Volcano Sunsets

The-Scream-392x500It shouldn’t surprise us that there was a spike in sunset pictures posted to flikr.com when the ash from Iceland’s  Eyjafjallajokull volcano began drifting over Europe. By the way, the name — Eyjafjallajokull —  is the  sound an Icelander makes when falling into a volcano.

Anyway, according to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art’s Open Space blog,  there were half again as many hits on flikr — the image posting site — on April 15th and 16th, as the skies of Europe filled with ash. The sulfur dioxide and ash cause the sunsets to turn deep purple and red, as the sulfur dioxide and ash scatter the sun’s light and absorb more higher-frequency lightwaves.

Even well-known art has been influenced by atmospheric oddities:

One theory holds that the setting of Edvard Munch’s The Scream was remembered from Oslo’s winter skies affected by eruption of Krakatau in 1883, which like Eyjafjallajokull, spewed picturesque aerosols into the atmosphere. Indeed, perhaps it was the ash that caused him to see a fearful psychocosmologial skyscape surrounding him. Munch later wrote:

“I was walking along a path with two friends — the sun was setting — suddenly the sky turned blood red — I paused, feeling exhausted, and leaned on the fence — there was blood and tongues of fire above the blue-black fjord and the city — my friends walked on, and I stood there trembling with anxiety — and I sensed an infinite scream passing through nature.”

April-15-2010-weird-sunset-from-Iceland-volcano-cloud-by-37Hz“An infinite scream passing through airports” might not be a bad description of air passenger anxiety post-Iceland volcano. We take modern conveniences and technologies for granted at our peril. Even malfunctioning traffic lights can turn our daily world upside down. Our mastery of the world is a dangerous illusion. We forget how fragile it all is.

I’ve been spending time in New Orleans lately. There’s a city that knows about fragility. We’d do well to take a little bit more humility with us into the future. Sometimes dramatic geological events give us pretty sunsets. Sometimes they kill all the dinosaurs.

Building Compost Piles: Remaking Me

Pitchfork in Heaven
Pitchfork in Heaven

Much has been written about the benefits of compost as a soil ammendment and its ability to nurture all things green is almost unequalled. But my love affair with compost grows from its ability to heal me, not just the soil I am working in. A long-time compost tinkerer, my green-thumbed mother introduced me to the magic of building piles. She always has a large pile built at the end of her raised bed gardens and I remember how hard work under a hot sun and all the things that she didn’t want in the garden or the yard found a welcome home in the four foot by four foot confines of chicken wire and green t-posts of her compost pile. From that pile comes a varied mix of rich, dark compost and fragments from the past lives of all the components that went in. My mom is a practitioner of the pile-it-on school of compost. She keeps adding the yard trimming, weeds, over-ripe produce, branches and anything else that strays out of place in her garden. Her technique is more art than science that relies on her prodigious experience, a familiarity with the available materials and deft skill with the tools. As a 30+ educator, this method fits her style perfectly. Her home, like her compost pile is filled with materials that she has culled from the world to build the minds of children.

My approach to compost is different. Although I am undeniably a pile maker and relish the art of compost I also apply the scientific side of my personality to the building of compost piles. After studious research into the art and science of compost, I have blended the pile-it-on technique that is part of my DNA, enhanced it with an understanding of how to quickly get a compost pile up to the proper temperature by creating the right mix of materials and tempered both with a degree of laziness that I am growing more comfortable with as I age. The result is several piles of material that are proto-compost piles that get mixed together in a fit of compost fervor on a pseudo-regular basis into in a real compost pile that actually produces magnificent, dark, rich compost. The compost is fine like good topsoil, heavy with moisture and leaves a telling tan on my hands and dark crescent moons under my fingernails. I love the compost and what it does for the things I grow, but it is the fervor of building the real compost pile that makes me such a fan of compost and heals me when I feel broken or ragged.

