Friday, April 02, 2010

Transatlantic Bridge

Transatlantic Bridge
This is the East Washington Avenue Bridge across the Yahara River in Madison -- but it spans more than that river. You might call it a transatlantic bridge.

I posted a version of this photo -- taken with a 2mp Minolta Dimage X -- about three years ago, and you can read more about it at the original Flickr upload and comments, as well as the related blog post.

The reason I'm posting it again is to celebrate something happening today that has nothing to do with the bridge, but everything to do with the photo -- something that might never have happened had I not posted the photo on Flickr. It's the only photograph I ever took that, indirectly, resulted in someone else's marriage.

What happened was that a Flickr member in Germany who called herself Cybergabi spotted the photo in a group called Concrete Architecture in which I had posted the photo. She commented on the photo, I was curious who had left the comment and checked out her photostream, where I found a large number of imaginative and striking photographs. We struck up one of those long-distance friendships that seem to flourish on Flickr. She met other Madison area Flickr members through comments on my photostream and in the Madison-related groups to which I uploaded photos.

Last fall she visited to Madison to get acquainted with T and me and to attend the wedding of another Madison Flickr member, Miriam. A friend of Miriam's put her up during her visit. They fell in love, and several back-and-forth transatlantic visits later, one thing led to another, and today Gabi and Joey Johannsen are getting married in Dubuque. Congratulations and best wishes, Joey and Gabi -- and T and I look forward to sharing the day with you, along with Miriam and Dylan.

Note: One of my photos of the wedding here, with links to more.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Crocus weather and then some

Crocus Weather
Actually, it's quite a bit warmer than crocuses are used to this time of year, but this one doesn't seem to mind. It's been so warm in Madison the last few days, as temps flirted with the eighties and then today hit 81°F, that even when a cold front sweeps in with thunderstorms over the weekend and drops temps to the upper fifties, we'll still be five degrees above normal.

View Large On Black

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Trader Joe's comes through again, a beacon of hope in the night, and their tissue speaks to me

Trader Joe's Comes Through Again, a Beacon of Hope in the Night . . .
It began innocently enough -- a little tickle in my throat. I hardly noticed it. Then there was a bit of scratchiness way at the back. I popped a cough drop and it went away. A little later I noticed that my eyes were more sensitive to the light. They teared up for no reason, and the tears wouldn't stop running. Pretty soon my nose was dripping too -- first a trickle, and then a torrent. I was going through half a box of tissue an hour, and night was approaching. It looked as if we might run out. Usually we stock up on good deals at Woodman's or Walgreens, but they were too far away. There was just one way to replenish our stockpile and tide me over till morning, beckoning like a beacon of hope in the night -- Trader Joe's.

. . . And Their Tissue Speaks to MeDid Trader Joe's even carry tissue, I wondered. I'd never seen any, although I hadn't looked, either. I asked a clerk, and he pointed me in the right direction. The shelf he indicated had a couple empty-looking rows, and for an instant I despaired. But there was one last, dented and partially crumpled box of house brand tissue way at the back (apparently there were lots of other people in the neighborhood with colds). I seized my prize -- the very last box -- and checked out.

It wasn't till I got home that I realized that each side of the boutique-size box of tissue was speaking to me. Each had a written message, lovingly hand-signed by my new friend, Tissue: "I'm there when you need to pick up icky things." "I'm there when you're sick." "I'm there when you're sad." "I'm there when you run out of toilet paper."

I knew then I'd get better soon, because Tissue was on my side. Tissue cared.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Check out one of MLK's greatest speeches before tomorrow night's Tavis Smiley show


Tomorrow night Tavis Smiley will be doing a program called MLK: A Call to Conscience on most PBS stations (check local listings).

It's about what may be Martin Luther King, Jr.'s greatest speech, the powerful antiwar speech he delivered at New York's Riverside Church on April 4, 1967 -- a year to the day before he was assassinated. The speech severed his relationship with LBJ, angered most of white America, and the passions it aroused may even have led to his assassination. His words remain powerful today.
A true revolution of values will lay hand on the world order and say of war, "This way of settling differences is not just." This business of burning human beings with napalm, of filling our nation's homes with orphans and widows, of injecting poisonous drugs of hate into the veins of peoples normally humane, of sending men home from dark and bloody battlefields physically handicapped and psychologically deranged, cannot be reconciled with wisdom, justice, and love. A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.
The speech is still as timely as ever, and the issues Dr. King raised have still not been resolved. If military spending didn't consume so much of our budget, finding the money for health care for all would be a trivial matter. But more than 40 years after Dr. King spoke these words, we're still struggling with the spiritual death thing.

You might want to listen to the speech or read the transcript here, so you're up to speed for the program.

Note to Madison Viewers: Our local PBS station does not carry Tavis Smiley (which I think is ridiculous). Madison cable viewers can watch the program on the Milwaukee public television station. The rest of us will have to wait to stream it on the Tavis Smiley Reports website after it premieres on PBS.

"At Work in the Googleplex" -- what an amazing difference ten years has made

What a Difference Ten Years Makesj
Ten years ago I was editing a magazine called Workscapes that we published on behalf of a group of Steelcase office furniture dealers. It was about office design and productivity, and many of the stories we did were about high tech companies (this was just before the dot com bubble burst).

I just came across a note I wrote to myself back then after talking to the San Francisco Steelcase dealer about some story prospects in Silicon Valley.
Later, when I talk to the dealer, it turns out that both AltaVista and Google are customers of theirs -- AltaVista with 600 employees and really fancy offices -- "they brag about being the best-financed IPO in history" -- while Google has about 60 people and is still buying the cheap stuff -- but they're growing fast.
Hard now to imagine that a mere decade ago, Google had only 60 employees -- about as strange as recalling a time when Alta Vista was the biggie, "with 600 employees," and Google was the upstart.)

We did a cover story on Google a few months later, and I went to their office to do the story and take the photographs. By then they were up to a couple hundred employees and growing rapidly. The design was colorful, youthful and unconventional. The small lobby of their cramped quarters -- already known affectionately as the "Googleplex" -- featured this Lava Lamp collection that belonged to one of the owners. Behind the receptionist, a continuous series of search words was projected as they came in from around the world.

I was an early adopter and confirmed Google addict, and I was in heaven.

Monday, March 29, 2010

New growth sprouting up through the ashes of the spring prairie burn at Stricker's Pond

New Growth Sprouting Up Through the Ashes of the Spring Prairie Burn
They've been doing a lot of spring burning of prairie land in the Madison area. This was at Stricker's Pond, just outside Madison in Middleton. I'm always amazed at how quickly the new growth comes surging through the ashes, bursting with life and growing toward the welcoming sun.

What Napoleon couldn't do, the Catholic Church seems quite capable of doing to itself

Nice anecdote to lead off Ross Douthat's NYT Op today:
During a frustrating argument with a Roman Catholic cardinal, Napoleon Bonaparte supposedly burst out: “Your eminence, are you not aware that I have the power to destroy the Catholic Church?” The cardinal, the anecdote goes, responded ruefully: “Your majesty, we, the Catholic clergy, have done our best to destroy the church for the last 1,800 years. We have not succeeded, and neither will you.”
Apparently not for lack of trying, as the evidence trail of priestly sex abuse cover-ups points more and more directly at the Vatican itself.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

The tinkling white noise of the last of this winter's ice on Lake Mendota's breaking up


I just love that sound. The sound of the end of winter and the beginning of spring.

Why "bird brain" shouldn't be considered a slur


Imagine there's something you want to get that you can't reach and you have a straight piece of wire. How would you get it? Even a child knows that you bend the end of the wire into a hook and use it to snag the object of your desire.

"So simple a child could do it," but not an animal --many people long thought that this was a uniquely human capability that distinguished humans from the so-called lower animals (although there always were individuals who loved animals and watched them closely who knew better). In recent years animal behavioral scientists have demonstrated that this is much too restrictive a view, based more on a need to maintain some sense of human superiority -- perhaps to make it easier to exploit animals -- than on reality. Cognition in the animals world is far more complex and far-ranging than previously thought.

You can see it in action in this remarkable video of a problem-solving crow. Amazing what a creature with a tiny brain and without opposable thumbs can improvise in the way of a tool.

It does make you wonder whether our view of what's going on inside the brain is only in its infancy. We think of cognition as something that arises out of the connections between networked neurons. But the neuronal network of a crow is about the size of a pea. Makes you wonder what's going on. You'd think this little computer would already be taxeddoes the processing power for creativity, play and improvisation come from anyhow?

Maybe there's something else going on. I've long wondered whether the real processing in the brain is actually going on within neurons, rather than between them. Maybe our network of neurons is just the body's internal internet, and maybe each nerve cell connected by the network is a self-contained biological computer itself.

Just a thought.

Via Nataraj Hauser.