Thursday, March 6, 2014

Keeping My Sunny Side Up: Computer program rebuilds treasure from broken pot...

Keeping My Sunny Side Up: Computer program rebuilds treasure from broken pot...: I grew up searching for treasure - small, colorful rocks, pieces of driftwood, beach glass, agates - any interesting piece of flotsam that c...

Computer program rebuilds treasure from broken pottery

I grew up searching for treasure - small, colorful rocks, pieces of driftwood, beach glass, agates - any interesting piece of flotsam that caught me eye. To me, the pieces represented possibility - what could be done with this? I painted little pet people, wire wrapped the beach glass, created one-of-a-kind artwork on the driftwood, and gathered more agates in my garage than is reasonable for one woman.

When I was gifted a suitcase full of southwest pottery shards at a local garage sale (the find of a lifetime!), my interest expanded to the pieces of pottery that lie buried all around the world, remnants of bygone civilizations. These stone-like pieces of formed earth hold secrets. As a potter, I feel a thrill of connection when I hold a pottery shard in my hand, a piece that was made by an indigenous potter 500-600 years ago. Things haven't changed that much in the pottery world; I recognize the techniques, and appreciate the craftsmanship.

Archaeology computer tech
Avshalom Karasik developed the program. Photo by Emil Salman

Pottery shards (or sherds, if you prefer) are the most common piece of archaeological evidence found at most dig sites. So when I ran across an article about a group that was using technology to try to recreate three-dimensional digital images of pottery from shards in Israel, I found it exceptionally interesting. The computer scans the existing shard, and then figures out the direction it lay within the pot. From there, it compares possible pots by known artists of the time period, eventually coming up with a likely configuration for the pottery.

The human touch is still necessary for identification. For instance, the computer can't necessarily place the piece within the correct time period - for that, an archaeologist is required. But the technology may hold clues to the past, and help historians and archaeologists understand more about life. I will continue to be fascinated by the the process of turning raw earth into functional, hard ceramic - and every time I spin my kick wheel, I will think of all the millions of potters who have come before me.

To see my (decidedly NOT ancient) pottery, check out my Etsy site, Big Sky Artworks.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Keeping My Sunny Side Up: Well-Behaved Women Rarely Make History...

Keeping My Sunny Side Up: Well-Behaved Women Rarely Make History...:

Well-Behaved Women Rarely Make History...

One day, long ago, I was bemoaning the fact that there were so few women in history books. The person with whom I was speaking – who surely should have known better – told me that, up until very recently, women just didn’t DO anything. They were wives and mothers and had no hand in history.

This person is now embarrassed to have once spouted such ignorance. But it is still easy to look at history and see little but wealthy white men. Today I want to refocus that lens, and take a look at some remarkable women who made their own place in history. I tried to look at women who accomplished great things, but who may not have been mentioned in history class. There are many, many more – for links to women in history.       
  •  MARIANNE NORTH was an amateur botanist and painter in Victorian England who just loved to paint flowers.  But instead of being content to pore over books and learn vicariously, in 1860 North packed her bags and traveled – first to America, then South America, and on to Japan, India and Australia. Everywhere she went, she painted amazing pictures of beautiful flowers. Since photography was still a very new art, North’s paintings gave European scientists their first close-up look at many plants from continents around the world. 
  • Belva Ann Lockwood
    ·         BELVA ANN LOCKWOOD was the first American woman to run for president of the United States. She ran twice – in 1884, and 1888. She was a lawyer and an advocate for women’s rights, and in 1872 helped pass a law guaranteeing equal pay for equal work for women within the federal government. She also authored amendments giving women the right to vote in three states – Oklahoma, Arizona and New Mexico.
  • HARRIET QUIMBY, born 1875 in Michigan, was a Renaissance woman. She was one of the first female screen writers in the budding American film industry, working for famous director DW Griffith. She got her pilot’s license in 1911, and became the first woman to fly across the English Channel.
  • ELIZABETH COCHRANE (Nellie Bly) became famous for circumnavigating the globe in just 72 days – but she also was instrumental in laying the foundation for investigative journalism in the United States.  In 1887, she had herself committed to a mental institution (called insane asylums at the time). While there, she chronicled the horrific living conditions and treatment that mental patients received at the hands of “doctors.” Her articles resulted in an investigation of the hospital. The name “Nellie Bly” is still synonymous with excellence in investigative reporting by women.
  •  HYPATIA was an Egyptian mathematician, philosopher and astronomer, and is the earliest known female mathematician, as few works have survived from that era. She was born in the year 355 and died in 415 in Alexandria. While she lived, she was the leading mathematician and astronomer of her time, and attracted quite a following with her series of lectures on both math and philosophy.  

Friday, February 28, 2014

Keeping My Sunny Side Up: That fresh pine smell might be good for the planet...

Keeping My Sunny Side Up: That fresh pine smell might be good for the planet...: When I arrive to work in the morning, I am sometimes overwhelmed by the fragrant scent of pine. The hills around my college are cover...

That fresh pine smell might be good for the planet...

When I arrive to work in the morning, I am sometimes overwhelmed by the fragrant scent of pine. The hills around my college are covered with ponderosa pine trees, and the sweet, earthy odor lingers on the morning breeze. The smell makes me feel happy; I associate it with summertime, and camping with my family, and long hikes in the mountains.

But it turns out that piney smell might have another positive impact – it might be helping control climate change.

An international team of scientists have discovered a way to predict how the odor, formed from volatile organic compounds, will react with oxygen over the forest canopy to form aerosols – light- and heat-reflecting clouds of volatilized chemicals. These aerosols, which are airborne particles made up of at least some level of solid matter, can help cool the atmosphere over forests.

The scientists who conducted the study predicted that, as the climate continues to warm, photosynthesis in the forest will speed up and create even more boreal aerosols. Don’t get too excited, though – forests that are stressed from drought or excess heat can have decreased capacity for aerosol creation.

The bottom line, then, is that forests are good for our planet. They take in carbon dioxide, breathe out life-giving oxygen, help trap atmospheric pollution, and now scientists have proved a way that they may even hold the key for slowing down climate change. 

I think I’ll go hug a tree.

Meanwhile, there are charitable organizations that are working to help save and protect the earth’s forests. The organizations I have listed have been ranked as five-star charities by, and the bulk of their finances go to support their programs, not administration.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Keeping My Sunny Side Up: Jazzing Up the Winter Blues

Keeping My Sunny Side Up: Jazzing Up the Winter Blues:   I’ll admit it – winter is starting to get to me.   February is always my worst month, mood-wise – but judging from the weather, it ...

Jazzing Up the Winter Blues
I’ll admit it – winter is starting to get to me.  February is always my worst month, mood-wise – but judging from the weather, it looks like February is going to drag on into March. The cold weather , accompanied by piles of snow, shows no sign of letting up any time soon. I told a friend this morning that it was like we were stuck in an infinite loop of winter.
The problem is called SAD – Seasonal Affective Disorder, a propensity for depression during the long, dark days of winter. Why my mood always plummets in February, when the days are actually starting to get longer, and not in December or January, when the days are short, is a mystery to me. 
Maybe it’s just that the winter has gone on… and on… until, like the movie Groundhog Day, it looks like it will never end.  So today, in my effort to “Keep My Sunny Side Up,” I’m going to look at ways to combat SAD – also known as the winter blues.

First, some fun facts about SAD:

  • Residents of Nordic countries (where most of my ancestors lived) are particularly susceptible to winter depression – nearly 10 percent of Scandinavian residents suffer from SAD.
  • SAD was named and categorized in the 1980s by Dr. Norman Rosenthal at the National Institute of Mental Health. He was trying to find a reason for the decline in mood that occurs in more northern climes during the winter, having observed the issue after moving from South Africa to New York.
  • In Alaska, 25 percent of people suffer either full-blown SAD or a less intense version of the disorder. Since much of Alaska is dark for a LONG time during the winter, this makes sense.

And now, some ways to combat the winter blues:

  • EXERCISE. This is never my favorite thing to do, and the weight I gain every winter makes it even harder. But exercise releases endorphins, feel-good chemicals that can help your brain combat SAD.
  •  LIGHT THERAPY: Some years ago, my parents bought me a little portable light for Christmas. I have used it with great effect every year since. The blast of portable sunlight stimulates my neuroreceptors and tricks my brain into believing it is getting more sun than I really am. It works – as long as you use it.
  • GO OUTSIDE. Fresh air and sunshine help you feel better, even if it’s zero degrees.
  • WATCH YOUR NUTRITION. Winter blues make me want to eat carbohydrates – a LOT of carbohydrates. This makes sense, because carbs raise serotonin levels. But too MANY carbs – or bad carbs like donuts and chocolate bars – contribute to weight gain and mood crashes. Good, balanced nutrition can help your mood.
  • VITAMIN IT UP: Some researchers believe that winter depression is linked to a lack of Vitamin D, which your skin makes when it is exposed to sunshine. Vitamins D and B12 may help improve mood levels.
  • WRITE OR TALK IT OUT: Writing or talking about your feelings can be an effective way to cope with depression. Many people – people who are social by nature – improve through social contact.
  • LISTEN TO MUSIC. Music that makes your heart sing will… make your heart sing.

Some depressive disorders are severe enough that they need medical attention. If you are having symptoms that don’t respond to any self-help, don’t blame yourself - see your doctor.
And now, since the sun is shining, I think I will go outside for a little while. I hear the birds are already starting to sing.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Keeping My Sunny Side Up: Confessions of a Serial Artist... or How I Came To...

Keeping My Sunny Side Up: Confessions of a Serial Artist... or How I Came To...: I am an artist. I have always been an artist. No doubt I will always BE an artist. But I haven't always been a focused artist. I have wh...

Confessions of a Serial Artist... or How I Came To Play in the Mud

I am an artist. I have always been an artist. No doubt I will always BE an artist. But I haven't always been a focused artist. I have what I like to call "Craft ADD."

It goes like this: for a period of time, sometimes shorter, sometimes longer, I get "into" a particular craft or artistic method. For a time it was oil painting on driftwood - an engaging endeavor that ended abruptly when my house became too full of paintings to feel excited about making more. After my painting phase, I got into mosaic tiling. This hobby led me to frequent second-hand stores, searching for the perfect plates to smash. It was fun, but this, too, led to a glut of mosaic work in my house, and an eventual cessation of smashage.

After that, I decided to try making beaded jewelry. This endeavor found me buying pounds of beads online, scouring Youtube for "how to" videos, and stashing beads in every plastic container I could find. My plan, when I started to make jewelry, was to sell it on Etsy, for those of you who aren't familiar, is a site specializing in handmade items, and so I thought it would be a great place to sell the jewelry I made. As it turns out, I wasn't the only one with this idea. Handmade jewelry is one of the most crowded vendor categories on Etsy. Couple that with the fact that my jewelry was pretty basic, and the notion that I was going to get rich by selling jewelry on Etsy was clearly doomed to fail.

But at the same time, I finally had the opportunity to take a clay class at the local art museum. I had always wanted to learn how to throw clay on a wheel; I was 43 when I finally got the chance. But guess what - it's HARD! I was terrible at it. REALLY terrible. It took me weeks just to finally get the clay centered on the wheel. While others were merrily spinning away, making what accomplished potters lovingly call "dog dishes," I was still fighting to put the clay in the middle of the wheel.

I hate being bad at something. I REALLY hate having people SEE me being bad at something! So I came into the studio in the afternoon when nobody was there - sometimes for an hour, sometimes two. I worked on basic throwing techniques. I centered the clay, then cut it off, brought another piece and centered that. I didn't try to make anything - I just worked on becoming better at handling the clay.

Things started moving faster for me when a friend loaned me his wheel, saying I could keep it in my basement until he built his new garage. Now I could sneak down in the evening and work for a time on the wheel. While I still wasn't skilled by any stretch of the imagination, I started to be able to make pots that looked like pots.

I started sculpting faces on my mugs to practice my sculpting techniques. The idea grew from funny little faces to pigs and sheep and dinosaurs. I have made giraffes, elephants, lamas, lions, horses, pigs, cats and dogs. I keep coming back to the human face, the first image we see as babies, the last thing we see before we die. With the passing of my 50th birthday, I have become intrigued by the faces of old women, and with how we see the elderly in our society. Last night I worked on three different old women - two mugs and a face jug. As I created the fine lines in their cheeks, I thought about the real women who have lived their lives, cared for their families, loved their men and their children, and made a difference in the world.

But I digress. I started selling sculpted pottery on Etsy, and this time it was a good idea. It gave me an opportunity to make more, to continue to grow as an artist, and to not have a thousand pots lining the shelves of my home. With clay I seem to have come home - because with clay, there is always something new to learn. I had to allow myself the space to be bad for a while, the space to learn and grow. I'm still learning. I'm still growing - and I wanted to share my journey with those of you who might think, "Oh, I wish I could be an artist."

Here's the secret: you can. You just have to dare to fail.

I came upon this short video by Ira Glass that talks about the process of learning a creative craft. It's worth listening to. So next time you tell yourself you're not good enough to create something great, add a little extra word: "Yet."

Thursday, February 20, 2014

To Infinity and Beyond!

Pssst - wanna feel SMALL? REALLY small?

Scientists recently postulated that our universe - our ENTIRE universe - is really contained within a single black hole that is part of a much, much larger universe. So if thinking of yourself as a single person on a single planet in an outer spiral arm of a single medium-sized galaxy that is one of 5 BILLION galaxies in the universe isn't enough to make you feel very small indeed, then imagine that whole universe as just a small part of a much broader "mother" universe.

The idea is being put forth to explain the singularity that scientists believe caused the Big Bang, the beginning of our universe 13-15 billion years ago. Our understanding of physics breaks down with these singularities, accoring to University of New Haven physicist Dr. Nikodem Poplawski in Connecticut. But if you imagine these singularities - the point at which matter in a black hole becomes infinitely dense - as having a finite level of acceptable mass, then if the mass goes beyond that limit - BOOM! The Big Bang, and the beginning of our universe.

Poplawski's idea is wild, even by cosmological physics standards. But because it explains so much that was don't understand about black holes, some scientists are beginning to give the notion serious consideration. Even though the hypothesis can't be proved, it gives physicists a framework to think about black holes in a different way. If Poplawski is right, then black holes could be exactly what science fiction writers have imagined for decades - gateways to other universes.

The bottom line is that, even with all our technology and scientific developments, we really don't know much about this huge universe of ours. There is still so much to learn. So the next time you're feeling like your problems are huge, think about Poplawski and his black hole universe. Suddenly, we are only stardust - and blessed to be a part of this amazing, infinite place.

If you want to read more about Poplawski's ideas, read the original article here in National Geographic, or the article on Mother Nature Network.

We come in peace. :)