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Whole Lotta Led

from The Verge
Artists' creative processes are always fascinating. Here, Led Zeppelin guitarist (extraordinaire) Jimmy Page, recording engineer George Chkiantz, and final-mix engineer Eddie Kramer tell the story behind the band's major hit Whole Lotta Love, including the theremin and a fortuitous accident (story, link to slideshow):
   Along with the deluxe version of their first three albums, the group has released a new video of WLL. Honey, you know you need it!:

Manhattanhenge (May 29)!

Neil DeGrasse Tyson
Twice a year in that magical place called Manhattan, the sun sets exactly along the cross streets of the city (story, video):
   More information about the phenomenon, from the incomparable Neil DeGrasse Tyson, who actually coined the term:

Just Because: 'The Future of the Mind' (Part 1)

I am currently reading Michio Kaku's The Future of the Mind, which I got as a birthday present (thank you, Nancy!). I'm not even a fifth of the way through it and will undoubtedly stumble upon many more fascinating passages (which is why I titled this post "Part 1"), but I did come upon one the other day that had me almost breathless with wonder. The author had been discussing the corpus callosum, which links the two sides of our brain, and patients whose corpus callosum was severed in an effort to mitigate their epileptic seizures. He was discussing the work in this area by Dr. Roger Sperry of the California Institute of Technology. The following excerpt is from pages 38-39:

   Dr. Sperry, after detailed studies of split-brain patients, finally concluded that there could be two distinct minds operating in a single brain. He wrote that each hemisphere is "indeed a conscious system in its own right, perceiving, thinking, remembering, reasoning, willing, and emoting, all at a characteristically human level, and ... both the left and right hemisphere may be conscious simultaneously in different, even in mutually conflicting, mental experiences that run along in parallel."
   When I interviewed Dr. Michael Gazzaniga of the University of California, Santa Barbara, an authority on split-brain patients, I asked him how experiments can be done to test this theory. There are a variety of ways to communicate separately to each

Sensoring Fashion

Suzanne Lee grows fabric from bacteria.                                        screen shot
Like every form of art, fashion design is alive with creators who gather their inspiration wherever they can find it. They are often the first to take advantage of new discoveries and inventions. In recent years, the lightning speed in which technology has been evolving has gotten many designers thinking about the intersection of man and machine and the natural world around us. (video):

Places of Poverty, of Potential

Mississippi's Golden Triangle
The interactive maps that accompany this story are a follow-up to the author's earlier article (which you can find by scrolling to the bottom of his story) spotlighting an up-and-coming area in Mississippi called the Golden Triangle, but they can be made to show the entire country or specific areas of it. There are few surprises about which regions weigh in at below or above the national median household income or in how that correlates with the areas' African-American population ~ which, in turn (and interestingly but, again, not surprisingly), correlates with antebellum slave-holding. Another map shows the areas that are predicted to gain or lose population (if this piece isn't the one you see when you click on the link, scroll down):

The Art of Verbal War

There's conversation, there's discussion, there's debate, and then there's argument. We all know the frustration of trying to convince someone of the validity of our point of view while that person is trying equally hard to convince us we're wrong. According to a study, there is one particular thing you can do to boost your chances of gaining the upper hand in that kind of exchange ~ and what's more, it makes perfect sense:

As the Tongue Trips

English is a funny language. I remember repeating that to my son many times when he was little and trying to make sense of it. Sometimes ~ quite often, actually ~ it just doesn't make sense, and that's all that can be said for it. This is for anyone who doubts the veracity of that statement (with thanks to Tanya, who thought this poem had my name written all over it!):

Geeks, Weirdos, and Dweebs, Oh, My

Didn't you always wonder where these words came from? Here to enlighten us, this bit from

The word "geek" is thought to come from the German word geck which refers to a fool. The modern definition of "geek" typically is a slang term for a person who is socially awkward or has excessive interest in technology. From the 18th century through the early 20th century, however, "geek" was a term that referred to performers in circus acts. For example, traveling circuses in Austro-Hungary would use the word "geek" in

