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The Chronicle
OK, I'll admit I'm posting this mostly because I am and have always been a huge Janis fan. Her version of "Summertime" curls my toes. And "Piece of My Heart," well ... come on! I dare anyone to listen to that without at least swaying, not to mention breaking out into a full-tilt boogie. The ostensible reason for this post is that she's getting a stamp of her own from the USPS, and it's pretty nice. I think she would have approved:

Going With the Flow UPDATED

©Hélène Binet
With her design for the Heydar Aliyev Center in Baku, Azerbaijan, Zaha Hadid became the first female to win the London Design Museum's Design of the Year award, and her building became the first architecture entry to win (   "In historical Islamic architecture, rows, grids, or sequences of columns flow to infinity like trees in a forest, establishing non-hierarchical space," the architect explains. "Continuous calligraphic and ornamental patterns flow from carpets to walls, walls to ceilings, ceilings to domes, establishing seamless relationships and blurring distinctions between architectural elements and the ground they inhabit. Our intention was to relate to that historical understanding of architecture, not through the use of mimicry or a limiting adherence to the iconography of the past, but rather by developing a firmly contemporary interpretation, reflecting a more nuanced understanding" (story, lots of pix):
UPDATE ~ Apparently, this building ~ and some other buildings by Hadid ~ have raised ethical concerns. Human Rights Watch and protesters in Baku point to forced evictions to make way for the Center, claiming that, in all, 250 homes had been razed. Hadid's company said the contractor on that project was internationally accredited:

Forward to the Past

Abu-Bakr, caliph from 632 to 634
ISIS/ISIL recently announced that it was re-establishing a caliphate and would henceforth go by the all-encompassing moniker Islamic State. The rest of us went scrambling for our now moldy middle-school history books, as we were sure that's where and when we last heard the term caliphate. Scrounge no longer. Don't you know by now that you can find everything on the Internet?:
   In the introduction to his 2013 book The Inevitable Caliphate?, Reza Pankhurst writes, "The apparent absence of the caliphate from public consciousness for several decades and its subsequent re-emergence as part of what may be perceived as a broad Islamic revival, as well as the opening of public space for political discussion in the Middle East, raises many interesting questions. These range from what the idea means to those who propagate it, how it is used in the counter-hegemonic discourses of the Islamic thinkers and groups engaged in a struggle to wrest power from entrenched regional ruling elites, and to what extent it is adopted as a symbol of reactionary rejection of modernity and Westernization rather than as a political alternative in its own right."

Just Because: 'Gone With the Wind'

Margaret Mitchell's novel about a Southern belle just before, during, and after the Civil War was published on June 30, 1936. Here's the back story, according to This Day in History:
   "In 1926, Mitchell was forced to quit her job as a reporter at the Atlanta Journal to recover from a series of physical injuries. With too much time on her hands, Mitchell soon grew restless. Working on a Remington typewriter, a gift from her second husband, John R. Marsh, in their cramped one-bedroom apartment, Mitchell began telling the story of an Atlanta belle named Pansy O'Hara.
   "In tracing Pansy's tumultuous life from the antebellum South through the Civil War and into the Reconstruction era, Mitchell drew on the tales she had heard from her parents and other relatives, as well as from Confederate war veterans she had met as a young girl. While she was extremely secretive about her work, Mitchell eventually gave the manuscript to Harold Latham, an editor from New York's MacMillan Publishing. Latham encouraged Mitchell to complete the novel, with one important change: the heroine's name. Mitchell agreed to change it to Scarlett, now one of the most memorable names in the history of literature."


