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July 31, 2020

BehindTheMedspeak: Why are paper cuts so painful?

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From Wikipedia:

A paper cut occurs when a piece of paper or other thin, sharp material slices a person's skin.

Paper cuts, though named from paper, can also be caused by other thin, stiff materials, such as aluminum foil, and thin blades of grass.

Although a loose paper sheet is usually too soft to cut, it can be very thin (sometimes as thin as a razor edge), being then able to exert high levels of pressure, enough to cut the skin.

Paper cuts are most often caused by paper sheets that are strongly fastened together (such as brand-new paper out of a ream), because one single paper sheet might be dislocated from the rest.

Thus, all the other sheets are holding this dislocated sheet in position, and the very small part held away from the rest can be stiff enough to act as a razor.

Paper cuts can be surprisingly painful as they can stimulate a large number of skin surface pain receptors (nociceptors) in a very small area of the skin.

Because the shallow cut does not bleed very much, the pain receptors are left open to the air, ensuring continued pain.

This is exacerbated by irritation caused by the fibers in the paper itself, which may be coated in chemicals such as bleach.

Additionally, most paper cuts occur in the fingers, which have a greater concentration of sensory receptors than the rest of the body.

The random orientation of collagen fibers in skin provides the ability to withstand pinpoint forces.

However, skin does not have the same strength against shearing, and is easily cut.

The same principle can be applied to performers who stand on blades.

The Wikipedia entry notes that if you happen to be curious about Linkin Park's song "Papercut," you should look here.

There's a 40-second-long audio sample of the song embedded in the entry.

July 31, 2020 at 04:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)

OLDLIST — A Database of Ancient Trees

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The oldest tree in the database, a bristlecone pine in Nevada named Prometheus, is 4,900 years old.

"Can Trees Live Forever?" is the headline above a New York Times story that appeared earlier this week.

The article discusses a recent scientific paper titled "Long-Lived Trees Are Not Immortal."

The Times piece concluded, "Some trees can live for thousands of years, but we may not be around long enough to really know whether they can die of old age."

July 31, 2020 at 02:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

"Star Axis" — Charles Ross

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[Charles Ross at the base of the Solar Pyramid, which forms the top of "Star Axis," his naked-eye observatory 85 miles from Santa Fe, New Mexico]

From the New York Times:

A Land Art Pioneer's Adventures in Time and Space

Nearly 50 years after Charles Ross began working on "Star Axis," the artist's gargantuan work in the New Mexico desert is nearing completion.

Through the winter months, Charles Ross's existence befits an established New York multimedia artist of a certain vintage: whitewashed SoHo loft with a comfortable studio in the back; a pair of sweet, shaggy dogs that he and his wife, the painter Jill O'Bryan, walk up Wooster Street in the chill, past the wrought iron storefronts that were little more than scrap metal when he first came to the city in the mid-1960s after studying math and sculpture at the University of California, Berkeley, but now are outposts of Chanel and Dior.

But come dawn on an April day, when the weather has started to break, such trappings abruptly fall away.

A long flight and a bumpy three-hour ride later in the bruised, red-clay encrusted 2004 Dodge Dakota that they usually keep in long-term parking at the Albuquerque airport, Ross and O’Bryan are halfway up a craggy mesa, at the base of "Star Axis," the 11-story naked-eye observatory made of sandstone, bronze, earth, granite, and stainless steel that Ross, one of the last men standing of the generation of so-called earthworks artists, has labored on continuously since he conceived of it in 1971.

It will be finished, at last, he hopes, in late 2022. He will be 84 years old. "When I'm in New York," he says. "I'm just waiting."

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[The entrance to "Star Axis," with 30-foot-high stone walls built using ancient techniques]

The couple, who have been together for almost 25 years, will stay in New Mexico usually through November, returning to SoHo only when it gets too cold to pour the vast amount of concrete needed to complete a 130-foot-tall structure that is a fifth of a mile across, living in what might generously be called a house, barely visible on the adjoining mesa, a 15-minute, spine-jarring ride away.

In fact, it is little more than two castoff campers that Ross spackled together at the beginning of this wild ride, as the Vietnam War waned and Watergate exploded, and he decided, after envisioning it on a summer night in 1971, that no matter how long it took him or the cost, he would build a gargantuan staircase aligned perfectly with the celestial pole, marked by Polaris, the North Star.

When Ross is not at the site overseeing construction, he works with a handful of assistants in a studio to craft the gallery work that has partly sustained "Star Axis" over the years (he estimates it has cost more than $6 million so far), including his series of "Solar Burns," slabs of wood placed under round lenses of various sizes — up to six feet in diameter — set on giant hand-built stands outside the house, amid scraggly clumps of yellow gum weed.

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[Ross in his studio in New Mexico, with a selection of his "Solar Burns" on painted wood.]

The resulting charred impressions are dated meticulously.

They have delicate, multidimensional feathered edges that fade to ghostly brown and ocher. As tactile as a wound, like "Star Axis," they are meant, he says, "to make visceral the power of sunlight."

"Star Axis" itself is meant to embody an astronomical phenomenon called precession.

First noted around 130 B.C.E. by Hipparchus, the Greek astronomer who is also credited as the inventor of trigonometry, precession refers to the top-like wobble of the earth's axis due to the sun's gravitational pull on the slightly bulging Equator.

The result of precession is that while Polaris, in the constellation Ursa Minor, is currently the closest bright star to the northern celestial pole, that will change over time, as other bright stars from surrounding constellations happen to slowly become the polestar. (The entire cycle takes about 26,000 years.) "How could I not want to illustrate that," Ross says. "How could I not want to find a way to walk through time?"

The sun is setting, a prelude to the wrapped velvet blackness that on the mesas renders you unable to see even your own footfalls, which, considering the terrain, can be terrifying.

But for Ross, wiry and spry, with eyesight sharp enough to distinguish the headlights of a Ford from those of a Subaru as it chunks down a twisted road on a distant mountain, this is the best time to feel the work rather than merely see it.

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[Ross on a boulder during the construction of "Star Axis" in 1982]

During the blindingly lit day, the site is alive with giant earth-moving machines, and with a small crew that includes two foremen who have been on the project since the beginning, growing old alongside Ross, lifting the remaining capstones into place in a well-practiced ballet.

But when night falls — the kind no longer available in most of the artificially illuminated world — "Star Axis" becomes what he envisioned all those decades ago.

Soon, a visitor — there have been just a handful allowed in — can see nothing: no outline of the curved 30-foot-tall limestone entry walls made using Roman building techniques, or the outside of the Star Tunnel — a 147-step passageway that leads to the observatory — or the artist himself, in jeans, a denim work shirt and dusty sneakers.

When Ross first dreamed of such a staircase, he thought he could build it on the outside of the mesa, a task he expected would take a year or two at most.

But soon after he started construction, he had another dream: that to see the stars you would need to actually enter the earth.

That meant the stairs would have to be excavated into the mountain itself.

"Relax and lift your head," he says from somewhere in the void, as you grab the steel handrails — perfectly honed and, like everything else at "Star Axis," strategically positioned for maximum comfort, at a pitch figured to a minute certitude, in keeping with both the celestial concordance and the human body.

The height of the risers, too, has been carefully considered (8.25 inches; any more and they would be too strenuous to mount, any less and they would create the terrifying optical illusion of a nine-story sheer cliff when you turned around to descend).

"Just keep your eye on Polaris," he says. The elaborately engineered acoustics make it hard to tell how close he is. "I promise you'll be all right."

At the first tread, the stars come suddenly into view, framed by an oculus that seems the size of a dime held at arm's length.

You can make out Polaris, at the rim, flashing brighter than the others as it traces its daily small circle with the earth's rotation.

As you ascend, the aperture grows, the haze of cosmic matter coming into focus as though you are turning the knob of a microscope.

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[The view from the Hour Chamber at "Star Axis," where visitors will be able to observe one hour of the Earth's rotation. The North Star, Polaris, is framed in the apex of the 15-degree triangular opening; it takes exactly 60 minutes for a star anywhere along the left (west) edge to travel to the right (east) edge.]

Earlier, Ross explained how his illustration of precession works: At the bottom of the stairs, you see through the porthole the sky more or less as it is today (actually, as it will be in around 2100, when, as it happens, Polaris and the pole itself will be perfectly aligned).

But with each step (he commissioned professors from the University of Washington's Department of Astronomy to date them in exact increments, one by one), the field of vision widens, tracking the change in Polaris's orbit.

And so, as you climb, you move through the earth's 26,000 year precession.

At the top, you glimpse the most distant past and future orbits of the polestar — the sky as it was at the beginning of the cycle, in 11000 B.C.E., and as it will be in C.E. 15000.

In the darkness, you hear your heartbeat and the in-and-out whoosh of breath; your steps become automatic, effortless, as though you are falling instead of climbing, an odd sensation that he later will explain is the result of thousands of minute calculations of how the stairs hew to the celestial axis.

And then — Four minutes later? Ten? Half an hour? — you reach the top.

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[The "Star Axis" oculus, at the top of a set of 147 stairs, is 40 inches wide, but from the bottom it seems only the size of a dime held at arm's length]

You are alone on the small platform at the 147th step, nose to the glass, 40 inches across — exactly as wide as the human field of vision, as Ross told you earlier — and angled back to be at 90 degrees to the earth's axis.

Although you have been climbing straight up, Polaris appears to have moved to the dead center of a web of stars so thick it seems almost like a solid mass: tiny glimmering fish in a net, gems poured out onto a bolt of velvet.

To the side now is Gamma Cephei, in the constellation Cepheus, cued up to become the next North Star about 2,000 years from now.

"You're here," says Ross, from somewhere in the blackness, his voice trailing off. "Stay as long as you need to."

And then there were three: Michael HeizerJames Turrell, and Ross, the last of the American artists who in the 1970s came to define a muscular, almost entirely male, heterosexual, and white American brand of Minimalism that dispensed with the traditional trappings — paint, clay, canvas — to sculpt into abstractions the Western elevations themselves.

Each began a massive major work in the desert that he has yet to complete more than 40 years later.

Now, it appears that Ross will be the first to finish.

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[Ross, standing in the Equatorial Chamber, where one can observe the stars that travel directly above the equator]

Such gargantuan works require a strange alchemy of obsession and irrational optimism; their sheer size and scope obliterate the notion of money — and time — as a precious commodity.

Over the years, some critics have dismissed land art as being too much about too little, just an excuse for faux cowboys to create monuments to their own egos with heavy machinery, a critique that seems intuitive at a time when the critical eye of the art world has turned to long-ignored women artists and artists of color who are at last being given their due.

But there is another way to view such works and their eccentric creators: as prescient.

In a culture swimming in expensive objects, where art has become thoroughly corporate, never before has an immersive experience seemed more important; there is singular joy in works that draw attention to the barren beauty of the land and the endless skies above it, pieces too large for even a billionaire to build a private museum around.

Despite its audacious ambition to map time, "Star Axis" is far smaller in scale than either Turrell's or Heizer's projects.

But that, paradoxically, is part of its emotional power.

Every granite step to the oculus seems imbued with Ross's Zen-like determination; you can't help but imagine the hundreds of sunsets he has experienced there in silence.

Ross mostly has gone it alone, which is partly why "Star Axis" has taken this long.

The SoHo loft was originally 10,000 square feet, but in 2008, to raise funds for the next stages of the project, he sold off 6,500 square feet of it to a private family.

There is no staff of enthusiastic supporters to make cold calls to raise money and throw parties.

Though museums and galleries still seek him out for commissions and exhibitions, he typically lies low, and is represented not by an enormous gallery with multiple global outposts but the small New York dealer Franklin Parrasch and the private art agent Loïc Malle Fine Arts in Paris.

These days, Ross and O'Bryan have begun to consider, for the first time, what it will mean to be finished.

Forty-five years of construction may seem like biblical torment, but you get into a rhythm where the outside world becomes comfortingly moot.

That's the thing about art that takes twice as long to finish as the pyramids: The process becomes the piece itself, the work tracing the arc of your life.

Still, Ross and O'Bryan now must engage with practicalities like finding an institution to help them run the site.

This much they have figured out: no crowds, like De Maria's "Lightning Field," where only six people per night can stay in the rustic guest cottage.

But that site, whose cabin is booked years in advance, has had the institutional infrastructure of the Dia Art Foundation to take care of all that.

And "The Lightning Field" is, well, a field, by definition pretty safe for visitors (in fact, lightning rarely strikes), whereas the steep stone staircase of Ross's Star Tunnel is crowned with the Solar Pyramid, which has a set of 20 additional four-foot-wide granite stairs open to the elements — no railing — leading to the top, 11 stories up.

In Ross's perfect world, visitors to the site will move through time twice — once in the sunlight and again in total darkness.

"We're going to have to have good insurance waivers," says O'Bryan.

This past spring, as the novel coronavirus shut down the country, the couple found themselves marooned in SoHo.

Thrown off his routine, Ross didn't quite know what to do with himself; the drawings he was making for lightning rods that need to be incorporated into the sculpture as invisibly as possible seemed to be taking forever.

But in New Mexico, the prep team kept working; neither they nor Ross want to delay.

"When there is finally some semblance of normalcy," he says, "I think this is the kind of place people will want to come to re-enter life."

With shelter-in-place restrictions lifting, the couple and the dogs finally made their annual flight to Albuquerque in early June.

The roads were even more barren of cars than usual, the air sharp, and by the time "Star Axis" came into view on the mesa, the sky was awash in light.

July 31, 2020 at 12:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

"Middlemarch" and me

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I finally bit the bullet and began George Eliot's novel, revered and praised by so many of the greatest writers in the world since its 1871 publication.

After four days and many hours of highly focused reading, I'm on page 81.

I can't read it for more than an hour or two at a time without my brain shutting down from overwork.

Hard going, but worth it.

The book being 838 pages long, at my current pace I'll finish it sometime in September.

You can too!

Pictured up top is the cover of the first edition.

July 31, 2020 at 10:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (1)

Prism Magnifier

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From the website:

The Prism Magnifier is a desk magnifier made from glass crystal that renders images and text at 1.5x actual size.

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Designed by Daniel Martinez.

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2.3" x 2.7" x 1.4"

Replicant tear?

$28 (objects to be magnified not included).

July 31, 2020 at 08:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

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