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The Leaning Towers of Santos

the Santos skyline                                                            Paulo Amaral/Flickr
The Leaning Tower of Pisa's got nothing on these apartment buildings in Santos, Brazil. Their foundations, built before building codes required them to reach bedrock, are 4 to 5 meters (13 to 16 feet) deep. Bedrock in the area is about 50 meters (164 feet) down. The result is that the buildings started settling, and now they lean from .5 meters (1.5 feet) to 1.8 meters (almost 6 feet). Makes drinking your morning cup of coffee rather challenging (story, photos):

Ancient Illness

Examination of mummies from Egypt, Peru, Alaska, and the U.S. Southwest seems to show that we humans have always been plagued by arterial plaque, and therefore heart disease. In addition, while cancer wasn't nearly as prevalent as it is now, scientists have found evidence of tumors in some ancient mummies. So the question is, Why? Those people didn't have fast food, dairy, processed sugar, the stress of modern life. What they did have, however, was a lifestyle that increased their chances of inflammation:

Books for Hope

Susi Eckelmann (left), me, and Jennifer Friendly                          La Shawn Hye
As a Book Giver for World Book Night (see "Share the Love (of Reading)," Dec. 2012, and "A Bookish Reception," April 2013), I received 20 copies of one of my favorites, Norton Juster's The Phantom Tollbooth and knew immediately where I wanted to donate them, if they were willing ~ the Project Hope School, in Orange (Southern California).
   Three years ago, I had gone there with my own little school as a community service. Our children read to the younger kids, and then we all walked to the lovely park across the parking lot and played games and ran relay races. As it was the day before St. Patrick's Day, there were lots of sparkly green options for prizes, and everyone had a great time.
   So, that in mind, I called and spoke with Project Hope Alliance Administrative Assistant Susi Eckelmann. Yes, they were very interested! They are starting a new project, a library on wheels, and they need books. Perfect timing.
   The place has changed a lot. The Alliance office, next door to the school, has grown and now looks quite professional ~ cubicles! ~ but the people in it are still open, friendly, and cheerful. The new executive director, Jennifer Friend, has an amazing life story of her own, in which she has returned to her roots, so to speak, in order to help the children whose issues she understands so well:

A History-Changing Moment

the computer on which the first website was published CERN
On April 30, 1993, the Switzerland-based international physics organization CERN announced that it was sharing the worldwide web with the world. To mark the occasion, it is restoring the first-ever web URL, created by the web's developer, Sir Tim Berners-Lee, who was also the one who came up with the idea of giving it to the rest of us for free.
   CERN's head of communications, James Gillies, was a researcher there at the time. He looks back on the importance of the legal document that made the web publicly available. "Without it," he says, "you would have had web-like things, but they would have belonged to Microsoft or Apple or Vodafone or whoever else. You would not have a single open standard for everyone."
   As for the first website, Gillies says, "You might have thought that the first browser would be very primitive but it was not. It had graphical capabilities. You could edit into it straightaway. It was an amazing thing. It was a very sophisticated thing":

Web Celebs

the creators project,, Hello Again: Beck 360°, Tumblr, The New Yorker, mental_floss, Hunger Games: Capitol Tour, The Roper, TED, Hashtag Killer, The Onion, Dropbox ... These are a few of this year's winners of either the Webby Award or the Webby People's Voice Award. Here's the full list, plus the top nominees in each category:

The British Are Different From You and Me

Sure, they talk funny and drive on the wrong side of the street, but did you know they also use a two-handed form of sign language? It's called Fingerspelling, and recently, deaf Brits took part in a contest called Hot Fingers to see who could spell the alphabet quickest (story and video):

The Curious Ledger of F. Scott Fitzgerald

No doubt set to coincide with the upcoming release of the new Great Gatsby movie, the University of South Carolina has put the book's author's ledger online for all to see. In it, the inimitable F. Scott Fitzgerald notes not only his income and expenses and those of his wife, Zelda (see "Just Because: 'Zelda: A Biography,' " Nov. 2012, and "Beautiful and Damned," March 2013), but his thoughts, diary-style:

Just Say No

Knowing how many calories are in a cup of ice cream is one thing, but finding out how much exercise you'd have to do to work off the calories consumed is quite another. It also, according to one study, can help people eat less and make healthier choices about what they do eat:

Are There Down Pillows?

one view of the accommodations                  Bill Bezuk

Looking for a place to board your chicken when you go on vacation? I thought so, and if you live anywhere near Eugene, Oregon, you're in (c)luck:

RIP, Herschel

Herschel, we barely knew thee ~ but we did enjoy all the beautiful pictures you sent us back from space (story, slideshow):

Check Out Those Guns

The Christian Science Monitor has an excellent interactive graphic comparing gun ownership, homicide, and other related rates around the world. Many Americans will be proud to know that we are, by a long shot, Number 1 in ownership, with 88,800 guns per 100,000 people. The good/better news is that, with all that weaponry around, we're only Number 9 in gun deaths per 100,000 people ~ behind (in this order) Jamaica, Honduras, Guatemala, Swaziland, Colombia, Brazil, Panama, and Mexico. What a bragging point:

Too Rich? Too Thin? Try Too Handsome!