 Scarlett O'Hara was not beautiful, but men seldom realized it when caught by her charm as the Tarleton twins were. In her face were too sharply blended the delicate features of her mother, a Coast aristocrat of French descent, and the heavy ones of her florid Irish father. But it was an arresting face, pointed of chin, square of jaw. Her eyes

The Kids Are Alright

Ralph Samuelson, inventor of waterskiing
Every once in a while ~ well, amazingly often, actually ~ we hear about someone under the age of 20 coming up with a brilliant invention. The latest is the young Andrew Pelham, who came up with a simple, inexpensive way of reminding drivers that there is a child in the back seat, the hope-for result being that fewer infants will be left to die in hot cars (story, video: From earmuffs to waterskiing to the calculator, here are eight more things invented by whippersnappers (slideshow):

Into the Wild

Antoine Bruy

From 2010 to 2013, a French photographer named Antoine Bruy traveled through the European countryside and took pictures of the people he met along the way who have chosen to live outside society ~ or who were born to those who made that choice (story, photographs, link to artist's website):

Serpents in Love

screen shot
Once a year, in the Narcisse Snake Dens of Manitoba, Canada, the garter snakes come out to mate. The trouble, as far as the masses of males are concerned, is that there are relatively few females around. On the other hand, there are lots of humans crowding the boardwalks above them, eager to watch the largest gathering of snakes in the world (story, video):

Is It Déjà War All Over Again?

Tom Bachtell/The New Yorker
On the 100th anniversary of the beginning of World War I (you may remember it as "the Great War," "the war to end all wars," or "the war to end war"), there are those who find the state of things now to be eerily reminiscent of the state of things leading up to that crisis. The question these days seems to be whether the fuse will be lit in the Middle East or in Asia:
   There are those who find such speculation not only wrong but downright dangerous:
   And then, there are those who contend that, in many ways, what we are witnessing now is but a continuation of that long-ago conflict:

Ah, Yes, I Remember It Well

Doing a little research on my post headlines, I saw that I had forgotten that I had used the same headline on remembering twice before (, and so had used it a third time ( ~ all very interesting articles, btw). Clearly, I can use the advice in this excerpt, courtesy of

Today's encore selection -- from Moonwalking With Einstein by Joshua Foer. The individuals with the most prodigious memories, those that win the United States and World Memory Championships, use a technique called the "method of loci" or "memory palace." Since the human brain is highly adept at remembering spaces and images, they simply visualize a house or palace, and visually place each item on a path through the house -- using a highly unusual and memorable visual association for each item. Then, to remember, they simply take a mental "walk" through the house on that same path and "see" each item they need to remember. It turns out that this "memory palace" technique was used by the greats of antiquity during times when -- because of the absence of the printing press and the internet -- memory was a much more highly honored ability:

"Virtually all the nitty-gritty details we have about classical memory training ... were first described in a short, anonymously authored Latin rhetoric textbook called the Rhetorica ad Herennium, written some­time between 86 and 82 B.C. ... The techniques introduced in the Ad Herennium were widely prac­ticed in the ancient world. In fact, in his own writings on the art of memory, Cicero says that the techniques are so well known that he felt he didn't need to waste ink describing them in detail. ... Once upon a time, ... memory train­ing was considered a centerpiece of classical education in the language arts, on par with grammar, logic, and rhetoric. Students were taught not

Puffins With Breakfast

screen shot
Now, here's a happy way to start the day ~ watching and waiting for a baby puffin to be born! (Word to the wise: Turn down your sound; it's pretty loud over there.) And if you get tired of waiting (sometimes, the mom's just sleeping, as is her right), there are always the Loafing Ledge and Boulder Berm to explore (live-streaming):

Electric Bug Bite

Just in time for summer, the great outdoors, and its inevitable natural annoyances (I did not know this, did you?), from

A common battery could be a cure for bug bites from insects that inject venom, and it has been found that placing a 9-volt battery onto a wet spider, bee, wasp or ant bite stops the pain in some cases. Research has shown that an electric current, such as from a common battery, has the ability to deactivate the venom, or toxic substance, released by snakes and certain insects. Wetting the bug bite might make the battery

The Joy of 6.28

Unbeknownst to many, June 28 is a very important date on the calendar. Aside from being my wedding anniversary!, it is Tau Day. What is Tau Day? You might well ask, and the answer is that it's Pi Day's unfairly ignored stepsibling, according to its main booster, theoretical physicist and all-around geek Michael Hartl ( Hartl and other Tau supporters contend that using a circle's radius instead of its diameter, as Pi does, is much more natural, and therefore the obvious choice:

The Good We Do

The Good Country Index put together by independent policy adviser Simon Anholt ranks countries by how much they help others in each of seven categories. Happily, the United States does not figure in the bottom 10 (the last-place slot is reserved for Libya). It does show up once in the top 10, in the "Health and Well-Being" category (maybe thanks to Warren Buffet and Bill Gates?). Can you guess which country is No. 1?:

Nuclear Numbers

What actually happens when inspectors go into a country to verify the existence or nonexistence of nuclear weapons? They can't examine the warheads themselves, so how can they know for sure? A new method involves what's known in mathematics as a zero-knowledge proof, basically a way of testing weapons without learning what's in them:

Breaking Ad

House of Cards: "Is that a PS Vita?"                                             screen shot
Remember the Reese's Pieces in E.T.? Or the FedEx boxes (and everything else) in Cast Away? Product placement ~ aka "native advertising" ~ is nothing new, but the extent to which it's being used these days is. On television alone, the $8.25 billion companies spent in 2012 to get their products placed in shows just may double in the next few years. And, of course, companies are cropping up to help the process along, including using CGI to insert audience-specific logos and products after filming (story, video):
   It seems that no companies were lining up to get placed in the first few episodes of Breaking Bad, but that all changed as the show's viewership soared:

The Name Game (Militant Edition)

Iraqis fleeing the fighting between the army and ISIS     Azad Lashkari/Reuters
Direct translations are often difficult, as we're seeing with the militant/terrorist group that is currently claiming top spot in the news these days. Are they ISIS or ISIL? What's the difference? And what is "the Levant," anyway?:

Cycling in the City

Emiliano Granado
We all know that Portland is the country's most bike-friendly city ( (well, some people say it's Minneapolis) and that New York is coming up fast (, but L.A. is trying, it really is! This article on bicycling put out by AAA in Southern California includes information and resources for those of us in the Los Angeles area, including bike sharing, repair shops, and how to join a bike train:
   A recent study conducted in Denver seems to show that more bikes equal a safer city. Well, duh!:
   In a related story, L.A.'s troublesome "preferential parking" zones, explained:

Change Is Good (Maybe)

Sharyn Hedrick
Really, who knows what all the effects of climate change will be? One thing triggers another, which triggers another, and some of it can be predicted on the basis of past and current reactions, and some of it simply can't. One scientist thinks he's found a possible positive effect. The melting glaciers, he says, are releasing iron into the ocean, which may, under the right circumstances, feed phytoplankton. The phytoplankton, in turn, trap carbon dioxide:
   Check this out if you want to learn (or re-learn!) more about phytoplankton:

Shandy in the Shade

Everyone's on the lookout for new cocktails, beers, and wines, and the search most recently has involved mixing types, like adding wine or beer to cocktails. Another popular mixture, particularly in these hot summer months, is beer with a citrus-based drink, like lemonade ~ in other words, a shandy or radler*:
   (An interesting sidelight regarding this article is that, a couple of paragraphs after the assertion that "... beer-blended drinks ... have long been summertime mainstays across Europe" comes this quote, from a beer company founder: "We're American. We take any tradition we want and mess with it." Like the tradition of taking others' innovations and claiming we created them first?)
   *The difference between a shandy and a radler:
   Why buy when you can make?:

Suffer Little Children

Building 267, Naval Base Ventura County, CA                        AP/NBC San Diego
It boggles the mind and stretches credulity. Thousands ~ tens of thousands ~ of Central American children, some as young as 4 or 5, are spending their days and nights in temporary detention facilities in Arizona, Texas, Oklahoma, and California. They are fleeing growing violence, increasingly directed toward minors, and poverty in their home countries. Some are trying to join a parent who is already here, legally or not. They have endured a journey we would never choose to undertake even as adults, hiking toward an unknown future. And the disconcerting thing about this is that it's not a new phenomenon. Here are the basics:
   "How we treat the children, in particular, is a reflection of our laws and our values," said Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson. It sure is. So, how are we dealing with this crisis (or, rather, what is the PC spin on the plan of action)?:
   Words notwithstanding, here's a report on what actually seems to be happening (story, video):

