Archive | March, 2012

Career Lessons From Han Solo

31 Mar

Five Career Lessons From Han Solo – Forbes.

 

Five Career Lessons From Han Solo

 

 

 

 

Han Solo

Han Solo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

Climbing the corporate ladder – or figuring out when to jump off – has never been harder. Luckily you can learn everything you need to know from the ultimate business renegade: the spice smuggler from Corellia who became a general, and saved a galaxy.

 

Even if you never get to be a Jedi Knight, you can emerge victorious by being lucky, clever, and true to your gut. Here are some lessons from everyone’s favorite scruffy looking nerfherder, along with real-life examples to prove their worth. No precognition, levitation, or mind control are required. You might even get to fall in love with a princess.

 

 

 

 

 

Chewie as shown in Star WarsChewie as shown in Star Wars (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

1) Have an ally who will support you no matter what.

 

“Chewie and I will take care of this. You stay here.”

 

Warren Buffet has Charlie Munger. Larry Page has Sergey Brin. And Han Solo has Chewbacca.

 

Whatever your career, it’s helpful to have a co-pilot who will stand by your side no matter what, who will charge a platoon of Stormtroopers on the Death Star, howling and blasting everything in sight, or help you fly your starship directly into an asteroid field to escape an Imperial Star Destroyer. It’s even more helpful if that co-pilot is a seven-foot-three-inch Wookie from the planet Kashyyyk who can tear people’s arms off when he loses a chess match.

 

Luke Skywalker

Luke Skywalker (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

2) Be a mentor – you might get paid back later.

 

“That’s two you owe me, junior.”

 

Had he not rescued Luke Skywalker from near-certain death on the ice planet of Hoth, Solo himself would have remained remained frozen in carbonite, used as a wall decoration by the villainous Jabba the Hutt. Mentoring a Jedi can be a good way to become a legend yourself.

 

This lesson is true on Earth, too. If Intel founder Gordon Moore had not been replaced by his lieutenant Andy Grove, would Intel have become the force it is today? (And Grove tutored Craig Barrett, his own successor.) Hip-hop impresario Jay-Z’s mentorship of Kanye West paid off with a joint album, Watch the Throne, and a tour that were huge hits and helped both rappers.

 

 

 

 

 

Larry Ward had the voice for Star Wars villain...

Jabba the Hutt in Return of the Jedi. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

3) Don’t be too focused

 

“Jabba, I was just on my way to pay you back, and I got a little sidetracked.”

Han Solo’s excuse to Jabba was that he “got sidetracked” when he came across the Rebel Alliance, and was on his way to pay back the villainous slug. Without that distraction, Han Solo would just have been another scoundrel in Jabba’s retinue.

 

Life, as Groucho said, is what happens when we’re planning other things. Mark Zuckerberg started Facebook when he was supposed to be going to college. Steve Jobs’ exile from Apple gave the world Pixar. Your biggest opportunity might come when you have to ferry an old man and an annoying kid to Alderaan.

 

 

 

 

 

The three lead protagonists of Star Wars, from...

The three lead protagonists of Star Wars, from left to right: Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher), and Han Solo (Harrison Ford). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

4) Trust what you know

 

“Hokey religions and ancient weapons are no match for a good blaster at your side, kid.”

 

Even as he became ever more respectable, Han Solo’s successes were always the result of what he learned as a smuggler. He smuggled himself in hidden compartments when the Millennium Falcon was captured by the Death Star. He disobeyed orders to rescue Luke Skywalker. And, ever the trickster, he gained entry to bunker on Endor by pretending to be an Imperial officer and asking for reinforcements. His success as a rebel officer was not in spite of his history as a scoundrel, but because of it. It’s why Princess Leia fell for him, right?

 


 

174x108

Millennium Falcon (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

5) Shoot first
“Yeah, but this time, I’ve got the money…”

If Han hadn’t vaporized Greedo, the whole Star Wars saga might not have happened. If IBM had followed this rule when Bill Gates arrived to sell it an operating system, there might be no Microsoft.

A fascinatingly disturbing thought

31 Mar

I could listen to Dr. Neil DeGrasse Tyson all damn day.

 

Is Silence Going Extinct?

26 Mar

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/18/magazine/is-silence-going-extinct.html?_r=1

Whisper of the Wild

Davyd Betchkal, sound catcher, in Denali National Park and Preserve in Alaska.

By KIM TINGLEY
Published: March 15, 2012

Setting off in the predawn gloaming of central Alaska, we were the sounds of swishing snow pants, crunching boots and cold puffs of breath. As sunrise gradually lightened the late November sky, we took visible shape: a single-file parade on a narrow white trail traveling west, deeper into Denali National Park and Preserve. It was three degrees and so still that when we pulled up to rest, I heard no wind, no sibilant leaves, just a barely perceptible ringing in my ears. Tundra swans, kestrels and warblers had all flown south. Grizzlies were asleep in their dens. We tramped over frozen streams and paused to discover water still trickling faintly in hollows below. To the north, a morning blast of pink and orange brightened snow-shrouded Mount Healy at the edge of the Alaska Range; to the south — where the sun is always rising or setting during winter at a latitude just three degrees shy of the Arctic Circle — an alpine ridge remained covered in shadow and alder.

We saw a beaver hut on a frozen pond and moose tracks in snow. Ice frosted the nettles of black spruce and the beard of our leader, Davyd Betchkal, the park’s physical-science technician. Betchkal’s beard recalled that of his hero, the naturalist Henry David Thoreau, at the start of the Civil War. Otherwise he was a 25-year-old Wisconsinite wearing a lime green hat knit by his mother. He and I shouldered backpacks each weighted with 30 pounds of recording equipment. Far up ahead, a park ranger on skis towed more gear by sled.

Our destination was a ridge above Hines Creek, where Betchkal planned to assemble a station to collect a month’s worth of continuous acoustic data documenting an intangible, invisible and — increasingly — endangered resource: natural sound. Our mission was not only to trap the ephemeral but also to experience it ourselves, which at the moment was impossible for three reasons: 1) the chafing of our nylon outfits; 2) the chunking of our military-issue Bunny Boots on ice; and 3) planes.

“If you’re on foot and you choose to focus on the natural quality of the landscape, you’re completely immersed in nature; nothing else exists,” Betchkal said to the back of my head, letting me set the pace as we traipsed steadily uphill. “Then a jet will go over, and it kind of breaks that flow of consciousness, that ecstatic moment.” Meditating on our surroundings, I became a little curious how much farther we had to go. “Don’t think about that — that’s my answer,” Betchkal called ahead cheerfully. “Another answer is that I don’t know.”

An undeveloped swath of land nearly the size of Vermont, Denali should be a haven for natural sound. Enormous stretches of wild country abut the park in every direction save east, where Route 3 connects Fairbanks to Anchorage. One dead-end and mostly unpaved road penetrates the park itself. Yet since 2006, when scientists at Denali began a decade-long effort to collect a month’s worth of acoustic data from more than 60 sites across the park — including a 14,000-foot-high spot on Mount McKinley — Betchkal and his colleagues have recorded only 36 complete days in which the sounds of an internal combustion engine of some sort were absent. Planes are the most common source. Once, in the course of 24 hours, a single recording station captured the buzzing of 78 low-altitude props — the kind used for sightseeing tours; other areas have logged daily averages as high as one sky- or street-traffic sound every 17 minutes. The loudest stretch of the year is summer, when hundreds of thousands of tourists flock to Denali, embarking on helicopter or fixed-wing rides. Snowmobiles are popular with locals, and noise from the highway, the park road and daily passenger trains can travel for miles. That sort of human din, studies are beginning to suggest, is imperiling habitat — in Denali as well as wilderness areas around the world — as surely as a bulldozer or oil spill. But scientists have so little information about what landscapes should sound like without human interference that trying to correct the problem would be like a surgeon’s wielding a scalpel without knowing the parts of the body, let alone his patient’s symptoms. To restore ecosystems to acoustic health, researchers must determine, to the last raindrop, what compositions nature would play without us.

For more than 40 years, scientists have used radio telescopes to probe starry regions trillions of miles away for sounds of alien life. But only in the past five years or so have they been able to reliably record monthslong stretches of audio in the wildernesses of Earth. Last March, a group of ecologists and engineers taking advantage of advances in collecting, storing and analyzing vast quantities of digital data declared a new field of science: soundscape ecology. Other disciplines have long observed how various sounds affect people and individual animal species, but no one, they argued in the journal Bioscience, has yet studied the interconnected sounds of whole ecosystems. Soundscapes — composed of biological utterances like birdcalls, geophysical commotions like wind and running water and anthropogenic noises like motors — are “an acoustic reflection of the patterns and processes of the landscape,” the paper’s lead author, Bryan Pijanowski, an ecologist at Purdue University, told me. “And if we can take sound samples and develop appropriate metrics, we might be able to say, ‘Hey, this is a healthy landscape and this is an unhealthy landscape.’ ”

Indeed, though soundscape ecology has hardly begun, natural soundscapes already face a crisis. Humans have irrevocably altered the acoustics of the entire globe — and our racket continues to spread. Missing or altered voices in a soundscape tend to indicate broader environmental problems. For instance, at least one invasive species, the red-billed leiothrix of East Asia, appears to use its clamorous chatter to drown out the native European blackbird in Northern Italy. Noise can mask mating calls, cause stress and prevent animals from hearing alarms, the stirrings of prey and other useful survival cues. And as climate change prompts a shift in creatures’ migration schedules, circadian rhythms and preferred habitats — reshuffling the where and when of their calls — soundscapes are altered, too. Soundscape ecologists hope they can save some ecosystems, but they also realize they will bear witness to many finales. “There may be some very unique soundscapes around the world that — just through normal human activities — would be lost forever,” Pijanowski says — unless he and colleagues can record them before they disappear. An even more critical task, he thinks, is alerting people to the way “soundscapes provide us with a sense of place” and an emotional bond with the natural world that is unraveling. As children, our grandparents could hope to swim in a lake or lie in a meadow for whole afternoons without hearing a motorboat, car or plane; today the engineless hour is all but extinct, and we’ve grown accustomed to constant, mild auditory intrusions. “Humans are becoming an increasingly more urban species, and so we’re surrounding ourselves with concrete and buildings” and “the low hum of the urban landscape,” Pijanowski says. “We’re kind of severing the acoustic link that humans have with nature.”

In Denali, silence and solitude define the winter. Fall, Betchkal says, is the departure of the sandhill cranes — an urgent, lonely trilling of flocks taking flight. Spring returns with wood frogs, the park’s only amphibian. “They’re a riotous little chorus of fellows,” Betchkal told me the day before our expedition, as I watched him assemble and test, in an empty library across from his office building, the station he planned to deploy. Outfitted in a flannel shirt and jeans, he could have been a woodsman readying his traps if not for the headphones he wore. “It’s like a really organic, biological sounding rasping, but it’s really nice, like krrrup, krrrup,” he continued, pausing amid a tangle of wire to roll his R’s. In high school, Betchkal’s band teacher told him that before he could play a note on his trumpet, in order to appreciate how the instrument produced the syllable, he needed to articulate the sound himself. Betchkal thinks the same is true of wildlife sounds: “To understand what they’re all about, you have to make them,” he said. “You’ve got to. People think it’s goofy, but it isn’t. It’s studying.”

Sounds are remarkably difficult to describe without onomatopoeia. Defining the resource he wants to protect — in words and numbers, to scientists and policy makers — is a fundamental challenge for Betchkal and other soundscape researchers. Betchkal, though, is well suited to his role. As a boy, he went camping in Wisconsin’s Devil’s Lake State Park with his father, an amateur ornithologist who taught him the pleasures of lying in a sleeping bag listening to birdcalls. At the University of Wisconsin, Madison, he majored in biochemistry and botany while running soundboards for indie bands at the King Club downtown. For Betchkal, whose office bookshelf holds titles as various as “An Introduction to the Psychology of Hearing,” “Statistical Treatment of Experimental Data” and “Glacier Travel and Crevasse Rescue,” perhaps the greatest appeal of soundscape ecology is the way it intersects other fields of study. “It’s almost like going back to old-school naturalism,” Betchkal said, “where you paid attention to anything and everything that was fascinating. That’s totally what I’m into — interdisciplinary science.”

Surprisingly, soundscape ecology, with its focus on the natural, got its start in the streets. An M.I.T. city planner first applied the word “soundscape” to habitat analysis in 1969 for a study he did on the “informativeness” and “delightfulness” of various sonic environments around Boston. Pushing volunteers about in wheelchairs, first blindfolded, then ear-muffled, then without sensory checks, he discovered that the sounds of seaports and civic centers were just as important as their appearance in influencing how much people enjoyed being there. This was a novel notion, even though objections to undesirable sounds date back to the invention of neighbors. In his influential 1977 work, “The Tuning of the World,” the Canadian composer R. Murray Schafer charts man’s relationship with noise. As long ago as 3000 B.C., he notes, the Epic of Gilgamesh discussed “the uproar of mankind,” which aggravated the god Enlil. “Sleep is no longer possible,” he complains to the other gods. In the second century A.D., wagon traffic “sufficient to wake the dead” ruined the Roman poet Juvenal’s ability to rest between Satires. Many English towns were sequestering their blacksmiths by the 13th century, and Bern, Switzerland, passed its first law “against singing and shouting in streets or houses on festival days” in 1628. Over the next 300 years, it also legislated against “barking dogs,” “singing at Christmas and New Year’s parties,” “carpet-beating” and “noisy children.” In 1972, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency declared noise a pollutant.

Only recently, however, have governments from Japan to the European Union begun to recognize natural sounds as a resource requiring protection. When Woodrow Wilson created the National Park Service in 1916, it was to “conserve the scenery”; not until 2000 did a Park Service director issue systemwide instructions for addressing “soundscape preservation.” In 1986, a midair plane crash above the Grand Canyon National Park — where sightseeing tours had operated virtually unchecked for almost 70 years — prompted Congress to pass the National Parks Overflights Act, requiring the Park Service to work with the Federal Aviation Administration in remedying the “significant adverse effect on the natural quiet” that aircraft there appeared to be having. The act also called for studying the impacts of overflight noise on other parks.

Initial research returned alarming results. In Yosemite, planes were heard 30 to 60 percent of the day. In the Haleakala volcano crater in Maui, 8 to 10 helicopters passed overhead per hour. What’s more, other experiments showed, much as the M.I.T. study did, that noise affected the way visitors saw landscapes: when volunteers viewed photos of natural vistas while listening to helicopters on tape, they rated the scenes less picturesque than they did under quieter conditions. By 2000, the National Park Service had staffed a division to gather data on park soundscapes nationwide and create, with the F.A.A., air-tour management plans at 100-plus locations. More than a decade since — partly because of disagreements between aviation and conservation interests — no such plan is in place, though many parks have begun looking for ways to trim other noise, turning off idling shuttle buses, curbing car traffic and investing in less uproarious maintenance tools. Grand Canyon managers, after nearly 25 years of laboring, last year proposed amendments to the timing and routes of sightseeing flights that would make the park somewhat more serene.

When Denali fielded its first sound station in April 2001, far earlier than nearly every other park in the country, the primary concern was determining the level of annoyance caused by planes and snowmobiles. But scientists were about to realize the damage society’s widening sonic footprint could do to natural ecosystems. In 2003, a Dutch team studying a common songbird, the great tit, reported in Nature that males of the species shifted their calls to a higher frequency in cities, where low-frequency human noise masked their normal song range. Further proof that urban sounds cause wild creatures to adjust their vocal styles quickly followed. Nightingales sing louder in louder environments. Robins — usually diurnal singers — switch to nighttime in areas that are chaotic by day. Subjected to constant mechanical whirring, certain primates, bats, whales, squirrels and frogs all change their cries. Many other animals, it seems, lack the physical equipment to adapt, and perish or move away. Not only are individuals editing their tunes in real time — as the great tits did — but natural selection is also rewarding louder, higher-frequency singers, redirecting the course of evolution.

Species can fight for airtime in a limited bandwidth by changing their volume or frequency, or by rescheduling the timing of their calls. But there’s no way animals can alter their ability to listen — for their very survival — if human noise conceals, for example, the twig-snap of a prowler or the skittering of prey. In the United States, where more than 80 percent of land is within two-thirds of a mile of a road, the listening area available to most creatures is rapidly shrinking. Beyond hunting and hiding, even invertebrates use the gabbing of unwitting cohabitants for navigation. Sightless, earless and adrift in the open ocean, coral larvae seek to settle on tropical reefs by swimming toward the throbs of muttering fish and snapping-shrimp claws. Eurasian reed warblers en route to southern Africa at night flutter blind over pine forests, sand dunes and the Baltic Sea until, hundreds of feet below, the cheeping of other warblers signals the presence of sustaining wetlands. If those aural cues disappear, the species that heed them may be floating and flying without a compass.

Explosive human sounds can have catastrophic impacts, especially underwater, where they travel faster and farther than they do in the air. Porpoises and whales have beached themselves fleeing the high-pitched shrieks of U.S. Navy sonar, researchers believe; they also blame the low-frequency booms ships use to search for oil and gas for fatally ripping through the organs that cephalopods like squid use to detect vibrations. Fewer studies have examined the health impacts of more mundane, chronic noises on terrestrial species, but proof is emerging that the droning of freeway traffic and the 24/7 rumbling of natural-gas-pipeline compressors directly harm the ability of birds nesting nearby to reproduce. Jesse Barber, a biologist at Boise State University who is the co-author of two recent papers about the impacts of noise on land-dwelling animals, writes that “it is clear that the acoustical environment is not a collection of private conversations between signaler and receiver” but a network of broadcasts reaching both intended and invisible listeners. Like pulling Jenga blocks from a teetering tower, removing sounds from soundscapes — or adding them — he warns, “could have volatile and unpredictable consequences.”

In the library across from his office building, Betchkal crawled among cables, politely probing each instrument with a voltmeter like a plaid-clad doctor with a stethoscope. The park has been able to take continuous recordings since only 2010 (previous setups recorded five seconds of audio every five minutes), and the scale and quality of its efforts in the wilderness are among the most advanced in the world. Though each station costs about $12,000, glitches are common: the instruments still aren’t designed to work together, or in outdoor conditions. Wind has toppled them; rivers have flooded them; grizzlies have mangled microphones. Betchkal fiddled much of the morning before he felt satisfied that the station was running properly and began to break it down, packing it methodically away and carrying it to his office. Pulling a checklist from his desk, he started filling bags with tools he might need the next day: blue crystal desiccants in vials to keep the air in the equipment boxes dry, wire strippers, extra cable. He’d never set up a station in November and December before. Part of the point was to add to baseline measurements of the park’s overall soundscape — another was to measure just how quiet the winter could be and preserve that sensation for posterity. “I suspect that it gets down below the threshold of human hearing,” Betchkal said, adding duck seal, Gaffer’s tape and an Exacto knife to the bag. “Below zero decibels.” If he did manage to capture a stretch of quiet that extreme, I wondered, what would it reveal?

“Openness!” Betchkal exclaimed. He paused to chase his thought. “Quiet is related to openness in the sense that the quieter it gets — as your listening area increases — your ability to hear reflections from farther away increases. The implication of that is that you get an immense sense of openness, of the landscape reflecting back to you, right? You can go out there, and you stand on a mountaintop, and it’s so quiet that you get this sense of space that’s unbelievable. The reflections are coming to you from afar. All of a sudden your perception is being affected by a larger area. Which is different from when you’re in your car. Why, when you’re in your car, do you feel like you are your car? It’s ’cause the car envelops you, it wraps you up in that sound of itself. Sound has everything to do with place. What is beautiful about this place? What is interesting or iconic about Alaska? Anyway,” he bowed apologetically at the waist, “that’s a lot of words. What I’m really measuring is the potential — the potential to hear natural sounds. If you’re choosing to listen, what are you actually going to hear?”

Around noon, nearing Hines Creek, we halted on the trail. The afternoon was windless. We were warm from walking but rapidly started to freeze; feeling left our fingers and noses first. Betchkal pointed off the path to the south, across a field of tangled willows, to a steep, snowy ridge, atop which he wanted to put the station. We shook up chemical hand warmers so they’d be hot when we reached the summit and charged into the thicket after Jeff Duckett, the ranger. Branches crashed against jackets and backpacks. We tripped on roots and fell. The sled proved too awkward to carry, and after retrieving two solar panels and a box of gear, Duckett and Betchkal abandoned it. At the foot of the hill, we began switchbacking upward through knee-high snow drifts. A Piper Cub skirted low over our heads, the roar of the engine momentarily blotting out the sounds of our breathing. Reaching the top, we dumped the audio equipment and threw on extra jackets. Betchkal got to work quickly, arranging tripods and running Arctic cable designed not to snap in subzero weather. Below, miles of black spruce spanned the valley separating us from Mount Healy.

Ostensibly, Betchkal’s stations capture exactly what we would hear if we could stand invisibly in the wilderness for a month. The recordings can reveal the sonic relationships that play out in our absence — and help us to modify our acoustic footprint. But our understanding of sound will always be limited by our perception of it. We will never experience the ultrasonic cries of insects, lizards or bats without distorting them. Decibels are self-deception. Bell Telephone Laboratories conjured them to measure loudness in the 1920s (the “bel” honors the company’s eponymous founder), but they represent volume as our ears register it, and the louder a sound is, the less of it we actually take in.

Hearing arguably fixes us in time, space and our own bodies more than the other senses do. Our vitals are audible: sighing lungs, a pounding pulse, a burbling gut. John Cage, the composer, once tried to observe complete silence in a soundproof room, but he still heard distinct noises — made, it turned out, by the nerves and blood of his own body. “Until I die,” he concluded, “there will be sounds.” We can shut our eyes at will, but not our ears, and what we hear is penetrating and physical — a wave entering our head. Even the deaf perceive internal jangling and external sonic feedback. The tactile nature of sound — the way it bounces back to us from other surfaces — helps us locate ourselves in relation to our surroundings and to know what’s behind us or around a corner. Fast asleep, our heartbeats quicken at a loud noise. In the womb, before we are aware, we hear the cacophonous exertions of our mother’s body. Returning from a field trip to the Potomac River refuge in Northern Virginia last year, a fourth grader wrote — in a passage that eventually reached a biologist in Soldotna, Alaska — that “the best thing about this place is that it has such nice noises you don’t feel alone when you are alone.”

In a series of gloveless maneuvers, Betchkal screwed together a weather station that would measure temperature, wind speed and direction, plus humidity. He arranged the solar panels, connected them to a box of batteries and sent power to the instruments: a sound level meter that continuously logs decibels at specific frequencies and an audio recorder. The meter powered on. The recorder did not. “Come on, you little stinker!” Betchkal said. Thinking it might be frozen, he slipped the device under his long johns, yelping when it met his thigh.

The next day, Betchkal showed me on his computer how he uses a program called Splat to analyze the data he gets. “Like in farming,” he said, “you’ve made the harvest, and now we’re going to take that raw thing and cook it or refine it down into something that can be used for different products.” Splat takes the data from the sound-level meter and arranges it on a spectrogram: a blue field of time on which sounds appear as orange shapes, their height representing their frequency, their brightness showing loudness, their length duration. Scrolling through the month, Betchkal labels many sounds by sight. Once he’s done tagging, the data can take on meaning, morphing into a graph of the circadian rhythms of wood-frog calls, say, or a park map of helicopter audibility.

Betchkal also listens to a subsample of the recordings. “I love this clip,” he said, pressing play on his computer. We heard a snuffling at the microphone and, nearby, the bellowing of babies that were actually bear cubs. “Part of my job is to go around and document these rare sounds,” he said, “to better understand the resource that needs to be protected — are there really important sounds out there that are disappearing?” He clicked again, and the tinny gurgle of an ice cave filled the speakers. “There’s thousands of little bubbles,” he said in narration. “I imagine like a big cave, and each room of the cave probably has different ways of reflecting sound. We can share sounds with people who might not be able to walk up to that ice cave and go hang around inside of it. Maybe even better, it excites them enough that they’re like, All right, let’s go on a hike! We’re going to check out an ice cave! Or whatever.”

Listening to Betchkal’s recordings of people passing his stations in the course of their travels can be unexpectedly elegiac. Tents flap, camp stoves hiss, people laugh, sniffle, adjust their packs. Once, trolling through audio from a mountain site, Betchkal happened upon a two-man concert, climbers duetting on guitar and mandolin. Another time, he discovered a rocky summer avalanche, an escalating rumble so deep it shook his desk.

On the ridge top, Betchkal’s body heat and hand warmers failed to revive the recorder. After more than an hour of troubleshooting, a spare pair of AA batteries succeeded in getting the device to work — but that meant, unlike the rest of the solar-powered equipment, it would run for only about a week. “It’s disappointing to me — really disappointing,” Betchkal said. “But that can happen — that does happen. If things go wrong, I’ll come back, and I can fix them.” He wrestled the instrument case closed and sealed it against the snow and wind of the coming month. The weather had begun to seep through our Polartec defenses, numbing our joints; water and pen ink were solids; cheese sticks gonged against canteens. “One last thing we need to do,” Betchkal said, shaking off defeat. “I know everyone’s probably cold and tired, but we’re going to listen. Get comfortable, be sure you’re not needing to fidget with stuff — ” A zipper zipped. Two magpies chirped. I lifted my arms from my sides to shush my sleeves and closed my eyes.

Night fell as we retraced our steps along the trail. The sky turned from lavender to indigo while the snow on the ground and the mountains glowed even when the last of the sun was gone. We headed for Jupiter, hanging low above the trees, and as we walked, I pictured the station back on the ridge, wrapped in the same darkness. When Betchkal harvests the audio, he will find us repacking our packs, exclaiming over our frozen apparatuses and sliding down the hillside into the willow field below. He will also, for three minutes, witness us still our movements and attune our ears to one of the quietest places left on Earth. In that window, I could hear the vastness of the valley — no sound marks materialized, like buoys bobbing on an empty ocean, to segment the sense of infinity. The landscape enveloped me, as Betchkal said it would, and I felt I was the landscape, where mountains and glaciers rose and shifted eons before the first heartbeats came to life.

“Standing in that place right there,” Betchkal told me later, “I had a complete sense that I was standing in that place right there and not drawn or distracted from it at all.” I felt located, too, but I could also imagine that if I hollered, my voice might not ever bounce back — that where I was, precisely, was a ridge top in a wide wilderness on a spinning rock in outer space. Ahead of me on the trail, as we neared our destination, Betchkal’s figure blurred in the darkness. The trees around us disappeared. There were, at last, only our footsteps. Then, barely audible, an inevitable airborne murmur — a sign from the civilized world.

Kim Tingley is a freelance writer and an online columnist for OnEarth magazine.

THIS is why we invest in science. This.

26 Mar

http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/badastronomy/2012/03/21/this-is-why-we-invest-in-science-this/

 

THIS is why we invest in science. This.

By Phil Plait

 

Every day — every single day, it seems — I see a note on Twitter, or get email, or hear someone on TV asking why we bother spending so much money on NASA. Billions of dollars! We should be spending that money right here on Earth!

This argument is wrong in every conceivable way. Ignoring that we do spend that money here on Earth, ignoring that NASA’s budget is far less than 1% of the national budget, ignoring that the amount we spend on NASA in a year is less than we spend on air conditioning tents in Afghanistan, ignoring that we spend five times as much on tobacco in a year than we do on space exploration… this argument is still dead wrong.

Why?

Because when we invest in science, when we invest in space, when we invest in exploration, we always, always get far more back in return than we put in. And not just in dollars and cents.

 

 

See that picture above? It shows a new type of rocket engine design. Usually, fuel is pumped into a chamber where the chemicals ignite and are blown out the other end, creating thrust. The design pictured above does this in a new way: as the fuel is pumped into the chamber, it’s spun up, creating a vortex. This focuses the flow, keeping it closer to the center of the chamber. In this way, when the fuel ignite, it keeps the walls of the chamber cooler.

So what, right?

Here’s what: using this technology — developed for rockets for NASA, remember — engineers designed a way to pump water more quickly and efficiently for fire suppression. The result is nothing short of astonishing:

One series of tests using empty houses at Vandenberg Air Force Base compared [this new] system with a 20-gallon-per-minute, 1,400 pound-per-square-inch (psi) discharge capability (at the pump) versus a standard 100-gallon-per-minute, 125 psi standard hand line—the kind that typically takes a few firemen to control. The standard line extinguished a set fire in a living room in 1 minute and 45 seconds using 220 gallons of water. The [new] system extinguished an identical fire in 17.3 seconds using 13.6 gallons—with a hose requiring only one person to manage.

In other words, this new system put out a fire more quickly, using less water, and — critically — with fewer firefighters needed to operate the hose. This frees up needed firefighters to do other important tasks on the job, and therefore makes fighting fires faster and safer.

There is no way you could’ve predicted beforehand that investing in NASA would have led to the creation of this specific innovation in life-saving technology. But it’s a rock-solid guarantee that investing in science always leads to innovations that have far-ranging and critical benefits to our lives.

If for no other reason that’s why we need to invest in science: in NASA, in NSF, in NOAA, and all the other agencies that explore the world around us. It’s for our own good. And it always pays off.

 

[UPDATE: I should have noted that this technology was developed by Orbitec, a contractor with NASA and not NASA itself. The argument I make above still stands, though.]

Watson is growing

13 Mar

5 months next week… he’s getting big!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Guide to Critical Thinking

13 Mar

 

Critical thinking is that mode of thinking — about any subject, content, or problem — in which the thinker improves the quality of his or her thinking by skillfully analyzing, assessing, and reconstructing it

 

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The Most Astounding Fact

12 Mar

Astrophysicist Dr. Neil DeGrasse Tyson was asked by a reader of TIME magazine, “What is the most astounding fact you can share with us about the Universe?” This is his answer.

 

25 Things You Should Know About Word Choice

10 Mar

25 Things You Should Know About Word Choice

Author: Chuck Wendig

Source: http://terribleminds.com/ramble/2012/03/06/25-things-you-should-know-about-word-choice/

1. A Series Of Word Choices

Here’s why this matters: because both writing and storytelling comprise, at the most basic level, a series of word choices. Words are the building blocks of what we do. They are the atoms of our elements. They are the eggs in our omelets. They are the shots of liquor in our cocktails. Get it right? Serendipity. Get it wrong? The air turns to arsenic, that cocktail makes you puke, this omelet tastes like balls.

2. Words Define Reality

Words are like LEGO bricks: the more we add, the more we define the reality of our playset. “The dog fucked the chicken” tells us something. “The Great Dane fucked the chicken” tells us more. “The Great Dane fucked the bucket of fried chicken on the roof of Old Man Dongweather’s barn, barking with every thrust” goes the distance and defines reality in a host of ways (most of them rather unpleasant). You can over-define. Too many words spoil the soup. Find the balance between clarity, elegance, and evocation.

3. The “Hot And Cold” Game

You know that game — “Oh, you’re cold, colder, colder — oh! Now you’re getting hot! Hotter! Hotter still! Sizzling! Yay, you found the blueberry muffin I hid under the radiator two weeks ago!” –? Word choice is like a textual version of that game where you try to bring the reader closer to understanding the story you’re trying to tell. Strong, solid word choice allows us to strive for clarity (hotter) and avoid confusion (colder).

4. Most With Fewest

Think of it like a different game, perhaps: you’re trying to say as much as possible with as few words as you can muster. Big ideas put as briefly as you are able. Maximum clarity with minimum words.

 5. The Myth Of The Perfect Word

Finding the perfect word is as likely as finding a downy-soft unicorn with a pearlescent horn riding a skateboard made from the bones of your many enemies. Get shut of this notion. The perfect is the enemy of the good. For every sentence and every story you have a plethora of right words. Find a good word. Seek a strong word. But the hunt for a perfect word will drive you into a wide-eyed froth. Though, according to scholars, “nipplecookie” is in fact the perfect word. That’s why Chaucer used it so often. Truth.

6. No One Perfect Word, But A Chumbucket Of Shitty Ones

For every right word, you have an infinity of wrong ones.

7. Awkward, Like That Kid With The Headgear And The Polio Foot

You might use a word that either oversteps or fails to meet the idea you hope to present. A word in that instance would be considered awkward. “That dinner fornicated in his mouth” is certainly a statement, and while it’s perhaps not a technically incorrect metaphor, it’s just plain goofy (and uh, kinda gross). You mean that the flavors fornicated, or more likely that the flavors of the meal were sensual, or that they inspired lewd or libidinous thoughts. (To which I might suggest you stop French-kissing that forkful of short ribs, pervhouse.) To go with the food metaphor for a moment (“meat-a-phor?”), you ever take a bite of food and, after it’s already in your mouth, discover something in there that’s texturally off? Bit of gristle, stem, bone, eyeball, fingernail, whatever? The way you’re forced to pause the meal and decipher the texture with your mouth is the same problem a reader will have with awkward word choice. It obfuscates meaning and forces the reader to try to figure out just what the fuck you’re talking about.

8. Ambiguous, Like That Girl With That Thing Outside That Place

Remember how I said earlier that words are like LEGO, blah blah blah help define reality yadda yadda poop noise? Right. Ambiguous word choice means you’re not defining reality very well in your prose. “Bob ate lunch. It was good. Then he did something.” Lunch? Good? Something? Way to wow ‘em with your word choice, T.S. Eliot. To repeat: aim for words that are strong, confident, and above all else, clarifying.

9. Incorrect, Like That Guy Who Makes Up Shit When He’s Drunk

Incorrect word choice means you’re using the wrong damn word. As that character says in that movie, “I do not think it means what you think it means.” Affect, effect. Comprise, compose. Sensual, sensuous. Elicit, illicit. Eminent, immanent, imminent. Allude, elude. Must I continue? Related: if you write “loose” instead of “lose,” I cannot be held accountable if I kick you so hard in your butthole you choke on a hemorrhoid.

10. Step Sure-Footedly

Point of fact: the English language was invented by a time-traveling spam-bot who was trapped in a cave with a crazy monk. Example: The word “umbrage” means “offense,” so, to take umbrage means to take offense. Ah, but it also means the shade or protection afforded by trees. I used to take the second definition and assume it carried over to the people portion of that definition. Thus, to “take umbrage” meant in a way to “take shelter” with a person, as in, to both be under the same shadow of the same tree. I used the word incorrectly for years like some shithead. If you’re uncertain about the use of any word, it’s easy enough to either not use it or use Google to define it (“define: [word]” is the search you need). Do not trust that the English language makes sense or that your recollection of its madness is pristine. It will bite you every time.

11. The Barbaric Barf-Yawn That Is Your First Draft

This is not a hard or fast rule (hell, none of this is), but in my highly-esteemed opinion (translation: debatable bullshit mumbled by a guy who thinks “cock-waffle” should be a part of our collective daily vocabulary), you don’t need — or want! — to refine your word choice in the first draft. That initial draft is, for me, a screaming weeping blubberfest where I just want to cry all the words out without any care in the world how they get onto the page. Second and subsequent drafts, however, are a good time to zero in on problems big and small. Don’t spend your first draft scrutinizing word choice.

12. Verbs: Strong Like Bull

For every action you’ll find a dozen or more verb-flavors of that action. You can drink your coffee or you can gulp, sip, guzzle, or inhale it. You can run down the street or you can jog, bolt, sprint, dash, saunter, or hotfoot it. You can have sex with someone or you can fuck ‘em, hump ‘em, make love to ‘em, or ride ‘em like Seabiscuit in a gimp mask. (Do they make gimp masks for horses? To the Googlemobile!) Use a strong verb that clarifies the action and makes sense in the context of the scene. A hostage escaping his kidnappers isn’t going to scamper away — he’s going to barrel, hurtle, bolt, or if you’re a fan of not-fixing-what-ain’t-broke, he’ll run like a motherfucker. If the base-level verb gives you maximum potency and clarity, then use it.

13. “I Like Playing With My Cats!” John Ejaculated From His Mouth

Mmmyeah, one caveat to the “strong clarifying verb” thing — it doesn’t apply to dialogue tags. No, no. Don’t resist. Hold still. Stop trying to chew through the duct tape. I know you want to your characters to yelp, blurt, scream, gibber, shriek, murmur, mumble, babble, explain, exhort, plead, interrupt, erupt, exclaim, and ejaculate constantly, but don’t do it. Do. Not. Do. It. Rely on “say/said” 80-90% of the time. You can, when seeking variety and clarification of action, use another dialogue tag.

14. The Verb “To Be”

Am. Is. Was. To Be. Will Be. Whatever. I’m not one of those who will tell you to cut out every instance of the verb “to be” in all its simple-headed forms because sometimes, simplicity is best. And yet, overuse of that verb may weaken your writing. Look for instances where the verb can be replaced by a stronger one or where it adds needless roughage to a sentence. “Barry is playing with himself in the corner” is better as “Barry plays with himself in the corner.” If you say, “It is my opinion that Rush Limbaugh should be stuffed with dynamite and exploded like a beached whale,” you’d be better off with, “I believe Rush Limbaugh…” instead. Oh, and if a sentence starts with “there is” or “it was,” you should attack that sentence with lasers.

15. The Word “Specificity” Is Really Fun To Say

No, really. Try it, I’ll wait. … Are you done yet? Specificity. Specificity. Spehhh-siiiihh-fiiiihh-sihhhh-teeee. Anyway. Moving on. Words help us define reality — nouns doubly so. Creature? Animal? Mammal? Cat? Panther? Housecat? Tomcat? Russian Blue? The North Canadian Spangled Bobtail? There I charted specificity to the point where it became useful and then crossed over into absurd bullshit. If I tell the reader that the cat is a “housecat,” we all get it. But if I say that the cat is a “Lambkin dwarf cat,” only a handful of cat geeks are ever going to grok my lingo. Aim for specific, but realize you can get too specific.

16. The Strong Spice Of Adverb And Adjective

Sometimes, a verb or noun just doesn’t tell the whole tale. I can say “housecat,” but I mean, “calico kitty with a sprightly attitude and a penchant for meowing loudly.” Calico. Sprightly. Loudly. These all modify the verbs and nouns present in order to paint a picture. Adverbs and adjectives provide both a deeper sense of specificity while also providing flavor or color to the world. They’re a strong spice. Use when you need, not when you want. Say what you mean and no more.

17. Adverbs Are Not Your Mortal Foe

Writers often bandy about that old crunchy nugget of of penmonkey wisdom — NO ADVERBS — as if it is bulletproof. As if a gang of adverbs shanked that writer’s mother in the kidneys as she stooped over to water the hydrangeas. Adverbs are not birthed from the Devil’s hell-womb. They’re just words. Did you know that “never” is an adverb? As is “here?” And “tomorrow?” You can rely too heavily on adverbs (and amateurish writers do). You can also use adverbs that are unnecessary or that sound clunky when staple-gunned to the end of a sentence. And adverbs paired with dialogue tags will often chafe one’s taint, but that doesn’t mean you need to hunt down every last adverb with a spear-gun.

18. The Thesaurus Is Not Satan’s Own Demon Gospel

The thesaurus is not a bad book (or, these days, website). I love the thesaurus because I have a brain like a rust-eaten bucket — shit slips through all the time. I’m constantly snapping my fingers saying, “There’s a word that’s like this other word but not quite and OH SHITDAMNIT I CAN’T REMEMBER IT WHO AM I AND WHY AM I WEARING LADIES’ UNDERWEAR?” So, I turn to the thesaurus not to look for a better, fancier word but instead to find the word my feeble mouse-eaten brain cannot properly recall. It is not the thesaurus that is the root of all evil but rather the love of the thesaurus that urges writers to commit the sin of pompous word choice. It is not a crutch; do not lean upon it.

19. Big Words For Tiny Penises

Smaller words are nearly always better than big ones. Big words put distance between you and the reader. Each added syllable is a speed-bump. Don’t use word choice to sound smart. Don’t talk circles around the reader. Your job is communication. Is your story a bridge between you and the reader — or is it a wall?

20. The Jingly Jangle Of Jargon

Jargon is when you rely on technical or area-specific terminology to get across your point. Jargon uses a limited vocabulary to speak to a small circle of people, and this is true whether you’re talking about some aspect specific to knight’s armor, a scientific theory, or the manufacture of space-age dildo technology. The test is easy. Ask yourself, will most people know what the fuck I’m talking about? If yes, carry on. If no, either use plain-spoken language or take the time to explain that shit you just slung into my eyes.

21. The Plumber Versus The Aristocrat

Certainly you have some leeway in terms of choosing the correct words for your expected audience. If you’re writing a novel about baseball, nobody would fault you for using a metric crap-sack of baseball terminology. You’ll certainly write different prose if you expect your audience to comprise plumbers instead of an aristocrats. Still, you’ll find value in reading to be read widely, not just by a subset of potential readers.

22. Junk In The Trunk

I’ll admit it: I love junk words. They are the greasy hamburger of prose, delicious to me and plump with empty calories. Effectively! In theory! Very! Happen to! Point is! You know? They offer minimal — if any! — functionality. Hunt them down with merciless abandon. Stomp them with cleated shoe until they squeal.

23. From The Department Of Redundancy Department

The repetition of one or several words can have a potent effect — but what happens a lot of time is, you repeat words accidentally. “The day was hot and heat vapors rose off the ground. The heat sapped Quinn’s energy.” Hot, heat, heat. A reader will trip on such repetition. And then he’ll fall down some steps and break his coccyx. Man, “coccyx” sounds like some kind of dinosaur bird, doesn’t it? THE MIGHTY COCCYX SWOOPS TO FEAST ON THE BABY TURTLEBUGS. I dunno. Shut up. Don’t judge me.

24. The Sound Of Words Matter

Words play off other words. Together they form rhythm. Choose words that pair well together, like red wine and steak. Or Pabst Blue Ribbon and hipster shame. Or heroin and delicious urinal cakes. Shakespeare knew that rhythm mattered and so chose words that slotted into iambic pentameter. The way you hear the rhythm of the words is to read your work aloud. Do that and you’ll find the flow — or, more importantly, find what’s damming the flow so you can fix it with proper word choice and sentence construction.

25. You Will Be Judged On The Words You Choose

Consider word choice to be a test posited by the audience. Make errors (lose/loose), they will see you for the rube you are. Write by relying on big words, heavy jargon and purple prose and they will see you as sticking your literary nose in the air. The result is the same: they will close the book and then beat you to death with it. They are also likely to violate your pallid carcass with various kitchen implements.

Write to be read. Choose words that have flavor but do not overwhelm, that reach out instead of pushing back, that sound right to the ear and carry with them a kind of rhythm. Write with confidence, not with arrogance. Don’t be afraid to play with words. But be sure to let the reader play with you.

Are Emotions Prophetic?

10 Mar

From Wired:  http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2012/03/are-emotions-prophetic/

 

 

Are Emotions Prophetic?

 

For thousands of years, human beings have looked down on their emotions. We’ve seen them as primitive passions, the unfortunate legacy of our animal past. When we do stupid things – say, eating too much cake, or sleeping with the wrong person, or taking out a subprime mortgage – we usually blame our short-sighted feelings. People commit crimes of passion. There are no crimes of rationality.

This bias against feeling has led people to assume that reason is always best. When faced with a difficult dilemma, most of us believe that it’s best to carefully assess our options and spend a few moments consciously deliberating the information. Then, we should choose the alternative that best fits our preferences. This is how we maximize utility; rationality is our Promethean gift.

But what if this is all backwards? What if our emotions know more than we know? What if our feelings are smarter than us?

While there is an extensive literature on the potential wisdom of human emotion – David Hume was a prescient guy – it’s only in the last few years that researchers have demonstrated that the emotional system (aka Type 1 thinking) might excel at complex decisions, or those involving lots of variables. If true, this would suggest that the unconscious is better suited for difficult cognitive tasks than the conscious brain, that the very thought process we’ve long disregarded as irrational and impulsive might actually be more intelligent, at least in some conditions.

The latest demonstration of this effect comes from the lab of Michael Pham at Columbia Business School. The study involved asking undergraduates to make predictions about eight different outcomes, from the Democratic presidential primary of 2008 to the finalists of American Idol. They forecast the Dow Jones and picked the winner of the BCS championship game. They even made predictions about the weather.

Here’s the strange part: although these predictions concerned a vast range of events, the results were consistent across every trial: people who were more likely to trust their feelings were also more likely to accurately predict the outcome. Pham’s catchy name for this phenomenon is the emotional oracle effect.

Consider the results from the American Idol quiz: while high-trust-in-feelings subjects correctly predicted the winner 41 percent of the time, those who distrusted their emotions were only right 24 percent of the time. The same lesson applied to the stock market, that classic example of a random walk: those emotional souls made predictions that were 25 percent more accurate than those who aspired to Spock-like cognition.

What explains these paradoxical results? The answer involves processing power. In recent years, it’s become clear that the unconscious brain is able to process vast amounts of information in parallel, thus allowing it to analyze large data sets without getting overwhelmed. (Human reason, in contrast, has a very strict bottleneck and can only process about four bits of data at any given moment.) But this raises the obvious question: how do we gain access to all this analysis, which by definition is taking place outside of conscious awareness?

Here’s where emotions come in handy. Every feeling is like a summary of data, a quick encapsulation of all the information processing that we don’t have access to. (As Pham puts it, emotions are like a “privileged window” into the subterranean mind.) When it comes to making predictions about complex events, this extra information is often essential. It represents the difference between an informed guess and random chance.

How might this work in everyday life? Let’s say, for example, that you’re given lots of information about how twenty different stocks have performed over a period of time. (The various share prices are displayed on a ticker tape at the bottom of a television screen, just as they appear on CNBC.) You’ll soon discover that you have difficulty remembering all the financial data. If somebody asks you which stocks performed the best, you’ll probably be unable to give a good answer. You can’t process all the information. However, if you’re asked which stocks trigger the best feelings – your emotions are now being quizzed – you will suddenly be able to identify the best stocks. According to Tilmann Betsch, the psychologist who performed this clever little experiment, your feelings will “reveal a remarkable degree of sensitivity” to the actual performance of all of the different securities. The investments that rose in value will be associated with the most positive emotions, while the shares that went down in value will trigger a vague sense of unease.

But this doesn’t meant we can simply rely on every fleeting whim. The subjects had to absorb all that ticker-tape data, just as Pham’s volunteers seemed to only benefit from the emotional oracle effect when they had some knowledge of the subject. If they weren’t following college football, then their feelings weren’t helpful predictors of the BCS championship game.

The larger lesson, then, is that our emotions are neither stupid nor omniscient. They are imperfect oracles. Nevertheless, a strong emotion is a reminder that, even when we think we know nothing, our brain knows something. That’s what the feeling is trying to tell us.

Why It Hurts to Leave the West for the East

6 Mar

http://www.adventure-journal.com/2012/03/why-it-hurts-to-leave-the-west-for-the-east/

 

by charles finn high country news on March 2, 2012

Charles Finn is the editor of High Desert Journal. In affiliation with High Country News.

 
Mt. Grinnell, Montana…not something you want to put in your rearview.

 

A few months ago, after 20 years, I moved from the West to the East, reluctantly,carting a truckload of artifacts and memories, literal stones and actual stories, each one a product of the forests, mountains or deserts of Bend, Oregon; Missoula, Montana; Argenta, British Columbia, and beyond.

 

My little 4-cylinder truck labored under the load, beetling along the Hi-Line out of Montana, looking like a cross between the Beverly Hillbillies and the Road Warrior. It was a tough go for that truck, 20 years old itself, but it was nothing compared to the weight that hung in my heart.

Having grown up in the East, I’d fallen in love with the West, unknowingly, as it turned out: fallen in love with every last stereotype and square inch of wide-open space and sky. I had honest-to-goodness horse crap on my honest-to-goodness cowboy boots (I myself am a fraud) and I didn’t ever want it rubbed or washed off. The West gets into you this way, takes hold of you like that — so deep and dirty and honest and clean that you can’t picture yourself anywhere else. I know I can’t. Still can’t. And I’m already here: and gone.

Traveling into North Dakota, on into Wisconsin and eventually to the uphills of Michigan, into trees that looked like some high school kid had swallowed a handful of mushrooms and gone after the forests with a fistful of highlighters, I had time to think about all I was leaving behind and why it affected me so. I’d come to love the place, surely, but I wanted to know why.

What was it about the West that had me so torn-up about leaving? I’d said goodbye to friends — and that was a loss I was mourning — but that’s not what I was thinking about as the Rockies fell away in my rearview mirror, as the sun set where it’s supposed to and I wasn’t there underneath it looking up. It was the loss of a landscape I was feeling, an end, pointed even as I was in the direction of perpetual beginnings.

It wasn’t until I hit Fenton, Michigan, that I knew. I pulled into the Holiday Inn Express parking lot, a desert of tar with not a stitch of worthwhile horizon to be seen. This after camping for the previous week — no tent, just a sleeping bag under a pot-lid of sky shot through with so many stars it was more white than black. With a coat-collar swear I huffed my road weariness across the blacktop and knew for a fact that there wasn’t a patch of grass within 1,000 miles that knew my tread. I had no relationship to anything I could see — and that’s when I knew.

We are creatures of intimacy. That’s what every relationship is about, even the sexual ones, even the bad ones. We all want to be loved and we all want to love. Intimacy is knowing someone, knowing them well, and knowing a place, a landscape, is no different. It’s analogous to home. We are sheltered by knowledge; knowledge provides safety. And I had come to know a place — imperfectly, poorly in many regards — but with real appreciation and dare I say devotion. Place, in many ways, defines us.

I couldn’t call myself a Westerner, not with a capital W, not with a straight face, and not to the ranchers I knew. But I knew, too, that you didn’t have to be a fifth-generation cowpoke or full-blood Native American to love the land and know it and call it your own.

I knew Argenta, British Columbia, because I knew every deer trail that linked every deer trail that linked every home in that off-the-grid hippie refuge of a glorious place.

I knew Potomac, Montana, because I knew at every hour of the day the exact shade and slant of light against the two big ponderosa pines that stood outside my cabin, knew the trees at 6 p.m., 6 a.m., and midnight.

And I knew Bend, Oregon, because sober or drunk I could fall off my bike and recognize the volcanic dust ground into my arm. That’s what landscape is. That’s what knowing a place is. It’s not just loving it. It’s not just liking it. It’s being able to predict when the osprey that nests over the river will be back. And getting it right.

 

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