Apparently, in Saudi Arabia at least, it is possible to be too good-looking. According to recent reports, the kingdom recently ejected three UAE men on that very charge. One seems to be a self-described photographer/actor/poet (and, I would add, after seeing a few pictures, possible major egoist) named Omar Borkan Al Gala, but you can judge for yourself (story and videos):

Dim Sum and Then Some

There is a man in Los Angeles, a lawyer and accountant by trade, whose avocation is trying out Chinese restaurants. As of the writing of the linked article, that would be 6,297 ~ and they're all documented on an Excel spreadsheet, as one would expect from a man in his vocation:,0,6902048.htmlstory#readmore

A King at Last

On April 30, after more than a century as a matriarchy (since 1890), the Netherlands will welcome a king to the throne, as Queen Beatrix abdicates in favor of her son, Crown Prince Willem-Alexander:,0,645088.story
   A profile of the man:


And they're off! info on the P2P website                           screen shot
 "A cycling city is a civilized city," says an unnamed individual in this video about P2P, a 4,083-mile bike ride being undertaken by a team of British riders from Portland, Oregon, to Portland Place in London. Along the way, they will be studying how cities are dealing with cyclists, given the growing interest in bicycling in the urban environment (story and video):
   The P2P website, where you can track their progress. The ride began April 25 and is scheduled to end July 13:

Der Führer's Food

For two and a half years, Margot Woelk, now 95, was a food taster for Adolf Hitler, one of 15 young women who ate a bit of his meals an hour before he did to ensure that he was not poisoned. It was a part of her life she tried to forget and managed, for a long time, to keep secret. "The food was delicious," she remembers, "only the best vegetables—asparagus, bell peppers, everything you can imagine. And always with a side of rice or pasta. But this constant fear—we knew of all those poisoning rumors and could never enjoy the food. Every day we feared it was going to be our last meal" (story and video):


The following excerpts from the book Disorder in the Court: Great Fractured Moments in Courtroom History, by Charles M. Sevilla, have been floating around on the Internet for a while now. They are things that were actually said in court, as transcribed by court reporters. A friend just posted them on Facebook again, and even though I've read them before, I still find them highly amusing, so, for those who haven't seen them and those who have but can still appreciate:

Attorney: What gear were you in at the moment of impact?
Witness: Gucci sweats and Reeboks.

Attorney: Now, Doctor, isn't it true that when a person dies in his sleep, he doesn't know about it until the next morning?
Witness: Did you actually pass the bar exam?

Attorney: This myasthenia gravis, does it affect your memory at all?
Witness: Yes.
Attorney: And in what ways does it affect your memory?
Witness: I forget.
Attorney: You forget? Can you give us an example of something you forgot?


No matter what your political persuasion, unless you're totally blinded by an opposing ideology, you have to admit that our president has a most impressive, totally genuine sense of humor. It was on full display at the White House correspondents' dinner on April 27. And here, for your edification, is his full speech, with links to those of others, too (video):

The Hair They Wear

a happy competitor                                                                              screen shot
Well, it was that time again on April 27 ~ time for the Annual Beard and Mustache Championships in Germany. There were more than 100 competitors and 18 categories (video):
   Of course, this is by far not the only facial-hair contest in the world, or even the best-known. Here in the States, for example, get ready for the 4th Annual Southeastern Beard & Moustache Championships (note the different spellings of the word for hair that sprouts mainly from the upper lip). Here, the categories include "sideburns, goatee, donegal (amish), partial beard freestyle, moustache (natural & styled), college beard, junior full beard, full beard freestyle, ladies artificial (beard & stache), gray beard (salty dog) & full beard (over a foot/under a foot)":
   And, be proud: We in the United States are actually represented by a Beard Team (how official it is, is up for grabs):

Zoo York (and Boston, Too)

The caption that came with this picture: "She asked me if I knew about real estate. When I said, 'A little,' she grabbed her crotch and said: 'Is this a lot?' "

One of the best sites on the web: impromptu shots taken on the street ~ but the best part is the quotes beneath them (don't know what's up with all the commas, though) (photos, photos, photos):

Pirating Science

As he follows the trail blazed by our first ancestors (see "Out of Africa," Jan. 2013), journalist Paul Salopek is uncovering local stories with worldwide repercussions, like this one about an unexpected side effect of Somali piracy ~ blocked from access to certain areas, anthropologists and other scientists are unable to proceed with their work and are forced to rely on old data:

