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Snow Lines

Sonja Hinrichsen
Twirls and swirls bloomed in the snow. Over three days last February, artist Sonja Hinrichsen and a group of volunteers walked out onto a frozen lake in Colorado in their snowshoes and transformed its snowy surface into a temporary work of art. Her hope, Hinrichsen explains, is that her work "changes our perception of the landscape and accentuates the beauty and magic of the natural environment, and thus inspires awe and appreciation for art as well as for nature. I deem this important—especially as modern society becomes increasingly disconnected from the natural world" (a little bit of story, a lot of pix):
   From the pens (or laptops) of Sir Edmund Hillary, Andy Goldsworthy, Candace Bushnell, and more, well-chosen words of praise for snow:


Babylonian clay tablet map, 6th Century BCE
The oldest known world map is 2,500 years old. It was found near modern-day Baghdad and, not surprisingly, places Babylon at its center. Today, most Google Earth users look up their home addresses first. It just makes sense that, though we all know now that it doesn't, we still somehow feel that the Earth revolves around us. Which begs the first question: How objective are maps? Certainly more so now, especially with modern technology, but subjective irregularities remain. Some areas, for example, are less well mapped than others. And even with that modern technology, how up-to-date are our maps? "The very moment you build a perfect map of the world is the moment it goes out of date," says Google Maps' Manik Gupta. The natural process, like changing coastlines and erosion, and human activity, like artificial islands and leveled mountains, mean that our maps can never be 100 percent accurate:

Black Tie in the Sky

Etihad Airways' first-class suites                                                                 AFP
Sure, most U.S. airlines and the cheap-o puddle jumpers in Europe have cut back amenities to the point where you might have to buy bathroom tokens soon, but that kind of (mis)treatment may not fly much longer. Competition from mainly Middle Eastern and Asian carriers catering to their demanding and growing first-class clientele may force everyone to kick it back up a notch ~ in every class:
   If you want a peek at how 1 percent of the 1 percent will be traveling starting Dec. 27, check out Etihad Airways, which is introducing a class above first, called Residence (that's a clue):

Something New Under the Sun

the carniverous Chondrocladia lyra, discovered in 2013                 2013 MBARI
We hear a lot about how species are dying out. According to the World Wildlife Fund, although exact numbers are impossible to come by, scientists can say with certainty that the species loss we're experiencing now is between 1,000 and 10,000 times higher than the natural extinction rate, or the rate at which species would die out if humans were not present ( That's a huge range, but even the lower number is significant. At the other end of the spectrum, we are finding new species all the time ~ 15,000-20,000 per year, in fact: and

The Ferguson Documents

As difficult as it is for many of us to understand a grand jury's decision in the case of the shooting death of Michael Brown by police officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Missouri, imagine being on that jury. They heard 70 hours of testimony, much of it contradictory, from about 60 witnesses. They read thousands of pages of documents. In a rare move, these documents have been made public, and links to many of them are posted here:

There's Hope!

My mom once told me that her mom had told her that men tend to get much nicer in old age. Yes, she said "men." Women, apparently, at least as she viewed them, didn't change as much. (I put this distinction down to the era. Men's and women's daily lives have become much more similar over the decades, as women have gone to work outside the home and therefore face more of the same frustrations, needs, and encumbrances.) A friend's mother-in-law told her that her, the mother-in-law's, husband, who had been an infamous rager, mellowed a lot with age. Well, as is so often the case, science is now confirming first-person observation. Emotional well-being makes a U-turn in later life. “Goals, because they’re set in temporal context, change systematically with age,” Stanford University psychologist Laura Carstensen explains. “As people perceive the future as increasingly constrained, they set goals that are more realistic and easy to pursue” ~ which leads to emotional stability and satisfaction. (And guess what? This pattern is one more thing we humans have in common with apes):

Just Because: 'Eichmann in Jerusalem'

