Origami At The American Museum Of Natural History

D. Finnin/© AMNH

Folding paper was a frequent topic for us starting in 2011, but origami specifically has been featured only a few times. This holiday season at the American Museum of Natural History we add to the mentions:

The Making of the Origami Holiday Tree

One 13-Foot Tree, 1,000 Origami Models: A Spectacular Museum Tradition

M. Shanley/© AMNH

Early each year, as the days begin to get a bit longer and the first signs of spring crop up in Central Park, Ros Joyce and Talo Kawasaki, volunteers from OrigamiUSA and the designers of the Museum’s Origami Holiday Tree start planning for the year ahead.

M. Shanley/© AMNH

They begin combing the Museum’s halls in search of inspiration—going from floor to floor to decide on a perfect theme and to find just the right exhibits to re-create as origami models on the tree. Continue reading

Icelandic Elf-Curious Attitudes

Toni Demuro

In a world that is full of climate denial nonsense, where responsibilities to nature are abandoned by many, what harm could possibly come from Icelanders believing their own peculiar sort of nonsense? We will take any help we can get if it helps us and helps our protection of nature:

In “Looking for the Hidden Folk,” Nancy Marie Brown makes a strong case for everyday wonder.

For 70 summers, children have boated to an island in the Adirondack wilderness to seek out a cluster of tiny wooden houses and leave messages for the fairies who are said to live there. Sometimes the fairies write back — on slips of birch bark, tucked into the crevice of a log for children to find and exult over. The adult go-betweens behind the letters can’t resist feeding the children’s faith that the natural world reciprocates their interest.

Of course, they don’t believe in fairies themselves. In “Looking for the Hidden Folk,” the cultural historian Nancy Marie Brown asks: Why not? “Why should disbelief be our default? Why should we deride our sense of wonder? Why do we allow our world to be disenchanted?” Continue reading

The Only Virtual Reality A Surfer Might Enjoy


Slater has spent a career searching the world for waves, adapting to tricky conditions with unparalleled intuition. Now his Surf Ranch, in California farm country, can produce a perfect wave on demand. Photograph by Ben Lowy for The New Yorker

I have surfed, but I am not a surfer. I have surfer friends, including some who have travelled the world searching out the waves described in the story below, and family friends of ours have an adult child ranked in the top ten in the world. I do not care about surfing as much as any of them, but because of them I care deeply about surfing. Evidence of that is the fact that surfing is the #1 metaphor I use within my own family to describe the pivots we make from time to time, explaining a move to France, Croatia or India or back to Costa Rica is due to a new wave of opportunity that we might catch. Below is a story I appreciate for other reasons as well, because it is about a man-made replica of the ultimate pleasures of a real-life experience. This is kind of what we do for a living. But it is really about surfing. And even non-surfers can enjoy this. William Finnegan’s story is complemented by two interactive features, the first with the author himself and the second a remarkably clear explanation of the technology.

Kelly Slater’s Shock Wave

The best surfer in history made a machine that creates perfect conditions on demand. Will his invention democratize surfing or despoil it?

The first few hours I spent at the W.S.L. Surf Ranch, a wave pool built for surfing in the farmlands south of Fresno, California, were for me a blur. I was fine on arrival, hiking through a little forest of scaffolding, eucalyptus, and white tents with a publicist from the Kelly Slater Wave Company, which built and runs the place. The valley heat was fierce but dry. House music rode on a light northwest breeze. We passed a bright-red antique row-crop tractor parked on wood chips. Then I looked to my right and felt my mind yaw. The wave was probably six hundred yards away, a sparkling emerald wall, with a tiny surfer snapping rhythmic turns off the top. I had come expecting to see this wave, out here in cotton fields a hundred-plus miles from the coast. Still, my reaction to it was involuntary. Kelly’s Wave, as it’s known, seems designed to make someone who surfs, which I do, feel this way: stunned, turned on, needy. Surfers spend much of their lives looking for high-quality waves. Now a machine has been invented that churns out virtually flawless ones on command. “We call it the smile machine,” someone, possibly the publicist, said. I had trouble paying attention. Every four minutes, I had to turn and crane to watch a wave make its way the length of the pool. Continue reading

On A Lighter Patrimonial Note


“Cabinet of Curiosities” by Frans Francken the Younger, circa 1620-25. Credit Mustafah Abdulaziz for The New York Times


Exhibition view of “Spitzmaus Mummy in a Coffin and other Treasures.” © KHM-Museumsverband.

Yesterday’s post about pre-history sleuthing coincided with my reading about this new exhibition. In our home we have a cabinet of curiosities. I also tend to like Wes Anderson films. So I had to learn more.