Hotter Than You Thought

The recent finding that the Earth's core is much hotter than previously thought goes a long way toward explaining the how and why of our planet's magnetic field. How the researchers figured this out is interesting as well (story and slideshow):

A Close-Up of Long Ago and Far Away

"Life of an East End Parson," 1940                              Bret Hardy/Getty Images
I hadn't heard the name "Bert Hardy" until I saw this collection of his work, currently on exhibit in a London gallery. What a talented man. In these black & white photographs of mid- and post-war UK, he focuses his camera equally on every stratum of life, from the street urchin in London's East End to Princess Elizabeth in Westminster Abbey, giving each dignity and importance (slideshow):

Feel the Phone

Kriyate, a startup based in India, is coming out with a Braille-enabled smartphone next year (story and video):

Abandoned Beauty

Holland Island, Chesapeake Bay                                                   baldeaglebluff
Funny how some places look better with a little bit of ivy creeping up their sides, a few broken windows, grass growing through the cracks, and cobwebs in their corners ~ in other words, when nature takes over. Some of these pictures have shown up in other slideshows I've posted, but most haven't (slideshow):


"I think that really was the beginning of deconstruction." Debbie Harry's photo
The always avant-garde Debbie Harry (of Blondie fame) puts some of her favorite looks in context (slideshow):
   This seems like as good a time as any to watch an old Blondie video, no? "Heart of Glass" (and check out what she's wearing ~ droolicious):
   And, for comparison's sake, a more recent version, live:

Pinnnk Moooon, You Saw Me Standing Alone

April 25 will see a pink moon and partial lunar eclipse. Well, April 25 will see it, and those who live in Europe, Africa, and most of Asia will see it, but those of us in North America won't really notice anything different, except online (story and videos):

It's the Sun's Turn

screen shot
We've seen lots of breathtaking photos and video of Earth taken from space. Here's a video of three years in the life of our sun, condensed into three minutes. It's beautiful and fascinating. But the real mind-blow, I found, is the image at the end of the story, which you can enlarge and then enlarge again to see details amazingly clearly (story, video, awesome enlargeable photograph):

Old School

Well, it's happened again. I walked into a furniture and home accessories store looking for a sofa and chairs (we have none in the living room just now) and walked out with two of the old books I found decorating a display. One is First Year Science, by William H. Snyder, Sc.D., principal of The Hollywood High School, Los Angeles, copyright 1914. I'd like to share the first few paragraphs from the preface and some excerpts from later pages that I found particularly interesting:


    First Year Science deals with the earth and the sun in their relations to man. This treatment has three advantages: it gives the book unity; it gives practical interest; and it offers all the earth science needed to meet such requirements as those of the College Entrance Examination Board.
   This book is meant for immature students. For this reason the language is simple, not

Come Fly With V

NASA is sharing cosmic ray data from Voyagers I and II via a gauge, so we can watch as/when the spacecraft enter interstellar space. Voyager I is close, having already entered the so-called magnetic highway, the farthest layer of the heliosphere (see "The Final Frontier," Dec. 2012):

Take Two Aspirin ...

In the 1980s, an Australian study found that people taking aspirin regularly were less likely to get colorectal cancer. The common painkiller has also been shown to protect from some other kinds of cancer. Now, researchers at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Kansas City, Missouri, and the University of Kansas Medical Center have released the results of a study that seems to show that aspirin can slow the development of certain kinds of breast cancer as well:

Cold Cells


Though most vertebrates do have red blood cells, there is one known exception: the antarctic icefish. It's the only known vertebrate that lacks both red blood cells and hemoglobin, the protein that allows iron to attach to red blood cells. Though this should make circulation easier for them since their blood is so thin, they also have abnormally large blood vessels and more blood vessels than other fish, so they have to use about 22% of their energy just for pumping blood.

More about icefish and blood in vertebrates:
  • Fish that live in cold water generally have fewer red blood cells and less hemoglobin than those who live in warm water, and some fish that live in

We Are Star Dust

The ubiquitous Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson on where the elements came from and how they got into our bodies (video):

The Man Who Would Be Shakespeare

On the day that might be William Shakespeare's birthday (and, equally, might not be), there are still those who doubt 449 years later. The authors of a new book hope to silence them once and for all:

Looking Back

Algerian woman in French "regroupment village"                      Marc Garanger
In 1960, French photographer Marc Garanger, a draftee in Algeria, was ordered to take identity-card pictures of the women who had been taken to so-called regroupment villages after their home villages had been razed. “They would be unveiled. In a period of ten days, I made two thousand portraits, two hundred a day," he remembers. "The women had no choice in the matter. Their only way of protesting was through their look” (story and slideshow):|around#1

