Monday, January 31, 2011

Ginger: Wonderful Properties


It was highly unusual for our cat to jump onto the kitchen table to hover over a piece of coffee cake spiced with ginger. A good family friend brought it the day before and everyone commented on its distinctive flavour. After some research I found that ginger has some interesting attributes:

- Ginger is a delicacy, medicine, and spice.
- The oils from ginger is proven to help with digestion, and has analgesic, sedative, and antibacterial properties.
- It has shown to prevent certain cancers in mice.
- Ginger is a versatile spice that flavours tea, cakes, and meat dishes.
- Ginger powder is used in food preparation for pregnant and nursing mothers.
- It helps to treat colds, nausea, and is suffused in folk lore cures.
- Another site provides more medicinal properties including treatment for circulatory disorders, diarrhea, depression, alcoholism, fibromyalgia, and fever.

Cats are wiser than we know. Why did Scout want to smell and perhaps eat that cake? It encourages one to think about how to use ginger in a variety of recipes.

Googling Away our Brain Power?


We all know the exhilarating feeling of typing a web search for a name, an event, a year, a concept... and finding that Google instantly provides an encyclopedia of details, and even corrects our spelling or misnaming.

One journalist, however, wonders if we should resist the impulse. Let the old (or young) brain do a little mental gymnastics and fire up those synapses:

"I have visions of Google somehow overriding those connections and, in so doing, rendering them vestigial, obsolete" like children not learning about rotating clocks or tying shoelaces.

There is something about the banter in a conversation, the persistent quest ignited in the subconscious, the aha experience which are potent cognitive sparks.

"...in that moment of remembering, visions of synapses firing danced in my head and a shower of sweet relief washed over me."

Image from Lumosity, a site which applies neuro scientific research to 'reclaim your brain' through games and exercises.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Poignant and Rewarding Films


One film critic is very excited about four documentary films with an environmental theme which got Oscar nominations.

"What these ones all get right, in my opinion, is that they stand alone as human interest stories. They all acknowledge the fact that the most important environmental issues—pollution, waste, extraction, climate change—are also the most important human issues."

Sun Come Up follows the plight of some of the world's first true climate refugees. Their homeland, the Cataret Islands, a remote chain in the South Pacific, is fast losing ground to rising sea levels. 'The families who have lived there for dozens of generations have made the agonizing decision to relocate their entire community.'

The Warriors of Quigang tells an incredible "David vs. Goliath" story of poor villagers in China's industrial heartland standing up against runaway pollution. 'The village of Qiugang is plagued by three major industrial outlets that "churned out chemicals, pesticides, and dyes, turning the local river black, killing fish and wildlife, and filling the air with foul fumes that burned residents’ eyes and throats and sickened children." '

It's interesting to see the involvement of Yale Environment 360, a nonprofit environmental journalism initiative with Warriors.

Gasland takes a critical look at the natural gas industry—particularly the relatively new and controversial practice of "hydrofracking" to extract the fossil fuel from its shale deposits. 'The film uses startling images of kitchen faucets erupting in flames and polluted streams to argue against the practice that many community activists see as a major threat to public health and safety.'

Finally 'In the world's largest garbage dump, on the outskirts of Rio de Janiero, a community of catadores, or "scavengers," spend their lives picking through the refuse for recyclable, reusable, and even edible materials. WASTE LAND follows artist Vik Muniz from Brooklyn back to his native Brazil, where he connects with the trash-pickers, helping them create striking, vivid images of themselves out of garbage that he then photographs. The images, according to the filmmakers, show "both the dignity and despair of the catadores as they begin to re-imagine their lives."'

For a critic who has been lukewarm about other environmental films, Ben Jervey calls them all "poignant, challenging, and wonderfully rewarding to watch."

Via Good.is

Saturday, January 29, 2011

What Lies Within

What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us. ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

- What lies behind you?
- What lies before you?
- And, most importantly, what lies within you?

The above is one of the quotations this week at 365 Quote Quest, quotes for reflection and renewal.

Strategic Web Growth


Want to build a brand, website, or blog that becomes widely known? Column Five Media seems to have the expertise to help you meet those strategic interests. One of their specialties is designing high quality infographics which have been popping up on various sites in the last few months.

Regarding content creation: "Our editorial and design teams have a wide range of specialties, and we are able to produce high-quality content tailored to social media promotion, and search marketing. Whether you are in need of interactive infographics, viral ghost writing, or any other type of content, we are able to meet your brand’s needs."

With respect to social media: "Our team contains high profile members of the social media community and we are able to effectively promote your website across the social spectrum. Our specialty is building web traffic, building links and generating a buzz for your brand. This is what we do best."

And syndication: "We are well connected online, and actively pursue opportunities to re-syndicate your content on well-reputed sites. This approach – what we call “Social PR” – adds credibility and strength to your site."

One marvels at the exciting developments which are taking place in internet communications.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Dog Park Heaven

To a canine living in a loving condo home in the city, a dog park is the Serengeti or Yellowstone. Here they are free to roam unencumbered by leash and sidewalk. There's wildness and game there as they scout and frolic with fleet footed paws and glistening furry manes.

The Magpie prompt this week of a pristine walk in nature with an obtrusive arrow pointed to the right, signals a dog park for Finn, my daughter's Yorkshire terrier who lives in the midst of Toronto high rises. It's the only destination that really matters where horizons stretch into adventure.

The ASPCA (The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) believes that dog parks are beneficial to both dogs and their guardians. "They promote responsible pet ownership and the enforcement of dog-control laws; give dogs a place to exercise safely, thus reducing barking and other problem behaviors; provide seniors and disabled owners with an accessible place to exercise their companions; and provide an area for community-building and socializing."

The number of community dog parks is growing with close to 1,100 in North America alone.

The owners, family, and friends of these dogs have almost as much fun there as their pets.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Sentence Charisma


If you care about good writing, I encourage you to read the review in NPR of Stanley's Fish's book How to Write a Sentence. Fish is a New York Times writer who shares his passion about syntax and word choice, flow and meaning.

'Just as a student of art must learn how to describe the merits of a painting, aspiring writers must be able to articulate what constitutes a well-crafted sentence.

"If you can begin to understand an accomplishment in detail, and be able to talk about what makes it work, you will begin to know why your sentences work or don't work."

Many writers think that individual words are more important than the sentences that contain them. Not so, says Fish, who titled one chapter in the book, "It's Not the Thought That Counts."'

An excerpt from the book provides several examples of sentence creation mastery.

And the words slide into the slots ordained by syntax, and glitter as with atmospheric dust with those impurities which we call meaning....

If God didn't want them sheared, he would not have made them sheep.

'The sentence is snapped off, almost like the flick of a whip; it has the form of proverbial wisdom (a form we shall look at later), and the air of finality and certainty it aspires to is clinched by the parallelism of clauses that also feature the patterned repetition of consonants and vowels: "didn't want" and "would not have," "sheared" and "sheep." We know that "sheep" is coming because of "sheared" and when it arrives it seems inevitable and, at least from one perspective, just."

As a 'retired' high school English teacher, if I were back I would read this review and excerpt with my students including Lewis Carroll's poem Jabberwocky, and the exercise Fish recommends to enrich skills in writing enthralling sentences.


Should Schools Grade Parents?


The Hot Button Blog is an interesting daily focus in the Life section of The Globe and Mail. A team of writers submit timely topics for consideration.

One such article regards a bill a Florida representative would like the legislature to pass called the Parent Involvement and Accountability in Public Schools. It would see parents of kids from pre-K to Grade 3 assigned a "satisfactory, needs improvement, or unsatisfactory" in these areas:

-Parental response to requests for conferences or communication.
-The student's completion of homework and preparation for tests.
-The student's physical preparation for school that has an effect on mental preparation.
-The frequency of the student's absence and tardiness.

Educators know the importance of the early years of a child's development for learning. Even the efforts of the best primary teacher are compromised by a challenged home environment. It's time for some parents to be much more accountable?

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Photo Contest: The Ultimate Scene

Take a picture of your favorite view. Good.is challenged its readers to submit one for a contest.

"In the weeks that followed, readers sent in images of coastlines, city backdrops, and vistas. Some images celebrated the overwhelming and magnificent size of the landscapes we live in, while other pictures focused on smaller instances of natural beauty right under our noses."

Now the judges have hundreds to choose from such as the one provided here at the top left, and they invite readers to choose the best one from a sample they provided.

It's interesting to think about photos of our favorite view. We all have one taken from near or far. I guess one of mine is from afar.

Last fall my wife and I took a six week camping trip to the western U.S. when we visited 16 national parks.

When we saw the Grand Canyon, it took our breath away as did so many other vistas.

What picture, near or far, would you submit?

Obama: Passion and Vision


As a Canadian I still watched with interest President Obama's 2011 State of the Union speech. As with many of his other speeches, it was filled with energy, hope, and vision.

His address was a pep talk for the country in "winning the future." There are three steps:

- This is "our generation's Sputnik moment" and new strides need to be taken in innovation, research, technology particularly in renewable energy.
"We are the nation that put cars in driveways and computers in offices; the nation of Edison and the Wright brothers; of Google and Facebook. In America, innovation doesn't just change our lives. It's how we make a living."

- We must win the race to educate our kids and encourage improved performance.
"That responsibility (to gain success) begins not in our classrooms, but in our homes and communities. It's family that first instills the love of learning in a child. Only parents can make sure the TV is turned off and homework gets done. We need to teach our kids that it's not just the winner of the Super Bowl who deserves to be celebrated, but the winner of the science fair; that success is not a function of fame or PR, but of hard work and discipline."

- We must rebuild American infrastructure to attract investment.
"To attract new businesses to our shores, we need the fastest, most reliable ways to move people, goods, and information - from high-speed rail to high-speed internet."

Finally I liked the reference to an enterprising American oil drilling business who helped save the Chilean miners. Obama goes on to say,

"We are a nation that says, "I might not have a lot of money, but I have this great idea for a new company. I might not come from a family of college graduates, but I will be the first to get my degree. I might not know those people in trouble, but I think I can help them, and I need to try. I'm not sure how we'll reach that better place beyond the horizon, but I know we'll get there. I know we will."

"We do big things."

To fulfill all these goals is another matter, but President Obama has provided an inspiring vision.

See the full text of his speech here.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Social Media Warning


Disclosure: I am not an RC. Pope Benedict has raised some interesting questions about social media.

In a message entitled "Truth, proclamation and authenticity of life in the digital age" he writes that the possibilities of new media and social networks offered "a great opportunity," but warned of the risks of depersonalization, alienation, self-indulgence, and the dangers of having more virtual friends than real ones.

"It is important always to remember that virtual contact cannot and must not take the place of direct human contact with people at every level of our lives."

He urged users of social networks to ask themselves "Who is my 'neighbor' in this new world?" and avoid the danger of always being available online but being "less present to those whom we encounter in our everyday life."

The vast horizons of new media "urgently demand a serious reflection on the significance of communication in the digital age."

The pope did not mention any specific social networking site or application by name, but sprinkled his message with terms such as "sharing," "friends," and "profiles."

He said social networking can help "dialogue, exchange, solidarity and the creation of positive relations" but he also offered a list of warnings.

The message encourages one to think about his/her own internet associations, and whether or not this activity may be affecting one's day to day relationships and actions.

Via New York Times article.

Gratitude is not for Wimps


A team of psychologists is researching the science of gratitude and collecting evidence that it enhances one's quality of life.

"Far from being a warm, fuzzy sentiment, gratitude is morally and intellectually demanding, it requires contemplation, reflection and discipline. It can be hard and painful work."

Professor Robert Emmons assigned some students to write down five things they were thankful for each day and others to record five complaints. Three weeks later, the grateful students reported measurable improvements in psychological, physical and social well-being compared with their complaining classmates.

Since then, Emmons has conducted variations of the experiment in dozens of other study populations, including organ transplant recipients, adults with chronic neuromuscular disease, and healthy fifth-graders.

“We always find the same thing,” he says. “People who keep gratitude journals improve their quality of life.”

In his book he discusses 10 strategies to cultivate gratitude which include keeping journals, remembering the bad, learning prayers, appreciating one's senses, going through the right motions which will lead to positive emotions.