Many Wars Ago

Hard to believe World War I started 100 years ago, but there you have it. It was the beginning of "modern warfare" in so many ways. from
Today's selection -- from A World Undone: The Story of the Great War 1914 to 1918 by G.J. Meyer. World leaders in 1914 did not understand how powerful their armies had become and how much destruction they would cause. In the centuries before the 1800s, world population had grown at a snail's pace. But between 1870 and the beginning of the first World War, the population of Europe had increased by 100,000,000, more than the total world population before 1650, the result of a technological revolution that improved life spans. But this technological revolution also produced unprecedented weaponry, and thus World War I unleashed destruction that would kill 8.5 million and wound in excess of 20 million more, many times the casualties of all the Napoleonic wars combined. As the war started, a young and naive Winston Churchill, then First Lord of the Admiralty, could not contain his excitement:
"Russia's general mobilization ... called up the Russian reserves -- a staggering total of four million men, enough to frighten any nation on earth. ...

"This was war on a truly new scale; the army with which Wellington defeated Napoleon at Waterloo had totaled sixty thousand men. ...

"The Germans ... hauled into Belgium ... two new kinds of monster artillery: 305 Skoda siege mortars ... plus an almost unimaginably huge 420 howitzer ... produced by Germany's Krupp steelworks, [that] weighed seventy-five tons and had to be transported by rail in five sections and set in concrete before going into action.

Austro-Hungarian 30.5 cm siege mortar/howitzer being towed by a motor tractor, together with its complete crew

"Among the holders of high office, one man at least did not share the sense of glum foreboding: the ebullient ... young Winston Churchill ... he wrote to Prime Minister Asquith's wife ... 'I love this war. I know it's smashing and shattering the lives of thousands every moment, and yet -- I can't help it -- I enjoy every second of it.' "

Arial view of the Douaumont French military cemetery, which contains remains of French and German soldiers who died during the Battle of Verdun in 1916

A World Undone: The Story of the Great War, 1914 to 1918
Author: G.J. Meyer
Publisher: Delacorte Press a division of Random House
Copyright 2006 by G.J. Meyer
Pages 74, 77, 127, 133

In the Beginning

one writer and his notebook         KW
Author Lawrence Norfolk, winner of the Somerset Maugham Award and the Budapest Festival Prize for Literature, shares his notebook process and the importance of journals in a writer's creative life. They are, he says, "an act of triage on the world outside":

thisismypassword (notreally)

This is the second time in as many months that a friend has emailed to let me know my account has been hacked. So, once again, I changed my password. That was three days ago, and I've already forgotten the new one ... and the old one. I hit the "I can't remember my password" button more than the "shift" key these days, or at least that's how it feels. So when I saw this story on how to remember passwords, with a sidebar on the best passwords, I hit that button immediately (story, video):

The Antagonizing Amendment

More states are moving to allow "open carry" of guns, which is putting some companies in the uncomfortable position of having to choose whom to offend ( In light of this new round (pun intended) in the gun debate, here's an informative quiz on the Second Amendment:
   And while we're on the subject, this came in from

About 37% of US households had a gun in early 2013, one study found. Nearly one-fourth of the adults who were surveyed reported that they personally owned a gun, and about 13% claimed it was owned by another person in the household. The US has the highest number of owned guns and the highest per-capita rate of gun ownership in the world. In

And Every Tear's a Waterfall

onion tears                    Rose-Lynn Fisher, Craig Krull Gallery
All tears, apparently, are not created equal, as proved in these black-and-white photographs by Rose-Lynn Fisher. "I started this project ... during a period of copious tears," she explains, "amid lots of change and loss ~ so I had a surplus of raw material." She had used microscopes before, to highlight the details of honeybees, and wondered what a dried tear would look like. "Eventually, I started wondering ~ would a tear of grief look any different than a tear of joy? And how would they compare to, say, an onion tear?":

The Trouble With Trees

Białowieża, the last large primeval forest in Europe                                    KW
So what is the trouble with trees? Well, no union, for one thing. And maybe we're cutting down too many for the remaining ones to be able to clean up all the pollution we continue to pump into the air. The solution, according to some, seems to be artificial replacements for the real thing. Admittedly, some are rather ingenious:

