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 >

Living in the Rockies

The day before yesterday, it was sunny and quite warm, the hills were beginning to turn green from the emerging wild grasses, and little wildflowers were popping up all over the place. This morning, it was 12° F, and we awoke to this glorious sight.

April snow shower - 2
April snow shower - 3

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Contemplating

A scientist's unwavering belief in mRNA

Katalin Karikó
Credit Katalin Karikó

Katalin Karikó is a hero.

I had tears in my eyes when I received my first mRNA vaccine shot, felt an initial sense of relief three weeks later when I received my second shot knowing that my protection would be building up by then, and breathed a deep breath of gratitude two weeks after that knowing my protection was peaking.

The mRNA vaccines are incredibly effective. I remember chatting a few years ago with a friend who is an ER nurse and teacher who explained to me that a flu vaccine that is only 25% effective is still a good thing by saying, simply, "A 25% chance of avoiding a potentially deadly illness is much better than a 0% chance!" The mRNA vaccines appear to be more than 90% effective at preventing the illness and well over 99% effective at preventing a more serious infection that can lead to hospitalization and, possibly, death.

More than 40 years ago, Professor Katalin Karikó began researching how mRNA might be used for strokes, cancer, influenza, and other diseases. In the mid-80s, she moved to the University of Philadelphia to continue her work. She faced incredible skepticism, was rejected time after time for grants related to her research, and was even demoted by the university because she wasn't able to secure funding. In the face of these headwinds, she maintained her conviction, stay focused, and after decades of work, eventually gave the world the technology to help us get past this horrendous pandemic.

"Redemption! … I was grabbing the air, I got so excited I was afraid that I might die or something."
   Katalin Karik√≥ laughs as she recounts her reaction to the news that the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine, which is based on research she pioneered and risked her career for, was 90 per cent effective in protecting against Covid-19.

'Redemption': How a scientist's unwavering belief in mRNA gave the world a Covid-19 vaccine ⩘  by Sarah Newey and Paul Nuki, The Telegraph, Dec 2, 2020.
Wikipedia: Katalin Karikó⩘ 

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Reading

Stefano Mancuso, The Revolutionary Genius of Plants: A New Understanding of Plant Intelligence and Behavior

The Revolutionary Genius of Plants by Stefano MancusoNicely narrated by Gibson Frazier

After listening to Mancuso's most recent book, The Nation of Plants, earlier this year, I was inspired to pick up a couple more of his books. This one looked like it would be full of amazing images, so I both listened to the audiobook and followed along in the hardbound book, as I sometimes do.

Mancuso, a leading authority of plant neurobiology, discusses mind expanding theories and findings, inviting us to look beyond our animal biases to explore plant intelligence and problem solving with chapters like: Memories without a Brain, Moving without Muscles, and The Sublime Art of Mimesis.

Maple tree samara
Maple tree samara; image by Stefano Mancuso

It was great to be able to concurrently see images of some of the amazing plants I was listening to the discussion of, as well as of some of the interesting projects he has tackled, like the prototype of the Jellyfish Barge, designed to float in the ocean, made entirely of wood, and able to produce vegetables without using freshwater, soil, or energy other than that of the sun.

I am so glad I have had the opportunity to experience this fascinating book.

Atria Books, 2017, Bookshop.org⩘ 
Simon & Schuster Audio, 2018, Downpour⩘ 

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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.

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Perspective

Sharks kill an average of 10 people per year. 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.

(See also: 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.
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 you're standing still at the equator, you'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