Researchers achieve ‘Olympic ring’ molecule breakthrough just in time for Winter Games — ScienceDaily

This is just so… cool. I’m still a chemist!

More than 7,000 miles away from the snowcapped peaks of PyeongChang, scientists in Florida have unlocked a novel strategy for synthesizing a highly versatile molecule called olympicene — a compound of carbon and hydrogen atoms named for its familiar Olympic ring shape.

Source: Researchers achieve ‘Olympic ring’ molecule breakthrough just in time for Winter Games — ScienceDaily


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Through our critics’ eyes – The Washington Post

I’ve been reading from the Washington Post an article titled, “Through our critics eyes: music, movies, dance and theatre: comments from Washington Post critics”. I’m fascinated by the question, “How can I pay attention”, as I seek a deeper experience. That is one function of this blog. By writing, I am paying attention.

In order, the critics suggest:

For musicals, Nielseen Presley tells us he pays attention to the music. He suggests asking yourself, “What is the function of the music and are you likely to remember the music later?”

The dance Critic, Sarah Kaufman takes a more analytical and organized approach. She suggests that we would do well to prepare ourselves. Do your homework; make sure you’re awake; then at the performance switch between enjoying the dance and assessing it. They are two different activities. Try, if you can, to “Feel the dancing in your bones.” And listen to your instinct, “What is your gut telling you?”

The classical music critic, Anne Midgette suggests learning the pieces’ history. Find out as much as you can. Then attend the performance looking for the detail that brings that particular performance to life for you. Each performance is different; maybe the artist has an exceptional evening… there will be one thing for you. And, “What is the story and how well was that story expressed?” There is no right answer just, what do you feel?

For museums, the Critic Philip Kenacort suggests, going with the task to “Learn one new thing”. The challenge is to find something new rather than following what we know and love. That is an exciting idea, useful everywhere. “What is the one new thing?”

It surprises me that there is no comment on writing. After all writing is the most important art for news papers like The Washington Post. All of these critics write. Writing is the fundamental skill here. I don’t know why a book reviewer was not included. Maybe writing is not a performance like dance but neither is a museum exhibition. Or maybe the editor made an honest natural omission; forced by the length of the piece.

My personal thoughts here are toward my writing practice. If I could go back to high school I would study English in the final year instead of the Additional Mathematics I did take. I was such a nerd. The thing is, as I write these blogs and study storytelling, I miss what I would have learned back then. That’s why I was so pleased to see this article because the critics comments help me approach their arts thoughtfully.

“Our critics offer tips on how to get the most out of art and entertainment.”

Source: Through our critics’ eyes – The Washington Post

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Ursula K. Le Guin on Art, Storytelling, and the Power of Language to Transform and Redeem – Brain Pickings

I was eight, bare kneed sitting cross-legged on the mat enthralled by the story Miss Lamerson was reading to her class. Tranced by the story of a wizard in a far off land. The school year finished before she could complete the story but I remembered… I found the story many years later when my son was learning to read.

The book was, “The Wizard of Earthsea” written by Ursela Le Guin.

In the intervening years I had read many of her works: ‘The Dispossessed” and “The Left Hand of Darkness” and “Always Coming home” and many short stories and essays; not knowing she had written the wizard story. She spoke clearly to me. One of my favourites:

Initiation Song from the Finders’ Lodge
Please bring strange things.
Please come bringing new things.
Let very old things come into your hands.
Let what you do not know come into your eyes.
Let desert sand harden your feet.
Let the arch of your feet be the mountains.
Let the paths of your fingertips be your maps
and the ways you go be the lines on your palms.
Let there be deep snow in your inbreathing
and your outbreath be the shining of ice.
May your mouth contain the shapes of strange words.
May you smell food cooking you have not eaten.
May the spring of a foreign river be your navel.
May your soul be at home where there are no houses.
Walk carefully, well loved one,
walk mindfully, well loved one,
walk fearlessly, well loved one.
Return with us, return to us,
be always coming home.

