Searching for contentment


This is what fascinates me most in existence:
the peculiar necessity of imagining what is, in fact, real.
– Philip Gourevitch
epigraph to Blindsight by Peter Watts >

Contemplating

Professor Heather Cox Richardson

Letters from an American

I began reading Professor Cox Richardson's daily Letters from an American⩘  nearly two years ago in the autumn of 2019. I've continued to read them daily and find that they help me understand the constitutional crisis we are facing, as well as its historical context (Richardson is a Professor of History at Boston College⩘ ).

In her post that I'm reading this morning (September 15, 2021⩘ ), Professor Richardson wrote something I'm inspired by and want to remember and share:

I write these letters because I love America. I am staunchly committed to the principle of human self-determination for people of all races, genders, abilities, and ethnicities, and I believe that American democracy could be the form of government that comes closest to bringing that principle to reality. And I know that achieving that equality depends on a government shaped by fact-based debate rather than by extremist ideology and false narratives.

More recent contemplations >

Reading

Nadia Hashimi, Sparks Like Stars

Sparks Like Stars by Nadia HashimiWell narrated by Mozhan Marnò

A beautifully written, complex, and vividly touching story following the life of Sitara, beginning in 1978, when as a young girl she experiences firsthand the coup that killed President Sardar Daoud and his family as well as her entire family. Amidst the chaos of the coup, she narrowly escapes from the palace, finding sanctuary with an American diplomat who eventually adopts her. The story then jumps to nearly the present day when Sitara takes a break from her immersive career as a surgeon in New York City to return to Kabul to try to find some closure with the tragedy of her lost family.

At times harrowing, haunting, and hopeful, Hashimi's book personalizes one aspect of the upheaval experienced by Afghans during the recent decades.

HarperAudio, 2021, Libro.fm⩘ ; William Morrow & Company, 2021, Bookshop.org⩘ 

More recent reading >

Living in the Rockies

Summer is waning and lots of late activity is happening.

Milkweed seed about to take flight.

Milkweed fluff and seed bursting out its pod

Larger version of this photo >
More recent photos >

Woodworking

The Windtraveler shoji lamp

Windtraveler lamp

Dedicated to my good friend Thomas Hey'l
who has inspired me to look at design more deeply
and to take even more care about precision.

More about this project >
More woodworking >


Perspective

Sharks kill an average of 10 people per year, which generates a fairly high level of fear and anxiety. It's good to keep some perspective in mind: people kill around 100,000,000 sharks per year 1; people also kill approximately 425,000 people per year, topped only by mosquitoes, which kill about 725,000 people per year 2.

Cristina Zenato swimming with sharks
Photo of Cristina Zenato, the woman who swims with sharks⩘ 

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People walk at an average pace of about 2.5 miles per hour.
Trail winding up Cow Creek valley by Toshen
Meanwhile, light travels about 186,000 miles per second, or about 11,160,000 miles per hour. It would take light about 0.13 seconds to travel around the Earth,
Blue Marble, 2012. Credit: NASA/NOAA/GSFC/Suomi NPP/VIIRS/Norman Kuring
1.3 seconds to travel the 238,900 miles from the moon to the Earth,
Big end-of-year moon by Toshen
8.3 minutes to travel the 93,000,000 miles from the sun to Earth, and 1.3 hours to travel the 890,000,000 miles from the sun to Saturn. To get a glimpse of an idea of just how far away Saturn is, see If the Moon were only 1 pixel⩘  by Josh Worth.
Saturn. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute
At the scale of the solar system, the Earth is a spec of dust. 1,300,000 Earths could fit within our sun.
Sun, from the video Fiery Looping Rain on the Sun. Credit: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center/SDO
Our sun, as big as it is, is just a tiny twinkle of light in a suburb of the Milky Way galaxy. Its light takes about 27,000 years to travel to the center of our galaxy.
The Milky Way in Yosemite by bgwashburn is licensed under CC BY 2.0 (cropped)
One light year is just short of six trillion miles (5,878,625,000,000). The Milky Way has a diameter of about 100,000 light-years, and contains as many as 400 billion stars, which together create a smidgen of light in our local group of galaxies.
The Milky Way: VL test PSP8 by gjdonatiello is licensed under CC CC0 1.0 (cropped) The light of the Milky Way takes about 2,300,000 years to travel just to the nearby Andromeda galaxy. Isn't it amazing that by using our inherent art of visualization, we can be there, instantly, in this moment.
Andromeda. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
The observable universe is estimated to contain as many as two trillion galaxies. To get more perspective on this eXtreme Deep Field (XDF) Hubble image, see the short video: Hubble Legacy Field Zoom-Out⩘ . Make sure to read the notes, too. Also, see The Hubble Ultra Deep Field in Light and Sound⩘  at Astronomy Picture of the Day, which adds a pointer you can use to see just how far away a galaxy or star is, as well as hear a note play that corresponds to the redshift.
Hubble eXtreme Deep Field (XDF). Credit: NASA, ESA, G. Illingworth, D. Magee, and P. Oesch (University of California, Santa Cruz), R. Bouwens (Leiden University), and the HUDF09 Team
To get a glimpse of an idea of just how big the observable universe is, see Neal Agarwal's fun website, The Size of Space⩘  and CGP Gray's Metric Paper & Everything in the Universe⩘ 

By the way, because of the Earth's spin, if we're standing still at the equator, we're actually moving at about 1,667 km/hour (1,037 miles/hour). The Earth is orbiting our sun at approximately 30 km/sec (67,108 miles/hour). Our sun is orbiting the center of our Milky Way Galaxy at approximately 250 km/sec (560,000 miles/hour). And our galaxy is moving through our universe at approximately 600 km/sec (1,340,000 miles/hour). Hang on!

If you'd like to move through time as quickly as you're moving through our universe, you might enjoy watching this TED talk by David Christian, one of the founders of the Big History Project: The history of our world in 18 minutes⩘ 

All distances and times are approximate.

Image credits:

  1. Hiking trail in Cow Creek valley⩘  by Toshen, CC by NCSA⩘ 
  2. Blue Marble, 2012, Earth image⩘  by NASA/NOAA/GSFC/Suomi NPP/VIIRS/Norman Kuring
  3. Full moon image⩘  by Toshen, CC by NCSA⩘ 
  4. Saturn⩘  by NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute
  5. Sun, from the video Fiery Looping Rain on the Sun⩘  by NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center/SDO
  6. The Milky Way in Yosemite⩘  by bgwashburn⩘  is licensed under CC BY 2.0⩘  (cropped)
  7. Milky Way in Summer: VL test PSP8 by gjdonatiello⩘  is licensed under CC CC0 1.0⩘  (cropped)
  8. Andromeda⩘  by NASA/JPL-Caltech
  9. Hubble eXtreme Deep Field (XDF)⩘ : NASA, ESA, G. Illingworth, D. Magee, and P. Oesch (University of California, Santa Cruz), R. Bouwens (Leiden University), and the HUDF09 Team