The Inspector's Tale

the Cargill beef-processing plant, Nebraska                                 © Ted Conover
While the actual story is available to subscribers only, Harper's Magazine does offer this synopsis of journalist Ted Conover's piece on his six weeks as a USDA meat inspector. Frankly, although I found it interesting and I'm glad he wrote it ~ given the new "ag-gag" laws many states are enacting, this might be the last time we'll get a glimpse inside a processing plant ~ I'm not sure I could get through any more description of what goes on in those abattoirs:
   Accompanying the feature article is an introduction of sorts by Conover that explains how and why he decided to become a meat inspector:

Universal Happy Birthday

April 27 is a rather important date, at least it is according to Johannes Kepler (yes, he for whom the telescope is named). For it was on this date in 4977 BCE, he decided, that the universe began:

The Way We Were/Are

 The events examined in this report are unprecedented in U.S. history. In the course of the nation's many previous conflicts, there is little doubt that some U.S. personnel committed brutal attacks against captives, as have armies and governments throughout history.
   But there is no evidence there ever before had been the kind of considered and detailed discussions that occurred after September 11, directly involving a president and his top advisers on the wisdom, propriety and legality of inflicting pain and torment on some detainees in our custody.
~ The Report of the Constitution Project's Task Force on Detainee Treatment: 
   Buried beneath coverage of the manhunt for the Boston bomber and, to a lesser extent, news of the deadly explosion at a Texas fertilizer factory (that, apparently, had so many safety violations ~ and had last been inspected in 1985 ~ that the only surprise is that this tragedy hadn't happened sooner) was the release of a 577-page report by the nonpartisan Constitution Project on our post-9/11 treatment of detainees. The result of two years of independent investigation, it "is the examination of the treatment of suspected terrorists that official Washington has been reluctant to conduct," according to the introduction (story and video):
   A timeline of the Iraq War:

We Eat What We Can ...

... and what we can't, we can. (Think about it!) The history of the ubiquitous tin can ~ it's much more interesting than you might think, starting with the controversy over whether it is a French or a British invention:

Clouds Over St. Pancras

flying above a Los Angeles Metro station         photo by me

London's Cloud: Meteoros   from

                                        We in Los Angeles look up to see people floating high above us in one of our Metro stations. Now, in London's St. Pancras train station, there's a new, temporary installation high above travelers' heads. In it, people cavort and stare down at passers-by from two large clouds:

Tattoo U
And while we're on the subject of little things (see "A Little Light Reading," below), here's a cute collection of tiny tattoos. Kinda makes you want to run out and get one, doesn't it? (photographs):

Peaceful Pachyderms

screen shot
Wildlife Conservation Society trap cameras gather footage of elephants leading their lives in the wilds of Cambodia ~ and, as well they should, the children play on (video):

A Little Light Reading

Joshua Bright for the New York Times
A lawyer in a previous life, where, one assumes, he got used to fine print, Neale Albert is a collector of miniature books (including one that just may be the smallest book in the world) and has served twice as president of the Miniature Book Society, founded in 1983. He owns more than 4,000 such tomes, and some are worth several thousand dollars. Of being a collector of small things (because diminutive books aren't his only passion), he says matter-of-factly, “You either are or you aren’t”:

2,000 Years of Climate

More than 80 scientists from 24 countries analyzed data from tree rings, ice cores, historical documents, and other sources to create a chronological picture of Earth's climate over the last 2,000 years. Among other things, they concluded that our planet has not seen the likes of the current warming trend for 1,400 years and that the Medieval warming period was probably not a global phenomenon:

Bathroom Noises

Well, I do believe I've heard it all (pun intended). But here's a free app that will help you keep others from hearing it all while you're doing your business in the bathroom. It's the Akatu Fake Shower, and it simulates the sound of either shower or running faucet at the noise level of your choice ~ and tells you how much water you're saving by using it versus the actual thing:


the sands of Erg Chech, Algeria                                           NASA/USGS/Flickr
NASA has put together a beautiful collection of photographs of Earth taken by satellites. Because these satellites can measure light beyond the range that we can see, the images show us sights in a way we would never be able to see first-hand. The collection is in a free downloadable ebook (website):

Through Orwell's Eyes

"In the Lenin Barracks in Barcelona, the day before I joined the militia, I saw an Italian militiaman standing in front of the officers' table." So begins George Orwell's Homage to Catalonia, a personal account of the Spanish Civil War. On the 75th anniversary of its publication, journalist Nigel Richardson follows the author's footsteps through Barcelona:
   You can read Homage to Catalonia online, for free, at

Cutting Across History

There is a 350-year-old company in China. It saw the Ming Dynasty's demise, the Chinese Revolution, the seizure of private property by the government, decades of state control, and now, the re-privatization of companies. Through it all, it has turned out its humble but very practical product ~ scissors ~ and tried to live by the motto of its founder, Zhang Jiasi: "Good steel and excellent workmanship" (story and videos):