A Drop in the Bucket Would Be Good

Back in 2011, I posted the opening paragraphs of John Steinbeck's Grapes of Wrath, about the Oklahoma Dust Bowl of the 1930s and its effects on the people ( I also posted a link to a truly well-done short documentary comparing the troubles of the Midwest and our middle class to those of the Joad family and their fellow itinerants in that amazing, iconic novel ( The related story, "In Steinbeck's Footsteps: America's Middle-Class Underclass" is equally compelling (story, videos):
   The comparison remains apt, for as some parts of the country are literally under water, others are desiccating under layers of the same dust Steinbeck wrote about. (Reader comments at the end of the story are fascinating and eye-opening):

Hard Drive

a particularly harrowing intersection, at Wilshire and Veteran Los Angeles Times
In China, it's Beijing; in Mexico, Mexico City. In the United States, it's Los Angeles that is the face of traffic jams and torturous daily commutes. Those who try to find detours around the packed freeways (an ironic term if ever there was one) inch along surface streets beside fellow drivers trying the same thing. Traffic's effects on physical and mental health, lost work hours and, therefore, lost income are legendary. In L.A., an underground traffic-flow control system seems to be having a positive effect. The city started installing this Automated Traffic Surveillance and Control system, or ATSAC, more than 30 years ago. It now controls 4,398 traffic lights:

In a Word

Brendan McCartan
If you had to choose a word or phrase that encapsulated your era, what would it be? One lexicographer (and, it must be noted, he's British, so some of his thoughts don't quite translate on our side of  the pond but are interesting nonetheless) shares his choices, from "outasite" to "diss" to "one sandwich short of a picnic":

Some Like it Small

Delta Shelter, Washington, Olson Kundig Architects
A fascinating slideshow of architects' smaller creations ~ houses, huts, hotels, and sculptures that delight and inspire:

The Language of Morality

An interesting study finds that when people who speak more than one language are presented with a moral dilemma, their solution depends on the language in which the problem is presented:

Talking the Talk

Of course English is the primary, the unifying language spoken in the United States. The second most-spoken language has to be Spanish. But after that? Well, it depends on the state, and here's a map that lays it all out. You know what they say, a picture is worth a thousand words:

Natalie Matthews-Ramo

   And then there are the dialects, like, for example, Pittsburghese. They can sometimes sound like a foreign language:

It May Be the FODMAPs

There's celiac disease, and then there's the scientist whose experiment introduced us to a condition called non-celiac gluten sensitivity. Peter Gibson is a professor of gastroenterology at Monash University and director of the GI Unit at The Alfred Hospital in Melbourne, and after his now-famous 2011 experiment, he conducted another. This one found that it may not be gluten that some people are sensitive to, but some or all of the ingredients grouped under the acronym FODMAP:

How To Make a Market

big enough for ya?
The power of words and images to persuade and even change behavior is undeniable. Appeal to people's competitive streak and anything's possible. Witness the De Beers engagement-ring strategy of the mid-1900s and its results: Before the 1930s, very few even wore engagement rings. Ten years later, only about 10% of such rings contained diamonds. By the end of the 1900s, 80% did and, for some, the bigger the better:

India Speaks

India' general election process began on April 7 and is now nearing its end. It takes a long time for 814 million people to get their votes in, even when it's all done electronically. Who are all these voters, and what are their concerns? (video):
   It looks to be an amazing landslide victory for one Narendra Modi, who has called it "a landmark" and "people power on the basis of which India's future will be written." It is definitely a huge message that voters are tired of politicians and politics as usual. Who is this man who has attracted such enthusiastic support? Hint: His younger brother's memories of him are not the greatest endorsement (video): and (video of Modi speaking):
   The view from the streets, writes a reporter who spent five weeks in Delhi, speaks to Modi's ability to transform himself moment by moment, becoming every one's everyman:

Free Birds

excerpt of illustration by Bill Reynolds
Here's a very entertaining website that'll help you learn to recognize birds and their calls (thanks, Tyra!):