The rest of this book's title, by the last four words of which it's more frequently known, is A Report on the Banality of Evil. A couple of days ago, I watched the movie Hannah Arendt, which had been recommended to me by two sources whose taste in these things I consider to be impeccable (my son and a close friend of his). While I had heard of the movie, I didn't know much about its subject, the German-born Jewish philosopher who is the author of this book. It's a very, very good movie that follows Arendt from her home in the United States to Israel in 1961 to witness the trial of Nazi SS lieutenant colonel Adolf Eichmann, her writing of the New Yorker columns that became this book, and her subsequent ostracism by, for the most part, the kind of people who (my interpretation) prefer feeling momentary and false emotional superiority in the heat of a moment to considering a truth that is profound and unsettling but somewhat less sensational and, in that, less gratifying to them.

I: The House of Justice

"Beth Hamishpath"—the House of Justice: these words shouted by the court usher at the top of his voice make us jump to our feet as they announce the arrival of the three judges, who, bare-headed, in black robes, walk into the courtroom from a side entrance to take their seats on the highest tier of the raised platform. Their long table, soon to be covered with innumerable books and more than fifteen hundred documents, is flanked at each end by the court stenographers. Directly below the judges are the translators, whose services are needed for the direct exchanges between the defendant or his counsel and the court; otherwise, the German-speaking accused party, like almost everyone else in the audience, follows the Hebrew proceedings through the simultaneous radio transmission, which is excellent in French, bearable in English, and sheer comedy, frequently incomprehensible, in German. (In view of the scrupulous

Which Way Home?

Tijuana                                                                            Yesenia Trujillo
What happens to undocumented Mexican immigrants we deport? Many end up in Tijuana. They find themselves stuck there, unable to get work in Mexico because they've been in the U.S. so long they no longer have proof that they belong in the country of their birth. They stay, too, to be closer to their families in the States and in the hope that they can one day rejoin them, legally or not. Although the Mexican government tries to help, offering medical checkups, food, a phone call, and free plane and bus tickets to their hometown, many of those who elect to stay in Tijuana join the ranks of the homeless:

Spies Unlike Us

There was Ivan Pavlov and his dogs, proving that a stimulus could evoke a trained response. There was B.F. Skinner, mice, pigeons, and the operant-conditioning chamber, or Skinner box (and, famously, the "baby tender," which some misunderstood to be a conditioning box for children). And then there's Bob Bailey, the first director of training for the Navy's 1960s program teaching dolphins to detect submarines. He's also trained ravens to deposit eavesdropping equipment in certain places and pigeons to signal the location of enemy troops. "We never found an animal we could not train," he says. "Never":
Pity the poor creature who's caught and accused of spying. Herewith, a collection of 10 (slideshow):

Just Because: 'Combustion'

This poem strikes me as a relevant and expressive confluence of life and art, of the solidity of science and the insecurity of our world. "In writing 'Combustion,' " explains poet Sara Eliza Johnson, "I was thinking about certain theories in physics I'd recently encountered in popular science magazines—about the configuration and transformation of bodies in space-time, and matter's interconnectivity and fluidity. In particular about quantum entanglement, which is what Einstein called 'spooky action at a distance' ... . At the same time, I was thinking about the obliteration of bodies, and the safe distance from wartime violence that is afforded most Americans as our drone operations continue overseas. The poem eventually became a convergence of these forces." from Poem-a-Day:

If a human body has two-hundred-and-six bones
and thirty trillion cells, and each cell
has one hundred trillion atoms, if the spine
has thirty-three vertebrae—
                 if each atom
has a shadow—then the lilacs across the yard
are nebulae beginning to star.
If the fruit flies that settle on the orange
on the table rise
like the photonos
                 from a bomb fire miles away,
my thoughts at the moment of explosion
are nails suspended
in a jar of honey.
                         I peel the orange
for you, spread the honey on your toast.
When our skin touches