The Indian Raja

drawing room, Bashir Bagh Palace, 1888                                   Raja Deendayal
Water Palace, Deeg, 1884                                                           Raja Deendayal
Go ahead ~ be a looky-loo. It's history, after all. Fascinating photographs of 18th-century India, taken by Indian photographer Raja Deendayal, who was appointed court photographer to the royal family of Hyderabad (slideshow):

Zoya Nails Earth Day

You would think that offering vegan polishes that are free of the "Big 5" toxins, like formaldehyde, would be enough of a good thing for one company to do. But nOOooo! Zoya is also conducing a nail-polish exchange for Earth Day. It runs from April 19 to 26. Here's the deal: choose at least six polishes from their website and get them for half price (plus S+H). When they arrive, send in an equal number of non-Zoya ones you're sick of or that have gone gunky. Plus, they'll dispose of them in an environmentally friendly manner (you don't have to do that part, but why the heck not?). Such a deal!:

Earth Day 2013

The first "official" Earth Day was celebrated 43 years ago (see "Earth Day 1970," April 2012). Back then, it was pretty local and all about raising people's consciousness. These days, almost everyone has heard of it, whether he/she celebrates it or not. There has been so much positive movement since then, but as we all know, a lot of the not-so-positive, too. This year, the theme is "The Face of Climate Change" (event site with video, history):

'City of Darkness'

the City in the late 20th century                          © Greg Girard and Ian Lambot
a City alley                       Wikipedia

The Kowloon Walled City, in Hong Kong, was demolished 20 years ago this month. It had begun as a garrison during the Sung Dynasty of 960-1297, and its story since then is both unbelievable and fascinating. It grew in size and population until, for most of the 1900s, it was the most densely populated area in the world:

A Bookish Reception

the cupcakes!                                   photos by me
the real books, ready and waiting
A couple of nights ago, I went by the library to pick up the books I'll be giving out to deserving (non- or light-reading) souls on World Book Night, April 23 (see "Share the Love (of Reading)," Dec. 2012). Robert Graves, the Public Services and Programming Librarian, had set up a really wonderful ~ and delicious ~ reception for us book givers, complete with cupcakes decorated with miniature books on top. What could be a better introduction to the event, except maybe meeting and exchanging ideas with other volunteer giver-outers, which also happened:

Nature in Time

screen shot
It's a vimeo Staff Pick and for good reason. This peaceful, gorgeous video by Henry Jun Wah Lee shows the magnificent, ever-changing beauty of nature through the seasons, through time:


More meteor showers are on the horizon! Specifically, the Lyrids, which we in the Northern Hemisphere will be able to see best just before dawn on Monday, April 22. They will continue through April 25:

Hold Me

In what just about every parent would call the "Duhhh Department," Kumi Kuroda of Japan’s Riken Brain Science Institute has found that infants like to be carried. And this goes not just for human infants, but for mice ~ and probably others ~ as well. By measuring physiological signs, Kuroda discovered that being carried, and the bouncing motion that goes along with it, lulls babies into a kind of trance (story and video):

The Road to Boston

Russian soldiers in Grozny, Chechnya, February 2000               Dmitry Beliakov
Was it political ideology, a new-found religious fervor, personal alienation, or something totally different that spurred two brothers originally from Chechnya to, as authorities contend, set off two bombs at the end of the Boston Marathon? (Many to whom I've talked say, Who cares? They're bastards and should rot in hell. Even people who are usually quite lucid seem to have taken this tack, but that's another story.) Either way, the Chechen diaspora and its complicated, self-contradictory present certainly make for fascinating reading ~ and speculation:
   Beautiful in their raw portrayal of a world turned upside down by war and occupation, these photographs are of several neighboring countries, including Chechnya (slideshow):

The Tell-Tale Heart

Adrian Raine, a criminologist at the University of Pennsylvania, studies the criminal brain and other factors that can push some in the direction of violence and/or criminal acts. In his book The Anatomy of Violence, he points to the physical anomalies, such as a very low resting heart rate (the Unabomber's is 54, lower than the usual 60 to 100 beats per minute) or small prefrontal cortex, that his years of research have shown him are indicators of the potential for violence. The implications of his findings are huge: "Treating the physical causes will work more quickly and effectively," Raine argues, "than repairing the complicated social factors that also contribute to criminal behaviour":

Good for Us

We have helpful evaluations of our food products that, if they are to be believed, impartially assess whether our apples are indeed organic or our coffee fair trade. There is a nonprofit called B Lab that, if it is to be believed (what a cynical child of 21st-century America I have become!), grades companies on the basis of how much good they're doing for the world. The companies that meet the standards become members of what the Lab calls the Certified B Corps:

