25 February 2007

Love is made of time.

– Josh Mitteldorf

24 February 2007

There’s energy all around us, of course, even as the world faces an expanding energy crunch.  Diffuse energy in the form of modest temperature differences is everywhere.  The laws of thermodynamics tell us it is possible to turn this low-grade heat into electricity (with limited efficiency), but it has never been an economically viable proposition to do so.

A sixty-year-old idea for this project is OTEC for Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion.  Warm water from tropical seas would be used as the heat source, and cold water from thousands of feet below the surface of the same ocean would be the heat sink. The present, benighted US Dept of Energy has abandoned research in this and many other potential technologies for sustainable energy futures, but privately funded development continues.

A new technology this week holds potential for an idea that could be more generally applicable.  There are materials that convert temperature differences directly into electricity, though presently at very low efficiency.  Arun Majumdar, an engineering professor at UC Berkeley, reports on a technology that uses nanoparticles and specially-prepared organic molecules to generate electricity.  He proposes that all heat engines – notably gas-fired, coal and nuclear power plants and automobile engines – could be retrofitted that capture a portion of their waste heat and turn it to electricity. 

23 February 2007

W. E. B. Du Bois was born this day in 1868, and lived to see the rise of the American Civil Rights movement in the 1950’s and 60’s.

“In the course of his long, turbulent career, W.E.B. Du Bois attempted virtually every possible solution to the problem of twentieth-century racismscholarship, propaganda, integration, cultural and economic separatism, politics, international communism, expatriation, third world solidarity.” [David Levering Lewis, quoted by Wikipedia]

Thoughtful and open-minded during a long lifetime of activism and trying out new ideas, Du Bois became associated with every progressive cause of the 20th century, from anti-war activities to socialism to utopianism to educational reform.

“It is the trained, living human soul, cultivated and strengthened by long study and thought, that breathes the real breath of life into boys and girls and makes them human, whether they be black or white, Greek, Russian or American.”

22 February 2007


La Nature est un temple où de vivants piliers
Laissent parfois sortir de confuses paroles;
L’homme y passe à travers des forêts de symboles
Qui l’observent avec des regards familiers.

Comme de longs échos qui de loin se confondent
Dans une ténébreuse et profonde unité,
Vaste comme la nuit et comme la clarté,
Les parfums, les couleurs et les sons se répondent.

II est des parfums frais comme des chairs d’enfants,
Doux comme les hautbois, verts comme les prairies,
— Et d’autres, corrompus, riches et triomphants,

Ayant l’expansion des choses infinies,
Comme l’ambre, le musc, le benjoin et l’encens,
Qui chantent les transports de l’esprit et des sens.

Charles Baudelaire


All nature is one temple, the living aisles whereof
Murmur in a soft language, half strange, half understood;
Man wanders there as through a cabalistic wood,
Aware of eyes that watch him in the leaves above.

Like voices echoing in his senses from beyond
Life’s watery source, and which into one voice unite,
Vast as the turning planet clothed in darkness and light,
So do all sounds and hues and fragrances correspond.

Perfumes there are as sweet as the music of pipes and strings,
As pure as the naked flesh of children, as full of peace
As wide green prairies – and there are others, having the whole

Corrupt proud all-pervasiveness of infinite things,
Like frankincense, and musk, and myrrh, and ambergris,
That cry of the ecstasy of the body and of the soul.

George Dillon (after Baudelaire)

Five other English translations

21 February 2007

“There are only two kinds of freedom in the world; the freedom of the rich and powerful, and the freedom of the artist and the monk who renounces possessions.”

Anaïs Nin, born this day in 1903, created a third kind of freedom, simply daring to live in a way that defied convention and propriety.  She willed her imagination into reality.

“What the psychoanalysts stress, the relation between dreams and subconscious life, is what the poets already knew.  The poets walk this bridge with ease, from conscious to unconscious, physical reality to psychological reality.  Their profession is to fuse them so that they may function harmoniously.”

– from The Novel of the Future

20 February 2007

In 1994, Ellen Heber-Katz was investigating T-cell immunity in laboratory mice.  Part of her lab procedure involved punching the ears of the mice in identifying codes.  She noticed that one batch of mice she had purchased lost the ear-punches, and regrew perfect ears – with nary a scar.

Most scientists would keep their eyes on the ball, find another way to label the mice, and move on with the experiment.  But Heber-Katz was found the regeneration just as interesting as her original research.  She bred these mice with super-healing powers, and identified the constituent in their blood that gave them the ability.  These mice are able to regrow damaged organs as well as skin tissue, and the ability can be transferred with blood transfusions.  A new career, and a new area of science, with major implications for medical research.

Article in University of Pennsylvania Gazette
Web page of the Heber-Katz lab

19 February 2007

When is the last time that you lost yourself in uncontrolled, hysterical laughter?  Laughter is healing for everything from everyday frustration with bureaucratic behavior to diabetes.

Pretending to laugh, ‘acting’ or going through the motions may help get you started, especially if a group of people is doing it together.  ‘Laughter exercises almost always lead to real laughter, especially when practiced in a group.’ 

That quote was from a website that offers you the opportunity to pay money to learn how to laugh.  Maybe that’s funny enough in itself.