I am also reminded of several quotes:

The habit of giving only enhances the desire to give. ~ Walt Whitman

We make a living by what we get. We make a life by what we give. ~ Winston Churchill

Via Futurity

Monday, January 24, 2011

Vital Overseas Field Experience


For many university graduates the next step is finding pivotal experience. One "hot area right now" is international development. CARE International, for example, recently received 600 applicants for one job at the aid agency.

At graduate recruitment conferences "it's no surprise there is a lot of discussion about the importance of narrowing your focus in a job search by targeting organizations which suit your skills and interests...and considering how "vital overseas field experience is."

At one event hosted by The Guardian a panel of speakers included representatives from:

- 2WayDevelopment:'developing through volunteering'
- VSO: 'the world's leading independent, international development charity'
- Restless Development: a youth-led development agency
- WSE: 'an organization that provides independent information and career advice to people who want to volunteer or work in international development'
- Skillshare International

One can understand why employers appreciate the depth and breadth of insight gained through international development experience.

Behind the Curve


For many communities Walmart is the beating consumer heart. Their budget prices help to shape the lifestyle and diet of many families.

Consequently the company's announcement to reduce the sodium in its store-brand packaged foods by 25 percent and added sugars by 10 percent, to remove trans fats entirely, to drive down the cost of produce was noted carefully by consumers and food corporations.

One professor sees the initiative as far-reaching and positive.

It will bring "a great deal of attention to the public health potential of reformulating foods to create healthier products" and it will "pressure food manufacturers to reformulate their products lest they be seen as laggards standing in the way of the nation's efforts to reduce health care costs."

"Food companies have systematically trained Americans (and global consumers) to eat in perverse ways. We now expect extreme levels of sweetness, fattiness, and saltiness in our foods. We turn a blind eye to countless chemicals and artificial ingredients in food products. People now eat in their cars, snack all day long, are exposed to enormous portions, and have food available 24 hours a day in multiple locations.

It is time to turn this ship around."

It seems to me the food diet pendulum began swinging away from the over processed years ago; Walmart and the giant food companies now have to be a little more responsive to consumer demands.

Via Huffington Post

Sunday, January 23, 2011

The Perpetual War


The image of a weapon which would bring an end to the devastation of trench warfare in World War 1 seems almost humorous today. It was on the February 1917 cover of the magazine The Electrical Experimenter. The war ended on November 11, 1918 amidst celebration abroad but guarded trepidation at the front.

"The design of this mobile dreadnaught, with its steel-tired, spoked wheels, suggests that its inventor may have been influenced by agricultural tractors or perhaps an amusement park Ferris wheel. The trench destroyer also embodies the common goal of military visionaries: maximum offensive power with total defensive security."

George Orwell in Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949) wrote of the perpetual war which advanced the cause of nations who wanted to distract and keep people focused on a war rather than on other domestic issues. One wonders when the perpetual war will end. When will the lion lie down with the lamb and there will be war no more?

Image and reference via Boing Boing

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Centuries old Craft


Kiva, 'Letters from the Field' is an interesting blog written by the field workers who administer the loans provided to small businesses in challenged countries.

One letter provides a reflection of the silk weaving industry in Cambodia. Due to rising prices of silk, the centuries old craft is threatened.

"55 year old Ny told me that the women of her family have been weaving for generations, since “ancient times.” She taught her five children to weave, including her three sons. But when I asked why her loom was dismantled and now being used to prop up a bicycle she explained that it just wasn’t lucrative enough anymore, and that she had switched to farming vegetables. She’s kept the loom rather than selling it in the hopes that she will be able to start weaving again in the future.

Most weavers in Cambodia are women–the craft is passed down from mother to daughter. They usually start weaving when they are in their early teens and continue until their eyes give out. Many of them are subsistence farmers during the rice season, and most have one or two looms set up in houses that lack running water."

Letters like this provide a vivid portrayal about life going on globally. Often they provide a poignant picture of a hopeful people seeking a meaningful livelihood for their families within the community.

Kiva (loans that change lives) is one way in which help can be provided to fulfill their dreams.

Rock in a Hard Place

An excellent article by music critic Neil McCormick suggests we are seeing the demise of rock music.

-"Is rock dead? The claim has been made before, usually prematurely. But evidence is mounting that we are witnessing the last gasps of the guitar-based genre that has towered over the popular music world since the 1950s.

-Rock music, in any of its varied forms, has almost completely disappeared from the charts. This excited some controversy, with stories appearing elsewhere both issuing death certificates and defending rock’s survival skills.

-Jim Morrison was probably the first to coin the phrase as far back as 1969, repeating, “Rock is dead” over and over in a widely bootlegged jam. In fact, the genre outlived the singer.

-Rock’s pathetic three per cent of the charts (U.K.'s top 100 best-selling tracks) in 2010 was down from an already rather sickly 13 per cent in 2009, and 27 per cent in 2008. Turn that into a hospital graph and the prognosis would be terminal.

-There were, in fact, no rock bands in the top 15 bestselling albums in the world last year. Not one.

-Bon Jovi were the highest-earning live act last year, bringing in £130.07 million in ticket sales, ahead of AC/DC, U2 and Metallica, with Lady Gaga the sole representative of the new pop culture.

-We are, I suspect, witnessing a transition akin to the last days of jazz or swing, albeit scaled up to account for rock’s stadium-sized reach over 50 years of mass entertainment. If it is a death, it will be a long and slow one, with occasional remissions when a genuinely talented young artist harnesses the genre in an original or invigorating way.

-At some fundamental level, the rock narrative is exhausted. Its musical palette has nothing new to offer, and, arguably, that has been the case for a decade or more. What is perhaps most remarkable is that rock has lasted so long, propelled by the visceral thrill of the electric guitar, the primal energy stirred up by three chords and the truth, and a parade of fantastic characters driven to wring every nuance from a multifarious genre."

It's interesting to hear the work of one group Mumford and Sons which McCormick sees as genuinely "fresh, even novel."

Article via The Daily Telegraph

Friday, January 21, 2011

What can you Glean?


Gleaning means to gather grain left behind by reapers; to collect bit by bit. In the U.S. up to 96 billion pounds of food goes unharvested.

"On U.S. farms, gleaning is making a comeback, as a national anti-hunger organization has turned to the ancient practice to help feed the poor. And it also gives farmers a way to use produce that would otherwise be wasted.

In the Old Testament, farmers are told not to pick their fields and vineyards clean, but instead to leave the edges for orphans, widows and travelers. In the modern day, gleaning is more about preventing would-be waste.

Food gets left in the field for all kinds of reasons. Two big ones are that mechanical harvesting misses a lot — and sometimes the crops aren't pretty enough for supermarket shelves."

Gleaning, which involves finding something useful which has been passed over, has appeal in other areas of life too: finding the good in a person, discovering a simple beauty in life, preserving something fragile in nature, celebrating the moments which can bring wholeness...

What can you glean?

Image: The Gleaners, Jean-Francoise Millett 1857, depicts peasant women gleaning a field for leftover grains. Article via NPR.

Romancing the Random


A wonderful essay reflects on how society seems to be enamored by the random lately. CNN has the random moment of the day, a website invites random webcam conversations, there is random play of music. Is there some meaning behind it all?

"It’s hard to know just where this new fondness for the random has come from, but certainly we seem starved for surprise and improvisation. Somewhere between the acceleration of contemporary life, the precision of communication technology, and the overall efficiency of the digital age, we seem to have developed an appetite for the haphazard. In the age of information, when it takes a second to Google a name or a date, a minute to download an entire book, we tend to operate on the premise that life is knowable....

Randomness can be complex, interesting, beautiful. Or it can be none of these. Unpredictability can be just as dull as predictability. The inexplicable and accidental have always held the human imagination, but the often uncritical way we romance the random now makes me want to search out those enterprises with a genuine literacy to them...

Maybe the point is that exploitation of the random finds its greatest meaning when it establishes a rhythm with the intentional; that the unexpected, changeable, and instantaneous can be folded into the calculated, into the deliberate. As in life itself, what’s compelling is the choreography of what we control and what we can’t. And how what we choose manages to coincide and coexist with what we can’t, don’t, and wouldn’t ever."

As we navigate through our mass media and Internet exposure, even the subjects of our posts for those who blog, it's interesting to deconstruct the possible aesthetics, literacy, and perspectives behind it all.

Akiko Busch from American Craft via UTNE reader.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Simple Solutions are the Best

Logos serve as potent symbols and sometimes they are tweaked.

Starbucks is celebrating its 40th anniversary on March 30 and is making some changes to its recognizable trademark.

A designer at I'mjustcreative likes it:

-"Now they have released the fair Siren from its center stage, it’s free and open, much more expressive.

-The biggest change is the removal of the brand name, quite a confident move... it follows Apple and Nike, who have for some time just relied on the brand mark to tell the story....

- It can afford to say less but achieve much much more.

-The curvy lines really draw you in, the Siren is doing her job.

-There is a slight nod back to the original one colour logo here, removing the harsh black and just reverting to the green. I also like the way middle circle in the Siren almost looks like a semi replacement for what was the black hole.

-That’s not to take anything away from the redesign, often the simplest solutions are the best."

I marvel at the power of logos. Every time I play squash I am reminded of the Adidas brand on my apparel.

What logo is embedded in your subconscious?

What's the Healthiest Tea?


According to a leading dietician black, white, and green tea are all healthy and contain a potent concentration of antioxidants to lower the risk of heart disease and types of cancer. Herbal tea, on the other hand, is not considered a true tea because they are mostly brewed from flowers, grasses, and herbs.

"Green tea is made from mature tea leaves that are not allowed to oxidize or ferment; the leaves are quickly steamed or heated and then dried. White tea is produced in a similar manner to green tea except that younger leaves and buds are used. To make black tea, the leaves are first rolled or broken to release some of the juices necessary for fermentation. The leaves are then allowed to fully ferment before they’re heated and dried.

Because green tea has not been fermented, it contains the highest concentration, about three times the quantity of antioxidants found in black tea. Steaming the leaves during green tea production inactivates the enzyme that triggers fermentation and the subsequent loss of antioxidants. White tea is also steamed and, as a result, retains high concentrations present in the leaves. Black tea, which is fully fermented, contains the least antioxidants although it is still a very good source."

Finally the article recommends loose tea leaves rather than tea bags. A cup of brewed loose leaf tea is much better tasting and contains more antioxidants because the whole tea leaf has more surface area for extraction.

Now I'm off to find our tea strainer!

Via The Globe and Mail

Image

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

A Simpler Era?

The turn of the last century must have been a kind of idyllic time before the onslaught and disillusionment of The First World War.

When I saw the Magpie prompt this week, of ladies in Victorian era bustles and crinolines, laced collars and wools, I was reminded of The Road to Avonlea television series broadcast from 1990 - 1996 by the CBC and the Disney Channel.

Kevin Sullivan, the creator, had earlier brought Lucy Maude Montgomery's Anne of Green Gables and its sequel to the movie screen in 1985 and '87.

The series takes place in a fictional, small town of Avonlea, Prince Edward Island and set in 1903-1912. The show was a delight for my family including our two young daughters. We saw romance kindled on the skating pond, drama on the farm amidst the elements, and intrigue among the people of the village.

Montgomery's novel Anne of Green Gables published in 1908 has sold more than 50 million copies, been translated in most languages, and studied in schools around the world. She found her inspiration for the book on an old piece of paper that she had written at a young age, describing a couple who were mistakenly sent an orphan girl instead of a boy. Fortunately they decided to keep the most gifted child.

One is encouraged to think about how much our world has changed in the last 100 years and how much it has stayed the same.

Giants Collide

Myth and legend intersect with a published essay about ancient dinosaur tracks in Tibet. In 1999 giant, human shaped footprints were uncovered at a construction site.

Local residents celebrated what they believed to be the discovery of ancient traces left by the legendary figure King Gesar, the hero of an epic poem at the heart of Tibetan history.

Two paleontologists, however, believe they are prints left by an enormous dinosaur about 150 million years ago, probably an Apatosaurus, a 23 metre, 23 tonne monster of the Jurassic era.

One of the scholars said the Gesar epic is captured in "folk tales, legends, folk songs and proverbs," from the mountainous, semi-autonomous region of China.

"It has been passed down orally and musically from one generation to the next," he said. "Even today, the epic is still widespread among the Tibetan people, especially among farmers and herdsmen."

Either 'giant' provides a fascinating perspective.

Image of an Apatosaurus at the Carnegie Museum.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Vivian Maier to Rise from Obscurity


John Maloof is dedicated to bringing the work of a brilliant street photographer Vivian Maier from the 1950's - 1990's to life. He fortuitously discovered her art at an auction in Chicago where he purchased "over 100,000 mostly medium format negatives, thousands of prints, and a ton of undeveloped rolls of film."

The auction house acquired her belongings from her storage locker that was sold off due to delinquent payments. Maloof didn't know what 'street photography' was when he purchased the mountain of creative work but he has immersed himself in the genre ever since the discovery.

"It took me days to look through all of her work. It inspired me to pick up photography myself. Little by little, as I progressed as a photographer, I would revisit Vivian's negatives and I would "see" more in her work. I bought her same camera and took to the same streets soon to realize how difficult it was to make images of her caliber. I discovered the eye she had for photography through my own practice...."

After some researching, he discovered fragmentary aspects of her life. A camera shop encountered Vivian from time to time when she would purchase film while out on the Chicago streets. From what they knew of her, she was a very "keep your distance from me" type of person but was also outspoken. She loved foreign films and didn't care much for American films.

Out of the more than 100,000 negatives Maloof has in the collection, about 20-30,000 negatives were still in rolls, undeveloped from the 1960's-1970's. He has been successfully developing these rolls. Fortunately most of her negatives that were developed in sleeves have the date and location penciled in.

Maloof with a partner have registered at Kickstarter to raise money for a feature length documentary film. Judging by the number of reviews from the media, critics are delighted by the prospects.

See some beautiful images of her work here.

Cartographic Discovery


I love stories of ancient treasures found in dusty estates. A rare map from 1699 depicting eastern Canada was found in a Scottish home covered in dust in the attic beside some water tanks.

The 312 year old map sold for $318,000, nearly triple the expected high-end price of $125,000. The bidding war was between potential buyers in Canada and Britain.

The signed, hand-drawn depiction was created by English mapmaker John Thornton, one of Europe's leading cartographers at the time. It depicts in detail the eastern seaboard of New Found Land, New Scotland (Nova Scotia), New France (Quebec), Nova Britania, and the fledgling colonies of New England. There is particular detail provided of the fishing areas.

The 68 by 80 centimetre vellum map, drawn on sheepskin, is remarkably well preserved.

The auctioneer said, "Manuscript maps that relate to Canada and North America at the end of the 17th century are very rare indeed." Curators discovered the map while evaluating items for an estate sale. This map is as good as buried treasure.

Reading about this wonderful discovery brings back memories of the grade school lessons of the first Canadian explorers like John Cabot (1450-1499) who discovered Newfoundland in 1497 and the extensive explorations of Samuel de Champlain (1567-1635).

Monday, January 17, 2011

King's Message Still Resonates


In August of 1963 The Atlantic published Martin Luther King's famous "Letter from Birmingham Jail" as "The Negro Is Your Brother." It was written in response to a public statement of concern and caution issued by eight white religious leaders of the South. The Atlantic calls it "one of the classic documents of the civil-rights movement."

Excerpts of the letter:

-I think I should give the reason for my being in Birmingham, since you have been influenced by the argument of "outsiders coming in."

-I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny.

-We have waited for more than three hundred and forty years for our God-given and constitutional rights. The nations of Asia and Africa are moving with jetlike speed toward the goal of political independence, and we still creep at horse-and-buggy pace toward the gaining of a cup of coffee at a lunch counter. I guess it is easy for those who have never felt the stinging darts of segregation to say "wait."

-... when you see the vast majority of your twenty million Negro brothers smothering in an airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society;

-when you suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speech stammering as you seek to explain to your six-year-old daughter why she cannot go to the public amusement park that has just been advertised on television, and see tears welling up in her little eyes when she is told that Funtown is closed to colored children, and see the depressing clouds of inferiority begin to form in her little mental sky, and see her begin to distort her little personality by unconsciously developing a bitterness toward white people;

-when you take a cross-country drive and find it necessary to sleep night after night in the uncomfortable corners of your automobile because no motel will accept you;

-when you are harried by day and haunted by night by the fact that you are a Negro, living constantly at tiptoe stance, never quite knowing what to expect next, and plagued with inner fears and outer resentments;...

-The answer is found in the fact that there are two types of laws: there are just laws, and there are unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that "An unjust law is no law at all."

-I have no fear about the outcome of our struggle in Birmingham, even if our motives are presently misunderstood. We will reach the goal of freedom in Birmingham and all over the nation, because the goal of America is freedom.

-Never before have I written a letter this long—or should I say a book?

-If I have said anything in this letter that is an understatement of the truth and is indicative of an unreasonable impatience, I beg you to forgive me...

47 years later this letter still resonates. Martin Luther King Jr. was a visionary and prophet, a man who stood up against injustice and prejudice.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Wiki-omnipotence


Wikipedia celebrated its tenth birthday on January 15, one of the most popular destinations on the web with 400 million views a month. The site contains 17 million articles in 270 languages.

Jimmy Wales, co-founder, recently raised $16 million in 50 days to fill its coffers which relies on thousands of people editing entries or adding new ones in return for nothing more than the satisfaction of "contributing to the stock of human knowledge."

On the whole, Wikipedia’s system of peer reviewing does a reasonable job of policing facts; however, it is "vulnerable to vandalism."

Despite Wikipedia's amazing success, there is evidence of declining engagement. The number of regular contributors to Wikipedia’s English-language encyclopedia "dropped from around 54,000 at its peak in March 2007 to some 35,000 in September 2010. A similar trend has been visible in some foreign-language versions of the encyclopedia."

As a footnote The Economist holds a regular competition where they post a photo and invite readers to provide a caption. For the photo of Jimmy Wales and their article the winning caption reads 'And now they have bailed out Wales.'

On the tenth anniversary it's interesting to think about Wikipedia's immense influence in supplying information to the masses. This digital encyclopedia for the globe seems to have achieved widespread acceptance?

Via article from The Economist.

Judging each Day

Judge each day not by the harvest you reap but by the seeds you plant. ~ Robert Louis Stevenson

- What did you harvest this past week?
- What seeds did you plant?
- What seeds can you plant next week to enrich your life and that of others?

This was one of the quotes for reflection at 365 Quote Quest this past week.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Stories with Impact


The Huffington Post organizes its online news into a convenient format of topics like World/Green/Tech/Health...

'Impact' involves stories about outreach and help in the community. It also features the 'Greatest Person of the Day' series.

For example, recent recipients include:

- Nadia Raymond has gone three times as a nurse to Haiti to help with disaster response efforts. "I think it just makes you more aware of yourself and how you live...you look at your family with new eyes, you look at what you have with new eyes."

- Sasha Kramer is a doctor who is also in Haiti helping them to find clean sanitation alternatives. She has developed SOIL, "Sustainable Organic Integrated Livelihoods," with a mission to transform waste into resources in order to empower Haitian communities.

- Andrew Slack is founder of the Harry Potter Alliance who believes in the power of storytelling as a way to help alleviate the ills of the world. He was inspired by author J.K. Rowling in a 2008 commencement speech at Harvard--"We do not need magic to change the world, we carry all the power we need inside ourselves already: we have the power to imagine better."Rowling wanted her fans to funnel the inspiration of creativity into a pathway for better thinking about how to change this world.

- Joe Selvaggio responded to the needs he saw in his Minnesota community and started MicroGrants in 2006, the same year that Mohammed Yunus won the Nobel Prize for pioneering a system of micro loans to those in need with his Grameen Bank. "Assigned to a parish in an inner city in Minnesota, he could not ignore his desire to help the poor become more affluent, and so left priesthood to pursue his passion. After a few years working to sell mutual funds, he realized that there were enough people willing to give their money to the less-fortunate that he could focus solely on administrating the exchange between givers and receivers."

The 'greatest person of the day' series encourages one to think about people in our own communities who provide social assistance often in quiet, inconspicuous ways.

Annoying Buzzwords/Cliches


Bloggers are part of the "social media", "social networking" craze, and it's an important place to be for marketing professionals. But according to a recent survey business people are sick of hearing these terms.

What are the annoying buzzwords that should be used with caution if you are in business? They include the two above and synergy, innovation, value/value added, going green, free, ROI/return on investment, culture change, think out of the box, and integration. Also getting mention were proactive, multi-tasking, and end of the day.

On a similar note Lake Superior State University holds an annual invitation to recommend words which should be banished. Here are some from their 2011 Banished Words List:

viral - 'This linguistic disease of a term must be quarantined.'

epic- 'Over-use of the word 'epic' has reached epic proportions.'

wow factor- 'This buzzword is served up with a heaping of cliché factor and a side order of irritation.'

Facebook/Google as verbs- 'It's getting out of hand...I'm going to Twitter a few people, then Yahoo the movie listings and maybe Amazon a book or two.'

live life to the fullest- 'It's an absurdity followed by a redundancy.'

The university also has an archive of banished words back to 1976.

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Friday, January 14, 2011

Greenhouse Gases at Highest Level

The Industrial Revolution began in the late 1700's and Our Home has seen a rise of greenhouse gases ever since. Recent statistics have shown that human activities are driving climate change.

An expert at the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at London School of Economics and Political Science said recent U.S. data shows proof of climate change.

"These new figures show unequivocally that the Earth is warming and its temperature is at record levels," Ward said.

"The amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has reached 390 parts per million, its highest level for at least 800,000 years and almost 40 per cent higher than the level before the start of the Industrial Revolution when humans started to burn fossil fuels in increasing amounts."

"The evidence is overwhelming that human activities are driving climate change."

The findings encourage one to think about if all of the human activity is going to irrevocably change our planet.

Image: Painting by Jakob Loutherbourg, 1801 of blast furnaces

A Musical Potpourri


Perhaps there is no better goal than to keep a song in your heart. Those notes can cleanse, sooth, energize, inspire...

I thought I would do a little research about those tremulous clefts as a response to the Magpie prompt this week:

- The most expensive sheet music is a first edition copy of The Star Spangled Banner which sold for $506,500, double the expected amount in 2010. Only 11 are known to exist, one in private hands. It was printed in 1814 in Baltimore.
- The most expensive music video ever created is Michael and Janet Jackson's Scream made in 1995 for $7 million. Madonna's Die Another Day in 2002 was made for $6 million.
- The best-selling music albums of all time: Michael Jackson's Thriller over 70 million, AC/DC Back in Black 49 million, Pink Floyd The Dark Side of the Moon 45 million
- The best-selling singles worldwide Bing Crosby White Christmas 50 million, Elton John Candle in the Wind 33 million...
- The 50 most beloved hymns include Shall We Gather by the River, I Love to Tell the Story...
- The world's most loved opera Carmen. The essayist writes,

"In a letter dated October 1866, French composer George Bizet (1838 - 1875) went straight to the point of opera: "As a musician I tell you that if you were to suppress adultery, fanaticism, crime, evil, the supernatural, there would no longer be the means for writing one note."

The opera prodigy and gifted pianist sprinkled far more of the human experience into his much loved opera, Carmen. It is arguably still the world's most popular opera one hundred and thirty-five years after his death from a heart attack at just thirty-six years of age."

- The top current songs in the iTunes store in U. S.: Hold It Against Me Britney Spears, What the Hell Avril Lavigne, Grenade Bruno Mars, Firework Kate Perry
- Best movie soundtracks according to Moviefone: Pulp Fiction, Saturday Night Fever, Purple Rain...

He who hears music, feels his solitude peopled at once. ~ Robert Browning

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Global Web 2.0 Science Fair


The most dynamic school projects inevitably revolve around those science fairs where students can test their hypotheses and their inquiry skills. Now Google has teamed up with National Geographic, CERN, Scientific America, and Lego to create the ultimate online global Science Fair.

It's open to full-time students ages 13 to 18, who are encouraged to use the broad range of Google products to record and share their work. "We want to let kids use our online tools so they can participate from anywhere in world," a spokesperson said. "They may be home schooled or live in a remote place or not have a physical science fair in their area." They do, however, need an Internet connection.