Let There Be Lightt

screen shot from website
Thanks to an email I get from Netted By the Webbys, I can now introduce you to a free app called Lightt that lets you record and play with your short videos in all sorts of interesting ways, including grouping them to make one longer one. I tried it out before writing this, just to be sure, and the only annoyance I've found so far is that you really can't add any music you want from your library ~ I kept getting a "Please select a song that is available locally on your device and not copy-protected" message, which I know isn't Lightt's fault, but it's disappointing nonetheless. (They do have a selection of "free music" one can use instead) (website):

It Happened One Night

first Best Actor winner Emil Jannings
The very first Academy Awards ceremony was held 85 years ago, on May 16, 1929. Tickets cost $5, and the event, held in the Blossom Room of the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, was attended by 270 people ~ a rather modest turnout by today's standards. Here is a brief history of the tradition:

Taking Flight

tinamou in the spotlight                   Patrick Coin
After almost 200 years, evolutionary scientists think ~ no, they're pretty sure ~ they've solved the mystery of the flightless birds. The key was a bird most of us have never heard of, the tinamou:

A Bright Idea

Just in time for summer ~ and, actually, anytime ~ the non-profit Environmental Working Group has come out with its checklist of things to look for and those to avoid when choosing sunscreen, sunglasses, and other accoutrements of the season:

The Occasional Grammarian

Irregular Verb Edition

For those who (yes, really, people are "who," objects are "that") care about such things but may not have learned them (or learned them wrong) in school, I introduce the concept of the irregular verb. I've been hearing more and more people, when speaking in the conditional perfect tense, say, using the past tense of verbs that are irregular, in other words, verbs whose past participle is different from their past tense. For example, "I could have went" instead of "I could have gone," or "She would have came" instead of "She would have come."
   Regular verbs are those whose past participle is the same as its past tense, which is made by adding -ed ~ "play-played," for example, or "open-opened." An irregular verb's past and past participles, by contrast, are different, as in "begin-began-begun" and "speak-spoke-spoken."
   Here is a great chart explaining verb tenses:
   And here is a simple chart of the past and past participle forms of common regular and irregular verbs:

East, West Sow Different

An interesting theory proposes that some cultural differences ~ in this particular case, emphasis on individuality vs. focus on community ~ can be explained by the kinds of staples historically planted ~ in this particular case, wheat vs. rice:

Bons Voyages

Summer is almost upon us, and that means it's time (if you haven't already) to start thinking about vacations and maybe even traveling. Of course, life is a journey, too, and these tips for happy traveling apply equally well to just happy living in general. Easier for some than for others to follow but definitely worth the effort for all:

Body of Rhythm

"I went to a seminar on the importance of sleep," the joke goes, "but I don't know what was said because I slept through it." We've all heard the statistics about how much time (aka money) is lost, not to mention accidents caused, by our lack of sleep. We seem obsessed by the topic (,,,,, but not, it seems, enough to really do anything about it, and this is a huge mistake, say scientists.
   "We are the supremely arrogant species," declares University of Oxford professor Russell Foster. "We feel we can abandon four billion years of evolution and ignore the fact that we have evolved under a light-dark cycle": (story, link to great interactive body-rhythm information and early-bird-vs-night-owl quiz):

Ceci Est Une Pipeline

The Keystone XL Pipeline. I have to admit to being sick to death of hearing about it, and I imagine I'm not the only one. Pro, con, pro, con. The results of a recent poll encapsulate the contradictory feelings of the populace. While 65% of Americans want it, 47% say it will pose a risk to the environment. Why are so many in favor? Despite a State Department report estimating that, after the first two years, only 50 permanent jobs will have been created, those in favor overwhelmingly believe it will have significant economic benefits:
   The basic details have gotten lost in all the noise. It's all about a proposed expansion of an already existing line, which currently runs from Alberta, Canada, to Oklahoma. The "XL" part would add two new lines, one from Oklahoma to the Gulf Coast of Texas and the other from Alberta to Kansas via Montana and North Dakota:
   Who actually owns these oil sands fields?:

Updates in Momology

Motherhood 1928, by Diego Rivera
Moms rule. I know this because I am one. There are some things I didn't know, however, like these 10 interesting things science has learned this year about motherhood. While these discoveries come too late for me (and, unfortunately, my progeny), they may come just at the right time for others:

The Birth of Mother's Day

Like so many holidays, Mother's Day has evolved considerably in both meaning and celebration from its first appearance 100 years ago:

What Earthquake?