Rebuilding
Rebuilding

Like soil that has been stressed by modern conditions, I need the addition of amendments to help make me productive again. Pulling together the grass clippings, dried leaves, old tomato vines, twigs, pumpkin rinds, corn stalks and dead weeds that have been waiting in my proto-piles, mixing them in repeating layers with aged horse manure, a little top soil, enough water to make everything the consistency of a damp sponge starts the healing process and is the basis for my love of compost. I build my pile in a sweaty passion almost incapable of doing anything else and I do it when the pressures of being a father, a spouse, a friend, a business man, a volunteer and a citizen of this dysfunctional nation have leeched all the passion, vision, love and energy out of me. With a shovel, a four-tine pitchfork, hose and a few hours I remake myself. I become arable land again capable of nurturing the growth of my children, enhancing my love for my wife, building relationships with my friends, supporting the work of my business, empowering the organizations I support and standing as a citizen. The rich dark product of this effort is renewed passion, clarity of vision, revitalized energy and nurturing love.

Goldie Hen Helps
Goldie Hen Helps

All images Dave Grossman | Confluence Images 2010

Of Dolphins, Corporate Personhood and Thee

dolphinsThe Supreme Court and the nation’s Wall Street elite are busy celebrating the Court’s blessings upon corporate personhood, but scientists are urging us to consider dolphins “non-human persons.” Judged by their altruistic, compassionate behavior, dolphins are far more deserving of the recognition.

Dolphins have been declared the world’s second most intelligent creatures after humans, with scientists suggesting they are so bright that they should be treated as “non-human persons”.

Studies into dolphin behaviour have highlighted how similar their communications are to those of humans and that they are brighter than chimpanzees. These have been backed up by anatomical research showing that dolphin brains have many key features associated with high intelligence.

Dolphins have been known to work cooperatively — to save human lives. Ask Todd Endris, surfer. In 2007 a group of bottlenose dolphins formed a protective ring around him and drove off a great white shark that had already wounded Endris’ back and leg.

If your health was in danger, it might be smarter to turn to a dolphin rather than an insurance company. That’s what we need: a circle of dolphins to protect us from corporate sharks. Continue reading “Of Dolphins, Corporate Personhood and Thee”

Happy Holiday News: Champagne Good for Heart

champaignScientists have confirmed what we’ve known all along:  a glass or two of champagne each day keeps the doctor away. No foolin’, champagne is good for the heart.  So are its cheaper cousins, like prosecco. Happy New Year!

The research is the handiwork of a team led by Dr Jeremy Spencer of Reading University, working with scientists in France, and is to be published in the British Journal of Nutrition this week.

“We have found that a couple of glasses a day has a beneficial effect on the walls of blood vessels – which suggests champagne has the potential to reduce strokes and heart disease,” Dr Spencer told the Observer. “It is very exciting news.”

Champagne’s as good as red wine when it comes to matters of the heart, biologically speaking. So here’s to your health. A bit more explanation on the jump.

Continue reading “Happy Holiday News: Champagne Good for Heart”

From Hubble: A Galaxy, on Edge

hs-2009-30-a-large_web

There’s nothing quite like the views of the universe from the Hubble Space Telescope. Here’s the latest from HubbleSite.org. Notice the ghostly X-pattern of stars. Here’s how HubbleSite describes it:

The magnificent galaxy NGC 4710 is tilted nearly edge-on to our view from Earth. This perspective allows astronomers to easily distinguish the central bulge of stars from its pancake-flat disk of stars, dust, and gas. Like the yellow yolk on a fried egg, the central bulge extends outside of the central disk. Dark dust lanes — raw material for future generations of stars and planets — also appear confined to the central disk. What’s striking in the image is a ghostly “X” pattern of stars. This is due to the inclined orbits of the stars in the galaxy’s central bar-like structure. Located 65 million light-years away, NGC 4710 is a member of the giant Virgo Cluster of galaxies. It can be seen as a dim, 11th-magnitude, spindle-like smudge in a medium-sized amateur telescope. This natural-color photo was taken with the Hubble Space Telescope’s Advanced Camera for Surveys on January 15, 2006.

We Can’t Get There Without You

Tomorrow is a big day for The Nobelity Project, the national theatrical launch of our film One Peace at a Time at Austin’s Arbor Cinema. This isn’t the end of the road I’ve been traveling for three years on this film. If we sell enough tickets in the next week, we’ll get a longer run in Austin, and the number of other cities we reach will grow. So this is a big step. And we can’t take it alone.

onepeacecrosswordloresWe have a lot of things going for us: A movie that thousands of people have already seen and come away saying it was inspiring to the max; film fest awards, and a national promotion partnership with Bono’s amazing advocacy group ONE.org, and a great trailer with music by Ben Harper

The film is jam-packed with ideas and solutions that are truly life-changing. It has thousands of beautiful kids that I filmed with in 20 countries on 5 continents. And the wisdom and insights of Muhammad Yunus, Desmond Tutu, Helene Gayle and the great Willie Nelson as you’ve never seen him before.

