GEEK

You are awesome

Sharing this post from blogger Steve Morris, an English chap. We don’t always see eye-to-eye politically, but I enjoy his blend of philosophy and science. Consider the implications of this post: every single person on this planet right now is the most successful offspring of the most successful lineages of the human species. Wow. If that includes the Republicans in America, imagine the ones who didn’t make the cut! I suppose you might also find it quite uplifting, as I did.

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supermanCongratulations on making it here. You’re a survivor. Not only did you survive childbirth, childhood and however many years you’ve lived since (an achievement that sadly most humans in history didn’t manage), but so did your parents, your grand-parents, and all your ancestors back to some single-celled organism swimming through ancient seas.

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Observe

As dusk fell yesterday, I set out for Griffith Observatory. Which is at the top of Griffith Park. Which was given to the city of Los Angeles by – who else? – Col. Griffith J. Griffith. And the appropriate response is Thank you! because this park and everything in it is spectacular.

The 4,300 acre park sits at the eastern end of the Santa Monica Mountains – better known as the Hollywood Hills – which run forty miles west and into the ocean past Malibu. This is a vast wilderness – more than 250 square miles – bisecting the city: LA to the south, “the Valley” to the north. Mulholland Drive twists and turns along the crest of the hills, all the way to ocean. Much of it is protected terrain, wild and rugged, especially west of Topanga with deep canyons accessible only on foot. The eastern portion is a bit more manicured, home to the “We don’t hike, dear” denizens of Brentwood, Bel Air, Beverly Hills. It’s not the Upper West Side, though. There are mountain lions and rattlesnakes, bears and coyotes. And as the environment becomes more stressed by the drought, trash cans and swimming pools increasingly look like convenience stores for the four-on-the-floor set.

The Observatory is only about five miles from home, so it took me more than an hour to get there. Sunset Blvd through Hollywood on a Saturday evening is not a speedway. And the turnoff on Vermont that leads up the slopes of the park also takes you past the fabled Greek Theater. There was a concert last night, which meant rather legendary traffic. Even when the Greek is dark, the one-lane road snaking up to the Observatory can be a slow crawl (as my friend Brian & I found on last weekend’s aborted attempt to get up there). Last night, though, I lucked out with a parking space just a 10-minute walk from the top.

Photo by hdwallpaperpc.com

Photo by hdwallpaperpc.com

While it’s a great place to go any time of day, any time of year, the Observatory is at full power as a tourist magnet on summer weekend nights. It is an awesome destination for kids and adults alike. The Observatory itself, all its exhibits and tours, are open until 10pm. It’s free! And as the sun sets, the city begins to glow, spreading out to the horizon.

Photo: usapics.net

Photo: usapics.net

Griffith Observatory is an Art Deco masterpiece. Built in 1935 (because we used to build things like this during economic downturns) and completely renovated in 2006. While it was designed and still functions as an astronomical observatory, most folks come up here for the views of Los Angeles and the surrounding mountains. The building sits on the edge of a promontory and obliges the looky-loos with multiple levels of wide terraces, and curving stairways leading up and up all the way to the flat roofs and the dome parapets.

There were hundreds of people at the Observatory last night, tourists and locals, including plenty of children. Not my usual scene. But what you notice is that there is a sort of hush, a reverence, the same as in a cathedral or museum. People talk in whispers – when they talk at all. No one has to say, “Look at that view!” because everyone is looking at that view. In every direction. From every location. It is spellbinding. And I spend as much time looking back at this magnificent edifice as I do at the surrounding world. (The next few pix are mine.)

GriffithDome.Dusk

And even a crappy quality photograph can take on a painterly aspect with the help of a filter or two. This is the sunset sky behind Griffith Park’s Mt Lee and its famous Hollywood sign.

Mt Lee Sunset

And here’s a shot I took on a wintry day a few years ago, from a trail below the Observatory. You can see this gleaming white structure from all over Los Angeles, and the closer you get to it, the better it gets.

Griffith.header1

To learn more about this remarkable place, visit their website http://griffithobs.org

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Trees

When I was very young the view from my bedroom window looked up to the massive tree in the front of our house. It was either a maple or a sycamore. The only reason I know that is that I remember the seeds – the kind that would helicopter down to the ground. You could try to catch them, but their flightpath was unpredictable. About the only thing they were good for (other than making new trees) was that you could split the fat end and stick it on your nose, like a rhino horn. I’m not sure why that was so amusing, but it was. At night the tree was illuminated by a nearby streetlight. The light and the movement of the branches and leaves made an endless kaleidoscope of images. It was quite a show. Especially during a storm. I can remember being frightened sometimes by scary faces that would appear in the leafy imagery… but they never lasted long. Mostly, it was a great way to fall asleep every night.

One day, some men came with chainsaws and they chopped down the tree… my tree. I don’t know why. Maybe it had grown too big. Maybe its roots were destroying the sidewalk. What I do know is that this was the first great sadness I can recall in my life. I mourned the loss of that tree. And I did it quietly, because I instinctively knew that this was not something that a little boy ought to moretreesbe doing. Mourning a tree? That sentiment would not have been greeted with understanding or sympathy. But it was the beginning of my lifelong affinity for trees. Do others share this? I don’t know. It’s not something that comes up in conversation very often. I do know that many people don’t give a fig about trees. Are they in the way? Cut ’em down! Blocking a view? Cut ’em down! I’d rather cut those people down.

Today I came across two remarkable videos having to do with trees. The first was shared by my friend Scott on Facebook. It is from a group called Cryptik Movement which is dedicated to enlightenment through public art. Their “About” page opens with this quote:

“The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and all science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead: his eyes are closed.” -Albert Einstein

Remember that folks! The Smartest. Guy. Ever. says we need to keep a sense of wonder and awe. OK, so here’s the first tree video I want to share with you:

The Consciousness of Trees

 

If that reminded you of the movie Avatar, you’re not alone. (Or, maybe I’m not alone.) What I love about this is that it is grounded in science, yet crosses into the mystical or spiritual aspect of Nature.

The second tree video – from my friend M-R’s eponymous blog Margaret-Rose Stringer – is quite different. Yet so similar. The focus is on one remarkable man whose life has had one remarkable focus: planting a forest in a barren, environmentally threatened place. If you don’t have 16 minutes to watch this now, click on it and then watch it later. If you want to see a demonstration of hope in a hopeless place, watch it now.

Forest Man

Can one person change the world? Yes. So can one tree. Thanks to my friends for sharing these today. I haven’t thought about my childhood tree in a long time. I hope this post branches out to create some of the wonder and awe that Einstein spoke of. If you enjoyed it, leaf a comment. Just don’t bark at me for these terrible puns.

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What Comes After ‘Billions And Billions’?

When the Universe takes a selfie, it uses the Hubble Space Telescope. This tiny sliver of sky reveals many thousands of galaxies, untold billions of stars.

Beauty is truth, truth beauty – that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.

o-HUBBLE-UV-900

Click on any galaxy to go to NASA’s Hubble page

 

Meanwhile, coming to a red state near you…

ark theme park

Sadly, this is an actual link to a real thing…

 

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How Many Things Are There?

Ready to get your geek on? Good.

 

 

And check out more of Michael Stevens’ Vsauce videos.

(Where was this guy when the votes were being counted in 2000?)

 

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Creationist Cosmos

In the autumn of 1980, a groundbreaking science series aired on PBS in the United States, and later on the BBC. Carl Sagan’s Cosmos: A Personal Voyage changed the way the we thought about science and the universe we live in. Fast forward to the winter of 2014. Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson does Sagan proud with Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey.

It is a magnificent survey of our understanding of the universe and our continuing explorations via the scientific method. So… of course it has attracted the loud condemnation of a band of idiots who style themselves “creationists”. Because that sort of rhymes with “scientists”?? In any case, these nutters want equal time (which even Fox is not inclined to grant them) and bible stories in science textbooks (which textbook companies are not inclined to grant them). But they whine and they whine and they whine. Nutters. Annoying shit-for-brains nutters. But now the very highly evolved folks at Funny Or Die have given us a great gift – by giving the nutters what they want: Creationist Cosmos.

Click here >>> http://youtu.be/bNZEfafbjSE

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Haven’t seen Neil deGrasse Tyson’s COSMOS? You’re in for a treat! A treat that has been 13.8 billion years in the making. Starting with the Big Bang and continuing in an unbroken chain of cosmic evolution to the moment when a clump of star stuff that answers to your name clicks on this image…

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cosmos-a-spacetime-odessey-watch-online-540x320

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P.S. If you are of the opinion that your biblical stories or any other mythology should be taught alongside, or instead of, science in publicly funded schools (or anywhere really), then you should click here.

 

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Universal Everything

If you’re going to call your design firm Universal Everything, well, you’d better be able to dance along the cutting edge, grab people by the eyeballs and leave their jaws on the floor.

Check. Check. And check. Dip your toe in here (and turn on your sound):

Walking City: Architecture + Evolution + Movement

And then – if you have a LOT of free time or at least some wiggle room in your deadlines – click through to the mother ship: UniversalEverything.com. They take visual design, music, and video technology down to the molecular structure and recombine the DNA into something you’ve not seen before, new and different, high tech + organic, challenging yet familiar.

OK, one more tease to reel you in:

Now, will someone in Los Angeles, some developer or city father/mother or miscellaneous billionaire, anyone, please commission something mind-blowing from the good people at Universal Everything? You’ll find them in London, of course.

Credit where credit is due:

When sharing something like this, I prefer to link directly to the author/artist/creator; in this case, Universal Everything. And then I think it’s a nice thing to do to acknowledge the folks who found it and shared it on their blogs and put it in my path. So thanks to Margaret Rose Stringer and This Is Colossal – both well worth a follow!


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[080] Zooom!

RollsRoyce

Rolls Royce, baby

I discovered the Petersen Automotive Museum a couple of years ago when I went to a corporate party that was held there. (Note to corporate party planners: you can’t lose with this location for your next ultra-boring-company-gathering.) And I’ve been keeping it in my hip pocket for the day when friends came to town who would really spin their wheels over this.

That day was today. Jim + Mario are in town, refugees from the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad winter (you may have heard?) in New York. Now, Jim is a car aficionado, Mario not so much. And I’m in the same boat with Mario. We all loved the exhibits at the Petersen – which is a temple built to honor the evolution of the automobile, from the before the Model T to the land yachts of the 40s and 50s, to the DeLorean to the latest concept cars. Plus, fantasy cars such as the Batmobile, Speed Racer’s Mach 5 and novelties like the original Harley CHP bike.

mario.jim

Mario + Jim, touristos magnificos

The cartoon above was on a wall behind the first solar-powered vehicle. There is an early French steam-powered car. A gasoline-powered bicycle that looks like an instrument of torture. During the week it is not crowded, but the people who wander the three floors of exhibits become part of the show. Men and women, youngsters and oldsters – there’s something for everyone here. And lots of overheard comments like “Remember that!” and “Will you looka this!”

There are galleries devoted to Hot Wheels cars… to the evolution of the license plate… as you enter the museum there are a series of dioramas that are a little cheesy, but they set the stage for the pre-industrial development of the technologies needed for modern automobiles. Henry Ford didn’t just start churning out production-line cars. A century of invention preceded that.

I didn’t take many photos in the museum, because I sort of forgot to… wandering among dozens of vehicles and signage and vintage advertising is so much fun it keeps you in the moment. And that is the measure of a successful museum. So if you live in Southern California and you haven’t been to the Petersen, it is well worth the trip. Easy to find at the corner of Fairfax and Wilshire (across the street from LACMA), with its own parking garage. You can zip through the permanent collection and the exhibits in as little as an hour, or you could spend the whole day. And if you want to grab lunch before or after the museum, the Miracle Mile food trucks line Wilshire starting a block to the east of the Petersen. And there’s a certain symmetry to that. We perused the collection of cuisines on offer and settled on the Vietnamese sandwiches-on-baguette banh mi from a truck called Banh in the USA. Delish. And this being LA, we had lunch in the middle of shooting an episode of the reality tv show Food Truck Face Off… but our banh mi was much more interesting.

bahn in the usa

Banh in the USA food truck on Wilshire

Here are some of the pix I snapped. The Mach 5 race car…

SpeedRacer

… from one of my favorite childhood cartoons, Speed Racer.
Go! Speed! Go!

speedracer.cartoon

A gent and a lady from one of the dioramas as you enter the exhibits,
depicting life in the early days of the horseless carriage…

him her

One of the custom delivery trucks that used to fan out across Los Angeles
each morning with goodies from the Helms Bakeries…
(Looking inside this tin can truck makes you appreciate
every safety innovation of the last 100 years!)

helms.truck

An etiquette lesson for chauffeurs: No waving! No shouting! A silent nod will do…

chauffeur.rules

Was there a kid (boy or girl) in the 60s and 70s who didn’t play with Hot Wheels cars?
This is one of the walls of the scale model cars in the exhibit,
which also has vintage tv commercials playing on monitors.
Takes you back…

hotwheels.wall

Speaking of hot wheels, Mario found the perfect pickup truck
for running errands around his Westchester County estate…

mario.pickup

…and I fell in love with this 2014 Jaguar Roadster. It’s so fast it’s a blur even while parked.

jag.roadster

The Petersen museum and Wilshire Blvd food trucks were a great way to play with friends on

Day 080 #100happydays

[072] Yes, You Are Being Mocked

Apparently, many adult Americans believe the biblical story of Noah (i.e., ark, flood, etc) is literal truth. Not a parable. Not symbolism. Not a colorfully divine exaggeration. No. We’re talking literal, historic, factual truth. Are you among these infantile believers? (Please take the handy poll, below.) If you’re a fan of Noah, you may not want to watch the following video in which Bill Maher rather mercilessly mocks you and your beliefs. And he’s not alone. I am also mocking you.

Why? Because in the 21st century, any sane adult who believes such fairy tale nonsense deserves to be mocked. If you believe the Noah myth is true, then you must also believe (assuming you are not a hypocrite) that the rest of the bible is fact, not fiction… and you believe the Earth is 6,000 years old… and women should be subservient to men… and children should be taught your creation myths – in dad whats sciencescience classrooms… and another person’s pregnancy is your business… and another person’s marriage is your business… and so on.

This world has 99(000) problems – but science ain’t one of ’em. If you have a thick skin, watch this anyway. Maybe you’ll have a breakthrough and realize the utter lunacy of this claptrap. No one’s counting on that sort of awakening, but I would consider it a major accomplishment of this blog if it could bring even one person home to Jesus reason. And don’t get your knickers in a twist – I’m not attacking your religious freedom. Gods forbid. The same First Amendment in the Bill of Rights that guarantees your right to believe even the most silly nonsense also guarantees my right to call your beliefs silly nonsense. Now there’s a hot corner of hell, eh?

Bill Maher – a national treasure – makes me happy.

Day 072 #100happydays

Cloud Marketing

You hear an oddly familiar engine droning. You look up. See something that looks like fuzzy Morse code in the sky. Then that thing happens where 73 billion neurons start firing inside your brain… detecting patterns… breaking codes… and 6 nanoseconds later – you realize that you are looking at English words being spelled out one-letter-at-a-time across the sky blue sky by an invisible squadron of tiny planes. SKYWRITERS!

It’s been a long time since I’ve seen a message sent using this method. I thought the advertising banners trailed by single-engine planes up and down the coast were the most primitive form of messaging left in our world. But no, skywriting wins. Is this yet another peculiar form of Americana – or do folks in other places look skyward and watch skywriters at work. Or, if we’re too late, we watch the message deform and scatter on the high-altitude winds.

In any event, I think it’s pretty clear who started this trend:

surrenderdorothy

It wasn’t a menacing meme in the skies above LA today… but it was mysterious enough to send thousands of us to Instagram and Twitter. For this is what we saw:

skywriter

Holy Hashtags, Batman! But whatttttttt doesssssss itttttttt meannnnnnnn??????! To the Twitter – but that offered more questions than answers. The only thing left to do was to obey the clever sky creatures.

startcreatinpacman

[035] Radio Flyer

Two things about this. It is either fabulously bizarre, or bizarrely fabulous. And, finally, something worthwhile came out of Wasilla.

American civilization may be in decline… but what a way to go.

Childhood’s little red wagon, redux.
Day 035 #100happydays

[025] Apple Store Selfies

My first job (or, the first job that didn’t require me to push a lawn mower or dab zinc oxide on my nose) was in an ad agency perched high above the Plaza on Fifth Avenue. The General Motors Building gmbldg.cornerwas (is) one of the most prestigious business addresses in New York City, anchoring the southeast corner of Central Park – directly opposite the fabled Plaza Hotel, and flanked by the Sherry-Netherland Hotel and Bergdorf Goodman. It is a soaring, 50-story skyscraper in vertical stripes of blazing white marble and smoked black glass. Most people will recognize it from countless media images of that corner of the park. The building’s shape and stripes always reminded me of a pack of cigarettes upholstered in seersucker.

One strange thing about this magnificent office tower on the Plaza with all the swanky neighbors: the lobby was a car dealership. Of course, it was the General Motors Building… but it was just bizarre to be walking through this cavernous white marble lobby, surrounded by all these Chevrolets and Buicks and Cadillacs. And it was a working dealership! Eventually, FAO Schwarz took over most of the vast lobby as the flagship of its toy empire, vacating a space across 58th Street that was taken over by Bergdorf Goodman for its Men’s Store.

Atila

Atila

Another weird bit was the sunken retail space in the wide plaza between the building’s facade and Fifth Avenue. I think it was meant to echo the sunken space at Rockefeller Center (where tourists skate on a rink in the winter). There was an old barber shop down there where I’d go for my regular haircut and shoeshine. I still love old-fashioned barber shops. The person I now entrust my hair to here in LA is not an old-fashioned barber. His name is Atila. Nicest guy. He was the official hairdresser of the punk movement in Hollywood in the 80s. He has hair the color of a robin’s egg, and he must die of boredom granting my unadventurous hair wishes. But that’s another post.

The subterranean retail space of the GM Building on Fifth Avenue where I used to get my haircut was repurposed in 2006 to become the flagship Apple Store in New York. It is accessed by glass stairs or glass elevator through a now-iconic 32-foot glass cube at street level (à la I.M. Pei’s Louvre Pyramide, but worse).

Which brings me, at last, to the topic at hand. A couple of years ago, I invented a brand new cultural activity called Apple Store Selfies. You can do it alone or in a group. As with most things, it is more fun with a friend or two. It is simple. Whenever you find yourself at an Apple Store, anywhere in the world, go to any of the iMacs or MacBooks. Open the PhotoBooth app and take a selfie, saving it to the desktop. Then, open the Mail app and send yourself an email with the photo attached. (Don’t send it to someone else directly; the email will come from a weird numeric email address ARS023.050 or something like that, and will inevitably end up in a spam filter.) I should probably start an Instagram / Twitter hashtag for #applestoreselfies. Feel free to take the initiative.

Here are some of the selfies my friends and I have taken in Apple Stores. Now it’s your turn.

Apple Store at The Quarter in Scottsdale

Apple Store at The Quarter in Scottsdale

Apple Store at The Grove, Los Angeles

Apple Store at The Grove, Los Angeles

Apple Store at The Grove, Los Angeles

Apple Store at The Grove, Los Angeles

Apple Store, South Beach

Apple Store, South Beach

Apple.LA.Thom.Mandy.070613

Apple.LA.L+M

Apple Store Selfies make me happy.
Day 025 #100happydays