Dollars and Science

A Kickstarter for science experiments ~ brilliant! This website lets you choose which experiments you want to help fund. On a certain day in November, for example, the following studies were among the many proposed: skull adaptations to suction feeding in gray whales, a camera trap census of animals in a disturbed Sumatran rain forest, the need (or not) of chemicals in fertilizers, an analysis of the cost of the War on Terror, and a look at the migration of antibiotic-resistant genes (website):

The Spiral Notebook

screen shot
Who doesn't doodle? Two of my personal favorites have always been the mussel shell and the clam shell. Because I can't draw that well but a page of them looks pretty good. And I find that drawing these shapes is somehow comforting: just enough repetition, but with a little room for creativity. Spirals are equally satisfying ~ and maybe even more so, as they're so mathematical in essence (, as discovered in the 13th century by one Leonardo Fibonacci. The indefatigable Vi Hart explains it all (video): and (video)

Congress on the Borderine

Jose Luis Magana/Associated Press
Immigration reform. There are, according to this article, three facets to the U.S. news story del día: the policy, the Constitution, and the politics. The president says it's time to do something and he's tired of waiting for Congress to do it. If the president turns to executive action, "the people's House will rise to this challenge," says House speaker Republican John Boehner ( (He's already filed a lawsuit over the Affordable Care Act.) This analysis breaks it all down in an effort to pinpoint why the issue has become so toxic (story, video):

Detekt the Detectors

"Governments are increasingly using surveillance technology, and targeted surveillance in particular, to monitor the legitimate activities of human rights activists and journalists," says Amnesty International. (For example, and But you probably already knew that. What you may not have known is that there's a free app to help those who have reason to be concerned about this kind of thing. Detekt, which is now available to the public, scans the computer for signs of the more commonly used spyware:
   Speaking of spying, here's a list from American History Magazine of the 100 best (in their opinion, of course) spy movies. It was compiled in 2009, so they might have missed one or two of the more recent entries, but it's an impressive and thorough list nonetheless:

College Acceptance Forecast

Is this why all the Ivy Leagues are in New England? from those great minds at mental floss:

Harvard hopefuls are under plenty of pressure to rack up internships, pen Pulitzer-quality essays, and patent an invention or two to stand out from the crowd. Unfortunately, when it comes to their admission chances, there's still one variable they can't control: the weather.

In a study of 682 admissions decisions, Wharton professor Uri Simonsohn found that application reviewers ranked academic achievements most important on cloudy days. But when the sun was shining, they gave more credence to nonacademic pursuits like sports.

The effect was surprisingly significant: A scholarly candidate's chances of acceptance increased by an average of 12 percent when it was overcast. Short of applying to schools in Seattle, there's not much you can do to take advantage of this effect, except know that you can blame any rejections on good weather.

Native American Heritage Month

"Words are the most powerful shaping tool," writes Rez Life author David Treuer, a member of the Ojibwe tribe. "Writing, speech, language don't just communicate fact, they create fact." To celebrate and share their cultures with the rest of the country and to make sure that the facts communicated are indeed facts, the First Nations Development Institute has put together a suggested-reading list:
   The organization has also compiled a list of meaningful quotes by Native Americans and recommended movies and documentaries:

Page to Screen

Apocalypse Now
One of the worst things about a great book being made into a bad movie (and we all know that happens way too often) is that people who see the movie will probably never read the book, remembering the title only as an inferior and unsatisfactory one. This sad truth was brought home to me a few years ago, when I suggested a truly superb book to one of my students. His response was, "Oh, I saw the movie. It was horrible!" I could see that nothing would convince him that the book was worth reading. There have been several movies made, however, that most of us can agree were totally worthy of the books on which they were based. One of my favorites, aside from To Kill a Mockingbird (,, is Apocalypse Now ( Both are, of course, included in this list of 15 culled from a list of 50 (story, video clips):