– Ursula LeGuin

I particularly respect her essays, which have often made me pause and rethink my views. “Why are Americans afraid of Dragons” is a particularly thought provoking example and there are many more. (…/02/Why-are-Americans-Afraid-of-Dragons.docx)

The thing is she passed away in January and I would like to acknowledge her contribution to my life: both the beauty of her work, and the clarity and integrity of her thoughts. I will make a particular effort to read her work going forward. I encourage you to too.

Below is one Brainpickings response to her work.

“One of the functions of art is to give people the words to know their own experience… Storytelling is a tool for knowing who we are and what we want.”

Source: Ursula K. Le Guin on Art, Storytelling, and the Power of Language to Transform and Redeem – Brain Pickings

Ursula K Le Guin (From The Oregonian)

A Final word from her; a suitable quote:

What was and what may be lie, like children whose faces we cannot see, in the arms of silence. All we have is here, now.

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The universe, as seen by art and science – in pictures

These photographs are just extraordinarily beautiful.

Have a wonderful day.

From The Guardian

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Post-work: the radical idea of a world without jobs | News | The Guardian

This weekend I have been contemplating a Guardian Article, “Post-Work: the radical idea of a world without jobs.” By Andy Beckett.

“We believe work is the most important piece of our lives”. What rubbish! That over arching story dominates and profoundly impacts every aspect of our lives. But work was not always the central piece of our lives and the world changes. This article explores the history, complexity and possible futures of our work lives. Articles like this are becoming more common as more of use realize work does not work any more. The idea of a Universal Basic Income (UBI) is one commonly discussed aspect of this . Yet there is a much bigger story here. What about work it-self?

Work dominates our lives with capitalism and consumption as two evil twins. We work to consume, and our health and environment suffer. And often the work is demeaning and pointless, unstable and, often, self and health destroying. Wage slaves indeed. Just think about your “barista with the far away glazed eyes”. That’s capitalism. Any service worker. But aren’t we “wired for work?” Maybe not. Think back to the ancient Greeks; slaves did the work, so that citizens could debate politics and philosophy. Or earlier, studies of today’s hunter gatherer tribes spend little time gathering food, with more time spent for social interaction and rest. I suspect we can adapt to much less work.

But is this true? Andy Beckett tells this story.

In Britain in 1974, Edward Heath’s Conservative government, faced with a chronic energy shortage caused by an international oil crisis and a miners’ strike, imposed a national three-day working week. For the two months it lasted, people’s non-work lives expanded. Golf courses were busier, and fishing-tackle shops reported large sales increases. Audiences trebled for late-night BBC radio DJs such as John Peel. Some men did more housework: the Colchester Evening Gazette interviewed a young married printer who had taken over the hoovering. Even the Daily Mail loosened up, with one columnist suggesting that parents “experiment more in their sex lives while the children are doing a five-day week at school”.

For a time there was an optimism that work hours would be reduced but Beckett says:

Instead, the work ideology was reimposed. During the 80s, the aggressively pro-business governments of Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan (Rogernomics in New Zealand) strengthened the power of employers, and used welfare cuts and moralistic rhetoric to create a much harsher environment for people without jobs. … these policies were motivated by a desire for social control. After the political turbulence of the 60s and 70s, he says, “Conservatives freaked out at the prospect of everyone becoming hippies and abandoning work. They thought: ‘What will become of the social order?

It sounds like a conspiracy theory, but …: “I do think there is a fear of freedom – a fear among the powerful that people might find something better to do than create profits for capitalism.”

That is where we stand now. Strong sanctions against anyone who dares alternative independence. Unless, of course, you are independently wealthy through inheritance or guile, in which case you live in fear of losing it all.
So how do we move forward? Post workists” is the term used for those exploring this question. We can build a capacity for leisure. But don’t the positive psychologists, and economists, tell us we are happiest working. They have a point. We lack capacity for leisure.

Beckett makes the point that, in leisure rich societies people comfortably fill their time. Like the ancient Greeks and our comfortably wealthy we would be OK…

“People will come up with stuff to do if you give them enough time. I lived in a village in Madagascar once. There was this intricate sociability. People would hang around in cafes, gossiping, having affairs, using magic. It was a very complex drama – the kind that can only develop when you have enough time. They certainly weren’t bored!”

It is said that, “The devil makes work for idle hands”. This is a reflection of current values and lack of opportunities in our societies, especially if you are time rich and dollar poor. One solution to this is like a “Super Library” where, in addition to books and e-resources, we have workshops and studios; and access to tools to support constructive leisure. The criticism is made that many post-workists are from fields like journalism where the work leisure boundary is blurred and the individuals are often highly educated. Certainly I would love to have time to read and develop writing like this. Yet… What about a shop worker, say a store-man? My sister’s husband is one. Given time he crafts wonderful handmade cabinetry, fishes, and is a husband, father and friend. He would easily adapt. I think this is generally true. Everyone has a passion they would explore. And in any case, it is constructive to be idle. Many creative products come out of that.

It is worth reading the full article. To begin thinking about progressive approaches we can take and explore. My favourite example of a post work society is Ecotopia by Earnest Callenbach. A classic example of sustainability and beauty. (

The long read: Work has ruled our lives for centuries, and it does so today more than ever. But a new generation of thinkers insists there is an alternative

Source: Post-work: the radical idea of a world without jobs | News | The Guardian

Work from @Saigon on Flickr

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Mahia: What I did on my holiday.

It has been a month since my last post and I have been resting (And a friend died). So I was pleased to take a holiday away from home. We travelled to Mahia following my family history. I have never been to this region of New Zealand before. (

My Great Great Grand Father was Friedrich Wilhelm Christian Sturm an early European settler in the Hawkes Bay region of New Zealand. ( He was an adventurer, a horticulturalist and a scientist who’s legacy continues with his progeny. Henriette Puke Puke (or Tiarere) his second wife and my Great Great Grand Mother was from the town of Nuhaka where we stayed.

I have always been fascinated by this part of my family history but have never made the opportunity to travel to Mahia to look and explore.

I think one reason I find Friedrich so interesting is that he was not a dairy farmer like my other forebears, and because I sense his relentless curiosity; which I have. We found the name Sturm is well known around the region, with trees he is said to have planted still alive and Sturm’s Gully, a park he planted in Napier healthy and tidy.

Continue reading

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The book that made me a feminist | Books | The Guardian

I have a problem with the language of empowerment. Students write, as do organizations like the World Bank, of the need to empower women (or what ever group they choose). My problem is that the powerful do not give power… it is taken. For example, women received the vote in New Zealand after a long and nasty campaign for it. The vote was not just “given”.

But an early step in the process of groups and individuals taking back their power is a personal one.

So I am delighted to see this article, making this point. Empowerment is an individual challenge as well as a societal one; and ideas and teachers matter.

I also enjoyed the story of the princess who rescued herself and told the prince to bugger off.

In the week that feminism was declared word of the year by a dictionary, writers including Margaret Atwood, Mary Beard, Naomi Klein, Kamila Shamsie, Jeanette Winterson and others champion the books that first empowered them

Source: The book that made me a feminist | Books | The Guardian

Empowering read … Germaine Greer. Photograph: The Sydney Morning Herald/Fairfax Media via Getty Images

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BBC – Capital – The compelling case for working a lot less

In New Zealand we, on average, work long hours; and we have major problems with depression, anxiety and suicide. But our economists worry that we are not productive enough. The conflicting ideas and values are clear. For me, looking toward long term sustainability, deliberate rest is a must.

That is what I am doing now. Since classes ended I have had two long weekends. I will be resting until late January. That is a healthy attitude.

Amanda Ruggeri writes for the BBC on “active rest”. It’s a thoughtful read coming into the holiday season. Please take time to read her article.

Mastering ‘active rest’ is far harder than it looks, but there are good reasons why we should keep working at it

Source: BBC – Capital – The compelling case for working a lot less

Rest: From 3xpo Flicker (Creative Commons)

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Book Review: Captivate by Vanessa Van Edwards

I have an embarrassing habit. I read self improvement books. Vanessa Van Edwards writes self improvement books ; actually she researches human behaviour and is an effective science communicator. She caught my eye when I was looking for short videos on leadership. Somehow I got looking at charisma and if we can learn it. The video below says yes. And a critical step is asking questions. I had to follow that up. So…

I’ve been reading her book, Captivate; The Science of Succeeding with People (2017). It’s like a supersized and updated “How to Win Friends and Influence People” Dale Carnegies classic. I’ve learned many things and have actively worked with the ideas. It’s a great book.

First up readers are encouraged to ask questions. That’s a favourite of mine anyway. As a child I thought it polite, be silent, don’t ask questions, that’s nosy. Now I find, I’m curious and that’s OK. People love to talk about themselves and interested questioning is a key people skill. So ask novel questions. When we leave the common conversation questions behind and use novel thoughtful questions, what Vanessa describes as, “sparky” questions, we jolt our conversations into the new. It’s much more fun, for everyone. Questions like: “What was the highlight of your day?” Or “What is a personal passion project you’re working on?” Or, “Have you anything exciting coming up in your life?” Questions like this excite us. I’ve been doing this; it works, although I have occasionally received odd looks from my question. But it is worth it, for the positive responses.

It’s fascinating to develop an interest in people and you will always have a conversation. What’s more it is fun.
Another fascinating topic your personality and that of your friends. The more we understand our friends the more fun. Vanessa introduces the Big 5 model (OCEAN) a scientifically developed personality model used surprisingly often. Meyers’ Briggs is not used here because that model is not based on sensible science just the ramblings of two amateurs from Jung’s dodgy ideas. The acronym, OCEAN, is for: openness to experience, contentiousness, extraversion, acceptance and neuroticism. Neuroticism is just a fancy word for tendency to worry. Vanessa suggests taking a test for your personality and using that as a starting point. I was fascinated to find that I am much less accepting than I thought I would be… maybe I’m growing into a grumpy old man. She then suggests ways of assessing your friends and workmates (Bosses!), making relationships smoother. Useful material.

That brings me back to my initial comment, I’m into self improvement. One suggested way of identifying high neuroticism people, like me, is to look for positive quotes on their desks or around their homes. That is me. That’s healthy. Michael Shermer of Sceptic fame disagrees. He calls the self-improvement business a scam. Actually, he cites a journalist named Steve Salerano’s book Sham: How the self-Help movement made America Helpless (Crown 2006). Now he has a point there’s money to be made and I find Tom Robbins a bit odd (much of the self-help industry looks pretty dodgy new age religiosity) but positive psychology is evidence based and useful. So I would say use the good and avoid the crazy. And remember this Shermer’s and Salerano’s point is that you read a book, do the exercises and after a week or two start again. They think that’s a scam. I see their point but for worriers to surround themselves with positive and encouraging quotes, to read the books and do the exercises, that’s just sensible self-maintenance. Like exercising, sleeping and eating well. And it’s cheaper and less destructive than booze.

Then Vanessa introduces the idea of becoming story tellers. Now I’m fascinated by this. Stories are in our genes. As social creatures, stories have taught and guided us forever. We remember childhood and we remember campfires from our pasts. Vanessa suggest a systematic approach; remember and practice stories from your life in what she calls a “story stack”. Use those stories when starting a conversation and then throw a boomerang; that is, ask a question to bring your audience into the conversation. That’s a great idea. An example; in this last week, I scared myself badly. The story was, I bike home down a hill on a busy road. Trucks and cars close around me. In New Zealand we don’t have (many) separated bike lanes, so I’m in traffic. Then, I hit a rock, my tire deflated and I scrambled to keep upright in control, with traffic around me. Scary, bloody terrifying! I boomeranged that and heard all sorts of horror stories. No-one was hit but everyone had a story to tell. Vanessa’s point is this can be learned. And we all can learn.

There is much more. Vanessa writes fourteen chapters, each one with what she describes a practical approach to improving a specific social skill. She is an authority on this as she describes herself as a, “recovering awkward person”; actually she comes across in her videos and books as quite the opposite, skilled with people and confident. I recommend her book to you. Buy it, practice the exercises and learn the skills. Grow.

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Wild scientists: academics in their natural habitat – in pictures | Art and design | The Guardian

I’m jealous, wish I was still a scientist.  Tamara Dean follows researchers at work. It’s great. Scientists are certainly my heroes.

Tamara Dean captures Australian researchers on the ground and in the field (not to mention water, caves and bush) and hopes to show them as ‘heroes’

Source: Wild scientists: academics in their natural habitat – in pictures | Art and design | The Guardian

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