Applied Technology Council/National Geophysical Data Center
Strategically drilled holes in the ground could dissipate an earthquake's shock waves, say scientists studying the procedure, and so protect specific buildings and installations (like power plants) and even entire cities:

The Intelligence Gene?

Like so many notable discoveries, this one was made during a search for something related but different. Its ramifications ~ and not just but perhaps most frighteningly the political ones ~ could be huge. Researchers seem to have found a genetic component to cognitive ability, and it's called KL-VS (the protein produced is called klotho):

Brief History of the Universe

screen shot
Illustris is a computer model ~ the most accurate and detailed one to date, according to scientists ~ of 13 billion years of our universe, including both regular and dark matter and 41,000 elliptical and spiral galaxies. The music accompanying the video is a bit theatrical, a bit 2001: A Space Odyssey-ish (and btw,, as are the written notes on the screen, which I guess is all in an effort to interest us non-scientists (I will try to not feel patronized!) (story, video):

Three Stars and an Apple

The Apple-Samsung (which means "three stars" in Korean) copyright infringement war has been going on for three years and has cost more than a billion dollars. It has been fought in South Korea, the United States, England, and Germany, and one day (I predict), it will be a movie. The latest episode included 52 hours of testimony, 4 hours of closing arguments ~ and a mixed verdict ( What is the story here, and if the smoke ever clears, will there be a winner?:

Exploding the Coding

Scientists have created a living organism that contains two synthetic letters on its DNA code in addition to the usual A, C, G, and T:

Ticket To Ride

May 10 is National Train Day (, so all hail the most romantic way to travel. While one of my most memorable train rides began when a friend and I managed to jump onto a caboose with a door that wouldn't close, I wouldn't turn down a luxuriously appointed private rail car, either. I actually had no idea such things still existed in this country ~ and, just so you know, they can be chartered (slideshow):

A Flash Drive for the World

Keepod's first "mission" is in Nairobi, Kenya.                          from
While efforts to make the Internet more universally available have focused on building cheaper computers, two socially conscious entrepreneurs are going about it in a slightly different way. They have come up with the Keepod (Israeli for "hedgehog"), a $7 USB stick that comes with a desktop version of Google's Android 4.4 operating system and remembers its owner's passwords, settings, and the websites visited. They're testing them at a school in Nairobi (story, video):

Fine Feathered Friend

screen shot

OK, this short video clip might not be a particularly "interesting" thing (depending on one's definition of the word), but it is sweet and charming and heart-warming. Personally, I can't seem to get enough of it!:

For the Glove of Music

James Duncan Davidson
Music artist Imogen Heap's wireless glove uses sensors, gyroscopes, and more to translate the wearer's movements into music. It's also WiFi-connected and can connect to most music software (story, video):
   Heap explains and demonstrates how it all works (video):

Cross and Crescent 2014

May 8 is World Red Cross and Red Crescent Day ( This year, the day has particular significance, as the Red Cross is celebrating its 150th year:

The Metal Asparagus at 125

The iconic (or, as a group called "The Committee of Three Hundred" labeled it at the time, "useless and monstrous") Eiffel Tower opened to the public on May 6, 125 years ago. Here are a few fun facts worth strutting around about:

Pants on Fire

Inventor Joe Larson demonstrates the polygraph machine. Pictorial Parade/Getty Images
The truth is, we all lie ~ kind of a lot. It could be something as innocuous as "Your ochra pie was delicious" or as injurious as "I am not a crook." "Deception is a very complex human behavior," says Victoria Rubin, assistant professor of information and media studies at the University of Western Ontario, "and in spite of years of pondering over how to spot a lie, we humans are not very good at this task":

Long Train Runnin'

Nicholas II in the imperial train from
Writer Sara Wheeler shares lessons gleaned during two years of train rides through Russia. Sociology: "I had learned to bring contributions to what inevitably turns into a communal meal, especially when travelling in third-class platskartny, the open-plan dormitory cars that lie somewhere between a boarding school and a refugee camp." Geography: "As we trundled east out of St. Petersburg, the marshes merged into the silvery waters of Lake Ladoga ... . At Shlisselburg a bridge carried the train over the Neva, the mighty river that drains over 100,000 square miles, including much of south-east Finland." History: "Tsar Nicholas II signed his abdication papers in a panelled compartment of the imperial train as it idled in the sidings at Pskov. Tolstoy died at the lonely Astapovo transfer station in 1910." And literature: "... in the most famous scene in Russian literature, Anna Karenina flings aside her red handbag and sinks to welcome oblivion under the wheels of a train":

Number 1 in Brazil

What do you get when you cross One Thousand and One Nights with a teacher in Rio de Janeiro, magic squares, and a camel's ear? Well, you get 1932's O Homem que Calculava (The Man Who Counted), one of the most popular books in Brazil, and its author, Ali Iezid Izz-Edim ibn Salim Hank Malba Tahan, aka just plain Malba Tahan, who was really Julio Cesar de Mello e Souza. Duh!:

Just Because: 'The Dormouse and the Doctor'

from wikipedia
The other day, I saw some delphiniums at the nursery, and of course they reminded me of one of my favorite poems. It's by Alan Alexander Milne (1882-1956) ~ aka A.A. Milne, of Winnie-the-Pooh fame. It was an entry in his book of poems (most of them equally lovely) When We Were Very Young, published in 1924. It is in that book that we are first introduced to the famous Mr. Edward Bear.

The Dormouse and the Doctor
There once was a Dormouse who lived in a bed
Of delphiniums (blue) and geraniums (red),
And all the day long he'd a wonderful view
Of geraniums (red) and delphiniums (blue).

A Doctor came hurrying round, and he said:
"Tut-tut, I am sorry to find you in bed.
Just Say 'Ninety-nine' while I look at your chest ...
Don't you find that chrysanthemums answer the best?"

The Dormouse looked round at the view and replied
(When he'd said "Ninety-nine") that he'd tried and he'd tried,
And much the most answering things that he knew
Were geraniums (red) and delphiniums (blue).

The Doctor stood frowning and shaking his head,
And he took up his shiny silk hat as he said:

A Better Brew

A few years ago, I embarked on a personal mission to find the coffee-brewing method that would work best for me (if it turned out to also work for my spouse, so much the better). At the time, we had the usual black plastic coffeemaker, and the requirement that topped my list was No Plastic. Coffee flavor was probably second to that. Long story short (too late for that?), I tried the stovetop percolator (kept burning it because I had no way of knowing when it was done), the porcelain coffee cone (inherited from my mom and used at work, where it was just right for the single cup), the french press (OK, though the coffee always ended up pretty sludgy and I never could find one without plastic), and, finally, the one I've stuck with all these years, the beautifully designed, no-plastic-anywhere, makes-great-coffee Chemex. I was gratified to see that it made No. 1 on the Huffington Post's list, too:
   All hail Peter J. Schlumbohm, Ph.D.:

May Days

Welcome to May and May Day, Mother's Day, el cinco de mayo, and Memorial Day, to mention a few of the more well-known celebrations of the month. But wait! There's more! Now that you know, you can be part of the festivities taking place on Free Comic Book Day, National Train Day, and my personal favorite, Towel Day, among others:

Write It Down

FEAST online bookstore
A new study finds, not surprisingly, that we retain information better when we write it down on paper than when we type it on a keyboard:
   The idea behind this is nothing new. Where many schools and parents have started putting much less of an emphasis on handwriting (see, for example, this 2009 article ~ which, btw, includes a nice history of writing ~, and certainly on cursive, some contrarians have insisted that the physical act of writing engages the brain in a way that simple tapping at keys does not. What's more, they add, the process of learning cursive creates important neural pathways and helps with