Category Archives: Humor

Amusing Monday: Movement of music captures climate discord

Using music to describe measurable changes in climate — and expressing the anxiety caused by the ongoing changes — is one approach to the climate problem that has been engaging scientists and musicians alike.

I’ve been following several methods of converting data to sound, which approximates music in some ways (Water Ways, Jan 16, 2017). But the Climate Music Project in San Francisco starts with a nearly complete musical composition and allows the data to alter the sound in remarkable ways.

Composer Erik Ian Walker had been writing and recording music for 30 years when he joined the Climate Music Project in 2015, collaborating with scientists and technicians to explore musical approaches to climate change.

“I welcomed the invitation to write and perform ‘Climate’ for CMP because I feel very strongly about the necessity to communicate the urgency of stopping the negative effects of human-caused climate change,” Erik said in an interview on CMP’s website. “Being a composer, this was the best use of my talents to do something. I also like the intersection of science and music very much, so it was a good fit….

“Decisions that had to be made were whether the climate data was going to be the music (sonification), or whether the data was going to alter music composed before the data collided with it,” he continued. “We chose the latter, as that was the more interesting scenario for a dramatic rendering…

“The hardest part was composing a ‘theme’ and framework that would not devolve too fast as the data we were using began to change the music,” he said. “There is a subjective response of the ear, outside of prescribed numbers, that gauges where ‘double’ of something is, for example. So, we had to find an ‘end point’ of the piece, where the greatest degree of climate change would be, hear what that would sound like, and work backward from there.”

The result is shown in the first video on this page, which shows the piece accompanied with dynamic charts and graphs. In fact, if you happen to be in San Francisco on Sept. 19, you can see and hear a CMP performance of “Climate” at the Exploratorium in the Embarcadero waterfront district.

The piece is about 30 minutes long and offers two scenarios: one in which humans continue on the current path of pumping massive amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere and another in which major changes are made to keep the rise to less than 3.6 degrees F. — the goal of the Paris Climate Accord.

Reporter John Metcalfe describes in CityLab how the melodic movement begins to shift as the calendar reaches the start of the industrial revolution.

“Weird distortions like twinges in a stretched-out cassette tape arrive in the late 1900s as Earth’s energy balance is jolted out of whack,” he writes. “Looking into the future, the music then turns darker and frenetic in the decades post-2017 — the beat and pitch racing, the melody discordant and churning, and the planet’s temperature soaring into an irreversible heat hell.”

Besides the first video, enjoy the following samples of music from two different time periods offered by CMP on Vimeo:

Stephan Crawford, who started the Climate Music Project, explains how he came up with the concept of creating music that can help people experience climate change in an emotional way in an article by Alessandra Potenza in The Verge magazine. The second video on this page provides an idea of how the collaboration works for those involved with the project.

The difference between Erik Ian Walker’s “Climate” and sonifications of data — which certainly have their place — is that you can become immersed in the music, enjoying even the dark parts for their emotional impact. To sample and purchase Erik’s “normal” music go to Bottom Feeder Records’ webpage.

The third video is a promo of the Climate Music Project from two years ago.

Amusing Monday: ‘Shaaark!’ cartoon raises public awareness

Jacques, the main character in the cartoon “Shaaark!,” made an appearance this summer in a new video that tells the story of his creator, Australian Phil Watson. I’ve posted this video first on this page, followed by another recent video by Watson, who developed a comic strip followed by a series of cartoons featuring the foibles and fables of sharks.

“I do want to use my cartoons to entertain people and help them to see that sharks aren’t as scary as they may have thought,” Watson was quoted as saying in an interview with Oliver Feist of Stop-Finning.com.

In one cartoon, a young shark is frightened by a bolt of lightning striking the sea. He looks to his father for comfort. “Don’t worry,” says the parent. “You’ve got more chance of being taken by a human.”

In another cartoon, a shark sits and watches television from an overstuffed chair, with popcorn on one arm and a drink on the other. An announcer on the TV ponders: “But are they as terrifying as they seem? Find out on … ‘Human Week.’”

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Amusing Monday: Faucets seem to hang in mid-air as water runs

They call them magical floating faucets in the United States, but I’ve also seen them called floating taps, spigots or spouts. The illusion is one of a faucet floating in the air and producing a stream of water with no apparent source.

“Tap Fountain” in Cala Galdana, Spain
Photo: Cala Menorca tourism promotion

They have been created as decorative, amusing fountains in all sizes — from tabletop models, which you can purchase or make yourself, to giant sculptures that can be viewed from a distance or as close as you wish to get.

Large faucet fountains seem to be popular in Spain, where the “iconic red tap” marks the starting point of a large water slide outside the Tobogan restaurant in Cala Galdana, a resort town on the island of Menorca in the Mediterranean Sea. A Resort Guide to Cala Galdana, which includes a photo of the red tap, creates an exciting invitation to this locale. I wasn’t able to find the name of the artist who created the sculpture.

A silver faucet fountain in El Puerto de Santa Maria, located in southwest Spain, is said to be the work of the late French sculptor Philippe Thill. It might, however, be a floating faucet inspired by Thill, whose website (archived) shows a similar piece titled “Insolate Fountain” along with other water-related sculptures.

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Amusing Monday: Deaf pit bull gains confidence while learning to surf

Every year about this time, dogs mount their surf boards to ride the waves in various surfing competitions, and each year new stories seem to emerge about human-canine bonds that grow out of this unusual sport.

Mr. Breakfast is a deaf pit bull who was rescued from the dog-fighting world and became the close companion of Liz Nowell of San Diego. Mr. B, as she calls him, was originally named Briggs. When Liz first fell in love with him, he was withdrawn and had some behavioral problems, as she explains in the first video. But thanks to her patience and understanding, this dog’s world has grown richer and dramatically better.

