Souther hemisphere on top mapI love maps. It all started when I was a child and had a puzzle of the United States. Each piece was a state and the pieces had the state capitals on them and were colored some nice pastels. I used to put that puzzle together over and over and over. When I got to school the maps had the states different colors but the rest was the same.

On my first, and so far only, trip to Australia and New Zealand, I saw a map of the world with the southern hemisphere to the top of the map. It looked so weird to me but then thinking about it; why is north always to the top? Usually it’s a consensus thing a group decision on what’s important. But if you live in the southern hemisphere then your own surroundings are what’s important so that should be predominant — shouldn’t it?

So, imagine my delight when on Amazon Daily, in a bit of Neil Gaiman’s blog there was a link to Strange Maps. It’s a blog that deals with maps of all kinds: historic, funny, disease spreads, religious districts, medieval, — just about everything. I could spend even more time there than I did today but thought a link here might let more map lovers know about this interesting, quirky site.

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Mansfield ParkA bit late with this, but I did manage to see Sunday’s installment of The Complete Jane Austen — Mansfield Park. The previous version of Mansfield Park that I’d seen was directed by Patricia Rozema and starred Hannah Taylor-GordonMansfield Park DVD cover (DVD cover pictured to the left). While that one was indeed a nice movie, it didn’t have the flavor of Austen and had been considerably modernized for feminine equality and sensibilities. Unfortunately, Jane Austen wrote for her times not ours and while many of her women are strong characters, they acted within the bounds of class and society in which they found themselves.

The Masterpiece Theatre version directed by Iain B. MacDonald was much closer to the heart of Jane Austen’s novel. I read the novel several years ago, and while I occasionally reread Austen (her books are some of my comfort reading), I haven’t reread Mansfield Park. Fanny Price is sent at a young age to live with relatives as her family can no longer handle all their children. She therefore has a precarious position — neither one of them or a stranger. Fanny manages to grow up without making waves and secretly in love with her cousin Edmund. Life goes on, Fanny remains in the background and then the Crawfords visit. Mary Crawford and her brother are on a par socially with the Bertrams but they’re schemers and out for mischief. This is only one of the plot threads. The movie, not having the time to deal with the full texture of the novel extracts only this limited storyline and uses that for the movie. While it’s satisfying for what it is, it does make me wish for a fully coverage of the novel with all it’s intrigue and plot twists intact.

So, once again a miss but only because of time constraints, at least the characters acted as one would expect from the book (its time and social milieu intact). Fanny was much more the Fanny of Jane Austen than in previous versions so that’s a win. So, enjoyable but forget what you know of the book and just enjoy an interesting movie, well done but not quite Mansfield Park.

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brain cross sections and neat stuffIt turns out that some people don’t learn from their mistakes. From the article in The Future of Things:

Researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences in Leipzig, Germany have found a genetic factor that affects our ability to learn from our errors. The scientists demonstrated that men carrying the A1 mutation, which reduces the amount of dopamine D2 receptors in the brain, are less successful at learning to avoid mistakes than men who do not carry this genetic mutation. This finding has the potential to improve our understanding of the causes of addictive and compulsive behaviors.

To me this becomes more interesting when you realize that so much of our society is based on learning from our mistakes. So, how would this disposition to not learn from mistakes maintain its 30% of the population? My guess, and remember I’m a normal thinking geek, is that in some situations you want people who don’t learn from their mistakes because in some cases having someone willing to try again IS a survival trait. The press release from the Max Planck Institute for Neurological Research give more technical detail on the A1-allele carriers and its impact on dopamine D2 receptors. There’s also a link to the Science article (but you have to pay to read it unless you otherwise have access — like being a member or subscriber).

What interests me is the impact this has on society. Remember the famous saying:

Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.
George Santayana

Well, I’m thinking perhaps we should have our Congress and high office holders tested for this A1-allele condition. Maybe we need to make sure that Congress and all decision making bodies have the 60% who learn from their mistakes and the 30% who don’t — just make sure that when we continue to make a mistake it’s with due deliberation and not because we haven’t learned our lesson.

It’s just a thought but I’ll be mulling this information over for a bit now that I know.

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SAR-MEMBER: Photo: José FahrniRecently some Norwegian and Swiss biologists have made an amazing discovery. After examining genetic material, they found that the non-bacterial life (eukaryotic life) should be listed in four main groups, not the five that are currently listed in textbooks.

Many people would find this discovery to be proof that science isn’t very good or doesn’t work well. However, this discovery proves that science does work. To a scientist, it’s as important to prove a hypothesis as it is to disprove one. The joy and excitement of scientific inquiry is finding out something you didn’t know before, to learn something new, to expand knowledge, or to broaden our vision of our universe.

To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.
From Ulysses by Lord Alfred Tennyson.

Science is the study of fact — not truth or what is politically correct, but fact. If research finds that, with more facts at our disposal, the meaning of those facts now points in a different direction then so be it. It does no good to deny what is. These biologists found by looking beyond what we could previously examine, to examine the genetic material itself that what they thought they knew was incorrect. So, rather than bemoan the error, or try to hide it — they gathered information, collated the data and found that what needed to change was our understanding of what we knew. We now have a new view of non-bacterial life and hopefully this updated information will help biologists in taking a new look at what they thought they knew and revising and re-examining existing research in light of this new information.

The true scientific mindset is to seek, to find, to learn and not yield or bend knowledge away from what IS to what one wants.

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Virgin Galactic SpaceShip III’m unabashedly pro-space research and exploration. I think it’s going to be the only way to save this planet. Many people think, or at least tell me, that all we ever got from NASA and the space program is Tang. Don’t kid yourselves, people. We got lots of advances in technology and medicine — things that we might have eventually developed but not as fast as with the impetus of the space program. Companies don’t tend to spend their own money innovating unless there is an identifiable way of getting that money back, and the space program was that initial market that made it all worth while for dozens of goods and technologies we now take for granted.

The problem now is that the United States doesn’t have a space program anymore. Okay, I can hear you saying, “what are you Klondiking about? We’ve got NASA.” Well, you’re right the US still has NASA but we’re not doing anything new or exciting — we’re doing the same old, same old — and holding the line with the status quo. Astronauts are using their personal weight limits to bring up the technology they need to do some jobs because the space rated equipment is old, big, clunky and often barely up to the job. I don’t believe we would have lost as many probes if we’d been upgrading the technology rather than using the older stuff. But, hey that’s just my opinion as an outsider looking into a program I see going nowhere fast. And while I thought the Shuttle was definitely a “horse designed by a committee”, what do we have to look forward to as its replacement? A multi-stage, expendable rocket, with a return capsule that splashes down. We just lost 40 years of innovation. Of course NASA has a 100% record on new spacecraft following onto the shuttle. They’ve canceled 100% of them. So, forgive me if NASA just doesn’t give me the warm fuzzies anymore.

What I do see and what I think is happening is that private enterprise is going to be pushing us forward into space because they can see the need, the impetus for new technology and growth. Case in point — the photo with this entry — Virgin Galactic has just unveiled its plans for SpaceShip Two. It’s innovators like Virgin Galactic, Blue Origin, and others that will take Terrans into space. Of course, the private sector is not without risk. But at least when they’re risking their own money, getting the job done right becomes a higher priority than when the government is taking all the financial risks.

With all the space debris and asteroids coming so close to impacting Earth over the last few years that we’ve been aware of, well, we’ve had some pretty close calls. If we don’t get off this planet someday we just might find ourselves beginning all over again — and that’s only if we’re lucky. If we’re not lucky some other species may become top of the heap for the next go round. There’s evidence enough that Earth has been hit and hit hard at some points in our past — so we needs to get some of our eggs out of this basket (or so the cliché goes).

I’m very excited by these corporate visionaries in the United States and other countries. I just think we could get to some new frontiers sooner with some amazing technology and leaps in science along the way if we once again had a space program with a plan and some vision for the future. Guess, I’ll go wish upon a star.

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A mothI’ve been continuing to organize and move fiber and projects into Ziploc bags. So far it’s not so bad — or at least not as bad as I’d feared. The destruction so far:

    * one sock with two holes (salvage possible)* one lace shawl 3/4 done eaten so badly the yarn couldn’t be salvaged at all

    * one lace scarf with three holes (salvage possible)

    * two containers of angora fiber completely yucky — had to toss.

    * one spindle of angora yarn chewed enough that it has to be tossed

Not too bad so far. Salvageable projects have been placed in a Ziploc bag and sealed. I figure that way if I missed anything it will come out in the bag and then can be tossed. So, far most of my loose fiber has been okay — or at least looks okay but it was stored with cedar sachets and cedar balls and sprigs of rosemary and eucalyptus — also the final rinse for all fiber is in a eucalyptus scented rinse.

I’ve still got some more boxes and bags to go through but I’m feeling a bit better about all this. At least once it’s done it’s done and I’ll just have to be more careful in the future with what comes into the house. Of course, it doesn’t help that we live on 5 wooded acres in the rural tier of Prince Georges County, Maryland. It’s wooded and farm area so there’s lots of bugs. We’ve managed to gain control on the house but it’s hard to keep bugs out during the summer when doors open and close as you move the screens into play.

The other side effect is that I found I have quite a bit of sock yarn, but not a lot of general stash. Got lace weight for planned projects and none extra. I do have a lot of cleaned fleece ready for spinning. And, oh gee, Maryland Sheep and Wool is coming up in May (the website hasn’t been updated yet)– at least this year I have a better idea what’s in the house.