On a Wing and a Flair

Slovak became a speed-boat racer.
Some pretty amazing stories came out of the Cold War, mostly about people who managed in one way or another to get out of an Iron Curtain country. This is one of those stories. Miroslav Slovak (1929-2014) was an airman in Soviet Czechoslovakia. He was eventually assigned to the state airline, and that was how he got out and defected to the West: He and two friends hijacked his passenger plane. My favorite quote was about how he realized, when flying that night, that he was over West Germany. It was when he saw neon lights below. "Everyone was trying to sell," he said. "It was a free country":

The Piano Player's Brain

Musicians are different from you and me. (Well, maybe not so different from me, as I played the piano from the age of 5 until high school, so I don't know, does that count?) Thanks to brain scans, science can now prove just how different (story, videos ~ and you have to watch the one of Yuja Wang playing Rimsky-Korsakov's Flight of the Bumble-Bee):

Just Because: 'The Future of the Mind,' Part 3

There are things about the way a scientist looks at lab animals (including humans) and discoveries that I find truly frightening, and they're on full display in this book. Michio Kaku describes experiments with a wide-eyed emotional (and, I think, ethical) detachment and questionable future scenarios with an excited, happy dismissal of potential, probable negative ramifications. Yes, he does discuss ~ in passing (and, my guess is, at his editor's urging!) ~ the need for legislation and oversight, but in general, his attitude seems to be that scientists' role is to keep exploring no matter how and no matter where it takes us. In other words, damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead; it's up to others to control the results. Maybe that's the way innovators should look at things. If they let their work be curtailed by thoughts of conceivable injurious consequences, we would probably still be a wholly agrarian society. That said, I have to admit to moments of revulsion as I read Kaku's breathless, embracing visions and prognostications of a world leading up to the singularity.
   Between shudders, I am finding enjoyable, informative, and inspirational passages like the following, from pages 132-133:

   One might expect that Einstein's brain was far beyond an ordinary human's, that it must have been huge, perhaps with areas that were abnormally large. In fact, the opposite has been found (it is slightly smaller, not larger, than normal). Overall, Einstein's brain is quite ordinary. If a neurologist did not know that this was Einstein's brain, he probably would not give it a second thought.
   The only differences found in Einstein's brain were rather minor. A certain part of his brain, called the angular gyri, was larger than normal, with the inferior parietal regions of both hemispheres 15 percent wider than average. Notably, these parts of the brain are involved in abstract thought, in the manipulation of symbols such as writing and mathematics, and in visual-spatial processing. But his brain was still within the norm, so it is not clear whether the genius of Einstein lay in the organic structure of his brain or

Light Up the Night

Zsolt Andrasi

Sure, this happened back in December, and it'll probably happen next December, too, so really, the timing here is perfect ~ right in between. It's becoming a Christmas tradition in Budapest to decorate the streetcars with LED lights. Photographing them is becoming a tradition, too, for obvious reasons (lots of photos):

Of Course

By some circuitous, only partly random route, I ended up finding this website that offers free high school and college courses. I don't need any units at this point, but I watched a couple of the videos (one math, one history) just for fun ~ and it was:
   Here's a resource for more free online history courses:
   That said (or written), there is this article citing studies that seem to show that we learn better when reading text on paper than when reading off a screen:

The Life of a Goddess

making an offering to the goddess                                                  screen shot
"Going to festivals, that's the best part of being a goddess." So says Chanira Bajracharya, a former living goddess of Nepal. The goddess, or Kumari (which means "virgin"), believed to be the incarnation of the Hindu goddess Durga, is venerated by both Hindus and Buddhists in Nepal (video):
   One's astrological sign and several physical features, like eye color and voice, determine one's eligibility for goddess status. Girls are chosen in toddlerhood and remain until puberty. The ease of their reintegration into everyday life depends in large part on where they live. In some areas, Kumari are basically home-schooled, in others, not so much (lots of photos):