The Pause That Refreshes

Now, this is why I love mental floss ~ a story about something that I only ever noticed subconsciously but that, now that they brought it up, I realize is actually ... ummm ... interesting:

All Airstream All the Time

the Bambi, circa 1960                       Museum of Modern Art/New York Times
Who doesn't love those cute, silver, rounded little Airstream trailers of the '30s? Like most things, they're gotten bigger and fancier over time. The evolution continues, with the latest Land Yacht due out soon, complete with interior designed by Mauro Micheli, who designs the interiors of multimillion-dollar yachts (story and slideshow):
   Anna Nordberg, a senior editor at Sunset, and her husband, Man Skills, chose an Airstream for their first camper trip, 300 miles up California's central coast ~ and shares tips she learned along the way:
   The May issue of Sunset magazine has a list of examples of one of the newest kind of hotel fads, "Airstream hotels." It's not available on their website yet (at least, I couldn't find it), but they include the Santa Barbara Auto Camp, in Santa Barbara, California (where else!); The Shady Dell, in Bisbee, Arizona; the Metro Hotel, in Petaluma, California; the Shooting Star Drive-In Resort, in Escalante, Utah; Hicksville Trailer Palace, in Joshua Tree, California; and Living Airstream, in Denver, Colorado.
   To see how Airstreams are made, check out this video:

Baby Animal First Aid

Putney Design
It's spring, and that means birth, rebirth, growth, and regrowth. Here's a guide to what to do if you find a baby animal that looks as if it might be alone and/or distressed:

Follow the Money

Redrawing state boundaries in line with how our dollar bills travel (story, slideshow):
   I think the most interesting thing I learned here is not so much how our money travels (though that is interesting ~ I mean, it was the first thing that caught my attention), but that the guy who has logged the most dollar bills on, which tracks U.S. and Canadian money, has a company that does something called metallic cartridge reloading. I did not know (nor, not being a guns-n-ammo person, did I think) that bullet cartridges can be refilled and reused. Gee, how sustainable and environment-friendly, though I'm sure that's not why people do it.

Springtime in Europe's Last Virginal Forest

checking the map before venturing into the forest photo by me
A few years ago, I was lucky enough to be able to visit Spain and Poland with my son. It was probably the most perfect vacation I've ever had. One of the places my son really wanted to visit in Poland was the Białowieża forest, on the Eastern border. We took a train there and stayed in a guest house called Darz Bór. It was magical and unforgettable, as was the entire trip. While there, we spent one day biking through the countryside and another biking through the forest ~ the last virginal forest in Europe (video):

Get Out of Town!

With the help of NASA's Kepler space telescope, scientists have found two planets they believe could be habitable by humans:

Just Because: 'Perfume: The Story of a Murderer'

The subject of my last post, just below this one, reminded me of a book I heard read on the radio eons and eons ago. It is so excruciatingly well written, so evocative, so creepy, so utterly genius that I have not to this day forgotten it. Only I had never learned its title. This is the kind of thing that Google was made for! Turns out it was written by a German writer, Patrick Süskind, and translated ~ and, according to Wikipedia, Nirvana's Kurt Cobain said it was one of his favorite novels and it inspired their song "Scentless Apprentice."
   So, you see the title above, and here are the first few paragraphs, followed by a link to a New York Times review (btw, "grenouille," in French, means "frog') (this is, as I said, both creepy and very evocative ~ consider yourself warned):

Part One


   In eighteenth-century France there lived a man who was one of the most gifted and abominable personages in an era that knew no lack of gifted and abominable personages. His story will be told here. His name was Jean-Baptiste Grenouille, and if his name—in contrast to the names of other gifted abominations, de Sade's, for instance, of Saint-Just's, Fouché's, Bonaparte's, etc.—has been forgotten today, it is certainly not because Grenouille fell short of those more famous blackguards when it came to arrogance, misanthropy, immorality, or, more succinctly, to wickedness, but because his gifts and his sole ambition were restricted to a domain that leaves no traces in history: to the fleeting realm of scent.
   In the period of which we speak, there reigned in the cities a stench barely conceivable to us modern men and women. The streets stank of manure, the courtyards

A Novel Scent

from the wise geeks at

There are many unusual perfume scents, including lobster, Stilton cheese, Play-Doh®, fireplace, pink lemonade, and even old books. The last one is created by mixing scent compounds found in trees, the resins used to bind books, and ink. Most oddly scented perfumes can be created because of the fragrance synthesis — a development achieved in the mid-20th Century, which allows perfumers to create a wide range of scents very cheaply.

