ears and repeat LALALALALALALALALA as loudly as possible to drown out any potential incoming information, will never be persuaded by an argument offered in the past by world-class scientists who had to contend with the mindlessness of their times. Unscrupulous political and religious leaders, fueled by self-interested corporate interests and/or personal faith or ideology, will do whatever it takes to keep reality-based positions from gaining too much power. Consider that there are still morons in our legislative bodies who contend that global warming is a hoax. And some (yes, I mean you, Louis Gohmert), and the people who vote for him, who are simply too dumb to understand much of anything, and too mean to admit their error should they ever actually acquire understanding. Don’t waste your breath. You could drown their communities a hundred times and they will still insist that the river will never overflow again because global warming is a hoax, or, better, find a way to blame scientists, immigrants, Muslims, minorities, or liberals for deliberately flooding them, just to, I don’t know, maybe make them feel bad.
Edmund Husserl - image from Literariness.org
The solutions, the approaches Crease offers seem pretty obvious, and not necessarily a product of the preceding journey. They are of a short and long-term sort. On the short stack is getting politicians to Sign Pledges - This has worked pretty well for Grover Norquist and his toxic, and dishonest Taxpayer Protection Pledge, so I suppose it might be of some use, but pols are nothing if not flexible in figuring ways to either not sign or to interpret a pledge in whatever way best suits them.
Next up is Exposing Hypocrisy - This minimizes the talent most politicians have for dancing around uncomfortable questions and limiting our ability to get answers. And some seem immune to any sense of shame. Trump, for example, seems to thrive on hypocrisy. For some, hypocrisy is not so much a bug as a feature. To the cult member, it is a non-issue, easily parried as fake news.
Use comedy or ridicule - Has Crease not been watching any of the late night talk show, the huge number of people posting disparaging comedic material on pretty much every available venue, print and digital?
Tell Parables - I really like this one. If people come up with resonant metaphors they might have the capacity to slip past the bars of political bias He offers a pretty good example.
Prosecute – Well, we are working on that, but when the polluters decide who the prosecutors are, that approach is doomed – See the deal Exxon made with the state of New Jersey under Chris Christie. Like Trump installing onto courts the people who will ultimately judge him.
These suggestions are not useless, but they are not exactly news. I was hoping for something a bit more surprising than tactics that are already ongoing. The long-term approaches are minimally different from the short-term ones noted above.
So, if the goal of this book is to provide new tools to do battle with the forces of ignorance, I would call it a miss. However, and this is a big HOWEVER, there is a lot of interesting information in these pages, and it is at least somewhat reassuring that the battle between illumination and darkness has been going on for a long time, and we are still here, alive, able to carry it on. Also, it is worth refreshing our familiarity with some of the major progenitors of our world, and understanding the foundation on which demagogues build their Potemkin Villages of fear, misinformation, rage, and doubt. The Truth is what you make of it, so we need to remain vigilant and keep ours and succeeding generations from descending into another know-nothing dark age.
US politicians who attack science are like the Islamic State militants who bulldozed archaeological treasures and smash statues. Is such a comparison really over the top? Science is a cornerstone of Western culture, not only to ward off threats but also to achieve social goals. In seeking to destroy those tools science deniers are like ISIS militants in that they’re motivated by higher authority, believe mainstream culture threatens their beliefs, and want to destroy the means by which that mainstream culture survives and flourishes, If anything, ISIS militants are more honest, for they openly admit that their motive is faith and ideology, while Washington’s cultural vandals do not. It’s disingenuousness, prevents honest discussion of the issues, and falsely discredits and damages American institutions. At debates and press conferences, such politicians should be asked: “Explain the difference between ISIS religious extremists who attack cultural treasures and politicians who attack scientific process.” How they respond will reveal much about their values and integrity.
Review posted – March 22, 2019
Publication date – March 26, 2019
I received this book from Norton in return for an information-based, unbiased review, but one based in real-world experience.
Links to the author’s personal, and GR pages
Items by Crease
-----a list of articles for Project Syndicate
-----Co-author of an article in Physics Today - The New Big Science
-----Francis Bacon’s New Atlantis
-----Descartes’ Discourse ...more
Notes are private!
Mar 04, 2019
Mar 19, 2019
Mar 04, 2019
Nov 14, 2018
Mar 12, 2019
it was amazing
As a student, realizing that my biology books were of little help explaining chimpanzee behavior, I picked up a copy of Machiavelli’s The Prince. It
As a student, realizing that my biology books were of little help explaining chimpanzee behavior, I picked up a copy of Machiavelli’s The Prince. It offered an insightful, unadorned account of human behavior based on real-life observations of the Borgias, the Medici, and the popes. The book put me in the right frame of mind to write about ape politics at the zoo.----------------------------------------
We know our own inner states imperfectly and often mislead both ourselves and those around us. We’re masters of fake happiness, suppressed fear, and misguided love. This is why I’m pleased to work with nonlinguistic creatures. I’m forced to guess their feelings, but at least they never lead me astray by what they tell me about themselves.
Jan van Hoof - image from Utrechtse Bilologen Vereniging
Jan van Hoof was two months shy of eighty years old and Mama was one month shy of fifty nine when they said their goodbyes. They had known each other for forty years. She’d been sleeping a lot, had lost considerable weight, which was not surprising for one of the world’s oldest zoo chimpanzees, but she finally wakes up, spots Jan, and beams with a smile far wider than any human could produce. She bleats out a high-pitched call of greeting while reaching up for Jan’s head, pats the back of his neck and strokes his hair, pulling him closer. It is a moving moment that most of us might struggle to get through without releasing at least one or two tears of recognition. And why not? There are many more ties that bind us than there are those that divide us. And with this tearful scene we are delivered to a key question. Just how different are humans from apes, from animals, in terms of our emotional lives?
Mama - image from Royal Burgers Zoo
In 1980, the Dutch-born author learned that a favorite chimpanzee alpha had been murdered by two male rivals in the colony. It became a life-changing event for him. He was about to move to the USA and continue his study of apes, but he realized that there was far too much that was not known about the roles of cooperation, reconciliation, pro-social behavior, and fairness in the animals’ relationships. He redirected his life studies toward gaining a better understanding of such long-neglected areas of animal behavioral research.
Frans de Waal - image from wikipedia
Franciscus Bernardus Maria "Frans" de Waal is now a world-renowned primatologist and social psychologist who has broken much new ground in our understanding of animal psychology and emotion. Competition was always studied in his field, but de Waal was the first to establish intentional deception, conflict resolution, and a non-human basis for empathy and morality. A serious scientist, whose popular writing has brought his theories to a wide readership, his list of awards and recognitions would fill the page. His most recent book is Are We Smart Enough To Know How Smart Animals Are? Hopefully, enough of us are. The question here is whether we are perceptive enough to be able to recognize and appreciate animal emotions.
Mama, the long-time matriarch of the Burgers Zoo chimpanzee colony, with her daughter Moniek. At the time of this photo Mama was at the height of her power – Image and text from the book
This is not a book about Mama, although her story does illustrate de Waal’s point. Many researchers appear to have an irresistible impulse to portray animals as entirely separate from people. De Waal is interested in showing us that there is far less difference than human exceptionalists would like to think. Are we really so different? There have been many lines scientists have drawn that supposedly separate humans from animals, that separate us from our biological roots. Once it was claimed that humans are different because we use tools. That lasted until researchers discovered that diverse sorts of creatures also use tools. Brain size? Number of neurons? Nope, nope. More recently, a difference-maker has been claimed in our experiencing of emotions, portraying animals as virtually mechanical. Anyone with cats, dogs, or most other sorts of pets can assure you that our companion animals do indeed have emotions. As do, apparently other animals as well. Now there is research to back up what is obvious to many of us.
The anthropomorphism argument [that we merely project our emotions onto the animals being studied] is rooted in human exceptionalism. It reflects the desire to set humans apart and deny our animality. To do so remains customary in the humanities and much of the social sciences, which thrive on the notion that the human mind is somehow our own invention…Modern neuroscience makes it impossible to maintain a sharp human-animal dualism.
Bonobos are huggers - Image by Jutta Hof – taken from de Waal’s FB
And if we are not so different, then what might be our common roots? How did our emotions, and how we behave come to be? And by we I am not limiting that to people. The work portrayed here raises many questions, about the origin of some characteristics of human beings, about animals having a sense of time, about the nutritional needs of hunter-gatherers, the role of neuron-count in consciousness, a definition of consciousness, the role of individualism and socialization in species survival, the impact of affection in early life on development, [ok, take a breath]
We have trouble imagining fairness as an evolved trait party due to how we depict nature. Using evocative phrases such as “survival of the fittest” and “nature red in tooth and claw,” we stress nature’s cruelty, leaving no room for fairness, only the right of the strongest. In the meantime, we forget that animals often depend on each other and survive through cooperation. In fact, they struggle far more against their environment or against hunger and disease than against each other.
Orangutan mother holding juvenile - image by Max Block – taken from de Waal’s FB
[Rested now? Ok, back to it]…whether humans are alone in having free will, the impact of increasing inequality on longevity. Is there a human instinct for war? Do animals laugh or smile? Can animals commit murder? What is the relationship between intellect and emotion? What does it mean to be an alpha male? And where did our notion of that term originate? What is the relationship between emotions and free will? The difference between feelings and emotions? I could go on, but you get the picture.
The idea that we can achieve optimal sociality only by subduing human biology is antiquated. It doesn’t fit with what we know about hunter-gatherers, other primates, or modern neuroscience. It also promotes a sequential view—first we had human biology, then we got civilization—whereas in reality the two have always gone hand in hand.
Grooming bonobo - image by Jutta Hof – taken from de Waal’s FB
There is an entire chapter on smiling and laughter, (yes, they do) which is a real revelation regarding what the source of humor might be.
We may not be in full control of our emotions, but we aren’t their slaves either. This is why you should never say “my emotions took over” as an excuse for something stupid you did, because you let your emotions take over. Getting emotional has a voluntary side. You let yourself fall in love with the wrong person, you let yourself hate certain others, you allowed greed to cloud your judgment or imagination to feed your jealousy. Emotions are never just emotions, and they are never fully automated. Perhaps the greatest misunderstanding about emotions is that they are the opposite of cognition. We have translated the dualism between body and mind into one between emotion and intelligence, but the two actually go together and cannot operate without each other.What has been learned from the lessons discussed here can be used to improve not only how we treat animals that are housed in zoos, and used in research, but in how livestock can be treated more humanely, reinforcing the work of researchers in this field, such Temple Grandin.
Baby Love - image by Jutta Maue Kay – taken from de Waal’s FB
De Waal is a first-rate writer, bringing to his books an engaging style, and an ability to make complex subjects accessible to the average reader. He even exposes, on occasion, a sense of humor, which is always welcome in popular science writing. De Waal makes a strong case that our emotions not only do not separate us from other beings, but show our deep connection to them. He shows how emotions+intellect is a formula that has been very successful for the survival of many species, and offers a far more flexible approach to solving new problems than rigid instinctual responses ever could. He gives us good reason to recognize our shared inheritance, our fellowship and sisterhood with a vast array of earth’s creatures, and in so doing, offers us tools to better understand our behavior as a species, and the behavior of non-human living things all around us. It is an intellectual whirlwind, with many new ideas flying around. Plenty there to grab and inspect. Mama’s Last Hug should be the beginning of a new widespread appreciation for our own social, emotional and psychological roots, and empathy for the experience of others. Embrace it.
I will only rarely refer to other species as “other animals” or “non-human animals.” For simplicity’s sake, I will mostly call them just “animals,” even though for me, as a biologist, nothing is more self-evident than that we are part of the same kingdom. We are animals. Since I don’t look at our species as emotionally much different from other mammals, and in fact would be hard-pressed to pinpoint uniquely human emotions, we had better pay careful attention to the emotional background we share with our fellow travelers on this planet. - Frans De Waal
Gorillas live in family groups with a dominant silverback male and several females and offspring. Gorilla dads sometimes groom and play with their infants, even stepping in as surrogate mothers if need be. – image by Diane Fossey – taken from de Waal’s FB
Review posted – March 8, 2019
Publication date – March 12, 2019
-----his FB page
-----he is head of Living Links – Center for the Advanced Study of Ape and Human Evolution - There are many informative articles, including interviews with de Waal, linked on the Publications Page – Definitely a rabbit hole worth exploring
-----TED Talk - Moral Behavior in Animals
-----another TED Talk - The Surprising Science of Alpha Males
-----March 9, 2019 - NY Times - Your Dog Feels as Guilty as She Looks
-----An excerpt from the book - What Do We Really Know About Animals’ Emotions?
Other items of interest
----- The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals - by Charles Darwin – on Gutenberg
-----Video of Jan and Mama saying goodbye
-----Royal Burgers’ Zoo page about Mama and Jan
-----my review of Among the Great Apes - a very different sort of ape-related book ...more
Notes are private!
Feb 19, 2019
Mar 04, 2019
Feb 18, 2019
Sep 04, 2018
Sep 04, 2018
it was amazing
I'm standing next to my table, everything neatly lined up, and I'm just hoping that my professors can see how much effort I've put into making my des
I'm standing next to my table, everything neatly lined up, and I'm just hoping that my professors can see how much effort I've put into making my designs practical and ergonomic and sustainable. And I'm starting to get really nervous, because for a long time, no one says anything. It's just completely silent. And then one of the professors starts to speak, and he says, "Your work gives me a feeling of joy."…I asked the professors, "How do things make us feel joy? How do tangible things make us feel intangible joy?” They hemmed and hawed and gestured a lot with their hands. "They just do," they said… So this got me thinking: Where does joy come from? I started asking everyone I knew, and even people I just met on the street, about the things that brought them joy. On the subway, in a café, on an airplane, it was, "Hi, nice to meet you. What brings you joy?" I felt like a detective. I was like, "When did you last see it? Who were you with? What color was it? Did anyone else see it?" I was the Nancy Drew of joy. - from the author’s TED talkJoyful is what she found out.
Ingrid Fetell Lee - image from her FB page
The answers are directed at the immediate senses, and how external elements, form, color, shape, texture, scent, or sound can offer joyful sensate experience.
Seeing it all laid out, it was clear that joy was not a mysterious, intuitive force; it emanated directly from the physical properties of the objects. Specifically, it was what designers called aesthetics—the attributes that define the way an object looks and feels—that gave rise to the feeling of joy.She notes commonality in the joyful things she found in the world, and breaks that down to ten subject areas she labels the Aesthetics of Joy; Energy, Abundance, Freedom, Harmony, Play, Surprise, Transcendence, Magic, Celebration, and Renewal, looking at how each can be applied to improving our lives. She offers diverse, interesting, and enlightening examples from the real world of how each has been approached. While her focus is on our living and working spaces, selecting how to shape and what to put on our walls, desks, coffee tables, and mantles, to create more enriched environments, she also looks a bit at where and how you might find joy in the outside world.
Jihan Zencirli has made an uplifting business out a familiar joyous object – reflecting points about the joy of celebration and the impact of large objects in our festivities
If you are trying to engineer more joy into peoples’ lives, that is a form of psychological practice, whether board certified or not. (IFL does consult with several psychologists in trying to get a handle on joy.) But is this really so much different from any other artform that attempts to help us feel? Painting, writing/performing music, dance, writing poetry, fiction, and non-fiction, all seek to evoke a response.
A body of research is emerging that demonstrates a clear link between our surroundings and our mental health. For example, studies show that workers with sunny desks are happier and more productive than their peers in dimly lit offices.She finds in the dominant modernist minimalism architecture and internal décor of contemporary life, the places we work, the buildings in which we live, the places where we learn, or secure needed services, a soul-sucking drain on our need for joy. She sees joy as a form of sustenance, no less than food, water, light, clothing, and shelter. We need at least some joy to keep going on.
We all have an inclination to seek joy in our surroundings, yet we have been taught to ignore it. What might happen if we were to reawaken this instinct for finding joy?
Pierre Cardin’s iconic Bubble Palace designed By Antti Lovag – image from nine.com.au – the author writes on the impact on creativity of curvy shapes in one’s environment
IFL offers some concrete examples of the impact of design on behavior. A non-profit took on the task of repainting schools, to make them more stimulating and inviting. The results were eye-opening, both in attendance and performance metrics. I suppose it is possible that the schools thus impacted might have been self-selected, and might have improved anyway. I did not dig deeply into the report, but it does at least seem like a wonderful idea, and ther results were encouraging.
Even aprons designed for professional use can make restaurant workers feel a bit better - Image from Hedley and Bennett
I was talking about this book with a dear friend who was a chef, had owned and run a restaurant or three in her time, but is out of the business now. She said that one of the things that was very important to her was that the plates on which a meal was served complemented the food, drew the eye, made for a presentation that was about more than just aroma and flavor, but built anticipation. IFL is doing that here, on a much larger table.
The repeating joy in my experience, outside of things interpersonal, is the visual stimulation of the natural world. During a period of several years, my wife and I managed to visit many National Parks, and each experience was most assuredly joyous, seeing so much rare and exquisite beauty in American landscapes. But those days ended and I had to find something else to fill that need. When I got out of work on Sunday morning, I took to driving to different NYC parks and shooting what I could of local visual delights. The combination of natural light and man-made elements was no less joyous and filling than seeing the Grand Canyon or Death Valley. My park tour days are also a fond memory now, but there is singular joy to be had spotting a late afternoon cumulo-nimbus in glowing white, while its neighbor clouds are in shadow. Or the god-light rays of a setting sun visible from the upstairs deck in the back of our house. No, the visions do not pay the bills, but they do provide significant moments of feeling at one with the world. One thing IFL looks at is how to incorporate into one’s personal and/or work spaces ways to reproduce such natural salves, ways to remind ourselves of things that are natural. Turns out there are many ways to fill that bill.
Are we going that high? - my shot from a joyous ride over the Willamette Valley in 2008 – (It is clickable, if you want a higher rez) IFL writes about the joy of transcendent feelings, and the correlation of upward movement with joy
One of the joys of this book is trailing along with the author as she talks with experts on design across the planet. I added some (ok, many) links in EXTRA STUFF. You will really enjoy checking out the linked designers and their work.
Work by Eva Zeisel – image from the British Museum – reflecting the Renewal aesthetic, as Zeisel’s design shapes suggest nature and growth
Here’s a bad idea for design. Yes, a newborn’s first cry is a source of joy. Replaying it over and over is something less than joyful. Small repeating elements can, however, evince joyful feelings, as in confetti, sprinkles, or glitter. But I suppose they can also become distracting and intrusive, not to mention no fun for the cleaning staff.
A “Reversible Destiny Loft” in Tokyo – The author tried it for a few days - Can enough physical stimulation in a living space reverse aging?
One may wonder, does the aesthetic IFL espouses reflect anything more than her own personal preferences? There is certainly a danger that confirmation bias might play a role here. By offering thoughtful discussion, and the assistance of professional practitioners, she made me feel pretty comfortable with there being a minimum of such sample soiling here.
There might be real issues with the values espoused and the degree to which one might take the recommended strategies. For example, IFL looks for examples of order as joyful. The notion is reminiscent of the broken-window theory that projected an increase in crime in places where unrepaired, publicly viewable damage was left untended. There was a basis for that and the policy was effective in the real world. But on a personal level, it is also possible that one man’s mess is another man’s nirvana. This is not hard science, with firm edges, but scientifically informed advice for directions that may lead you to a place you want to go.
Starburst lights at the Metropolitan Opera illuminate the Sparkle and Flare element of F-L’s Celebration aesthetic
The Brain Candy Corner
Here is a list of some notions from the book that provide food for thought, or, you know, brain candy. They are legion here
-----The impact of variable rather than uniform light
-----Preferred human landscape – both to live in and see in paintings on our walls – there appears to be one in particular that is favored almost universally
-----Can a living space that is stimulating enough slow aging?
-----Consider the diversity of our senses – thought you had five? Nah, many more.
-----A sparse environment numbs our senses
-----On minimalism as anti-sensory
-----On the shifting baseline syndrome – what seems wild today is less wild that what seemed wild a generation ago
-----On the relationship of joy to play
-----Association between play and circles
-----Ways to see the unseen
-----Fear of loss of personal interaction resulting from on-line life
-----On the roots of Carnevale
-----The appeal of balloons
-----Seasonality brings the promise of joy, while a simple one-way time flow makes the future always uncertain
-----On anticipation as an enhancement to joy
Yarn bombing in action – an element of the Surprise aesthetic – image from wiki – Bet this photo made you smile
One aspect that kept me wondering was a question of definition. Where does joy leave off and pleasure begin? Amusement? Enjoyment? Where do fun and happiness fit into this spectrum? How is joy different? Need joy be a purely positive thing? Can one have fun doing something awful? Sure, if one is psychologically damaged. But can one take joy in dark doings? Did Charles Manson experience joy when he was killing people? Maybe fun is less substantive. Like having had a fun time at a party, the beach, or a baseball game. Fun is ephemeral. It tickles our senses and then abates. How is this different from pleasure? Can pleasure be an ephemeral experience too? Joy, somehow, seems richer. I do not defend this notion at all. Going on feelz here. Joyful does not really address all this, and I guess it does not really need to. It seems perfectly ok to accept the presenting notion that joy is an absolute good thing, and that we human sorts have a need for joy in our lives, in the same way that we need more readily defined physical inputs. Is joy a sustaining experience? Can it become ecstatic, transcendental even? I think it can, based on personal experience. I once said to my son that the joy I experience from the beauty of the world was like a religion for me. His response was, “why like?” The lines between the sundry joy-like feelings remain squishy for me. But then, IFL is a designer, not a researcher in psychology, and it would be wrong to hold her to a requirement that she explain everything that goes on in our tiny minds.
In short, (yeah, I know, too late), Ingrid Fetell Lee has done an amazing job of explaining the impact of design on our lives, while offering a wide array of potential correctives. In doing so, she has accomplished that major victory of combining the imparting of information with delivering that intel in a manner that is engaging, entertaining, energetic and fun. Your brain may explode with all the possibilities on display in this book, but I expect I am not alone in reporting that Joyful is a thing of beauty, a classic of its kind, and will, I expect, be a joy forever.
Wonders never cease, as long as we are willing to look for them.
Review posted – September 7, 2018
Publication date – September 4, 2018
Links to the author’s personal, Twitter, Instragram, and FB pages
The author’s TED Talk, Where Joy Hides and How To Find It
Some of the People (mostly designers) mentioned in the book (there are more, really)
-----Ruth Lande Shuman - founder of the non-profit Publicolor, which offers a group of design-based programs aimed at helping high-risk students in their education.
-----Ellen Bennett, while working as a line cook, decided to upgrade the aprons that kitchen staff wear, so designed a line of more interesting apparel and got her business started
-----Shusaku Arakawa and Madeline Gins started The Reversible Destiny Foundation to design and promote “procedural architecture,” claiming that certain sorts of living spaces could reverse human aging. Color me skeptical, but their work is worth checking out.
-----Dorothy Draper (no relation to Don) is noted in Joyful for her attention to texture, vibrancy, and richness of interior environment, particularly in the resort hotel The Greenbrier in West Virginia
-----Vitaly Komar and Alexander Melamid, Russian emigres, devised a test to determine a universally favored painting. Turns out their “Most Wanted” project found its way into Darwinian Aesthetics
-----British geographer Jay Appleton devised the “prospect-refuge theory” of human aesthetics.
-----Landscape architect James Corner designed the High-Line park in Manhattan
-----Summer Rayne Oakes works in ecologically-minded design
-----Piet Oudolf is a world renown expert in horticultural design
-----George Van Tassel’s Integratron Dome has a mind-bowing origin story, and peculiar qualities that may be out of this world. Of all the links provided here, this one may be the most fun. You might also want to check this site, and this video and its sequel.
----- The Quilts of Gees Bend
-----Architect and designer Gaetano Pesce is the creator of bubble housing, what he calls habitologue.
-----Leanne Prain, Yarn bomber extraordinaire
-----Gavin Pretor-Pinney is the founder of The Cloud Appreciation Society
-----Psych professors Dacher Keltner and Jonathan Haidt write about awe, a moral, spiritual, and aesthetic emotion
-----Conceptual artist Olafur Eliasson delights in the inexplicable
-----from Ludwig Van - Ode to Joy, via Lenny B
-----Joy to the World - Three Dog Night
-----You Bring Me Joy - Anita Baker
-----Joy to the World - The MT Choir
My editor was worn out from all the joy
Notes are private!
Aug 24, 2018
Sep 03, 2018
Sep 02, 2018
Aug 07, 2018
Aug 07, 2018
it was amazing
All right, USA, who wants to go first? Come on, come on someone, anyone. Let’s see some hands. No? No one? All right then, Mother Nature will just hav All right, USA, who wants to go first? Come on, come on someone, anyone. Let’s see some hands. No? No one? All right then, Mother Nature will just have to choose one of you. Eenie meenie, miney mo, which will be the first to go? All right, Tangier Island, looks like you’re it. Congratulations! You are the premier official global warming refugee site in America. Come on down and receive your prize. Free ferry tickets to the mainland. Don’t let the waves hit you on your way out.. .
Tangier Island - photo credit – Andrew Moore for the NY Times
It is a community unlike any in America. Here live people so isolated for so long that they have their own style of speech, a singsong brogue of old words and phrases, twisted vowels, odd rhythms. Its virtually amphibious men follow a calendar set by the Chesapeake Bay blue crab, and they catch more of the prized delicacy than anyone else. It is a near-theocracy of old-school Christians who brook no trade in alcohol, and kept a major movie from filming in their midst over scenes of sex and beer. And not least, this is one big, extended family: All but a few islanders can trace their lineage to a single man.
David Schulte, from the Army Corps of Engineers, on the beach in what’s left of the Tangier region called Uppards – image from the NY Times – photo by Andrew Moore
Earl Swift was a reporter for the Virginia Pilot when he got his first briny taste of Tangier island in 1999. He wrote several pieces about this little-known place, that was not only isolated (as isolated as one can be only twelve miles from the mainland), but facing considerable long-term challenges. Tangier had been used by Native Americans for hunting and fishing. It was first mapped in 1608 by one John Smith (you may have heard of him) and not regularly occupied, by Westerners anyway, until 1686, when the Royal Marines built Fort Albion there. It is expected to be claimed by the bay by the mid/late 21st century. It will be rendered uninhabitable long before that. Sparked by a significant item from Scientific Reports in 2015, Swift’s interest was rekindled and he opted to take a closer, deeper look.
…little Tangier is important in one respect. As the Scientific Reports article concluded, it’s likely to be the first to go. That experience—and the uncomfortable questions it forces the country to confront—will inform what the rest of us on and near coasts can expect in the decades to come. What makes a community worth saving? Will its size alone prompt the nation to fight for its survival—or are other, less tangible factors as important? Which such factors count the most? And if size is the chief consideration, what’s the cutoff, the minimum population, that’s worth rescue? What, in short, is important to us?
Earl Swift - image from the University of Missouri - Saint Louis
For some the potential demise of Tangier is a crying shame, the loss of a culture that has grown its own ways and language, a real community of real people. Not exactly a lost Stone Age Bornean tribe in their differences from the rest of us, but with enough uniqueness to mark some lines between here and there. For others, the loss of Tangier would be just another manifestation of the ongoing global warming that is raising sea levels and making much of the planet hotter, and much of our weather harsher. The question posed by this book is whether the island is worth saving, given that saving it will entail a considerable public investment.
A backyard of a home on Tangier Island gives way to marsh, a trend affecting more and more homes, as erosion, land subsidence and sea level rise afflict the island. Photo taken on Saturday, July 1, 2017 – image and text from The Virginian-Pilot – by Steve Earley
To inform our answers Earl Swift spent considerable time on the island getting to know its residents, learn the local culture, patois, values, personalities, values, beliefs, and concerns. His more deskbound research offers us both a history of the place and a look at the climatic and geological conditions that seem certain to doom Tangier to a watery grave. The value of the island, and related islands is not just the human history and culture that is at risk. There are natural features that impact the survival not only of local avian life, but the underwater fauna and flora that support a wide range of species, including the blue crab and oyster. There is value to sustaining existing environments and species, for environmental, aesthetic, and commercial reasons. If (when) this island disappears, how will its loss affect the Chesapeake Bay blue crabs that fill so many bellies. How will that loss affect the men and women who bring this renewable resource to our tables. If the potential crab harvest is severely reduced there will be secondary impact, as the shutting down of a significant economic force sends waves through the adjacent economies. What about, for instance, the truckers who deliver crabs and oysters from the Tangier watermen to the rest of the nation, the shops and restaurants that depend on them for customers and product?
The Amanda Lee, a typical Tangier workboat – image from OutsideOnLine.com - photo credit Matt Eich
In reading Chesapeake Requiem, you will pick up some terminology, will learn to differentiate a jimmy from a sook from a peeler, and appreciate the significance of a sponge on a crab. What might a progger be, or a come-here? What is a doubler, and what are the differences between jumbos, primes, hotels, and mediums, and what is a sugar toad?
It is also a place where, when a couple learned that their adopted Asian children had been taken from their birth parents illegally, they gave the kids the chance to meet their biological parents, and choose where to live.
Image from The Virginia-Pilot
It is a place where an overzealous cop shot a kid for violating a blue law when he was buying his mother milk on a Sunday. It is also a place where someone later shot dead the cop who had been convicted of a crime for that action, but who had been subsequently pardoned. No one will say who. It is a place where being a cop is a considerable challenge when everyone who calls in a complaint is a friend or relative and every one they are calling about is a friend or relative.
It is a place where, when a pastor, who was deemed insufficiently conservative, left the Methodist church and started his own parish, he was vandalized by locals. Outside intervention was needed to make the attacks stop. And when the national Methodist Church expressed support for Palestinians wanting their own state, member of the local Methodist church rebelled, creating a schism.
From New Yorker article - photo by Gorden Campbell
It is a place where, when one of their most respected captains went down in a stormy sea, fifty boats launched into awful conditions, Dunkirk–like, to try to rescue him. It is also a place where flinty boat owners sometimes skimped on known needed repairs or safety equipment to their own peril, and the endangerment of those seeking to come to their aid.
It is a place where a clothing factory that employed mostly women was burned to the ground when the local men were put off by the independence this new employment provided to the island women. It is a place where the vast majority of land-based jobs are held by women, and the vast majority of water-based jobs are held by men.
It is a place where plans to build a seawall to protect the island keep getting buried under years of studies, funding denials at federal, state and local levels, and presidential impediments.
Wind and waves have ravaged Tangier, including the island’s public beach, shown here – image from The Virginia-Pilot – photo by Steve Eearley
It is a place that welcomes newcomers guardedly, and has benefited mightily from some of the advances those invasive species brought with them. But it is a place that becomes toxic and shunning when those outsiders do not fully accept all the local norms.
As individuals, the islanders are fiercely independent and self-sufficient—modern-day cowboys, or so they like to think. As a group, however, they show precious little initiative.It is a place where a man called Ooker knows the local ospreys by name, and feeds them, where feral cats abound, where if you have seen a squirrel on the island, it is really the squirrel, not a squirrel. It is a place where a respect for the land is not always obvious.
…objectively speaking, islanders were poor stewards of their island and its waters. The marshes were studded with their discarded kitchen appliances, bicycles. And outboard motors. Litter made eyesores of the ridges. Watermen routinely threw trash, including motor oil, overboard; the harbor’s shallows had acquired a sharp-smelling and colorful sheen. And Tangiermen had nothing but enmity for environmentalists, who warned that the bay’s blue crab population was overfished, teetering on collapse, and would rebound only with tighter regulation of the commercial harvest.
Cameron Evans, 17, looks for artifacts from Canaan, one of the communities that once existed on Uppards. This stretch of shoreline, about a 10-minute boat ride from tangier Island’s harbor, has been receding at a rate of 15 feet or more a year recently – image from The Virgina-Pilot – photo by Steve Earley – Friday, June 30, 2017
It is a place that has survived an invasion of parasites that almost wiped out the oyster crop entirely, a place where limits on crab takes were routinely ignored, forcing the state to intervene to keep the resource from being wiped out.
It is a book that generates few gripes. I recommend that if you are poring through this on or near a digital device, you keep a window open with a map of the islands. It makes it much easier to track where things are while reading. Of course, the full, hardcover edition may offer more visual aids than did the ARE I read for this review, so take that concern with a grain of sea salt. At 380 pps it felt long, but not terribly so. I did feel, though, that at times there might have been too much local culture. That made it feel a bit longer. But not much else. Swift is a gifted writer, with a smooth style, a keen eye for detail, and a very useful ability to get up close with people he started out hardly knowing.
An old deadrise workboat sits in a marsh at Tangier island. The island’s three ridges, where people live, are not much more than 4 feet above sea level – image and caption from The Virginia-Pilot – photo by Steve Earley – taken July 1, 2017
You cannot unthrow a stone into a pond. The ripples from impact move only outward. The impact that will occur from the submergence of Tangier can be planned for, but once effected, cannot be undone. It can be argued that a place that voted overwhelmingly for a known climate-change-denier for president will get what it deserves when that very climate change, with the assistance of a long—term geologic event that is making the island sink, makes their America wet again. It can be argued that a place that relies so much on religion, to the point of seriously blurring the line between church and state, should rely on prayer to save their sorry asses, and leave the rest of us out of it. But it can also be argued that these people are still people, are still Americans, that they were, for the most part, born and/or raised on Tangier, and have as much right as any other Americans to have their countrymen come to their aid when events beyond the control of Tangier residents (whatever their complicity) endanger their homes. It can be argued that in a world of increasing homogenization of culture, retaining the differences we have (within reason, or course. The KKK really should be done in by a rising tide of dark and stormy water) there is absolute merit in preserving unique cultures.
An empty lot on Tangier Island shows just how high the local water table has risen – image from the NY Times – photo by Andrew Moore
Wherever you land on such considerations, know that the question will be raised again and again as rising seas endanger more and more islands and coastal communities, both small and large. In order to get a better grip on the subject, it would help to gain some understanding of exactly what is at stake. Earl Swift has done the legwork for us on this first potential American victim, offering a long and close look at a fading place, providing historical and scientific perspective, but focusing primarily on the human face of Tangier Island. Climb aboard and smell the salt air. Try not to slip on the wet deck. Enjoy the tastiest blue crab to be had on earth, and give a thought to whether or not Tangier should be a place from which refugees flee, or for which a major, multi-billion-dollar publicly funded protective effort is warranted. That decision needs to be made by people, not left solely to the vagaries of a rising sea.
PS – It does bear mentioning that in 2013, when it was time for a new cleric to take over Tangier’s Methodist parish, the person selected for the job was one Pastor Flood.
Review posted – August 10, 2018
Publication date – August 7, 2018
Links to the author’s personal, Twitter and FB pages
Earl Swift reads from the book - from Virginia Humanities - with Q&A - 35 minutes
----- June 8, 2018 – New Yorker – Tangier, the Sinking Island in the Chesapeake - By Carolyn Kormann
----- August 3, 2017 - The Virginian-Pilot - As waves unearth old graves on the island, Tangier's past could be a glimpse into its future - by Dave Mayfield
-----July 6, 2016 – NY Times – Should the United States Save Tangier Island from Oblivion
-----December 10, 2015 – Nature.com - Climate Change and the Evolution and Fate of the Tangier Islands of Chesapeake Bay, USA - by David M. Schulte, Karin M. Dridge & Mark H. Hudgins - Scientific Reports volume 5, Article number: 17890 (2015) – This is the report that sparked Swift into action
-----February 12, 2019 - Smithsonian - Checking in on the Health and Vigor of the Chesapeake Bay - by Doug Herman - a Smithsonian geographer checks out the health of the bay
Sticks driven into the shallow bottom hold nets in a funnel shape that guides fish into heart-shaped net pockets. This is the same technology used by Indians, who began teaching the Europeans how to do it as early as 1608. (Doug Herman) - from above article
Articles by Earl Swift
-----June 20, 2018 - The Incredible True Story of the Henrietta C. - by Earl Swift – an expanded version of the most exciting chapter from the book.
-----unrelated to Tangier - September 2, 2016 – OutsideOnLine - Murder on the Appalachian Trail
The Harper Book Queen included a look at this book in her TBR Tuesdays FB live broadcast from 8/21/18 - at 24:35 ...more
Notes are private!
Aug 06, 2018
Aug 06, 2018
Oct 24, 2017
Oct 24, 2017
it was amazing
Image from Videokarma.org
Consider life in black and white. Many creatures have dichromatic vision, (two kinds of cone receptors), which allows limite
Image from Videokarma.org
Consider life in black and white. Many creatures have dichromatic vision, (two kinds of cone receptors), which allows limited color perception. Monochromatics see only the gray scale from black to white. (Skates, rays). The cinematic and TV worlds were both certainly B&W for a long time, before color imposed itself on screens large and small. And, while B&W still holds a respected place in the visual arts, particularly in photography, film, and drawing, it is color that holds the broadest appeal, which should not be surprising. Color has played a major role in the development of homo sapiens, giving us more tools for making the best survival decisions.
If you are interested in how many colors we can see or the number of colors that exist, you’re gonna need a bigger palette. A computer displays under 17 million colors, of which we can see maybe 10 million, but a conservative estimate of how many colors there actually are puts it at 18 decillion. Yeah, you want to know. That’s an 18 with 33 zeroes after it. The top number is probably infinity, but it feels nice to have an actual number, however extreme, however arbitrary, to define the edges of what there is of anything in the universe. Thankfully, Kassia St Clair trimmed a few off the top, bottom, and middle, settling in at seventy-five. Any of us could name many more, but the odds are we would not be able to expound on each the way Ms. St Clair can.
What I have tried to do is provide something between a potted history [which would be more relevant to a compendium of plant colors] and a character sketch for the 75 shades [maybe Dante could help] that have intrigued me the most.The project began with research on something else entirely, checking out 18th Century fashion intel at London’s Victoria and Albert Museum, where she came across some mysterious adjective-noun combinations for the colors of things in fashion, which sparked more research, becoming a column on color in British Elle Decoration magazine.
Kassia St Clair - From Psychology Today – photo credit – Colin Thomas
However minimal seventy-five may sound when compared to the theoretical number of available colors, St Clair has managed to put together a very broad spectrum, including basic colors Roy G. Biv never heard of, like white, black, and brown.
After an introductory section on the science and history of color and seeing, the book is divided into ten parts, white, yellow, orange, pink, red, purple, blue, green, brown and black, with short offerings on between five and ten different colors within each. This makes ideal bedtime reading, as the pieces on any color are never more than two or three pages, (a natural length given that the project originated with a column on color) so you can read as much or as little as you like without any concern about missing something, or delaying your shut-eye with stress over what might happen to a beloved character.
The content of the individual chapters varies. Many report on the materials from which coloring agents are made, animal, vegetable, mineral, and weird concoctions. Some focus instead on social significance, and in one case, military impact. It is the range of perspectives that offers the greatest joy here. It is one thing, and not a bad one, to learn where this or that color actually comes from in nature, tossing in some historical or character references, and that could have been pretty much the sum total of the book. But no paint-by-numbers writing here. St Clair’s wide range of approaches keeps us from settling into a single sort of appreciation, like a hamster on a color-wheel.
A more descriptive title might have been Interesting Facts about a Wide Range of Colors. Nonetheless, The Secret Lives of Color, (which is a wonderful world) offers a cornucopia of fascinating bits of information, which makes this a very high fructose collection of brain candy. The white cases of Apple computers are actually a shade of gray. Silver was used for flatware in the belief that it could detect poisons. The derivation of orange; which came first, the color or the fruit? A long-forgotten name for New York City. A bit of science on how fluorescents work. Some words that we think of as colors began as something else. A reason why the blue light from televisions affects us in certain ways. And on and on and on, delightfully. There are words in here that were quite unfamiliar in this context. Isabelline is a color? Really? Orpiment? Minium (must be a small color), Madder (an angry one?). Woad? (slow down. Woad is a color? Well, if you say so.) Best of all is Mummy. Suffice it to say that this was the most disturbing chapter of the book, one that kept coming back into my thoughts unbidden. Ironically, the pigment was a shade of brown that did not preserve itself all that well. So, oddities, surprises, and lots of “Gee, I never knew that.”
Loooooove her - Image from Billboard -
So, next time you think you’re in the pink, you may then wonder which pink? Is it Baker-Miller pink, Mountbatten pink, puce, fuchsia, shocking, fluorescent, or maybe amaranth? Or if you are feeling blue, which shade? Ultramarine? Cobalt? Indigo, Prussian, Egyptian, woad, electric, or maybe cerulean? And when you are in a black mood, well, you get the idea. For the truly bleak there is
Vantablack, a carbon nanotube technology created in Britain in 2014, traps 99.965 percent of the spectrum, making it the blackest thing in the world. In person it is so dark it fools the eyes and brain, rendering people unable to perceive depth and texture. - NY times TV reviewers?For any who enjoy learning new things, this book is the definition of a fun read, offering fascinating information in bite-sized, tasty nuggets of multi-colored brain candy for your synaptical munching pleasure. It’s to dye for. (Sorry)
Review posted – August 31, 2018
Publication date – October 24, 2017
Links to the author’s personal, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest and FB pages
Items of Interest
-----List of Animals That See in Black & White
-----How many colors are there in the world?
-----Interview - Psychology Today - It’s a Colorful Life - by Gary Drevitch - 11/7/17
-----The Wigmaker Sequence from the original stage production of Sweeney Todd - on diverse shades of Johanna’s blonde hair
-----The Rollingstones - She’s a Rainbow
-----Somewhere Over the Rainbow - you know who, and wherefrom
-----Colors of the Wind - the original, sung by Judy Kuhn, from Pocahontas
-----True Colors - Cyndi - original vid
-----Colors - One Republic
-----Colours - Donovan ...more
Notes are private!
Jul 09, 2018
Jul 31, 2018
Aug 01, 2018
May 08, 2018
May 08, 2018
really liked it
Before the imprecision of the natural world, all will falter, none shall survive—no matter how precise.But we will certainly give it our best shot.
Before the imprecision of the natural world, all will falter, none shall survive—no matter how precise.But we will certainly give it our best shot.
“Where did we come from?” is not only a religious question. It is also question of history. Simon Winchester is always a most welcome Virgil escorting us through the circles of historical knowledge, illuminating the unknown, or only slightly suspected, with the light of his explorer’s torch. We have trailed him on some of his many prior journeys. In Pacific, Atlantic, and Krakatoa, he looked at geographic places, some of the important events that have occurred there and how those events have affected the world. The Man Who Loved China may have focused on an individual, but its content had to do, again, with a place and how events that occurred there resonated forward. The Map That Changed the World and The Professor and the Madman concern themselves with particular steps in the growth of human knowledge. While having place as a factor, geographic place was not, per se, a focus. The Map concerned an inspiration to the understanding of Geology and The Professor and the Madman concerned the creation of the Oxford English Dictionary. The Perfectionists falls into this latter camp. Winchester looks at a select group of advances in the art of precision over the last several centuries, and shows how those advances impacted the world of their time, and helped create the one we live in now. It is a cornucopia of interesting historical and scientific detail and insight. One might say that The Perfectionists is comprised of diverse parts that have been finely milled to work perfectly together. I wouldn’t, but one might.
Simon Winchester - image from The Berkshire Eagle
It is not surprising that Winchester tilts toward things mechanical. His father was an engineer, who inspired his son with his love for the beauty of well-made things. More specifically, he was encouraged in pursuing the particular notion of this book by a fan who urged him to write about a subject that was hidden in plain sight, but was a cornerstone of civilization, precision, and so he did.
The first Royce (before Rolls) – 1904 - image from Rolls Royce Enthusiasts Club
Winchester takes on a handful of specific tech/product areas, and examines where particular levels of advancement in precision have re-made them. These include clocks, the steam engine, machine tools, weapons (specifically cannons and rifles), automobiles, jet engines, lenses, GPS, locks and maybe most importantly, metrics themselves. Each trip down memory lane is fascinating and revelatory in its own way. There is a theme here that while precision is wonderful in hand-crafted products, it is the easy replicability of that precision that has allowed boutique technical upgrades to become world-spanning and revolutionary. The author allows for some sidetrips here and there to events and objects that were more narrowly focused.
Henry Royce and Charles Rolls - image from AutomotiveHistory.com
But the title of the book is The Perfectionists not The Perfections. For each technological breakthrough Winchester examines, there is a person responsible for the work, some one individual who persisted, despite discouragement that often lasted for many years, holding to his core vision until reaching the Voila! of success. Of course, there were a few who seemed to come by their triumphs much more easily. We grudgingly recognize them with a fine, whatever. And, of course, others whose inspiration proved beneficial to mankind, but for which they received little or no reward. The strong personalities of the men described here shine through, for good or ill. Not all of them would make for pleasant company. A household-name inventor is revealed as a notorious con man.
This cheerful sort is John Wilkinson - inventor of a boring machine (not that sort of boring) that is considered the first machine tool (or would that be Megatron?)
There are core questions that underlie all our technology, queries we do not think about at all. But that is because someone, or many someones, thought of them long ago, and sought answers. For example, keeping proper time is at the core of pretty much everything. Even operations that focus on other physical measurements have time as part of the equation. How do we measure time? How long is a second, and who gets to decide? How can you know your timepiece is accurate, and what is the significance of that to determining where you are, during, say, the 18th century? How long is a meter? How was that core metric arrived at? What was measured, and what arbitrary decisions went into establishing what a meter is based on? What is the significance of flatness on industrial production? What is the importance of tolerance in manufacturing? How did the first notion of a GPS system come about?
Sir Joseph Whitworth designed a method for manufacturing rifles to one-millionth of an inch accuracy. The Whitworth Rifle is considered the first sniper rifle. - image from ArtUK.org
There is a fascinating chapter that compares and contrasts two Henrys, Ford and Royce, and follows their similar early lives, and subsequent diversion of approach to making the best automobiles they could. Winchester also looks at the development of the world’s most accurate lenses, (including those in orbit) and how their diverse limitations (and sometimes significant flaws) were addressed. He offers a chapter on the tools used for making modern computer chips. Another begins with the explosion, in flight, of a jet engine, and proceeds to look at not only the history of the jet engine, but how it is constructed, and how this one literally flew to pieces. And there are some lesser items as well, like an explanation for why New England rifles tended to be longer than rifles from elsewhere, and how Royce got Rolled, and what The Dark Side refers to in the development of technology. (No, Luke, not that.)
Frank Whittle, an English pilot and engineer, patented a design for a turbojet engine in 1930 – image from Wikipedia
Winchester has a droll sense of humor, which is applied sparingly, but sometimes to great effect. In one instance, he describes a place being used for the testing of experimental jet engines
[the engine] was taken by truck to the Gloster test airfield near the Cotswold village of Brockworth, a town better known today for its annual midsummer cheese-rolling contest, when drunken locals try to pursue a huge round cheese as it is set thundering down a local hill.I will now always associate jet engines with inebriated English townies chasing giant wheels of cheese over hill and dale. The chapter also includes a wonderfully dry report, by one of the principals, of staff involved in an experiment desperately fleeing for their lives as the engine in question, it is clear, is about to explode. ROFL material, well, for me, anyway.
Roger Lee Easton (third from left) with astronauts Eugene Cernan, Ken Mattingly, Ronald Evans, Robert Crippen and Joseph Kerwin at the Naval Research Laboratory in 1975) is generally credited as the inventor of what is now called the GPS system – image from CollectSpace.com
He looks at the ever-increasing demands for precision in our increasingly high-tech tools, and what that means for actual human production of things. Luddites are mentioned, of course, as players in the Industrial Revolution. With the increasing automation of production, can the externalization of human labor that it entails generate another such movement?
Gripes are few here. Mainly, I wished that there were more and better illustrations of the technical designs Winchester writes about. And occasionally there are passages that seemed a bit too geared for technical minds.
The tools held on the slide rest can then be moved across the path of travel dictated by the leadscrew, thereby allowing the tools to make holes in the workpiece, or to chamfer it or (in due course, once milling had been invented, a process of related in the next chapter) mill it or otherwise shape it to the degree that the lathe operator demands.Ummmm…huh? Really, there are very few of these.
Kintaro Hattori - the founder of Seiko revolutionized timekeeping with the introduction of the quartz watch
You will learn all sorts of things in The Perfectionists, and you will gain a much greater understanding of how the industrial revolution began, and advanced, an appreciation for some of the core concepts of manufacturing at a large scale, and a sense of wonder at how some of the magic that passes for science today actually works. You will also get to know some names that should be common knowledge, but have faded from familiarity with time. I am not sure that The Perfectionists will be snapped up by a broad readership. But for any with an interest in engineering, in the history of industrial and scientific advancement, and in the history of technology, it is nothing less than mother’s milk.
James Clerk Maxwell - In 1870, this Scottish physicist proposed that standard measures be changed to being based on entirely new underlying, measurable and constant scientific truths
The parts to his book have been perfectly measured, and fit together well within the allowable tolerance. If someone were to say that Simon Winchester has written a book that is educational, entertaining, and constitutes extremely well milled brain candy, there could be only one possible response. “Precisely.”
Publication – May 8, 2018
Review posted – April 20, 2018
Links to the author’s personal, Twitter and FB pages
A nice overview of Winchester’s professional life can be found here
Reviews of other Simon Winchester books we have read:
-----The Man Who Loved China
-----Krakatoa: The Day the World Exploded
-----The Map That Changed the World
-----The Professor and the Madman ...more
Notes are private!
Mar 30, 2018
Apr 15, 2018
Apr 18, 2018
Apr 24, 2018
Apr 24, 2018
it was amazing
Image from the Smithsonian
Wait, what? You’re kidding, right?
Image from the Smithsonian
Wait, what? You’re kidding, right? Say it ain’t so. Well, there is some disagreement about this among paleontologists, but, according to Steve Brusatte, while they may not have matched up to Marc Bolan in a boa, and the feathers in question were maybe more like porcupine quills than the fluffy sort of plumage one might find on, say, an ostrich, those things poking out of the T. rex’s body were indeed feathers. And if you think the notion of a 40-foot, seven-ton eating machine, with ginormous, dagger-like, railroad-spike-size teeth bearing down on you, is scary, consider this. They travelled in packs. Sweet dreams! I have to confess that after reading this chapter, I did indeed have at least one dream that night that included multiple representatives of the T. Rex family. Not a wonderful image to induce one back to the land of Nod, after having bolted suddenly upright from REM sleep in fight-or-FLIGHT mode.
Hello, lunch - Image from The Real T-Rex BBC special – this one from the Mirror
But I promise, not all the revelations in The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs will make you reach for some extra alcoholic or pharmaceutical sleep inducement. What we know about dinosaurs has continued to evolve, at an accelerating rate. Some revelations in the book are surprising and delightful, like the fact that new dinosaur species are being discovered at the rate of about one a week, and that this has been going on a while. There is a lot of catching up to be done since we mastered the basic few, Triceratops, T-Rex, Brontosaurus, Archaeopteryx, Stegasaurus, Dimetrodon, and the usual gang of idiots. Much bigger gang to keep track of these days. [I strongly urge you to check out Brusatte’s U of Edinburgh lecture, linked in EXTRA STUFF, for some very decisively feathered other members of the T. rex family. Fluffy indeed!]
Steve Brusatte - looking for Triassic vertebrate footprints in a quarry in Poland – image from palaeocast.com (Sorry, dear. I could have sworn I dropped the engagement ring right here!)
Dinosaurs had a pretty long reign as kings/queens of the hill, but they had to begin sometime. Once upon a time all the land was one, linked from north to south, called Pangea. Monster monsoons raked much of the Earth, blistering heat, deserts, jungles, except of course at the poles, which were relatively balmy. This time, from about 300 to about 250 million years ago (mya) is called The Permian Period. Then, boys and girls, the earth split a seam. All that hot material that is constantly coursing through the earth found a way out and spewed forth. Not a good time to be an earthling. It is referred to as The Permian Extinction. 90% of all life was wiped out, by lava flows, fire, global warming, airborne particles blocking the sun, and thus a dramatic, if temporary end to photosynthesis, which killed off most plant life. And the ensuing acidification of water did seriously unpleasant things to aqueous life. But, after things settled down again, which took a while, a new class of critters came to dominate, dinosaurs. Yay!
From Pangea to now – image from LiveScience.com
The Permian period was followed by the Triassic, from 250 to 200 mya, fifty million years of nature gone wild (I have that videotape in the attic, I think). Over the course of the Triassic, things on the land started to look like the world we know today. But the continents would have to drift for many millions of years yet before they would resemble our current landmass configuration. The first true dinos showed up around 230 to 240 mya. But they did not have the planet to themselves. There were reptiles, fish, birds, insects, even mammals, small ones, around at the time.
Metoposaurus, Kermit’s g-g-g-g-g-g-g-g-grandma, was an amphibian the size of a Buick, with a coffee-table-sized head, and, unlike those little critters you had to work with in bio lab, these pups had hundreds of very sharp teeth. It hung out by water’s edge to capture anything straying too close. Mostly fish, but watch your ankles.
There is interesting material in here about what came before the dinosaurs, (dinosauromorphs, yes, really) and where the line is drawn (arbitrarily) between dino and pre-dino. You, here, you, over there. Like Middle East borders.
Brusatte walks us through the timeline of the dinos, from conditions being established at the end of the Permian, their arrival in the Triassic, to their sudden farewell at the end of the Cretaceous. Permian, Triassic, Jurassic, Cretaceous. Go ahead, repeat that a few times. It’s the sequence of periods Brusatte covers here. The first three come in at around 50 million years each, with the Cretaceous hanging on for about 80. The last three, taken together, comprise what is known as the Mesozoic Era, aka The Age of the Dinosaurs. (Which makes no sense to me. Shouldn’t it be The Era of the Dinosaurs? Or the Mesozoic Age? It’s so confusing.) He shows what changed geologically, and how the changes allowed this or that lifeform to arise. (often by wiping out the competition). He also takes us along with him to dig sites around the planet, Scotland, Portugal, Poland, The American Southwest, South America, China, and more, and introduces us to some of the foremost scientists in the field.
The characters in Brusatte’s tale are not all of the ancient sort. He populates each chapter with modern specimens notable for their diversity and sometimes colorful plumage. While they may all be brilliant scientists, many could easily be classified as Anates Impar. It would not be a huge stretch to imagine them populating a nerdish Cantina scene. Here are Brusatte’s description of three of them. There are many more.
You can spot Thomas Carr, now a professor at Wisconsin’s Carthage College, from a mile away. He has the fashion sense of a 1970s preacher and some of the mannerisms of Sheldon Cooper from The Big Bang Theory. Thomas always wears black velvet suits, usually with a black or dark red shirt underneath. He has long bushy sideburns and a mop of light hair. A silver skull ring adorns his hand. He’s easily consumed by things and has a long-running obsession with absinthe and the Doors. That and tyrannosaurs.Brusatte also shamelessly namedrops every A-list paleontologist he has encountered. Of course, it sounds like those encounters were substantial, so I guess it’s ok, but… I was reminded a bit of Bill Clinton’s memoir, in which it seemed that every person he mentioned had either changed his life or was a close personal friend. In a way, the book constitutes a this-is-your-life look at Brusatte’s paleontology career (boy meets bone?), with appearances by many of the people he had learned from or worked with. (they are legion) In addition to the studies mentioned in the book, he is the author of a widely taught textbook, Dinosaur Paleobiology. He is the paleo expert in residence on Walking with Dinosaurs (so much better than the sequel, Fleeing from Dinosaurs) on the BBC.
One of the things that has allowed modern paleontologists to make and continue to make ground-breaking discoveries about Earth’s former tenants is the major advance in technology at their disposal. It’s a lot easier, for example, to see inside a fossilized skull to measure the size and shape of internal cavities with the help of a CT scanner than it was before they were available.
A new dinosaur, feathered, winged Zhenyuanlong from China - image from The Conversation
You will learn some fascinating new information about dinos, some of it startling. This includes how sauropods managed those looooooong necks, why wild diversification happened when it did, why it took dinosaurs as long as it did to get large and take over. There is a fascinating bit on how some dinosaurs can pack an extra punch by getting air while they breathe in and out, surprising intel on how some of the critters you thought were dinosaurs aren’t, and directions on where you can look to see actual living dinosaurs today. He punctures some of the notions from the Jurassic Park movies. If trapped by a T-Rex, for instance, do not remain motionless. Rex has binocular vision and can see you perfectly well, whether you are sitting down in a port-o-san or hiding in or under a vehicle. Wave buh-bye.
If you do not know what this is from you need to get out more
Speaking of un-fond farewells, Brusatte take us up to and through the biggest bang of them all, on Earth anyway, 66 mya. His description of the horror that marked the end of the dinosaurs is graphic, and disturbing.
It was the worst day in the history of our planet. A few hours of unimaginable violence that undid more than 150 million years of evolution and set life on a new course. T. rex was there to see it.
Look, up in the sky. It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s…Oh, shit
Artwork by Donald E. Davis
Brusatte has written an eminently readable pop-science history of the dinosaurs, with accessible info on geology, biology, and the work of paleontologists, who are laboring tirelessly (and maybe obsessively) to find out the answers to questions that are as old as humanity’s awareness of the erstwhile inhabitants of our planet. This is one of those books that should be in every household. You do not need to be a scientist to get a lot out of it. The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs, bubbling with the enthusiasm of its author, will be an enjoyable and enlightening read for homo sapiens of all ages from pre-teen through fossil. Learning more about Earth’s illustrious, impressive, sometimes terrifying, and sometimes adorable former tenants never gets old. Really, who doesn’t love dinosaurs?
Review posted – April 13, 2018
Publication date – April 24, 2018
December 2018 - Dinosaurs may no longer rule the earth, but The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs rules the 2018 Goodreads Choice Award for Science. Reached for comment, a spokesman for Mr. Brusatte offered the following response.
Links to the author’s personal and Twitter pages
Episode 37 of Palaeocast features Steve talking about Therapods and Birds - December 1, 2014 – 44:00
A presentation by Brusatte, who is a wonderful speaker, on Tyrannosaur Discoveries, at the U of Edinburgh – Watch this, really. Great stuff.
In the above, Brusatte talks about feathered dinos, among other things. Meet Yutyrannus huali, (artist’s interpretation) a feathered tyrannosaur from China (but you can call him Fluffy) – image from The Conversation
A fun article from the BBC - Legendary dinosaurs that we all imagine completely wrong - By Josh Gabbatiss - 3/21/16
NY Times – April 4, 2018 - Brusatte is keeping busy, publishing, with his team, a new study about the presence of dinos in Scotland, specifically in the Isle of Skye. In Footprints on Scotland’s Isle of Skye, Signs of a Dinosaur Playground - by Nicholas St. Fleur
This image of a sauropod print accompanied the above article – from the University of Edinburgh
An interesting lecture (33 minutes) on how paleontologists research dinosaurian social behavior and what they have found - Social Behaviour in Dinosaurs - with David Hone Hone's delivery has a sing-song rhythm that can be a bit soporific, but the content is fascinating. Of particular interest is the basis for juvenile clustering.