From the Archives: World Weight

Back in July of 2012, I shared the following and find it worth re-sharing for those who may not have seen it the first time:

Type in a few relevant stats and find out where you stand on the world's fat meter, based on UN and WHO data. I, for example, am "most like someone from Nepal" and learned that "If everyone in the world had the same BMI as [I], it would remove 44,439,383 tonnes from the total weight of the world's population":

High Class

Terminal 3                                                                                            Corbis
A few months ago, Skytrax gave out its World Airport Awards for 2014 ( Although Dubai International didn't make the top 10, it seems to be closing in fast. "They say that Dubai is Shanghai on steroids," says Tim Clark, the British president and CEO of Emirates Airlines. And the three Gulf airlines, Emirates, Etihad, and Qatar, are definitely making their mark with passengers. The how and why behind this rapid ascendancy is fascinating and highlights the shift in world focus and relevance we already see taking place (story, video):
   The author of Jet Set talks about a time when flying was a dressy affair and the food was actually good (video):

Creator of Worlds

Devlin's Chimerica set                                                        Johan Persson
Remember Miley Cyrus's dance down a model of her tongue? Es Devlin. The translucent, Rubik's Cube-ish box in Chimerica (left)? Es Devlin. The 2012 Olympic Closing Ceremony in London? Yeah. Es Devlin. "Every time I get a film or a commercial or any project," says film director Mike Figgis (One Night Stand, Cold Creek Manor), "the first person I call is Es. But unless you give her six months' notice you've no chance of getting in there." So who is this person, and how'd she get to be so creative?:


CGNet Swara
If you know someone who was part of a media-covered Occupy protest, as I do, you probably learned the disconcerting reality behind what may at one point just have been a nagging suspicion: The "news" is rarely completely accurate and needs to be taken with more than a grain of skepticism. Not too long ago, that reality was highlighted for me when I watched and read the coverage of an incident with which I was personally involved. The misstatements and fanciful embellishments ~ mostly, it seemed, in an effort to make a story more exciting ~ were almost laughable.
   In a part of India whose residents own, for the most part, only one piece of recent communications technology ~ a mobile phone ~ a journalist has created a news network driven by the people themselves. "If we want to live in a peaceful society," he says, "it is not enough for our elections to be democratic. We need for the media to be democratic as well, so that everybody, all of us, has a say in deciding what issues are going to be discussed, not just a few wealthy media proprietors and their chosen editors" (story, video):
   P.S., The journalist, Shubhranshu Choudhary, won Google's Digital Activism Award this year:
Shubhranshu Choudhary


CNBC has come out with its second "Disruptor 50" list ~ a roll call of the private companies it considers the most innovative and impactful of the 522 it analyzed. All but five are from the U.S., with, not surprisingly, SpaceX winning the top slot:

Better Know a Country

President Pierre Nkurunziza       AFP
How much do you know about Burundi? Yeah, I didn't, either, and I have to admit that what drew me to this story wasn't so much the chance to learn about another country as it was the idea that there is one out there where jogging is a crime. I wanted to know why, and I learned that and a lot more:
   For those who might want to learn a little more about this African nation of 8.7 million, one of the poorest in the world, here's a country profile:

Stadium Vanadium

from chem4kids
Named after the Norse goddess of beauty, it's a metal that, up until now, was used mostly to make steel stronger. But Vanadium has many qualities, and some of those may give it a new and important role in the alternative energy market:

Composing Ourselves

Darcie Naylor
In April-May, National Geographic's ongoing "Your Shot" section asked for self-portraits. More than 7,000 were submitted from all over the world (, and of those, 22 were highlighted by the two curators of this particular assignment. The shot at left is my favorite. Some include explanatory captions, others don't ~ and all say so much:
   In case you're interested, the current assignments are "The Animals We Love" and "After Midnight," and anyone can enter (in fact, a while back, I entered a photo ~ just something I'd taken with my phone, not planning on doing anything with it ~ and, in the course of looking around the website for this post, noticed that three people had added it to their favorites!). Here's how to enter:

Material Whirl

wool-aluminum, by Renate Vos
Reflective concrete, wood you can bend and shape, and metal bubble wrap ~ not to mention wool that's strong enough to be shaped into a chair ~ are some of the new, highly creative and exciting materials that were on display at this year's NeoCon show in Chicago. Odd name for a show that's, thankfully, not about politics, but there you have it:

Who Was Nokutela Dube?

In 1912, South Africa's black political leaders and tribal chiefs got together to form the ANC, the African National Congress. The person most associated with that founding is South African writer, educator, and politician John Dube. But Dube's wife, Nokutela, many say, was just as important to the birth of the movement, and a new documentary sets out to prove it. "Nokutela is the poster child for the marginalization of women in South African history," says the documentary's producer (story, video, link to audio version):

Iraq IS(IS) a Hard Place

U.S. boots on the ground, 2003                    Eric Feferberg/AFP/Getty Images
ISIS militants are moving toward Baghdad and the United States is moving some of its people out. Photos show mass executions. Iraq's former prime minister, Ayad Allawi, says his country is disintegrating. Iran may be getting involved. Now what? Some say we need to move more troops in. Others, that we must get out. Surprisingly, at least one prominent Republican advocates talking with Iran. It's difficult to make sense of it all, but a little (recent) history and a look at the current power map is a good beginning:
   "ISIS" stands for "Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant." The militant group, which is said to be brutal in the areas it controls, is led by one Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who was an al-Qaeda leader in Iraq:

Just Because: 'Naming of Parts'

Portrait of Henry Reed, by John Melville
Somehow, this poem, which I had not thought about since ... oh, probably eighth or ninth grade, came up at dinner today, so I looked it up. As with so many things, I appreciated it a lot more this time around. Its author, Henry Reed (1914-1986), was a British poet, playwright, translator, and journalist. He joined the Army in 1941 and wrote this, perhaps his most famous poem, in 1942.

Naming of Parts

Today we have naming of parts. Yesterday,
We had daily cleaning. And tomorrow morning,
We shall have what to do after firing. But today,
Today we have naming of parts. Japonica
Glistens like coral in all of the neighboring gardens,
And today we have naming of parts.

This is the lower sling swivel. And this
Is the upper sling swivel, whose use you will see,
When you are given your slings. And this is the piling swivel,
Which in your case you have not got. The branches
Hold in the gardens their silent, eloquent gestures,
Which in our case we have not got.

This is the safety-catch, which is always released
With an easy flick of the thumb. And please do not let me
See anyone using his finger. You can do it quite easy
If you have any strength in your thumb. The blossoms

Through the Lens of History

Fidel Castro and Abraham Lincoln

Albert Einstein chilling at the beach (dig those crazy sandals!), Archduke Ferdinand and his wife the day they were assassinated, Nagasaki 20 minutes after the bomb fell, the construction of the Statue of Liberty, the tearing down of the Berlin Wall, the Beatles meeting Muhammad Ali,  ~ here's a fascinating collection of photographs of some of the most historically significant people and events of the past 150 years:

One for the Road on Easy Street

yes, really!                                                                                from AARoads
There actually is a difference between a road and a street, though it's becoming less and less obvious (and the exit sign above might make the whole discussion academic and moot). Avenues, lanes, and boulevards are easier to distinguish. Maybe there's an Avenue Boulevard somewhere out there ... :

The Return of the Bunker

This isn't your grandparents' underground shelter.        Atlas Survival Shelters
The family that lived around the corner from us when I was young had an underground bomb shelter. It was in their front yard, and the entrance ~ a metal door surrounded by concrete and built into a little man-made hill ~ always made me wonder whether we should have one, too. It seemed like a good idea in the age of the Cold War, when the schools (in California, at least) interspersed earthquake drills with air raid and bomb drills (in an earthquake, stay away from the windows because the glass will shatter and fall straight down; in a bombing, huddle directly under the windows because a blast will blow the glass a few feet into the room, or so we were told). The Cold War is over (for the moment), but there are those who foresee many other threats just as disturbing, which brings us to Atlas Survival Shelters (whose motto is "Better Prepared Than Scared") and the companies that will invariably be following suit (video):

It Came From Within

hydrous ringwoodite                          Steve Jacobsen/Northwestern University
There have been many theories floated (pun intended) over the years about the source of Earth's water, probably the most prominent being that it came from comets that hit our planet. A new discovery of a huge water reservoir deep in Earth's mantle leads scientists to suggest that it seeped up from inside, instead:

Kicking a Word Around

The "F" stands for "football."
As the 2014 World Cup kicks off in Brazil (accompanied by the usual ~ and that is not to say meaningless ~ opprobrium), the question again rears its ugly head: Why do we call the game "soccer" when just about everyone else in the world calls it "football"?:
   The Onion graciously goes over the rules of the game for those who want to keep up (graphic):

Moving Mountains

Schmidt in front of his cabin      Historical Society of the Upper Mojave Desert
The Southern California desert is an otherworldly place full of interesting people ( and historic places (one of my favorites is Bodie: Here's a story that combines the two, about "Burro" Schmidt (1871-1954), a Rhode Island man who spent 32 (according to this story; Wikipedia says 38) years of his life digging a tunnel through Copper Mountain in the Mojave Desert. The tunnel and Schmidt's cabin remain and are open to visitors:

Get Out of Town

Alright, so it's another one of those "national holidays" we've never heard of before but that keep popping up these days. Like National Static Electricity Day (Jan. 9), National Absinthe Day (really! ~ March 5), Blasphemy Day (Sept. 30), and National Clean Out Your Refrigerator Day (Nov. 15). But this one actually comes with a perk. June 14 is National Get Outdoors Day, and that means that a lot of our national parks will be free and/or offering special activities and programs:

Just Because: 'The Future of the Mind,' Part 2

As I predicted in my earlier post about this book (, I have been finding many gems among its pages and would like to share another with you (my prediction, of course, being a perfect illustration of the following theory in action). This one comes from pages 113-114:

   ... neurobiologist Dr. James McGaugh of the University of California at Irvine says, "The purpose of memory is to predict the future," which raises an interesting possibility. Perhaps long-term memory evolved because it was useful for simulating the future. In other words, the fact that we can remember back into the distant past is due to the demands and advantages of simulating the future.
   Indeed, brain scans done by scientists at Washington University in St. Louis indicate that areas used to recall memories are the same as those involved in simulating the future. In particular, the link between the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex and the hippocampus lights up when a person is engaged in planning for the future and remembering the past. In some sense, the brain is trying to "recall the future," drawing

Walk This Way

the Kakum Canopy Walk, Ghana                                                      Felix Lipov
Summertime's here, and while the livin' may be easy, now is also the traditional time to get oneself out of the hammock (or cubicle or wherever you might be) and out and about. To that end, National Geographic's put together a list of 14 of the best hikes in the world. Yes, in the world:
   Not to be outdone, BBC News has its own list ~ of five not-to-be-missed destinations closer to home (if you live in the U.S.):

Mystery of the Mathematician From Madras

Srinivasa Ramanujan
How, in 1913, did a poor young man from southern India come up with algebraic equations that stumped the world's leading number theorist? And how was the source of his equations finally figured out 100 years later? ... And what is phi and what does it have to do with The Da Vinci Code?:

The Road to Release

Bergdahl was swapped for five Guantánamo prisoners, now in Qatar.
The negotiations that led to the controversial release of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl started three years ago, and in the beginning, it wasn't even about him. Taliban expert Michael Semple, of Harvard's Kennedy School of Government and Queen's University in Belfast, explains (story, link to audio version):

How To Be a Prisoner

Sam Zalutsky/Spiegel & Grau
Piper Kerman, who wrote the now-famous Orange Is the New Black about her experiences in the prison system, shares some of the lessons she learned, including how to make a cheesecake from borrowed and pilfered items (story, link to audio version, great video):
   "Truth is much stranger than fiction when it comes to the criminal justice system," Kerman says in this interview. That, of course, is hardly surprising. Much of what she says, while also hardly surprising, is nonetheless pretty fascinating:

Of Pigs, Plastics, and Progeny

In my travels around the country (most recently, the East Coast and the Midwest), I have been both disappointed and surprised by how many restaurants and hotels and the individuals working in them don't seem to either know or care about the health and environmental dangers of styrofoam. Yet another widely used material is now being found to be a probable danger to our health. In Spain, a definitive link has been found between infertility in pigs and chemical compounds in a plastic to which they are exposed ~ compounds that are in many materials that we use every day (story, link to interactive graphic on health dangers in the home):

The General's Letter

Eisenhower addressing the troops in England, June 6, 1944               U.S. Army
We wouldn't be commemorating D-Day so fervidly if it hadn't been a success, but back in the days leading up to the invasion, no one had the benefit of knowing how or whether it would work. Just in case it didn't, General Eisenhower penned a letter in which he took the blame for its failure:

A Woman in Time

Mary Soames, second from right, with her father, center, and family           AP
I've said it before and I'll say it again: You meet some of the most interesting people in the obits. Case in point, Winston and Clementine Churchill's youngest and last surviving child, Mary Soames, whom Prime Minister David Cameron called "an eyewitness to some of the most important moments in our recent history." She was also fascinating in her own right: She raised orphan lambs, enlisted during World War II without her father's knowledge and manned antiaircraft batteries, accompanied her father to summit meetings, wrote several well-received books about her family, and once spoke to 900 guerrillas in Rhodesia:

Flavor and Aroma Compounds

A quick little lesson on the chemical changes that take place in your oven when you're baking cookies
   What happens when a rather singular-minded individual sets his sights on the perfect chocolate chip cookie? Well, if he's generous enough to share his culinary adventures with the rest of us, we're in luck and can learn a lot (like "Cookie Fact #8: the warmer the butter, the denser the cookie" or "Cookie Fact #15: hand-chopped chocolate = most intense flavor and interesting texture), including the winning recipe:

The Name of the Rain

Ororo Munroe, aka Storm                                                                                                   Marvel
To no one's great surprise, a study of 60 years of hurricanes has shown that we tend to take storms with female names less seriously than those with male names. But hell hath no fury and all that, so beware: This bias has led to female-named storms claiming more victims:

Gardens Go Underground

Now, this is major re-purposing. The very tunnels that, 70-something years ago, sheltered London's residents from German bombs are now home to hydroponically grown families of herbs and vegetables. Explains one of the entrepreneurs whose project this is, "We can control the light. We can control the heat. We can control the airflow down here. So it kind of all works in terms of a growing environment, and we don't have to build a greenhouse in the center of London." The taste, apparently, is superior, but I am curious about one thing. Is there any nutritional value to plants grown under these conditions? (video):
   And speaking of re-purposing and London, how 'bout a café in an old public restroom? No? Even if it was scrubbed down really, really well?:

Eye on the ISS

computer-generated image of the ISS                                                      NASA
It may be 280 miles away, but the International Space Station will be visible to those of us in the Northern Hemisphere from June 1 through June 10 ~ if we know where and when to look. Fortunately, there's information about that (story, link to schedule):
   P.S., Was ISS astronaut Chris Hadfield's popular Space Oddity video the most expensive music video ever made, all things (and I mean all things!) considered?:

Quantum Spookiness

Scientists reported that they were able to teleport information about an atom 10 feet ( Pretty amazing, hunh? But note that they said "information," not the actual atom. So what, exactly, do scientists mean when they talk about quantum teleportation? How did we get to this point, how does it all work, and what does it have to do with uncertainty and entanglement?: