Saturday, April 30, 2011

Technology has not Enhanced the Internals

Eric Slate for Adbusters reflects that the more 'connected' we are, the more detached we become.

"Technology is supposed to free us from the shackles of work and give us more leisure time. But it has proven to do the exact opposite. A 2005 Leger Marketing survey for the technology newspaper Computing Canada found that the majority of people feel technology has meant more work and less time with the family. Whether it's cell phones, Blackberry's, video games or email, we have become a culture enslaved by our electronics."

He quotes Gerald Celente, the director of Trends Research Institute,

"Humans are being trapped in a high-tech cycle that is freezing their minds away from living in the moment, looking at life and taking in what's around them. While technology has radically altered the externals of life, it has done nothing demonstrable to enhance the internals: moral, emotional, philosophical and spiritual values."

It's interesting to think about the ironies of this connectedness amidst all the latest technological developments.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Set the World on Fire

Well my wife and I got up at 5 a.m. (Eastern ST) on April 29 to enjoy the Royal Wedding of Prince William and Katherine Middleton. It was, indeed, like a fairy tale, perfectly wonderful.

The Bishop of London's sermon offered much opportunity for reflection. Several excerpts:

-"Be who God meant you to be and you will set the world on fire." So said St Catherine of Siena whose festival day it is today. Marriage is intended to be a way in which man and woman help each other to become what God meant each one to be, their deepest and truest selves.

-In a sense every wedding is a royal wedding with the bride and the groom as king and queen of creation, making a new life together so that life can flow through them into the future.

-A spiritual life grows as love finds its centre beyond ourselves. Faithful and committed relationships offer a door into the mystery of spiritual life in which we discover this; the more we give of self, the richer we become in soul; the more we go beyond ourselves in love, the more we become our true selves and our spiritual beauty is more fully revealed.

-In marriage we are seeking to bring one another into fuller life. It is of course very hard to wean ourselves away from self-centredness...

-Marriage should transform, as husband and wife make one another their work of art. It is possible to transform as long as we do not harbour ambitions to reform our partner. There must be no coercion if the Spirit is to flow; each must give the other space and freedom.

-Chaucer, the London poet, sums it up in a pithy phrase: “Whan maistrie [mastery] comth, the God of Love anon, Beteth his wynges, and farewell, he is gon.” As the reality of God has faded from so many lives in the West, there has been a corresponding inflation of expectations that personal relations alone will supply meaning and happiness in life.

This is to load our partner with too great a burden. We are all incomplete: we all need the love which is secure, rather than oppressive, we need mutual forgiveness, to thrive.

-In the busyness of each day keep our eyes fixed on what is real and important in life and help us to be generous with our time and love and energy..."


Thursday, April 28, 2011

Mass Media Editorial Decisions

What deserves your attention today....yes, the royal wedding day? provides an interesting questionnaire through a flow chart. You may learn something with the options provided.

In a related article a editor asks if only 25% of Americans are somewhat interested in the wedding of Prince William and Catherine Middleton why is the American media preoccupied with covering the event?

"If you've been consistently ignoring the royal wedding, and all the while asking yourself, "What kind of people read this stuff?" know that you're not alone. Also know, however, that what you should instead be asking is, "Who decides people should read this stuff?"

It's interesting to think about the editorial board meetings where those decisions are made. What main criteria are considered? Chances are $$$$, ratings, and social values play a part.

By the way, my wife and I have set the alarm to view the ceremony and some of the pomp, tradition, and excitement.

Gray Invites Accommodating Change

A recent study to be published shortly in the Archives of Sexual Behavior reveals that women look at issues more in shades of gray rather than black and white.

Men and women were given natural and manufactured objects to classify in particular categories. Is a tomato, for example, a fruit? Subjects could choose "part of," "not part of," or "somewhat part of." The male subjects were far more likely to assert that the objects were completely in or out of a particular category. The women, on the other hand, were more likely to reject absolute answers in favor of the "somewhat" (or "it's not that simple") option.

One researcher associated with the study said, "The more people see the world in black-and-white terms regardless of whether they're on the right or the left, the harder it is for them to change their views on anything. There are only two options for them, and the distance to the other possible viewpoint is too far. People who see the world in shades of gray, on the other hand, can adjust their views more easily, if they get new or conflicting information, because all they have to do is shift to a slightly lighter or darker shade."

One consideration that this study invites is "Does that mean women are more likely to alter their opinions if presented with new information? It's an interesting possibility that has implications in the boardroom, voting booth, and in other daily decisions.

"Successful" CEOs have traditionally been seen as strong, decisive leaders who take charge—very much the commander role. But in a fast-changing, complex and global market, adapting quickly to change and fostering creative innovation are increasingly important survival skills for companies to master. And those strengths often come more naturally to people who are more comfortable with ambiguity and who see the world, or at least CAN see the world, from multiple viewpoints, or in multiple shades of gray."

Perhaps, as stated in the article it's not a matter of people's world views differing between liberal and conservative perspectives but between those who think of issues in terms of black and white and those who think in complex shades of gray.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The Charitable Heart within Royal Wedding

It's interesting to peruse the official site of the royal wedding of Prince William and Catherine Middleton. The couple has designated several organizations within The Royal Wedding Charity Fund to help young people 'fulfill their potential.'

- Beatbullying is 'the UK's leading bullying prevention charity, creating a world where bullying, violence and harassment are unacceptable. Beatbullying empowers people to understand, recognise, and say no to bullying, violence and harassment by giving them the tools to transform their lives and the lives of their peers. Working with families, schools, and communities to understand the problem, campaign for change and provide a sustainable efficient and proven solution.' They administrate, the world’s first online peer mentoring service for children and young people who are being bullied.

