Monday, March 29, 2010
Sunday, March 28, 2010
There’s a brief piece in Science this week about bouncy legs -- how the calculus predicts that locomotion on stiff legs is most efficient and yet all of us -- and small critters especially -- bounce about when we move.
A new computer model nails the reason why:
Integrative physiologist Monica Daley of the Royal Veterinary College (RVC) in Hatfield, U.K., had observed how adeptly the guinea fowl, an African bird known for its running skill, negotiated sudden drops and other obstacles. She wondered how the shape of an animal's body and the nature of the terrain -- details left out of earlier simulations because they're difficult to model -- would alter the models' predictions.
So she and RVC colleague James Usherwood devised a computer model that didn't sidestep the complexities of animal motion. Instead of attaching legs to an idealized point with a certain mass, the new model linked them to a bouncing body -- the seesawing guts and other tissue an animal carries as it moves -- and set them on an uneven course.
As Daley expected, the less-idealized runners fared better on compliant legs. The spring in their step offset the bounce of their bodies, resulting in a smaller energy cost. "That's interesting and quite novel," says biomechanist Manoj Srinivasan of OhioStateUniversity in Columbus, who was not involved with the research. 
This is a lovely nod to the impact of terrain on our evolutionary development and only adds fuel to my long simmering theory that we are born and made and shaped by place; that each of us carries our own terroir and inherits some from those who came before us.
That, like wine, we are seasoned by our soil.
It also reminds me of a conversation I had with my dad when I was small and we were navigating the precarious paths of Mesa Verde. I was terrified. “Walk like an Indian,” he told me. “Bounce a little bit.”
I don’t know where he received this intelligence (it well could have been while he was rambling through the desert with Native American friends in search of peyote buds; it may have come to him after they were consumed; it was probably from the pages of a book) but it turns out it works. I deployed it at Mesa Verde -- with success -- and I've found whenever I’m uncertain about my footing on rough trails that exaggerating the spring in my step gets me through the worst of it (with some adjustments in the presence of scree).
Works on mountain bikes, too.
It’s counter intuitive, because when fear settles in while walking the cliff’s edge the instinct is to go rigid and inch your way along in terror. But it's also old news, isn't it: like the drunk who emerges unscathed from the crash with the upright toppled and dying around him, or the reed that bends in the wind.
It's the pliable who survive.
 Gisela Telis, Why Bouncy Legs Work Better, Science 23 March 2010
p.s. the apes are still lumbering for a little while longer yet »
Saturday, March 27, 2010
It's on. Bloggers b1-66er and Special K are watching complete contents of the "Ultimate Planet of the Apes" boxset. Estimated run time: 48 hours.
live blog »
live video stream »
Twitter hashtag #EPOTA »
Wednesday, March 24, 2010
Hint: It's not pretty.
Forget this world and all its troubles and if
possible its multitudinous Charlatans — every thing
in short but the Enchantress of Numbers.
Charles Babbage's poetic tribute to Ada Lovelace, whom some have credited as the World's First Computer Programmer, due to a technical note which she appended to her translation of Luigi Menabrea's Sketch of the Analytical Engine invented by Charles Babbage.
Section G of the Tech Note describes (yes, forgive me, I'm citing Wikipedia:) "in complete detail, a method for calculating a sequence of Bernoulli numbers with the Engine, which would have run correctly had [Charles Babbage's] Analytical Engine ever been built."
Ada Lovelace was also:
- Sole legitimate heir to the poet and rake Lord Byron
- Tutored in Mathematics by Augustus de Morgan
- Countess and mother of three
- Dead at the age of 36
We may say most aptly that the Analytical Engine weaves algebraic patterns just as the Jacquard-loom weaves flowers and leaves. ... [It] might act upon other things besides number, were objects found whose mutual fundamental relations could be expressed by those of the abstract science of operations.(...)
Supposing, for instance, that the fundamental relations of pitched sounds in the science of harmony and of musical composition were susceptible of such expression and adaptations, the engine might compose elaborate and scientific pieces of music of any degree of complexity or extent.(...)
Many persons who are not conversant with mathematical studies, imagine that because the business of the engine is to give its results in numerical notation, the nature of its processes must consequently be arithmetical and numerical, rather than algebraical and analytical. This is an error. The engine can arrange and combine its numerical quantities exactly as if they were letters or any other general symbols; and in fact it might bring out its results in algebraical notation, were provisions made accordingly.
— From Sketch of the Analytical Engine invented by Charles Babbage
She was also apparently a disappointment to her father, Lord Byron, who had hoped for a boy.
Today just so happens to be Ada Lovelace Day, which is an international day of blogging to celebrate the achievements of women in technology and science, and Ada has her very own Google Maps Mashup as a result»
p.s. As I was pulling this post together my Flickr & Twitter friend @jrnoded let me know that he has paid me Ada Honors, which I'm sure I don't deserve, but I am certainly pleased to receive. Thank you, sir.
I haven't drawn anything since 2003, this feels like breathing again after being held underwater for 5 minutes.
Graffitti artist Tony Quan, aka Tempt One, on how the open source Eyewriter helped him tag again after being laid low by ALS.
For $50 you can have one too -- EyeWriter DIY here »
Tuesday, March 23, 2010
Monday, March 22, 2010
Were you politically motivated?
No. I just remember sitting there watching the election results thinking, why are they violently reacting to people who were voting? It's not like they were just jailing people; they were killing people in the streets – people who had a different opinion, people who wanted to share their stories and voice what they thought was right. It shocked me that someone would retaliate in such an inhumane way, and for someone to use the internet as a tool of oppression, as a tool to stop dialogue.
Haystack creator Austin Heap, interviewed in today's Guardian.
In Heap's own words:
Haystack is a piece of software that someone in Iran runs on his or her computer. It does two things: first, it encrypts all of the data; second it hides that data inside normal traffic so it looks like you're visiting innocuous sites. Daniel and I developed Haystack by looking at how the regime was using technology to filter the internet, and figured out the best strategy to get around it.
Sunday, March 21, 2010
Un Chien Andalou
I sliced my eye open. Not as dramatically or as irreversibly as this unfortunate woman in Un Chien Andalou, but noticeably, as in two weeks worth of steady eye drops (every 10 to 20 minutes) intermittently spiked with steroids; and feeling suddenly small and weak and vulnerable.
That kind of noticeable.
And I was reminded, because it’s been some time since I’ve had cause to feel frightened about my health or about the health of anyone close to me, just how terrifying health problems can be. How they can so frequently materialize all of a sudden like that and change everything that once was expected and certain into something murky and unknown that unsettles all your habits and plans.
I write this as the Health Care Reform bill just made its last tortured passage across the House and passed. Which I take as good news, as beleaguered as the bill came to be, because it’s the first step towards admitting, as a country, that the infirm among us, those whose full capacity is compromised by illness and infirmity, need our care.
This is why we band together under a single flag in the first place -- to protect to our common interests and watch each other's backs.
It’s that easy.
Article 25, Universal Declaration of Human Rights
(1) Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.
(2) Motherhood and childhood are entitled to special care and assistance. All children, whether born in or out of wedlock, shall enjoy the same social protection.
Tuesday, March 16, 2010
Monday, March 15, 2010
Apparently Apple even has a problem with naked legs.
German photographer Sebastian Kempa in today's New York Times, speaking of Apple's censorship of the iPhone app that he created to promote his site naked-people.de, which explores clothing as both disguise and revelation.
Importantly, the piece raises questions about American hegemony online -- namely: Does Apple have the right to impose American censorship standards on German consumers?
Related: Full-body scans go online at O'Hare today »
I subscribed to the current season at the Goodman because it promised the premiere of The Long Red Road, directed by Philip Seymour Hoffman.
I’m a Hoffman fan. Missing his Iago was one of the bigger disappointments of the last theatre season. I patiently endured Synecdoche, New York for Hoffman (and for Charlie Kaufman) because he gave up such a brilliant performance in Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead. Hoffman’s performance in Charlie Wilson’s War drew solid lines around the cartoons of Tom Hanks’ and Julia Roberts’ performances. His Capote? Was Capote.
Hoffman’s directing was why I showed up yesterday at the matinee performance, but soon I found myself curled in the same aversive cringe that overcame me when I saw him play his over-amped meteorologist in Twister.
As a simple assemblage of parts, the play was a success. The stagecraft was sublime, disparate lives scattered across Western states somehow intertwined through the shared bits and pieces of any household: The front door. A bathroom.
The disappointment? A play that never lulled long enough in its steady rage -- fueled disparately by either alcohol or resentment -- to reveal the tender underbelly of any of our players; to give us a point of empathy from which to enlist in the brutality of a ride that ends in violation and death and conflagration.
Or as Mr. Hoo stated as we made our way out of the theater: “Sadly, I couldn’t bring myself to give a sh*t about any of those f*ckers.”
True: Several audience members walked out in the first act, one loudly intoning “Garbage. This is garbage.” Many more never made it back after intermission.
I held on because I wanted to believe something more would unfold to make me care about these characters; to redeem them. In the end, just as our blonde saviour Annie learns through her fruitless love for a tired and dying alcoholic, there was no change, there was no transformation, all remained as it was from the beginning, driving down to its inevitable end, as if foretold in the first few scenes.
Perhaps it was just this inevitability that Mr. Hoffman was striving for, like the sodden, shaky dullness of the hangover that certainly follows the binge. Maybe he achieved his directive after all.
Sunday, March 14, 2010
Wednesday, March 10, 2010
Monday, March 08, 2010
In Elmhurst, Illinois, there is a small museum dedicated to the lapidary arts. According to Google there’s another one in Hendersonville, North Carolina and a third in Ghent among the ruins of St. Bavo’s Abbey. (Among other things, St. Bavo was the patron saint of falconry.)
The second page of Google search results (but who ever looks at the second page?) reveals another within easy reach of the Isenheim Altarpiece and its pustulent Christ; and yet another in North Cyprus, in the small town of Nicosia, in an ecclesiastical structure left behind by the Venetians when they blew through the Mediterranean and lit the fire that gave us El Greco and other bits of beauty.
But back to the rocks of Elmhurst, cut and polished and fashioned by hand. The Lizzadro Museum is full of them, as Mr. Hoo and I discovered late last summer entirely by accident when we crossed the park after taking in an exhibit at the Elmhurst Art Museum (which has the dubious distinction of salvaging and transplanting a complete Mies structure to the site and appropriating its rooms for administrative offices).
It’s my fault we went in. The ragged unfinished hunk of Jade mounted near the front door drew me through the doors; and it’s my fault that we stayed longer than Mr. Hoo would have liked.
The room, you have to understand, was filled with Jade. And yes: Intaglios and intarsias and faceted gemstones -- but the Jade! Carved into vessels and scepters and screens, worked so thin as to be translucent, it breathed the same green of regeneration that led the Maya to revere it.
Rimmed around the room, however, was the greater curiosity: frame after frame of lapidary dioramas. Mother birds feeding their young. Dinosaurs roaming the earth. Vast herds of buffalo bringing steam trains to a full stop as they migrated across the vast open prairie. Jasper seemed to be the stone of choice, but obsidian and quartz and tiger’s eye and lapis lazuli also put in an appearance; as did agate and aquamarine.
The twelve year old in me kicked in and I took an eternity to circle the room while Mr. Hoo waited patiently near the snuff bottles carved out of stone.
This weekend I returned with my camera. The room was smaller than I remembered (isn’t it always) which means it didn’t take me long at all to get my shots (photography is allowed at the Lizzadro Museum), which is a good thing, because a cold bug was settling into my sinuses and I didn’t have the endurance for much more than that.
I’ve posted them here for you. You may be intrigued, or you may be indifferent. This is how people generally are about rocks.
It's all or nothing, really, when it comes to the lapidary arts.
Flickr slideshow: Lizzadro Museum of Lapidary Art »
The Lizzadro Museum of Lapidary Art
In Wilder Park
220 Cottage Hill
Elmhurst, Illinois, 60126
Friday, March 05, 2010
The long tail stretch of the Chicago winter hooks deep into the days of March and April that most folks know as Spring, and empties every last reserve of hope that the world might turn green again.
These days remind me of the teacup koan; of the emptying:
Nan-in, a Japanese master during the Meiji era (1868-1912), received a university professor who came to inquire about Zen.
Nan-in served tea. He poured his visitor's cup full, and then kept on pouring.
The professor watched the overflow until he no longer could restrain himself. "It is overfull. No more will go in!"
"Like this cup," Nan-in said, "you are full of your own opinions and speculations. How can I show you Zen unless you first empty your cup?"
Yes, Winter: We are empty now.
Please: May we have some Spring?
When a historic place captivates or enthralls me, I feel impelled to set out in search of its soul. The historic city is not a carefully designed entity, it simply is, and it exists independently of any carefully designed plan.
It came into being in the course of time and stands as absolute proof that historic centres are not devised by architects, but are instead the reflection of thousands of lives which have literally lived it into being. These centres are a city that we can only feel, perceive and savour.
The architect Renzo Piano, interviewed by Lodovico Folin Calabi, programme specialist at the UNESCO World Heritage Centre, in the most recent issue of UNESCO's World Heritage publication (No. 55).
Selfishly, I printed off the Piano interview because UNESCO used one of my photographs to illustrate the piece. Gratefully, I read it end to end, nodding deep and long as I came across passages like the one above and this one too:
Some of the centres that we most love are endowed with a form of beauty that touches us deeply and does so in rather the same way as might, for instance, a person who embodies our own roots, a relative who arouses great fondness in our hearts. This beauty is apparent in the spontaneous patterns of a historic city which coexist in perfect harmony with the millions of lives that have unfolded there.
It is a place which was built in time and so, with time, this plurality of lives becomes layered within the city and interwoven into it. It is a place on which everyone has left a trace.
These traces should not be erased out of some misguided sense of shame or fear. Rather, they should remain because they not only tell a story, they also provide the city with its sense of identity.
But you can read it for yourself -- it's a gem »
Wednesday, March 03, 2010
Stayed at Ink48 back in January. It's snugged into the backside of Hell's Kitchen along 11th Avenue, which is just a nudge too far off 9th Avenue -- that wonderful street of shops and restaurants -- to feel like you're still in Midtown, even.
But the rooms are massive, for Manhattan, and it has a lovely view of the Hudson.
The sky starts to open up as you near the hotel, walking along 48th towards 11th. The skyscrapers of Midtown are just a memory and the sun has more opportunity to seek out surfaces and shine them up, resplendent -- which you think would be a good thing, and your evolved brain that digs beauty says *yes,* but your animal brain that has taken safety in the canyons feels tiny and nervous and exposed.
Like a creature crawling out from under a rock after a hard rain.
Monday, March 01, 2010
Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness and mere oblivion,
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.
William Shakespeare, As You Like It
Act II, Scene VII, lines 163-166
Once my grandmother knew she was dying (once we all did) she wanted pictures. She pantomimed holding a camera to her face and releasing the shutter. She gestured for those of us in the room to draw near -- there were many in the room, often, coming for a visit, knowing it was goodbye -- to stand close and pose.
I held up my holga and pretended to click. My aunts were better at it -- they really took the photos. I should have but couldn’t. I couldn’t bear to see her there, dying. She looked other worldly, and nothing like herself, and yet: she was entirely there. And wholly her own.
It was hot in Seattle this last July, almost unbearably so, and we spent much effort trying to keep her cool with washcloths and fans because the facility where she was staying wasn’t air conditioned. Few older buildings are, in Seattle. There really isn’t a need. We pulled the drapes against the bright sun so that it wouldn’t bake the room to a fever. Compounding the problem was her own internal combustion; the body heats up as it makes its final passage, like a rocket ship exiting the atmosphere.
For many hours I sat beside her as she slept. Tried to work. Tried to read. Found I couldn’t. Mostly I gazed at her, my thoughts inarticulate, my emotions as high as the heat.
There was one moment in all those afternoons (I can't remember which one) in which the light was just right and she rested quietly, having just had a bath. I worked up the courage to take a few photographs in that well lit place, feeling awkward and strange, but knowing I had her consent. Knowing I would never photograph her again. Knowing this would be the final roll.