In launching the competition a self-taught scientist from Malawi, Africa, talked about the direct impact that science can have, not just on society at large, but on an individual community. "From reading a library book the son of a farmer and one of seven kids, learned how to build a wind mill, which powers his family's house and pumps water in an impoverished area. He taught his neighbors how to build wind mills, too, which have transformed schools and improved conditions in the village."

Another spokesperson was a 15-year-old dynamo from Portland, Oregon. She began programming computers at age 5, enrolled in community college at 12. One of the young budding scientist's experiments was using artificial intelligence to route robots and assist nurses in her local hospital.

"The goal of the Google Science Fair isn't just to give great prizes, including a trip to the Galapagos Islands and $110,000 in scholarships. It's to foster more interest in science worldwide and to come up with much-needed solutions to local and global problems."

"We want kids to make a difference in the world," says a Google spokesperson. "They can be agents of change."

An introductory, instruction video from Google provides an overview of how to handle all elements of the project online. Here is the logical extension of Web 2.0 in a perfect application! I can imagine that this competition will produce some exciting results.

From a report by Fast Company.

Inactivity is Harmful

People who sit in front of computer and TV screens all day and evening may not get a clean bill of health by squeezing some sporadic time in at the gym. A mounting body of evidence suggests that it's not "how much exercise people get, but how much of their time is spent in sedentary activity, and the harm that it does."

A recent study by the Journal of the American College of Cardiology indicates "the amount of leisure time spent sitting in front of a screen can have such an overwhelming, seemingly irreparable impact on one’s health that physical activity doesn’t produce much benefit."

"The study followed 4,512 middle-aged Scottish men for a little more than four years on average. It found that those who said they spent two or more leisure hours a day sitting in front of a screen were at double the risk of a heart attack or other cardiac event compared with those who watched less. Those who spent four or more hours of recreational time in front of a screen were 50 percent more likely to die of any cause. It didn’t matter whether the men were physically active for several hours a week — exercise didn’t mitigate the risk associated with the high amount of sedentary screen time."

Even children have increased blood pressure and are more overweight with more sedentary lifestyles.

This study and several others emphasize the fact that it's important to get off the office chair and couch whenever possible and work those muscle groups. And when it comes to the discretionary time spent in front of the TV or computer, it may do your body a lot of good by seeking out alternative forms of recreation for yourself and your children.

From NYT article 'The Hazards of the Couch"

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Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The Power of Vulnerability


'Our lives are a collection of stories, truths about who we are, what we believe, what we came from, how we struggle and how we are strong. When we can let go of what people think, and own our story, we gain access to our worthiness - the feeling that we are ENOUGH just as we are, and that we are worthy of love and belonging.' ~ Brene Brown

Brene Brown gives a wonderful 20 minute TED talk on 'The Power of Vulnerability.' With a PhD in sociology, Brown was educated to believe that everything is measurable. However, in her talks with hundreds of people about connections she realized there was a lot of shame and fear.

In order to achieve a sense of worthiness one needs to accept one's vulnerabilities and move on with courage and compassion. That challenging process involves showing authenticity, gratitude, belonging, and love through connection.

Brown says that this process of healing is a difficult one in a society which puts a high value on perfection, where we make the uncertain, certain. Inherent in life is struggle and letting ourselves be seen despite our shortcomings.

Brown's insightful research encourages one to think about our own stories and how we can overcome our fears to live lives of authenticity and caring.

How to Change the World


It's hard to imagine that one quarter of the world's population or one and one half billion people still have no electricity. Bihar, India's poorest state, has over 60 million such disadvantaged people.

Now an enterprising young company, Husk Power Systems, has "created a system to turn rice husks into electricity that is reliable, eco-friendly and affordable for families that can spend only $2 a month for power. The company has 65 power units that serve a total of 30,000 households and is currently installing new systems at the rate of two to three per week."

David Bornstein's essay about this encouraging endeavor entitled 'A Light in India' was published in the NYT.

He has also written the book How to Change the World. "What business entrepreneurs are to the economy, social entrepreneurs are to social change. They are the driven, creative individuals who question the status quo, exploit new opportunities, refuse to give up–and remake the world for the better."

Bornstein is also founder of dowser.org 'who's solving what and how.'

It's interesting to think about how social entrepreneurs can help to facilitate positive social change.

Link provided by Good.is

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Read Slowly for Pleasure/Understanding


In the early 70's I enjoyed a respected university professor of medieval history lecture about the importance of slowing down, being selective, and enjoying what you read. His words seem prophetic today when we consider what the Internet has done to our reading focus. We tend to flit from one site to the other, and scan for nuggets of information. There is no time to enjoy the slow dance with the words on the page.

Laura Casey in a perceptive article quotes an avid reader, "Deep or slow reading is a sophisticated process in which people can critically think, reflect, and understand the words they are looking at. With most, that means slowing down-even stopping and rereading a page or paragraph if it doesn't sink in- to really capture what the author is trying to say. Experts warn that without reading and really understanding what's being said, it is impossible to be an educated citizen of the world, a knowledgeable voter or even an imaginative thinker."

Casey cites Nicholas Carr of The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains. He refers to Google CEO Eric Schmidt who said he was concerned about what he sees as a decline in slow reading. "Instant messages and 140 character tweets appear to be taking over our ability to concentrate on a single idea or theme in a book."

She also interviewed John Miedema of Slow Reading, "I can appreciate people's desire to read faster, but if you want to have a deep relationship with a text and understand a complex idea, then slow reading is a preferred style. It's good for pleasure, too. It's not a rushed experience and you can lose yourself in a text."

Moreover, she quotes, Cynthia Lee Katona of Book Savvy, "If you like beautiful things, authors put words together that are really beautiful and expressive. If you want to write well- and there are losts of reasons to be articulate and to express yourself clearly- you should read."

The article encourages one to think about our own reading habits and if we are reading too fast through those fluttering pages in the internet windstorm...........

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Monday, January 10, 2011

A Vote for Freedom

Sudan is the largest country in Africa and one of the most plagued with ethnic, religious, and economic conflicts. This week a referendum was held to determine if the southern part wishes to form an independent country. Western observers like former U.S. president Jimmy Carter, Koffi Annan, former UN Secretary General, and celebrities like George Clooney attended the vote.

"Many people here spoke in almost biblical terms about lifting themselves out of bondage. Sudan is a deeply divided country, and for decades, the southern third, which is mostly Christian and animist, has been dominated by Arab rulers from the north.

The Arab government prosecuted a vicious war against southerners, who have been chafing for their own separate state even before Sudan’s independence in 1956. The government forces and their proxy militias burned down villages, slaughtered civilians and even kidnapped southern children in slave trade for a life of involuntary servitude in the north. More than two million people were killed and many of the tactics used to suppress the insurrection in the south would be repeated in Darfur, in Sudan’s west."

Most polling places were packed, with lines thousands of people long. Election officials said the turnout was enormous.

“Today will go down in history,” said one participant, who arrived before dawn decked out in a natty gray suit, bright green shirt and purple tie. “I didn’t want to be left out.”

Economic Irony

I live close to the Motor City, the automotive capital of the world a few decades ago. Now it is a shadow of its former splendour and bustling economic activity.

"Built in 1926 the 4,000-seat Michigan Theater in Detroit was one of the crown architectural jewels of the time. The auditorium featured 10-foot crystal chandeliers that hung eight floors above the seats, and the mezzanine was open to black-tie guests only. The building was a product of the boom created by Henry Ford and the Model T.

But by the mid-1960s, the Michigan Theater was among dozens in the city to close due to dwindling profits, and though it was saved from the wrecking ball in 1967, its glory days were over. "

Now the shell of the building has been transformed into the world's most opulent three level parking garage.

While ironies abound, perhaps the most interesting is that the site sits atop Henry Ford's first work shop.

Also today begins the North American International Auto Show in Detroit (Jan. 10-23) amidst a revival in the North American auto industry and the fortunes of the original Big Three companies which were threatened with bankruptcy several years ago.

Via Jalopnik

Sunday, January 9, 2011

The Day after Tomorrow


J. Henry Fair takes beautiful images of hazardous wastelands. A consummate environmentalist he discovered that the best vantage points can often come about 1,000 feet above sites often guarded from view on the ground.

He has flown over toxic hog waste, streams of paper mill runoff, remains of hollowed out mountains, oil slicks over blue seas, coal ash disposal sites, a string of factories along the lower Mississippi River known as “Cancer Alley....”

“To make an image that stops people it has to be something that tickles that beauty perception and makes people appreciate the aesthetics,” says Fair, who specialized in portraiture before taking to the skies.

"His goal is not to indict—he doesn’t identify the polluters by name—but to raise public awareness about the costs of our choices. Such advocacy groups as Greenpeace and Rainforest Alliance have used Fair’s work to advance their causes."

His book The Day After Tomorrow will be released soon.

"Fair’s images reveal the calamitous effects of our consumer culture’s insatiable appetite for natural resources. Forests are being wiped-out, water supplies polluted and/or drained, animals and humans are dying, but for what?"

Image taken at an aluminum smelting site

Here I Am

Here I am where I ought to be. ~ Louise Erdrich

- How happy are you with where you are?
- To what extent can you develop a mindset that you are in the right place?
- If not, what steps can you take to be where you ought to be?

This is one of the quotes from 365 Quote Quest this past week.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Fund and Follow Creativity


One of the most unique, innovative sites for funding creative projects is Kickstarter. Every month thousands of people pledge millions of dollars to projects from the worlds of music, film, art, technology, design, food, publishing, explorers... Their slogan is "Fund and follow creativity."

A new form of commerce and patronage, it's not about investment or lending. Project creators keep 100% ownership and control over their work. Instead, they offer products and experiences that are unique to each project. It's "all or nothing funding." Also a project must reach its funding goal before time runs out or no money changes hands. "Why? It protects everyone involved. Creators aren’t expected to develop their project without necessary funds, and it allows anyone to test concepts without risk."

A founder of Kickstarter said, “It’s not an investment, lending or a charity. It’s something else in the middle: a sustainable marketplace where people exchange goods for services or some other benefit and receive some value.”

The site seems like the perfect place to market new ideas and projects to see if there is a groundswell of interest. Also it helps to get the word out on the nebulous web about artists and their work.

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Friday, January 7, 2011

GPS Implications

GPS has infiltrated our lifestyle in many ways. The Garmin website reveals its latest products which extend the parameters into apps for your cell phone, the GTU10 webtracking service, the GPSMAP 700 series...

Foursquare is a location based social networking website which connects friends.

Now scientists are using GPS to track the migrations of animals including the endangered leather back sea turtle. 25 females were tracked from one of their main breeding colonies off Gabon in Central Africa. One route covers over 7,500 kilometers and extends to the coast of South America.

One scientist said, "All of the routes we've identified take the leatherbacks through areas of high risk from fisheries, so there's a very real danger to the Atlantic population. Knowing the routes has also helped us identify at least 11 nations who should be involved in conservation efforts."

The new GPS technology encourages one to think about its implications for society, science, and our lifestyle.

Via Treehugger

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Struggling to the Light

This is one of my favourite quotes. It speaks volumes about the human condition and our efforts to live with optimism and hope.

The world is not respectable; it is mortal, tormented, confused, deluded forever, but is shot through with beauty, with love, with glints of courage and laughter; and in these the spirit blooms timidly and struggles to the light among thorns. ~ George Santayana

- In what ways is the world a mortal and tormented place?
- Where have you seen the beauty, the love, the courage and the laughter?
- How can you allow your spirit to bloom and cast a little light among the thorns?

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

In the Palm of your Hand


Everything in life is connected-
a stone thrown in a pond creates ripples
a butterfly attracts an admirer, or predator
a kind act, a smile
a bottle thrown on the road, urban blight;
our positive or negative actions affect our loved ones
our community
the collective unconscious;
North American excess
is imbalance abroad
environmental degradation;
Taking linear paths
narrow our periphery;
The winding ones
slow weave interdependency
In and through
Enriching connections.

Another Magpie submission: what is that thing?

Labels: quotations, reflection, meditation, social justice, life coaching