What is a spitzmaus, how might one have gotten mummified, and who put it in a coffin? More to the point, when and where might I see such a thing? Will it be worth the journey?

The review of this exhibition has more of a fashion review feel to it, especially with the headline photo (below, at the start of the review) and mention of celebrities in the early paragraphs. It almost made me bypass the story. But credit to Cody Delistraty for letting Mustafah Abdulaziz’s excellent photos from the exhibition speak prominently throughout the rest of his review. There are a couple of one minute videos that make clear the answers to the latter two questions:


The one above has a fleeting sense of Wes Anderson to it, whereas the one below is straightforward curator-speak:



But still, what is a spitzmaus?


Wes Anderson with his partner, the author and designer Juman Malouf, at the opening of the exhibition they curated. Credit Mustafah Abdulaziz for The New York Times

Wes Anderson, Curator? The Filmmaker Gives It a Try

Mr. Anderson and his partner, Juman Malouf, were given free rein in Austria’s largest museum. But you can’t make an exhibition as you would a movie, our critic writes.


The exhibition “Spitzmaus Mummy in a Coffin and Other Treasures” was put together from objects in the collection of the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Austria’s largest. Credit Mustafah Abdulaziz for The New York Times

VIENNA — Wes Anderson looked tired. The filmmaker was wearing a red blazer and a striped tie, standing beneath the elaborate 19th-century cupola of the Kunsthistorisches Museum. His partner, the author and designer Juman Malouf, was by his side.

Dozens of friends — the actors Tilda Swinton and Jason Schwartzman; the filmmaker Jake Paltrow; and a pair of lesser-known Coppolas among them — stood around him. Photographers jostled for angles.

It wasn’t a movie premiere, but the exhibition opening for “Spitzmaus Mummy in a Coffin and Other Treasures,” which Mr. Anderson and Ms. Malouf curated, certainly had the air of one.

Mr. Anderson and Ms. Malouf were asked to put the show together from objects in the collection of the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Austria’s largest. When Mr. Anderson stepped up to the microphone on Monday to address the guests, it was with the weariness of someone who had gone to battle and come back changed. Continue reading

Be The Bee



Science, as a section of the daily newspaper of old, was geek-out territory. In the modernizing news organization, it has every bit of that old intensity, magnified by the wonders of technology. This little item demonstrates the point:

You’re a Bee. This Is What It Feels Like.

We’re taking you on a journey to help you understand how bees, while hunting for pollen, use all of their senses — taste, touch, smell and more — to decide what to pick up and bring home.


Set your meetings, phone calls and emails aside, at least for the next several minutes. That’s because today you’re a bee.

The Mysteries Of Elena Ferrante

Path of Figs, 2012. Giulia Bianchi.

If you have not heard of Elena Ferrante before, you may want to start here, here, or here. But then come back here for this review. Thanks to the nplusone magazine website:

Those Like Us

On Elena Ferrante, by Dayna Tortorici,Issue 22: Conviction, Spring 2015

WHENEVER I HEAR someone speculate about the true identity of Elena Ferrante, the pseudonymous Italian novelist of international fame, a private joke unspools in my head. Who is she? the headlines ask. Don’t you know? I whisper. In my joke I’m sitting opposite someone important. The person promises not to tell, so I say:

She’s Lidia Neri.

She’s Pia Ciccione.

She’s Francesca Pelligrina. Domenica Augello.

Different names, every time, but the reaction is the same: a momentary light in the listener’s eyes that fades to bored disappointment. An Italian woman from Naples, whose name you wouldn’t know. Who did you expect?

Continue reading

The Beauty of Life With X-Ray Vision

Python and protea flower. The snake’s trachea is visible (credit: Arie van ’t Riet / SPL)

Thank you to the BBC’s Earth section for sharing Dutch medical physicist and artist Arie van ’t Riet’s work, which he accomplishes with his home x-ray machine and dead flora and fauna.

Arie van ’t Riet has a unique view of life on earth.

As a medical physicist based in the Netherlands, van ’t Riet teaches radiographers about radiation physics and safety. As part of his teaching program, van ’t Riet searched for an example to demonstrate and visualise the influence of x-ray energy on the contrast of an x-ray image. The higher the x-ray energy, the lower the contrast.

“I arrived at flowers. After some years I started to edit and partly colour these x-ray images. And I added animals,” he says.

Continue reading

If You Happen To Be In London


We have been meaning for nearly a year to recommend this article on the relationship between one man and several artists who were otherwise completely unrecognized by the art establishment over many decades. With this man as a champion, after a long effort the artists have finally come into the recognition previously denied to them.

This new show in London reminds us not only to share that article, but to share this review. What explains our interest in this sort of exhibit is the outsider status of the artists. Not “bad boy” outsiders clamoring for attention, but innovators. Thanks to London Review of Books for this review of a current show at the Tate:

‘Proud’ is an epithet that extends from the parade to the workbench. The swagger of troops marching down the street is transferred by the carpenter to the nail that juts out, no less cocky, no less full of itself. There’s much in Tate Britain’s new exhibition, British Folk Art (until 31 August), that straddles both forms of pride. It opens with a fanfare of stout, galumphing tradesmen’s signs: the outsize models of boots, keys, teapots, top hats and so on that dangled over high streets two centuries ago. Continue reading

Reading Recommendations For Raxa Collective’s Extended Community, And From Raxa Collective Interns

Many universities in the western and northern regions of the world are concluding their academic years about now as summer break begins, which means it is time for Raxa Collective to begin welcoming interns. Some who join have already completed their undergraduate degrees, and prior to beginning their “real” careers they come to spend time in one of our communities, collaborating with our staff, local communities, etc..

One such case is a contributor who has just completed an undergraduate degree; before heading to New England to pursue Ph.D. studies he will carry out projects at Xandari that will allow him to perfect his Spanish language skills. Since he is going to be in the same community as these people below, starting in August, we post this “suggestions on summer reading” article from Harvard Gazette as a prompt for James to make his own summer reading recommendations in a new post. If he takes us up on this prompt we will see who follows his lead and shares their own reading recommendations…

Stephanie Mitchell/Harvard Staff Photographer. Yeats and Bishop made Bret Anthony Johnston's summer reading list but, he said, "I’m eager to happen upon unexpected used bookstores, tag sales, and library fundraisers, where I often buy books outside of my typical reading inclinations."

Stephanie Mitchell/Harvard Staff Photographer. Yeats and Bishop made Bret Anthony Johnston’s summer reading list but, he said, “I’m eager to happen upon unexpected used bookstores, tag sales, and library fundraisers, where I often buy books outside of my typical reading inclinations.”

Bret Anthony Johnston
Paul and Catherine Buttenwieser Director of Creative Writing

This summer I’m going to read W.B. Yeats and Elizabeth Bishop, and “Wynne’s War,” a new novel by Aaron Gwyn about special forces on horseback in Afghanistan.

Continue reading

Innovation In Humanities, Essential To Our Future

Image by Corbis Images.  Thomas Rowlandson’s view of the library of the Royal Institution in London, circa 1810

Image by Corbis Images.
Thomas Rowlandson’s view of the library of the Royal Institution in London, circa 1810

We have been monitoring Harvard Magazine and some of its kindred publications since the early days of this blog, as constant sources of interesting articles relevant to our interests; and now this:

Toward Cultural Citizenship

New gateways into the humanities for students “still fully molten as human beings” by Jonathan Shaw  May-June 2014

Continue reading

Do The Green Thing Countdown 25/29

Continuing our promotion of Do The Green Thing’s campaign on behalf of WWF for Earth Hour, we point you to Switch Off Engine by Harry Pearce in which he:

…takes a warning sign from the depths of the car world and reuses it to create a messages that instructs us to step away from our vehicles and go by foot instead.

“The visual language of obedience demands our attention and compliance,” says Harry. “Maybe the car industry should follow its own rules.”


Continue reading

A Musically Satisfied Cow Is A Productive Cow

The Ingenues, an all-girl band and vaudeville act, serenade the cows in the University of Wisconsin, Madison's dairy barn in 1930. The show was apparently part of an experiment to see whether the soothing strains of music boosted the cows' milk production. Angus B. McVicar/Wisconsin Historical Society

The Ingenues, an all-girl band and vaudeville act, serenade the cows in the University of Wisconsin, Madison’s dairy barn in 1930. The show was apparently part of an experiment to see whether the soothing strains of music boosted the cows’ milk production. Angus B. McVicar/Wisconsin Historical Society

It is not difficult to believe, but it is funny. Thanks to National Public Radio (USA) for this story about the importance of animal happiness, an idea we can all, from carnivore to vegan all everyone in between, agree is good (the video below is at least as compelling as the scientific references):

When it’s time to buckle down and focus, plenty of office workers will put on headphones to help them drown out distractions and be more productive. But can music also help dairy cows get down to business?

Some dairy farmers have long suspected that’s the case. It’s not unheard of for farmers to play relaxing jams for their herds to boost milk production, as the folks at Modern Farmer recently reported.

A tantalizing 2001 study out of the University of Leicester in the U.K. appeared to lend credence to those claims. It found that milk production went up by as much as 3 percent when cows listened to slow tunes like R.E.M.’s “Everybody Hurts” and Simon & Garfunkel’s “Bridge over Troubled Water,” rather than faster songs. Continue reading

Leap Seconds Become Leap Years

One of our contributors is a leap year baby, so we take note at the passing of each February into March, without always remembering why on certain years there is an extra day. Today our office team celebrated that birthday, rather than doing so tomorrow, thinking it is better to be early than late.  Here is a secondary explanation from the Atlantic‘s Alexis Madrigal:

The mechanics of the leap year are well known: We add a day to February every four years to maintain the synchronization of our earthly calendar with the celestial reality of the Earth’s orbit.

Weeelllll, it turns out that a similar phenomenon plays out on a much smaller time scale. Along with the leap year, there is the leap second. Continue reading

Self-Sufficiency Taken To The Outer Extremes

Before the lights go out on the last New Yorker issue of 2013, one more of several articles we found worth the read, and relevant to our common themes of interest–community-building, innovation, environmentalism, farming, etc.–on this blog, even if we tend to incremental change rather than the radicalism on display here:

Marcin Jakubowski, the owner of a small farm in northwestern Missouri, is an agrarian romantic for high-tech times. A forty-one-year-old Polish-American, he has spent the past five years building industrial machines from scratch, in a demonstration of radical self-sufficiency that he intends as a model for human society everywhere. He believes that freedom and prosperity lie within the reach of anyone willing to return to the land and make the tools necessary to erect civilization on top of it. His project, the Global Village Construction Set, has attracted a following, but among the obstacles he has faced is a dearth of skilled acolytes: the people who show up at his farm typically display more enthusiasm for his ideas than expertise with a lathe or a band saw. Continue reading

A Different Kind Of Travelogue

10-08discovery_full_380We are unabashedly in favor of reading, thinking and decision-making in advance of travel, during travel, and after travel. We are also in favor, when the fancy strikes, of just hitting the road without knowing why, where to, or for how long. On our pages you will find posts for either end of the spectrum from meticulously planned to wanderlust journeys.  It is about  discovery.  So this book caught our attention. Nothing to do with hobbits, as reviewed by the Monitor (click the book image to the left to go to the source) it sounds like the perfect prelude, accompaniment or postscript for travel in a part of the world we have not been covering in our pages as much as we maybe should:

…In “The Discovery of Middle Earth,” Robb sets out to establish the momentous contributions made to the arts of cartography and communication by the once-great Celtic peoples, who at various points in history spread all the way from modern-day Turkey to Ireland. In the process, he consults old documents, interviews experts, examines artifacts, and bicycles more than 26,000 kilometers across France, taking his readers along with him… Continue reading

Understanding India, Day By Interesting Day

Pawan Kumar/Reuters

Pawan Kumar/Reuters

Those of us living in India, who are not from India, are on a quest to understand our new home. We share these stories from time to time, taken from mainstream publications in India and elsewhere, about what we are learning. With a photo like this, we could not resist such an explanatory story, in the form of an editorial from this week’s Sunday Review section of the New York Times: Continue reading

A Hint Of Evil, And Laughter May Be The Only Antidote

Thanks to this HBR Ideacast we had the opportunity to listen to the author of this book discuss its core message(s). Anyone who has looked at a few Dilbert cartoons can pretty well figure out that its author is not what you may think a typical MBA is. About 10 minutes into the podcast, the most remarkable statement, worthy of your attention, begins:

DAN MCGINN: So you’re saying management really doesn’t matter?

SCOTT ADAMS: I think it’s certainly something you can do wrong. So avoiding doing it wrong is the big thing. And I think if you’re a bit of a psychopath or sociopath, I don’t know the exact definitions of those, you know, if you push people to think that you being happier, and you as the manager making more money, and you as the company making more money is more important than the employees’ own personal life and their health, then you’re a great manager. And you absolutely can do great things. And you’ll probably be able to reproduce that wherever you go. Continue reading

Thinking, Reviewed

If we had to stop scanning hundreds of news sources to support the habit we have of linking to stories that match our interests (we do not plan to stop) and read from only one source on the internet (preposterous to make a point), this site would be a good candidate. We rarely have the opportunity to link to it, because there is not much overlap with our themes of community, conservation or collaboration; but as a source of important ideas, and the occasional book review it is unbeatable:

“The confidence people have in their beliefs is not a measure of the quality of evidence but of the coherence of the story that the mind has managed to construct.” Continue reading