May, 2018 - Smithsonian Magazine - So much is going on in China, paleontologically, not all of it wonderful, as wonderful new resources are found and explored - The Great Chinese Dinosaur Boom - by Richard Conniff
This cluster of dinosaur egg fossils, on display at the Tianyu Museum, dates back 70 million years to the late Cretaceous era - shot by Stefen Chow - text and image from above article
It reminds me of that scene in the first Alien film when they discover the nesting site
-----May 29, 2018 - Check out Ira Flatow's effervescent review in the NY Times - When the Dinosaurs Reigned
-----June 2, 2018 - National Geographic - Wonderful, informative interview with Brusatte by Simon Worrall - Why Today is the Golden Age for Dinosaur Discoveries
-----December 17, 2018 - Feathers and Fur Fly Over Pterosaur Fossil Finding - By Nicholas St. Fleur
An artist’s rendering of a short-tailed pterosaur from above article - from Yuan Zhang/Nature Ecology & Evolution
-----February 21, 2019 - NY Times - Tiny Tyrannosaur Hints at How T. Rex Became King - by Nicholas St. Fleur
A new species of dinosaur, a tiny relative of the Tyrannosaurus rex, called Moros intrepidus, lived 96 million years ago and its fossils were found in central Utah. - Credit Jorge Gonzalez - image and text from above article
If you are one of those for whom the reference did not bang a gong, Marc Bolan was the leader of a band named T.Rex. He was one of the progenitors of what was called Glam Rock.
Anates Impar - really? You could not do a Google translate? It means Odd Ducks, ok. Sheesh. Really, don’t make me explain everything again, or I’ll have to take points off your final grade. And if you do not know what “the Cantina scene” is, look it up or don’t come back. Yes, now. Run!
This flamboyantly feathered Rex image is from Deviant Art – Yeah, I doubt it looked like this too, but a fun image I wanted to share
Full disclosure: - Ok, I stole the final line of the review from my illustrious book goddess. I only steal from the best. Thank you, dearest. ...more
Notes are private!
Apr 10, 2018
Apr 10, 2018
Oct 17, 2017
Oct 17, 2017
it was amazing
There was a time when millions of us roamed the continent. We fed when there was need. We played in forests and open places. Our kind lived well, from There was a time when millions of us roamed the continent. We fed when there was need. We played in forests and open places. Our kind lived well, from the warm woodlands of the south to the frosty forests of the north and in the gentler landscapes between. We raised our pups in cozy dens, and raised our voices at night to call out to others. Sometimes, we joined our brothers and sisters in joyous chorus for no reason at all. We lived in a world with many others, hunters, prey, and creatures who seemed to have no great part of our existence. There were people here then. We lived with them, too. But other people came, people with guns, poison, and traps, people armed with fear, hatred, and ignorance. They took our food sources, and when we were forced to look elsewhere to feed, they turned their quivering, murderous hearts toward us. And there came a time when there were practically none of us left across the entire land.
Nate Blakeslee - image from Texas Monthly
In Eurasia and North America, at least, where there have been people there have always been wolves. They have been a significant feature in the lore of most cultures, usually in a negative way. While the tale of the she-wolf Lupa nurturing Romulus and Remus gives wolves some rare positive press, and native peoples of North America offer the wolf considerable respect, wolves have not, for the most part, received particularly positive press in the last few hundred years. The obvious cultural touchstone for most North Americans and Europeans would be the story of Little Red Riding Hood, followed closely by tales of lycanthropy, and maybe a shepherd boy who sounded a false alarm a time too many. The wolf is embedded in our culture as something to be feared, a great and successful hunter, a rival. Homo sap is a jealous species and does its best to eliminate other apex predators whenever we take over their turf. Such has been the case with Canis Lupus. And we have been taking over lots and lots of turf.
O-Six - image from StudyBreaks.com
As is so often the case when people are involved, action precedes understanding. European settlers in North America, carrying forward Old World biases, saw wolves as a threat to their safety. Incidents of wolf attacks on people are quite rare, though. Settlers feared for their livestock as well. There was certainly some basis for concern there, but not nearly enough to warrant the response. In fact, wolves serve a very useful function in the larger biome, culling the weaker specimens from natural populations, and thus helping secure the continued health of the overall prey population. The settler response was wholesale slaughter, a public program of eradication, a final solution for wolves. But actions have consequences. The result, in Yellowstone Park, was a boom in ungulate population, which had secondary effects. Increased numbers of elk and other prey animals gobbled up way too much new growth, impacting the flora of the area, unbalancing the park’s ecosystem, seriously reducing the population, for example, of cottonwood and aspen trees, with many other changes taking place as well. Where wolves live they contribute to the balance of their environment. When they are removed, that balance is destroyed.
As a science, wildlife management [in the early 20th century] was still in its infancy, and park officials genuinely believed that predators would eventually decimate the park’s prey population if left to their own devices. They didn’t realize that wolves and elk had coexisted in Yellowstone for thousands of years, that the two species had in fact evolved in tandem with each other—which explained why the elk could run just as fast as the wolf but no faster. Wolves were the driving force behind the evolution of a wide variety of prey species in North America after the last ice age, literally molding the natural world around them. The massive size of the moose, the nimbleness of the white-tailed deer, the uncanny balance of the bighorn sheep—the architect of these and countless other marvels was the wolf.It is eminently clear that people are quite accomplished at ignoring reality, and extremely proficient at substituting the mythological for the actual, often helped along by the unscrupulous self-interested, who promote falsehoods in order to preserve their personal investments, enhance their proprietary interests, or enrich themselves or those they represent. But sometimes science breaks through the veil of obfuscation and is able to get a hearing for the truths it has unearthed. Such was the case with our understanding of how wolves impact our world. It was due to this understanding and the persistent efforts of ecological activists that a plan was approved to reintroduce wolves into a few locations in the lower 48 states. Yellowstone was the primary site for the program.
Rick McIntyre - image from Earthjustice.com
The first wolves were reintroduced into Yellowstone in 1995. That year a star was born, “21M.”
Even before 21 left his natal pack, Rick had known he was unusual. One morning in the spring of 1997, two years after Doug Smith and Carter Niemeyer rescued 21 following the death of his father, Rick watched the handsome young wolf returning from a hunt. With him was the big male who had become the pack’s new alpha when 21 was still a tiny pup. The pair had killed an elk, and 21, already an outstanding provider, had brought a massive piece of meat back to the den, where a new litter of pups had been born.21 becomes the alpha of the Druid pack, manifesting that most important of leadership qualities, empathy. The Druids were like the Kennedys to some, lupine royalty. In 2006, one generation removed, 21’s granddaughter is born, O-Six. It is her tale that Blakeslee tells here. Well, one half of the tale, anyway. There are two paths followed here. One is the life and times of O-Six, a remarkable creature, and another remarkable creature, one who stands upright, Rick McIntyre.
Half Black – a Druid pack female - image from the National Park Service
We follow O-Six’s life from her puppyhood in the Agate Creek pack to her gathering together the wolves that would make up the Lamar Valley Pack. She is a wise leader, a skilled hunter. As she births pups, the pack grows. But there are other packs of wolves in Yellowstone, and conflict among them is a natural condition. In battle, O-Six demonstrates remarkable courage, in one instance standing fast, seriously outnumbered, against an invading pack, and engaging in Hollywood level derring-do to save the day. She succeeds despite having in her pack an Alpha male and his sibling referred to by watchers as Dumb and Dumber for their limited hunting skills. We see her relocate as needed to take advantage of propitious territorial openings, or quarters removed from hostile forces. One of her moves put her in a location where wolf watchers could follow her pack’s exploits from the safe remove of a park road cutout. It is publicity from the group that gathered to ardently keep track of O-Six and her Lamar Pack’s exploits from this convenient watching site, (and others) that made her the most famous wolf in the world.
Wolf watchers - image from the National Park Service
Rick McIntyre was constitutionally more of a lone wolf sort, a National Park Ranger, happiest out in the field, whether studying grizzlies in Denali, where he became a top-drawer wildlife photographer, or studying wolves in Yellowstone. He was introduced to wolves by a top wolf biologist, Gorbon Haber, building his expertise and writing A Society of Wolves. The book was published in 1993. It expounded on the culture of wolves, significantly broadening our understanding of the species. His work was instrumental in providing support for reintroduction efforts. This work landed him a spot at Yellowstone, where he slowly improved his people skills, and became a fixture around which study and monitoring of the park packs centered, the leader of the wolf-study pack. He is a charismatic, passionate character and you will enjoy getting to know him.
O-Six howling with her mate and his brother - image from NatGeo Wild
There are other elements in the book. The growth of the wolf-watching culture and the Yellowstone watchers club is given plenty of attention. The politics of reintroduction, protection, and attempts to remove protection get their share of ink as well. There is much in here that will raise your blood pressure. Impressively, Blakeslee includes a depiction of the man who shot O-Six. It is not the drooling monster portrayal one might expect. Blakeslee takes pains to consider the perspective of hunters. There is a description of a marauding, death-dealing pack, the Mollies, that will remind you of the Borg, or a zombie apocalypse. It is as tension, and fear-filled a portrayal as you will find in any of the best action-adventure fiction.
Yellowstone wolf pup - image from NatGeo Wild
When studying wildlife, researchers are discouraged from forming emotional attachments to the objects of their study. Few animals live nearly so long as people, so your favorite [insert species here] will, as likely as not, perish before you. But readers of this book are under no such caution. Sitting in a laundromat, parked on a backless bench, book on an attached table, looking through the plate glass, rain soaking Hazle Avenue, drops cascading down the window, my eyes join the mass drip on reading Blakeslee’s description of the death of O-Six. I will admit that this happens sometimes when reading about people, but it does not happen often. I am saved from a public exhibition of heaving shoulders and stifled sobs by the buzzer announcing the end of a wash. If you have any tears left after this, you will turn them loose in an epilogue tale of 21’s mountain top trek as he neared death.
O-Six - image from NatGeo Wild
I only had one small beef about the book. I understand that researchers are discouraged from naming their study subjects, but it was quite inconsistent in application. Some had names, others were just numbers, and, frankly, it became a bit tough at times, keeping track of which number came from which pack, and was that one with this pack and this one with that pack. Really that’s it. Otherwise, no problemo
Wolf #10 of the Rose Creek pack - image from the National Park Service
American Wolf is a complex work, offering some science, some history, some political analysis, some prompts to raise your spirits, some that will make you cheer, and some dark moments that will make you turn away, fold the book closed, and wonder just what is wrong with some people. You will learn a lot, particularly about wolf culture. But primarily, it is a tale of hope, of reason triumphing over ignorance, of courage and heroism besting villainy. It joins the intellectual heft of offering considerable information with the gift of being incredibly moving.
Unidentified Yellowstone wolf – 1996 - image from National Park Service
Tail high, standing tall, the gray alpha raises his muzzle and howls a long call. Pack members miles away lift their heads, point their ears toward the siren summons and begin loping home. There are fewer now than there were, an inexperienced young adult having found mortal peril on the fringes of their land. But still, enough of the pack remained, strong and healthy. They would gather. The gray knew where they would go once joined, into the valley. Caribou were plentiful there. They would fill their bellies before grizzlies stole their prize, and then would carry large chunks in their jaws, for the nursing alpha female. It was not the best of all possible world, but it would do, for now.
image from wolf.org
Review – October 12, 2017
Published – October 17, 2017
The author’s Twitter feed and a list of his articles at Texas Monthly
-----a clip from She Wolf
-----Learn to draw a wolf
-----An admirer speaks fondly of wolves howling - what beautiful music they make
-----A familiar item from Duran Duran
-----Another from Sam the Sham
-----Not quite a video, more an an app about wolves with images and sound
-----Yellowstone Wolf History with Rick McIntyre
-----Heroes: Life Lessons from Yellowstone’s Wolves - by Haleigh Gullion
-----The Call of the Wild - interview with Rick McIntyre
-----July 5, 2018 - NY Times - Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf Scientist? - Wolf researcher, Rob Wielgus, reports what he can discover, then has to deal with the death threats - by Christopher Solomon
Rob Wielgus – Credit - Ilona Szwarc for The New York Times
-----Gray Wolf Conservation
----- The International Wolf Center offers a lot of information
-----Yellowstone’s Photo Collection - wolves
-----The Call of the Wild - free on Gutenberg
-----Get your howl on
-----Of particular relevance to this subject is the Farley Mowat enhanced memoir of his field research experience with wolves, Never Cry Wolf, published in 1963, and the excellent 1983 film that was made of it
From the film
November 9, 2017 - American Wolf is among the nominees for Amazon's book of the year - Science ...more
Notes are private!
Aug 16, 2017
Sep 13, 2017
Aug 16, 2017
Jun 13, 2017
really liked it
Although I know of no hypothesis that adequately covers the mountainous evidence,” [he] said in closing, “this should not and must not deter us from
Although I know of no hypothesis that adequately covers the mountainous evidence,” [he] said in closing, “this should not and must not deter us from following the advice of Schroedinger: to be curious, capable of being astonished, and eager to find out.”Quiz time. Ok, what is a close encounter of the first kind? Second kind? Third? You might be forgiven for not knowing with much precision the answers to the first two, but I bet you can answer number three. You probably think you have Stephen Spielberg to thank for that particular item. Well, I guess you do. But neither Spielberg nor his writers came up with that structure for describing the levels of possible UFO encounters. In fact, Spielberg was all set to steal the intel until the guy who actually came up with it, hearing about the film project, sent the director a polite letter pointing out the ripoff, one of many. Spielberg had borrowed liberally from the man’s reports on sightings, as laid out in his 1972 book The UFO Experience: A scientific enquiry. The scientist in question was one Josef Allen Hynek. Spielberg brought him in and paid him a pittance to be a “consultant” on the film. Hynek even got a cameo, six whole seconds. If you have never heard of him before, welcome to the club.
Josef Allen Hynek - from the author’s site
J. Allen Hynek, the child of Czech immigrants, was born in Chicago in 1910. He had two careers, often simultaneously. First, he was a world class, forward looking astrophysicist, who, as a young Turk, had the nerve to point out errors in the data put out by the Mount Wilson Observatory, which did not win him any friends. He helped develop a proximity fuse for the US Navy in World War II. Seeing that scientists could be brought together to address large problems in wartime, he was eager to do the same in peacetime, and made good on that dream, developing technology and organizing teams of amateur scientists around the world to track American satellites in the 1950s. In addition. his view of the possibilities of orbital science were ahead of his time.
In a television news interview that aired in 1958, Hynek urged the construction of a “National Space Observatory”…claiming that a space based observatory would “pay great and immediate dividends” in new scientific knowledge… “From a space observatory we could see the surface of planets with unimaginable clarity even with a small telescope,” Hynek said. In addition to revolutionizing astronomical observing, Hynek’s proposed telescope could also be trained on Earth itself, making real-time weather data “continuously available to weather forecasters over the world” and leading to “greater knowledge of basic weather causes that would result in more reliable long-range forecasts.”Then there was his other career. Actually, the two converged. Interest in UFOs increased in the late 1940s and early 1950s, as there were more and more eyes on the skies, and equipment with which to record sightings was more widely available. Who hasn’t heard of Roswell? But you may not have heard of Kenneth Arnold, who, on June 24, 1947, while flying his plane across the Cascades to Yakima, WA, spotted nine objects in the sky, that he judged flew at about 1200 miles per hour. He called this ahead to the Yakima field and was dismissed by the personnel there. But when he continued on to Pendleton, OR, he was interviewed by reporters. One took his description of the craft he had seen and added a bit of flourish. Thus was born the term “flying saucers.”
The Thing From Another World runs into a bit of resistance
Popular media fanned the flames. In 1951, Howard Hawks produced The Thing from Another World, which stoked popular interest. The April 7, 1952 issue of Life magazine, one of the most popular media outlets in the country, prompted even more interest in the subject with a major article on UFOs, despite the fact that the cover photo on that issue may have generated a lot more interest of a different sort.
Image from NICAP.ORG
The appearance of pips (not led by Gladys Knight) over Washington D.C on multiple occasions during the summer of 1952, gave the military pause, particularly as they sent up fighter jets to intercept the intruders, only to have the UFOs zoom away at incredible speeds. One Air Control radar registered speed in excess of 7,000 mph. As someone particularly knowledgeable about studying starlight and other astronomical phenomena, Hynek was brought in when the government finally decided that the increase in UFO sightings needed some looking into. You may have heard of Project Blue Book, but there were other such programs before it. All pretty much dedicated to stifling sighting reports and using scientific analysis to come up with credible explanations (alternate facts?) for what people had seen. Swamp gas, weather balloons, hoaxes and inebriation were popular. And if you are looking to debunk sightings, there are always plenty of other explanations one can come up with. Hynek’s ability to piss people off did not end with his professional faux pas re Mount Wilson. His work as a paid debunker gained him a whole new population of haters.
Mark O’Connell - from his site
But one of the things about being sent to check out a large number of supposed UFO sightings is that sometimes it is not so easy to call “bullshit.” Sometimes the observers are highly trained military personnel, sometimes professional pilots, sometimes law enforcement officers with no history of mental or substance weirdness, sometimes the clergy, sometimes very observant, sane, persuasive witnesses. It takes a toll after a while. You start to wonder if there might not actually be something out there. And if you are a real scientist, with commitment to the notion that facts are facts, eventually you find yourself more open to the possibilities. The line had been crossed.
Parking for aliens only - from the WB archives
While he was still brought in by the government to investigate UFO sightings, it could no longer be assumed that his employers would be getting the answers they wanted. He became a prominent, credible public persona for those who believed that UFOs were real, the Neil DeGrasse Tyson of UFOlogy. He even started his own organization, The Center for UFO Studies.
Mark O’Connell’s bio takes no position, well overtly anyway, on the real/not-real positions in the UFO debate. But he includes in each chapter a tale of a credible sighting. He also became an accredited UFO investigator and began hosting a site to report on that experience, so he can certainly claim a leaning. He says:
I didn’t set out to prove anything one way or another, and so I never had to worry about painting myself into a logical corner, or closing my book with a disappointing let-down. I think that, by recounting the history of UFOs through the eyes of Dr. Hynek, who was literally on the scene within hours or days of many of the most spectacular UFO incidents on record, and mirroring Hynek’s open-minded approach to these incidents, I give the reader a new way to experience the UFO phenomenon without feeling silly about it. I try not to persuade the reader one way or another, but to present the facts of the cases, Joe Friday-style, as they were reported by the witnesses, by the Air Force, and by Dr. Hynek, and let the reader draw his or her own conclusions.He does a solid job of detailing Hynek’s life in science, his entry into studying the UFO phenomenon, and his role in the ongoing research. Hynek’s personal life is given cursory consideration.
There are many political skirmishes that O’Connell goes into. Some are significant, debunk-crazed bosses burying data, for example. A major public scientist treating his views on UFOs with withering scorn, if not much actual analysis. Some are less interesting, office politics at an organization he was directing later in his life. The level of detail sometimes gets in the way of keeping the narrative moving. Some smaller battles could have been omitted.
A strength of the book is that O’Connell gives us a blow-by-blow account of how UFOs became a public concern. He explains how public interest grew and shows how the governmental response was to stifle reasoned consideration of observed events. Hynek passed in 1986, so there is a considerable chunk of time left unexplored here. I do not know what significant facts have been discovered since then, and this book does not report them. But I am sure the truth is out there, somewhere.
I Want to Believe - You know this pair – image from Atlas Obscura
One of the most interesting things about the book and about Hynek, is where his scientific leaning led him, re his consideration of possible sources for UFOs. I will not spoil that here, but it definitely worth checking out.
Being a Boomer, it was during my impressionable youth that public awareness of and interest in (fear of?) UFOs emerged. While this or that sighting may have been of something other than an alien presence, the impact the large swath of reports had on me, and many others, was quite real. I confess that I am with Mulder in wanting to believe in UFOs, whatever they might be. It is impressive that a world class scientist dedicated much of his life to studying widely derided UFO reports, and applied his considerable skills to trying to figure out their nature. Learning of Josef Allen Hynek bolsters my hope that clear, broadly accepted answers might emerge in my lifetime. If not in mine, hopefully in yours. In the meantime, in light of the fact that UFOs constitute one of the great mysteries of our time, I cannot urge you strongly enough to Watch the Skies!.
Review Posted – July 7, 2017
Published – June 13, 2017
Links to the author’s personal UFO site, High Strangeness UFO and his Google Plus page
OK, here is relevant piece of Hynek’s categorization speech.
“I divide the close encounter cases into three subdivisions: the close encounter, with little detail; the close encounter with physical effects: and the close encounter in which ‘humanoids’ or occupants are reported,” he told the group. Although the “physical effects” variant was the most appealing to him, he acknowledged that the “humanoid” encounters possessed their own uniquely repellant appeal. “This latter subgroup, of course, has the highest strangeness index and frightens away all but the most hardy investigators. I would be neither a good reporter nor a good scientist were I to deliberately reject data. /there are now on record some 1,500 reports of close encounters, about half of which involve reported craft occupants. Reports of occupants have been with is for years but there are only a few in the Air Force files; generally Project Bluebook personnel summarily, and without investigation, consigned such reports to the ‘psychological’ or crackpot category.Link to the full 1951 film, The Thing From Another World
December 16, 2017 - NY Times - Thankfully, governmental interest in the unexplained did not pass with Josef Allen Hynek - Glowing Auras and ‘Black Money’: The Pentagon’s Mysterious U.F.O. Program - by Helene Cooper, Ralph Blumenthal and Leslie Keandec. Also from the NY Times, The Daily offers an audio report on this story
January 15, 2019 - NY Times - ‘Project Blue Book’ Is Based on a True U.F.O. Story. Here It Is. - by Ralph Blumenthal and Leslie Kean - reacting to the success of the new Project Blue Book series on the History Channel, the writers look at the actual history, and spot where the series departs from that.
Aidan Gillen as the astronomer J. Allen Hynek in “Project Blue Book” on History - image from the above NY Times article ...more
Notes are private!
May 18, 2017
May 23, 2017
Jul 06, 2017
Mar 01, 2016
Apr 05, 2016
it was amazing
Science has taught me that everything is more complicated than we first assume, and that being able to derive happiness from discovery is a recipe fo
Science has taught me that everything is more complicated than we first assume, and that being able to derive happiness from discovery is a recipe for a beautiful life.While it may be a beautiful life in many ways, it has not been an easy one. Anne Hope Jahren is a geobiologist currently working at the University of Oslo. This represents a bit of homecoming, as her ancestors emigrated from Norway to Minnesota. Her father was a science teacher at a community college. She writes about having the run of the science facilities at the school while with her dad when she was a kid, and loving it. Science was clearly in her blood from an early age. Jahren is a much awarded researcher who studies biological bits from ancient plants to determine climatic conditions of their time. Incorporating biology into geology is what has set her work apart. She won the Donath Medal from the Geological Society of America and the American Geophysical Union’s Macelwane Award. (Yeah, I never heard of them either, but they are a pretty big deal. Winning both is an even bigger deal, as only four people have ever done that and Jahren is the only woman so honored.)
Hope Jahren - from her site
A good memoir, like any good book, runs on two tracks. One is the up-front story, the author begins here, winds up there, and notes their stops, people and experiences, and what they learned, observed, thought and felt along the way. In this case Hope Jahren's personal journey begins with her being a very science-focused kid, then offers a brief look at her school experience. We follow her from grad student to doctorate, from California to Georgia, to Norway, to Hawaii, building labs, working in the field, blowing things up (not on purpose), slogging through industrial strength muck, being temporarily deformed by a serious overexposure to poison ivy, and other fun adventures. We follow her from single to coupled to mom in what seems a flash. But mostly we follow her working life
The second element of a good book is what the author can tell us about the world. One of the wonderful things about Lab Girl is that Jahren includes short chapters on biology, things like the importance of sugar to life and how plants are the only things that can make it from inorganic ingredients. There are chapters on the hardiness of the hackberry tree, on what to avoid when selecting a tree of your own to plant, on the value of wood to trees, and one particularly fascinating bit on mushrooms.
You may think a mushroom is a fungus. This is exactly like believing that a penis is a man. [insert mandatory joke here….although sometimes a man can be a dick…ok?] Every toadstool, from the deliciously edible to the deathly poisonous, is merely a sex organ that is attached to something more whole, complex, and hidden. [I leave the joke construction for you to complete here, something like usually not] Underneath every mushroom is a web of stringy hyphae that may extend for kilometers, [if you are now thinking about large swaths of unwashed dishes and undone laundry, I apologize] wrapping around countless clumps of soil and holding the landscape together. The ephemeral mushroom appears briefly above the surface while the webbing that anchors it lives for years within a darker and richer world. [World of Warcraft?]There are plenty more, all short, and all very interesting. I loved these, although not all lend themselves so compellingly to snarkiness.
The splicing of these two tracks takes place in following her career. We see her struggling, not only with personal challenges, but with the barriers that make working at science a daunting prospect. This is a world of diminishing resources and steady pressure to publish and dig up the grant money that funds research and university teaching. It is impressive seeing how tough it actually is for someone wanting to practice science while earning a pittance. It is not only fiscal constraints that get in the way. She writes of the collegial impediments of being a female in what has been very much a male club, offering brief glimpses at what gender-based resistance looks like. She also presents a very clear, and sometimes horrifying portrait of what it means to be a scientist. Glamorous it ain't, particularly given how hard she works. But the joy she experiences at working at what she loves and discovering new things most definitely comes across.
There are considerable gaps in Jahren's personal tale. A mention of an occasional boyfriend remains all we learn of her social life for most of the book. There is not nearly enough about her experiences as a kid. And, most glaringly, while it is possible to figure out what malady afflicts her from the description of events, that this malady is not overtly mentioned for so much of the book makes it feel, when it is finally addressed, that it came from out of left field.
Jahren leavens her tale with an appreciation for the odd, and sometimes the absurd. On a field trip with Bill and her students, they visit a monkey jungle that offers some nice smirking opportunities. This is not Mary Roach, snorting-your-drink-out-your-nose funny, but it is clear that Jahren has a pretty lively sense of humor, particularly in regards to a student who takes an internship at a zoo.
She takes pains to juxtapose how plants develop and adapt with how people do. This is a wonderful element.
Another lovely element in the book is her bff relationship with Bill Hagopian. Working on her doctorate while he is an undergrad, she spots him as the best lab person she has ever seen, and takes him on as her assistant. Their relationship is a bit like Don Quixote and Sancho Panza, with Bill offering some real world guidance when Jahren is beset by an attack of madness. It is maybe more that for Jarhen, Bill is like a brother from another mother, a true, if non-genetic, family member. Their connection permeates and strengthens the telling.
Bill Hagopian – from Jahrenlab.com
I did not think that Lab Girl was a great book on the order of H is for Hawk, but I do think it is a damn good one, succeeding in its dicot-omous mission of telling her personal story while also educating readers.
Jahren’s success as a researcher and promoter of women in science has increased the hope that many talented female minds will seek to plant their careers in scientific fields and grow great forests of knowledge that might otherwise have failed to sprout, and that would be a beautiful thing, indeed.
Review Posted – 12/16/2016
-----4/5/2016 - hardcover
-----3/7/2017 - Trade Paperback
Links to the author’s personal and Twitter pages and her site at the University of Oslo
-----The secret life of plants — and ‘Lab Girl’ author Hope Jahren - PBS News Hour – 6:19
-----a promo for the book - KnopfDoubleday
Food and Climate Change: Insights from a Plant Biologist - 2:57
-----‘Lab Girl’: The Pursuit of Sanctuary, and Science, Inside the Lab - Science Friday – 16:38
-----Hope Jahren - The Joy and Otherness of Trees - Inquiring minds – 54:09
----- Hope Jahren, The ‘Lab Girl’ - 46:09
----- Jahren named one of the 100 most influential people of 2016 - Time Magazine
----- Just Another #ManicureMonday for Women Scientists and Their Dirty Nails
March 16, 2017 - Lab Girl wins the National Book Critics Circle Award for autobiography ...more
Notes are private!
Nov 26, 2016
Dec 09, 2016
Dec 15, 2016
Sep 27, 2016
Sep 27, 2016
it was amazing
In 2009, Sarah Gray, 35, and her husband Ross, were ecstatic to learn that she was pregnant with twins. The road to parenthood opened ahead of them. B In 2009, Sarah Gray, 35, and her husband Ross, were ecstatic to learn that she was pregnant with twins. The road to parenthood opened ahead of them. But it was not long before Gray would be informed that one of her twins had a rare condition, anencephaly, a failure of the skull and brain to form properly, leaving the developing brain unprotected. The causes of this rare condition are not well understood. The diagnosis was grim. Thomas Ethan Gray’s life, if he got to have one at all, would be a very short one.
Sarah Gray - from Ted talks
Gray was not your garden variety horrified parent-to-be. She was working at the time at the National Institute for the Severely Disabled, where she had established the AbilityOne Speakers Bureau, helping secure speaking opportunities for disabled people of diverse sorts, and helping them craft their stories. Her mother was a nurse in Boston. She experienced the devastation anyone in her position would suffer. But Gray’s professional experience and connections, and access to medical intel from within her own family gave her a firmer base of knowledge from which to inform her response. When she realized that it would be possible for some of Thomas’s organs to be used to help others she set about making it happen, giving the loss she and her husband would experience and the short life her baby would know new meaning.
Gray’s case was unusual in that Thomas’s donations were used for research, not transplant. After a short period of time, she grew curious about how they were being put to use, so began tracking where they had gone. Once she identified the places, she started calling and asking to tour their facilities, a totally new thing for those labs. It is not unusual for the families of transplant donors to contact recipients, sometimes building lasting relationships, but it was pretty much unheard of for the families of organ donors to get in touch with research labs to see how the donations were being used.
Thomas Ethan Gray - from Radiolab
One thing Gray found on this quest was that the researchers were thrilled to hear from a donor’s family, heartily welcoming the interest. Unlike the transplant world, there is almost never a face or a name to put to a research donation. But lives are saved as a result of such gifts, particularly when there is an acute shortage of research material, which there often is.
There are several elements to A Life Everlasting. Sarah and Ross’s experience as expectant parents is beautifully told, and is as moving as one could hope for. There is enough stress entailed in having a first child. I know. But adding the harsh decisions that the couple had to face was truly a heavy burden. Thomas’s birth, short life, and passing are among the most moving passages I have ever read. Have a box of tissues at the ready.
Sarah with hubby, Ross, and son, Callum - from NBC News
But this is not, ultimately, a sad book. It is a hugely hopeful and uplifting one. And in Sarah Gray learning about what is possible, she educates us as well. She pushed the boundaries of what the families of donors could know, which will benefit not only those families, but everyone. When people are aware that their loved one’s remains might be able to help others, more are likely to choose donation instead of immediate burial. And researchers facing a shortage of needed materials will be better able to move ahead with their work if more people choose this option.
"The way I see it our son got into Harvard, Duke, and Penn. He has a job. He is relevant to the world. I only hope my life can be as relevant." - from the Philly.com articleGray adds the stories of some other people, including parents of donors, and a beneficiary of research that advanced life-extending treatment as a result of having access to such donations. Each is moving in its own way, and together, they support the message that many more people need to be aware of the potential benefits to be had from donations of this sort. Losing a child is all too common. Unfortunate things happen, but there can still be some silver linings to even the darkest clouds.
The book touches on some closely related topics as well. There are some inherent conflicts between the demand for transplantable organs and the need for many of the same organs for research. Gray points out some of the advances that such research has produced, using donations like Thomas’s. She also notes in closing the emergence of new gene editing technology (CRISPR) that may offer science the ability to repair genetic damage before a child is born. Gray’s position is very much pro. "If you have the skills and the knowledge to fix these diseases," Gray said at a 2015 conference on gene-editing, "then freaking do it." But opinions vary as to the overall risks involved in such tampering. There is considerable controversy about how such tools might be applied. I included a link about this in EXTRA STUFF.
As a result of her quest and the ensuing attention she was paid by local and national media, Gray moved on to a new position. She is now Director of Communications for the American Association of Tissue Banks. She speaks regularly to professionals involved in organ donation. She has included in an appendix a long list of relevant links for those interested in learning more about organ/tissue donation.
You will be moved, learn a lot, and perhaps be inspired to consider becoming an organ donor yourself if you were not already. Sometimes even the smallest of donations, resulting from the saddest of circumstances, can reap huge benefits. A Life Everlasting is a gift to us all.
Publication date – September 27, 2016
Review posted July 15, 2016
Links to the author’s personal, Twitter, and FB pages
Gray’s TEDMED talk
----- RadioLab – Gray’s Donation
-----Thomas Gray lived six days, but his life has lasting impact - from Philly.com - "Instead of thinking of our son as a victim," she said, "I started thinking of him as a contributor to research, to science."
-----CDC link on anencephaly. There are more than a thousand a year in the USA. There is no known cure or standard treatment for anencephaly. Almost all babies born with anencephaly will die shortly after birth.
-----On the new gene-editing tool CRISPR
-----Here is another on CRISPR, brought to our attention by GR pal Jan - THE GENE HACKERS by Michael Specter - in the November 16, 2015 issue of The New Yorker
Notes are private!
Jun 13, 2016
Jun 16, 2016
Jun 17, 2016
Apr 07, 2016
Aug 09, 2016
really liked it
On December 5, 2008, the front page of the New York Times included an unusual item: H. M., Whose Loss of Memory Made Him Unforgettable, Dies. It wa
On December 5, 2008, the front page of the New York Times included an unusual item: H. M., Whose Loss of Memory Made Him Unforgettable, Dies. It was hardly the first time that an obit piece had appeared on the front page, but it is unlikely that many with quite so little public recognition had ever appeared there. The “H.M.” in question was one Henry Gustave Molaison. He has been the inspiration for many books, at least one play and a major motion picture. Mostly, though, while he had never studied medicine, or practiced in any medical field, Molaison had made a huge contribution to our understanding of the human brain.
Luke Dittrich -From PRHSpeakers.com
Young Henry was seriously concussed in a biking accident when he was a kid. As a teenager he began having grand mal seizures. His symptoms increased and seriously affected his ability to function in the world. Drug treatments had proved unsuccessful. It was a new thing for such a procedure to be done for someone who was not considered mentally ill, but in 1953, when he was 27 years old, Henry was given a lobotomy. From that day on, he would no longer be able to form new memories. He would also be unable to fend for himself. But he was perfectly lucid, and able to have a life, albeit a restricted one. Because of his unusual condition, Henry became the primary neurological test subject of his time. He was examined, interviewed, and studied by untold numbers of researchers until his death. He was the subject of countless professional papers, in which he was always referred to in professional literature by his initials, in order to protect his privacy. Anyone working in the field would know well the initials HM. William Beecher Scoville was the doctor who had performed the risky surgery. He was Luke Dittrich’s grandfather.
Dr William Beecher - from Dittrich’s Esquire article
Patient H.M is both a medical and personal history, as Dittrich looks at the scientific advances that took place over a 60 year period, the history of his grandfather, and the life of Henry. It is perfectly accessible for the average reader, with a minimum of technical jargon. You will definitely learn some things, like the difference between episodic and semantic memory.
Memory scientists often speak of the important difference between knowing that a certain fact is true and knowing how you came to learn it. For example, here’s a simple question: What’s the capital of France? The answer probably leapt to your mind in an instant. Now, here’s another question: When did you learn that Paris is the capital of France? If you’re like most people, you have no idea. That particular fact twinkles in your mind amid an enormous constellation of other facts, most of them forever disconnected from the moment they first sprang to life. The store of mostly disconnected facts is known as your semantic memory.This gives you a taste of how fluidly Dittrich writes of a subject that, in lesser hands, could easily have become dense.
Gramps was not exactly mister nice guy. He had a reputation for fast living and was very successful and ambitious, maybe to the point of excessive risk-taking. The state of mental health understanding and care in the 1950s is fascinating, and the stuff of nightmares. Nurse Ratched would have been right at home. Part of this tale is the fumbling from step to step that took place in trying to understand how the brain works. It makes one very thankful that we have technology today that can look at the brain with non-invasive machines instead of scalpels. It was news, for instance, that there were at least two kinds of memory, as noted above, and that they might reside in different parts of the brain. We learn how Henry came to be afflicted in his special way, how he lived, and how he was treated, both as a human being and a test subject.
Henry as a young man - from The Telegraph
There are significant human rights issues here. Henry was and remained a human being, yet he was regarded by some researchers in a very proprietary way, in one instance being referred to in a legal document as “An MIT research project entitled “The Amnesic Patient H.M.” Not exactly warm and fuzzy. Academic turf-guarding comes in for a look. One researcher, in particular, goes so far as to destroy original data that might have jeopardized her career-long published findings. Access to Henry was guarded as energetically as the formula for real Coke, and not always for the purpose of looking after Henry’s best interests. Dittrich raises ethical issues, noting similarities between what was considered respectable medicine in the 20th century and barbaric behavior of the then recent past in how people had been used as test subjects for medical research.
And there is a particularly existential question that comes into play. If we are our memories, who and what are we if we can no longer make any? And it makes one wonder about new science that may offer us a way to erase traumatic memories, in the vein of the 2004 film Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.
Dittrich had an in, of course, but sometimes the family connection gets in the way. He tends to wax nostalgic about his grandfather, and wanders off topic for stretches. Some may enjoy these, and they were ok, I guess, but I found myself getting irritated at what seemed an excessive levels of detail, particularly in imagined scenarios. Thankfully, the eye-rolling portions of the book do not detract too much from the rest.
Suzanne Corkin doggedly guarded her access to HM
There are clear similarities to be found between this book and two others that deal with medical history. The obvious comparison is to Rebecca Skloot’s best-seller The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. In that one cells that had been taken from a patient, and found to have remarkable qualities, were subsequently used, without permission, to support vast amounts of research. Ethical considerations raised in the book are considerable. But the much less well known Open Wound: The Tragic Obsession of Dr. William Beaumont, by Jason Karlawish, is the book that seems the most directly comparable. In that one, Dr. Beaumont of the title takes advantage of an unusual medical condition to keep a patient available for his research for a prolonged period. It raises similar ethical issues to the ones raised in Patient H.M..
Bottom line is that Luke Dittrich has given us a fascinating look at an obscure figure, bringing to life what medical progress actually looks like, and how much like sausage-making it really can be. He raises some very important ethical concerns not only about how Henry was treated as a person, but how access to Henry was handled, and how the information gleaned by researchers was guarded, and in at least one instance, destroyed. If you are at all interested in the brain and in the history of advances in medical knowledge, and do not take a look at Patient H.M. you should probably have your head examined.
Review Posted – 8/5/16
Publication date - 8/9/16
More Material From Luke Dittrich
-----All Dittrich’s writings for Esquire, including a piece that takes aim at a neurosurgeon who claims he had gone to heaven.
-----A short version of Henry’s Story
-----Dittrich’s original Esquire article, The Brain that Changed Everyting
-----The Brain That Couldn’t Remember- NY Times Magazine – August 7, 2016
Jacopo Annese, oversaw the slicing of Henry’s brain post-mortem and digitizing of every bit into an image database. His institute created a 3D virtual model of Henry’s brain. Check out his site here.
This video shows HM’s brain being sliced at Dr. Annese’s facility. This process has been applied to many brains. Images of the slices are then digitized, and made available to researchers. Annese’s project has been referred to as the Google Earth of neuroscience. Find out more in this article about the work in ArsTechnica - To digitize a brain, first slice 2,000 times with a very sharp blade by Kate Shaw
If you want to know how one goes about removing a brain from a skull, the following article might prove mind-expanding. Cubed, Ground, Frozen or Marinated? 4 Scientists Talk Brain Dissection Styles by Linda Zeldovich on Braindecoder.com. No. Hannibal, not you.
Obit of Suzanne Corkin
An interesting article on research being done on the brain, noting just how little we really know - Probing Brain’s Depth, Trying to Aid Memory by Benedict Carey – July 9, 2014
A video on mapping the brain
An interesting op-ed on how mental health research resources are distributed - There’s Such a Thing as Too Much Neuroscience - by John Markowitz - October 14, 2016
Notes are private!
May 23, 2016
May 29, 2016
May 23, 2016
Aug 09, 2016
Aug 09, 2016
it was amazing
You’ve got company.
Carol Anne Freeling was certainly right when she said, “They’re hee-ur,” well maybe not enraged spirits, but there are certainly pl You’ve got company.
Carol Anne Freeling was certainly right when she said, “They’re hee-ur,” well maybe not enraged spirits, but there are certainly plenty of entities present to which we have paid insufficient attention. Maybe Regan MacNeil was closer to the mark in proclaiming “We are legion.”
When Orson Welles said “We’re born alone, we live alone, we die alone,” he was mistaken. Even when we are alone, we are never alone. We exist in symbiosis—a wonderful term that refers to different organisms living together. Some animals are colonized by microbes while they are still unfertilized eggs; others pick up their first partners at the moment of birth. We then proceed through our lives in their presence. When we eat, so do they. When we travel, they come along. When we die, they consume us. Every one of us is a zoo in our own right—a colony enclosed within a single body. A multi-species collection. An entire world.Trying to map what it is to be a physical human being, in something like the Human Genome Project, is a daunting task. But our genes tell only part of our story, like a novel with a beginning and ending but no middle. That middle is taken up by the vast array of other life that exists within our bodies. While the guests we harbor may not necessarily be in league with Satan, they are a mixed lot. They mean us no harm, particularly, and we have evolved very workable symbiotic relationships with them, but they are not necessarily our friends either. They took up residence for their own benefit and will stick around and provide benefits to us only as long as we provide what they need, like that girl/boy friend you remember with gritted teeth.
I won’t say this book will blow your mind, but this is your brain
And it’s not even Mardi Gras – from the Brain Association of Mississippi
This is your brain after reading this book
Shame about that haircut
[In the interest of full disclosure, it should be known that every day when my wife was reading this book, she would walk in the door and tell me of yet another thing she had read that had totally blown her mind. Not that my mind didn't go Ka-Boom when I read it. It certainly it. But hers was blown first. I only steal from the best. ]
I Contain Multitudes will change how you understand not only the human body, but all the biota on the planet, hell, the universe. It will help you understand how it can happen that diseases like the flu can adapt so quickly to our latest attempts to stamp them out. It will help you understand why coral reefs are dying. It will give you some new words that help keep the new knowledge manageable. (My favorite is dysbiosis which is what it sounds like, a biological parallel to dystopia, with a hint of enforced disorganization.) It will expand your appreciation for how microbial biology works within people and in the world. It will offer you hope that there can be a future in which many of our maladies will not only be diagnosable, but will be treatable with the introduction of the right, specific probiotic. It will do your dishes and massage your feet. Well, ok, not the last two, but KABOOM, big new look-at-the-world stuff. Ok, you biologist types, pre-med, med, post med, anti-med, wearers of white lab coats, whatever the length, you know this stuff, at least I hope you do. But for most of the rest of us it is indeed a big change, a new layer of reality, well maybe not entirely new, but new enough to go KABOOM!
Our intro to the world of which Yong writes, antibiotics, is probably akin to the one WW II bombadiers had through their bombsites. Amazing invention/discovery, antibiotics. They do a great job of wiping out pathogens, the nasties that make us ill, well, some of them anyway. Other harmful microbial types, the viral ones, roll their eyes at incoming antibiotics and keep on with what they are up to. However, as with items dropped from passing aircraft, the use of antibiotics entails considerable collateral damage, as the human body is a container for a vast array of microbial life. One might well envision millions of non-pathogenic residents shaking their fists as the incomings not only wipe out the harmful bugs, but vast numbers of the helpful ones as well. Ed Yong offers a more on-the-ground look, filling us in on what is actually going on inside, and how this part of what’s inside relates to that other part.
If these folks can have an entire civilization inside a locker, just imagine what might develop in your liver or large intestine.
If you don’t know who Ed Yong is, it’s a good bet that you will before too long. Yong is a popular science guy, a Neal DeGrasse Tyson, Bill Nye, Mary Roach, Jacques Cousteau, David Attenborough, Carl Sagan sort, a person who can take the wild, wonderful and fascinating things that are going on in the world of science and distill them all down for public consumption without making viewers’ or readers’ eyes glaze over, or listeners’ ears suddenly clog, without making you feel like an ill-educated dolt, and he accomplishes this with enough humor to produce a fair number of smiles and an occasional LOL. (Not in Mary Roach’s league for humor, but hey, who is?) He is an award-winning science writer at The Atlantic, whose work has appeared in a wide range of publications, from The New York Times to Nature, from The Guardian to Wired, from Slate to Scientific American, and on and on. He splits his time between London and DC, and I would not be at all surprised if he dashes back and forth in a TARDIS. I have provided links in EXTRA STUFF that will lead you down rabbit holes of fun material from Yong that may take you a while to leave.
Ed Yong - From Speakerpedia
Among the many surprises you will encounter here are a squid with its own high-beams, the microbial advantage of vaginal birth, the impact of gut microbes on mood, why a third of human milk is set aside for our guests (protection payments?), the relationship between the US Navy and mucus, why no man may be an island, but we may be archipelagos, and vats more.
There is serious consideration given to how our relationships with this invisible world evolved:
…animals emerged in a world that had already been teeming with microbes for billions of years. They were the rulers of the planet long before we arrived. And when we did arrive, of course we evolved ways of interacting with the microbes around us. It would be absurd not to, like moving into a new city wearing a blindfold, earplugs, and a muzzle. Besides, microbes weren’t just unavoidable: they were useful. They fed the pioneering animals. Their presence also provided valuable cues to areas rich in nutrients, to temperatures conducive to life, or flat surfaces upon which to settle. By sensing these cues, pioneering animals gained valuable information about the world around them…hints of those ancient interactions still abound today.“It all depends.” As if life wasn’t complicated enough. Don’t you just love it when you are looking for help and the person you are asking responds with “It all depends.” And it really does, and it really will. What will be different, though, will be that your caregiver will have a much better idea than most caregivers can possibly have today. They will be able to look at a profile from a type of blood test and match potential solutions to the bacteria living in your gut, or wherever else in your two-legged bacteria condo might pertain. This knowledge is still in its infancy – at least a broad knowledge, but it is coming, and has the potential to make meaningful improvements in our health.
As microbiologist Patrice Cani told me, “The future will be a la carte.”
Balance – from Explainxkcd.com
This raises some concerns, although they do not get a lot of attention here. If scientists can develop designer probiota to ameliorate suffering, there will always be evil-doers eager to use new technology to make designer biota intended to act as pathogens. In fact that is pretty much my sole gripe about this book. I wish more space had been devoted to the potential dangers of this advancing treatment modality. Just ask yourself, What would ISIS do?
The title of Ed Yong’s book may not be up there with The Selfish Gene, Silent Spring, or Guns, Germs and Steel but what it lacks in snappy-ness it more than makes up for in content. This is a smart, readable explanation of one of the major ongoing scientific revolutions of our time. If you look deep inside yourself you will know that this is absolutely must-read material.
-----August 9, 2016 - Hardcover
-----January 16, 2018 - Trade Paper
Review Posted – July 1, 2016
Links to the author’s personal, Twitter, and Google+
-----Ed’s blog, Not Exactly Rocket Science , on NatGeo
-----Yong’s weekly newsletter, The Ed’s Up
-----All Ed’s stories in The Atlantic
-----Ed’s stories for the CityLab section of The Atlantic
-----Ed’s articles for The Guardian
-----Ed’s articles for Science Friday
-----All Ed’s TED talks.
-----An individual TED talk – on zombie roaches - Go ahead and watch this. You know you want to.
-----TED talk on mind-controlling parasites , no, not Dick Cheney – on Nat Geo
-----The Invisible Universe Of The Human Microbiome is an animation that presents in a very simple manner, but is quite good
----- The human microbiome and what we do to it - we are only 1% human if you are counting genes, an interesting vid from Australia’s NPS Medicinewise nonprofit
-----Micropia – an Amsterdam museum of the invisible
------February 15, 2016 - NY Times - 40 Trillion Bacteria on and in Us? Fewer Than We Thought - by Nicholas Bakala
-----May 10,2017 - A Baffling Brain Defect Is Linked to Gut Bacteria, Scientists Say - by Gina Kolatomay
-----June 26, 2017 - NY Times - The Solution for Skin Ailments Could Be Right Under Your Nose by Ferris Jabr - An early example of using our own microbiota to help cure problems that are at least in part caused by our own microbiota
-----July 14, 2017 - NY Times - A gene we believe is significant in diagnosing Alzheimer's may, in combination with non-DNA material, help prevent it - An Ancient Cure for Alzheimer’s? - by Pagan Kennedy
-----July 31, 2017 - NY Times - Lovers Share Colonies of Skin Microbes, Study Finds - by Aneri Pattani
-----August 24, 2017 - NY Times - a fascinating new study of contemporary hunter-gatherers' microbiome has implications for modern diets, and health - Gut Bacteria Can Fluctuate With the Seasons by Carl Zimmer
-----February 1, 2018 - NY Times - Some of our tenants are behaving badly - with 50,000 Americans dying every year from colon cancer, early testing for these two microbes can save an awful lot of lives - Gut Microbes Combine to Cause Colon Cancer, Study Suggests - by Gina Kolata
-----April 13, 2018 - NY Times - More KA-BOOM from this article on the surprisingly global reach of viruses - Trillions Upon Trillions of Viruses Fall From the Sky Each Day - by Jim Robbins
-----May 25, 2018 - NY Times - Gives new meaning to the phrase 'I had a gut feeling' - Antibiotics in Meat Could be Damaging Our Guts - by William D. Cohen
-----February 5, 2019 - Smithsonian - If your gut feeling is depression, there may be a biotic cause - Scientists Find a Possible Link Between Gut Bacteria and Depression - by Jane Recker
-----March 2, 2019 - NY Times - The A.I. Diet - by Eric Topol
More than a hundred factors were found to be involved in glycemic response, but notably food wasn’t the key determinant. Instead it was the gut bacteria. Here were two simultaneous firsts in nutritional science: one, the discovery that our gut microbiome plays such a big role in our unique response to food intake, and the other that this discovery was made possible by A.I.-----April 9, 2019 - NY Times - You’re Covered in Fungi. How Does That Affect Your Health? - by Kaleigh Rogers
November 23, 2016 - I Contain Multitudes is named to the NY Times list of 100 Notable Books of 2016
Notes are private!
May 02, 2016
May 08, 2016
May 20, 2016
Jun 07, 2016
Jun 07, 2016
it was amazing
The Chicken gun has a sixty foot barrel, putting it solidly in the class of an artillery piece. While a four pound chicken hurtling in excess of 400
The Chicken gun has a sixty foot barrel, putting it solidly in the class of an artillery piece. While a four pound chicken hurtling in excess of 400 miles per hour is a lethal projectile…OK, stop right there. Mary Roach’s latest venture into odd science begins with a notion that would likely raise the hackles and maybe the hopes of Rocky the Rhode Island Red of the film Chicken Run.
But Rocky would be better off sticking with the usual modes of transportation for the aeronautically challenged. These are no Iron Man chickens. The poultry the Army is using for its much-enlarged version of birdshot have already been relieved of their pluck, among other things. They are standing in for the many avian perils that endanger military pilots, and have been aimed at test planes. Roach does not report whether the cannon issued a squawk along with the boom when it let the feathers fly.
This is what happens when you turn Mary Roach, author of such gleeful romps as Bonk (a long, hard look at sex), Stiff (yes, dealing with late residents, and nothing to do with that other book), Spook (looking into where they might have gone), Packing for Mars (the joys and bodily fluids of space travel), and Gulp (a journey through the alimentary canal even Captain Willard may have taken a pass on), loose on the US military. She is not interested in the best ways to harm the enemy, but in the collateral science that accompanies the military’s deadly missions. Things like dealing with noise, heat, sharks, submarine rescue, keeping coyotes away from the field test cadavers, the joys of flies and maggots, and then it gets back to familiar MR turf, keeping up with the latest science on letting go. Roach spends a lot of time at a military test location, Camp Lemonnier. I picture it being devoured by swarms of tiny, chainsaw-toothed Liz Lemons.
First, the more serious. Safety in vehicles, a favorite target for IEDs, is a major concern for the military. Roach looks at vehicles designed to minimize potential blast damage, not just to the vehicle but to its occupants. She checks out TCAPS, (Tactical Communication and Protective System) an advanced audio communications tool used primarily by Special Forces. It amplifies quiet sound and dampens loud noise.
She provides a look at progress in reconstructing, even transplanting, sex organs damaged or lost by gunfire or explosives. She works up a sweat explaining perspiration.
Until this trip, I thought of sweat as a sort of self-generated dip in the lake. But sweat isn’t cool. It’s warm as blood. It essentially is blood. Sweat comes from plasma, the watery, colorless portion of blood. (A dip in the lake cools by conduction: contact with something colder. Highly effective but not always practical.) Sweat cools by evaporation: offloading your heat into the air. Like this: when you start to overheat, vessels in your skin dilate, encouraging blood to migrate there. From the capillaries of the skin, the hot plasma is offloaded through sweat glands—2.4 million or so—onto the surface of the body to evaporate. Evaporation carries heat away from the body, in the form of water vapor.I envision sweat vampires lurking in locker rooms. Roach explains how heat illness works. It ain’t pretty. Blast Boxers are examined, although not while…you know, they are in use. Body armor too. Turns out you would need so many layers of protection to fend off IEDs that you would be too weighted down to walk. Flame resistance in fabric is considered as well as the temperature at which human flesh burns. You will learn where the term “bite the bullet” came from and what it was really intended to accomplish. Also considered are the relative benefits of going shirtless vs shirted on a hot day, the uses of kitty litter in theater, and why the military is so insistent on personnel being clean-shaven. You will learn about the uses and hazards of filth flies and, yes, maggots. “Maggot!” as a drill sergeant (or wifely) form of address may sting a bit less after you gain a new respect for little white squigglers in these pages.
Thanks, Sarge - USMC photo by Sgt. Reece Lodder
Aircraft design does not stop at maximizing lift, and getting the most speed and endurance per unit of fuel. There are more human concerns that need to be addressed, particularly when the shit hits the …everything.
On a long sortie out of Diego Garcia island, the only crew member capable of operating the plane’s defensive equipment abruptly left his post to use the chemical toilet—while flying over Taliban-controlled Afghanistan. On the return flight, a faulty seal combined with the pressure differential between the toilets tiered chambers causing the contents to spew into the crew cabin. “Be assured,” he deadpanned, “this blue-brown precipitation affected the navigator’s ability to concentrate on his duties.”It would probably have been simpler had the affected crew member been the bombardier. But one must respect it when latrine humor hooks up with an actual latrine. Despite the humorous aspect, the military has to cope with thousands of personnel in foreign places, and the response to the new locale can often be gastrointestinal. What if, say, Seal Team Six, were en route to take out Osama Bin Laden and was thwarted because one or more of the seals had sprung a leak. Zero Dark Dirty? This is what Roach does, entertains us with the silliness aspect, the gross aspect, while also communicating important factual material. I guess this might be seen as a sort of Mary Poppins-ish spoon-full-of-sugar (or something) technique, using gross humor to teach us all something we didn’t know, although her evident glee at the scatological might make Roach more of a Mary Poopins.
Mary Roach - from electronpencil.com – probably the face she has on when she writes
There is much more in the book. As one has come to expect in Roach’s writing a lot of it is downright hilarious. While stopping short of staring at goats, one of the perhaps less legendary escapades of international conflict Roach sniffed out occurred when WWII allies wanted to make life miserable for Japanese officers, and so developed a particularly pungent substance that Chinese resistance fighters could surreptitiously spray on the invaders, causing them, it was expected, extreme social shame. The super secret code name for this project was…wait for it…”Who, Me?” “Million dollar Nose” man Ernest Crocker, of the chemical engineering company Arthur D. Little, was charged with developing the unlovely scent.
Samples were prepared and delivered to the NRDC [National Research Defense Committee] in two formats: a more intense “paste-form stink,” for smearing, and a liquid stink in a squirtable two ounce lead tube. Crocker assured his clients that the latter would render a target “highly objectionable for not less than two hours at 70 F.” He promised nothing short of “complete ostracism,” concluding his report with a tagline surely unique in the annals of marketing: “as lastingly disagreeable as a product of this kind can be.”People react very differently to the same scent. A project looking for a universally repulsive fragrance concluded that the closest they could find was the “US Government Standard Bathroom Malodor.” Nothing is universal, though. One hardy soul found it to be a “wearable” scent, which makes one wonder just how challenging it must be to settle in for a number two in his lieu.
None of [researcher Pam] Dalton’s other bottled vilenesses approached a workable criterion of universality. Sewage Odor was no good at all. Fourteen percent of Hispanic subjects described it as an odor that would make them feel good. Around 20 percent of Caucasians, Asians, and black South Africans thought it smelled edible. Vomit Odor made a similarly poor showing, with 27 percent of Xhosa subjects describing it as a feel-good smell and 3 percent of Caucasians being willing to wear it as a scent.Which explains a lot about the olfactory ambience inside the rush hour F train.
This book includes sage advice on the inadvisability of drinking one’s own urine. Thanks, but I think I’ll have the iced tea instead. This is presumably not intended for those involved in extreme water sports, but they would probably profit from the information as well.
With Grunt, Mary Roach has yet again succeeded in teaching us a lot of things we never suspected, and has done so while leaving us weak from laughter. Here’s another. She also explains why we toss and turn at night in the normal course of events. And yes, we mean those who are sleeping. Sheesh! And one more. She tells us about a product that is literally called “Liquid Ass.” Don’t ask. Don’t smell. If you tell Mary Roach you think her book stinks, it would probably make her day.
I suppose one must at least try to come up with items that are less than exemplary, or that, for one reason or another, do not sit well. Tough to do with Mary Roach books. The only thing, aside from the item noted in the following paragraph, is that the chapters are a bit uneven in their humor content. This is not at all a criticism, but merely observation. It is one thing to get giddy about the pursuit of an olfactory 9th ring of hell or projectile poultry, but when dealing with burn victims and the loss of life and limb that results from IEDs and taking enemy fire, levity does not come so easily. Roach has tempered her approach to tilt away from humor when a more respectful tone is called for. Thus, some chapters will leave you howling, while others will inform your brain without going too close to your funny bone.
I came across only one item in the book that did not pass the smell test. There is a reference to General Dynamics, manufacturer of the IAV (Interim Armored Vehicle) Stryker, in which it is stated that GD owns Chevrolet. General Motors might be alarmed to learn that. Of course the volume I read is an ARE, and one presumes that either a correction is imminent, or GD and GM can be persuaded to arrange a quick deal.
Grunt has the deeply satisfying aroma of a truly illuminating book about some very real, down and dirty issues that confront not just our military, but our species. Roach offers some history on how these challenges have been approached in the past, and fills us in on what is happening now. Many of the problems she describes have significant implications for civilian life as well. The subtitle of Roach’s book is The Curious Science of Humans at War. But it is Mary Roach’s curiosity that is the real jewel here. She always finds fascinating subjects to investigate, and Grunt is no exception. Enjoy and share her merriment at the mess of our reality. It wraps a warm cover around the laser-like intelligence she brings to bear on her chosen material. In the land of popular science writing, Roach is no grunt, but a five star general. Ten-hut!
Publication date – June 7, 2016
Review posted – 4/15/16
Links to the author’s personal and Twitter pages
Mary will be on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert on June 6, (I don't think that actually happened) but if you want a taste of what to expect, check out this video of her Daily Show visit with Jon Stewart
Here is a fun piece from the NY Times in which Mary is asked about book she didn't write. Gotta love her last line. : Mary Roach: By the Book
Other Mary Roach books we have enjoyed, in case you missed the links in the review
-----Packing for Mars
Notes are private!
Mar 21, 2016
Mar 27, 2016
Mar 21, 2016
Apr 05, 2016
Apr 05, 2016
it was amazing
For 130 years, pitchers have thrown a baseball overhand, and for 130 years, doing so has hurt them. Starter or reliever, left-handed or right-handed
For 130 years, pitchers have thrown a baseball overhand, and for 130 years, doing so has hurt them. Starter or reliever, left-handed or right-handed, short or tall, skinny or fat, soft-tossing or hard-throwing, old or young—it matters not who you are, what color your skin is, what country you’re from. The ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) , a stretchy, triangular band in the elbow that holds together the upper and lower arms, plays no favorites. If you throw a baseball, it can ruin you. When the UCL breaks, only one fix exists: Tommy John surgery…More than 50 percent of pitchers end up on the disabled list every season, on average for two months—plus, and one-quarter of major league pitchers today wear a zipper scar from Tommy John surgery along their elbows.Major League Baseball (MLB) currently spends about $1.5 billion a year on pitchers. There is considerable financial incentive for organized baseball to find a solution to this epidemic of injury. And there is certainly plenty of human need on the part of players and their families for something to be done. How did this plague of injuries come to be and what can be done about it?
Jeff Passan - from the Sports Journalism Institute
Jeff Passan is currently the lead baseball columnist at Yahoo! Sports. He got loose, picking up his journalism degree at Syracuse in 2002, did some soft-toss, covering Fresno State basketball for two years, warmed up his baseball writing in the hardball beat at the Kansas City Star for two years, and has been in the starting rotation with Yahoo for ten.
“My dad worked at The Cleveland Plain Dealer for 40 years, so I knew what I wanted to do when I was 12 years old,” Passan said. “I was very lucky. My dad has been editing my stuff for 20 years now and I can say he’s the best editor I’ve ever had.” - from SJI articleI am sure his editors at Yahoo will be thrilled to know that. He co-authored Death to the BCS: The Definitive Case Against the Bowl Championship Series, published in 2010. The Arm is his first solo book.
Mostly, I wanted to understand this for my son. He was five years old. He loved baseball. He wanted to play catch every day. He was hooked, like his dad. And the more I heard stories from other parents—of their sons getting hurt or boys they know quitting baseball teams because their arms no longer worked—the more I needed to figure out what was happening to the arm.Passan takes parallel approaches to his subject, mixing hardball facts with softer stuff. There is a lot of information to impart. He compares the current injury rate and occupational environment to those of the past. He looks at the structure of the arm, considers the stresses it endures and presents competing theories on the causes of the current epidemic. He spends time with experts in the current state of UCL injury medicine, and talks with several proponents of alternative approaches to injury prevention and rehabilitation. One of these is Doctor Tommy John, Jr. And yes, Passan does talk with TJ Senior as well. He examines promising models for the future, including one new surgery that could have a dramatic impact on recovery time and another training approach that shows promise as a way of preventing the injury in the first place. He follows through, making a large point of showing that many of the current approaches to prevention and rehab are based more on wishful thinking than on hard science. He also goes the distance, traveling to Japan to look at how things are done there, and seeing if their approach is better or worse for arms.
Todd Coffey - from redmtnsports.com
While I revel in theory and data, there are many for whom it is much more informative to see how this widespread and growing problem affects actual humans. Analyzing the causes and effects, lost revenue, and lost time can leave one remote to the impact on living players and families. Passan’s other, softer approach comes in here. He had hoped to find one pitcher who would allow him to tag along through the entirety of his Tommy John process. He managed to find two. The emotional, human heart of The Arm lies in the stories of professional pitchers Daniel Hudson of the Diamondbacks and Todd Coffey. Coffey succumbed to a need for Tommy John a second time while pitching for the LA Dodgers. Passan is our eyes and ears as we accompany Hudson and Coffey on their painful sojourn from the Major League venue, through surgery and rehab, and their daunting struggle to make it back to the show. It may take a team to win a pennant, and a medical team to stitch up a damaged limb, but it takes supreme dedication to a lengthy and tedious rehab program, persistent optimism and a supportive family to lift a player from the depths of a career-threatening injury back up to a place where the lifetime dream of pitching in the major leagues (and the income associated with that career) might again be realized. The physical pain of a UCL tear can be intense. The emotional pain on display here is heart-rending. The struggles the players endure are intense and long-lasting, the triumphs uplifting, the defeats crushing.
Daniel Hudson - from ESPN
One of the joys of The Arm is when surprising bits of information drift past like an Eephus pitch or an RA Dickey knuckler. There was a time when surprising solutions were tried to address arm problems. In the 1950s in Brooklyn (not Victorian London) doctors working for the Dodgers actually extracted teeth from prize pitching prospect Karl Spooner. “They thought poison was coming down his shoulder,” said Sandy Koufax. One shudders to imagine what they might have tried when faced with a knee injury. Passan offers some chin music to organizations like Perfect Game, an entity that, among other things, organizes tournaments for promising young (sometimes absurdly young) amateur players, and has played a significant role in youth baseball. I had never heard of it before, and had no notion the impact such entities have had.
In the absence of a better solution to this ongoing plague, and looking to biotech for an edge, I would expect that at some point in the not too distant future, MLB teams will require players to provide DNA and maybe even tissue samples for use by advanced labs so they can grow the parts that might someday need repair or replacement. (It does conjure a ballpark image for me of stadium hawkers peddling cold ones of a different sort from a beer cooler. “Getch yer tendons, heah,” but that’s just me.)
A nifty look inside – from TopVelocity.net
There are some hopeful signs (one finger for likely, two for less certain?) for being able to stem this problem in future. Flush with a large sack of TV moolah, the Dodgers have invested some real money in an in-house think-tank looking at player health issues. As Passan points out, it would be better for the resulting intel to be available league-wide, rather than held by one team for competitive advantage, particularly as the Tommy John plague has struck children at an alarming rate. There is some promising research that looks to the relationship of forearm muscles to the UCL. Maybe forearm training can do for torn UCLs what increased shoulder muscle training did to reduce career death by torn rotator cuff a few decades ago.
Jef Passan has the smooth delivery one would expect from someone who writes every day about sports. He drops in occasional dollops of absolutely lovely description like a 12-to-6 hook.
The Currents Lounge inside the Hyatt Regency Jacksonville is a paint-by-numbers hotel bar, with a few flat-screen TVs, a menu of mediocre food, and a broad liquor selection to help people forget they’re drinking in a hotel bar in Jacksonville.It generates an urge to look around and find out where the down-at-the-heel PI is hoisting another ill-advised shot while waiting for a femme fatale client. Another:
Nothing beats a major league mound, a ten-inch-high Kilimanjaro that few get to climb. Nobody in team sports commands a game like the pitcher. He dictates the pace and controls the tempo. A goalie in hockey or soccer can win a game with superior reaction. A pitcher prevents action. There is great power in that.So, a sweet, writerly changeup to go with his intel-rich heater.
I have a particular interest in the subject matter here. A baseball fan since gestation, a Mets fan since their birth, I have been drooling over the possibility of (no, not tossing up a wet one) another trip to the MLB finale for my team, an organization with a collection of elite arms rarely seen in the history of the game. As a Mets fan forever, I am also far, far too familiar with the impact injury can have on the team, on any team. My Metsies’ chances flow nicely down the drain should the arms on which team hopes rest succumb to injury. Three of the five have already had Tommy John surgery, Zach Wheeler, Jacob DeGrom and Matt Harvey. How long can it be before Noah Syndergaard and rookie Steven Matz fall prey? As I was preparing this review, I came across an item of particular interest on the NY Mets site. Mets rotation features rare trio of flame-throwers, which focused attention on Noah Syndegaard, possessor of one of the most blazing fastballs in the game, and was reminded of one of the bits of intel in The Arm, namely that the higher the pitch speed, the likelier a pitcher is to be injured. The path from flame-thrower to flame-out is well worn and covered in the ash of lost dreams. And what if one of the already cut three should fall again? I am sure baseball fans everywhere share similar concerns. Even though, as followers of the national sport, we really have no impact on what happens on the field, it would be nice to at least be able to talk about the injury horrors from a base of knowledge, instead of the more usual dugout of pure, ill-informed bias. Passan’s The Arm offers fans that opportunity.
If, like me, you get a bit queasy, reading detailed descriptions of bodily innards, if, like me you experience what seems phantom sensations in your joints when reading about things that may go wrong there, if, like me, you still have tenderness or feel far too vulnerable in body parts like those under consideration here, The Arm will lean on all those buttons and feed your inclinations toward physical discomfort. On the other hand (the good one) if you are a baseball fan (check), player (sadly, no), a coach (once, for many years) a parent of a player, or several (long ago), or a friend or a relation of a player, get over the quease, have a drink, or apply whatever substances, legal or prohibited, ease the condition (no, not an ice-pack to the elbow, but if that works, well, sure, why not), whatever will get you past the discomfort, and shake it off. Jeff Passan's opus is truly a sight for sore arms and must read for you.
Review Posted - February 5, 2016
Publication Date – April 5, 2016
BTW - November 16, 2016 - Rick Porcello of the Boston Red Sox was awarded the American League Cy Young award. In April 2015 he had Tommy john surgery. Pretty frackin' amazing!
Links to the author’s Twitter and FB pages
Dave Davies interviewed Passan on NPR's Fresh Air - March 31 2916 - Injuries Increase As Pitchers Throw Harder, Faster And Younger
Thanks to Henry for letting us know
-----from Sport Illustrated
-----from Yahoo sports
A piece on Passan receiving an award from the Sports Journalism Institute
He lives in Kansas City, so I hate him
With Tommy John Surgery, Every Scar Tells a Story - By Tim Rohan – NY Times – October 6, 2015
A bit of Light reading from Neil Roach, et al, on the evolutionary biology of throwing.
-----Upper body contributions to power generation during rapid, overhand throwing in humans
----- Elastic energy storage in the shoulder and the evolution of high-speed throwing in Homo
-----The latter of the above articles appeared in Nature magazine and included this lovely short video
More articles of interest
----- Velocity’s Relationship with Pitcher Arm Injuries by Jeff Zimmerman from The Hardball Times
----- Baseball Therapy - Dating the Impulse to Protect Pitchers - by Russell A. Carlton in Baseball Prospectus
----- Baseball Therapy - Prioritizing the Pitcher's Health - by Russell A. Carlton in Baseball Prospectus
----- Baseball Therapy - The High-Pitch-Count Hangover - by Russell A. Carlton in Baseball Prospectus
-----September 14, 2018 - FiveThirtyEight.com - Tommy John Surgeries Are Down In MLB. Will It Last? - by Travis Sawchik
-----September 2018 - AARP Bulletin - Why Tommy John Is Against the Surgery That Bears His Name - by Tommy John
There are some interesting things to see at American Sports Medicine Institute (ASMI)
April 7, 2016 - I attended a book tour event tonight. Passan was interviewed about The Arm at a Barnes & Noble in lower Manhattan. He is a very young-looking thirty-something, and was resplendent in jacket and tie. My favorite line of the night was Jeff saying "This is not about wussification. This is about your children's health." He also talked about being present for Todd Coffey's four-hour TJ cutting. He described it as "pretty gross, but balletic," referring to the coordination among the medical professionals throughout the procedure. He was impressed that the Major League Players Association was on board so far with the growing science of tracking all the physical details involved in playing the game. Clearly management and union members have an interest in finding out how things work, what goes wrong, and what might prevent things from going wrong. As for understanding actual proper mechanics, Passan thinks that we are still at least a couple of decades away from a true understanding, the Japanese notwithstanding. But the perfect should not be the enemy of the good. We know enough now to still do something at the youth level to steer clear of a future darkened by damaged arms on an epidemic scale. If Passan's tour is making a stop near you, I suggest stopping by and saying hi. Aside from clearly being quite bright, and being a darned good writer, Jeff Passan seems like a pretty nice guy, and that never hurts. ...more
Notes are private!
Jan 25, 2016
Jan 30, 2016
Jan 25, 2016
Oct 27, 2015
Oct 27, 2015
really liked it
Give yourself to the Dark Side. It is the only way you can save your friends. - D. VaderLisa Randall, a Harvard Science professor, member of the Nat
Give yourself to the Dark Side. It is the only way you can save your friends. - D. VaderLisa Randall, a Harvard Science professor, member of the National Academy of Sciences, named one of the 100 Most Influential People by Time Magazine in 2007, and author of three previous books, likes to think big. She also likes to think small. Her areas of expertise are particle physics and cosmology, which certainly covers a range. The big look she offers here is a cosmological take on not only how it came to pass that a large incoming did in the dinosaurs 66 million years ago, but why such decimations of life on Earth arrive with some (on a cosmological scale) regularity. Her explanation has to do with dark matter. It makes for an interesting tale, and offers an excellent example of how the scientific method (how Daniel Day Louis might play Louis Pasteur?) approaches problem-solving. It is a fascinating read that is at times wondrously accessible and at others like trying to bat away a swarm of meteoroids.
As with most good communicators of science. Randall relies on metaphor, and some of hers are quite good. My favorite compared methods of detecting dark matter to detecting the presence of [insert name of your favorite A-list celebrity here]. You can tell that there is something going on, without actually having to see the celebrity, because you can see swarms, gaggles, pods and packs of paparazzi clumping around the object of their lenses as he/she/it walks/primps/flees down the street. Dark matter affects the things around it too, and it is by measuring those effects that we can tell it is there, even though it remains...you know...dark.
Lisa Randall - from her Twitter pages
She addresses some cosmological questions and offers up the answers that the best current theories provide. One example is that the rotational velocity of stars should be sufficient to make them literally spin out of their galaxies, and yet they don’t. Something must be keeping them in place. Care to guess? There are more like this. They vary in Wow-Cool! levels. Randall takes us from a look at how we know dark matter is out there, and its characteristics, to an overview of our solar system. This is more interesting than a science class slide show of the 8 (or 9 if you are my age) planets circling around our sun. (Well, maybe I should say your sun, but I don’t really want to get into that) There is a lot of other material cruising around out there, and it is significant, as in Please, oh please, do not come crashing into our planet, pretty please.
Path of the New Horizons spacecraft into the Kuiper Belt - from NASA
The Kuiper Belt, a group of clumped asteroids, not an award for the baddest Kuiper, and the Oort Cloud (not where Obchestvo Remeslenogo Truda keeps its data) for example, are parts of our solar system, and move through inter-stellar space along with the sun and planets.
The Oort Cloud – From NASA
You might think of the sundry members of the Solar System as a family all stuffed into one very, very large car of the Wonder Wheel in Coney Island. Once everyone is in, the whole crew moves through space (or circle in this instance) as one. But what if there were another Wonder Wheel, one that was made, not of the dense ordinary matter, but of the much thinner dark sort. Let’s say that it is not vertical but does its spinning thing at an angle. And let’s say it intersected our Wonder Wheel at one point. And every so often, say every thirty some odd million years, the car our solar system is in intersects the material in that other Wonder Wheel. The result could be unpleasant. The big stuff would probably be ok, our sun, the planets, but some of the smaller bits, say rocks in the Oort cloud and Kuiper Belt, might get knocked out of their usual paths. And voila! Fireworks! Big incomings headed our way yet again.
Well, that’s the scoop. I am not giving anything away by laying it out. The value of the book lies in showing how theories are examined, tested and accepted or discarded, the scientific method in action.
But I would not want to make you think the orbit you take while reading Dark Matter and the Dinosaurs is all clear sailing. There are incomings you have to contend with. It is always takes a bit more effort to absorb material when much of it is new to the reader, particularly when there are many new words, acronyms and concepts being thrown at you. I confess that there were points in reading this book when my eyes glazed over. It felt like I was reading a list in a foreign language. My mind went a bit dark in the chapter on how galaxies are born and in a couple of particle physics chapters near the end. On the other hand, enough of the early discussion of dark matter was utterly fascinating. When Randall writes of a second, post-Big-Bang expansion of the universe, it was news to me. I quite enjoyed the tour through our solar system, one that included parts we do not usually think of. And if you ever wondered about how three words are used, the answer is here. Meteors are what we see streaking across the sky. We call them meteoroids if they make it to the ground. (I hereby promise that no meteor will touch the Earth on my watch) In fact any alien object hitting Earth is a meteoroid. (Even Asgardians?) Meteorites are the detritus of meteoroid impact. There is a nifty piece on how we define what is and is not a planet, and some amazing intel on what unexpected materials asteroids and comets might have brought to the Earth over the history of our planet, and another piece on how craters are created. And did you know that there is a multi-national (as in countries not corporations) organization that was set up to watch the skies for the next big thing? These and more such nuggets make the journey with Randall worth the occasional eye-glaze.
And if you are worried about The Big One wiping us out, don’t. We will see to that ourselves long before a big rock does the job for us. The current rate of species extinction is comparable to the one that took place 250 million years ago, the Permian-Triassic extinction. In that one 90% of species were wiped out, including insects. There is always hope that we will, over a period of millions of years, figure out how to keep large floaters from making a mess of our earthly garden. With Dark Matter and the Dinosaurs Lisa Randall, by striving to gain greater understanding of how the universe works, is doing her bit to shine a light in the darkness.
Review posted – 10/30/15
Publication date – 10/27/15
Links to the author’s Twitter and FB pages
NASA’s Site about the Kuiper Belt
In 2010, the National Academy of Sciences presented their results on asteroids and the threats they pose in a document entitled Defending Planet Earth: Near-Earth Object Surveys and Hazard Mitigation Strategies
A nice article in the June 2013 Smithsonian – Lisa Randall’s Guide to the Galaxy
An interesting set of videos with Randall on BIG thoughts
Although the interview is for a different book, Randall’s Daily Show interviewwith Jon Stewart is fun and informative re things scientific.
Ditto, as Randall is interviewed by Tavis Smiley
A nifty set of videos on the hazards presented by asteroids
The Dark Song from The Lego Movie - It’s Awesome ...more
Notes are private!
Oct 15, 2015
Oct 16, 2015
Oct 15, 2015
Jul 01, 2015
Aug 25, 2015
really liked it
Open the pod bay doors, HAL.
Open the pod bay doors, HAL.
Smile for the camera, HAL
This is probably the #1 image most of us of a certain age have concerning the dangers of AI. Whether it is a HAL-9000, or a T-70, T-800, T-888, or T-900 Terminator, a Cylon, a science officer on the Nostromo, a dark version, Lore, of a benign android like STNG’s Commander Data, killer robots on the contemporary TV series Extant, or another of only a gazillion other examples in written word, TV and cinema, there has, for some time now, been a concern, expressed through our entertainment media, that in seeking to rely more and more on computers for everything we do, we are making a Mephistophelian deal and our machines might become our masters. It is as if we, a world of Geppettos, have decided to make our Pinocchios into real boys, without knowing if they will be content to help out in the shop or turn out more like some other artificial being. Maybe we should find a way to include in all AI software some version of the Blue Fairy to keep the souls of the machines on a righteous path.
John Markoff, an Oakland, CA native, has been covering the digital revolution for his entire career. He began writing for InfoWorld in 1981, was later an editor at Byte magazine for about eight bits, then wrote about Silicon Valley for the San Francisco Examiner. In 1988 he began writing for the Business Section of the New York Times, where he remains to this day. He has been covering most of the folks mentioned in this book for a long time, and has knowledge and insight into how they tick.
For the past half century an underlying tension between artificial intelligence and intelligence augmentation—AI vs IA—has been at the heart of progress in computing science as the field has produced a series of ever more powerful technologies that are transforming the world. It is easy to argue that AI and IA are simply two sides of the same coin. There is a fundamental distinction, however, between approaches to designing technology to benefit humans and designing technology as an end in itself. Today, that distinction is expressed in whether increasingly capable computers, software, and robots are designed to assist human users or to replace them.Markoff follows the parallel tracks of AI vs IA from their beginnings to their latest implementation in the 21st century, noting the steps along the way, and pointing out some of the tropes and debates that have tagged along. For example, in 1993, Vernor Vinge, San Diego State University professor of Mathematics and Hugo-award-winning sci-fi author argued, in The Coming Technological Singularity, that by no later than 2030 computer scientists would have the ability to create a superhuman artificial intelligence and “the human era would be ended.” VI Lenin once said, “The Capitalists will sell us the rope with which we will hang them.” I suppose the AI equivalent would be that “In pursuit of the almighty dollar, capitalists will give artificial intelligence the abilities it will use to make itself our almighty ruler.” And just in case you thought the chains on these things were firmly in place, I regret to inform you that the great state of North Dakota now allows drones to fire tasers and tear gas. The drones are still controlled by cops from a remote location, but there is plenty to be concerned about from military killer drones that may have the capacity to make kill-no-kill decisions within the next few years without the benefit of human input. Enough concern that Autonomous Weapons: an Open Letter from AI & Robotics Researchers, signed by luminaries like Stephen Hawking, Elon Musk, and tens of thousands of others, raises an alarm and demands that limits be taken so that human decision-making will remain in the loop on issues of mortality.
The other Mister “T”
Being “in the loop” is one of the major elements in looking at AI vs IA. Are people part of the process or what computerization seeks to replace? The notion of the driverless car comes in for a considerable look. This would probably not be a great time to begin a career as truck driver, cab driver, or delivery person. On the other hand, much design is intended to help folks, without taking over. A classic example of this is Siri, the voice interface available in Apple products. AI in tech interfaces, particularly voice-intelligent tech, speaks to a bright future.
B9 from Lost in Space and Robby the Robot from Forbidden Planet
Markoff looks at the history of funding, research, and rationales. The Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA), which has funded so much AI research, began in the 1950s in response to the Soviet launch of Sputnik. Drones is an obvious use for military AI tech, but, on a lower level, there are robot mules designed to tote gear alongside grunts, with enough native smarts to follow their assigned GI without having to be constantly told what to do. I am including links in the EXTRA STUFF section below for some of these. They are both fascinating and creepy to behold. The developers at Boston Dynamics seem to take inordinate glee in trying and failing to knock these critters over with a well placed foot to the midsection. It does not take a lot of imagination to envision these metal pooches hounding escaped prisoners or detainees across any kind of terrain.
Darryl Hannah, as the replicant Pris in Blade Runner, would prefer not to be “retired”
As with most things, tech designed with AI capacity can be used for diverse applications. Search and Rescue can easily become Search and Destroy. Driverless cars that allow folks to relax while on the road, can just as easily be driverless tanks.
Universities have been prime in putting the intel into AI. Private companies have also been heavily involved. Xerox’s Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) did, probably, more than any other organization to define the look and feel of computer interfaces since PCs and Apples first appeared. Much of the tech in the world, and working its way there, originates with researchers taking university research work into the proprietary market.
John Markoff - from TechfestNW
If you are not already a tech nerd (You, with the Spock ears, down, I said tech nerd, not Trek nerd. Sheesh!) and you try to keep up with all the names and acronyms that spin past like a stock market ticker on meth, it might be just a teensy bit overwhelming. I suggest not worrying about those and take in, instead, the general stream of the divergence between computerization that helps augment human capabilities, and computerization that replaces people. There is also a wealth of acronyms in the book. The copy I read was an ARE, so I was on my own to keep track. You will be reading copies that have an actual index, which should help. That said, I am including a list of acronyms, and their close relations, in the EXTRA STUFF section below.
While there are too many names to comfortably keep track of in Machines of Loving Grace, unless of course, you were made operational at that special plant in Urbana, Illinois, it is a very informative and interesting book. It never hurts when trying to understand where we are and struggling to foresee where we might be going, to have a better grasp on where we began and what the forces and decisions have been that led us from then to now. Markoff has offered a fascinating history of the augment-vs-replace struggle, and you need only an actual, biological, un-augmented intelligence to get the full benefit.
My instructor was Mister Langley and he taught me to sing a song. If you’d like to hear it I can sing it for you.
Review Posted – 8/28/15
Publication date - 8/25/2015
Links to the author’s Twitter and FB pages
Interviews with the author
A link to his overall index of NY Times work
Articles by Markoff
----9/21/15 - Software Is Smart Enough for SAT, but Still Far From Intelligent
-----12/4/15 - As Aging Population Grows, So Do Robotic Health Aides
----12/11/15 - on the establishment of a billion dollar AI think tank by Elon Musk, among other large players - Artificial-Intelligence Research Center Is Founded by Silicon Valley Investors
----3/25/16 - Markoff and Steve Lohr look at corporate competition to lead a burgeoning industry segment - The Race Is On to Control Artificial Intelligence, and Tech’s Future
----4/11/16 - Folks are saying Uh-oh to AI - on a move to rein in killer robots - Arms Control Groups Urge Human Control of Robot Weaponry
----10/23/16 - As Artificial Intelligence Evolves, So Does Its Criminal Potential - cybercrime is becoming automated and it is scaling exponentially
----10/25/16 – with Matthew Rosenberg - The Pentagon’s ‘Terminator Conundrum’: Robots That Could Kill on Their Own
NY Times articles by other writers
----9/24/15 - on voice recognition, IPhone 6s’s Hands-Free Siri Is an Omen of the Future, by Farhad Manjoo
----9/15/16 - As driverless cars get closer, prototypes are put through their paces and field tests are done - What It Feels Like to Ride in a Self-Driving Uber - by Mike Isaac
----9/18/16 - Artificial Intelligence Software Is Booming. But Why Now? by Quentin Hardy
----12/7/16 - The Robot Revolution Will Be the Quietest One by Liu Cixin. The author of The Three Body Problem sees a future in which human labor will become largely superfluous, for good or ill, with serious ramifications. Definitely worth checking out this short article.
----12/14/16 - The Great A.I. Awakening - by Gideon Lewis-Kraus - on the growth in sophistication of Google's AI-based Translate software.
----3/28/17 - Evidence That Robots Are Winning the Race for American Jobs - by Claire Cain Miller
----6/24/17 - The Real Threat of Artificial Intelligence - by Kai-Fu Lee
----7/17/17 - (I’m sorry Dave. I’m afraid I can’t do that.) An interesting perspective on some implications of sex robots. - The Trouble With Sex Robots - by Laura Bates
----7/29/17 - Artificial Intelligence Is Stuck. Here’s How to Move It Forward 0 by Gary Marcus - recommended by my friend Henry B.
-----9/10/2017 - As Amazon Pushes Forward With Robots, Workers Find New Roles - by Nick Wingfield
----11/05/2017 - Building A.I. That Can Build A.I. - by Cade Metz
----April 2017 - National Geographic Magazine - How Humans Are Shaping Our Own Evolution - By D.T. Max - We are more and more becoming one with the machine. At least for now, the machines are being used to enhance us rather than replace us.
----Erstwhile GR friend Tabasco recommended this fascinating article - The AI Revolution: The Road to Superintelligence - By Tim Urban - must read stuff
----2/24/17 - From Ideas.Ted.com - The growing dislocation of biological entities by AI and robotics. What will become of us? - The rise of the useless class - by Yuval Noah Harari
----June/July 2017 - From The Economist - 1843 Magazine - How do you go about building a moral machine? - TEACHING ROBOTS RIGHT FROM WRONG by Simon Parkin
This was recommended by my friend, Henry Balikov
----June 2017 - Smithsonian - Gary Shteyngart on technological innovation and its downsides in South Korea - Thinking Outside the Bots
----9/7/17 - Bloomberg.com - Ashlee Vance's article about one shop's advances in AI is must-read stuff - Mark Sagar Made a Baby in His Lab. Now It Plays the Piano
----12/27/17 - NY Times - The Robots Are Coming, and Sweden Is Fine - by Peter S. Goodman - wonderful piece on how automation vs jobs could work
----Check out this vid of Boston Dynamics’ Big Dog, coping, on its own with a series of challenges. And
----Spot, sadly, not Commander Data’s pet.
----UC Berkeley Professor Stuart Russell speaking at The Centre for the Study of Existential Risk on The Long Term Future of AI
AI – Artificial Intelligence
ArcMac - Architecture Machine Group
ARM – Autonomous Robot Manipulation
ARPA – Advanced Research Projects Agency
DRC – DARPA Robotics Challenge
CALO – not actually an acronym but short for Calonis, a Latin word meaning “soldier’s low servant” – a cognitive assistant here
CTO – Chief Technology Officer
EST – Erhard Seminars Training
GOAFI – Good Old-Fashioned Artificial Intelligence
HCI – Human Computer Interface
IA – Intelligence Augmentation
ICT - Information and Communications Technology
IFR – International Federation of Robotics
IR3 – The Computer and internet revolution
LS3 – Legged Squad Support System - check out this vid
MIT- Massachusetts Institute of Technology
NCSA – National Center for Supercomputing Applications – at the University of Illinois-Urbana-Champaign – developers of Mosaic, which was later renamed Netscape
NHA – Non-human agents
OAA – Open Agent Architecture -
OpenCV – Open Source Computer Vision
PDP – Parallel Distributed Processing
PR1 – Personal Robot One
SAIL – Stanford Artificial Intelligence Laboratory
SHRDLU - SHRDLU was an early natural language understanding computer program, in which the user carries on a conversation with the computer. The name SHRDLU was derived from ETAOIN SHRDLU, the arrangement of the alpha keys on a Linotype machine, arranged in descending order of usage frequency in English. – from Wiki
SLAM - Simultaneous Localization And Mapping
SNARC – Stochastic Neural Analog Reinforcement Calculator
STAIR – Stanford AI Robot
TFC – The F---ing Clown – Development team Internal name for Microsoft’s Clippy assistant (makes one wonder about recent sightings world-wide)
UbiComp – Ubiquitous Computing ...more
Notes are private!
Aug 25, 2015
Aug 27, 2015
Oct 27, 2015
Oct 27, 2015
really liked it
Simon Winchester takes pride in being a traveler. It was another traveler, the explorer Ferdinand Magellan, who, in 1520, gave the largest body of wat Simon Winchester takes pride in being a traveler. It was another traveler, the explorer Ferdinand Magellan, who, in 1520, gave the largest body of water on our planet the name by which we have known it ever since. After surviving a trip through the straits (now called the Straits of Magellan) at the southern tip of South America, his ships sailed into a very welcome calm sea. He named it pacific, for peaceful. And it was, no doubt, quite calm in comparison to the somewhat livelier waters of the Atlantic. It is big enough, at 59 million square miles, that you could cram all the landmass of earth into the Pacific basin and still have a couple of million square miles left over. Sucker is humongous.
The Biggest Kahuna - from vastoceans.com
Writing about the biggest piece of blue on the blue planet (No Kibbie, not where Smurfs come from) might prove a daunting challenge. Where to begin? Where to end? What to include? What to exclude? Decisions, decisions, decisions. To make his task manageable, Winchester opted to focus on the years since 1950 and look at some of the events that tell tales of lives at the edges or even in the middle of the ocean. I suppose this is like anyone’s top ten list for anything. There are always those who would grouse about the inclusion of this and such, while others would no doubt lobby for the addition of their personal favorites. Bottom line is, if you trust Winchester’s reportorial judgment, you will probably be ok with the choices he made. For those of us who have read his earlier work, this is an easy yes. I’m not saying that I necessarily agree with all his choices, but every element on which he fixes his gaze is interesting, and his well-honed tale-telling skills add that other part of a well-written work of non-fiction, making the journey he takes us on an engaging one. He is a gifted guide and while humor is not his main goal here, he does get in a chuckle or two. My favorite was of a bit of English understatement
Sir Eugene Goosens, the towering and talented figure of English music who, while conductor of the Sydney Symphony, had begun the process that led to the building of the Opera House, turned out to be a man of highly exotic sexual tastes. And that, to the Australia of the time, was most decidedly not on. While in Sydney, Goosens became romantically involved with a woman named Rosaleen Norton, who was a pagan, a keen practitioner of the occult. And a lady who had a liking for both flogging and unusual kinds of misbehavior with animals, mostly goats. ..Can’t you just see that being broadcast on the BeeB by an expressionless news reader? Or delivered by John Gielgud with the same dead-panache he used in Murder on the Orient Express when asked about an injury. “Yes, there is an old contusion. The result of a slight fracas in the mess, sir, with regard to the quality of a pudding known as spotted dick.”
Simon Winchester - from The Independent
Winchester’s subject choices are diverse. He is something less than radiant in his feelings about the nuclear testing done by the USA on Bikini atoll, while looking at the science involved, the politics of testing, the treatment of the locals, and of the impact on American military personnel, and the environment. He changes channels to the beginnings of SONY and the consumer electronics revolution in Japan, hangs ten with a look at the globalization of surfing culture, draws on the origin of the line that divided North from South Korea, considering both history and political implications, reaps a tale of an unanticipated legal bounty sown by a well-known ship a long, long time ago, waves goodbye as Hong Kong is restored to Chinese control, warms up to a look at climate change and its impact on storm size and frequency, tries his luck Down Under with a look at an unappreciated, visionary reformer, while telling the tale of the Sydney Opera House, noting some of the darker broom-riders in OZ, and offering a warm g’day for an entertainer of note, dives into a consideration the mind-boggling global mid-ocean ridge system, mourns the loss of species through the impact of man, and shows how a volcanic eruption contributed to a significant shift in the balance of military power in the South China Sea. Whew!
Lahaina Boards - Maui
His approach here is quite different from the one he used in writing his 2010 book, Atlantic, in which he tracked the stages in the development of the ocean itself. This one seemed more of a concept approach, like a very large issue of a smart general audience magazine like, say, Smithsonian, if it decided to do an issue on an ocean. He covers diverse subjects over a considerable span of time and subject. Winchester is a serious writer and looks into his chosen subjects with a steady gaze. There are moments, however, when some of his biases creep in. For example, in writing about the return of Chinese control to Hong Kong, Winchester writes
And Hong Kong, the British colony…was wrested from London’s hands [emphasis mine] in 1997 and is now an increasingly Chinese part of ChinaAs if the peaceful end of a lease constituted armed robbery.
The number one Pariah Nation - from The Guardian
In a passage about Korea he writes
Many military strategists have speculated that the world might have been a far safer place if postwar Korea had been divided four ways: among the United States, the Soviet Union, the Republic of China, and the United Kingdom, as was first proposed. Or if the Soviets had been given free rein to invade all of Korea, and be done with it. In this latter instance, there would have been no Korean War, for certain—merely a Leninist satrapy in the Far East that, most probably, would have withered and died, as did other Soviet satellite states.I thought this was rather cavalier of Winchester. Who is to say that a fully Sovietized Korea might not have given the USSR strategic advantages that might have impacted the development of Japan or other western leaning nations? And what of the impact on the residents?
But there are far more revelations of a fascinating sort. For example, this one from 2013
Admiral Samuel Locklear III in charge of all US forces in the Pacific…declared his belief that it was actually changes to the climate—changes that were powerfully suggested by typhoon clusterings that he and his weather analysts had observed—that posed the greatest of all security threats in the region.I guess the Admiral is just another tree-hugger. One of the things that makes a good non-fiction read is the number of times one feels impelled to follow up the material the author presents with some extra digging of one’s own. You will probably be able to construct a prairie-dog town from all the digging you will want to do while reading Pacific. I have provided a few starter holes in the EXTRA STUFF section. For me, there was much here that was news, including how the line between North and South Korea came to be, some of the specifics of the US nuke tests, and the treatment of the test area locals, Jack London’s relationship to surfing, an almost comedic story of a DMZ tree, Gough Whitlam’s exciting PM term and the current growth of xenophobia in Australia, and China’s program of expanding their territorial claims and breadth of military installations in their coastal waters. Whether these items in particular float your boat or wash it ashore, there are plenty more bits and pieces in Winchester’s Pacific that, when taken as a whole, join to form a very large and satisfying read.
Review posted – 10/23/15
Publication date – 10/27/15
Links to the author’s personal, Twitter and FB pages
A nice overview of Winchester’s professional life can be found here
Pacific was long-listed for the Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Nonfiction
Lots of nifty information about the Pacific on the official site of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)
This is a colorized and somewhat kitschy vid of the Baker nuclear test on Bikini atoll
Here, a US propaganda film on the Crossroads nuke testing program
Sir Leslie Colin Paterson AO is a creation of comedian Barry Humphries, better known for giving the world Dame Edna Everage. Sir Leslie is a send-up of a particular Oz type. There are many vids out there of Sir Leslie. Here is sample.
Still on Oz, here is the ABC 60 Minutes Tracie Curro interview with Aussie political rising star and xenophobe Pauline Hanson
A Woods Hole lecturer on hydrothermal vents. Smoking permitted.
A NY Times Magazine piece by Jon Mooallen - Larry Ellison Bought an Island in Hawaii. Now What?
A November 2, 2015 New Yor Times article by John Schwartz, on increasing storm frequency and strength in the Pacific, The Pacific Ocean Becomes a Caldron
What China Has Been Building in the South China Sea - by Derek Watkins - NY Times - October 17, 2015 - added here December 22, 2015 - This is a subject Winchester looks at in his book with some detail and alarm
China's expansion into disputed water is the subject of another NY Times piece - Possible Radar Suggests China Wants ‘Effective Control’ in Disputed Sea - by Michael Forsythe - Feb. 23, 2016
News coverage of the South China sea as a potential flashpoint continues with this March 30, 2016 NY Times article, Patrolling Disputed Waters, U.S. and China Jockey for Dominance, by Helene Cooper
China's move to dominate the sea in its neck of the world continues apace, despite legal challenges - Ruling on South China Sea Nears in a Case Beijing Has Tried to Ignore - by Jane Perlez - July 6, 2016 - New York Times
China's land grab continues - China’s Sea Control Is a Done Deal, ‘Short of War With the U.S.’ - by Hannah Beech - September 20, 2018 - NY Times ...more
Notes are private!
Sep 07, 2015
Aug 11, 2015
Sep 29, 2015
Sep 29, 2015
really liked it
Our threat response is automatic, but what we fear is largely learned.
Our threat response is automatic, but what we fear is largely learned.What scares you? It varies for most of us, but certainly death and personal, physical harm will come out at or near the top. It certainly should. Alongside that would be a fear of harm to those close to us. But there are plenty of other things that are probably, ok, certainly listed in a wikiphobia somewhere. Some of our fears are well-grounded, others not so much. Fear of heights makes sense. Fear of open places certainly originated before homo sapiens was the planet-wide apex predator. Fear of snakes sure sounds like a sound Darwinian reaction. Fear of the number thirteen, hmmm. But whatever the cause there is a biological element to fear and that is a primary focus here.
That’s Kerr on the splat side addressing a fear of heights
Elizabeth Kubler-Ross may have given us On Death and Dying. Atul Gawande gave us Being Mortal, the Sy-Fy network and premium cable keeps us well filled with entertainments designed to scare the bejesus out of us. But Margee Kerr, in Scream, has written a nifty look at fear itself. Kerr is both a scientist and a practitioner of the frightening arts. No, you won’t see her on any version of the Walking Dead, Chiller Theater, Creature Features, American Horror Story, Grimm, Penny Dreadful or any of the other frightfests that fill our cables and airwaves. And you will not find her name on the binding of books occupying the same section of the bookstore or library as Stephen King. But Kerr could probably explain exactly how each of the above does what it does to you. She is your goto gal for figuring out why the long-haired ghosts in j-horror get screams from Japanese audiences and a much more tepid response from Western viewers. She can tell you why it makes sense to hold someone’s hand when you are frightened, and can explain in some detail, on a biological level, not only how being scared can be a really good thing, but how it has steered our evolution.
Kerr, with a doctorate in sociology, has one foot firmly planted in the realm of academia, research of the library and real world varieties, and the other in the realm of applied fear-mongering. No, she does not work for Fox News. But she does want you to be scared, and she knows how to make that happen
thrilling activities provide a safe space to give our impulse-control police a break (and for those who believe that screaming and being scared are signs of weakness, being in a situation in which it is OK to express fear can feel pretty goodShe keeps her focus primarily on physical, immediate fear experiences and scoots across the planet to sample the fear menus far and wide. Why would she do this? Well there are two reasons. She has an academic interest in learning the mechanisms of fear. And the other interest is a bit more down-to-earth. She works for one of the nation’s best known haunted house venues, Scarehouse, in Pittsburgh. She has spent umpteen hours studying peoples’ reactions to the frights they receive there. So she was, in addition to pursuing her academic interest, researching ways to improve the Scarehouse product, and reports at the end of the book on how she applied what she learned. Ok, maybe a third reason is that this is huge fun for her.
Kerr puts herself through a fair range of scary experiences, not all of which were part of an entertainment venue. She begins with roller-coasters, noting their beginning with 17th century Russian Ice Slides, scary not merely for the usual thrill of sliding downhill very fast, but for the deeper thrill of knowing that reliability and safety were far from certain. These days the rides may be wilder, and perhaps a bit more challenging, not only to one’s sense of balance, but to one’s ability to keep down that regrettable pair of hot dogs you might have scarfed down prior to boarding the roller-coaster car, (an uncle of mine in the wayback was famous for spewing his partaken beer and partially digested Nathan’s Famous over an unfortunate date at Coney Island) and one’s ability to remain conscious. (I confess I passed out momentarily on one such, in Hershey Park) But the fear of mortal peril has been pretty much eliminated.
You know who, from you know what
Screaming, appropriately enough, comes in for some attention
There’s something freeing, and even a little bit dangerous, in screaming as loud as you want. Screaming is part of our evolved survivor tool kit, protecting us by scaring away predators and alerting others of danger nearby. Pulling our face into a scream is also believed to make us more alert, intensifying our threat response just as squinching our nose in disgust blocks foul odors from going into our nostril). Adam Anderson at the University of Toronto found that when people made a frightened expression, they increase their range of vision and have faster eye movements and a heightened sense of smell from breathing more rapidly through their nostrils. Not to mention, when we scream, our eyes widen, and we show our teeth, making us appear all the more intimidating to any predators.She indulges in a range of fears, from leaning out over the top of the CN Tower in Toronto in challenging a fear of heights, to searching for ghosts in some supposedly haunted places, including spending some quality alone time in a notoriously haunted former prison, to looking at infrasound as a possible source for many spectral experiences, to checking out haunted houses in Japan (got scared out of her wits), to hanging out in a Japanese park noted for the number of suicides that occur there, to fearing imminent personal peril on the streets of Colombia. She also goes to a noted researcher to have her own fear indices checked out, and gets a bit of a surprise there.
Kerr has a spooky time at Eastern State Pen - from EasternState.org
Kerr takes a wider view in some chapters, moving past the how-can-we-scare-ourselves-for-fun mode to actual application of scientific insight into fear with a look at PTSD and why some folks are more susceptible than others. In another segment she looks at the impact of a shredded safety net (the GOP 2016 platform?) on how difficult and exhausting it is for people to deal with the chronic stress, fear, trauma and violence that results. She also looks at how memories are formed, and at attempts to erase some of those, and offers some intel on the influence of parental helicoptering on one’s ability to manage stress, and on the significance of and elements that make up “high arousal states.” She offers plenty of hard-science intel which I very much appreciate. But Kerr also gives readers plenty of you-are-there experience, sharing some of her personal material, beyond the immediacy of the location and thrill. It is this combination of science and personality that provides the strength of Scream.
Of course Margee is anything but a scary sort herself. Check out her vids, thoughtfully noted below, and you will see for yourself. Kerr’s bubbly and engaging personality comes through quite well. This does not come through quite so well in the book, which felt a bit meandering, drifting a bit away from her core material at times.
In the CV posted on her site, Kerr says
My current research interests involve understanding the relationship between fear and society. People are reporting they feel more afraid today than 20 years ago and many scholars argue that we live in a ‘fear based’ society.Has she watched the evening news, or read most national or local newspapers? One of the things that modern communications has done most successfully is to create an environment in which fear is the top story, above the fold, below the fold, on page Six, and on the nightly news. If it bleeds it leads. We thrive on fear, or seem to. One of our major political parties has a set of policies based almost entirely on fear. Bowling for Columbine did an excellent job of highlighting the fear culture in which many of us live.
Fear is how those in charge control those who are not. Whether it is fear of the other, of jail or of poverty, death panels, jack-booted federals coming for your freedom, the red menace, yellow peril, illegal immigrants, police, street thugs, alien invaders, the zombie apocalypse or rampaging jihadis, we are a nation driven by fear. The fact is that fear does an excellent job of getting past our filters. We live in a cry wolf economy and business is howling. I suppose on a biological level there is some internal chemistry that says, “Well, it sounds like bullshit, but if it isn’t I could die, so why take the chance?” And it does not have to be about death, although that is the all time best seller. It could be about one’s ability to compete in the world, which really is a subtle message about death, the death of your DNA anyway. Too fat? Too bald? Too gray? Too tall? Too short? Too ugly? No one will love you. You will never have children. Better buy our product to ensure that you attract a mate. Buy our product or you won’t get a job. You and your children, if you have any, will starve. Kerr does not ignore this terrifying element of contemporary culture, particularly in her chapter on Colombia, but I do hope that when she dives into these waters again, she gives it more of a look.
FDR was wrong. There are plenty of real things to fear out there, just maybe not the things we are told to fear. In any case, whether one’s fear is justified or not, how our biology copes with fear is consistent. And it is not only well worth learning about, Scream provides an entertaining, enjoyable way to learn. There’s nothing scary about that.
My beloved picked this item up for me from the author at a book fair in return for an honest review.
Review posted – 10/9/15
Publication date – 9/29/15
Links to the author’s personal, Twitter and FB pages
Items Specific to Scarehouse
-----The Scarehouse site
-----A behind the scenes look at Scarehouse by Heather Johanssen
-----The Scarehouse youtube channel
-----Profile of Margee
-----Margee on Uncanny Valley
-----Why are clowns so scary
A nifty article on the scariness of the simple triangle
One of the places Kerr visited (twice in fact) is Eastern State Penitentiary
On Halloween, 2015, the NY Times published a piece by Margee on her spectral experiences at ESP
For Halloween 2016, the Times cited Kerr in an article by Steph Yin - A Scaredy-Cat’s Investigation Into Why People Enjoy Fear
Another NY Times piece offers some fun videos of things that may make your skin crawl - Spooky Science Stories, Just in Time for Halloween ...more
Notes are private!
Sep 23, 2015
Jun 04, 2015
Jan 01, 2008
May 06, 2008
really liked it
He decided initially to make a great historical list, a list of every mechanical invention and abstract idea—the building blocks of modern world civ
He decided initially to make a great historical list, a list of every mechanical invention and abstract idea—the building blocks of modern world civilization—that had been first conceived and made in China. If he could managed to establish a flawless catalog of just what the Chinese had created first, of exactly which of the world’s ideas and concepts had actually originated in the Middle Kingdom, he would be on to something. If he could delve behind the unforgettable remark that emperor Qianlong had made to the visiting Lord Macartney in 1792—“We possess all things…I have no use for your country’s manufactures”—if he could determine what exactly prompted Qianlong to make such a claim, then he would perhaps have the basis or a truly original and world-changing work of scholarship.
Simon Winchester - image fr0m rolfpotts.com
Other great British explorers, like Livingston, Scott, Drake, and Cook sailed, rode, or walked into places that had never been seen by Westerners, producing useful and accurate maps of the places they explored. Noel Joseph Terence Montgomery Needham strode into places in China that, while they might have been visited by Europeans, had maybe not been properly noticed, and created the equivalent of a map to their history, and the history of scientific development in China. He would produce one of the monumental intellectual works of the 20th century, Science and Civilization in China, and revolutionize how the West perceived a nation that had come to be regarded as a basket case. Like Moses, Joseph Needham did not survive to see the final product of his efforts, but he knew that it would come to be, as he had dedicated his energy, genius, love for, and obsession with China to fueling the engine to its final destination. There are, to date, twenty four “substantial published works” in the project, according to the Needham Research Institute, with more in process.
Of course, as a remarkable Englishman, Needham would not be complete without his share of eccentricities, peculiarities, and oddities. He was a nudist for one. Those of delicate sensibility afloat on the River Cam in Cambridge knew that there was a certain section of the waterway that might feature suit-free swimmers, and when to shield their gaze. Needham might be found among the bathers. He was also a practitioner of the open marriage. It is unlikely that his wife, Dorothy, the daughter of his Cambridge mentor, was much of a sexual wanderer, but Needham was a notorious womanizer. Of course there was one woman in particular who caught his fancy, and sparked Needham’s life work. 有缘千里来相会
She was named Lu Gwei-djen, and she was Chinese, born thirty-nine years before in the city of Nanjing, and a scientist like himself. They had met at Cambridge six years earlier…In falling headlong for Gwei-djen, Joseph Needham found that he also became enraptured by her country. She taught him her language, and he now spoke, wrote, and read it with a fair degree of fluency. She had suggested that he travel to China and see for himself what a truly astonishing country it was—so different, she kept insisting, from the barbaric and enigmatic empire most westerners believed it to be.Lu Gwei-djen was a gifted biology researcher who came to Cambridge specifically to study with Needham and his wife, also a high-level scientist. Six months in, she and Needham were an item. Dorothy put up with it.
Lu Gewi-djen – from HCSC Foundation – Needham - from USA Today
The times were dramatic when Needham made his first visit to China in 1943. Japan occupied a considerable portion of the country. The trip took years to arrange, having to run a gauntlet of political interference. But once he arrived Needham immediately began identifying elements of contemporary Chinese civilization, technology and science, that dated back hundreds, and sometimes thousands of years, predating similar abilities in the west. He found that much of what was presumed to have originated in Europe had in fact begun in the Middle Kingdom. Needham made it his life’s work to dig into the history of all the Chinese science and technology history he could get his hands on to feed what he already knew would be his magnum opus. He travelled extensively in the non-occupied areas of China, at times barely escaping ahead of Japanese invaders.
Although he compiled a massive amount of information, the crux of his concern rested on what would come to be called The Needham Question or The Grand Question,
why…had modern science originated only in the western world? Much later on…a second question presented itself—namely why, during the previous fourteen centuries, had China been so much more successful than Europe in acquiring knowledge of natural phenomena and using it for human benefit?Simon Winchester tracks Needham’s life from early childhood until his passing at age 95. He worked until the very end. And a remarkable life it was. His focus, of course, is on the time in which Needham acquired an interest in China and the subsequent lifetime labors. (只要功夫深，铁杵磨成针) A fair bit of ink is given to his relationship with Lu Gwei-djen, as it should be. And there is considerable reportage on Needham’s political views, and the trouble those got him into during the shameful McCarthy period of the Cold War. (一人难称百人心/众口难调) This makes for fascinating reading. Winchester also lets us in on what a pain in the neck it was for Needham, however, intrepid, to make his way around China on his investigations, in the absence of reliable transport. His life and status at Cambridge comes in for a look as well. Like the poor we will always have office politics with us. (强龙难压地头蛇 )
Joseph Needham is indeed one of the most remarkable people of the 20th century. I confess I had never before heard of him, which may say more about my educational shortcomings than Needham’s undeserved obscurity, but I will presume that there are many like me, (fewer, to be sure, on the eastern side of the pond) to whom the story of Joseph Needham will be a revelation. Simon Winchester has made a career out of writing about great accomplishments and the people responsible. (一步一个脚印儿) He has done us all a service to bring this amazing character to our attention. With the growth of China into one of the premier economic and military powers on the planet, it may not ensure a good fortune, but it would probably be a worthwhile thing to know as much as possible about its history and culture.
Publication - 2008
Review posted – 3/6/15
Links to the author’s personal, Twitter and FB pages
An interesting wiki on the Historiography of science
If you feel like getting a start on reading Needham’s life work, you might check in with the Needham Research Institute . There are many photographs available there taken by Needham on his China visits.
A few other books by Simon Winchester -
-----The Map That Changed the World
-----The Professor and the Madman
There are plenty more Winchester books out there. I listed only the ones I have read.
The following are the full entries for the Chinese items included in the review. I found them in the China Highlights site.
有缘千里来相会 yǒu yuán qiān lǐ lái xiāng huì - Fate brings people together no matter how far apart they may be. This proverb points out that human relationships are decreed by Fate.
只要功夫深，铁杵磨成针 (zhǐ yào gōng fū shēn, tiě chǔ mó chéng zhēn) - If you work hard enough at it, you can grind even an iron rod down to a needle. This proverb encourages us to persevere in whatever we undertake. Just as the English proverb has it:"Constant drilling can wear away a stone".
一人难称百人心/众口难调(yī rén nán chèn bǎi rén xīn / zhòng kǒu nán tiáo) - It is hard to please everyone.
强龙难压地头蛇 (qiáng lóng nán yā dìtóu shé) - Even a dragon (from the outside) finds it hard to control a snake in its old haunt. This means: Powerful outsiders can hardly afford to neglect local bullies.
一步一个脚印儿( yī bù yī gè jiǎo yìnr ): Every step leaves its print; work steadily and make solid progress. ...more
Notes are private!
Feb 11, 2015
Feb 18, 2015
Feb 11, 2015
Mar 03, 2015
May 19, 2015
it was amazing
Elon Musk is not exactly a name that rolls easily off the tongue, like say Tony Stark, the fictional person to whom he is most often compared, or even Elon Musk is not exactly a name that rolls easily off the tongue, like say Tony Stark, the fictional person to whom he is most often compared, or even Steve Jobs, a real-world visionary, whose mantle Musk now wears. There is no question that Musk is a special individual, someone with BIG dreams and the drive, talent, and money to make them happen. But, like Jobs, and Stark for that matter, he might be an acquired taste on a personal level. In Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future biographer Ashlee Vance gives us a picture of both the dreams and the man, peering back to where Musk began, describing his journey from then to now, looking at how he is impacting the world today, and gazing ahead to where he wants to go. It is a pretty impressive vista. Here is what it says on the SpaceX website
SpaceX designs, manufactures and launches advanced rockets and spacecraft. The company was founded in 2002 to revolutionize space technology, with the ultimate goal of enabling people to live on other planets.It might have seemed like visiting another planet when Musk split his home country of South Africa as a teen and headed to North America, anything to get away from an abusive upbringing. He seemed to been blessed not only with exceptional analytical capabilities, and probably an eidetic memory, but an impressively immense set of cojones. He was able to talk his way into whatever he needed and deftly talk his way out of trouble as well. Sometimes that entailed a bit of truth-bending, but whatever.
Ashlee Vance - from HarperCollins
Vance take us from his adolescence as a computer geek, bullied at school, through his arrival in Canada, cold-calling to get work, putting together his first dot.com startup, and using the money from that to invest in a banking-oriented company that would become PayPal. It was the mega-bucks from the sale of PayPal that would allow him to begin realizing his big dreams. In 2003, Musk bought into Tesla, then a struggling startup. The company took the early knowledge that lithium ion batteries had gotten pretty good, added some top level engineering, design and programming talent, and, after plenty of mis-steps and struggles, brought the remarkable all-electric Tesla Roadster to the market in 2008. Tesla followed this with the Model S in 2012. Not only did Consumer reports call this a great car, it named both the 2014 and 2015 versions the best overall cars of their years, and the best care they ever tested. The last time an auto startup succeeded in the USA was Chrysler, in the 1920s. But this is not about simply making a buck on a new car. The long term goal is to shift our petrochemical auto industry to renewable power, and the Tesla is a nifty start. Not only is the car amazing, the company has constructed a nationwide series of charging stations where Tesla owners can recharge their vehicles…for free. There are currently 499 such stations, with many more planned. Tesla is involved in building battery production factories, hoping to help support a growing electric-car auto-economy.
Inside the Tesla Model S - from Tesla Motors
But this was not the only big notion that drove Musk. A parallel effort was to develop a solar power business. And with the help of a couple of enterprising cousins, he did just that. SolarCity provides the solar arrays that prove power to the Tesla charging stations, but it has also become one of the largest solar utilities in the nation, installing, maintaining a third of the nation’s solar panel systems. There is obvious benefit to both Tesla and Solar City in sharing gains in battery and other technology. But I expect the third jewel in Musk’s crown is his favorite, SpaceX.
Falcon 9 first stage attempting a controlled landing - from Wikimedia
Musk doesn’t have much going on here, nothing major, only an ardent desire to colonize Mars. But it takes the establishment of an infrastructure in order to be get from point E to point M. Musk saw an opening in the market for satellite launch vehicles. Existing rockets blast things up into orbit and then burn up on their way back down. His idea was to design a rocket that could make its way back to earth in one piece, to be reused. And he has. SpaceX is nearing its goal of launching at least one rocket a month. The manifest available on SpaceX.com lists missions to date. The company also designed a capsule called the Dragon that can be used for cargo, but also for astronauts. The cost of launching a satellite using a Falcon is a fraction of what other options charge. The next step is a larger launch vehicle. Space X is expected to launch the first Falcon Heavy later this year, offering the biggest load capacity since the Saturn V was last used in 1973. And, while this is definitely good for business in the relatively short term, one must always keep in mind that this is a stage in a bigger plan for Musk. Once the launch infrastructure is established, plans can begin to move forward to put together Mars missions. Not go, look, and explore sorts of adventures, but establishing a colony, a permanent human presence on the red planet.
The Dragon Capsule, attached to the ISS - from Musk’s Twitter page
Of course when one has one’s eyes fixed on the stars (yes, Mars is a planet, I know, Geez), there is a large inclination to lose touch with earth-bound reality. In the movie, then play, then movie The Producers Max Bialystock, in order to cope with the absurd success of a play that was designed to fail, suggests to his partner, Leo Bloom, that one solution would be to do away with the cast. "You can't kill the actors, Max! They're human beings," Leo says. "Human beings? Have you ever seen them eat?" Max replies. I suspect that there are more than a few folks who feel about Elon Musk the way Max felt about the actors. He is rather notorious for his insensitivity to anyone not living inside his head. For example, here is what potential recruits are told to expect when they meet with Musk.
The interview, he or she is told, could last anywhere from thirty seconds to fifteen minutes. Elon will likely keep on writing e-mails and working during the initial part of the interview and not speak much. Don’t panic. That’s normal. Eventually, he will turn around in his chair to face you. Even then, though, he might not make actual eye contact with you or fully acknowledge your presence. Don’t panic. That’s normal. In due course, he will speak to you.Musk has an amazing capacity for work, putting in monstrous hours as a matter of course. But then he expects the same from those who work for him.
The rank and file employees…revere his drive and respect how demanding he can be. They also think he can be hard to the point of mean and come off as capricious. The employees want to be close to Musk, but they also fear that he’ll suddenly change his mind about something and that every interaction with him is an opportunity to be fired. “Elon’s worst trait by far, in my opinion, is a complete lack of loyalty or human connection,” said one former employee. “Many of us worked tirelessly for him for years and were tossed to the curb like a piece of litter without a second thought. Maybe it was calculated to keep the rest of the workforce on their toes and scared: maybe he was just able to detach from human connection to a remarkable degree. What was clear is that people who worked for him were like ammunition: used for a specific purpose until exhausted and discarded.”Musk even fired his loyal assistant, Mary Beth Brown, who had been with him for twelve years, after she asked for a raise. What a guy.