Rings Around the Earth

Global Precipitation Measurement satellites                                            NASA
That there are innumerable active satellites orbiting above us at all times of the day and night no longer comes as much of a surprise or even a source of wonder ~ until one learns things like the actual number being more than 1,200 (of which about 30 are American spy satellites operated by the Air Force and/or the National Reconnaissance Office, BTW), that more than half of the total were launched since 2008, and that launching a satellite costs about $4,653/kg (interactive graphic):
   Feb. 10, 2012: Jamesburg Earth Station, a satellite relay base from the 1960s that was built to survive a nuclear attack, is for sale in California after a Silicon Valley mogul gives up on plans to turn it into a weekend home; is a $3 million tech-lover’s paradise on 161 acres equipped with a 97-foot satellite dish. For a wonderfully detailed timeline of satellite and related information in the news, including links to the original articles, check out

The Story of Hunger

lunch for street children, India         Soumya Shankar Ghosal
Your assignment from National Geographic (should you choose to accept it) is to help them tell the story of hunger and hope. "It will push you out of your comfort zones as photographers," the instructions say. "It will force you to tackle an important issue and document what is happening in your very own community." You have until the end of the month. Go! (story, slideshow of submissions):

City of Pieces

It may be known as the City of Peace, but Jerusalem, and specifically its Old City, is anything but. Some expect it to explode at any minute, as tensions grow around the Temple Mount ~ once again. The area is considered sacred by followers of three major religions: Islam, Judaism, and Christianity. Complicating matters, all can find historical justification for staking a claim. What, exactly, is that history, and what is causing the current confrontation?:

Make Up Your Mind

screen shot
It's a brain game! Answer 12 multiple choice questions and find out which major intellect's thought process yours most resembles. There's an analysis for each of your answers, and the parts of the brain most used in that particular way of thinking are pinpointed on a brain map. Kind of fun, kind of instructive:

Whose Holidays?

As we officially enter the holiday season, we as a country continue to struggle over an issue that was bound to confound an increasingly diverse society, the religion-based holiday. (Although, admittedly, even Thanksgiving, a completely secular holiday, has its detractors.) Local governments, and even the federal government, have added many holidays to the calendar over the years as various groups have claimed equal recognition under the law. But how many can one add before every day becomes a holiday? This question is a particularly tricky one for schools. Here in Los Angeles, we have for many years now referred to "winter break" and "spring break." As the latter is no longer tied to any particular religious celebration, it's scheduled anywhere from April to May, and heaven help the family that has children in different schools. Now other parts of the country are facing the same conundrum. I guess the question I have regarding a decision reached in Maryland's Montgomery County, is the immediate motivating factor:
   More food for thought on the issue, this commentary by a professor of religious studies at Hofstra University contends that decisions such as Montgomery County's, and even L.A.'s, merely forestall a deeper, necessary conversation:

Little Green and Joni's Blues

The Fiddle and the Drum                                                          production still
Great poetry, like great prose, stands alone and is moving whether or not the reader is aware of the conditions under which it was written. Joni Mitchell's work is like that, but her song "Little Green," in particular, takes on a new and much deeper worth the minute one learns its back story. Like so many of our best artists, Mitchell, who recently turned 71, has not had an easy life, but it is this pain and these experiences, coupled with her innate sensitivity and creativity, that make work so relevant to our lives:
   Mitchell continues to create, and she celebrated her birthday with a screening of a film of her ballet The Fiddle and the Drum:

Now's Your Chance!

Palais de Monaco                                                                   Berthold Werner
Napoleon's silk stockings ~ you know you've always coveted them. How about his diamond-studded sword? Or his famous black bicorne hat? (Of course, he had a lot of those, but this particular one was worn at the Battle of Marengo in Italy in 1800, or so they say.) Well, hop to it, because you may never get this chance again. Monaco's Prince Albert and, presumably, his family have decided to auction off a few (read: 1,000) articles to pay for needed renovations to their palace. How 'bout strands of his hair or the knife with which a German student planned to assassinate him?:

First Photos

John William Draper
The first known photographic portrait of a woman was taken in 1840. The subject, Dorothy Catherine Draper, was the sister of the photographer, John William Draper (1811-1882), one of the pioneers of the art and who is generally recognized as having taken the first picture of the moon. Here's a little collection of other first photos of particular things, like the first one of people playing chess and the first one of lightning:

XL Xplained

The Washington Post
Sounds like the Keystone XL Pipeline will be enjoying a second chance at life and we'll be hearing a lot more about it. So for those who might not have been paying attention the first time around (, here's a brief explanation of what it is and why it's so controversial (video):


Baby Boomers, Gen Xers, Millennials ~ where the heck do these names come from? Well, it seems the first one came from the government, but it was the only one that did. After that, it was all about the ... wanna guess? yup, the ad agencies. Demographics and consumer markets expert Peter Francese explains: "The ad agencies have a mission and an imperative to bring to their clients news of what’s going on in the marketplace. And so, inevitably, they segment the American populations into various groups. The necessity to do that means that they sit around and they come up with names." For everyone except those born between 1964 and 1976. Apparently, those people just don't count:

Ciao, Amigo

where the Catatumbo joins Lake Maracaibo
Apparently, if we in the Western Hemisphere want a little bit of Italy, we don't have to fly east, just a bit south. from

Venice is the Italian city that gave its name to a South American country: Venezuela. The country’s name actually means “Little Venice.” It was named by Spanish explorer Alonso de Ojeda in 1499. He thought that some of the country’s small houses constructed on stilts above Lake Maracaibo were reminiscent of Venice, a city built on 118 small islands connected by canals and bridges and with its structures on stilts. The first Spanish settlement in Venezuela was established a year after its naming, but it was

So it Goes ...

In honor of both Veterans' Day (once known as Armistice Day) and Kurt Vonnegut (1922-2007), whose birthday it is, his version of how a war can end in peace, as read by the author from Chapter 4 of his 1969 classic, Slaughterhouse Five, or A Children's Crusade: A Duty-Dance With Death, and put to images by one LloydRizia for his English class. I hope he got an A (video):

Life Is a Techno Cabaret

Tacheles art center had a long run but closed in 2012.                           sumi-b
When the Berlin Wall fell on Nov. 9, 1989 (, the country rejoiced ~ and then began the slow, difficult process of reunification. While the sight of East Berlin's dilapidated, gray, and crumbling buildings brought many to tears, they became a source of inspiration for others, foremost among them, the artists. Soon, those old, abandoned structures began to pulse with creative life and a techno beat, and 25 years later, it's still going strong (story, video, link to audio version):

The Big Picture

screen shot
The Great Wall of China cannot be seen from space, we have close to 20 senses, and "fatwa" actually means "non-binding legal opinion." London-based data-journalist David McCandless has a website call Information Is Beautiful and, now, a second book, called Knowledge Is Beautiful, in which he compiles facts gleaned during 15, 832 hours of research over two years (infographic):
   Here's McCandless, in 2010, spreading the word about how visualizing information, as he does in his diagrams, makes the overload of information easier to digest and leads us to make connections we otherwise couldn't see (video):

It's (Partly) the Economy, Stupid

Scotland had its turn, and now it's Catalonia's. Only things are happening a little differently down on the Iberian Peninsula. First of all, as Madrid isn't recognizing it, this vote on Nov. 9 is a non-binding one. Voters will be asked two questions: Should there be a Catalan state, and should that state be independent? So why would Catalonia want independence from Spain? It's pretty much "50% patriotism and 50% economy," according to Catalan blogger Manel Pons. "But the attack on the language, culture, and Catalan identity has been the trigger for the current situation":

The Fall of the Wall

wall for sale, 2014                                                 AP Photo/Markus Schreiber
It was 25 years ago on Nov. 9 that the infamous Berlin Wall, then the world's saddest symbol of enforced separation and loss of freedom (there are more now), was finally dismantled. The order to do so was given by East German border guard Lt. Col. Harald Jager. It was a lonely moment, he recalls. Crowds were gathering, the guards under him were waiting for orders and none were coming from higher up. "It wasn't me who opened the wall," he now says. "It was the East German citizens who gathered that evening. The only thing that I can be credited with is that it happened without any blood being spilled" (story, videos, great pictures):
   This weekend, Berlin will celebrate the moment their city ~ and country ~ was made whole again. An art installation of 8,000 lights following the path of the old Wall is readied in anticipation (story, video):
   Twenty-five sobering and fascinating facts about the Wall (including why David Hasselhoff's name comes up in any search about it) (story, pictures, videos):

Just Because: 'A Universe From Nothing'

Put quantum mechanics and general relativity together and what do you have? Why, the theory of everything, of course, or more specifically, an explanation of how everything could have come from nothing at all. Something missing, you say? It's not quite holding together? Oh, OK, then there's the inherent instability of "nothing" and the fact (or what we now believe to be fact) that the universe is flat. For all this to work, it has to be, and so it is. Oh, and eternal inflation. There's that, too (
   The subtitle to the book from which this excerpt is drawn is Why There Is Something Rather Than Nothing. (You can understand why I didn't try to squeeze it into the post title!) Usually, when introducing a book, I begin at the beginning (as the King told Alice to do). In this case, however, I will begin a couple of pages in, as the author, Lawrence M. Krauss, starts with Einstein's story, with which we're at least vaguely familiar, and I think we (or at least I) know a little less about this other major figure in the theory's history.

A Cosmic Mystery Story:

The Initial Mystery that attends any journey is: how did
the traveler reach his starting point in the first place?
                       —LOUISE BOGAN, Journey Around My Room

   The discovery that the universe is not static, but rather expanding, has profound philosophical and religious significance, because it suggested that our universe had a beginning. A beginning implies creation, and creation stirs emotions. While it took several decades following the discovery in 1929 of our expanding universe for the notion of a Big Bang to achieve independent empirical confirmation, Pope Pius XII heralded it in 1951 as evidence for Genesis. As he put it:

It would seem that present-day science, with one sweep back across the centuries, has succeeded in bearing witness to the august instant of the primordial Fiat Lux [Let there be Light], when along with matter, there burst forth from nothing a sea of light and radiation, and the elements split and churned and formed into millions of galaxies. Thus, with that concreteness which is characteristic of physical proofs, [science] has confirmed the contingency of the universe and also the well-founded deduction as to the epoch when the world came forth from the hands of the Creator. Hence, creation took place. We say: "Therefore, there is a Creator. Therefore, God exists!"

   The full story is actually a little more interesting. In fact, the first person to propose a Big Bang was a Belgian priest and physicist named Georges Lemaître. Lemaître was a remarkable combination of proficiencies. He started his studies as an engineer, was a decorated artilleryman in World War I, and then switched to mathematics while studying for the priesthood in the early 1920s. He then moved on to cosmology, studying first with the famous British astrophysicist Sir Arthur Stanley Eddington before moving on to Harvard and eventually receiving a second doctorate, in physics from MIT.
   In 1927, before receiving his second doctorate, Lemaître had actually solved Einstein's equations for general relativity and demonstrated that the theory predicts a nonstatic universe and in fact suggests that the universe we live in is expanding. The notion seemed so outrageous that Einstein himself colorfully objected with the statement "Your math is correct, but your physics is abominable."
   Nevertheless, Lemaître powered onward, and in 1930 he further proposed that our expanding universe actually began as an infinitesimal point, which he called the "Primeval Atom" and that this beginning represented, in an allusion to Genesis perhaps, a "Day with No Yesterday."
   Thus, the Big Bang, which Pope Pius so heralded, had first been proposed by a priest. One might have thought that Lemaître would have been thrilled with this papal validation, but he had already dispensed in his own mind with the notion that this scientific theory had theological consequences and had ultimately removed a paragraph in the draft of his 1931 paper on the Big Bang remarking on this issue.
   Lemaître in fact later voiced his objection to the pope's 1951 claimed proof of Genesis via the Big Bang (not least because he realized that if his theory was later proved incorrect, then the Roman Catholic claims for Genesis might be contested." By this time, he had been elected to the Vatican's Pontifical Academy, later becoming its president. As he put it, "As far as I can see, such a theory remains entirely outside of any metaphysical or religious question." The pope never again brought up the topic in public.

The Good Writer

genius by genius: Faulkner at Rowan Oak, 1947, photographed by Henri Cartier-Bresson
One of the many stunning facts I learned in this absorbing interview with William Faulkner (1897-1962), whom I humbly consider to be one of the greatest writers ever (, is that he wrote his classic The Sound and the Fury *five* times trying to get the story just right. This quest for perfection, he says, is a necessary part of the craft and the mark of the true writer. Speaking of himself and his contemporaries, he said, "All of us failed to match our dream of perfection. So I rate us on the basis of our splendid failure to do the impossible. In my opinion, if I could write all my work again, I am convinced that I would do it better, which is the healthiest condition for an artist." Anyone hoping for a career in writing would do well to learn from his observations. (I choose to forgive his misogynistic attitude, which shows up in a couple of places, as sadly typical of and a product of his times and to not let it diminish for me the value of his other comments):
   Of course, when you get more than one such strong personality and perfectionist in a room ~ or in the world ~ there's bound to be some competition. That was the case with Faulkner and another outsize American writer you may have heard of, Ernest Hemingway (1899-1961). Here, the author of Faulkner and Hemingway: Biography of a Literary Rivalry discusses their artistic, at times humorous, relationship (video):
   And in case anyone besides me was wondering exactly how to pronounce "Yoknapatawpha," here's the man himself breaking it down for us (audio):

The Way They Were

NY Carlsberg Glyptotek
Translation of the text that accompanies the photos: "We are all used to seeing the white marble ancient Greek and Roman statues in the museum, but they were originally painted in bright colors that faded over time. Currently, there is an exhibit in Copenhagen of 120 statues side by side with plaster reproductions painted to show their original colors. These colors were reproduced with the help of researchers using advanced imaging and analysis techniques to reveal traces of the original pigments":
   The many techniques used by researchers to determine where and which colors were used range from simple observation to infrared and ultraviolet light to electron microscopy. They are aided in their work by contemporary writings, such as that of 1st century Roman Plinius the Elder, who wrote about pigments in his Natural History:

What If a Physicist Drew a Comic Strip?

Meet Randall Munroe, physicist, former NASA roboticist, and the guy behind xkcd, one of the better Web comics out there (imho ~,, He recently published What If?, a compilation of some of his answers to readers' (mostly hypothetical) questions (story, link to audio of interview):
   Stephen Colbert interviews Munroe on The Colbert Report and gets some more answers (video):

Gently Down the Stream

actors and audience in the same boat                                                                          screen shot
"We don't work inside of a normal theater, so we are subject to the wind and the rain and the cold, for starters. Beyond that, there are racoons, there are cops ... Every single night there's some sort of calamity that we're faced with," says Jeff Stark, whose interactive The Dreary Coast is staged on one of Brooklyn's most polluted canals, standing in for the River Styx (video):
   Audience members who paid to be in the boat got the complete experience, but the evening netted a mixed review from those on terra firma:

Loot for Legislators

We've all been hearing more and more about how this year's midterm elections are the most costly ever, at almost $4 billion for the Senate races ~ and that's just the baksheesh that had to be disclosed. Will 2014 be the straw that broke the camel's back? “I think the increasing degree of interaction between candidates and outside groups is rendering the candidate contribution limits meaningless,” says Campaign Legal Center senior counsel Paul S. Ryan. And it's not just big money's ability to buy a candidate that's problematic. “Some of the key strategic decisions you need to make when you’re thinking about running are not only about your own campaign but, ‘Who is going to head up a super PAC for me, and how are they going to raise money?’ ” explains former FEC commissioner Michael Toner. “That’s no longer a luxury—that’s necessity.” Larry Norton, a campaign finance lawyer at Venable who was the FEC's general counsel for six years, sums it up: "It's bordering on just an incomprehensible system." Bordering? (story, video):
   From the $43 million doled out since the beginning of the year by former hedge fund manager Tom Steyer and the equal amount from Karl Rove's American Crossroads and Crossroads GPS, to the relatively paltry $66,000 from investment manager Foster Friess, FEC filings and data reveal the sources of at least some of the money:

Not Just Another Brown Guy

Who doesn't love Daily Show "correspondent" Aasif Mandvi? You can just see the humor in his eyes, hear it in his voice, and part of what makes him so appealing is that he's as ready to make fun of himself as he is to joke about anything else. He's just written a book, cleverly titled No Land's Man ~ clever, because Mandvi was born in India, moved with his family to England when he was little, and then, when he was 16, moved with them to Florida. It's an autobiography of sorts. ("Of sorts," because it starts with a disclaimer: "Some of the names, identifying characteristics, and circumstances have been changed ... sometimes for the better, but that's just my opinion.") As Mandvi himself warned Daily Show host Jon Stewart back in 2013, "Wake up and smell the curry, Jon. Indians are taking over America" (story, links to audio version, book excerpt):

Just Because: 'On the Road With Janis Joplin'

Pearl. She was that outcast who insisted on following her star and energized the world with her audacious sound. She had talent and passion, and she left us, when she died at 27, the gift of her spirit, sadness, and sincerity. It's a gift that keeps on giving every time you hear her. Janis Joplin's life was not easy, neither as she was growing up in a conventional and uninspired Texas town nor as she navigated that infamously misogynistic road to the sound stage of the 1960s. How different things might have been for her now. But that was then, and now, we can look back and either discover or relive (depending on which side of 50 you're on) those crazy, hopeful days on the way up ~ as experienced by Janis's road manager, John Byrne Cook. (And thank you to Mary for sharing.)

If You're Going to
San Francisco

November 30, 1967

THE 707'S WHEELS touch down at San Francisco International Airport and with few regrets I leave behind the East, where my mother's family has lived since they arrived on the New England coast aboard a vessel that followed in the wake of the Mayflower. There they landed and there, for the most part, they stayed, close by the Atlantic shore. In five hours I've covered what it took the emigrants of the nineteenth century's great westward migration months of peril to travel. Like those early travelers, I'm casting off the old and hoping to find in California the magic pathway to the rest of my life.
   Go west, young man.
   In my case, it is Albert Grossman, not Horace Greeley, who points the way.
   The southwest wind is roiling the shallow waters off the airport runway, turning them muddy emerald. It has been a cold fall in the East. By comparison, the California air feels springlike as I cross the tarmac to the terminal. The hills that surround the Bay are

Skip to the Loo, My Darling

Seventy-eight bathrooms may seem a bit excessive, even for a palace, like, in this case, Buckingham Palace, but if you do the math, that comes to one for every 10 rooms. Blimey! Following are more interesting facts about HRH's posh little gaff, courtesy of

England’s Buckingham Palace is the official home of the Queen, and the 775 room palace has 78 bathrooms. It was originally constructed in 1703 as a house for Duke of Buckingham, but was not constructed into a royal palace until 1820 for King George IV. Buckingham Palace’s total area is 828,821 square feet (77,000 sq m) and stands 78 feet (24 m) high. Two hundred and forty of the rooms in Buckingham Palace are bedrooms (52 for Royal Family members and guests, and 188 for live-in staff). The palace contains

Who Falls Back?

2012                                                                                         TimeZoneBoy
As I posted at this time last year, not everyone loses an hour in the spring and gains it back in the fall. In general, it is the Western countries that observe this time change, but not all on the same day. In fact, in places like the EU, Mexico, and Morocco, citizens get to sleep in that extra hour on the last Sunday of October. Here in the U.S., it happens one week later. It was a New Zealander, entomologist George Vernon Hudson, who came up with the idea, in 1895, though some credit (or should I say "blame"?!) English builder William Willett, who suggested it in a publication in 1905. However it began, the practice has been questioned every year ever since, 2014 being no exception: