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May 4, 2013

"Daily Rituals: How Artists Work"


Wrote Kurt Harden on Cultural Offering, "Daily Routines, the blog, is now 'Daily Rituals,' the book. Very cool."


I'm hoping Robyn O'Neil gets a chance to pipe up in volume two.

And who knows?

By the time the sequel appears, Flautist may merit a chapter as well, should Motley Apricot Paintworks, her Etsy store, explode and make her merits known to the great world.

Though from what she's told me over the years about her modus operandi, I'm not sure anyone would walk away after reading a frank description of her methods not shaking their head thinking "that lady needs major medication and hospitalization yesterday."


[via Rob]

May 4, 2013 at 08:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Fairy Circles of Africa — Mystery Solved?


Above, an aerial view of fairy circles — mysterious circular bare spots that new reseach suggest may be the work of termites.

Below, excerpts from John Noble Wilford's March 28, 2013 New York Times story about the apparent solution of a long-time natural mystery.


Have you heard the one about the little termite that could, and did, take on a desert and turn it green? At least a little greener, except for those spots.

The reddish barren spots, thousands of them, are called fairy circles, the name itself an invitation to try to solve the mystery of their origins. They dot a narrow belt of desert stretching from Angola through Namibia into northern South Africa. For no obvious reason, the round patches of sandy soil interrupt the arid grassland, like a spreading blight on the land.

To the Himba people who live in the region, however, there is nothing to explain. That’s just how it is, they tell anthropologists; the circles were made by their "original ancestor, Mukuru," or more poetically, they are "footprints of the gods." A just-so story blames a mythical dragon that lives in a crack deep under the earth. The dragon’s poisonous breath kills vegetation to create the circles. Trouble is, some scientists point out, the bad-breath hypothesis apparently originated with fanciful tour guides.

New research may now have yielded a more credible explanation for the fairy circles as examples of natural ecosystem engineering by a particular species of sand termites, Psammotermes allocerus. A German scientist reported on Thursday that most likely these industrious termites were the agents for making much of their desert home an oasis of permanent grassland.

In an article in the journal Science, Norbert Juergens, a professor of ecology at the University of Hamburg, said these termites "match the beaver with regard to intensity of environmental change, but surpass it with regard to the spatial dimension of their impact."

Over the 1,200-mile length of the Namib Desert, especially in parts of Namibia, Dr. Juergens wrote, "P. allocerus turns wide desert regions of predominately ephemeral life into landscapes dominated by species-rich perennial grassland supporting uninterrupted perennial life even during dry seasons and drought years."

Last year, Walter R. Tschinkel, a biologist at Florida State University, published an analysis of aerial and satellite photography and other research to describe the number, size and dynamics of these formations. Some are as small as six feet in diameter and never grow much bigger. The largest ones can be at least 40 feet across. It was estimated that the smaller circles have average life spans of 24 years, the larger ones as much as 75 years.

But Dr. Tschinkel had first assumed that termites were implicated and went looking for nests of a different species, harvester termites, without success. He finally concluded that no other termites had been associated with the circles, and seemed resigned to a mystery unsolved.

In a critique, Dr. Tschinkel said he was unconvinced that the termites are the cause of the circles. He said the paper by Dr. Juergens "has made the common scientific error of confusing correlation (even very strong correlation) with causation."

Scientists at the University of Pretoria in South Africa have also tested hypotheses of escaping natural gases like methane or other toxins rising to the surface and wiping out vegetation at these spots. But the results have been inconclusive.

Dr. Juergens said in a telephone interview that Dr. Tschinkel was "looking for the wrong termites and you could easily overlook the ones that were actually living" deep beneath the surface of the red sandy spots, feasting on grass roots to keep the patches of land free of vegetation. In this way, the soil is better able to absorb rainfall quickly, with little water loss due to evaporation. The absence of vegetation at the site also means that rainwater is not lost through transpiration, the evaporation of water from plants.

The absorbed water, the scientists explained, spreads evenly in the sandy soil all around, which explains the circular patterns. This nourishes the surrounding grassland. And the termites keep chomping the roots of new shoots from beneath the inner circle, preventing new vegetation from disrupting their engineered ecosystem.

Another critical factor, Dr. Juergens said, is that all the circles he and associates examined methodically over 40 field trips in the last six years had two telling characteristics. P. allocerus termites were present in all, and the soil was extremely sandy and porous.

They found strong evidence, Dr. Juergens said, that the species does "things not done by other termites. They are "quite clandestine," he noted. They build no nests or mounds above ground. Their underground galleries and passages are deep and narrow. "They sort of swim in the loose sand, not leaving tracks," he said.

The researchers observed that the circles occur only in sandy soil, not where clay predominates. And they studied the presence of the termites in the earliest stages of a circle's formation, establishing that they were in on its creation, not merely occupying it at later stages. They also were involved in widening the diameter of the circles, as they steadily fed on grasses at their outer margins.

In dry seasons, the termites can remain alive and active by moving out from the circles, still underground, and surviving on roots of the outlying grasses.

Wait a sec... what's that music I'm hearing?

May 4, 2013 at 04:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Triploid Stool


Remember mitosis from back in biology, where a cell splits in two?


This is kind of like that.


From Natalia Repolovsky's Shoebox Dwelling: "Modest Stool by French designer Paul Menand is a clever nesting design that follows the same principle as the one we saw in Menand's Triplette Chair."


"Again, the piece can be used as a single stacked item or taken apart and function as three individual ones. The bottom and middle stools feature slots that allow to fit the components into each other. And the half pipe legs make the stacking process seamless."

May 4, 2013 at 12:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

"I hate hotels" — Kurt Harden


I hate hotels.

First, I am a germaphobe.  I imagine the worst sort of infectious disease patient, mouth breather, or sleep drooler occupying every room I acquire, coughing on the remote control and every other surface, stuffing dirty Kleenex back in the box and spitting in the coffeemaker.

Second, I sleep better amid the activity of home.  Someone needs to throw up each night at 3:04 a.m., wander past my wife's side of the bed (nearest the door) to my side and stare at me for a few minutes until I sense or smell them.  No night is complete without one adventure through a darkened house.

As a result, I have been known to get up at 3:00 a.m. and drive five hours for a 9:00 a.m. meeting.  Tomorrow is a 6:30 a.m. presentation two hours away.  Piece of cake.

Stephen King's "Insomnia" is loaded on the iPod.  Coffee will be brewed.  I WILL show up early.

[via Cultural Offering (back at ya)]

May 4, 2013 at 08:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

What is it?


Answer here this time tomorrow.

Hint: About the size of a bread box.

Another: Limited edition.

A third: €5,000.

May 4, 2013 at 04:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

BehindTheMedspeak: My Cancer Genome


Thursday's New York Times front page story about the radical transformation of medicine's view of cancer from tissue-based to gene and DNA-centric serves as an excellent stepping off point for Anne Eisenberg's column in last Sunday's Times, which began as follows: "Cancers were once named strictly for the tissue where they originated in the breast, prostate or other part of the body. Now, in the age of genetically informed medicine, cancers may also come with a more specific lexicon: the names of mutated genes deep within tumors that cause cells to become cancerous."

Excerpts follow.

Even medical oncologists can be daunted by the complexity of these genes and the therapies intended to fight them, said Dr. William Pao, a physician and scientist at Vanderbilt University who studies cancer mutations in addition to seeing patients. "There are so many genes and so many mutations," he said. "The human brain can't memorize all those permutations."

To guide doctors and their patients, many tools are on the market, including one created by Dr. Pao and colleagues: the Web site My Cancer Genome. The site, which started two years ago, is maintained by 51 contributors from 20 institutions. It lists mutations in different types of cancer, as well as drug therapies that may or may not be of benefit. Most of the drugs are in clinical trials; a few have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration.

The typical user of this information is an oncologist, Dr. Pao said. At the Web site, the doctor can select "melanoma" and "BRAF," for instance, or "lung cancer" and "BRAF," and see all types of mutations in the BRAF gene that occur in those instances. The doctor can then check for national and international drug trials aimed at these alterations.

Different treatments may work in different molecular subsets of cancer, depending on the mutation. More than 700 oncology drugs are now in development, many aimed at DNA defects, Dr. Pao said, "and the number will only accelerate."

"We are moving away from the tissue of origin to the molecular basis of the cancer, using the mutation to search for a treatment," he said.

Users do not pay to access the Web site. "Our premise is that much of the discovery work was paid for by taxpayer dollars," he said, "so the site is public and freely available." The site is supported almost entirely by the university and by philanthropy.

Before doctors go to My Cancer Genome or a similar site, their patients must have a diagnostic test to find relevant mutations. At one time, such tests were limited mainly to patients at large university cancer centers, and were often hard to interpret, said Dr. Fadi Braiteh, an oncologist who practices at Comprehensive Cancer Centers of Nevada in Las Vegas. Now tests for the mutations and the analyses of the results are available to neighborhood doctors.

Dr. Razelle Kurzrock, director of the center for personalized cancer therapy at the Moores Cancer Center at the University of California, San Diego, says she thinks that comprehensive tests... will be invaluable in the future. "We have to know what's inside a tumor cell that is causing it to grow," she said, "and match that knowledge up with the specific drug that targets the abnormality."

[Illustration up top by Julia Yellow]

May 4, 2013 at 12:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

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