A week before Barack Obama and Steve Chu go to Copenhagen to make America’s first pledge to cut carbon emissions, we’re releasing a film in which Steve Chu – many months before he was named Secretary of Energy – discusses what he’d do if he were the “Energy King”.

Shortly before Barack Obama receives a Nobel Peace Prize, that was more than a little controversial, we’re releasing a film in which I propose – from the steps of the Nobel Museum in Oslo – that it’s time that the children of the world receive the Peace Prize. Who suffers the most under the bombs? Who offers more reason to put an end to this madness?

Continue reading “We Can’t Get There Without You”

A Yawning Gap

yawn_1524128cWe don’t know why we yawn.

Bored? Sleepy? Just woke up? Or is it a signal of arousal, that is, time for bed? Or a signal of relaxation, a sign to others that we feel safe and so they can feel safe?

Scientists don’t know, but are you yawning yet, because everyone knows yawns are contagious and often follow the mere suggestion of a yawn. And that’s strong evidence of our social nature. It’s a complex interaction of neurons that allows us to feel empathy for one another. We mimic one another, consciously and unconsciously.

The Telegraph has a longer discussion about yawning and empathy:

However yawns arise, and whatever they signify, such a spontaneous copying response to a second person’s signal of mood is an unmistakable sign of empathy; of an ability to understand and to react to someone else’s state of mind. People with autism or with schizophrenia find it hard to do that – and they respond less to yawns than do most of us.

Empathy is what makes us into social and cooperative beings, and the speed and extent with which a person yawns in response to another’s involuntary gape may be a quick and objective measure of to what degree he or she might be blessed with those useful talents.

The word yawn comes from the Old English word for gape, which makes sense, even if yawns don’t. Anyway, I think there are more yawns on Thanksgiving Day than any other day of the year. Watch for them.

Side Man

The sign said “Authorized Vehicles Only” beside the open gate at the top of the hill so I paused to consider whether that meant me or not when a guy drove down the road toward me on a 60s vintage yellow Suzuki motorcycle.JerPres96dpi

I rolled down my window to see if I could talk my way in. I was almost at the top of the hill where McDonald Observatory was built in the 1930s, the highest road in Texas, with 50-mile vistas all around shrouded in mist. The guy was dressed in boots, jeans and a ratty old navy blue parka, with all the fur worn off the hood fallen around his shoulders. When he removed his helmet, he revealed close cropped graying hair and a wide smile.

“Can I help you?”

“Well, I was just exploring a bit. I came up from Alpine for the Star Party and they were sold out of tickets for the early part, the Twilight Program. So I guess I’m just killing time waiting.”

“Yep, that happens. But you’re welcome to drive up around here and walk around if you’d like. It’s just closed during the day so that the people who work here can get around easily.”

“Thanks. Do you work here?”

“Well, it depends on what you count as work. I do work on the Lunar Laser Ranging Project.”

“What’s that?”

“It’s the last existing project of the Apollo Mission. When they went up to the moon, they placed two reflectors there. We aim lasers at them and calculate the range by measuring the return laser image.”

“How big are they?

“They’re about this tall.” And he moved his hands to show about 18″ tall.

“And you have to hit that with a laser from the earth?”

“Yep.”

Continue reading “Side Man”

That Mona Lisa Strangeness in Your Smile

mona lisaScientists have discovered the secret behind Mona Lisa’s enigmatic smile. They say it has to do with which cells in the eye’s retina pick up the image. Depending on the light, the distance, the angle, etc., sometimes these cells communicate first to the brain, sometimes it’s others. Sometimes we see the smile, sometimes we don’t. I picked this up from the Telegraph. The first “related article” it lists along with the Mona Lisa piece is “Secrets of Flirting Revealed.”

The secret to flirting, at least in the laboratory, appears to be directness. Mysterious glances don’t get it. According to the scientists, the successful flirt just says, “I like you.” This is why scientists are called nerds.  It’s Leonardo’s intentions — and the secret intentions of his Mona Lisa — that can drive one wild. Nat King Cole gets it right.