- IntoUniversity 'provides local learning centres where young people are inspired to achieve. At each local centre IntoUniversity offers an innovative mentoring programme that supports young people from disadvantaged backgrounds to attain either a university place or another chosen aspiration.'

- Key fund is 'a charity which invests in ideas. Young people design and deliver their own projects, building confidence, self-esteem and 12 Keyfund skills. By building confidence, aspirations and pride, Keyfund opens doors. New experiences. New skills. New futures.'

As well the Royal Wedding Charity Fund supports organizations around the themes:
- changing life through the arts and sports
- help and care at home
- conservation for future generations
- support for Services personnel and their families

It's wonderful to see a sensitive social perspective to complement the pomp and ceremony.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Ethic of Reciprocity

What is the most meaningful quote of all? I thought I would do some research about the one that pops in my mind.

Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. ~Matthew 7:12/Luke 6:31

This quote by Jesus in the New Testament echoes one in the Old Testament:

Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. ~Leviticus 19:18

More from Old Testament canonical traditions:

-Do to no one what you yourself dislike.
-That which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow.
-Recognize that your neighbor feels as you do, and keep in mind your own dislikes.

The idea also is present in other religions and philosophies:


-Is there one word which may serve as a rule of practice for all one's life?" The Master said, "Is not RECIPROCITY such a word?
-Never impose on others what you would not choose for yourself.


-One should never do that to another which one regards as injurious to one’s own self. This, in brief, is the rule of dharma. Other behavior is due to selfish desires.

-For those who set their hearts on me

And worship me with unfailing devotion and faith,
The way of love leads sure and swift to me.

Those who seek the transcendental Reality,..
With their senses subdued and mind serene
And striving for the good of all beings,
They too will verily come unto me.


Trying to live according to the Golden Rule means trying to empathise with other people, including those who may be very different from us. Empathy is at the root of kindness, compassion, understanding and respect – qualities that we all appreciate being shown, whoever we are, whatever we think and wherever we come from...


Hurt no one so that no one may hurt you. ~ Muhammad


One should never do wrong in return, nor mistreat any man, no matter how one has been mistreated by him.


The sage has no interest of his own, but takes the interests of the people as his own. He is kind to the kind; he is also kind to the unkind: for Virtue is kind. He is faithful to the faithful; he is also faithful to the unfaithful: for Virtue is faithful.


Some writers like George Bernard Shaw once said that "the golden rule is that there are no golden rules". Shaw suggested an alternative rule: "Do not do unto others as you would that they should do unto you. Their tastes may not be the same....

Therefore, the maxim, ethical code, or morality spans most major religions and philosophies as an essential element in day to day right living.

Imagine if all people treated each other that way. Utopia?

Image: offers a poster which highlights 13 traditions/perspectives/religions on the ethic

Do you appreciate this post? 'Like' on Facebook, 'Tweet' this, Share by email... Use the buttons below....

Monday, April 25, 2011

Never Underestimate the Power of Words

The short film 'The Power of Words' has made its rounds in the blogsphere. A blind man is sitting at a public square with people passing by. He has a cardboard sign which reads, "I'm blind; please help."

A woman walks by and then returns to pick up his sign and write something on the reverse side.

Suddenly more people stop and drop more serious coin in his can. The woman returns later and tells the blind man, "I wrote the same, but different words."

View the video to see what she wrote.

The film "illustrates the power of words to radically change your message and your effect upon the world."

"At Purplefeather we provide powerful, optimised web content to transform your organisation and get you noticed online. It's created by RedSnappa."

The video encourages one to think about how we use words every day in many different encounters and contexts. Never underestimate what words you choose.

'Change your words. Change your world.'

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Made in Nature

As an avid landscaper, gardener I enjoyed transforming our waterfall/pond into a bubbling rock feature. It was time for a bit of a ''rock/face lift." (Click on photo for enhanced view.)

I totally dismantled our preexisting waterfall, took out the rubber liner, and partly refilled the small pond with soil. Then I reused the existing liner, constructed a two foot reservoir with concrete block supports, and covered them with two steel plates with holes. The back plate carries the bubbling rock waterfall, and the front plate is covered by the low rocks which can be taken away to service the pump and remove before winter sets in.

I utilized my existing rocks for a total transformation. I chose three weathered limestone rocks and rented a large drill with a 2 inch concrete bit and bore a hole through the rocks. Then through trial and error and a truckload of patience I maneuvered the rocks to get just the right cascading effect. (I found that a 1/4 horsepower submersible pump provided the right volume.) The real fun was placing the rocks around the feature to try to achieve a pristine, made in nature look.

A bonus was that I could use the existing plants which have matured over the last twelve years. I added a lacquered clay plot to add balance and a frontier for my wife's green thumb.

Now we await the warmth of a late spring which is sure to come.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Easter 2011: Three Perspectives

For I remember it is Easter morn,
And life and love and peace are all new born. ~Alice Freeman Palmer

A strangely reflective, even melancholy day. Is that because, unlike our cousins in the northern hemisphere, Easter is not associated with the energy and vitality of spring but with the more subdued spirit of autumn? ~ Hugh Mackay
(I am mindful of how blogging instantly transmits messages around the world and from pole to pole.)

In Memoriam (Easter, 1915- two years into World War 1)

The flowers left thick at nightfall in the wood
This Eastertide call into mind the men,
Now far from home, who, with their sweethearts,
should Have gathered them and will do never again.

~Edward Thomas 1878-1917

Thomas and his unit reached Flanders in early 1917 and he was killed on Easter Monday (April 9th) on the first day of the Battle of Arras.


Well Being and Common Welfare

An essay in Vanity Fair by a leading economist focuses on the great inequality between the rich and poor in America where "1% of the people take nearly a quarter of the nation's income."

Indeed, "While the top 1 percent have seen their incomes rise 18 percent over the past decade, those in the middle have actually seen their incomes fall. For men with only high-school degrees, the decline has been precipitous—12 percent in the last quarter-century alone. All the growth in recent decades—and more—has gone to those at the top."

The writer sees a growing problem in this inequity and compares it to past and present day oligarchies. "The top 1 percent have the best houses, the best educations, the best doctors, and the best lifestyles, but there is one thing that money doesn’t seem to have bought: an understanding that their fate is bound up with how the other 99 percent live. Throughout history, this is something that the top 1 percent eventually do learn. Too late."

He refers to Alexis de Tocqueville, a classic liberal political thinker, who saw the genius of American society in his book Democracy in America, 1835, which included the concept of “self-interest properly understood.”

"The last two words were the key. Everyone possesses self-interest in a narrow sense: I want what’s good for me right now! Self-interest “properly understood” is different. It means appreciating that paying attention to everyone else’s self-interest—in other words, the common welfare—is in fact a precondition for one’s own ultimate well-being. Tocqueville was not suggesting that there was anything noble or idealistic about this outlook—in fact, he was suggesting the opposite. It was a mark of American pragmatism. Those canny Americans understood a basic fact: looking out for the other guy isn’t just good for the soul—it’s good for business."

The essay encourages one to reflect about our own self interest and the dangers of thinking too inwardly and selfishly.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Enrich and Empower

Perhaps there is no shorter maxim which carries as much relevance for our day: less is more.

According to Phrase Finder this is a 19th century proverbial phrase first found in print in 'Andrea del Sarto', 1855, a poem by Robert Browning:

Who strive - you don't know how the others strive
To paint a little thing like that you smeared
Carelessly passing with your robes afloat,-
Yet do much less, so much less, Someone says,
(I know his name, no matter) - so much less!
Well, less is more, Lucrezia.

You can read the poem in its entirety here. Browning writes a monologue to his wife about their challenged relationship and his own struggles...'This low-pulsed forthright craftsman's hand of mine...' which alludes that in quiet ways he himself can provide so much more with less fanfare.

Moreover, the phrase is often associated with the architect and furniture designer Ludwig Mies Van Der Rohe (1886-1969), one of the founders of modern architecture and a proponent of simplicity of style.

Indeed, less is more has become a mantra:

- for the Minimalist movement
- a book Less is More: embracing simplicity for a healthy planet, a caring economy, and lasting happiness.
- the cookbook More-with-Less published in 1976 with sales over 830,000 copies
- for shopping

Less is more applies to a wide range of lifestyle choices. The practice can enrich and empower without seeking the limelight.

The Ninth Beatitude

I ran across a quotation which encouraged a bit of research.

'Blessed is the man who expects nothing, for he shall never be disappointed' was the ninth beatitude. ~ Alexander Pope (1688-1744)

Pope was an English poet, man of letters, and satirist. He is noted most for his interest in the Greek classics and his translation of Homer's Illiad and Odyssey.

His above quotation provides an opportunity to reflect on our often inflated expectations and dreams. If only we can learn to accept what occurs without wishing for some idyllic scenario. Within acceptance there is the opportunity for greater personal contentment?

What are the eight beatitudes as proclaimed by Jesus on the Sermon on the Mount?

"Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are they who mourn,
for they shall be comforted.

Blessed are the meek,
for they shall inherit the earth.

Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they shall be satisfied.

Blessed are the merciful,
for they shall obtain mercy.

Blessed are the pure of heart,
for they shall see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they shall be called children of God.

Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." ~ Matthew 5: 3-10

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

'Enough about You'

The editors of the UTNE reader focused on Christopher Lasch’s landmark book, The Culture of Narcissism: American Life in an Age of Diminishing Expectations, 1979, and called it "a sort of Silent Spring (an allusion to Rachel Carson's book, 1962) of America’s psychological journey inward."

With permission they excerpted a number of passages from the book which still seem to resonate to this day:

'This book describes a way of life that is dying—the culture of competitive individualism, which in its decadence has carried the logic of individualism to the extreme of a war of all against all, the pursuit of happiness to the dead end of a narcissistic preoccupation with the self....

Economic man . . . has given way to the psychological man of our times—the final product of bourgeois individualism. The new narcissist is haunted not by guilt but by anxiety...

Acquisitive in the sense that his cravings have no limits, he does not accumulate goods and provisions against the future, in the manner of the acquisitive individualist of 19th-century political economy, but demands immediate gratification and lives in a state of restless, perpetually unsatisfied desire....

The contemporary climate is therapeutic, not religious. People today hunger not for personal salvation, let alone for the restoration of an earlier golden age, but for the feeling, the momentary illusion, of personal well-being, health, and psychic security....

Notwithstanding his occasional illusions of omnipotence, the narcissist depends on others to validate his self-esteem. He cannot live without an admiring audience. [His insecurity can be] overcome only by seeing his “grandiose self” reflected in the attentions of others, or by attaching himself to those who radiate celebrity, power, and charisma. For the narcissist, the world is a mirror, whereas the rugged individualist saw it as an empty wilderness to be shaped to his own design....

Today people complain of an inability to feel. They cultivate more vivid experiences, seek to beat sluggish flesh to life, attempt to revive jaded appetites...'

It's interesting to reflect on these passages and others in the article to see how they measure up to our mindset today.

Image: Cover of UTNE, May/June 2011

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

'Stuff Flying in the Air'

I was reminded of the elementary school lessons about approaching severe weather and tornadoes. Where does one go to seek shelter? The 'family of tornadoes', which caused so much destruction in the U.S. last weekend, resulted in many anxious tales.

One worker had been washing kitchen equipment behind the Golden Corral, a popular restaurant in Sanford, N.C., when he spotted a giant black funnel cloud bearing down. He ran to the owner who walked out the back door. She dodged a piece of flying wood and then she saw it: a dark funnel cloud thick with wood and metal only a couple of blocks away.

'About 140 people were eating in her restaurant, many of them in front of the thick plate-glass windows that run the length of the place.

“All I could think is that I have to get them away from the glass because I knew it would just cut them in half,’’ she said yesterday. “I thought, where can I put them? Then I yelled, ‘Tornado! Everyone to my kitchen!’ ’’

People packed into the meat cooler and behind the stoves. Others jammed into the restrooms. Then they waited. After five minutes, she said, the darkness lifted and Rodriguez peeked out the back door.

The tornado, she said, had bounced up, skipped the Golden Corral and made a sharp turn, setting down on top of a Lowe’s Home Improvement Center a few hundred feet away in the town of about 29,000 in the center of the state.

“I could see the roof was just gone and all of the Lowe’s stuff flying up in the air,’’ the owner said.

The Lowe’s store was essentially demolished, but an estimated 70 customers were saved when another fast-thinking manager herded customers and his staff into a windowless storeroom.'

This horrific occurrence encourages reflection about our own quick thinking in times of emergency.


Monday, April 18, 2011

Best for Fitness

A NYT article analyzes an interesting question: 'What's the Single Best Exercise?' and asks a variety of experts their opinion.

-One of the most taxing movements in sports, the butterfly requires "greater energy than bicycling at 14 miles per hour, running a 10-minute mile, playing competitive basketball or carrying furniture upstairs...However, the butterfly is 'miserable, isolating, painful.' It requires a coach, a pool and ideally supplemental weight and flexibility training to reduce the high risk of injury."

-Another exercise is from the foundations of old-fashioned calisthenics: the burpee, in which you drop to the ground, kick your feet out behind you, pull your feet back in and leap up as high as you can. “It builds muscles. It builds endurance, but it’s hard to imagine most people enjoying an all-burpees program, or sticking with it for long.”

-A case is made for "brisk walking" as the best exercise. Reference is made to a program in Japan where thousands of older Japanese citizens were enrolled in an innovative, five-month-long program of brisk, interval-style walking (three minutes of fast walking, followed by three minutes of slower walking, repeated 10 times- 60 minutes in total). The results were striking. "Physical fitness — maximal aerobic power and thigh muscle strength" — increased by about 20 percent, it made participants feel 10 years younger, and they had far fewer lifestyle related diseases, and depression scores dropped by half.

-Another expert suggested the squat which “activates the body’s biggest muscles, those in the buttocks, back and legs.” It’s simple. “Just fold your arms across your chest,” he said, “bend your knees and lower your trunk until your thighs are about parallel with the floor. Do that 25 times. It’s a very potent exercise.” The squat, and weight training in general, are particularly good at combating sarcopenia, he said, or the inevitable and debilitating loss of muscle mass that accompanies advancing age.

-Finally one physiologist recommended high-intensity interval training, or H.I.T.which is essentially an all-interval exercise which involves grunting through a series of short, strenuous intervals on specialized stationary bicycles.

It's interesting to think about the range of exercises which are possible and what may work best in terms of one's time, interests, and availability. Ultimately a healthy variety may be the most important consideration like it is for one's diet. (I can't give up on the push up or a rousing game of squash at 6 a.m. as seen above.)

Sunday, April 17, 2011

'Something Warm in his Heart'

Ai Weiwei, China's foremost artist-activist, used his blog and Twitter account to convey his feelings about the political course of his homeland. Now they have been silenced with his arrest on April 3rd, but his book published by MIT entitled Ai Weiwei's Blog: Writings, Interviews and Digital Rants, 2006-2009 provide a record of his perspectives.

"Chinese state media suggest that he is guilty of "economic crimes" and a bevy of other reputation-killers such as plagiarism and being "erratic." But his imprisonment is clearly a means of shutting him up. A forceful advocate of democracy and free speech, Mr Ai used his blog to confront the fictions of government propaganda. With belligerent conviction, he railed against the inhumanity of a regime with no respect for the truth."

Ai's father, Ai Qing, was a poet who was deemed an enemy of the state in 1957 during the Cultural Revolution and was later released. He hoped that his son would not become an artist for fear that he would suffer. "But I became an artist because, even under pressure, my father still had somewhere nobody could touch," he explained. "Even when the whole world was dark, there was something warm in his heart."

Weiwei wrote, "Twitter is most suitable for me. In the Chinese language, 140 characters is a novella." His blog, which was censored in May 2009, had over 2,700 posts. His book contains over a hundred translated pieces.

Moreover, he is convinced that "No matter what happens, nothing can prevent the historical process by which society demands freedom and democracy."

He has been called "a figure of Warholian celebrity" and 'a broadly transnational artist who is not easily ignored.' An overview of his accomplishments may be read here.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Take Nothing Away

At birth we bring nothing with us; at death we take nothing away. ~ Chinese proverb

- How much desire is within you to accumulate?
- What does this quote suggest we should do with our lives?
- Reflect on your philosophy of life.

This is one of the quotes for reflection and enrichment this past week at 365 Quote Quest.

Friday, April 15, 2011

The Darker the Better

Astronomers are ever more reaching into the frontier star scapes and finding new galaxies and planets. Now they will have one more very productive place to launch their study- Ellesmere Island.

"The Arctic mountaintops appear to be as good, if not better, than the Hawaiian and Chilean sites now home to large world class telescopes. And the view might be comparable to the Hubble Space Telescope," says one scientist.

The Ellesmere telescope will provide "wonderfully" long and dark Arctic winters looking for potentially habitable planets. The telescope will be able to stare at stars around the clock for days, if not weeks, because the sun won't come up to hinder the view. The long Arctic winter with the sun setting in October and not returning until March is ideal for planet hunting.

The project is different than other planet-hunting operations, which concentrate on larger stars. "The Ellesmere telescope will survey stars as small as a 10th the size of our sun, which are believed to harbour plenty of small planets."

"There is the possibility of detecting rocky planets on which liquid water could exist."

The notion of heading for the Arctic was prompted by the realization in 2004 that Antarctica offered excellent potential for stargazing. However, after some field tests on the Arctic site scientists say that the 2,000 meter mountains are well above weather inversions and atmosphere turbulence.

The long, dark, and tedious Arctic winter may soon produce some exciting discoveries for all who are enthralled with deep space.

Mother Trip has a description of the top ten telescopes of all time including the one invented by Galileo, 'The Father of Modern Science.' "With his 1609 telescope, he examined the moon, discovered four of Jupiter’s moons, watched a supernova, discovered sunspots and verified the phases of Venus. He was also convicted of heresy for advocating a heliocentric view of the universe."


Thursday, April 14, 2011

Cartoon Caption Contest

Most of us enjoy the editorial cartoons of our favourite newspapers and magazines. Good cartoonists can apply their illustration wizardry to the issues of the day. Often the caption is the clincher in their entertaining perspectives.

Every week The New Yorker holds a competition to come up with a caption for one of their cartoons.

For example, the recent cartoon contest #279 is portrayed here with the winning captions:

-First place: 'Is that your foot?'

-Second: 'Should I call and downsize our pizza order?'

- Third: 'They're outside protesting, sir.'

The latest contest with the talking video screen is #283.

My caption entries are:

'Your days are almost over.'
'Why have YOU come to the shrine of the mass media?'
You need a makeover.

I am sure there are much better ones....

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

How Genius Works

What ignites the creative energies of geniuses? The Atlantic has a wonderful feature in which 14 artists are interviewed about their first drafts.

"Great art begins with an idea. Sometimes a vague or even bad one. How does that spark of creativity find its way to the canvas, the page, the dinner plate, or the movie screen? How is inspiration refined into the forms that delight or provoke us? We enlisted some of America’s foremost artists to discuss the sometimes messy, frequently maddening, and almost always mysterious process of creating something new."

Included in the list are:

-Chuck Close, a hyper-realist painter who discusses how he makes a portrait and why he favors neutral expressions.

-T.C. Boyle is an award-winning novelist and short story writer who discusses the impact technology has had on his creative process.

-Paul Simon, the 12-time Grammy winner, shares pages from the lyric notebook he used to write his new album, So Beautiful or So What.

Paul Simon says, "You know, I haven’t spoken to any of the other guys of my generation about how they write songs. I’ve known Bob Dylan for a long time and I’ve known Paul McCartney for a long time, but we’ve never talked about songwriting. Poets seem more inclined to reveal how they work. Friends of mine like Billy Collins, for instance—he gets an idea and he writes it down and if he doesn’t finish it in that first burst of energy, he lets it go. With me, if it’s a good idea and I don’t have it right, I stay with it. You have to be patient, just keep erasing what you don’t like. At a certain point it becomes alive, and you know the problems are solvable with solutions you may have used before. That’s my songwriting process."

-Tim Burton, the Academy Award-winning director with a style all his own, explains where he drew inspiration to bring the characters from Alice in Wonderland to the big screen.

-J. Mays, the celebrated auto designer, shares the process by which he and his team of designers are creating a brand new Ford concept car.

-Frank Gehry, the distinguished architect discusses the drafts for an angular new building, the New World Symphony Miami.

'Look, architecture has a lot of places to hide behind, a lot of excuses. “The client made me do this.” “The city made me do this.” “Oh, the budget.” I don’t believe that anymore. In the end, you have to rise above them. You have to say you solved all that. You’re bringing an informed aesthetic point of view to a visual problem. You have freedom, so you have to make choices—and at the point when I make a choice, the building starts to look like a Frank Gehry building. It’s a signature.'

Grant Achatz, one of the most creative chefs in the world, discusses how he envisioned and then perfected a new dish for his Chicago restaurant.

Bonnie Fisher and Boris Dramov: Two principal architects from the ROMA Design Group share the sketches that won them the commission to design the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial.

Pursue the link to this excellent feature. It's delightful transcendence.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Epic List of Food Ingredients

I make a habit of scanning the ingredients of just about all the packaged food we buy. The salt, sugars, preservatives...;of course, the shorter the list, the better.

The Onion, 'America's Finest News Source', offers entertaining satire including a reference to those ubiquitous lists. This article from their archives from May, 1996 is still timely: 'Doritos Celebrating One Millionth Ingredient.'

"Amid much fanfare, the Frito-Lay Corporation, manufacturers of the world’s best-loved snack chip products for over 50 years, announced yesterday the addition of the one millionth ingredient in Doritos, the company’s flagship brand of cheese-flavored tortilla chips. The new ingredient, disodium guanylate, is expected not only to act as an additional emulsifying agent but also to make the big taste of Doritos even bigger..."

“Today, we have reached a major milestone in the proud history of Doritos,” the Frito-Lay CEO said at a formal chip-breaking ceremony yesterday. “One million ingredients!”

As if motivated by the achievement "the CEO is already thinking about two million."

"That would be incredible,” he said. “There’s just so much out there we could still add: Par--tially Hydrol-yzed Protein Ex-tract, Malto--dex-trin, Tri-so-di-um Pho---s-phate, cheese—the possibilities are endless.”

Oh, by the way, we had a bag of Doritos and I had to check. Sure enough, there was disodium guanylate within the epic list.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Aesthetic Flight Decoded

Festo Bionic Research Network calls it Smartbird, a little wonder of carbon fiber and plastic foam, which flies. They say it's 'efficiency in focus- a bird's flight decoded.'

The beautiful bionic creation looks like a sea gull with a wingspan of 6 feet and weighs 17 ounces; its wings torque and twist like a real bird while it's being controlled by remote control.

The company literature describes it "as an ultralight but powerful flight model with excellent aerodynamic qualities and extreme agility. With SmartBird, Festo has succeeded in deciphering the flight of birds - one of the oldest dreams of humankind. This bionic technology-bearer, which is inspired by the herring gull, can start, fly and land autonomously -- with no additional drive mechanism."

One writer at NPR muses, "Mostly, I imagine the engineering team at Festo as a lucky gang of Geppetto puppeteers who transform plastic foam and thin sheets of carbon fiber into closer and closer approximations of Pinocchio-like gulls, rays, penguins and elephants. Normally, such border bending projects make me nervous, but not these. These machines seem like celebrations of life."

The creation also hearkens to the imaginative drawings of Leonardo da Vinci's birds. Increasingly engineers transform the vision into reality.

See its remarkable flight here.

The Biology of Thought?

Canada is in the midst of a federal election campaign with the vote slated for May 2. The incumbent Conservative party faces the Liberal and NDP parties. The familiar themes have arisen in the party platforms which mirror many of the traditional conservative and liberal ideologies.

Within this context, it's interesting to read about a study from University College London published this week in Current Biology which has discovered that there are actually differences in the brains of liberals and conservatives. Specifically, liberals' brains tend to be bigger in the area that deals with processing complex ideas and situations, while conservatives' brains are bigger in the area that processes fear.

'According to the report: "We found that greater liberalism was associated with increased gray matter volume in the anterior cingulate cortex, whereas greater conservatism was associated with increased volume of the right amygdala." People with larger amygdalae respond to perceived threats with more aggression and "are more sensitive to threatening facial expressions." The anterior cingulate cortex, however, "monitors uncertainty and conflict." "Thus," says the report, "it is conceivable that individuals with a larger ACC have a higher capacity to tolerate uncertainty and conflicts, allowing them to accept more liberal views.'

Of course, in the U.S. there are the Republican and Democrat persuasions, and similar distinctions exist in the politics of other countries.

One is reluctant to stereotype , but in this day of increased scientific research through digital imaging of the physical brain, findings like this invite some reflection on the way we think and act.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

A Rare Opportunity

An exhibit of the work of Joan Miro (1893-1993), a pivotal Surrealist artist, is being featured at The Tate Modern in London, England.

"This is a rare opportunity to enjoy more than 150 paintings, drawings, sculptures and prints from moments across the six decades of his extraordinary career.

Miró is among the most iconic of modern artists, using a language of symbols that reflects his personal vision, sense of freedom, and energy. The exhibition includes many of the key works that we know and love. It also shows that, behind the engaging innocence of his imagery, lies a profound concern for humanity and a sense of personal and national identity."

The exhibition also traces "an anxious and politically engaged side" to Miró’s work that reflects his passionate response to one of the most turbulent periods in European history of the Spanish Civil War and the first months of the Second World War in France. "It tells the story of Miró's life and the time he witnessed reveals a darker intensity to many of his works."

In its time, surrealism was seen as amoral, disgusting and extreme because it claimed to make art from the stuff of dreams. Today it is celebrated as "a living influence."

Andre Breton formulated the Surrealist Manifesto in 1924:

'Dictionary definition: Pure psychic automatism, by which one proposes to express, either verbally, in writing, or by any other manner, the real functioning of thought. Dictation of thought in the absence of all control exercised by reason, outside of all aesthetic and moral preoccupation.

Encyclopedia entry: Philosophy. Surrealism is based on the belief in the superior reality of certain forms of previously neglected associations, in the omnipotence of dream, in the disinterested play of thought. It tends to ruin once and for all other psychic mechanisms and to substitute itself for them in solving all the principal problems of life.'

The Tate Modern is the most visited modern art gallery in the world with up to 4.7 million visitors a year....I wish I could be one of them after reading about this exhibit, the man, and the movement. It promises to extend the horizons....

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Humility and Nobility

Be humble for you are made of earth. Be noble for you are made of stars. ~ Serbian proverb

- How humble are you in the progress of your daily life?
- How noble?
- How can you strive to nurture your vibrant side?

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

Friday, April 8, 2011

Nurturing the Positive Side

Can one measure 'good' like a science? Greater at the University of California strives to live up to that ideal.

"The Greater Good Science Center studies the psychology, sociology, and neuroscience of well-being, and teaches skills that foster a thriving, resilient, and compassionate society..."

"We sponsor groundbreaking scientific research into social and emotional well-being, we help people apply this research to their personal and professional lives. Since 2001, we have been at the fore of a new scientific movement to explore the roots of happy and compassionate individuals, strong social bonds, and altruistic behavior—the science of a meaningful life. And we have been without peer in our award-winning efforts to translate and disseminate this science to the public."

Included in their core beliefs is "Compassion is a fundamental human trait, with deep psychological and evolutionary roots. By creating environments that foster cooperation and altruism, we help nurture the positive side of human nature."

Yesterday I linked to their article 'A Little Meditation Goes a Long Way.'

Other interesting articles include 'How Well Do You Read Other People?' Here you can test your emotional intelligence by interpreting 20 facial expressions. I got a 'pretty good' 14/20.

The site also has a gratitude journal where readers can contribute their thanks in life.

Another interesting article is 'Help others, help yourself: six ways to boost your habits of helping.'

The site is a celebration of vibrant living.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Meditate while you Walk

The word meditate stems from the Latin root to ponder. It's a practice rich with history and diverse traditions. Now a study from Psychiatry Research suggests that it can actually grow your brain.

Indeed, by meditating for just 30 minutes a day for eight weeks subjects were found to have "increased the density of gray matter in brain regions associated with memory, stress, and empathy."

"The researchers tracked 16 people who were participating in the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program, the training program... Over eight weekly meetings, the program leads participants through meditation exercises meant to build the skills of mindfulness—a moment-by-moment awareness of one’s thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment. Participants are supposed to try these practices on their own between classes."

"For decades, people who’ve completed the MBSR training have reported feeling less stress and more positive emotions; participants suffering from chronic illnesses say they experience less pain afterward."

Now an additional observation is that "when their brains were scanned at the end of the program, their gray matter was significantly thicker in several regions than it was before."

One of those regions which benefited from meditation was the hippocampus, which prior research has found to be involved in learning, memory, and the regulation of our emotions. The gray matter of the hippocampus is often reduced in people who suffer from depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

These brain changes encouraged the researchers to suggest that "meditation improves people’s ability to regulate their emotions, control their stress levels, and feel empathy for others."

I blogged earlier about another study concerning the hippocampus. Researchers found that a brisk walk three times a week can slow the atrophy of the hippocampus which normally begins in healthy adults around 55 or 60.

I have a feeling that some have personally perfected the 'meditate while you walk' to do double good for their outlook and their brains.

Image and book review

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

'New Rock Stars of Global Education'

What's the best way to teach and students to learn? Ironically Finland avoids standardized testing but when it participates in the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) run by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), they consistently place in the top three for reading, math and science.

Why are they so successful? An article in Time discovers that "Finland has a number of smart ideas about how to teach kids while letting them be kids. For instance, one teacher ideally stays with a class from first grade through sixth grade. That way the teacher has years to learn the quirks of a particular group and tailor the teaching approach accordingly." Also, rather than learning by rote drills and long hours at school, Finland focuses on experiential learning with a relatively short school day and minimal homework.

However, Finland's sweeping success is due largely to one important dynamic. "It's the quality of the teaching that is driving Finland's results."

As a result of a successful educational philosophy, many Finns want to become teachers creating a rich talent pool. For example, in 2008, 1,258 undergrads applied for training to become elementary-school teachers. Only 123, or 9.8%, were accepted into the five-year teaching program. As well, in Finland, "every teacher is required to have a master's degree. (The Finns call this a master's in kasvatus, which is the same word they use for a mother bringing up her child.)"

Moreover, in a departure from the '80s, Finland stopped "streaming" pupils to different math and language tracks based on ability. "People in Finland cannot be divided by how smart they are. It has been very beneficial." Next to go, in the '90s, were inspectors who oversaw annual school plans. "Schools were so hostile that the inspectors became afraid to make on-site tours."

"Finland is a society based on equity," says a school official. "Japan and Korea are highly competitive societies — if you're not better than your neighbor, your parents pay to send you to night school. In Finland, outperforming your neighbor isn't very important. Everybody is average, but you want that average to be very high."

As a 'retired' teacher whose heart was in the learning process, it's interesting to read about the educational philosophies which get bandied about. How wonderful for parents to see a teacher who knows the material, who can connect with their child, and who can ignite a life long passion for learning.

Image: Students measuring a tree in 'math' class.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Travel as Ascetic Discipline

Travel can be exhilarating and enriching. For Colin Thubron it also provides a path to a deeper understanding of a culture. His latest book, To a Mountain in Tibet, takes him to Mount Kailas(h), one of the most sacred places in Asia.

A reviewer for The Economist writes, "The mountain itself is an important site of pilgrimage for Hindus, Buddhists and followers of ancient Tibetan faiths. The goal is to seek purification by trudging round the mountain on a route that is physically demanding but brings spiritual reward. Some die from the effort, others give up, all are possessed by the sense that they are living close to a divine presence.

In the midst of all this Mr Thubron acts like a kind of secular shaman, allowing himself to be possessed by the many spirits of the place without succumbing to their power. He respects what it is that drives pilgrims to Mount Kailas, and follows them round it, but he does not pretend that he is at one with them."

Furthermore, unlike other travellers from the West who find spiritual connection in Eastern religions, "Thubron’s particular quest is to find out how different individuals and different cultures confront the fact of mortality. This book is autobiographical in a way that his others are not. He is mourning his mother’s recent death and throughout he is haunted by memories of her and of his dead sister and father."

Finally, most people like to indulge themselves on vacation, but for Mr Thubron it is a kind of "ascetic discipline. He takes the reader to high places, literally and metaphorically, and to an understanding of how people from other cultures somehow get by in an unpredictable world."

His experience sounds like a kind of pilgrimage, an opportunity to understand oneself and others more deeply.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Google Reader Takes you There

I would like to share a valuable tip. If you do not subscribe to some favourite sites via RSS (Really Simple Syndication) on Google Reader, you are missing a speeding train of fun and discovery.

Of course, for many of us we have Google Friend Connect, a handy way to follow a blog through our Blogger Dashboard (which also appears on Reader). But what if you run across a site without Friend Connect?

For example, yesterday I recommended Letters of Note which I personally subscribe to through my RSS feed in Google Reader. Google Reader keeps me up to date on all the sites I follow with their latest posts.

The latest submission is about Andrew Scott who heard that the director of the National Railway Museum in New York was retiring. Andrew wrote a letter of application expressing his reasons why he was suitable for the job:

"I am writing to apply to be the new director...I am only 6 but I think I can do this job. I have an electric train track. I can control two trains at once."

Unfortunately Andrew did not get the job as director but the museum appointed him as Director of Fun.

Don't use Google Reader? Why not invite your RSS master conductor to begin today?

Love what YOU Love

In love with Buck Rogers and the future in 1921, Ray Bradbury cut out comic strips until the nine year old was teased at school and he threw them away. Later he realized his mistake and wrote:

"What did I learn? To be myself and only myself, and never let others, prejudiced, interfere with my life. Kids, do the same. Be your own self. Love what YOU love."

Bradbury's reflection was written in 1991 to school teacher William Stanhope who asked to describe an obstacle he had faced during his lifetime and the subsequent effect of his overcoming it.

Stanhope's query encourages one to think about our own obstacles and how we overcame them to enrich our life.

The source of this inspiring letter comes from Letters of Note an excellent blog which features 'Correspondence deserving of a wider Audience.'

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Making the Web Valuable

Who do you link to? The answer to understanding the connections between the billions of links on the web has created a company giant.

Larry Page, 38, co-founder of Google in 1998, is set to become CEO of the company tomorrow on April 4.

Page's parents were computer science professors in Michigan, and Larry, from a very early age, realized he wanted to invent things. "So I became really interested in technology...and business . . . probably from when I was 12, I knew I was going to start a company eventually."

Upon enrolling in a PhD program at Stanford University, Page was in search of a dissertation theme and considered exploring the mathematical properties of the World Wide Web understanding its link structure as a huge graph. He had reasoned that the "entire Web was loosely based on the premise of citation – after all, what is a link but a citation? If he could devise a method to count and qualify each backlink on the Web, the Web would become a more valuable place."

Sergey Brin, a fellow PhD student, and Page teamed up to develop the Page Rank algorithm and realized it could be used to develop a search engine far superior to existing ones.... and so we have Google today.

One writer anticipates that Page "has left little doubt about his top priority: to dissolve the bureaucracy and complacency that accompanied the company's rapid transformation into a 21st-century empire. Google is expected to end the year with more than 30,000 employees and $35-billion in annual revenue. (Page's fortune is valued at $19.8 billion.)

In Page's mind, the 13-year-old company needs to return to thinking and acting like a feisty startup. Rising Internet stars such as Facebook, Twitter and Groupon, all less than 8 years old, are developing products that could challenge Google and make its dominance of Internet search less lucrative."

Can Page help Google reach its full potential like Bill Gates has for Microsoft and Steve Jobs for Apple? Where lies the future growth for Google?

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Focus on the Worthwhile

Be master of your petty annoyances and conserve your energies for the big, 
worthwhile things. It isn't the mountain ahead that wears you out - it's 
the grain of sand in your shoe. ~ Robert Service

- What are some of the petty annoyances which can waste your time and emotions?
- What are some of the big, worthwhile things which need your focused attention?
- Reflect on the 'big picture' of your life.

This is one of the quotes for reflection and enrichment this past week at 365 Quote Quest.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Need for Religious Toleration

CNN, as usual, is on top of late breaking news events. This evening I read about the bloody attack on a United Nations building in Mazar-e Sharif in Afghanistan which is suspected to have been carried out by a mob protesting last month's Quran (Koran) burning by Pastor Terry Jones.

"The Florida pastor made headlines last year when he threatened to burn Qurans to protest Islam, on the anniversary of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. On March 20, he went through with the act, this time failing to attract widespread media attention. However, the incident triggered outrage in Pakistan, which condemned the desecration and called for him to be charged with terrorism..."

The first word that came to my mind is wacko (a person who is regarded as eccentric, mad, irrational...)

Jagad Guru writes,

"Hatred and conflict are often rooted in differences between people of different races and religions. We all need to respect people of different races as well as people of different faiths and religions. We need to unite by recognizing our common desire and need for a harmonious society -- a society in which we and our children and families and friends and communities can all live our lives in peace and harmony. Regardless of our race or religion, we all want and need such social harmony."