More about perfumes:
  • Classically, perfumes were made with fragrances from seven families: single floral, floral bouquet, amber, woody, leather, chypre, and fougere. After fragrance synthesis developed, an additional six families were added: bright

Pet Adoption L.A. May 3-5

Neville and Edward: ever hopeful in the kitchen                                         KW
All my pets (not counting one dog, fish, amphibians, and reptiles ~ oh, and the kittens-now-cats born to our rescue cat) have been rescues. That includes a kitten we rescued ourselves from the bottom of a hollow pillar in front of a house in Palm Desert (long story!) and, come to think of it, the first dog I ever had, who crawled out from under a house my parents were thinking of buying up in Sonoma County. Granted, some have had their share of emotional "issues" (and don't we all?), but it's never been anything we couldn't handle. And the warm feeling that comes from knowing we've saved them from a horrible life and/or equally horrible death is totally worth it, as is the loving bond that we have and have had with each of them.
   All this is to point out that NKLA (No-Kill L.A.) is holding its Pet Super Adoption Weekend at the La Brea Tar Pits soon:

Birds Do it, Bees Do it

Researchers at the University of Michigan have found that animals not previously thought to do so, like butterflies and ants, use plants for medication ~ and not just for themselves, but to protect their offspring. A certain kind of ant, for example, uses resin to prevent the growth of microbes in its colony:

Vitamin Music

The Vitamin String Quartet. I mean, if you haven't heard them, do yourself a favor. Here's their cover of Coldplay's "Yellow":
   Here they are on Michael Jackson's "Smooth Criminal":
   ... and on Guns 'n Roses' "Sweet Child o' Mine":
   ... and Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody":
   OK, I'll stop now!
   Actually, no ~ Adele's "Rolling in the Deep":

Good Garden Guide

Afristar Foundation
To see the poster ~ and, actually, a lot of other good ones ~ go to , but you'll have to email to find out about foreign shipping.

Green Is for Girls

India has had some bad press recently, and most probably deservedly so, regarding its attitude toward women and the very real repercussions thereof. But, like the clouds with silver linings, India has its shining moments as well. Take, for example, the village of Piplantri. Every time a female child is born, the villagers plant 111 trees and help the parents raise a certain amount of money that is deposited into an interest-bearing account for her. Nor do they stop there:
   Here's something interesting I learned from this story, aside from the above ~ Did you know that aloe vera kills and repels termites? This is from

"In addition to planting beneficial plants, you can use parts of various plants as

A Bigger Picture

Matt Davies
This says it all, doesn't it?

For Boston

The Illuminator/Lucky Tran
In solidarity with all those who are touched by the Boston explosions, either because they were there, because they know someone who was, or because they feel the pain, no matter where they are (story and photos):
   And a story about a 78-year-old runner who was knocked down by the blast ~ and got up and finished the race (story, video, slideshow):

The Smell of Wetsuit in the Morning

the "Ride of the Valkyries" scene
When Francis Ford Coppola shot the classic war movie Apocalypse Now, using a tiny village in the Philippines as a stand-in for Vietnam, little did he imagine that he would bring a new sport to the area ~ surfing:
   My parents were the victims of war ~ World War II ~ and I inherited my mother's deep dislike of war movies. For some reason, though, I did see Apocalypse Now. It is, IMHO, one of the best movies ever made. One of the most ingenious things about it is how it is based on Joseph Conrad's amazing novel Heart of Darkness (one of the best books ever written) but set in a different time and different place that makes equal sense. For more and a link to where you can read the novel gratis, see


The website myActions was started by a group of high school students as a place where people can share news of the steps they have taken to help others and the planet. These are posted, à la Facebook, for others to see. Donors, including nonprofits, issue challenges and donate to various causes when those challenges are met. As National Park Week is April 20-28 (, the current challenge benefits our great park system:

Love's Labor Lost

Here's a look at a bit of history from a different angle. A poem written, it seems (though the identity of the poet is, rather ironically, lost), by one of the workers who built the Titanic, is here accompanied by historical photos. What must these men have felt when it went down? (video):

'An Amazing Thing To Do'

"Most of the bikes we donate go to a place called Rajasthan and Bihar." screen shot
After seeing the poverty in India first-hand at the age of 12, Thomas Hircock, now 16, began raising money to send bicycles to some of the poorest of the children there ~ "Untouchables" ~ with the goal of empowering them (video):

Beautiful Details in Kansas

the author, child in tow                                                               Nathan Ward
Sometimes it's a small as a western painted turtle, sometimes as expansive as the 64-square-mile Cheyenne Bottoms basin, stopover for 45 to 90 percent of North America's shorebirds and home to about 100 bird species. Or as spiritually fulfilling as an organic farm tended by the Dominican Sisters of Peace. The 77-mile-long Wetlands and Wildlife National Scenic Byway unfolds its majesty for a bicycling family:

Swift in the Subway

Price and Knowles                                                                          screen shot
Where do I send my dollar? Taylor Swift might have known that Harry Styles was trouble, but anyone who watches this video of Boston's Subway Violinists playing her song knows that Rhett Price and Josh Knowles are mega-talented (story and video):

Hep Cats and Cool Kittens

fashion of the forties                  Nina Leen—Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images
An engaging collection of photographs of a group of teenage girls in the mid-1940s. At the time it was published, LIFE magazine's introduction stated, "There is a time in the life of every American girl when the most important thing in the world is to be one of a crowd of other girls and to act and speak and dress exactly as they do. This is the teen age." It seems that some things never change (story and slideshow):|moreon#1

Just Because: 'John Adams'

When this book first came out, I started to read it aloud to my son and husband at dinner (the only time I could get us all in one room!) so we could enjoy it together. As it is well over 600 pages long, this was rather ambitious, and we never came close to finishing. Still, I have not forgotten how well-written it is, and I look forward to one day reading it cover-to-cover. Here are the first few paragraphs of John Adams, by David McCullough:

Chapter One

You cannot be, I know, nor do I wish to see you, an inactive spectator. ... We have too many high sounding words, and too few actions that correspond with them.
~ Abigail Adams


In the cold, nearly colorless light of a New England winter, two men on horseback traveled the coast road below Boston, heading north. A foot or more of snow covered the landscape, the remnants of a Christmas storm that had blanketed Massachusetts from one end of the province to the other. Beneath the snow, after weeks of severe cold, the ground was frozen solid to a depth of two feet. Packed ice in the road, ruts as

Time Will Tell

"My invention easily fits into the size of a personal computer case and can predict details of the next 5 to 8 years of the life of its users." So says Ali Razeghi, a 27-year-old scientist and inventor in Iran. He calls it The Aryayek Time Traveling Machine and has registered it with Iran's Centre for Strategic Inventions. Strategic, indeed: Razeghi goes on to say, "Naturally a government that can see five years into the future would be able to prepare itself for challenges that might destabilise it":

A Significant Day

April 15, aka Tax Day. The mere mention of the date sends shivers up the spine! You might be interested to know, then, that it's quite possible that it could equally well be called Freebie Day: and
   Historically, April 15 is also a significant date for many other reasons. For example, it's the day President Abraham Lincoln died (1865), the day the Titanic sank (1912), and the day Jackie Robinson broke baseball's color barrier (1947):

A Violin Grows in Switzerland

Lorenzo Pellegrini knows the Risoud Forest. He has been tending it for half a century. He knows precisely which trees will make the perfect violin, and he knows when, precisely, to chop them down, because there is a science to that as well. And then it is Jean-Michel Capt's turn:

Picturing You, a Stranger

Heather Dewey-Hagborg, who calls herself an information artist, uses the DNA from stray hairs, fingernail clippings, or other human detritus she finds in public places to fashion 3D portraits of people who are unknown to her (story and video):

History in the Breaking

Ghazni's old fortress         Hedayatullah Hamim/BBC
The old Afghan city of Ghazni mirrors the fate of so many historical sites that are crumbling due to war, neglect, and the changing vagaries of local authorities. As a current stronghold of the Taliban, Ghazni is off limits to Westerners, but at least we can look at pictures and hope that it will survive this phase of the country's history (slideshow):

One Writer's Legacy

self-portrait  Eudora Welty/Corbis

In honor of Miss Eudora Alice Welty's birthday (April 13, 1909), a lovely interview that shines as much light on her and her thought processes as anything can, given her fierce protection of her privacy:

This Is Your Medicine Speaking

I did a double-take to make sure this wasn't posted on April Fool's Day, but, no, it wasn't. It seems that there's now a pill that will alert you (or whomever) when it has been swallowed. It's meant, according to this article, to help caregivers know whether their patients are taking their medicine:


Ericsson Globe's Skyview, Sweden

And you thought elevators were just boring little enclosed boxes, maybe with a window or two if you were lucky, that travel slowly up and down. Silly you (slideshow):

Religion 101: Jesuits

We were told, when the new pope was designated, that he is something called a Jesuit, and apparently, that was important, because he was the first to be elected to head the Church. But what is a Jesuit, exactly?:

Forget Me Do

In this day of computers with memories that last forever and can be called up with a click, a growing number of humans is beginning to believe that we have the inalienable right to be forgotten:

Around the World ... in China

Hallstatt in Guangdong Province   Alex Hofford/Sinopix/Rex
This story has been around for a while, but I'll go with the assumption that I'm not the only one who hasn't seen it (until now). Among the many things the Chinese have replicated, most electronic and for sale to the West, are entire buildings and, beyond that, practically entire cities with their monuments. The Big Apples is there, as is the City of Lights, and an Austrian mountain hamlet:

Tianjin   Tom Carter/Blacksmith Books
Tom Carter/Blacksmith Books
And here's a story ~ with many beautiful accompanying pictures ~ of a photographer who spent two years backpacking China, crossing all 33 of its provinces: