TIMES, TIME, AND HALF A TIME. A HISTORY OF THE NEW MILLENNIUM.

Comments on a cultural reality between past and future.

This blog describes Metatime in the Posthuman experience, drawn from Sir Isaac Newton's secret work on the future end of times, a tract in which he described Histories of Things to Come. His hidden papers on the occult were auctioned to two private buyers in 1936 at Sotheby's, but were not available for public research until the 1990s.



Showing posts with label Plants. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Plants. Show all posts

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Last of Their Kinds: On and Off the Red List


Image Source: Sebastian Kennerknecht/PantheraCats/Twitter.

This year, the blog keeps returning to the Himalayas, and there must be something to that: see my earlier posts on the Himalayas here, here, and a 2015 post, here.

Today's post concerns the BBC report from 14 September 2017 that the snow leopard (Panthera uncia), the great cat of the Himalayas, has been removed from the endangered list, and is now classified as vulnerable. Scientists argue that the reclassification could place these cats at greater risk, but it is still good news that their population has improved.


As the snow leopard departs the endangered list, more than 150 species have been added to it. The ash trees of North America, a population of 9 billion trees, have been classified on the brink of extinction, due to an invasive Asian insect, the emerald ash borer (Agrilus planipennis). In the past few years, all the beautiful ash trees around my home in eastern Canada have died or started dying.

The Christmas Island pipistrelle bat was declared extinct this month. Image Source: Lindy Lumsden/Mongabay.

The Christmas Island Pipistrelle vesper bat of Australia (Pipistrellus murrayi) was declared extinct in September 2017. I have previously written on extinctions as less-recognized moments in history and as turning points in time. I have also discussed efforts to use genetic manipulation and cloning to bring back extinct species, as scientists work against the course of time and evolution; this is most noticeable when they plan to revive prehistoric species.



Image Source: BBC.



Image Source: BBC.

Image Source: Scott Olson/Getty Images/NPR.

Snow Leopard: First Intimate Images In The Wild - Planet Earth - BBC Earth (12 March 2017). Video Source: Youtube.


See all my posts on Extinction.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Twin Peaks Returns


Twin Peaks was full of occult imagery, signifying a battle between the forces of Jupiter (positive) and Saturn (malefic). My comment on the symbols in this scene is here. Image Source: The Dissolve.

David Lynch's and Mark Frost's acclaimed series Twin Peaks, which changed television in two seasons in 1990 and 1991, returns on 21 May 2017. The original series, and the 1992 prequel film, was a mystery about a murdered American homecoming queen, Laura Palmer. It unraveled in the second season into soap opera surrealism after Lynch stepped away from the project. But the first season was a landmark moment in popular entertainment and is widely considered one of the best television series ever made. It inspired many other ground-breaking series. My comments below the jump contain spoilers, so if you haven't yet seen the original series and want to, read no further until you have done so.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

The Oldest Tree on Earth


A tree in the Methuselah Grove, California, USA. Image Source: Where Cool Things Happen.

Until 2012, the oldest confirmed tree in the world was 'Methuselah,' a Great Basin bristlecone pine (Pinus longaeva) tree growing high in the White Mountains of eastern California, USA. Methuselah is 4,848 years old. In 2012, a nearby tree of the same species was found to be 5,066 years old (germination in 3050 BCE). As you can see from the video below, hikers can visit the grove where Methuselah and other Great Basin bristlecones live, aged 1,000-5,000 years old, but the wardens will not identify Methuselah or its older relative for fear that the trees may be vandalized.

Monday, October 31, 2016

Happy Hallowe'en! Soul Cakes and Trumpkins


In England, people originally carved faces in turnips, not pumpkins, on All Hallows' Eve. English colonists began carving pumpkins in the New World. Image Source: Telegraph.

Happy Hallowe'en! Today's post is dedicated to Samhain soul cakes, and how Donald Trump made Jack o' Lanterns great again. Below the jump, see some pumpkin carving competition winners before - and after - The Donald announced his presidential candidacy. The whole nation is carving Trumpkins in 2016.

Soul cakes and pumpkin-carving are offshoots of cooking, preserving and baking which are part of harvest festivals in the northern hemisphere. To absorb the power of Gaelic Samhain (October 31; pronounced SAH-win), the Catholic Church combined harvest festivals with pagan funerary rites and ancient spring death rituals. In the 5th century BCE, Greek women visited graves with libations and cakes; the Romans adapted that custom to placate lemures, or ghosts, with beans and salted flour cakes during the festival of Lemuria in May. Later traditions from Ireland, to Germany, to Jamaica, to colonial America, buried the dead with small cakes, scones, or biscuits, while mourners drank liquor or port; graveyard ceremonies in Hungary and Estonia also often involved drinking special fortified wines. All of these traditions combined to inspire the American trick or treat candies, chocolates and potato chips. You can see modern recipes for Samhain soul cakes here, here, here, here and here.

The graveside consumption of cakes and wine may have led to the term 'cakes and ale' coined by William Shakespeare in Twelfth Night (1601-1602); merry-making and a wanton good life symbolized by cakes and ale defend us from death. But they also remind us that death is never far away and bring us closer to it:
"Dost thou think, because thou art virtuous, there shall be no more cakes and ale?"
With one line, Shakespeare summarized the religious injunction against the pleasures and temptations of mortal life when one contemplates mortality. Yet contemplating mortality makes us want to indulge. This time of year is about losing and rediscovering a balance between life and death, light and dark. Cakes and wine ease the grief of the living, and calm the spirits of the dead. Overindulge, and religious authorities warn, you will find yourself possessed by forces beyond your will.

My friend C. suggested the BBC Radio 4 recording from 2011So You Want to Be an Exorcist. Other BBC shows on exorcism are on Youtubehere. The exorcists interviewed for the BBC Radio 4 show claimed nearly anything can open you up to demonic possession, including ouija boards, street drugs, sexual immorality (which can be code for homophobia), astrology, yoga, New Age spirituality, and tarot cards. Apparently, the Anglican Church now has an official exorcist on call in every diocese due to rising demand, which I find hard to believe.  It sounds like they realized the Catholic Church has cornered the market, and they want their own Indy 500. I can just see the C of E promotional television series about an Anglican exorcist, starring Helen Mirren. That doesn't exist yet, but you can watch the terrifying new American television FOX series, The Exorcist, online here or here. The trailer is here. In 2010, The Daily Mail reported here on 21st century exorcists.

Samhain soul cakes. Image Source: My Witch's Kitchen.

The Starbucks seasonal pumpkin scone with spiced glaze follows the ancient soul cakes tradition. Image Source: Starbucks via pinterest.

To celebrate the pumpkin harvest, here is a pumpkin scones recipe, inspired by Starbucks. I checked the best cookery book which collects the historic recipes of colonial America, and offer this pumpkin pie recipe, altered and adapted from: Helen Duprey Bullock, A National Treasury of Cookery, vol. 1, Early America (New York, New York: Heirloom Publishing Company, 1967), p. 54.

2 9-inch unbaked pie shells
2 cups mashed cooked pumpkin
3 eggs, well beaten
1.5 cups heavy cream or 1 14-ounce tin of sweetened condensed milk
3 tbsp. rum
0.5 tsp. vanilla extract
0.25 cups granulated sugar
0.25 cups brown sugar
0.18 cups molasses
0.5 tsp. salt
1 tsp. ground mace
0.5 tsp. nutmeg
1 tsp. finely-grated candied ginger or fresh ginger
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
0.5 tsp ground cloves or allspice

Make the pie shells and refrigerate them, or thaw frozen commercial pre-made pie shells in the refrigerator. Preheat oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit. In a large bowl, combine pumpkin, eggs, cream or condensed milk, rum and extract, sugar, salt, spices. Blend well. Pour into chilled pie shells. Bake for 15 minutes at 425 degrees Fahrenheit. Reduce heat to 325 degrees Fahrenheit and bake for 45 minutes.

Best pumpkin spice latte you can make at home. Video Source: Youtube.
Different pumpkin spice latte recipes are here, here and here.

History Channel's history of Hallowe'en explains the origins of Jack o' Lanterns. Video Source: Youtube.

A pumpkin carved by Scott Cully, "the Northwest's legendary pumpkin carver," Parkplace Mall, Kirkland, Washington, USA (2008). Image Source Mickeleh / flickr via Daily Picks and Flicks.


Cully's 2010 lantern, lit. Image Source: pinterest.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Wonders of the Millennial World 8: The Kaleidoscope


Image Source: World Arts Film Festival.

Posts on this blog have asked about the impact of technology on traditional life, a destabilization of norms, and a dislocation from stable geographical and economic bases. The shift from static to kinetic applies in media as in life. Perhaps the dynamic Millennial existence resembles a kaleidoscope, where identity, time, memory, place, beliefs, the virtual and real, constantly tumble and lock into new realities. All elements are moving pieces which come together in a way that resembles living systems. The trick to see this is depth of perspective.

Naturally occurring fractal pattern, cells in a cross-section of a plant stalk. Image Source: pinterest.

Neuronal cells. Image Source: Eye of Science.

"Equivocal kaleidoscope. Ai Weiwei welded 150 bicycle frames into an impressive installation. The work is not only a reference to cars taking over the streets in China, but also to a prominent show trial. Several years ago, a young Chinese man was arrested and mistreated for not registering his bicycle. He was later sentenced to death." Image Source: DW.

Microphotograph of the ovary of a flower by Ray Nelson. Image Source: The Daily Polymer Arts Blog.

Image Source: Hotel-R.

Electric pulses from a human brain cell. Image Source: 123RF.

Trippy 014: Psychedelic particles randomly pulse and flow (Loop). Image Source: Shutterstock.

Human Cerebral Cortex, Alfonso Rodríguez-Baeza and Marisa Ortega-Sánchez, scanning electron microscope (2009). Image Source: pinterest. Compare with the brain cell gif in my post, Making Memories.

Marker art installation by artist Heike Weber (2013). Image Source: Bored Panda. Compare with the installations of artist Clemens Behr.

See my earlier post on Microphotography.
See all my posts on Wonders of the Millennial World.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Photo of the Day: Spaceflower


Image Source: Scott Kelly.

The first flower to bloom on a spacecraft greeted the sun for the first time today on the International Space Station. I'm not surprised it's a zinnia (an edible orange variety). Zinnias are hardy, easy to grow, and beautiful. They are a genus of the sunflower tribe in Asteraceae, also known as the aster or daisy family. This one survived a crisis mold infestation in December 2015; its flower bud appeared on 12 January 2016.


NASA's page on the space flower garden is here. People are discussing the plant on Twitter under the hashtag #spaceflower. NASA astronaut Scott Kelly is caring for the plant. The flower garden project is part of the joint NASA-Roscosmos ISS Year Long Mission, which involves experienced astronauts Kelly and Mikhail Korniyenko conducting tests and experiments to assess human physical and psychological health over long periods in preparation for extended missions to Mars. For my previous post on space gardens and space farming, go here.

See all my posts about the International Space Station.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Space Farming: Little Green Tendrils of Chaos


You can take it with you: Nigella damascena, a type of buttercup, germinated in a lab on the International Space Station. Image Source: Wiki.

When we depart for the Final Frontier, we will have to become very good at farming in zero gravity and on other worlds. Anyone who has tried the most basic seed planting and coaxed a plant to maturity under ideal earthly conditions may start to appreciate what a daunting task that is. Even in today's era of Frankenfoods, plants don't care what humans think they should be or do. If you try to force plants or their environment to run counter to the laws they expect to follow, they simply die. If scientists are able to force plants in the short term via genetic modification to satisfy artificial human fads and demands, there will always be a correction in the environment, somewhere, that will decimate the plan. Period. For thousands of years, people have tried to play god with plants. Even when they achieve some success, that never become god. Biology will never be fully instrumentalized by humans, and it's a good thing too. It is that scary unknown factor in agriculture which brings a host of problems to space colonization.

On 12 March 2015, NASA confirmed via Hubble's observations that Jupiter's moon Ganymede has a huge water ocean under an ice crust, which could mean that it harbours life. Image Souce: Sci Tech Daily.

Experts claim that the only way for humanity to survive over the long term is that we clear that hurdle in the future. According to Stephen Hawking, whatever problems we may have down here on earth, a bigger one trumps them all. Our future lies in the stars, he argues, and humanity must eventually abandon this planet or face extinction. Does God play dice he asks, paraphrasing Einstein? Yes, He does, Hawking argues, asserting that there is an underlying range of chaotic variability, an unpredictability, to everything. Hawking contradicts Einstein's insistence that there had to be an underlying order in everything which we could not yet grasp. Despite Hawking's faith that the future cannot be predicted, he is certain humankind must go through a cataclysmic bottleneck, a test of survival, a possible extinction event. Over the next thousand years, space exploration must be our inevitable future. There is no wiggle room on this, he concludes, due to global warming, nuclear annihilation, or a genetically-engineered virus.

Cultural expectations of transcendent Singularity (which include a faith in space colonization) continue the very mechanistic mentality, a 19th century positivism, which quantum physicists criticize. Humans-as-machines is a very popular idea now, and culturally speaking, it is big, but not that deep. Humans are now addicted to, and obsessed by, their species' new computing power. Pause to observe the stunning fact that 40 per cent of the world's population got a new heroin habit over the past 20 years that was socially acceptable, economically profitable (if also economically tumultuous), politically unstable, and governmentally dubious. Then imagine that the most hard core tech addicts insist that we must lose ourselves in the addiction, becoming more and more like the technological objects of our adoration.

In fact, successful space exploration might be achieved only by an antithetical stance, a renewal of the organic, in a move that counters the seductive, semi-sexual love affair with computer gadgetry. In this post, I noted how popular ideas in the 1920s and 1930s shaped scientists' early conceptions of dark matter. In cultural terms, today's Singularity and quantum aficionados are 1920s' and 1930s' revivalists.

That is the kind of point that confirms that culture and science are not contending opposites; instead, they make an unexpected pair of yoked oxen. How scientists interpret and conceptualize their findings is heavily influenced by their cultural values, about which they are rarely objective or intensively schooled. This is why science fiction author Charlie Stross argued that space colonization is not a story about extending technology, despite all the technical trappings of the exercise. It is a story, as Frank Herbert knew well, about our relationship with the environment. And that relationship, given our psychology, almost always is expressed mystically and philosophically through the expansion and transformation of religion; Stross pondered some of this:
I'm going to take it as read that the idea of space colonization isn't unfamiliar; domed cities on Mars, orbiting cylindrical space habitats a la J. D. Bernal or Gerard K. O'Neill, that sort of thing. Generation ships that take hundreds of years to ferry colonists out to other star systems where — as we are now discovering — there are profusions of planets to explore. And I don't want to spend much time talking about the unspoken ideological underpinnings of the urge to space colonization, other than to point out that they're there, that the case for space colonization isn't usually presented as an economic enterprise so much as a quasi-religious one. "We can't afford to keep all our eggs in one basket" isn't so much a justification as an appeal to sentimentality.
A response to that post, quoted at the Daily Galaxy, dismissed these culturally-derived warnings because transhumanists believe we will meld with machines and morph into something non-human, or superhuman, or post-human:
[Stross doesn't take] into account the possibility of post-Singularity, Drexlerian, Kardashev Type II civilizations. Essentially, we're talking about post-scarcity civilizations with access to molecular assembling nanotechnology, radically advanced materials, artificial superintelligence, and access to most of the energy available in the solar system. "Stross also too easily dismisses how machine intelligences, uploaded entities and AGI will impact on how space could be colonized. He speculates about biological humans being sent from solar system to solar system, and complains of the psychological and social hardships that could be inflicted on an individual or crew. He even speculates about the presence of extraterrestrial pathogens that undoubtedly awaits our daring explorers. This is a highly unlikely scenario. Biological humans will have no role to play in space. Instead, this work will be done by robots and quite possibly cyborgs.
That is such a 2000s' thing to say. Super-this, nano-that.  In 2005, Ray Kurzweil maintained in The Singularity is Near that we could interface with our technology, the way computers interface with each other, and in so doing we could transcend our biology. It was a fashionable, and now dated, thing to assume. The post-Singularity hypothesis tells you more about 2005 than it does about 2500.

Part of that hypothesis suggests that our addiction to computers is reaching blind adoration, and extends to the assumption that they are, or will be, smarter than we are. We love them so, such that we will either join with them (a typical, unreflective psycho-sexual assumption), and/or they will out-survive us. This is exactly the kind of thing an addict would say about his or her drug: it's stronger than I am; it's destroying me in the long term; but I love it anyway in the short term because it enhances my capabilities. The Daily Galaxy:
In a futuristic mode similar to Hawking, both Steven Dick, chief NASA historian and Carnegie-Mellon robotics pundit, Hans Moravec, believe that human biological evolution is but a passing phase: the future of mankind will be as vastly evolved sentient machines capable of self-replicating and exploring the farthest reaches of the Universe programmed with instructions on how to recreate earth life and humans to target stars. Dick believes that if there is a flaw in the logic of the Fermi Paradox, and extraterrestrials are a natural outcome of cosmic evolution, then cultural evolution may have resulted in a post-biological universe in which machines are the predominant intelligence.
There is so much blind confidence in the secular window dressing around science and technology, that there is no warning that Millennial technological prophets employ the language of cult leaders. They speak the high-priestly language of a sacred mentality with religious fervour, and remain unaware of what they are actually doing, because they are scientists. They predict the future, while in the same breath admit that science tells them that the future cannot be predicted.



Eco horror from John Wyndham: alien trees might be triffid-like on planets in binary, two-sun systems. Image Source: Passenger Films.

Unknown Worlds of Science Fiction #1.

Image Source.
Will the techno-rapture break down over space farming, when the plants remind us about our bottom line dependence on the environment? That is the final cultural pre-condition. We breathe air. We drink water. And despite our love affair with our shiny tools, we need the other earthly organisms which have evolved alongside us. What will the galaxy gurus do when the plants refuse to grow, or start to die, or grow tendrils 12 feet long so that they can snag and eat the colonists?

What if, in the wilds of space, space colonies and spaceships, plants can survive better than we can, arise to occupy a superior evolutionary niche to do so, and eventually overthrow and destroy us? They are only tamed here on earth because terran conditions allow us to be dominant. Space colony die-hards forget that humans evolved to a dominant position out of, and within, this earthly ecosystem, and no other. Once humankind leaves this planet with other terran species, to interact in long-haul spacecraft and space colony ecosystems, there are no guarantees that humans will dominate those systems. Even with humans supported by the technology they developed, plants may not remain their silent slaves. And this is before animal husbandry comes into the mix.

In a related vein, Mars One - the plan to send colonists on a one way trip to Mars by 2027, aka the final apex of reality television - came under harsh criticism this week. Their candidate selection practices and media entertainment fund-raising took a bashing. Critics dismiss Mars One as a pyramid scheme, even though that is only symptomatic of a more pressing problem. The reason private companies are taking over space exploration is because of politics. For years in the United States, a bizarre scenario has unfolded in which global warming has been pitted politically against space explorationObama's government slashed NASA's budget and money for other Big Science projects, which meant that other countries are now challenging or outcompeting America in these fields. Under these conditions, private companies will merge commercial capitalism with space aspirations and exploration technology. This week, Mars One's technological feasibility critics came through the loudest because a 2014 MIT study declared that Mars One's colonists' first wheat crop would blow their life support systems.

An independent MIT study from October 2014 concluded that the maturation of Mars One colonists' wheat crops would blow their life support systems by creating an overabundance of oxygen. Image Source: Extreme Tech.

Agriculture adds an element of the universe's chaos into any plan for survival in space and space colonies. This is the chaos whose metrics physicists like Hawking constantly seek and which eludes them. This is the chaos which makes them admit that they cannot predict the future, right at the moment when technology dangles a future in front of them that they want to believe (rather than prove). This agricultural element of the unseen, of perceptual error, of the unknowable, confirms that space farming would constantly remind us of our essential humanity, right when space exploration threatened to dehumanize its technologists and engineers. It is organic chaos, culminating in our unpredictable relationship with the unwieldy environment and other organisms which may have the last laugh, which reminds us how fragile we are and that we must colonize the stars with humility. Luke, the hero of the original Star Wars trilogy, was raised as a farmer. It's no wonder why George Lucas did that. This is why, this week, the Mars One project came under fire around the question at the heart of all human civilizations: not media, not money, but agriculture.


An earlier post on HOTTC discussed the film, Silent Running (1972), in which the 1970s' back-to-the-land movement met the 1970s' space opera. You can hear Joan Baez's performance for the film's folksy soundtrack below the jump. Will the calls for space colonization overlap with the Millennial back-to-the land movement? So far, they haven't. Below the jump, see a selection of plants which have been planted on the International Space Station, and which plants are planned for future greenhouses on the moon and Mars. Several foods have been tested on the ISS, including the first bagels in space.

"Plant growth chambers, seeds and watering devices that made up part of an experiment flown to the space station during the STS-118 space shuttle mission [in 2007]. The seeds were later returned to Earth and grown within lunar growth chambers designed by students." Image Source: NASA via Phys.org.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Photo of the Day: Newton in Space


Image Source: Koichi Wakata.

Today's photo was taken and posted on Twitter on 6 February 2014 by Japanese astronaut Koichi Wakata. It is a spaceview from inside the International Space Station, looking at the rest of the station, the edge of earth in the background. The scene is sidelit by the sun; and there is an apple floating in zero gravity past the camera inside the spacecraft.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Photos of the Day: Microworlds


Humped, or Creeping, Bladderwort (Utricularia gibba) (click to enlarge), First Place in the Olympus BioScapes Imaging Competition (2013). Image Source: Igor Siwanowicz, HHMI Janelia Farm Research Campus, Ashburn, VA via NPR.

For today, a glimpse of tiny worlds! Above, see the fantastic First Prize winner of the Olympus BioScapes Imaging Competition. This is a digital microscopic photo, taken by Igor Siwanowicz, of the "[o]pen trap of aquatic carnivorous plant, humped bladderwort (Utricularia gibba). The floating plant digests microinvertebrates that are sucked into its trap a millisecond after they touch its trigger hairs." NPR explains how Siwanowicz took the picture:
Igor Siwanowicz, a neurobiologist at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute's Janelia Farm Research Campus ... magnified the plant 100 times using a laser scanning confocal microscope and used cellulose-binding fluorescent dye Calcofluor White to visualize the cell walls of the plant.
Siwanowicz's personal gallery of microscopic photos is here; the gallery has an e-card function, in case you need to scare (or delight) your friends over the holidays.

The Humped Bladderwort to the naked eye. Image Source:  Go Botany.

Directly below, see more microimages from Igor Siwanowicz.

Two male African mantis Pseudempusa pinnapavonis square off. Image Source: Igor Siwanowicz via HuffPo.

"A Giant Malaysian Shield Mantis cleans its tarsus (the last segment of an arthropodís leg) in Igor's home studio in Munich, Germany." Image Source: Igor Siwanowicz via HuffPo.

Desmids (a type of algae). Image Source: Igor Siwanowicz.

Cross section of a Juncus sp. leaf (a type of rush grass). Image Source: Igor Siwanowicz.

Below the jump, see more winners and honourable mentions from the Olympus BioScapes competition. The images are taken from the Olympus BioScapes 2013 Winners Gallery. All images here are copyrighted by the original photographers and are reproduced under Fair Use for non-commercial discussion and review only.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

A Year in the Life of a Tree



The Denver Post reports on a man who photographed a Bur Oak every day for one year and posted the photos on Facebook; he started on 24 March 2012. His experience showed that the simple act of slowing down and carefully looking at one other living thing can change one's whole perception of the world:
There is a tree that stands alone among the cornfields - about 5 miles south of Platteville, Wisconsin in the southwest corner of the state. Photographer Mark Hirsch drove by it almost every day for 19 years and never once stopped to take a picture. Then one day, he did. ...
“It was never easy and it never came naturally,” writes Hirsch. “But when I found that scene, situation or moment that made me comfortable that I had made a worthy picture for the day, it was incredibly rewarding personally. At some point, I really began to appreciate the contemplative nature of my visits to that tree.”
At first mention, a year in the life of a tree might not immediately sound interesting, visually or otherwise. Hirsch’s pictures, however, uncover a complex web of life and color surrounding the tree.
“I would describe that Tree as I would a friend,” writes Hirsch. “My initial description a year ago would have been as simple as a tree in a corn field, but now I would describe it as a tree of life in its own realm.”
“I was never very good at slowing down but I am now. I’ve learned to see things differently. And I’ve embraced an incredible appreciation for the land in and around that tree.”
By the 365th day, the project had become so renowned on Facebook that "on March 23, 2013, Hirsch took the last official pictures of the project ... [and a]lmost 300 people (and 12 dogs) showed up for a group photo under the branches of that tree [below]. Some devoted fans even drove in from Milwaukee, Chicago and northern Minnesota to be in the picture." See some of the photos below the jump, more or less in chronological order from spring 2012 to spring 2013 (they are taken from the Denver Post report or from Facebook); and the Facebook page with the full album here. Hirsch also published his photos in a book. All photos are © Mark Hirsch and are reproduced here under Fair Use for non-commercial review and discussion.

Group photo (23 March 2013), last day of the project.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Nuclear Leaks 28: The Devil is in the Details


Image Source: Snippets and Snappets.

There are a few unsettling nuclear headlines circulating at present. Bill Gates is set to spend billions of dollars of his own money on the development of mini nuclear reactors which will operate continuously for 30 years. Presumably, this means that he expects to make many more billions back on his investment. After a leak at a Swiss nuclear plant which contaminated drinking water from Lake Biel, attention returned to Japan.

Steam was seen rising today from reactor #3 at Fukushima (you can see a video of the steam entering open air below the jump). This is a cause for "alarm" since reactor #3 contains deadly MOX fuel, which combines plutonium and uranium; the vapour is coming from the fifth floor near the MOX fuel pool; at the same time, local groundwater has unbelievable levels of contamination:
The steam was noticed at 8:20am by repair crews tasked with removing contaminated debris from the building, which was badly damaged by the magnitude-9 earthquake that struck on March 11, 2011, and further battered by the subsequent tsunami.

The roof and walls of the upper stories of the building were torn off by a hydrogen explosion in the days after the disaster.

"All work to remove debris in and around Unit 3 was stopped," a spokesperson for Tokyo Electric Power Co. told The Daily Telegraph. "We have confirmed that radiation levels around the pressure chamber have not changed and at 9:20am we were able to confirm that the reactor has not reached criticality."

Tepco is collecting samples of air above Unit 3 and the assumption at the moment is that the steam is from rain that entered the reactor building and collected in the well beneath the pressure chamber where it became heated.

The incident is likely to raise new concerns about progress to bring the situation under control at the Fukushima plant.

Tepco confirmed recently that high levels of radioactivity had been detected in ground water in a well drilled to determine the spread of radioactivity beneath the plant.


Some 900,000 becquerels of radioactive substances were found per litre (0.22 gallon) in a sample taken from the well, which is just 80 feet from the coast. The radioactivity included strontium and Japan's Nuclear Regulatory Agency has set the safety level for radioactivity in drinking water at 10 becquerels per litre.

The authorities have said it is highly likely that the radioactivity is already leaking into the sea around the plant, despite efforts by Tepco to complete a concrete wall set deep into the ground to restrict the flow of groundwater.
There is some concern that there is an uncontrolled nuclear reaction taking place in reactor #3 (see The Japan Times and AFP). NYT:
[W]orkers were ready to inject water containing boric acid into the reactor from the outside at any signs of further trouble, like a rapid rise in temperature or radiation parameters, the company said in an e-mailed statement. Such spikes would raise the chilling possibility of criticality in the reactor’s damaged fuel, most which is thought to have melted and slumped to the bottom of its containment structure after the hydrogen explosion, one of several at the site in 2011. Boric acid would slow that rate of fission, preventing the worst-case scenario of uncontrolled nuclear chain reactions in the core.
In other words, if the core in reactor #3 were to reach criticality, we would have a nuclear reaction open to the environment, as happened at Chernobyl. However, officials urge calm, because the steam is apparently coming from between the Device Storage Pool (DSP), or from an area between the DSP and the containment lid. The most recent guess from TEPCO is that rainwater was heated and steaming on the containment lid. Should the lid really be that hot?

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Times Outside of History 10: De-Extinctioning at Pleistocene Park


Omission: The Fossil Record (1991) © by Alexis Rockman.

The news was recently full of the discovery of the best-ever preserved woolly mammoth, which raised cloning hopes. CNN:
Researchers from the Northeast Federal University in Yakutsk found the 10,000-year-old female mammoth buried in ice on the Lyakhovsky Islands off the coast of northeast Russia.

Scientists say they poked the frozen creature with a pick and dark liquid blood flowed out.

"The fragments of muscle tissues, which we've found out of the body, have a natural red color of fresh meat. The reason for such preservation is that the lower part of the body was underlying in pure ice," said Semyon Grigoriev, the head of the expedition and of the university's Mammoth Museum, in a statement on the university's website. ...

Grigoriev told The Siberian Times newspaper it was the first time mammoth blood had been discovered and called it "the best preserved mammoth in the history of paleontology."

"We suppose that the mammoth fell into water or got bogged down in a swamp, could not free herself and died. Due to this fact the lower part of the body, including the lower jaw, and tongue tissue, was preserved very well," he said.

Grigoriev called the liquid blood "priceless material" for the university's joint project with South Korean scientists who are hoping to clone a woolly mammoth, which has been extinct for thousands of years.

The controversial Sooam Biotech Research Foundation is headed up by Hwang Woo-suk -- the disgraced former Seoul National University scientist who claimed in 2004 that he had successfully cloned human embryonic stem cells before admitting he had faked his findings.

Typically, researchers contemplating revival of an extinct species do not think about the species but about human motivations. We are 'atoning for past sins,' or 'proving what we can do' if the money is right.

Is seems less challenging, morally speaking, to resurrect relatively recently extinct species, such as the aurochs, the baiji dolphin, the Japanese sea lion, the Caribbean monk seal, the thylacine, the passenger pigeon, or the dodo bird. In 2000, the last Pyrenean ibex died. In 2009, a clone brought the species back from extinction for the seven minutes that it remained alive.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Bidding Farewell to an Old Soul


 
It is an odd feeling to find out that someone you knew died some time ago. Today, with sadness, I remember a fascinating person I saw almost every week for years. Even so, I can't say I knew her, since she was a guarded figure. She told me some haunting things about her past, but generally she spoke an eternal language which often skipped all the details that make 'normal' conversations make sense.

This woman epitomized characteristics which we almost never encounter in this day and age: mystery, wisdom and silence. She attached herself to all the things which elude busy multi-taskers, especially the essential truths evident in living things. Sometimes, the people who teach you the most important values and lessons seem to be obscure, and so she seemed.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Countdown to Hallowe'en 1: Nature's Gods

Image Source: Nightmare Kingdom.

Hallowe'en is a reminder that the modern age swept aside beliefs in whole pantheons of natural deities, including some very frightening demons. One of the latter is the Kushtaka. This evil spirit, profiled on Brad Meltzer's Decoded episode about Alaska's mysteries, is so troubling to local native peoples that the site of television interview was purified after Meltzer's crew departed.

Kushtaka, or 'land otter man': "Canoe prow ornament representing Land-Otter-Man, Tlingit, from Sitka, Alaska, USA. Found at Nass River, British Columbia, Canada, in 1918." Image Source: Werner Forman via Heritage Images.

The Kushtaka is a soul-stealer, shape-shifter and otter-spectre feared by the Tlingit and Tsimshian peoples. These days, otters are viewed as people-friendly creatures. Perhaps it is their human expression that made them the subject of shape-shifting mythology. The Kushtaka is rather like the equally malevolent Native American monster, the Wendigo. Kushtakas are also sometimes likened to sasquatches.

It is believed that the Kushtaka lures people away to their deaths in deep waters. It usually takes the form of a person known to its victim, such as a kindly grandmother beckoning to her ill-fated grandchild from the edge of the forest. It will imitate the cries of a drowning woman or baby in waterways to lure would-be rescuers into treacherous rivers. It is also known to call sailors along Pacific American coasts to their deaths. Kushtakas are said to whistle in a telltale, low-high-low tone.

There are some Kushtaka stories online. Kushtakas make war on humans by spreading a plague amongst them in this legend from the Tlingit people. In this story, they take possession of women in a community and incite a bloody conflict. And in this story, a helpful but still spectral Kushtaka haunts a bereaved couple by appearing to them as their dead son and bringing them fish to eat. Those whom the Kushtakas help or harm run the risk of becoming Kushtakas themselves.

"Tlingit Native American, Land otter man, Clan: Ganaaxteidi. Place: Haines." Image Source: De Peper Muntjes Knipper.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Amazing Photos


The Milky Way Over Hawaii © Cameron Brooks. Image Source: Facebook.

Here are some great photos I have found around the Web. I won't reproduce all of them here since they are not my work, but do not miss Hollyhock Detail at The Poor Mouth and Queen Anne's Lace at Trans-D Digital Art (wow!). Where possible, I have attributed authorship, copyright and source for photos copied here.

This NASA photo made me wonder if the Star of Bethlehem, if its appearance was a historical fact, may have been auroras appearing far south due to a solar storm. Image (September 2012) © Fredrick Broms (Northern Lights Photography) via NASA.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Wonders of the Millennial World 3: Singapore's Gardens by the Bay


These are the Supertrees in Singapore's new Gardens by the Bay complex. From Twisted Sifter:
As part of Singapore’s redevelopment and new downtown area at Marina Bay, the sprawling 250-acre Gardens by the Bay is an incredible public space with gardens, bridges, skywalks, parks and plants. The green development has been proclaimed a ‘horticultural heaven’. The attractions garnering the most buzz are the two massive climate-controlled biomes called Cloud Forest and Flower Dome and of course the massive man-made supertrees which are showcased below.

The biomes are equivalent in size to about four football fields and will become the new home for approximately 220,000 plants from ever continent on our planet. An interesting feature of the Flower Dome is that the horticultural waste will feed a massive steam turbine that in turn generates electricity that is needed to keep the biome climate-controlled. The two biomes are the only areas of the Gardens by the Bay where an admission fee will be charged. ... Gardens of the Bay is set to open to the public on June 29th [2012].
 Image Source: Twisted Sifter.