“Once his name changed to Mr. B, people began to see past his tough-looking exterior to the warm gooey lov-a-bull goof inside,” according to an article in Pit Bull Press. “In the past years, Mr. Breakfast has learned four new signs, learned how to surf and has developed a truly happy nature as our bond has developed.”

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Amusing Monday: ‘Plein air’ art captures beauty of Columbia Gorge

More than 40 artists traveled to the Columbia River Gorge in late July to participate in what was essentially a four-day paint-off — a competition to see who could best capture the heart and soul connected to this rare and magnificent landscape.

“Bingen Skyline” by Lilli-anne Price, winner of the Friends of the Columbia Gorge Award in the Pacific Northwest Plein Air competition. (Click to enlarge.)
Photo courtesy of Friends of the Columbia Gorge

While I often feature artwork that receives recognition in children’s art contests, I was impressed by the professional paintings in the 14th annual Pacific Northwest Plein Air competition that was completed a little over a week ago, and I wanted to share them with you. The competition, sponsored by Maryhill Museum of Art, features artists from throughout the Northwest and a few from more distant locales.

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Amusing Monday: Some places on Earth are too dangerous for swimming

For people who love to swim, the allure of water can be overwhelming. Most people enjoy a sandy beach where waves lap gently on the shore. A few demand the thrill of a 50-foot breaker as they ride their surf board on the edge of tragedy.

For swimming, there is a place in Hawaii that has become known for both extremes, depending on weather and sea conditions. It’s called Queen’s Bath, and it is on the northern edge of Kaua˙i. The first video begins with the pleasant waters of this tide pool, once reserved for royalty.

At 1:49 in the video, we begin to see the dangerous side that occurs when big waves crash over the entire area. As the music on the video turns sinister, notice that people are no longer in the picture. The video was produced by HawaiiGaga.Com, which specializes in Hawaiian vacation rentals and provides useful information for visitors.

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Amusing Monday: Sand sculptors worldwide continue to amaze

While I have never been to Revere Beach, I look forward each year to photos of the amazing sand sculptures from a competition that brings people from throughout the world to this location just north of Boston.

The winning entry in the Revere Beach sand sculpting contest was “Nest” by Mélineige Beauregard of Montreal, Canada. // Photo: Revere Beach Partnership

Adding to the enjoyment of the Revere Beach International Sand-Sculpting Festival are longtime sand-sculptors Dan Doubleday and Meredith Corson-Doubleday, who bring the event to life, especially for distant viewers, with their expert commentary on all the pieces. I also appreciated the slide show created by professional photographer Greg Cook on his Wonderland website.

The sand sculptures are evaluated using four categories: (1) degree of difficulty, (2) originality and creativity, (3) quality of sculpting, and (4) overall visual impact.

In the two videos on this page, Dan and Meredith conduct their fourth-day “walkthrough” together, as the sand sculptures take on their final forms. At the time that Dan and Meredith recorded their commentary, they did not know who the winners would be, so I would like to add some help with that:

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Amusing Monday: Dancing in reaction to climate change

When concerns about climate change inspire dancers to burst out with highly emotional dance movements, the audience does not need to be science-minded to feel a little of the weight hanging over our world.

Diana Movius, an environmental anthropologist and climate policy analyst, has been living a second life as a choreographer and director of a dance company in Washington, D.C. She recently revived her 2015 dance production called “Glacier,” which portrays the stages of calamity as ice cracks and melts away.

“The experience will be different for everyone, but my hope is that people come out of watching ‘Glacier’ with a sense of having witnessed something that is being lost, and a sense that [climate change] is something we should try to stop,” Movius told Washington Post reporter Stephanie Williams before the dance’s revival in February.

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Amusing Monday: Watching wildlife around the world

You can learn a lot about the birds and the bees — not to mention the bears and a whole lot of other creatures — by watching a live telecast among hundreds of webcams fixed on wildlife in every corner of the globe.

Each location has its own story and its own history, but many existing webcams are coming under the support and networking of Explore.org, an educational program funded by the Annenberg Foundation, with special attention from Charles Annenberg Weingarten.

One live cam is situated near an osprey nest on Hog Island (first video), an educational nature camp in Maine that has been associated with Audubon since 1936. Today, Hog Island Audubon Camp is operated by Project Puffin, which is part of National Audubon Society’s Science Division.

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Amusing Monday: Mysterious shipworms brought back for study

The vessel, though her masts be firm,
Beneath her copper bears a worm….

Far from New England’s blustering shore,
New England’s worm her hulk shall bore,
And sink her in the Indian seas,
Twine, wine, and hides, and China teas.

Selected lines from “Though All the Fates,” Henry David Thoreau

Tall-masted wooden ships of a bygone era were often plagued by shipworms, which could turn a ship’s hull into something resembling swiss cheese. Many shipwrecks were blamed on structural weakness caused by shipworms, of which there are an amazing variety of species.

Shipworms are not actually worms but long, skinny clams. It turns out that the slimy mollusks are well known among residents of the Philippines, where the elongated clams are hunted in unusual places and eaten with delight. Stories of strange freshwater shipworms in the Philippines have been tracked down by researchers, who are making new discoveries about these ancient creatures.

In a research paper published last month, an international team of scientists reported on a shipworm that eats rocks. Like the shipworms that eat wood, this newly described species uses the shell at the end of its body for burrowing. The difference is that the rock-boring clam seems to grind up and digest rocks while excreting sandy fragments.

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