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Label for Dead Man's Reach CoffeeToday, the barometric pressure is very high — higher than yesterday anyway — so the migraine that’s been off and on for a while is back with a vengeance. So, rather than immediately reach for the painkillers which I’ve been trying to avoid (mainly because they’re so hard to get a Doc to give a prescription for them) , I decided on Tylenol and coffee — doesn’t help much but it takes the edge off and then I can usually deal — provided I don’t have to actually make any important decisions. Someday, when I feel I can do it without whinging and whining, I’ll do a post on living with chronic pain.

Not only do I use coffee medicinally and consciously so, I actually like it. When we lived in Rhode Island, there were lots of coffee shops including the usual Starbucks as well as Ocean Coffee Roasters, The Coffee Exchange, Cafe Zog and a host of others. When you went grocery shopping the coffee aisle was just that; a full aisle with coffees of various types, flavors, and brands, filling nearly both sides of a full aisle. Then we moved to Maryland. Here the coffee aisle of the grocery store was one shelf carrying Nescafe, Maxwell House, and if you were lucky some of the General Foods International Coffees. Then Starbucks opened up in several communities surrounding us — within a year the urge to buy decent beans didn’t mean Internet shopping or a trip into DC or some far off mall with a specialty shop — I could now get decent beans within an hours drive. Life was good again.

Occasionally, I do some searches on coffee just to see what comes up and that’s how I found out about Raven’s Brew‘s Dead Man’s Reach (see the label above). You’ve got to check out their site, even if it’s just for the coffee labels and descriptions. I got some Dead Man’s Reach, just couldn’t resist the picture on the label, it was certainly strongly flavored and it did get the eyes open in the morning. It was smooth too which I hadn’t really expected but enjoyed with sipping or gulping each cup.

Cleo Coyle’s Mysteries:

I review books and found, while reviewing Cleo Coyle’s coffeehouse murders, that I enjoyed also learning more about coffee, its history and place in society, not to mention the recipes. Not only does Coyle tell a pretty decent mystery in New York’s East Village centered on a coffeehouse and/or its manager, she slips in bits and pieces of coffee trivia and includes recipes at the end of the book.

There’s also lots of books out about the history, economics, and societal impact of coffee on the world. Today I read the Look Inside of Coffee: A Dark History by Antony Wild, Uncommon Grounds: The History of Coffee and How It Transformed Our World by Mark Pendergrast, and The Devil’s Cup: A History of the World According to Coffee by Stewart Lee Allen. They’re now on my wish list.

Also, i ran across this interesting site of coffee links, Bean Scoop Web Reviews. Haven’t had a chance to check all the links out yet but it seems fairly informative.

Now that my coffee is brewed guess I’ll go have a cup.

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Promo shot from PBS websiteI have to admit I’m a real fan of Jane Austen’s books. I’ve read all but Lady Susan and Persuasion (though I’ve started it twice). Wouldn’t you know it, I also missed seeing Persuasion last Sunday. But, this Sunday, I managed to get myself settled down in front of the TV to view Northanger Abbey. I’d never seen this version of the novel before. The version I own is the BBC (1986) one. They both do an admirable job of telling the story of Catherine Morland, a spirited young woman with a good heart and a very active imagination, as she vacations with family friends in Bath, meets some interesting and nefarious people, visits an Abbey, get scared and confused, falls in love, gets sent home in disgrace, and becomes a bit more cautious with her trust and heart.

Northanger Abbey was written as a bit of satire on all the Gothic romances of the day that were inflaming the minds of young women and taking them away from any serious study of books, their surroundings, or their circumstances. When I tried to read Jane Austen years ago as literature — well, I never really could get anywhere with it. But, once I realized that it’s like anthropology, a study of a new and different culture, it became, for me, more interesting and absorbing. Austen was an astute observer of her friends, neighbors, and family. She noticed as well as thought about what happened around her. Her books are filled with pithy statements and keen observations of the human condition. She was also a woman of her times as well and there is a sensitivity to the plight of women in her social strata. There’s little in Austen that speaks of the lower or lowest classes of society in her time even thought there might occasionally be a reference to an incident here or there. The politics of her works are the politics of class and society and little of the times in which she lived.

PBS should be applauded for introducing, I hope, a new audience to her works via these films. While no adaptation of a novel can compete with the written word for depth and texture — they can give the viewer a taste of the rich world that Austen opened up for those of us reading her words so many years after her death. Now that I’ve seen two version of Northanger Abbey, I’d be hard pressed to say which I prefer — they each have their pluses and minuses — their moments of pure Austen-ism and their clinkers. What I can say is that I throughly enjoyed the presentation and have added this DVD to my ‘must buy’ list.

I checked but don’t see that PBS is re-running the series anytime soon so, if you’ve missed Northanger Abbey this evening — rent it. Don’t despair though because next Sunday at 9PM is Mansfield Park (again a version I haven’t yet seen). I’ve marked my calendar and hope this next film meets my expectations for excellence in presenting the work of Jane Austen and not a similarly titled work that might have nodded in her direction as the previous movie version of this book, that I saw,  seemed to be. I have high hopes for next week since Northanger Abbey was so satisfying.

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