Ego is certainly a big piece of the picture here. But I guess if you can do it, it ain’t bragging. Elon Musk is a larger than life figure, a computer geek, an engineer, an entrepreneur, and a dreamer, in addition to being a walking IED as someone to work for. He is one of the inspirations for Robert Downey‘s portrayal of Tony Stark in sundry Marvel Universe films. In fact, Downey came to visit Musk, specifically to get a taste of what a real billionaire techno-industrialist was like. Downey insisted on having a Tesla Roaster on the set of Iron Man, saying, ”Elon was someone Tony probably hung out with and partied with or more likely they went on some weird jungle trek together to drink concoctions with the shamans.” Musk even had a cameo in Iron Man II. The resulting publicity from this connection did little to diminish Musk’s view of himself. Living the high-life in Tinseltown, hanging with, social, economic and media A-listers added more gas to the bag. Part of his ego issue is that he tends to take internal company timetables and announce them to the world as promises (I can see his entire staff jointly rolling their eyes, clutching palms to temples and issuing choruses of “Oh my god” and “WTF” as they spin in place), then holds his employees to those unreasonable schedules. Of course this results in many missed deadlines, much ingestion of antacid and probably the odd nervous breakdown or two.
Musk, in an Iron Man II cameo - fromWired
Musk is the sort of guy who shows up with some regularity in science fiction novels, a genre trope, like the researcher who has exactly the sort of experience and insight the President/PM/Chairman/Secretary General needs in order to stave off global catastrophe. He’s the guy who has been secretly building the arc that the world needs to stave off extinction. In this case he is doing it publicly. Of course this raises some issues. Do we as a country, as a planet, really want to be reliant on private companies for our space exploration? Do we want a possible colony on Mars to be a privately held branch of Musk Industries? There are only a gazillion questions that are raised by the privatization of space. What’s good for the bottom line at SpaceX may or may not be good for humanity. We have certainly seen how a reliance on the inherent civic-mindedness and good will of corporations has worked on this planet. Musk is a dreamer, for sure, and I expect his dream of making a better world through the use of renewable energy and his hopes of establishing a human outpost on Mars are pure ideals. But the devil is always in the details, and what would happen should Musk be infected by another virulent strain of malaria and not escape with a near miss, as he did in 2001? Would the replacement CEO share his ideals? Would a replacement CEO be willing to take big risks to support those ideals? Would a replacement CEO look to sell Tesla off to GM to make a few quick billion? One person can move the world, but it takes more than a start to keep things rolling. We could certainly use plenty more people with the sort of drive and ambition that Elon Musk embodies. Innovation is a rare resource and must be cherished. But like any powerful force, it must be, if not tethered, at least monitored, to make certain that it does not run amok.
Ashlee Vance has done an amazing job of telling not only Musk’s story, but of making the life history of the several companies with which Musk has been involved fascinating reading. I did get the sense that Vance was, from all the time he spent with Musk, smitten with his subject. While his portrait of Musk is hardly a zit-free one, I got the feeling that there might be a few more skeletons safely tucked away in closets, a few more bodies buried in basements. Nevertheless, Elon Musk is a powerful, entertaining and informative look at one of the most important people of our time. Your personal vision of the future should certainly include checking out this book.
Links to the author’s personal, Twitter and FB pages
Here are links to Musk’s three main companies, SpaceX, Tesla, and Solar City
To Musk’s Twitter - Loooooooove the image he is using for this. He really needs a pinky ring to go with it though. There are a lot of nifty videos in here
Here is the press kit SpaceX provided with its latest Commercial Resupply Services mission to the International Space Station. There are many links in there that are worth checking out.
A visit to the Tesla Factory
And be sure to check out the link Tabasco brought in - Comment #1
Musk joins other large players in establishing a non-profit - Artificial-Intelligence Research Center Is Founded by Silicon Valley Investors
April 1, 2016 - Musk announces a new generation, mass-market car for 2017, the Model 3, but problems with existing Teslas might give one pause.
September 1, 2016 - New York Times - SpaceX Rocket Explodes at Launchpad in Cape Canaveral - by Kenneth Chang, Mike Isaac and Matt Richtel
September 27, 2016 - New York Times - Elon Musk’s Plan: Get Humans to Mars, and Beyond - by Kenneth Chang
October 25, 2016 -National Geographic is producing a documentary series about our favorite red-tinted neighbor (no, not the lady across the way who got too much sun. Put those binoculars away NOW). Coverage in the latest issue includes a whole passel of things Martian. You-know-who figures prominently. Enjoy. Mars: Inside the High-Risk, High-Stakes Race to the Red Planet
October 28, 2016 - Huffington Post - Elon Musk Unveils Shingles That Could Finally Make Rooftop Solar Sexy - by Alexander C. Kaufman
January 30, 2017 - NY Times - Tesla Gives the California Power Grid a Battery Boost - by Diane Cardwelljan
September 7, 2017 - Bloomberg.com - Vance's article about one shop's advances in AI is must-read stuff - Mark Sagar Made a Baby in His Lab. Now It Plays the Piano
September 29, 2017 - National Geographic - EM announces his updated plans for space exploration, which includes a monster vessel aptly named the BFR, or Big F___ing Rocket - Elon Musk: In Seven Years, SpaceX Could Land Humans on Mars - by Nadia Drake
Mars City Opposite of Earth. Dawn and dusk sky are blue on Mars and day sky is red. - image from the NatGeo article ...more
Notes are private!
Jul 11, 2015
Aug 16, 2015
Feb 02, 2015
Sep 27, 2012
Feb 11, 2014
it was amazing
I’m pretty much fucked.Ok, show of hands. How many of you have uttered these exact words? (or words to that effect). Not everyone? I see we have som
I’m pretty much fucked.Ok, show of hands. How many of you have uttered these exact words? (or words to that effect). Not everyone? I see we have some liars out there. How many have said them at least twice? Three times? Four? Those with hands still up, you probably need to make some adjustments to your approach, find a safer line of work, hobbies that do not entail long drops, stop trying the weekly specials at McBlowfish, or seek out people to date who are into less extreme…um…sports. These are the opening words of The Martian. Astronaut Mark Watney is definitely more screwed than most of us have ever been. Dude missed his ride and there will not be another along for, oh, four years. Supplies on hand were only meant to cover a few weeks, maybe months. And that Martian atmosphere is definitely no fun, lacking stuff like, oh, breathable air, and a reasonable range of temperature. It does, offer, however, extremely harsh (good for scouring that burned on gunk from sauce pans) and long-lasting (as in months) dust storms. And if that was not enough he faces an array of other challenges.
No, Kibby (the 12-year-old kibitzer who infects my brain), no Mars Attacks brain beasts, or that other guy, even though I know he is your favorite. Real challenges. For example, the music he has for his stay consists of disco. The viewing options include 70s TV. Most of us might give serious consideration to minimizing the guaranteed pain, frustration, starvation and inevitable death by, maybe, taking a short hustle outside sans that special suit. It would be a very, very short last dance. Watney is either a cock-eyed optimist or an idiot. I'm going with the former, as he is indeed made of the right stuff. He is armored and well supplied with the sort of can-do designer genes that might make the rest of us feel like the can’t-do sorts we are. He is the poster boy for positive attitude. It does not hurt that he is way smart, with expertise in a wide-enough range of things scientific to matter. It does not hurt that he is an engineer who gets off on taking apart, putting back-together, figuring out, thinking through, testing, trying, and pushing envelopes. But his crew is headed home, and what hope is there, really?
The Martian tells of Watney’s attempt to survive in a literally alien environment, using only the tools on hand and his wits. It is a gripping story with one of the most adorable heroes you are likely to encounter, on this planet or any other. (No, Kibby, not a kitten) How could you not root for a guy who scrapes through Thanksgiving dinner for potato parts to plant for food? Of course, one might think “been there, done that,” particularly as 1964’s Robin Crusoe on Mars offered a retelling of Daniel Defoe’s classic tale in a more contemporary notion of a remote locale. A 1905 novel used a different classic traveler in the same sort of format.
Of course those tellings had a lot more in common with the Barsoom of Edgar Rice Burroughs as seen by Frank Frazetta than they do with the vision we have of the Red Planet today, or, say, reality.
Or is it?
One of these was a shot of you know where. The other was taken at Death Valley, which was used, BTW, in the filming of Robinson Crusoe on Mars
Most of the tale is spent on Watney’s very compelling attempt to survive, going through all the challenges he faces trying to make air, preserve and maybe generate water, make his food last, get some sort of communication set up, deal with things like exploding air-locks, biblical level dust-storms, toppling ground-transport vehicles, you know, stuff, most of it life-threatening. The other end of things is how the folks on the ground deal with this GInornous OOPS. There are technical elements, of course but more interesting, for me, were the political considerations. To tell the crew or not? Imagine how bummed out, embarrassed, and guilty you might be on that ship (the Hermes) returning home, knowing you had left one behind. Might it affect your ability to take care of necessary business for the next bunch of months? Another question is whether to tell the public, and if so, when. How about getting help from other space-capable nations? Are any international dealings simple? There is also some in-house (NASA) staff maneuvering that is wonderful to see.
In her fabulous book on writing, Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott writes
Having a likeable narrator is like having a great friend whose company you love, whose mind you love to pick, whose running commentary totally holds your attention, who makes you laugh out loud…Probably the greatest strength of The Martian is the narration of Mark Watney. He is engaging and funny, optimistic and capable. I suppose there are some who might find him lacking in sharp edges, but I thought he worked great.
Matt Damon as Mark Watney, enjoying the view – from the film.
The new earth-based shooting location was Wadi Rum, Jordan. I am sure they did plenty of color adjustments in post, but boy-o-boy does this place look like an alien landscape.
Yes, really, there is too much scientific detail. It is not that it is beyond the comprehension of a lot of readers (although it will skip by a fair number) it is the share of time, the number of pages, the sheer volume of obstacles to be overcome, and the very detailed explanation of so many of them that tilts the book a bit too much towards the MacGyver demo. Weir writes very well about the other elements of the story. Repetition of DANGER, WILL ROBINSON, with the subsequent amazingly clever repair du jour, does get a bit old after a while. I had to fight an urge to scan at times.
But that is really it. Otherwise, The Martian is an absolute delight to read. Watney is lovable as well as capable, and makes excellent use of his sense of humor to look on the bright side of life, in a very dark circumstance.
Whether he makes it out on time or not (not gonna spoil that one) you will cheer him on, hope for the best, and fly past those pages with considerable, if maybe not interplanetary, speed. Is there life on Mars? There will be while you read this book.
Review posted – 1/16/15
Updated and trotted out there again on release of the film - 10/2/15
This review has been cross-posted on my site, Cootsreviews.com
Publication date – self-pub in 2011 – Bought, edited and published by Crown 10/28/2014
PS - Saw the film on 10/9/15 and it kicks ass! Go see it if you haven't already. It is very true to the book, with the improvement of not getting bogged down in details, has a great cast, looks amazing and does a fantastic job of promoting science.
Links to the author’s personal and FB pages.
5/24/16 - Weir wrote a short story prequel to The Martian, called Diary of an AssCan. I posted a review this week. It includes a link to the story, so you can read it for yourself.
Andy Weir’s second novel, Artemis, while, IMHO, not quite up to this one, is also pretty darned good.
August, 2016 - At the Hugo awards Weir wins the John W, Campbell award for best new writer, and the screenplay for the film wins for Best Dramatic Presentation, long form
The Martian Chronicles on Gutenberg
Gullivar of Mars by Edwin Lester Linden Arnold on Gutenberg
For a real Martian experience check out NASA’s Mars page
For a realer Martian experience, and ideal for those trying to keep one step ahead of creditors and/or the law, you might want to consider applying to be on a Mars mission, no joke. There is more on this project below but the above link is for the selection process, just in case you don’t mind a strictly one-way journey.
A nifty article from the NY Times (10/5/15) about the woman at NASA responsible for seeing to it that we do not bring Earth germs you-know-where - Mars Is Pretty Clean. Her Job at NASA Is to Keep It That Way. - by Kenneth Chang
I bet you thought I’d forgotten these guys. No chance! I just ran out of time to figure out how to stuff them into the review. So, sorry, I am stuffing them here. That sounds so wrong.
If you want to experience Mars while still on earth, it is indeed possible
A general National Geo article on Mars
Planetary.Org has an excellent list of all Mars missions to date, and some that are in process
When you are checking your ancestry some of that unusual DNA might come from a place, far, far away. Two scientists look at the unfortunately named notion of Panspermia, (view spoiler)[(the natural result of guys watching really good porn? A bad review of ineffectual seed? An unspeakable fried dish?) (hide spoiler)] which addresses the possibility that the genesis of life on Earth had its opening act elsewhere.
If you want to know Who goes to Mars for the waters, the answer is yes
And speaking of Eau d'Ares, a nifty article on the presence of H2OMG you know where, in the 9/28/15 article in the NY Times - by Kenneth Chang. Thanks to my pal, Henry B, for this refreshing item.
8/31/16 - Another recommendation from the intrepid Henry B. Planning any long trips, HB? - How to Win Friends and Influence People (on Fake Mars) by Katie Rogers
- New York Times
Downhill streaks indicate water has flowed - image from NY Times who got it from NASA who got it from JPL
Here is a nifty article from The New Yorker, on work being done to cope with inter-planetary cabin fever. Moving to Mars: Preparing for the longest, loneliest voyage ever by Tom Kizzia - from the April 20, 2015 issue
9/12/16 - If, like Quint, you think we're gonna need a bigger boat, to get to Mars that is, Jeff Bezos's Blue Origin company may have just the thing - Meet New Glenn, the Blue Origin Rocket That May Someday Take You to Space - By Daniel Victor for the New York Times
9/27/16 - New York Times - Elon Musk’s Plan: Get Humans to Mars, and Beyond - by Kenneth Chang
10/25/16 -National Geographic is producing a documentary series about our favorite red-tinted neighbor (no, not the lady across the way who got too much sun. Put those binoculars away NOW). Coverage in the latest issue includes a whole passel of things Martian. Enjoy. - Mars: Inside the High-Risk, High-Stakes Race to the Red Planet
From the August 2017 National Geographic - This Is What a Martian Looks Like—According to Carl Sagan - By Natasha Daly
Painting by Douglas Chaffe - from the above NatGeo article
9/17/17 - Washington Post re-printing an AP story - Mars Research Crew Emerges After 8 Months of Isolation - Caleb Jones
12/16/17 - NY Times Sunday Review - Tim Kreider offers his take on why we should go Red - Earthlings, Unite: Let’s Go to Mars
5/4/18 - NatGeo - Interesting piece on the latest Martian explorer, Insight - Are Marsquakes Anything Like Earthquakes? NASA Is About to Find Out - by Nadia Drake
Illustration of Insight deployed - Photo by Lockheed Martin, NASA, JPL-Caltech
All right. We’re all done now. You’d better get going or Marvin will lose his cool
Oh, sorry Marvin, just one more thing, lists.
Abbott and Costello go to Mars
The Angry Red Planet
Bad Girls From Mars
The Brave Little Toaster Goes to Mars
Devil Girl From Mars
Empire of Danger
Escape From Mars
Flight to Mars
Ghosts of Mars
Invaders from Mars
The Last days on Mars
Lost on Mars
Mars Needs Moms
Mars Needs Women
Mission to Mars
Race to Mars
Red Planet Mars
Robinson Crusoe on Mars
Santa Claus Conquers the Martians
The Terror from Beyond Space
Is There Life on Mars – PBS
My Favorite Martian
Life On Mars – British
Life on Mars – American
Mars One – Proposed - (check this one out)
Race to Mars
2312 – Kim Stanley Robinson
The Barsoom Series by Edgar Rice Burroughs
----- A Princess of Mars on Gutenberg - and my review
-----The Gods of Mars
-----The Warlord of Mars
-----Thuvia, Maid of Mars
-----The Chessmen of Mars
-----The Master Mind of Mars
-----A Fighting Man of Mars
-----Swords of Mars
----- Synthetic Men of Mars
-----Llana of Gathol
-----John Carter of Mars
Blades of Mars – Edward P. Bradbury
C.O.D Mars – E.C. Tubb
The Caves of Mars – Emil Petaja
Children of Mars – Paul G Day
City of the Beast – Michael Moorcock
The Daughter of Mars – Thomas Keneally
The Empress of Mars – Kage Baker
First on Mars – Rex Gordon
Icehenge – Kim Stanley Robinson
Life on Mars – Jennifer Brown
Life on Mars (a different one) – Jonathan Strahan
The Long Mars – Terry Pratchett
Mars – Ben Bova
Mars is my Destination – Frank Belknap Long
Mars Plus – Frederick Pohl
The Mars Trilogy – Kim Stanley Robinson
Marsquakes – Kevin F. Owens
The Martian Chronicles – Ray Bradbury
Masters of the Pit – Michael Moorcock
Moving Mars – Greg Bear
No Man Friday – Rex Gordon
Old Mars – George R.R. Martin
Packing for Mars – Mary Roach – ok, not a novel
Podkayne of Mars - Robert Heinlein
Prelude to Mars – Arthur C. Clarke
Priests of Mars – Graham McNeill
The Road to Mars – Eric Idle
The Sands of Mars – Arthur C. Clarke
Sebastian Of Mars – Al Sarrantino
Shadow Over Mars – Leigh Brackett
Sin in Space – Cyrill Judd (Cyril M. Kornbluth and Judith Merril)
Stranger in a Strange Land – Robert Heinlein
Urania – Camille Flammarion
Notes are private!
Jan 08, 2015
Jan 01, 2015
Mar 11, 2014
Mar 11, 2014
really liked it
Dan Harris is a bit of a jerk. You don’t have to take my word for it. He says it himself, more than once, in his book. A lot of 10% Happier is about H Dan Harris is a bit of a jerk. You don’t have to take my word for it. He says it himself, more than once, in his book. A lot of 10% Happier is about Harris trying to be less of a jerk.
Among his other journalistic accomplishments, which include more than a few in-country assignments in hot-fire war zones, hosting gigs on Good Morning America and Nightline, and scoring interviews with some very scary people, Harris is known for a live on-camera meltdown that was seen only by close family members, co-workers and oh, maybe 5 million viewers. I have added a link at the bottom.
This is a road trip of self-discovery tale, and the path Harris takes is extremely interesting. Of course the self he discovers is still a self-centered jerk, but a jerk who can really, really tell a story, fill it with fascinating, meaningful information, add in considerable dollops of LOL humor, much at his own expense, and emerge with what, for himself and many others, is a life-changing way of going about his life.
Dan Harris - photo from 2Paragraphs.com
One of the nifty things about the book is that Harris is a seasoned media pro and can deliver a snappy line with the best of them
I might have disagreed with the conclusion reached by people of faith, but at least that part of their brain was functioning. Every week, they had a set time to consider their place in the universe, to step out of the matrix and achieve some perspective. If you’re never looking up, I now realized, you’re always just looking around.Of course this presumes that everyone who is looking up is seeking something celestial and not doing so merely to fit in with the pack, or being distracted by a passing drone. Still, my cynicism notwithstanding, the man has a way with words. And that makes this a very easy book to read. He is a charming guide on this search for a better way and you will meet some familiar names and learn of some others who should be.
Harris offers small bits on Peter Jennings and Diane Sawyer, among other ABC news folks. No surprises are to be had there. Jennings assigned the young Harris to the religion beat, over his (silent) objections, just in time for the post 9/11 world to give a damn about religion as news fodder. Harris covered a range of stories while on this gig, and met many interesting people, but was very impressed with Ted Haggard, who, off-camera, comes across as a pretty reasonable sort, which was surprising. Of course Haggard, who publicly preached against same-sex relationships, was practicing the fine art of total hypocrisy, as he was enjoying the company of a paid male escort. But he comes across as having much more substance than his gawker-headline downfall would lead one to suspect. Harris meets with a few more folks in the self-help biz, whether of the religious, secular, or woo-woo sorts. The up-close and personal here is riveting.
But the business at hand is not just about getting a fix on people like Deepak Chopra, it is about Harris trying to find his way past his personal limitations. He does a bit of a pinball route, bouncing among several of today’s self-help gurus in search of a way to quiet the inner anchorman who offers running commentary during every waking moment. The first step, of course was to realize that the ego was on camera all the time, offering a live feed, an internal, personal, and less than wonderful 24/7 personal news channel. One of the first people whose work he found illuminating was a weird but compelling German, Eckhart Tolle, who offered a take on how to live in the now.
It was a little embarrassing to be reading a self-help writer and thinking, This guy gets me. But it was in this moment, lying in bed late at night, that I first realized that the voice in my head—the running commentary that had dominated my field of consciousness since I could remember—was kind of an asshole.He finds elements of Deepak Chopra illuminating as well, but with reservations.
Chopra was definitely more fun to hang out with than Tolle—I preferred Deepak’s rascally What Makes Sammy Run? style to the German’s otherworldly diffidence—but I left the experience more confused, not less. Eckhart was befuddling because, while I believed he was sincere, I couldn’t tell if he was sane. With Deepak it was the opposite; I believed he was sane, but I couldn’t tell if he was sincere.What he arrives at is meditation. In particular a state called “mindfulness”, in which one observes the thoughts and feelings that are occurring, but at a remove, so that one can respond without relying on immediate, visceral and ego-driven reactions. There are different forms of meditation, but he finds one that does the trick for him. And puts it into practice. How he goes about this is sometimes LOL funny, particularly when we are privy to the snarky ramblings of his ego while he is attempting to not lose his mind during a lengthy meditation retreat.
At end he learns a very useful skill, and even offers a very accessible step-by-step set of directions for having a go yourself. No beads, sandals, incense or robes required, really. Corporations and even the Marines are promoting meditation among their people. Turns out there are real-world benefits. It is probably worth at least a try.
There is an old saw that goes “Sincerity, if you can fake that you’ve got it made.” I do not think that Harris is faking anything here. He is definitely into meditation, and tells lot about the very real benefits to be had. Of course, as a self-centered jerk, it is the self-benefits that get the air-time in his book. There is another realm, which involves compassion. While Harris does talk about this, it is pretty clear that meditation is a way for Dan Harris to do better in the world for Dan Harris. And while there are collateral benefits for those around him as a result of his evolution, the whole compassion thing remains for Harris a means to an end.
In 10% Happier, a term he came up with to explain the benefits of his mindfulness practice and stop people from looking at him as if he were an alien, Harris offers a revealing portrait of himself as far, far less than perfect (his meltdown, for example, was made possible in large measure by considerable intake of cocaine and ecstasy), tells a tale of personal seeking and growth, and shares with us the very concrete techniques he has gleaned. So, while self-interest remains the beneficiary of his new knowledge, and while Dan Harris remains, IMHO, a jerk, he is a curious, articulate, and entertaining jerk who has shared some useful experiences and knowledge with the rest of us. Nothing jerky about that.
Review posted 11/21/14
Links to the author’s Twitter and FB pages
Dan Harris’s vid on how to Hack Your Brain's Default Mode with Meditation
Harris's on-air report about the book on ABC
Harris is interviewed on Colbert ...more
Notes are private!
Nov 12, 2014
Nov 16, 2014
Sep 15, 2009
it was amazing
Stand very still. Breathe as softly as you can. See that little flicking movement? No, not over there, straight ahead, behind the bush. Keep looking.
Stand very still. Breathe as softly as you can. See that little flicking movement? No, not over there, straight ahead, behind the bush. Keep looking. You will see it. I promise. There. Didn't I tell you? Cool, right? Isn’t she beautiful?One of the foundations on which the study of nature is based is to be still and watch. Yes, there is a lot more to it, but you have to find some inner quiet, clear your mental and sensory palate, stop fidgeting, and allow the images, scents, sounds and feel of the world cross your senses, settle in and register. There is plenty more of course. But watching, noticing, is an excellent place to start. In The Hidden Life of Deer, Elizabeth Marshall Thomas has done just that. And she was able to learn a lot without having to look very far beyond her back door in Peterborough, NH.
The author - image from her site
Usually oak trees spread acorns over the landscape every autumn, but in 2007, in Thomas’s neck of the woods, they seemed to be on strike. Reluctant to see the local whitetails endure the particular hardship of cold plus starvation, Thomas took it upon herself to provide something that might help, corn. Deer had been visible on her land forever, but the feeding assured that there would be plenty of deer to watch.
There is probably more written about deer than any other animal. I found 1.2 million websites, 80 books in print, many more out of print and about 100 articles on deer. I really think they are the most studied mammals in the world, but nobody cares about their social lives. They care about the bacteria in their gut in winter, and things related to hunting them — but not what they really are or do. I wanted to just watch them and learn who they are.- from the Mother Nature Network interviewThompson takes us along with her as she struggles with figuring out how to identify individual animals, and observing the dynamics of interactions among deer groups. There are nuggets of information scattered throughout the book, material that will make you smile as you add it to your accumulated knowledge of the world. Why, for example, do deer nibble and move, nibble and move, instead of chomping down a bit farther in a given patch? Why is food that is ok for deer at one time of year, useless in another? How can deer scat help you determine what direction the critter was headed? How dangerous are antlered buck battles? How can you tell a place is a deer resting spot? How have deer adapted to ways in which people hunt them?
…a useful way to look at another life-form is to assume that whatever it may be doing—chewing bark, digging a tiny hole, wrapping itself in a leaf, sending up a sprout, turning its leaves to face the sunlight—it is trying to achieve a goal that you, in your way, would also want to achieve. In fact, you can be sure of that. The closer you are taxonomically to what you are looking at, the more likely you are to recognize what it’s goals might be, and the further you are, the less likely. Either way it’s fascinating.Thompson does not fawn solely over deer for the entirety. There is plenty of subsidiary intel here on other forest dwellers. Turkeys come in for a considerable look and you will be thankful, I guarantee it. Bobcat scat (no not a form of feline singing) on a boulder has particular significance, and is not just evidence that the kittie could not make it to the usual dumping ground in time. (see, I managed not to conjure an image of the guy below leaving a deposit in the woods) In fact there is a whole section on varieties of woodland scat that you will not want to wipe from your memory. There is a description of oak behavior, yes behavior, that will make you wonder if Tolkien’s depiction of ents might have more truth to it than most have suspected.
Not to leave all the consideration to the critters, Thompson offers some observations on human selection and characteristics as well.
suppose we had evolved in the northern forests, rather than simply arriving there as an invasive species. We certainly wouldn’t be naked—we’d be permanently covered with dense fur—and when our pineal glands told us that the days were getting short, we’d do a lot more than simply feel gloomy—we‘d redouble our efforts to find food, and we’d start breeding so that nine months later our young would be born in the spring. Allegedly we do eat and breed a bit more in the autumn, but if we were truly a northern hemispheric species, we’d do it in grand style…The reason we don’t have thick fur and a breeding season is not because we’re superior beings, but because we evolved where such things were not needed.She also goes into some unusual hunting rituals humans engage in, wondering if the practices in question might extend into pre-history. She refers to such learning, handed down from generation to generation, as The Old Way, ( a subject she explores in depth in her book of that title) whether it is the passing of information by ungulates or homo sap.
In fact Thomas, an anthrolopogist, as well as a naturalist, has spent considerable time in Africa, living with and studying the Ju/’hoansi people of the Kalahari, writing about what she learned in The Harmless People, Warrior Herdsmen and The Old Way: A Story of the First People. She is best known for The Hidden Life of Dogs. She has also written about felines, in The Tribe of the Tiger: Cats and their Culture
Thomas is very easy to read. You need not be concerned with getting lost in scientific jargon. She is very down to earth, and very accessible. There is a spare beauty to her prose. She has also written several novels, (Reindeer Moon and The Animal Wife most prominently) so she knows how to frame and tell a story.
For most of us, city-dwellers by and large, opportunities for wildlife observation are much more limited than they are for those living so much closer to actual wilderness. But we need not be starved for information, insight, lore and wisdom about the natural world. Just as Thompson provided corn for deer to help get them from one year to another, so she has offered, in The Hidden Life of Deer, knowledge and nourishment for the mind and the soul. You will learn a lot reading this, some of it very surprising. The book has been found by many readers since its publication in 2009. Do yourself a favor and hunt down a copy, then sit somewhere where no one can see you and read it very quietly. I advise against twitching your ears.
Review posted – 9/5/14
Publication date – 2009
This review has also been posted at Cootsreviews
The author's personal site
A PBS Nature Video – The Secret Life of Deer
The Quality Deer Management Association, a hunters site, yes, really has a lot of info on whitetails
A Lovely interview with the author on Mother Nature Network
A Publisher’s Weekly profile of Thomas, Rebel with a Cause
An interesting youtube vid of Thomas talking about The Old Way
There are six parts to this Daily Motion interview with Thomas. Here is a link to the first of those. ...more
Notes are private!
Aug 27, 2014
Sep 04, 2014
Sep 23, 2014
Sep 23, 2014
it was amazing
Hi, welcome. I’m happy to see you are settling in to read this now. But…what?...really?…please…ignore that chirp that just told you a new e-mail arriv Hi, welcome. I’m happy to see you are settling in to read this now. But…what?...really?…please…ignore that chirp that just told you a new e-mail arrived. It is probably just another add for Viagra or penile enlargement. It is almost never something critical, so…hey…come back. Son of a bitch. (Taps fingers on desk, plays some solitaire, checks watch) Ah, you’re back. Took long enough. Geez. All right, can we get back to it now? You remember? The book is A Deadly Wandering, a pretty amazing look at attention, the demands on it, how it functions, how it is being compromised, and what the implications are for some aspects of that. Stop, no, do you have to answer the phone now? Can’t it wait? (sighs loudly, checks e-mail on a separate screen; weather.com lets us know upcoming conditions in another tab; who is pitching for the Mets tonight?) Oh, you’re back, sorry. Been there long? I must have wandered off. Focus.
