It's also true that Nature finds a way to surprise us.
Take a look at these extraordinary photos of a leopard taking on an African crocodile. This is rare and unusual.
Everything looks green from the air, indicating crops and fields have good moisture. High, thick clouds gather in the afternoon and bring summer showers . I assume they're welcomed by most farmers and gardeners. Toronto has had the wettest June and July on record and continues to get an afternoon or evening drenching just about every day.
Of course we wonder if this is a new phase in the global warming trend, but we won't know for a few years until a trend is established. Last year, it was hot and dry in Southern Ontario. This year seems the opposite.
Just as the technical definition of a recession is two consecutive quarters of no real growth in the economy, we can't be sure whether this year's weather is truly related to climate change.
We'll ask the meteorologists when they're finished analyzing the data.
Meantime, we can carry sunscreen with an umbrella on the side.
On the roof of her building she found some planter boxes and planted herbs in them. She waters them. When she needs some herbs for cooking, she enters the elevator, travels to the top of the building, cuts what she needs and returns to her kitchen.
Together they're proposing "vertical farms," tall buildings devoted to growing food for thousands of people in the city.
Check out the slide show as well.
Have a good weekend!
It seems every time a new subdivision is built, authorities feel they must introduce traffic lights to every new street that connects to a major artery. Sometimes, traffic signals are literally 50 metres apart and the result is dramatically slower traffic flow and congestion. The constant stopping and starting is not too good for vehicle engines or the environment either.
What further bothers me is that these lights seem to have very little variation in their timing mechanism, meaning that on a Sunday morning or in the overnight period some of these lights still operate in a sequence similar to that of the peak of rush hour; so one could be sitting there at a red light at 2 AM all alone, no other vehicle or pedestrian around, waiting for it to turn green.
For me, this is poor traffic management.
The same can be said for four-way stop signs at certain intersections where the signs seem to have only one function: slow traffic. Why can't we have a simple traffic circle or more yield signs?
In many areas of our cities traffic signals, speed limit signs and other roadway signage appear to have no correlation to the road conditions or to the driving environment. They can be downright confusing. What's even more bothersome is that police officers seem to relish enforcing rules that sometimes frankly don't make any sense and that catch many drivers unaware.
Recently, writer John Staddon wrote a piece in The Atlantic magazine that makes the argument that stop signs and speed limits actually endanger Americans. He says they are inducing a form of blindness in drivers caused by lack of attention to the roadway itself.
The article was entitled "Distracting Miss Daisy," and I agree with its premise.
Matt Gross of the New York Times is in Gdansk and has posted his article and video of the city that spawned the Solidarity movement in the 1980s.
Readers of Gross's blog voted for him to visit Gdansk as part of his grand summer tour of Europe.
We've been following the "Frugal Traveler" trip, as you've probably seen in recent weekly posts.
Explore the port city here.
Photo of the medieval town hall by Kriss Szkurlatowski. Many thanks.
American medical students, perhaps growing too dependent on technology, are learning how to increase their natural powers of observation by doing something very simple: visiting art museums.
The Boston Globe reports that the prestigious Harvard Medical School has started a trend across the United States, and now other universities are also offering art classes to medical students.
It all began with Dr. Joel Katz, who five years ago decided to break with scientific tradition and take his medical students to the Museum of Fine Arts once a week. He arranged for art instructors to question students, challenging them to deeply observe works of art and explain what they saw.
At a time when doctors are relying more and more on CT scans, biopsies and blood analysis, he notices that students are not making the most of basic observational skills that could help them make better diagnostic judgments.
Dr. Katz's colleagues were skeptical when he first tried this approach.
But now, Dr. Katz and his team have published a study in the Journal of General Internal Medicine that shows students' ability to make accurate observations after taking art classes can improve by as much as 38 per cent. The Globe writes:
"When shown artwork and photos of patients, students were more likely to notice features such as a patient's eyes being asymmetrical or a tiny, healed sore on an index finger."
"We're trying to train students to not make assumptions about what they're going to see, but to do deep looking. Our hope is that they will be able to do this when they look at patients," Dr. Katz says.
You can read the article by Liz Kowalczyk here.
Additional details are available from the Brigham and Women's Hospital.
Photo of Gallery C in Hermosa Beach, California, courtesy of C. Toepfer, who made it available for public use.
(I'm away on a work-related assignment...back soon.)
In many cases, companies are limiting checked baggage to one item and are charging extra for a second piece of checked luggage. Consequently, passengers are packing more into larger carry-on bags. This contributes to the hypocrisy of cabin regulations.
Why, for example, do airlines insist on telling passengers to put heavier, larger items under the seat in front of them, when everyone who's ever been in an airplane can see that passengers prefer to place the heavier carry-on bags in the compartments above? While everyone understands the danger of items falling from overhead compartments, no one wants to sit for hours without a place to put their feet. Boarding has now become a rush to find available overhead space for larger carry-on items.
As cabins become more crowded with baggage because of the limits on checked luggage, the situation is only going to get worse. Airlines should recognize this reality and think creatively instead of repeating rules that everybody ignores.
At about the same time, coverage of the Chicagoland Nascar Sprint Cup race in Joliet, Illinois, paused for some incredible high definition beauty shots of the red sky over the race track.
Talking it over with Duilio Zane (my father and the photographer who took the stills shown here), the question arose whether the sunsets are becoming redder because of a higher concentration of atmospheric pollution.
Scientific American writes that a higher percentage of aerosols, particles suspended in the atmosphere, can result in the scattering of light waves resulting in a predominance of oranges and reds. These particles can arise from the burning of fossil fuels and the release of sulphur dioxide into the air.
So the redness in the sky indeed may be caused by internal combustion engines and their exhaust. However, when pollution is very heavy, the sun appears misty and out-of-focus, not clearly defined as it has been on some recent nights.
The magazine points out that aerosols in the sky can also come from natural sources like forest fires and volcanic eruptions.
Well, neither of those were present in Toronto and Chicago last weekend.
But this brings us to another interesting connection. A team at the Observatory of Athens is studying the paintings of old masters to see if they can learn something from the colours of their sunsets. Specifically they want to learn how natural climate change in the past can be used to build better computer models for the effects of global warming.
In the last century, a huge amount of natural pollution was thrown into the sky by volcanic eruptions like the one that shook Indonesia in 1883 when Mount Krakatoa blew its top. These eruptions changed the colour of the sky for years afterward, and paintings from those periods show a lot of orange and red in the sky. See Edvard Munch's The Scream (1893).
By analyzing the colours and feeding the data into computers, scientists hope to understand a modern effect called "global dimming, " which relates to how increasing pollution paradoxically may be slowing global warming.
No matter how one looks at them, summer sunsets are fascinating phenomena.
For more information see "How old masters are helping study of global warming"
Photos courtesy of Duilio Zane
One of the hardest things to do, but also one of the most satisfying when one succeeds, is to reduce something that is complicated into something that is clear and representative of its essential elements.
Some friends at 602 Communications offer these thoughts:
"'Think simple' as my old master used to say - meaning reduce the whole of its parts into the simplest terms, getting back to first principles."
- Frank Lloyd Wright
"Three Rules of Work: Out of clutter find simplicity; From discord find harmony; In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity."
- Albert Einstein
May we all find our opportunities.
One of the great places to walk in Calgary is Prince's Island Park, which is an urban green space on an island in the Bow River. From the park, one has a great view of downtown Calgary, the river and the Centre Street Bridge. This bridge was originally built in 1906, but was heavily damaged in a flood in 1915. It was re-built and opened a year later. It's one of the main entry points into downtown from the northern part of the city and is famous for the four stone lions that mark its entrances.
Cars travel across the river above and below the main span of the bridge. A walking and biking path also crosses underneath.
I was on the island the other evening and couldn't resist drawing it.
The editorial cartoonist lives by the maxim that "a picture is worth a thousand words."
When the cartoonist succeeds in making the reader laugh, he or she has reached a higher plateau; the level of difficulty, as in a complicated high dive or an acrobatic feat, is that much higher.
I've selected two examples that caught my eye.
The first relates to the news story about airlines continuing to cut back on service in order to remain in business. The detail in this drawing by Jim Borgman adds to the humour of the editorial perspective.
The second struck me for its remarkable expressive character. It's a portrait of French President Nicolas Sarkozy related to his recent hosting of a summit of 40 European and Mediterranean leaders for the founding of the "Union for the Mediterranean." Sarkozy wishes to tackle the thorny problem of peace in the Middle East.
Jerusalem artist "Kichka," decided to portray Sarkozy in the role of Louis XIV. Check it out here.
You can see the 1701 portrait on which Kichka based his cartoon in this Wikipedia article.
Saw some amazing thunderheads and cumulus clouds on the descent into Calgary airport. It reminded me a lot of the post from June 29th, "Summer sky."
Nature is truly amazing. We were flying in white canyons with the tops of the clouds reaching high into the atmosphere, the tops rose-colored in the setting sun, above the plane's wingtips, a wall of cloud that made one think that perhaps this is what it might have looked like to Moses if he'd looked up as he rushed his people to safety along the floor of the parted Red Sea.
Lucky pilots who get to see these things all the time.
Have a good week, everyone!
Thousands of years ago, the Greeks settled in Sicily. Greek sailors believed these seven islands were the home of Aeolus, the god of the winds. The legend says he held the winds in a bag to be let out with great caution. Indeed by all accounts the area can be quite windy, especially during the winter months.
Photographs on this page are courtesy of Giuseppe C. (Lipari), Aschwin Prein (brooding Stromboli with smoke rising) and Vincenzo Piazza (Stromboli in the distance). They made them available on the web for free use with attribution. Thank you, all.
He brought a refreshing approach to his relations with the Washington press corps. Snow was never dull, sometimes combative, but always engaging and humane.
The Associated Press story, with pictures and video, is here.
"When you look at yourself from a universal standpoint, something inside always reminds or informs you that there are bigger and better things to worry about."
(1879 - 1955), The World as I See It.
(Courtesy The Quotations Page)
Gross's limited-budget "Grand Tour of Europe" continues to attract lots of web visitors.
The nose of a Northwest Airlines Boeing 757 was crumpled, but the plane landed safely at it's destination. No one was injured.
What's curious is that Federal Aviation Officials today ruled out the possibility of a bird strike. Pilots said they heard a bang at 18,000 feet, apparently too high for a bird.
The investigation continues.
Read the New York Times account, or an Orlando television station's version here
Not being a trained economist, I tried at first to think about the rising price of oil in terms of the fundamentals of supply and demand. Was supply decreasing that much? Or was our demand increasing? This didn’t make any sense, as we witness the growth of a new environmental consciousness around the world.
Then I became suspicious of speculators. It didn’t seem to make any sense that on any given morning, news bulletins would spill out some new reason for a barrel of oil hitting new price records: “Tension in the Middle East over a possible conflict with Iran,” “Concerns over the security of Nigerian pipelines ,” “Hurricane fears in the Gulf of Mexico,” and so on. Is it possible that every day analysts need to find a new excuse for the rising price of fuel ?
Today, the Toronto Star newspaper provides a much more plausible reason: it’s the weakening U.S. dollar. It may not be the only reason, but it’s a very big factor.
The American dollar has been declining in value for six years. This has vastly undermined its role as the benchmark for foreign currencies. And since oil is bought and sold in U.S. dollars, Americans have to pay more for each barrel. Some analysts estimate that about $25 dollars of the price of a barrel is directly related to the weakening dollar.
Now, many oil-producing countries and central banks are shifting their securities towards the euro and Asian currencies. This further weakens the dollar. According to the Star, some experts fear the euro could someday replace the dollar as the primary reserve currency.
The state of the American economy has a lot to do with what is happening in world markets. Some would say Washington is paying for its recklessness. The war effort created a mountain of debt. The federal government has continued to borrow aggressively and spend aggressively. At the same time, U.S. consumers have also been spending and borrowing aggressively (especially on housing and cars), while personal savings have been almost nonexistent. The sub-prime mortgage fiasco is just one wave of bad news. Now, the risk of inflation looms on the horizon.
While we probably can’t blame rising oil prices entirely on American economic woes, we can certainly see the role the weaker U.S. dollar is playing. Let’s hope wise minds find an orderly transition to the next plateau. Stability would give everyone time to re-adjust to new global realities.
For more, see the Toronto Star article here.
Renewed calls to detach currencies from the dollar, as reported by the Jerusalem Post
Thanks to Dawn Allynn for her photo of the oil rig, upper right. She made it available on the stock.xchang.
Some thoughts today from comedienne Lily Tomlin:
"At the moment you are most in awe of all there is about life that you don't understand, you are closer to understanding it all than at any other time." (How true)
"I always wanted to be somebody, but now I realize I should have been more specific."
"If the formula for water is H2O, is the formula for an ice cube H2O squared?"
(I, too, always had trouble with math theory)
"Why is it that when we talk to God we're said to be praying, but when God talks to us we're schizophrenic?" (Yeah, why is that?)
"For fast-acting relief, try slowing down."
Quotations are courtesy of working humour.com
"Let' drink, friend" is courtesy of "idque" in Lithuania, who made it available on http://www.sxc.hu/
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, —That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.
While companies are thinking about their options, people in cyberspace are coming up with their own suggestions for new aircraft designs.
Someone submitted a very original series of concepts on YouTube, courtesy of some digital sleight of hand.
Have a look and I dare you not to laugh!
Thanks to "erinmont" in California for her photo posted here. She made it available on the stock.xchng.
Imagine being completely focused on the activity of the right hemisphere of your brain, the side that relates to creativity and consciousness. This is what it feels like when you can shut off the left hemisphere, the analytical side, the hemisphere that controls speech and tends to dominate our existence.
The description is remarkable, because it's what happened to Jill Bolte Taylor, a neuroscientist, as she was experiencing a stroke.
It happened in 1996, when a large clot disrupted the left side of her brain, leaving her severely incapacitated. After many years of therapy, Jill Bolte Taylor has returned to work and is reviewing what she learned during that experience. She has written a book called "Stroke of Insight" and was recently interviewed by Maclean's magazine (where her remarks quoted in this post originate).
The analysis of a stroke by someone who studies brain function offers a unique perspective, not only on how the body responds during such a traumatic injury, but also on the power of our often suppressed right-hemisphere brain functions.
Staying in touch with the right-brain means being able to tap into a deep reservoir of consciousness, of connecting to the universe at a different level. During her stroke, Bolte Taylor describes how she didn't feel fear, pain or worry; she no longer felt separate from her body: "...I was nothing more than cellular molecular life, if you will. When you stop and think about you as a living entity, a conglomeration of trillions of little cells, then you're very aware that you're 80 per cent fluid. I was a fluid in a very fluid environment. Everything was in motion."
She tells people that peace is within reach of everyone: "...I think both hemispheres are always functioning and deep inner peace is always present. It's always a choice. If' I'm attached to my drama, the pain in my past, and I'm not willing to put it aside, that's my left brain interfering with the purity of having that right-hemisphere consciousness."
These words echo those expressed by many ancient and modern philosophers. Bolte Taylor's insight provides some scientific support for them.
Her conversation with Maclean's magazine is a revealing read. The description of her stroke, as seen from her perspective is unique. You can find it here.
She has lectured also at various international conferences. You can watch her presentation at the prestigious TED conference.
Two related posts in this blog were "The present is the only thing that's real" and "Can humanity evolve to a new level of consciousness."