I know a little bit about distraction. My last job entailed constant blasts of it. I worked as a dispatcher for a security company. I had a dozen or more sites checking in every hour to make sure our guards are not sleeping (or that they know how to set the alarms on their cell phones). People call asking for their schedules. People call at 2 in the morning to let us know they will not be showing up for their 6am shift. They call because they just turned the wrong way and the cell phone in their pocket somehow redialed the last number they’d called. They call at 4am to let us know they will not be coming in for their 6am shift. They call asking for direction when there is some event at their site that requires handling. (This does go on for a bit, so rather than inflict on you the horrors of my typical work night, I will leave a full viewing for the intrepid and tuck a chunk of it under a spoiler label)(view spoiler)[Our clients call, sometimes asking for emergency ASAP coverage in diverse places across the continent, sometimes to add ridiculous increases to the number of guards they want for a morning shift at a large institution. Our security guards call to ask if their check is at the office, or to inquire as to why the totals on their checks did not match what they expected. They call to let us know they have arrived at their post. They call to let us know they have clocked out for the day. They call at 5am to let us know they will not be in for their 6am shift because they have a newly discovered “appointment.” There are many, many calls. It makes it damned tough to keep a log of all the calls, particularly when half a dozen arrive at the exact same moment. It makes it tough to prepare the multiple reports of overnight activity, all of which have to be transmitted during the busiest time of the morning. In the middle of this, the boss comes in, drops papers on my desk and asks when this or that person arrived at or left from a post sometime in the last week or so. For someone who is, shall we say, not comfortable with being interrupted, this presents some challenges. And it presents a real problem. I used to write the bulk of my reviews while at work. And to enter notes, do research on items, and then compose actual reviews of books during this time could be a bit difficult. Thoughts that had not made their way into a file were in constant danger of vanishing into the ether with the next barrage of incomings. I screamed sometimes. (hide spoiler)] I frequently forgot what I was doing before the latest set of calls. And, struggling to remember, I was interrupted yet again by the next set. The one good thing about this blitzkrieg of interruption was that I am not enduring it while behind the wheel of a ton-plus hunk of metal hurtling down the road at 60 mph. My sanity might have been in jeopardy, (or long gone) but I presented no existential threat to the rest of humanity. The same cannot be said for the main character in Richtel’s story.
By all accounts nineteen-year-old Reggie Shaw is a decent young man. A Mormon, he was eager to serve his community by preparing for and then undertaking an LDS mission. His first try had come up short, so he was back home, working until he could build up enough moral credit to try again. In September, 2006, while driving a Chevy Tahoe SUV, Reggie had his Cingular flip-phone with him and was texting with his girlfriend. A witness reported seeing him weaving across the center line multiple times. Finally, Reggie weaved too far. The results were fatal. Reggie came through ok but two scientists were killed as a result of Reggie’s texting, leaving wives and children to pick up the charred pieces of their lives and go on without their breadwinners, husbands, fathers. Reggie denied he was texting when the accident occurred.
Matt Richtel is a novelist and top-notch reporter. He won a Pulitzer for a series of articles, written for the New York Times, in which he detailed the national safety crisis resulting from increasing use of distracting devices by drivers. He has written a few novels and even pens a comic strip. There is nothing at all amusing, however, about the tale he tells here.
Matt Richtel - from his site
The core of A Deadly Wandering is how constant distraction, particularly while in a car, kills. Richtel looks at the case of Reggie Shaw as a prime example of how the distractions that have become embedded in our lives have unintended consequences. Richtel spends time with Reggie, with the cop who pursued the case when most officials wanted to brush it off and move on, the surviving family members, and a victim’s advocate who pursued prosecution of the case. Richtel also talks with several neuroscientists who have been studying the science of attentiveness. That material is quite eye-opening.
There are legal questions in here regarding where responsibility lies for such events, and how far communities are willing to go to punish violations and even to establish that such behavior is not permissible. Where does your freedom to act irresponsibly interfere with my right to stay alive? There are scientific questions about how the brain functions in a world that seems to demand multi-tasking. How does the brain work in dealing with attentiveness? What is possible? What is not? Where are the edges of that envelope?
When drug companies want to bring to market a product for public use, they must go through a significant review process to make sure their product is safe to use. Before auto manufacturers can bring a vehicle to market they must put it through safety testing.
But neither Verizon nor any other cellphone company supports legislation that bans drivers from talking on the phone. And the wireless industry does not conduct research on the dangers, saying that is not its responsibility - From - Dismissing the Risks of a Deadly HabitAnd the corporations know what they are doing with their techolology.
If you take yourself back millennia, and you're in the jungle or you're in the forest and you see a lion, then the lion hits your sensory cortices and says to the frontal lobe, whatever you're doing, whatever hut you're building, stop and run.In addition, and in a chillingly similar impact to other addictive substances, our communications technology knows how to make itself feel crucial to us.
when you check your information, when you get a buzz in your pocket, when you hear a ring - you get a dopamine squirt. You get a little rush of adrenaline. So you're getting that more and more and more and more. Well, guess what happens in its absence? You feel bored. You're actually conditioned by a kind of neurochemical response. - also from the NPR interviewRichtel follows Reggie’s story through to the end, at least for some of the players here. Laws have been changed. New knowledge has been gained. Responsibility has been allocated. Amends have been attempted. It is a moving tale. In addition, you will learn a lot about what science has found about how our brains handle multiple concurrent demands. You will learn about change in how distracted driving is being addressed by our legal system. But most of what you will get from reading this book is a chilling appreciation for what is involved in distracted driving. You might even be persuaded to switch off your phone the next time you get behind the wheel. At least I hope you are. I would like to live a bit longer and not be taken out before my time because someone was talking on the phone with their friend, texting with their significant other, or trying to order penile growth products from the road. I would like to live long enough to spend at least a few more nights screaming at the phone to stop ringing at work so I can get some writing done. That call you were thinking of making while in the car can wait. It really is a matter of life and death. A Deadly Wandering is must read material. Please, please pay attention.
Review posted – 7/18/14
Publication date – 9/23/14
Trade Paperback - 6/2/15
This review has been cross-posted at Cootsreviews.com
Links to the author’s personal, Twitter and FB pages
A list of Richtel articles in the NY Times’ Bits blog
The Pulitzer site includes links to all the pieces in Richtel’s award-winning series. Very much worth checking out
Another article Richtel did looked at the benefits of uninterrupted face time free of technological intrusion, from August, 2010, Outdoors and Out of Reach, Studying the Brain
There is some great material in Richtel’s 2010 interview with Terry Gross on NPR, Digital Overload: Your Brain on Gadgets
There are some interesting pieces on Oprah’s site. Distracted Driving: What You Don't See is pretty good. And it is worth checking out Oprah's No Texting Campaign
The US Department of Transportation has a site dedicated to distracted driving. There are some interesting bits of information available there.
October 22, 2015 - Richtel's latest look at distracted driving, a NY Times piece, Cars’ Voice-Activated Systems Distract Drivers, Study Finds
February 24, 2016 - Reading This While You Drive Could Increase Your Risk of Crashing Tenfold - By Nicholas St. Fleur, in the NY Times, reporting on a study of distracted driving conducted by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute, the results published in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
April 13, 2016 - NY Times - Dispatcher Playing With Cellphone Is Faulted in German Train Crash by Alison Smale
April 27, 2016 - NY Times article by the author on new tech for treating driving while texting like DUI - Texting and Driving? Watch Out for the Textalyzer
August 17, 2016 - NY Times article about a proposal in New Jersey that goes beyond cell phones and texting - A Distracted-Driving Ban in New Jersey? Some Say It Threatens a Way of Life - by Vivian Yee
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 10 percent of fatal crashes and 18 percent of crashes that caused injuries in 2014 were reported to involve drivers distracted by activities including eating, smoking, adjusting the radio or air-conditioning, or being "lost in thought/daydreaming." They caused 3,179 deaths, injuring an estimated additional 431,000 people. In 2014, for the fifth straight year, distracted driving was the top cause of fatal crashes in New Jersey.November 15, 2016 - Biggest Spike in Traffic Deaths in 50 Years? Blame Apps by Neal E. Boudette
March 6, 2017 - Why We Can’t Look Away From Our Screens - Claudia Dreifus interviews Adam Alter about his book Irresistible: The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked
September 2017 - National Geographic Magazine - How Science is Unlocking the Secrets of Addiction - By Fran Smith
September 6, 2018 - NY Times - Having Trouble Finishing This Headline? Then This Article Is for You. - By Concepción de León
October 26, 2018 - NY Times Magazine - A Dark Consensus About Screens and Kids Begins to Emerge in Silicon Valley - by Nellie Bowles - Silicon Valley exec know what goes into the tech of small screens and are trying to keep their kids from getting hooked["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]> ...more
Notes are private!
Jul 02, 2014
Jul 09, 2014
Jul 02, 2014
Oct 17, 2013
Oct 17, 2013
In Communications: From Pheromones to the Internet and Beyond, Max Swanson, a long-time researcher with Atomic Energy of Canada, and physics prof at t In Communications: From Pheromones to the Internet and Beyond, Max Swanson, a long-time researcher with Atomic Energy of Canada, and physics prof at the U of North Carolina, offers a wide-ranging overview of communication, from unicellular beasties to complex organisms, from humans to machines, from proximate to distant, from the physical to the abstract, from then to now and from now to the future. Along the way he looks at communication as it pertains to religion, politics, education, government and marketing. He casts an eye on self and spiritual communication as well. He has clearly given the subject a lot of thought and presents myriad ways in which communication occurs, including, but not limited to sight, touch, sound, feel, language and even ways of communication that might not seem obvious, such as DNA. There are significant and valid points raised here. One is the importance of education for females. Another is the danger of concentrating media control in too few hands. Yet another looks at the historical experience of nations that base their education systems on testing to the exclusion of all else.
I had very mixed feelings about Communication. It is unclear to me who the intended audience is. It comes across as equal parts fascinating and obvious. There are plenty of jaw-dropping items, where you are pleading for Swanson to tell you more, tucked in between sections that make one want to wonder aloud "yeah, and?" Here is one of the latter, on the relative merits of information vs misinformation.
Wild swings in the stock markets and the global economy are due in large part to panic or euphoria caused by inadvisable spin of financial news, whether good or bad. On the other hand, timely worldwide flow of information facilitates the realistic evaluation of news, the distribution of goods, the coordination of health maintenance, and timely warnings of disasters such as earthquakes, hurricanes and tsunamis.Duh-uh.
However, as a springboard for investigation of its composite elements Communication is marvelous. Have a class of 12th graders read this and there is huge potential that each will come across something that stimulates their curiosity. They won't so much be able to satisfy it here as be prompted to a journey that might lead somewhere exciting, even if they do that search on handheld communication devices, and have to occasionally be zapped with tasers whenever they text someone or resume that game of Angry Birds. Here is one of the fun items:
In Egypt, thousands of years before the Christian era, giant obelisks may have provided a unique and innovative long-range communication system. By striking these obelisks, priests in Luxor and other religious centers could have created resonant sounds heard many kilometers away.If you are thinking, as I did, that this sounds like a fab idea for an action/adventure novel, sorry, it has already been taken. Damn! Maybe as an element in a video game? And another:
Most humans are capable of hearing sounds with a frequency between 20 hertz ad 20,000 hertz (cycles per second) and volume greater than 5-15 decibels. [Are decibels digital temptresses?] Hearing is best in the frequency range between 1,000 and 5,000 hertz. Some very low frequency sounds cannot be consciously heard, but are accompanied by a vague feeling of unease when in their presence. This feeling may be associated with the phenomenon of ghosts.Seems like he buried the lead there, slipping in an item we could use a bit more on, but it is off to the next topic straight away.
I am sorry to report that much of Communication reads like a text book, and is sorely lacking in the sort of humor that someone like Mary Roach brings to science to grease the intellectual in-ports. But there are also many fun items to be found here, no question. The issue is balancing the delight of taking in the juicy bits with the not-so-exciting other elements. Bottom line for me is that I am glad I read it. I learned some new things, which is like heroine to me, and that made trudging through the rest an acceptable cost. It might be for you too.
This review is cross-posted at Cootsreviews.com
Posted April 11, 2014
I received this book through the GR FirstReads program. ...more
Notes are private!
Mar 21, 2014
Apr 02, 2014
Mar 21, 2014
Jan 30, 2010
Feb 09, 2010
really liked it
…through the observations in Africa and Southeast Asia of scores of primatologists spawned by Fossey and Goodall, we have discovered great ape specie
…through the observations in Africa and Southeast Asia of scores of primatologists spawned by Fossey and Goodall, we have discovered great ape species each have their separate character. The orangutans are introspective loners; gorillas laid back and largely undemonstrative; the bonobos gleeful hedonists; and chimpanzees the thugs, by far the most destructive and murderous… from the PrologueBut, to varying degrees, and for diverse reasons, they are all disappearing from the wild.
From the Universitad Pompeo Fabra in Barcelona
The author wanted to see what he could of them in their native haunts while there was still the opportunity. He looks at gorillas, chimpanzees, bonobos and orangutans, the first three in Africa, the last in Borneo. What he finds is both fascinating and alarming.
Paul Rafaele is a certified character. In 2007, he was interviewed by Peter Carlson for The Washington Post. Carlson characterized him as
a professional adventurer, perhaps the last in a long line of popular writers who ventured into wild places and returned with electrifying tales of fearsome animals and strange humans.The last apes the Aussie adventurer reported on in book form were the naked variety, and he was looking into the predilection of some for feeding on their own. Not so much with our furrier cousins.
This image graces the inside rear flap of the book, and does as good a job as any of portraying the author
Diane Fossey made the world aware of gorillas, but not all of them. Turns out there are several sub-species. She specialized in the mountain variety, the largest of the four. There are eastern and western lowland varieties and the one you almost certainly never heard of, the Cross River gorillas, which are undoubtedly the most endangered of them all. Sorry, none from Skull Island or any other islands for that matter.
The best known gorilla of all time
Raffaele interviews a host of field experts and fills us in on how gorillas live. We get a look at their family structure, group interaction, diet, child rearing, and the problem infants face should troop leadership change hands. We also learn that gorilla vocalization includes higher-pitched tonal calls, similar to humans humming and singing, favored by younger troop members. Can’t you damn kids keep it down? (toga, toga, Toga, Toga, TOga, TOga, TOGa, TOGa, TOGA, TOGA) Sometimes the musicality spreads. Raffaele quotes gorilla expert Amy Vedder:
One individual would start a low rumbling sound, breathing in and out in a modulated tone. This might remain a solo performance, and last no more than a minute. Often, however, others would join, adding gender- and age-specific basses, baritones, tenors and sopranos in a mix. The result was a chorus of entwined melodies, rising and falling in a natural rhythm that might continue for several minutes; a gorilla Gregorian chant in a Virunga cathedral.Bet ya didn’t see that coming. We learn a bit about the differences among the subspecies. The Cross River offers the most unique experience of the four gorilla habitats. No, our furry friends are not punting back and forth across a waterway on bespoke rafts. Their particular brand of gorilla is named for the Cross River, where they live. It took greater effort for Raffaele to get to them than it did to reach any of the others. He was not exactly a kid when he headed out there, a trek that included significant life-threatening passages. It is particularly exciting to read of that leg of his adventure. The Cross River gorillas are the least interfered-with of any gorilla population. The animals are not at all habituated to humans, and their protectors want to keep it that way.
The plusses and minuses of habituation to people come in for considerable discussion here, for all the species under review. All the gorilla sub-species face enormous challenges. Eliminate near-constant civil wars, locals setting traps by the thousands in gorilla habitat to catch bush meat of various sorts, corrupt officials selling off protected land for logging and making charcoal, and our cousins’ chances of surviving into the 22nd century would skyrocket. If wishes were horses, though, a lot of these folks would probably kill and eat them. The fear is quite real that someday in the 21st century, because of greed and corruption, when we think of gorillas in the mist, the only thing remaining will be the mist.
If Kong was the prototypical image many of us had of gorillas, there is a chimpanzee of comparable familiarity, although of much more modest dimensions.
Doctor Zira in Planet of the Apes (1968)
No, but nice try. There was a much earlier representative of the species, one that remained in the public consciousness long after the films in which he appeared had become quaint. I speak, of course, of a matinee idol.
Why, Cheeta, of course, ever helpful, ever reliable, Jungle Man’s best friend
The reality of chimpanzee life in the wild is not quite so comforting. Raffaele learns about how culture is transmitted from generation to generation, relative educability of male and female young, age-based mate preference by males (it is not what you might expect), their use of medicinal plants, including A. pluriseta, an abortifacient. They are also quite willing to form gangs and murder members of their own troop. They show a decided predilection for violence. Chimpanzees are clever, and use their intelligence for dark ends.
Bonobos are very similar to chimps in appearance, seeming to be a slightly smaller version. But there are significant differences between the species. Carston Knott, keeper of great apes at the Frankfurt zoo, told Raffaele,
I tell new keepers that if you throw a screwdriver in with the gorillas, they wouldn’t notice it for weeks on end unless they sat on it. The chimpanzees would use it to destroy something within minutes, but the bonobos and orangutans, within thirty minutes, would figure out how to use it to unlock the cage door and escape.Considerable differences are noted here between chimps and bonobos, the latter being the closest ape to humans, DNA-wise. It is summed up nicely in one simple statement: Chimps are from Mars, bonobos are from Venus. Well, one aspect of their existence anyway
Chimpanzee females come into heat for only a few days a month, and so competition for them among the males can be fierce, with the dominant male granting more mating rights to his allies. But bonobo females are receptive to the males for most of each month, and that means there is hardly any fighting by the males for their favors.The lively sex lives of bonobos is not restricted by age or gender. Monkey business is just fine for bonobos, whatever their age, with partners of both genders, with plenty of positional creativity being applied. Another element that differentiates bonobos from chimps is that bonding with mom persists for a lifetime. Chimpanzee maternal bonds are a lot more fragile. Unlike their larger ape cousins, bonobos do not kill other bonobos.
The orangutan is the largest arboreal creature on earth. Unlike their African cousins, orangutans are primarily solitary, slow moving creatures. They do not really need to get anywhere in a hurry. The orang habitat is under considerable assault, as the government clears large swaths of native forest in order to plant palm oil trees to satisfy a growing international demand. Raffaele picks up a bit of intel on the orang sex life. It includes oral. He spends some time looking at an operation in Borneo that aims at rehabbing orphaned orangs and returning them to the wild, paying particular attention to some serious problems with the program. One unusual feature about orangs is that there is dimorphism among males. The leader of the pack grows large and sprouts those facial flanges that look like rubber add-ons. Should the big guy slip on a banana peel and take a header, the vacuum will indeed be filled. And the successor will sprout the same extra bits.
Clyde’s seems an appropriate response to the eco-vandalism the Indonesian government is committing against the orangutans’ habitat
Raffaele does take breaks from his extended nature travels to stop in at facilities doing relevant research in various parts of the world. These outings are quite interesting. He is not a fan of zoos, but does acknowledge that the finer institutions of that sort do offer real potential benefits to the species with which they work. He also has a riveting conversation with the head of a tribe whose members, he says, can transform themselves into gorillas and back again. Very Castaneda.
You may or may not go ape for Among the Great Apes, but you will certainly want to hoot and holler for all that you will learn on this journey, and might even want to thump your chest a bit when you are done, thus letting those around you know just how big and powerful your brain has become. And as for the 800 pound gorilla in the room, it is probably two gorillas inside an over-sized gorilla suit. Real gorillas only grow to about four hundred pounds. It might not even do them much good were they to begin growing to double their natural size. The challenges all the great apes face are unrelenting and deadly. The long-term prospects for all the creatures addressed here are far from great. But you will learn a heck of a lot following Raffaele on his quest, or I’m a monkey’s uncle.
Posted November 11, 2013
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PR on Twitter
Interview with the Washington Post
The Smithsonian page for Raffaele includes links to several articles he wrote for them over the years. The information reported in several of these was incorporated into the book
Ok, I really tried to figure out how to get this image into the body of the review, but I just could not force it in. So, in a fit of self-indulgence, I am dropping it down here. Any look at a book about apes, and yes I know this is not supposed to be an ape, but a Homo Sap predecessor, seems incomplete without it.
If you do not recognize this, you may have more evolving to do
April 26, 2016 - Just came across this sad news piece by Rachel Nuwer in the NY Times about some simian cousins - New Gorilla Survey Supports Fears of Extinction Within Decade
September 10, 2016 - An interesting piece in the NY Times about bonobo girl-power - In the Bonobo World, Female Camaraderie Prevails by Natalie Angier
November 8, 2016 - A video item in the NY Times reports on research showing similarities between human and bonobo vision - The Aging Eyes of Bonobos
December, 2016 - National Geographic Magazine - Inside the Private Lives of Orangutans - By Mel White - Photographs and Videos by Tim Laman - Pretty interesting stuff
A Sumatran orang branching out - from the article
September 2017 - National Geographic Magazine - The Gorillas Dian Fossey Saved Are Facing New Challenges - By Elizabeth Royte
October 2017 - National Geographic Magazine - How Jane Goodall Changed What We Know About Chimps - by Tony Gerber
Flint was the first infant born at Gombe after Jane arrived. With him she had a great opportunity to study chimp development—and to have physical contact, which is no longer deemed appropriate with chimps in the wild. - photograph by Hugo can Lawick – Image and description from article above
October 24, 2017 - Wild and Captive Chimpanzees Share Personality Traits With Humans - by Karen Weintraub
November 2, 2017 - NY Times - New Orangutan Species Could Be the Most Endangered Great Ape - by Joe Cochrane
An orangutan from the Batang Toru region of the island of Sumatra in Indonesia, which researchers say is a distinct, third species of great apes. Credit Tim Laman
Text and image from the NY Times article above
November 4, 2017 - NY Times - Smuggled, Beaten and Drugged:The Illicit Global Ape Trade – by Jeffrey Gentleman
A female bonobo feeding fruit to her baby at Lola Ya Bonobo. Since 2005, United Nations investigators say, tens of thousands of apes have been trafficked or killed. - Credit Bryan Denton for The New York Times
Image and text from above NYT article
April 27, 2018 - NY Times - Stand up and pay attention. Researchers may have found a clue in a particular population of chimps that helps explain how humans began to walk upright - Hints of Human Evolution in Chimpanzees That Endure a Savanna’s Heat - by Carl Zimmer
Early hominins might have used some of the strategies documented in Fongoli chipmanzees, like staying near water. Humans have skin glands that let us sweat much more than chimpanzees, and the origin of our upright posture might have been an adaptation to stay cooler.CreditFrans Lanting/lanting.com - Image and text from above article ...more
Notes are private!
Nov 03, 2013
Nov 06, 2013
Nov 03, 2013
Aug 06, 2013
Aug 06, 2013
really liked it
As the planet gets hotter, we’ll live sicker and die quicker.All change is a matter of degrees. Up or down, a bit here, a bit there. And in time, wi
As the planet gets hotter, we’ll live sicker and die quicker.All change is a matter of degrees. Up or down, a bit here, a bit there. And in time, with persistence, you really have something. In the Broadway and later film musical, Pajama Game , the cast sings of the accumulating impact of a small change, in this case literal small change. And so it is with global warming. A fraction of a degree here and there, and what with adding that small bit over and over, the overall amount grows significantly. When we think of warming, we tend to think of what is going into the air, water and land right now. When the fact is that we have been making carbon deposits into our environment for a long time, and are beginning to see the result of that. If you will allow another dip into our musical theater history, the show Mary Poppins, offers a lesson on the value of compound interest. In the case of our planet however, the Fidelity Fiduciary Bank in question has grown far too large, its holdings are increasingly comprised of toxic assets and it threatens us all with more than just a fiscal meltdown.
The author with a ring-tailed lemur in Sarasota, Florida
Global Warming is a hot topic. When we think of the medical impact of global warming it is usually in terms of coping with personal temperature management, keeping cool in the hot weather. We might think of shrinking polar caps, maybe rising sea levels, more energetic hurricanes and the like. But there are very concrete health impacts that might not be so obvious. What if the breeding season of disease-vector mosquitoes were to be extended? More mosquitoes = more illness. One effect of shifting weather patterns brought on by warming is desertification. Dust storms increase in frequency and severity. While one may think of dust storms as a health threat due to the danger of airborne particulates making their way inside our bodies, such storms also carry fungus spores, and the diseases they can cause. There are many such effects we can look forward to as the short-term focus of corporate and political leaders ensures that our long term is hotter and in need of medical attention. In projecting the likely result of any ongoing situation, the devil is in the details, and the author has collected enough of the pesky horned guys together to raise the global temperature even more.
Science writer Linda Marsa, whose previous book, Prescription for Profits , addressed the impact of corporate culture on medical research, has offered compelling details about how a warming planet will, hell, is already affecting our health. A lot of what she reports will surprise you. I am no stranger to the subject, and found that I was being regularly alarmed at what I had not known or suspected.
Elements of warming that will affect our health include wider extremes and gyrations in weather,
Hot air holds more water, so we will have more torrential rains, more ferocious hurricanes, and, conversely, more dry spells as a result of heat-induced changes in rainfall patterns. Rising temperatures could trigger pestilence, drought-induced food shortages, raging firestorms, massive migrations, political instability, and wars, even the return of the bubonic plague…In the near future, millions might perish and millions more might be sickened by the litany of medical conditions caused or exacerbated by living in a rapidly warming world: heart disease, asthma, severe respiratory infections, heatstroke, and suicidal despair.faster global spreading of disease with the growth of global access and increasing interconnectivity,
The explosion of international travel on a hotter, wetter planet—more than 60 million Americans travel abroad every year, and an equal number visit the United States—has created the perfect conditions for the increased transmission of lethal pathogens from the tropics to industrialized nations. Hitchhiking parasites and infected individuals carting microbes that can be passed on by mosquitoes can now go anywhere in the world in less than 24 Hours and deliver reservoirs of malaria, dengue, or chikungunya fever, a particularly nasty infection that causes arthritis-like joint pain, to newly temperate regions…These two factors—global movement and changing global weather—are what enabled the West Nile virus to become entrenched in North America.assaults by air pollution on our ability to breathe,
One component of pollution, diesel fumes, delivers a double whammy for health. The diesel exhaust emitted by factories and big rigs not only damages the lungs, but also manes an excellent transport system for fungal spores, which proliferate in hotter, carbon-enriched environments. They attach themselves like glue to the tiny diesel particles, which scatter them in the wind in a “nasty synergy,” to use a phrase coined by the late Dr. Paul Epstein, a pioneer in environmental health at Harvard. The fungi lurking inside the spores can be lethal… [causing Valley Fever]
By By Quinn Dombrowski
persistent exposure to hotter temperatures,
After 48 hours of constant exposure to temperatures in excess of 90°F, the body’s defenses start to break down. Consequently, the swiftness of the public health system’s response to heat-related illnesses can literally mean the difference between life and death.and the stress of exploding demand on existing infrastructure:
[re New Orleans post Katrina]…the mental health care infrastructure—which had been inadequate before—was virtually nonexistent at a time when the need couldn’t possible have been greater. At one point there were only 22 psychiatrists in a city of 200,000. Within a year after Katrina, five doctors became so despondent they took their own lives. “It wasn’t just the destitute poor who had no hope, but professional people who didn’t leave New Orleans and who stayed in the middle of it.It would be easy to look at all the dark sides of our current warming crisis and start looking for a convenient bridge from which to end it all. But wait. There is plenty more between the covers of Marsa’s report. In fact, she goes into some detail about actions that can be taken. Progress is already being made to reduce our carbon footprint, particularly via smart urbanization. She also shows how we can learn from pioneers in confronting the impact of warming, folks in the Netherlands and Australia specifically, who are learning the lessons of coping at the bleeding edge of climatic change.
I do not have any gripes about Fevered. Well, ok, maybe a very small and irrelevant one. I am of the opinion that most written work is made more palatable with a dose of humor. I know most of you are not exactly looking for comic relief in a book on global warming, and that is where I happily concede that this is a purely personal bias, and probably needs to be ignored. But the book could have used a smile or two, maybe a Far Side comic, something. But really, feel free to ignore the man behind this paragraph.
Marsa is a seasoned pro who has done her homework and whose experience as a popular science writer is on full display here. Which is a long way of saying that is it an easy-to-read book, rich with information, without being dumbed down.
It is probably the case that folks who are of the rightist persuasion would not bother picking up any book on global warming that did not feature conspiracies and reassurance that nothing is really wrong. Why confuse ideology with facts? But that leaves two thirds of us. For readers with minimal familiarity with warming, Fevered is a good introduction. The audience that will gain the most from the book, I suspect, consists of those of us who have read and studied enough to know just how bloody real this event is, and can always uses some more specifics, both for use in fending off zombie hordes of deniers and in thinking about where public resources should best be directed to cope with the impact.
Hopefully we can apply some heat of our own, get fired up and light a match under the appropriate representatives, senators, mayors, governors, council members and CEOs. Along with us they share responsibility, to a large degree.
Global Warming – It’s hee-er!
This book was received via GR's First Reads program, just so's ya know
The author’s website . There is one video in particular that sums up her expectations for the future, in the blog page of the site
Wiki on Valley Fever
It is hard to find an example more directly relevant to Marsa’s thesis than this one, Pollution Costs California Hospitals Millions of Dollars by Gina-Marie Cheeseman - March 23rd, 2010
The September, 2013 issue of National Geographic is focused on Rising Seas. This is MUST READ material, very accessible, very alarming.
Scientists Warn of Perilous Climate Shift Within Decades, Not Centuries by Justin Gillis - March 22, 2016 - in the Science section of the New York Times
July 28, 2017 - NY Times - It’s Not Your Imagination. Summers Are Getting Hotter. - by Nadia Popovich and Adam Pearce
August 6, 2017 - by the NY Times - Europe Swelters Under a Heat Wave Called ‘Lucifer’
August 7, 2017 - Scientists Fear Trump Will Dismiss Blunt Climate Report - by Lisa Friedman
August 7, 2017 - In case you have not spotted the link, Henry B added this one in comment #43 (At least it is is #43 as this is entered), to the report that is generating such interest. - Final Draft of the Climate Science Special Report
February 16, 2019 - Yeah, it really is that bad - NY Times - Time to Panic - by David Wallace-Wells
Notes are private!
Jul 28, 2013
Aug 20, 2013
Jul 28, 2013